John Bolton: Meeting between Putin, Trump in Paris in November to take place
U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has given a press conference at Interfax in the wake of his visit to Russia, in which he speaks about results of his visit, U.S. President Donald Trump‘s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, plans for a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and others issues.Bolton: Thanks very much for being here. I also want to thank Interfax. I have come here many, many times, beginning in September-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, and a very trying environment, and they have us descend on them with all the needs and requirements, really puts a strain on the embassy. We are very grateful to him and everybody who pitched in on us.
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 [Vladimir] Putin, from which we‘ve just come, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, with my direct counterpart, Secretary of the Russian National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, and with President Putin‘s foreign affairs advisor Ambassador Yury Ushakov.
This was the second meeting, especially with Secretary Patrushev, following up on the meeting in Helsinki between President Putin and President Trump and their instructions 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.
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, but just to give a couple of highlights of what we covered and what we discussed is President Putin said in the opening of the meeting today, when press was there, his words now would be "useful to continue 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 said, and I said, yes, in fact, that 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 that the French are hosting on November the 11th.
Among the issues we discussed where we agreed that we‘d have more discussion actually to tighten coordination and in-depth discussion of Russian and American policies was with respect to Syria.
We discussed again in following on from conversations in Helsinki and then 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 in Russia would begin again in December. We‘ll fix the exact dates. But this counterterrorism dialogue we view as very important and it will be complemented in due course with the resumption of dialogue on counternarcotics 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 will take place in the first quarter of next year. That is something that Ambassador Huntsman has been particularly involved in leading on.
We discussed our continuing concern with Russian meddling in the elections and why it was particularly harmful to U.S.-Russian 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.
Question: If the United States and the Russian Federation will find themselves free to withdraw from the INF Treaty, what are they be going to be doing next? Are they going to be concerned about China? Are they going to be placing their missiles in Europe? Are they going to be agreeing on some kind of territorial deployment of their missiles? So what‘s next for both countries?
Answer: I think we‘re a long way from any decisions on those kinds of questions, it think it was important from our perspective, as President Trump said on Saturday and said again yesterday, to deal with the question of Russian violations of the INF Treaty. It‘s a position that Russia does not agree with, 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 would 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 - it‘s a position I held in the Bush administration - and that is what Under Secretary Gottemoeller said in 2015. So I‘m quoting Rose here. She said, "Russia tested starting in 2008 a ground-based cruise missile that flies to ranges banned by the treaty. The banned ranges are between 500 kilometers 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 a compliance report of 2014, which covered 2013 and which referred for 2013 right up to the present days six years of Russia‘s non-compliance.
But there is another aspect that your question raises and that is what the activities 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 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, on the more complicated global strategic environment, this is something that concerns the Russians very substantially, and we talked about that.
Q.: Will there be U.S. missiles in Europe then?
A.: Well, the problem is that there are Russian INF-violative missiles in Europe now. The threat is not American withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the threat is the Russian missiles already deployed.
Q.: So 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 the compliance with the INF, would you support the withdrawal anyway? Did you do a formal withdrawal notice?
A.: 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 you convince the Russians to come back into compliance with obligations they do not think they are violating?
And it‘s not like this is a new subject. As Rose Gottemoeller said, they have been butting heads on it since May 2013.
Now on the conceptual possibility of universalizing the treaty, yes, that‘s something that we 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. They all failed.
Just within I think the past 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.
And in terms of filing the formal notice of withdrawal, that has not been filed. It will 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, it didn‘t happen, but I came later in the week on a governmental plane, that‘s when we had the first discussions on the subject, and we filed our notice of withdrawal, if my memory serves me, sometime in December.
Q.: I was wondering what you think about the November sanctions. Will the U.S. impose sanctions for the chemical weapons in Russia in November?
A.: I‘d rather keep the questions on the subjects of the meetings here in Washington, but that subject did come up, and I can tell you that we‘re looking at the statutory obligations that we have in light of the chemical weapons attack in the United Kingdom, but we have not made a decision yet on the sanctions.
A.: I did mean to say conversations here in Washington - in Moscow, I‘ve been here so many times I get confused.
Q.: Mr. Bolton, you already mentioned that you discussed with President Putin the meddling of Russia in U.S. presidential elections. Do you think Russia is meddling in the next-month mid-term elections? What steps does the U.S. plan to [keep] Russia from these steps?
A.: Well, I can say we‘re obviously 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 the election. I hope there isn‘t any meddling at all, but 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.
Q.: You said that you discussed the situation in Syria during your visit to Russia. Have you discussed the possible cooperation on Idlib with Russian counterparts? And the second one, it wasn‘t maybe a part of your meetings in Moscow but you mentioned it in yesterday‘s interview. Are you going to revise your partnership with Saudi Arabia with regard to this recent assassination?
A.: With respect to Idlib, we discussed it, I think, in every meeting that I had. I reiterated what President Trump has said about the significance of avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe there by the resumption of hostilities. The agreement between Russia, Syria, and Turkey is holding for now, although there remain a very large number of unresolved issues. And perhaps most importantly, Idlib is obviously only one piece of the Syrian conflict, which is credibly 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 can‘t look at Syria more comprehensively, and that is something, I think, we see as in the interests 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 over 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.
Q.: Mr. Ambassador, you mentioned that attempts to universalize the INF Treaty had failed in the past and I wondered - then what options are available of going forward? And what would you say to allay concerns in the United States, in Russia, and in Europe that this opens a door to a potential arms race?
A.: 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. So under that view, exactly one country was constrained by the INF Treaty: the United States. I think it‘s also important to avoid some of the rhetoric of people who are comfortable with the treaty and what the implications of U.S. withdrawal would be.
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 somebody 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 "comma the cornerstone of international strategic stability comma." 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.
Q.: You mentioned that the Russian Federation tried to interfere without any success 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‘s proven that there was absolutely no result for the elections, that the sanctions will be lifted?
A.: It is the effort alone to interfere in our elections that is objectionable. The fact was that the outcome would have been absolutely the same by the all evidence we have, and 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 States and Russia to make progress diplomatically. So that‘s a huge loss to both countries but particularly to Russia. It is a lesson, I think, don‘t mess with American elections.
Q.: What proofs of so little effect of Russian meddling do you have? It seems the U.S. intelligence community hasn‘t yet concluded the same thing. And on the 2018 meddling, I would like to check if the latest accusations against a woman who worked for a person very close to President Putin were made. Is it a signal that we may see further sanctions based on the criminal accusations made against people close to the Kremlin?
A.: Of course, we only know what has been disclosed publicly in the form of indictments and related information. But certainly, taking what we‘ve seen so far, there‘s no possibility that the outcome of the election would have been changed. If new information comes to light, obviously, we‘ll have to take that into account.
And that applies to the indictment of the Internet Research Association accountant that was just released. Go back and read careful and look at the time periods involved. If you want to talk about a really massive influence effort on the American political system, I‘d suggest you read Vice President Pence‘s speech on China‘s efforts - his speech was two or three week ago. Looking at everything that China was doing, a very, very senior U.S. intelligence official said it makes Russia look like the junior varsity.