3 Dec 2009

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon: We hope Russia will join us and our partners in increasing pressure on Iran

Question: Mr. Gordon, what was the purpose of your visit to Russia? We know that the beginning of a new political season will be marked by two important events in Russian-U.S. relations: the meeting between the presidents of Russia and the U.S. at the G20 summit in Pittsburg and the first meeting between the co-chairmen of the presidential commission, the foreign ministers of Russia and the U.S. Has the agenda of the upcoming presidents‘ meeting been determined?

Answer: I came here on a short visit to follow up on the president‘s visit of early July. We announced a new way forward in U.S-Russia relations, the presidents set up this commission with 14 different working groups, and I thought this would be an opportune time now that the summer is over, a couple of months after the presidential visit, to come and see my counterparts here to see where we stood on the working groups, to try to move that agenda forward, and consult with Russian counterparts on some of the key issues in U.S.-Russian relationships, which include START follow-up, Afghanistan, Iran, non-proliferation, European security, NATO, and other issues. So it was really an opportunity for me to follow up on the president‘s visit, to follow up on the new relationship with Russia and to help the way forward for when the presidents do meet later in September and eventually when Secretary Clinton and Minister Lavrov meet as well.

Q.: Another report on the progress in the work on the new treaty replacing START I is being prepared for the presidents‘ meeting. What main differences in the positions of the sides still remain to be resolved? Do we have any progress on that?

A.: The short answer is yes. We do have progress. There have been several rounds of talks already. The presidents will get a progress report on September the 23rd . I have negotiated this, and I’ve got to say that we’ve exchanged significant volumes of text on our different positions. I think the differences are well known and can be overcome. We have differences on numbers. That was apparent when the framework was signed during the summit. Remember there is range in the treaty, its just one side wants one number another side wants another, the job of negotiators will be to narrow those differences and find something within those ranges that both sides can accept.

There are some general differences on the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons. We see this as a treaty on reducing offensive weapons. And defense is our different subject. But as I say, I don’t think that these problems are insurmountable. It is a challenge to get such a complicated treaty with verification measures finalized and legalized in such a short time. But I think that’s the real challenge. There is not any fundamental difference on the objective here.

Q.: So, are you sure it will be signed before START 1 expires?

A.: Never sure of anything. You can be sure. We have differences and they have to be narrowed. And again, just technically it is difficult to negotiate something so complicated in such a short period of time. So you know I think I would say I am optimistic and hopeful. But you cant be sure of that, this negotiation implies that there are differences that need to be overcome.

There are chunks of text, pieces of text that we have proposed each other and brackets in it, which signify lack of agreement. That‘s what negotiators are designed to do – to get rid of the brackets along the text.

Q.: So will the new START treaty be large, like a phonebook?

A.: Yeah, because it‘s so detailed. We need also detailed arrangements on verification. Inevitably it will be a number of pages. It‘s a significant agreement. A lot of this is modeled in START, there‘re a lot of legalistic specific details that are already there, that can be used in the follow-on

Russia links the work on the new START treaty with the U.S. plans to deploy its missile defense systems in Eastern Europe,. U.S. President Barack Obama said in Moscow that the expediency of this decision should be evaluated before the end of summer or in September. When can Russia expect an answer?

Q.: We see the START mandate as reducing offensive nuclear weapons. That’s what the presidents asked the teams to do, and that’s what START 1 is about. And that’s a separate issue. As for missile defense, as you know, the president ordered a review of plans for missile defense. And the review is ongoing. I think we will soon have an outcome of that review that we will be able to discuss with our allies and with the Russian government. And I hope we will be able to cooperate on a missile defense system with Russia. But it‘s ongoing and the president hasn‘t made a decision yet.

The review as we have said is about assessing what the threat is, what technologies would best deal with that threat and the cost-effectiveness of different approaches. Аnd those are the determinants of what the missile defense decision is going to be.

And as I well understood, the US doesn‘t want to link the new START treaty with plans to deploy MDS in [the] Czech [Republic] and Poland.

Q.: Does the U.S. consider any alternatives in the sphere of missile defense, for example, the deployment of missile defense systems in Russia or other regions instead of Eastern Europe? Some media have reported that it could be deployed even in Israel?

A.: Don’t believe everything you read about missile defense. I’ve read some interesting things about missile defense. As for our review, as I said all options are being considered as to have the best way to approaches. And as I noted, we’re open to cooperating with Russia. And we think that there is a real missile threat that affects Russia as much as it affects us and our allies. And we can find ways to work together with Russia. And that would be a good thing.

Q.: The G8 has given Iran time until September to resume negotiations. Will the U.S. insist on punishment for Iran in the G8 in the General Assembly framework or at the G20 summit in Pittsburg? What does the U.S. expect from Russia in this sphere?

A.: Again the separate question is Iran. It’s not a question of punishing Iran. We want Iran to respond to the offers made by the international community, to reassure it about its nuclear weapons program. And that would be the best option if Iran comes forward and reassures the international community on that score. If it doesn’t, to decide the question of punishing Iran, but of raising the cost to Iran of pursuing that course, which we worry about because it could lead to an Iranian nuclear weapon and further proliferation in the region, which we think is a common interest between Russia and the United States and others. So we do think that if Iran fails to respond, we need a collective response, and one that would be specially on Iran, and that Russia is a central player on that. It’s not really an issue for the UN General Assembly, but it is a matter for the Security Council, which has already taken a number of steps, including Chapter 7 sanctions resolutions on Iran. And we do think that the Security Council, which has a mandate to deal with matters of international peace and security, has a role played in this. That’s why we welcome an ongoing dialogue with Russia. We are going to move forward with the joint threat assessment the presidents decided on in July. We hope Russia will join us and our partners in increasing pressure on Iran, so that they see that there is a cost to their lack of cooperation.

Q.: When will the practical realization of the agreement on U.S. military transit to Afghanistan through Russia begin? Does the U.S. intend to expand its transit centers in Central Asia?

A.: Well, the Afghani transit arrangement. The two sides have been working on the technical details to enable us to move forward since the summit decided on the arrangement. And my understanding is that in the coming weeks or certainly months we can actually begin the plans and start implementing that agreement. We are very satisfied with that, it’s a good example of how – the United States and Russia can cooperate in a concrete area of common interests. No quid pro quo‘s or trade offs but just simply we both have an interest in doing this. So we are all working on it and doing it.

We want to diversify as much as possible supply routes to Afghanistan. It’s such a difficult country to get to. So we are always open to different arrangements. This one will be to enforce or further diversify those supply routes and make it less necessary to pursue others but we want to make as many as we can.

Q.: President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez said that Venezuela recognizes the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. How could you comment on this?

A.: If it‘s the case that Venezuela has recognized I don’t think it really does anything to add to the legitimacy of the notion of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The fact that Venezuela has recognized means that Russia has found one country plus the Nicaraguan legislature to recognize, which really underscores how isolated a view that is. We continue to believe, as do the vast majority of countries around the world, that these entities are part of Georgia and that the solution is not recognizing their independence, but first stabilizing the situation and then facilitating their integration into recognized Georgia.

Q.: The president of Abkhazia has threatened to destroy Georgian ships violating the Abkhaz sea border. Russia has warned Georgia that its attempts to prevent third countries‘ vessels from moving to the coast of Abkhazia can lead to serious military incidents. What is the U.S. position on this issue?

A.: We are concerned about that, this is the sort of tension that we are looking for ways to avoid it. You can easily have misunderstandings or miscommunication that leads to conflict that can spill over into a bigger conflict. So we need to work on that, develop ‘common’ talks with Georgia and Russia. and issues in Geneva next week. This will be on the agenda. We’ll appeal to all sides to tone down the rhetoric and the ‘action’ to avoid. a miscalculation that could get everyone in trouble.

Q.: What obstacles do you believe still prevent Russia from entering the WTO?

A.: There are a number. Let me just first say, that we want to see Russia join the WTO. President Obama has said we want to see a prosperous Russia. It would be in Americas interests, WTO membership would increase prosperity for Russia and ‘for others’ So it would be a good thing. There are a number of outstanding issues, in the area of agriculture, intellectual property rights, that technical experts can deal with, which could aid as a political signal to move forward and get these things done. On the Russian side I have to say we were puzzled by the proposal to have a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan and we fear that that will slow Russia’s entry into the WTO because those countries aren’t as far a long in the process as Russia is, so I hope that doesn’t delay further what should otherwise move forward.

Q.: Will the U.S. administration return to the Congress the U.S.-Russia agreement for friendly atom cooperation, which was withdrawn last year due to the events in South Ossetia?

A.: I don’t know of any current plans to send that back to congress, I think the agreement has merit its something that we want to pursue but at present there is no agenda for something like this.