11:00 A.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Good morning. Thank you for your patience, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. As always, please make sure that your cell phones are on silent. We’re going to have some remarks this morning from Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, and then we’ll take your questions. Please remember to wait for the microphone and then identify yourself with your name and your organization before proceeding with your question.
So without any further ado, Assistant Secretary Gordon.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. Good morning, everybody. Let me just make a brief opening statement to begin, and then I will look forward to your questions. I’ll focus my remarks on Secretary Clinton’s participation in the NATO informal ministerial in Berlin on April 14th and 15th, which was an opportunity for her not only to discuss NATO’s operation in Libya, but because of the participation in the meeting, to discuss a very wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues with counterparts from around the world.
The ministerial had sessions on Libya, on Afghanistan, on NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review. It focused on NATO’s partnerships, it included a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, NATO-Georgia Commission, and a NATO-Ukraine Commission. In addition, the Secretary had the opportunity to do bilateral meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with German Foreign Minister Westerwelle, with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Gryshchenko, British Foreign Secretary Hague, French Foreign Minister Juppe, and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, as well as a number of other meetings, not just with foreign ministers from elsewhere in the world including Afghanistan and the Arab world, but other partners in the NATO coalition and Afghanistan. So again, it was an opportunity to really discuss a very wide range of issues.
On Libya, the meeting in Berlin consisted of NATO allies plus the other contributors to Operation Unified Protector. That includes the UAE, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Ukraine, and Sweden. And that lunch on Libya gave ministers an opportunity to follow up on the conclusions from the Libya Contact Group meeting which took place in Doha on the previous day. This was a deliberate sequencing with the contact group being a much wider body that was set up to provide broad political guidance to the operation in Libya covering economic issues, humanitarian issues, diplomatic and political issues. It involved a presentation from one of the leaders of the Interim National Council, Mr. Jibril, and put out a strong co-chair statement – the co-chairs in that case were the United Kingdom and Qatar – put out a strong co-chair statement underscoring that Colonel Qadhafi had lost all legitimacy and needed to leave power so that the Libyan people could determine their own future.
And the NATO ministerial took place the following day. And what I would highlight from that Libya piece – and I’ll say something about the other aspects of the ministerial in a minute – but the NATO 28 allies plus six partners strongly endorsed the statement of the Contact Group that Qadhafi had lost legitimacy and must go, and made very clear that NATO’s operations, military operations, would continue against legitimate targets as long as necessary and until some very specific objectives were attained and those objectives include ending attacks and threats of attacks on civilians.
It said that regime forces, including snipers and mercenaries and others, had to withdraw from the cities that had been forcibly occupied, and it listed what those cities were, including – it listed the cities that were included and called for the unhindered access for humanitarian goods, and made very clear that NATO’s military operations will continue until these criteria were met. Together, the Doha and Berlin meetings underscored the international community’s commitment to enforcing the provisions of the Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973.
Happy to take questions on Libya. I just want to add that a number of other sessions took place at the Berlin ministerial, as I mentioned, including on Afghanistan where allies affirmed the transition principles and expressed broad support for intensifying what we’ve been calling the diplomatic surge towards an Afghan-led political settlement. Ministers had a dinner on the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review and discussed how to follow up on the Lisbon Summit and to make sure that NATO continues to have the right mix of nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities.
They discussed partnerships, NATO’s partnerships with other non-NATO members around the world, including now the one that is operating in Libya. The NATO-Georgia Commission met and gave ministers, including Secretary Clinton, the opportunity to underscore our support for Georgia’s relationship with NATO, for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The NATO-Ukraine Commission met and ministers underscored their support for further economic and democratic reforms in Ukraine and welcomed Ukraine’s commitments to NATO operations. And then the NATO-Russia Council ministers discussed Libya, missile defense cooperation which had been agreed at the Lisbon Summit, and the future of conventional arms control in Europe.
So I think that gives you a flavor of the very wide range of issues that was discussed. And with that, I would be happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Gordon. We’ll start right here.
QUESTION: Thank you, Phil. Elcin Poyrazlar from Cumhurriyet Daily. Supreme – I had two questions on Turkey, if I may. Supreme Board of Elections decided that 12 candidates, independent candidates, seven of which are Kurdish politicians, cannot enter the elections – June elections in Turkey. Do you have any comment on that?
Secondly, your latest Human Rights Report underlines the fact that press freedom in Turkey has decreased. Now that the June elections are coming, do you think the elections might be fair with a limited press freedom? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: On the first, I have seen the reports about the election commission ruling out 12 candidates, and I would say I’m not going to stand at this distance and make independent judgments about the merits of each case. What I could say more broadly is that it’s obviously critically important to have an inclusive political process and avoid any perception that people are being ruled out for political reasons.
As for the Human Rights Report and freedom of the media, the report stands for itself. And, obviously, we stand by what’s in the report. We have underscored in many ways, in many places, with Turkey and many other countries, the absolutely critical importance of free expression and independent media. And I think the Human Rights Report is clear about trends that we’ve seen in Turkey and the importance of ensuring that an independent and free media takes place.
MODERATOR: Okay. Gentleman in the red shirt.
QUESTION: I’m Brian Beary, Europolitics. Just a quick question on Sweden. What’s Sweden’s participation in the Libya mission? And then, an EU-related question. There’s a lot of debate within the EU at the moment about whether to deploy their military mission to aid the humanitarian effort in Libya. What’s your view on whether that’s desirable or necessary right now?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks. Sweden is an important partner for this NATO operation. It has pledged fighter aircraft and is participating alongside NATO allies. So we’re very grateful for the Swedish contribution that was announced at the London meeting on Libya. And Sweden is making an important contribution to our common goals in Libya.
On an EU humanitarian mission, the EU has agreed to prepare a EUFOR mission to help with humanitarian needs in Libya, which is critical. I think we have all agreed, the EU and others, that the UN should be in the lead of humanitarian operations. And what the EU has said is, if asked by the UN to undertake such a mission, it would be prepared to do so. And that hasn’t, at present, taken place, but we appreciate the fact that the EU is preparing such a mission if asked. And, obviously, there are important humanitarian needs in Libya. We want to see that they’re fulfilled. The UN is in the lead on that process.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s go here. And then we’ll take the next question from New York.
QUESTION: I have quick three questions, actually. One is I’m just going to follow up on that. One of the reasons the Turkish journalists got arrested is because of the Ergenekon case. At this moment, do you have any foggiest idea what it is that has been going on for four years?
And second question is, you talk about the Human Rights Report, and we know that U.S. Government always says that it’s open to other parties to inspect U.S. Government on human rights record. One of the reasons is Brad Manning treatment and actually Crowley – P.J. Crowley resigned after this. So my question is, why is that UN reporters still has not access to talk to Brad Manning?
And the third question is on NATO. You talk about a little bit shield, anti-missile shield. And my question is, have you decided which countries are going to host these different component of these different component of the – and namely radar component of the missile shield? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. Well, I’ll start with the last one. We have, I think, spelled out very clearly what the President’s plan for ensuring a NATO missile shield for all of Europe is. And it includes interceptors, Standard Missile-3, that will be placed in Poland and Romania. It already includes, in the very first phase, Aegis ships, which also have missile interceptors. So in terms of the interceptors, the Aegis ships, Poland, and Romania.
We have also said that for the system to work most effectively, it requires a radar ideally in southeastern Europe. And we are currently engaged in the process of figuring out the best place to put that radar – have not made a decision on that yet, but fully expect that sometime this year we’ll make a decision on precisely where that radar should be.
You asked about Ergenekon. This has come up before. As you suggested in your question, it’s a very complicated matter. What I would say is similar to what I said in response to the previous question. What is important is that certain principles be respected: rule of law, transparency, inclusiveness. Again, it is impossible standing here at this distance to go through and understand exactly what is happening in particular judicial cases, and I wouldn’t presume to comment on them. But what is important are the principles that I have already underscored.
And as for the Manning case, I’ll just refer you to the Pentagon to address that issue.
QUESTION: But do you think that those principles are respected right now in certainty that you talk about the case?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have anything further than underscoring that – I just can’t, at this distance, go through and make a judgment on whether every arrest that has been made has followed the rule of law and been absolutely appropriate. So we’re –
QUESTION: I’m talking about principles, not the case – principles.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. I heard your question.
MODERATOR: Why don’t we go ahead and take a question from New York?
QUESTION: Hi. The question I have – I’m from the Turkish Journal. My name is Janet. And I’d like to ask about Turkey’s role in brokering some kind of ceasefire in Libya. Some articles have been written about that in Reuters and CNN, and it’s been bandied about. But also, Turkey I know wants to take a greater role in this type of situation. What would you say about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think we have all said there’s a military operation underway with very specific goals, protecting civilians, enforcing Security Council resolutions. And we’ve said, and President Obama has said very clearly, that Mr. Qadhafi needs to leave power. Having said all of that, we have been very clear all along that once Qadhafi leaves power, politics needs to take place. You need the Libyan people to be represented.
And one of the steps that was taken to help with such a process was the UN’s appointment very early on of a special envoy, Mr. Khatib, who is playing that role. He’s been several times to Libya already. So I think it is important that we all support Mr. Khatib in his efforts, but also that we continue to talk among ourselves, that is to say members of the broad international coalition that is working on the Libya issue, about what Libya’s political future might be, which I want to underscore again is really up to the people of Libya.
So I think Turkey, like other members of the Contact Group and of NATO, has been a part of that process. And we have had those discussions together with Turkey and a number of other allies about what precisely is necessary, first, to have a ceasefire, to ensure that Mr. Qadhafi leaves the scene, and to help the Libyans bring about the inclusive political process that they will need afterwards.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Dmitry Zlodorev. I am from Russia, from ITAR-TASS News Agency. Mr. Gordon, how you would characterize recent Russia-NATO Council meeting? And also, the second question, what can you tell about the possible changes in visas regime between our countries? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. Well, I mentioned the NATO-Russia Council, I said that issues discussed included Libya, missile defense, and Afghanistan. On Libya, Russia is, of course, not a member of the coalition, but it voted for on the Security Council – or it – sorry, it abstained at the Security Council, but supported Resolution and continues to support Resolutions 1970 and 1973.
On missile defense, we were encouraged by the decisions at the NATO Lisbon summit to pursue cooperation between NATO and Russia on missile defense. It had been a divisive issue between Russia and the United States, between Russia and NATO. But, at Lisbon, Russia and NATO agreed to resume theater missile defense cooperation, which had gone on between NATO and Russia until 2008; agreed on an assessment – a threat assessment of security challenges in the 21st century, that included a judgment on the growing ballistic missile threat, and agreed to pursue missile defense cooperation in general. And this ministerial was an opportunity to provide a stock-taking of where we are on these.
We would like to see cooperation move faster. We think we have a common interest. We have said many times that U.S. missile defense is not targeted at Russia. It is not designed in any way to undermine Russia’s strategic capabilities. NATO and Russia have a common interest in developing missile defenses against a threat that affects us both. So this was an opportunity to do a stock-taking on what progress we’ve made since Lisbon and what we need to do further.
The NATO-Russia Council meeting was also an opportunity to talk about Afghanistan, where we are cooperating well together. For more than a year now, Russia has provided for transit over Afghanistan. And just this week, I think, the 1,000th flight of materiel across Russian airspace to Afghanistan took place. I remember here and elsewhere early on, there were all the – lots of questions about was this really meaningful and why was it taking so long to get underway. Well, now, since that time, we’ve had more than a thousand flights, which is critical in getting necessary materiel to Afghanistan and, frankly, saving the United States and allies considerable amounts of money. So that’s one more example of concrete cooperation between NATO and Russia that serves our common interests.
QUESTION: Can I have a quick follow-up?
QUESTION: Thirty-eight Republican senators sent a letter before the ministerial to President Obama with concern that missile – on the missile defense, you ask if some kind veto to Russia. So can you give us more details? What is some guarantee for that from that meeting? And the brief on Georgia also, you mentioned that matters, which was discussed on Russia, NATO-Russia Council, I’m wondering whether Georgia’s membership aspirations were reaffirmed with Russians also.
MODERATOR: Can I get your name and organization?
QUESTION: Yeah, Sophiko Zurabiani from Georgian TV Company. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: On the first, there is no veto for Russia or any other country about NATO’s missile defense plans or U.S. missile defense plans. I think we’ve been very clear that the President is committed to deploying missile defenses for the United States and in a NATO contest – in a NATO context, the European Phased Adaptive Approach. He is committed to deploying all four phases of that and has articulated why. And NATO missile defense will be decided by NATO members and U.S. missile defense will be decided by the United States. So I think we’ve been – we’ve been clear about that. And not only Russia has no veto but no other countries have a veto on what we need to do.
Georgia, I don’t recall Georgia’s aspirations coming up in the NATO-Russia Council. They certainly came up in the NATO-Georgia Commission, and we reaffirmed our strong support for those aspirations.
MODERATOR: And you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. David Nikuradze, Rustavi 2, Television Georgia. Russia didn’t veto UN Security Council Resolution 1973, but Prime Minister Putin made very negative statements about the military campaign in Libya and about this resolution. So do you have any negotiations with Russians on Libya issue?
And my second question is about Misrata. Any specific steps NATO member states plus six allies are making to calm the situation in Misrata? Thank you, sir.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. On Russia – there have been critical comments from some quarters in Russia. There has also been clarity from the president of Russia about Russia’s interests, and we have been assured that the president of Russia speaks for Russia on the subject.
As for Misrata, we have said we are very concerned about the situation in Misrata. There’s obviously – there are great humanitarian needs going on. When you ask what we are doing or have done or can do, NATO is very active in taking measures as we speak to try to protect the people of Misrata, which includes ongoing air strikes at targets in and around the city to protect the civilians in the city. It includes the previous work to take out Qadhafi’s ability to use airplanes, which he’s not able to use in Misrata because of our actions. And it’s an ongoing effort to make sure that the people of Misrata don’t suffer further in what has been called a medieval-style siege. And NATO’s doing all it can to use its air power to prevent Qadhafi from besieging the city further.
MODERATOR: Okay, the gentleman in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. I am Haykaram Nahapetyan with Armenian TV. Mr. Gordon, a quick question. Are the Armenian-Turkish relations, as well as Nagorno-Karabakh issues supposed – expected to be discussed during the meeting with the Turkish counterparts or with the Russian also counterparts, as the United States and Russian Federation are co-chairmen of the Minsk Group?
And a quick follow-up is recently, Azerbaijani Government threatened to shoot down the civilian airplanes that will utilize – that will try to land in and are going to Karabakh or take off from the Nagorno-Karabakh airport. Karabakh is expected to open its airport in May, soon. So if you can briefly comment on this. Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Right. We had heard such threats and, very quickly and clearly, made clear our view that threats to take out a civilian aircraft there and in any other context are unacceptable and really shouldn’t be issued. Since then, we have noted, and the Minsk Group co-chairs have noted, Azerbaijan making clear that it had no intention of doing so. And we think that is the only constructive way forward on that.
I wasn’t – your first question about Armenia-Turkish relations – would they be discussed where? I didn’t really understand what you were asking.
QUESTION: During the upcoming meetings with Turkish counterparts in the NATO format, if you’re going to meet and consult Turkish colleagues regarding Armenia and Turkey?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I mean, Turkey and Armenia relations aren’t necessarily a subject for a NATO meeting. But I can say, as a general rule, that very often when we meet with our Turkish counterparts and the Secretary meets with her Turkish counterpart, the question of Turkey/Armenia comes up, because it’s very important to us. There have been efforts over the past several years to improve that relationship, which we’ve made clear we strongly support. Those efforts have recently stalled, which we’ve made clear we regret because we believe it’s in the interest of both countries to continue the normalization process, reestablish relations, and have friendly relations and open trade from which both countries would benefit. So we continue to strongly support direct dialogue between the two countries and normalization of their relationship. And we bring it up very frequently with our counterparts on both sides.
MODERATOR: Okay. If no one else in the room has another question, let me go to New York. If you have a follow-on, and then we’ll come back to you and that will be it.
QUESTION: Yes, I do. I’m Janet from the Turkish Journal. No one’s really – you haven’t really mentioned what’s going on with Afghanistan or what was discussed. But there seems to be a lot of things in the news, negative reports going on. Are we ever pulling out of Afghanistan? What was discussed in the meeting? I would like to know about that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sure. Well, Afghanistan was intensively discussed. It’s obviously a major issue for NATO. There was a three-hour session for all of the NATO allies, plus the partners in the Afghanistan mission, which I think brings the total to some 47, plus the European Union, the UN, and other organizations that are involved. So it remains a critical priority for the Alliance and for the United States. General Petraeus gave a briefing to ministers by video, I think from Kabul, and assessed the military situation on the ground and noted ongoing challenges, but also real progress that we have made.
And I think in terms of withdrawing or winding down, we’ve also been clear that the United States and NATO allies intend to proceed very carefully, starting in the summer, with troop withdrawals. But we’ll be, obviously, watching closely the situation on the ground to make sure that the investments we’ve made in Afghanistan are not undermined by anything, any precipitous withdrawals.
MODERATOR: Okay. And you had a final question?
QUESTION: Hi. I’m L’Houssaine Oulbaz from Aswat Radio Morocco. Does – you mentioned Morocco is also participating in these missions. So I would like to know the specific goals of Morocco in this mission to --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Specific what?
QUESTION: Mission in Libya.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The specific what about the mission in Libya? I’m sorry. I just didn’t hear you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) have been (inaudible) the resolution of the conflict.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Morocco participated in – first of all, Morocco expressed a great interest, not surprisingly, in the outcome in Libya and seeing a resolution to the conflict. It offer – it accepted the Qatari invitation to participate in the Doha Contact Group and fully participated there. It was – it made clear its readiness to help in concrete ways through the use of its airspace and other ways to the NATO coalition, and that’s why it was invited to be a formal partner, which gave it a formal place at the table in NATO’s discussions of how NATO is going about its three missions to enforce the no-fly zone, to enforce the arms embargo, and protect civilians.
So I think by its presence in Doha and Berlin, Morocco signaled that it is prepared to contribute to and be a full partner in our common endeavor, which is designed to protect the civilians in Libya, get rid of Mr. Qadhafi, and give the Libyans a chance to control their own future.
MODERATOR: And that concludes the briefing. Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Gordon for your time and to our journalist colleagues for attending.