Telephonic Press Briefing with Andrea L. Thompson Under Secretary for Arms Control And International Security Affairs

Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release

Special Briefing

January 16, 2019

Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. European Media Hub in Brussels. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across Europe and thank you for waiting for the few extra minutes today for today’s discussion.

Our speaker today is Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson. Under Secretary Thompson is in Brussels to discuss the status of the INF Treaty with NATO allies. We thank you, Under Secretary Thompson, for taking the time to speak with us today

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Under Secretary Thompson and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many as we can during the time that we have. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. With that, I will turn it over to Under Secretary Thompson.

Under Secretary Thompson: Thank you, Kathy, and thanks for all on the line for making the time to talk about an important topic.

As Kathy said, I’m Andrea Thompson. I’m the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the State Department. We arrived at NATO headquarters today in Brussels and just a few hours ago I briefed our NATO allies with a topic of great importance, and that’s the INF Treaty.

You may know that yesterday I led an interagency delegation. We flew to Geneva and met with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov. They requested a meeting in December and we said yep, we’re willing to listen. So we took a high-level delegation to discuss the INF Treaty with my Russian counterpart.

Our message was very clear to the Deputy Foreign Minister and his team, that Russia must return to full and verifiable compliance with the INF Treaty. I’d also like to remind folks that maybe haven’t followed this topic as closely, that this is after more than five years of our U.S. and allied diplomacy on INF. This is across multiple administrations, again, and five-plus years, both with us and NATO and others. In that time we’ve raised repeatedly the Russian non-compliance on over 30 occasions. So again, some folks may have the tendency to think this is a new problem. This is not a new problem, this is a new solution, over 30 occasions.

You also might remember December 4th Secretary Pompeo announced the U.S. finding that Russia is in material breach of the obligations under the INF Treaty. Again, NATO has strongly supported this announcement. They’ve been very clear that it’s incumbent on Russia to return to compliance.

So yesterday in Geneva, again, we outlined our U.S. concerns with Russia’s non-compliance. We explained to our Russian counterparts specifically what they would need to do in order to return to compliance in a manner that we could confirm, against verifiable destruction of the non-compliant system. And I’d like to reiterate that. Verifiable. Some of the measures that we can probably get asked about and talk about here today are not able to be verified, so it’s important to uphold the arms control regime that we have verifiable results.

Disappointingly but not surprising, we weren’t able to break any new ground yesterday with Russia. And I’d also like to remind folks that this continued violation, it’s not only a European threat but it’s a threat to global security and our allies are at risk because of it.

Again, as I mentioned, we approached yesterday’s meeting in good faith. I told the Deputy Foreign Minister I was there to listen. I was there to listen to how they were going to get back into compliance, and this was their opportunity to do so.

We reaffirmed that the INF Treaty, all parties must comply. It’s in the national security interest for the United States, but Russia continues to violate the treaty and we continue to abide by it. That’s what’s been [inaudible]. We also saw no indications based on previous discussions, previous engagement and yesterday’s meeting that Russia is choosing to return to compliance.

I also reminded them for arms control to serve its purpose, for arms control to work, all parties must comply and violations have to have consequences. Again, they’ve been in violation for over five years. We’re now taking action to remedy that.

I also reminded the Deputy Foreign Minister that Russia has a choice. They can either have a non-compliant system or it can have the INF Treaty, but it can no longer have both.

Again, I’m open to your questions, and I appreciate you making time this evening to talk about a very important topic. Thank you so much.

Moderator: Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. Please limit yourself to just one question.

Our first question will go to Danila Galperovich from VOA, Voice of America.

Question: Hi. Thank you very much for the opportunity to ask a question.

Minister Lavrov was saying today that Moscow offered Washington virtually to see this discussed missile of Russia, but United States refused to do so. He actually accused USA that Washington is not willing to go into some substantial talks.

What do you think of that? And what do you think will be the future after United States will withdraw from the treaty?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thank you, Danila. No surprises in the rhetoric from my Russian colleagues. To see the missile does not confirm that distance that missile can travel, and at the end of the day that’s the violation of the treaty. They have a system that overshoots, extends the range allowed in the INF Treaty. To see a static missile, to see a static launch system does not tell me how far that missile can fly.

Also, seeing a test that the Russian military would control, again, they will select their own system and missile. It needs to be verifiable. All the offers that the Russian delegation made yesterday, none of them, and I reiterate that, none of their “transparent measures” were verifiable under the arms control regime.

The future of this treaty, again, the ball’s in Russia’s court. They have until February 2nd under this initial announcement. If they’re not back in compliance by February 2nd, we will suspend our obligations. They have six more months after that to get back into compliance.

Again, the next step’s on Russia. The point you make of Russia asking for more dialogue — five years we’ve been meeting at the table. Met again yesterday. And their story has not changed. It’s the continued false reporting and non-compliance.

So we’re not, the opportunity, again, we came and talked yesterday. It’s time for their action. So thanks again, Danila.

Moderator: Thank you.

Our next question comes to us from Dmitry Kirsanov with TASS News Agency in Russia.

Question: Good evening, Madame Secretary. And thank you so much for doing this.

I wanted to slightly switch gears and ask you what’s going to happen next when it comes to a U.S.-Russian arms control and strategic stability dialogue? If there even would be a regular dialogue on these issues between the two countries. I mean the Guardian reported in October, as you probably know, that the NSA, that Ambassador Bolton was opposing the resumption of these talks. So my question is, is the United States ready and willing to engage Russia in the strategic stability dialogue?

And as a follow-up to that, what are the odds now, would you say, on extending for another five years the New START? Has anything changed because of the INF Treaty? Thank you.

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Dmitry. Yeah, thank you. I’ll start with the second question first on New START.

Again, I’d just like to remind folks that we’re also meeting our obligations to the New START Treaty. Both Russia and the U.S. met our central limits in February, and we continue to meet our obligations. We have a couple more years on that treaty before it’s due to expire and as we’ve mentioned, the discussions yesterday were INF related, not New START related. But I did raise with the Deputy Foreign Minister the importance of, again, the arms control regime only works if you abide by the treaties.

So folks want to talk about New START, and I tell folks they’re not linked to one another, but when you have a party that’s violating one treaty it doesn’t lend much promise to the subsequent treaty.

And in reference to the strategic stability talks, we’ve had meetings with the President, Secretary Pompeo’s met with the Foreign Minister, the National Security Advisor has met, I’ve met with my counterpart. So the door’s open. We’re having discussions with our Russian counterparts. Again, we just met again yesterday. So the door’s open. There’s been dialogue. There just hasn’t been positive action from the other side of the table.

Thank you for the question.

Moderator: Thank you. We will now turn to Ansgar Graf with Welt in Germany.

Question: Hi, Madame. Thank you for having me. The New York Times reported back in October that for the past four years the United States has argued that Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty, but that President Barack Obama chose not to leave the agreement because of objections from the Europeans and particularly from Germany. Can you confirm this?

Under Secretary Thompson: I would not speak for the previous administration. I’d like to speak for the here and now. Germany’s been a steadfast partner. The President’s engagement with Chancellor Merkel was an important part of the discussions that we’ve had. We continue to engage with my German counterpart, and Germany’s been a steadfast ally. I appreciate the support, both from my counterparts in the government and as well from the public. So the information sharing has increased and we continue to stand with one another. So I appreciate the support from my German counterpart.

Moderator: Thank you. We will now turn to Boris [Kamchi] from MIA.

Question: Hi. Madame Secretary, thank you for giving me the opportunity to ask this question.

I just wanted to, if you can give me a political opinion on the Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belgrade these days, and indeed for his visit to Serbia, actually to Serbia. The Russian President told some Serbian media that the U.S. policy plays a destabilizing factor on the Balkans.

And then the Prespa agreement signed between Greece and Macedonia has been signed under foreign pressure and the Republic of Macedonia has been forcefully drawn into NATO military alliance.

Will you please tell me your opinion on Mr. Putin’s latest comments against the U.S., the EU and NATO policies on the Balkans? Again, for the Serbia media. Thank you.

Under Secretary Thompson: Yeah, Boris. President Putin’s comments didn’t pertain to the INF. I can tell you that I’ve had the great opportunity to not only serve in the Balkans, but also visit the Balkans with the Vice President during my time as a national security advisor. Again, an important ally and continued development in the region, also engaged heavily with this administration with Macedonia. You saw the successful vote. Again important partners in the region, this administration continues to support all of the improvements in that area and I don’t give much credence to the rhetoric and propaganda from President Putin.

Moderator: Thank you.

Our next question goes to Markus Preiss with ARD German Television.

Question: My question will be, could you elaborate a little bit on what you said the verifiable assurances. You mentioned missile range. So how exactly do you verify how far a missile flies? Thanks.

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Markus.

Without getting too much into the technical portions of this, and again, much of it is classified as you can imagine. I would really encourage the Russians to actually tell us how they’re going to get their system back into compliance because they know the system best. We did raise that yesterday and said the missile range that we know from testing and our intelligence and information that we’ve shared with our partners and allies, that it violates the treaty. They know their system best. They know exactly what they need to do to get that system back into compliance.

Moderator: Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Alexandr Atasuncev with RBC News Agency in Russia.

Question: Ms. Thompson, after the United States withdraws from this treaty will Washington deploy missiles prohibited by the treaty in Europe?

Under Secretary Thompson: Alexandr, we’re suspending our obligations. We suspend our obligations if, again, if Russia does not get back into compliance. So we’ve been abiding by the treaty. We’ve been not doing the research and development that our Russian counterparts have. So we will continue to abide by the treaty up until that date, and then we’ll make the decision whether we will suspend our obligations. Thanks so much.

Moderator: Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Carlo Angerer with NBC News.

Question: Hi. I wanted to see if you could maybe speak a little bit about the overall mood at the discussion table. Other than disagreement over the treaty itself, how does the overall Russia-U.S. relationship at the moment reflect in those discussions?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Carlo. I will tell you that it was a very professional mood. It was candid. We were very open with one another. Again, I opened with the Deputy Foreign Minister, said I’m here to listen. I brought a senior team, he did as well. There wasn’t a time constraint. It wasn’t hey, we’re only going to meet for 30 minutes or only going to meet for an hour. We met as long as it took to get to a place where we felt that at that point we weren’t going to make movement on either side. But it was a professional conversation, it was a candid conversation, and both teams sent high-level delegations, sent the right people to come to the table with the discussion.

Moderator: For our next question we’ll turn to a question submitted in advance by Maria Makarina with Interfax News Agency in Russia who asks:

Question: You had consultations yesterday with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Are you planning to have more consultations before Russia’s INF compliance deadline in February?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks Maria. We don’t have any currently scheduled engagements. Again, we just had one yesterday, so we need to give, and Russia did request time to go back and assess some of the things that we presented. We have not had an offer to meet again. There are other, I will tell you, I have a broad arms control portfolio that also covers nonproliferation and political/military affairs, so there may be engagements where the Deputy Foreign Minister will be there. That may happen in the next couple of weeks. But we don’t have any INF specific meetings scheduled at this time.

Moderator: Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Julian Borger from the Guardian Newspaper in the UK.

Question: Hi, thanks for doing this.

Was there any discussion of any kind of quid pro quo? The Russians have complained about U.S. missile defense launchers I believe that could launch offensive weapons. Was there any discussion of the mutual verifiable checks and balances on those systems?

Under Secretary Thompson: Yes, Julian. They did raise their counterpoint. Interesting that each of the systems that they raised are in compliance with the treaty. And we went step by step and gave them the information. They’ve already had that information, raised it in previous engagements, but we raised it again yesterday on why the systems that they raised are compliant and again have gotten, we need the validation, but our NATO partners have also been very consistent in that as well. But our systems continue to be in compliance with the treaty. But they did raise it.

Moderator: Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Mikhail Turgiev with RIA Novosti in Russia.

Question: Hi. Could you please elaborate on the term that you used, the suspension. What does a suspension mean? Does it that you do not quit the treaty? Thank you.

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Mikhail. Suspension means we suspend our obligations under the treaty. So what that means is we can conduct the research and development of systems that previously were not allowed under the treaty. So our obligations are suspended under the treaty. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you very much.

For our next question we will turn to Kelsey Davenport with Arms Control Today.

Question: Thank you. If the INF Treaty is terminated, will the United States support or entertain mutual restrictions on the deployments of INF missiles that threaten Europe or may be deployed in Europe as a substitute for the INF Treaty?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Kelsey. We didn’t talk hypotheticals in this meeting. We talked facts and data and what it would take to get Russia back into compliance. So we didn’t raise any hypotheticals. I will leave the missile and defense planning to my Department of Defense counterparts which I’m sure are working this hard.

Moderator: Thank you very much.

For our next question we’ll turn to a question submitted in advance by James Hirst with Forces TV in the UK who asks:

Question: Did the United States consult with the UK and other NATO partners ahead of the decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty? And what views have they expressed on the decision?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, James. I wouldn’t want to talk withdraw because we haven’t had that discussion. So yes, we did consult with our key partners and allies, the UK being one of many, on what that means, and continue engaginh. We had additional meetings again today. So the UK continues to be a steadfast partner for us.

Moderator: Thank you.

Our next question comes to us from Christoph Pagel with Focus Online in Germany.

Question: Hello. I understood that next Wednesday there will be a NATO-Russia Council. So my question would be what do you expect of the meeting? And do you think you could convince Russia to give in with the help of the Russian allies?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Christoph. Tentatively, I don’t know if the date has been set for the NATO-Russia Council. Again, we talked about that today. Our NATO counterparts are appreciative it is another opportunity to engage. The Russians, again, have had recent information. They can take the information from yesterday. We also shared some of the steps with our NATO counterparts, so it’s another opportunity. I hope Russia uses this opportunity to talk about how they’re going to get back into compliance.

Moderator: Our next question comes to us from our Voice of America reporter, Danila Galperovich.

Question: Thank you very much. This is actually my second question. Can you please elaborate on what is your overall assessment of Russian missile forces today? Because there are many reports of real modernization of Russian weapons now including statements of Mr. Putin about new arms. What do you think of that? Thank you.

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Danila. I think they continue to violate arms control treaties. I think they continue to put partners and allies at risk. I think they continue to field battalions that aren’t authorized under the treaties that they’ve signed. And I think they should be more truthful in their assessments in doing so.

Moderator: Thank you.

Our next question comes to us from Christoph von Marschall with Der Taggesspiegel.

Question: I would like to know whether there are any talks of including additional countries into treaties of arms control like China or Pakistan, if it came up at all? And if it didn’t come up, can you just comment on the need to talk not only with Russia but with many more countries?

Under Secretary Thompson: Thanks, Christoph. No, the INF Treaty, we’ll continue to engage with the partners that are signed by the treaty, and it did not come up in our discussions with our Russian counterparts. We do have, obviously, relationships with a myriad of countries. For the INF Treaty, the discussions, we’ve tailored it to that with the discussions yesterday in Geneva.

Moderator: Thank you. Unfortunately, that was the last question we have time for.

Under Secretary Thompson, do you have any closing words that you would like to offer?

Under Secretary Thompson: I would just like to thank this group. Again, it’s an important audience as our partners and allies and what they read and hear. And so I appreciate you making the time to help with clarifying any questions you may have, and taking the time this evening to seek more insight on the INF Treaty. It’s an incredibly important treaty, both to the United States and to our partners and allies, and again, it’s up to Russia to get back into compliance.

But truly, thanks for making the time tonight, everyone.

Moderator: And I want to thank you, Under Secretary Thompson, for joining us, and thank all of you for participating and for your questions.