APNSA John Bolton Press Conference at Interfax News Agency Moscow, Russia
October 23, 2018
Ambassador John Bolton, Opening Statement:
Thanks very much for being here. I also want to thank Interfax. I’ve come here many, many times, beginning in September or October of 2001, when I came to deliver news of the Bush Administration’s decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty. I also want to thank Jon Huntsman and his team. They are doing a fantastic job here in Moscow under very difficult circumstances, limited personnel, a very trying environment. Having us descend on them with all of the needs and requirements really puts a strain on the Embassy, so we’re very grateful to him and everyone who pitched in on this.
So here in Moscow over the past two days, I’ve had a series of very comprehensive and, I think, very productive discussions with senior Russian officials. That includes about an hour and a half meeting with President Putin from which we’ve just come, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, with my direct counterpart, the Secretary of the Russian National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, and with President Putin’s foreign affairs advisor, Yury Ushakov. The was the second meeting with Secretary Patrushev, following up on the meeting in Helsinki between President Putin and President Trump and their instruction to us and our colleagues on our respective national security councils to look at ways to enhance practical cooperation and expansion of dialogue between Russia and America. So we had discussions that covered the whole range of issues, differing in certain respects, depending on who we were speaking with from the Russian side. Just to give a couple highlights of what we covered and what we discussed: President Putin said in the opening of the meeting today when the press was there – his words now – it would be useful to continue a direct dialogue with the President of the United States, primarily on the fields of international events that will take place in the near future, for example, in Paris. Of course, if the American side is interested in these contacts, President Putin saying I said, yes, in fact President Trump would look forward to meeting with him in Paris. So we will make the precise arrangements on that, but it will happen in connection with the 100th anniversary of the celebration of the Armistice, which the French are hosting on November 11th.
Among the issues we discussed where we agreed that we’d have more discussion to actually heighten coordination and in-depth discussion of Russian and American policies was with respect to Syria. We discussed, again, following on from conversations in Helsinki and in August in Geneva with Secretary Patrushev, we agreed that the Russian-U.S. counterterrorism dialogue at the level of the Deputy Secretary of State and Vice Foreign Minister of Russia would begin again in December. We’ll fix the exact dates, but this counter terrorism dialogue, we view, is very important and will be complemented in due course with the resumption of dialogue on counter-narcotics and human trafficking issues.On another subject that President Putin and President Trump discussed in Helsinki, we agreed that the first meeting of a Joint U.S.-Russian Business Council would take place in the first quarter of next year. This is something that Ambassador Huntsman has been particularly involved in leading on.
We discussed our continuing concern with Russian meddling in elections and why it was particularly harmful to Russian-American relations without producing anything for them in return. And we had lengthy conversations about arms control issues, the new strategic landscape, and the President’s decision on the INF Treaty. So with that, let me turn it over to our moderators and I’d be happy to answer some questions.
[NSC Strategic Communications Director: Before you ask your question, please be so kind to give your name and your media outlet before you ask the question.]
Rossiya 1, Sergey Brilev: If the United States and the Russian Federation will find themselves free to withdraw from the INF treaty, what are they going to be doing next? Are they going to be concerned about China? Are they going to be placing missiles in Europe? Are they going to agree on territorial deployment of the missiles? What’s next for both countries?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think, we’re a long way from those kinds of decisions on those kinds of questions. I think it was important from our perspective as President Trump said on Saturday and again yesterday, to deal with the question of Russian violations of the INF treaty. It’s a position Russia doesn’t agree with, but which we feel very strongly about. It was a major factor in our decision to withdraw. I might say for the context involved here, this is not a subject that arose yesterday. This question of Russian violations is long and deep and something that both the Trump and the Obama Administrations were very concerned about. In fact, just to give a little context as I say, I’d like to read from a speech in 2015 by the Obama Administration’s then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, that’s a position I held in the Bush Administration. This is what Under Secretary Gottemoeller said in 2015: So I’m quoting Rose, here, she said, “Russia tested starting in 2008 a ground launched cruise missile that flies to ranges banned by the treaty. The banned ranges are between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. We are quite sure they have tested a capable missile that flies to those ranges, and they tried to get away with it. And we called them on it starting in May 2013, and we’ve been butting heads ever since.”
I might also direct your attention to the Compliance Reports that are filed annually by the State Department, available on their website, beginning with the Compliance Report of 2014, which covered 2013, and which referred from 2013, right up to the present day, 6 years of Russian non-compliance. But there is another aspect that your question raises and that is what the activity of other countries like China, Iran, North Korea and others who are not covered by the treaty, who are free to do whatever they want in the intermediate range and have made very substantial strides to have that capability. We estimate, for example, in the case of China, that somewhere between one third and one-half of all of their ballistic missile capability would violate the INF if they were a party to it.
So there’s a new strategic reality out there. This is a Cold War, bilateral ballistic missile-related treaty in a multi polar ballistic missile world. I think on this latter point of the more complicated global strategic environment is something that concerns the Russians very substantially, and we talked about that.
The problem is there are Russian INF-violating missiles in Europe now. The threat is not American withdrawal from the INF Treaty; the threat is the Russian missiles already deployed.
Washington Post, Anton Troianovski: To follow up on that, did you discuss the possibility of a modified INF treaty that would include other countries? Or, to put that question another way, if Russia were to come back into compliance with the INF, would you support withdrawal anyway. And…
Ambassador Bolton: Before you ask a third question, can I answer the first two?
Washington Post, Anton Troianovski: Did you do a formal withdrawal notice, was my third question.
Ambassador Bolton: With respect to the question of Russian compliance, as I’ve said, it is the American position that Russia is in violation. It is Russia’s position that they are not in violation. So one has to ask, “How do you convince the Russians to come back into compliance with obligations they don’t think they’re violating?” It’s not like this is a new subject, as Rose Gottemoeller said, they’ve been butting heads on it since beginning in May 2013. On the conceptual possibility of universalizing the treaty, yes, that’s something that we’ve thought of as far back as 2004, and some efforts were made to see if it might be possible to extend the treaty then and shortly thereafter, but they all failed.
Just within, I think, the last two days, China has issued a statement that says it wants the United States to stay in the INF treaty. And if I were living in Beijing, I’d probably think the same thing, but I’m not. In terms of filing the formal notice of withdrawal, that has not been filed, it’ll be filed in due course. I can tell you again from the example of the ABM treaty, I was first, I remember this very vividly, I was due to fly to Moscow on September the 11th, 2001. Obviously, that didn’t happen but I came later in the week on a government plane and that’s when we had the first discussions on the subject, and we filed our notice to withdraw, if my memory serves me, sometime in December.
RBK, Zhenya Pudovkin: I was wondering what you think about the November sanctions and will the U.S. impose sanctions related to chemical weapons on Russia in November.
Ambassador Bolton: I’d rather keep the questions on the subject of the meetings here in Washington, but that subject did come up and I can tell you we’re looking at the statutory obligations we have in light of the chemical weapons attack in the United Kingdom, but don’t, we’ve not made a decision yet on sanctions. I did mean to say the conversations here in Washington – in Moscow – I’ve been here so many times I get confused.
Current Time, Elena Vershina: Mr. Bolton, you already mentioned that you discussed with President Putin the meddling of Russia in the U.S. election. Do you think that Russia is meddling in next month’s mid–term elections and what steps are U.S. plan to [stop] Russia from these steps? Thank you.
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I can say we’re monitoring the potential for foreign interference in our elections across the board very closely. FBI Director Christopher Wray said about a month ago that we didn’t detect anything like the level of involvement in 2016, but, as he pointed out, that could change with one keystroke. We have two weeks to go until theelection. I hope there isn’t any meddling at all. It’s worth noting that the President signed an executive order about a month ago that will require a report from the Director of National Intelligence within 45 days after the election on whether any meddling took place. So we will be examining all of the information on an ongoing basis, but particularly after the election.
RIA-Novosti: You said that you discussed during your visit to Russia the situation in Syria.Have you discussed possible cooperation on Idlib with your Russian counterparts? And the second one – I know it’s wasn’t part of the meetings, but you mentioned it yesterday in your interview, so are you going to revise your partnership with Saudi Arabia in light of the recent assassination?
Ambassador Bolton: With respect to Idlib, we discussed it in, I think, every meeting I had. I reiterated what President Trump has said about the significance of avoiding a catastrophe there by a resumption of hostilities. The agreement between Russia, Syria and Turkey is holding for now, although there remain a very large number of unresolved issues. Perhaps most importantly, Idlib is obviously only one piece of the Syrian conflict, which is incredibly complicated with a large number of forces crammed into a very small space. So it’s one of the reasons why we thought it was important through enhanced conversation to see if we might look at Syria more comprehensively. And that’s something I think we see is in the interest of an overall resolution of the problem, but particularly in light of Iranian involvement in Syria, across Iraq right through to Lebanon and Iran’s continued malign behavior across the Middle East.
And on Saudi Arabia, I did brief President Putin on what President Trump and others in the Administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CIA Director Gina Haspel and others have been doing. Since I’ve been over here consumed in meetings in Moscow for the last two days, I’d rather not comment on it further, except perhaps to refer you to Vice President Pence’s comments a few hours ago, which I think are the most recent from the most senior level of our government.
Voice of America: You mentioned that attempts to universalize the INF have failed in the past, so I wonder what options are available going forward and what do you say to allay concerns in the (United) States, in Russia, and in Europe this opens the door to a new arms race?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I think it’s important first to look at the reality that the treaty was outmoded, being violated, and being ignored by other countries. Under that view, exactly ONE country was constrained by the INF treaty: the United States. In 2001, we used to have a joke with respect to the ABM treaty that on computer screens in media offices all over the world, whenever someone typed “the ABM treaty of 1972,” there was a key that the reporter only had to hit the one key, and it would type out “, the cornerstone of international strategic stability,”. It was like one word: “The ABM treaty of 1972, the cornerstone of international strategic stability.” So if you take away the cornerstone the entire construct of international stability collapses. It was not true. It was not true then, it will not be true now with the withdrawal from this treaty.
RTVi: You mentioned that the Russian Federation tried to interfere without any success – tried to interfere in the U.S. election, but it failed. So does this mean that Russia should have done something else, or does this mean that if it is proven that there are absolutely no interference in the elections that the sanctions will be lifted?
Ambassador Bolton: Look, it’s the effort alone to interfere in our elections that are objectionable. The fact was that the outcome would then be exactly the same by all the evidence we have. If there were evidence to the contrary, we would have heard it by now.What the meddling did create was distrust and animosity within the United States, and particularly made it almost impossible for two years for the United State and Russia to make progress diplomatically. So that’s a huge loss to both countries, but particularly to Russia.So, it’s a lesson, I think: don’t mess with American elections.
Bloomberg: What proof of this so–called effect of Russian meddling do you have. It seems the U.S. security community hasn’t yet concluded the same thing. On the 2018 meddling, I also would like to check if the latest accusations against the woman who worked for or was very close to President Putin is a signal that we may see future sanctions based on the criminal accusations that have been made against people very close to the Kremlin. Thank you very much.
Ambassador Bolton: Of course, we only know what has been disclosed publicly in the form of indictments and related information, but certainly taking what we have seen so far, there is no possibility that the outcome of the elections would have been changed. If new information comes to light, obviously we have to take that into account. And that applies to the indictment of the Internet Research Association accountant that was just released, if you go back and read that carefully and look at the time periods involved. And if you want to talk about a really massive influence effort on the American political system, I suggest you read Vice President’s speech on China’s efforts. His speech was three or four weeks ago.Looking at everything China was doing, a very, very senior U.S. intelligence official said it made Russia look like the junior varsity.
Thank you very much. We’re leaving very early tomorrow for Baku.