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TRANSCRIPT: Online Press Briefing with U/S Thompson on INF

Please find below the transcript from online press briefing with Under Secretary Andrea Thompson on INF.  Nearly 90 journalists participated from Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, Ukraine, the US, and Vietnam. 

Under Secretary Andrea Thompson

Arms Control and International Security

Subject: INF Treaty

February 6, 2019

Moderator:  The State Department’s interactive virtual press briefing platform.  I am delighted to welcome participants joining us today from around Europe and across the globe.

Today we will be speaking with Andrea Thompson, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.  Before her arrival at the Department of State Under Secretary Thompson served as the Deputy Assistant to the President, and National Security Advisor to the Vice President.  Prior to her tenure at the White House, Under Secretary Thompson served as the Director of the McCrystal Group Leadership Institute.  She also brings more than 25 years of service in the United States military to her role, including deployments on multiple combat tours.

She is happy to take your questions today on the status of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Under Secretary Thompson, thank you for joining us today, and I will turn it over to you for some opening remarks.

U/S Thompson:  Wonderful.  First of all, thank you for having me and thank you for those that are calling in and watching today.

Again, an important announcement last week from Secretary Pompeo and from the President, and I am just back from Beijing where I met with my Russian counterpart, so I look forward to taking your questions this morning, and look forward to the interview.  Thanks so much for the opportunity.

Moderator:  Our first question was submitted in advance from Lilia Mustakova from Bulgaria On Air TV. She asks:

Question:  What are the U.S. future plans regarding the control of nuclear arms and the further relationship with Russia?

U/S Thompson:  Thank you for that question.

For the control of nuclear arms, there is no change for the United States.  We continue to uphold our obligations and the standards that we’ve set. 

I mentioned previously, I just returned from the P5 in Beijing where we talked about the importance of nonproliferation and the standards for our nuclear weapons and our nuclear programs.  I had those discussions with my Chinese counterpart, my Russian counterpart, Brit and French.  So those standards remain unchanged.  A steadfast commitment to upholding our obligations with that.

And our relationships with Russia.  I mentioned the same thing to the Deputy Foreign Minister.  I am a diplomat.  Our job is never done.  Dialogue remains an important piece, and diplomacy is key and essential to that.

Again, it’s the responsibility for Russia to get back into compliance, but we’ll continue to engage where appropriate.

Moderator:  The next question also comes from Bulgaria, from Momchil Indjov at Club Z.  He asks:

Question:  Is there a possibility for the U.S. to deploy missiles in Europe, which are forbidden under the INF Treaty now or after August 2nd?

U/S Thompson:  We’ve worked hand-in-hand with our partners and allies on next steps.  We made mention as well to our counterparts that the conventional weapon systems, the R&D that we’ve talked about that we’ve been in compliance with the Treaty.  The Department of Defense will now move out on that.  Again, we’ve been following the rules since 1987 while Russia in the last six-plus years has violated that treaty.

The Department of Defense will start those R&D efforts, but there’s no plans to do that.  The most important thing to remind folks is we’ve done this, we’re partners and allies.  We engaged early and often as partners and allies.  After I met with my Russian counterparts in Geneva January 15th, the next day we flew to Brussels to meet with the Secretary General and our NATO partners and allies to continue to have those discussions with partners and allies, so no change for that.

Moderator:  The next question comes from the Danish Daily.

Question:  Why did the U.S. not offer Russia access to its land-based Aegis system in Romania as a confidence-building measure?  In return, the U.S. could demand access to Russia’s SSC-8 missile systems.  It might be a way to save the INF Treaty.

U/S Thompson:  It’s important to remember the United States remains in compliance with the INF Treaty.  Our systems are INF Treaty compliant.  So there’s no reason to look at systems that are compliant.

I’d also add that with our partners and allies no one, and again I reiterate, no one other than Russia has come forward to way the U.S., these systems aren’t treaty compliant. 

I’d also like to remind folks that the transparency, and I call that loosely, the transparency measures that were raised by Russia clearly were not transparency measures.  Our static display of a system does not tell you how far that missile can fly.  The static display of a system does not tell you what the fuel source is.

So Russia tried some propaganda, a last-ditch effort, bringing the system out, the SSC-8, the 90729 for the Russian system.  Again, people called it what it was.  It was a show.  The people that came to watch it were not allowed to ask questions and it didn’t prove or disprove anything of the treaty violations.

We’ve shown Russia, handed them the list of things they need to do to get back into compliance multiple times, as have partners and allies, and they continue to disavow that violation.

Moderator:  The next question comes from Brooks Tigner at Jane’s Defence Weekly in Belgium.

Question:  To what extent is Washington’s decision to withdraw from the treaty motivated by concerns over China’s nuclear arsenal, and the fact that it falls outside of the INF?

And another question, would Washington support a multilateralized INF Mark II Treaty to rope in China, India, Israel and other countries with nuclear arsenals?

U/S Thompson:  The INF Treaty is about Russia.  The decision on the INF Treaty is about Russia and Russia’s failure to abide by the tenets of the treaty.

Again, I remind folks that we’ve worked across two administrations, almost six years, 30-plus engagements with our Russian counterparts describing the importance of getting back into compliance.  So this decision on the INF Treaty was clearly about Russia, continues to be about Russia.  They have six months to get back into compliance.

I also recognize that China has quite an arsenal that isn’t INF Treaty compliant.  Their systems would not meet the standards of the INF Treaty.  So that’s discussions in the future, but as I remind folks, the INF Treaty today, for the next six months, is all about Russia.

Moderator:  A question from ZDF German TV.

Question:  Did you receive any signals from China regarding their willingness to negotiate an arms control treaty that includes them?

U/S Thompson:  I’ve not.  I just returned back from Beijing.  I was there, again, for our P5 conference and China did not raise that.  I don’t anticipate that they will raise that, again, because their systems wouldn’t meet the INF Treaty.  They’ve already exceeded that.  So the short answer is no.  They didn’t raise that issue.

Moderator:  Next question coming from colleagues in Lithuania.

Question:  How would the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty affect the security of the Baltic states?  Would you expect a stronger militarization in the Kaliningrad Oblast?

U/S Thompson:  I was in the Baltics last year.  I’ve been in the Baltics twice now with this administration.  Once with the Vice President, and once as Under Secretary.  Important partners, they continue to be important partners. 

And as I remind folks, the system that Russia has fielded, the SSC-8, again from the NATO nomenclature, this isn’t a prototype.  This isn’t in a lab.  This isn’t in a warehouse somewhere.  These are fielded battalions, multiple battalions across Russia that can range our partners and allies now.

So the decision was made for us to withdraw from the INF Treaty, again, so we can build the systems that will defend Americans at home and abroad and work with our partners and allies.  Again, as I remind folks, the Russian system is already fielded.  It can range our European partners today.

Moderator:  The next question comes from Deutsche Welle.

Question:  What was the U.S. reaction to the statements made by Russia that it will leave the INF Treaty as well, and is going to develop new missiles?  Will you try to conduct any negotiations with Russia after that?  Or is the U.S. planning to do something else? 

U/S Thompson:  Russia left the INF Treaty years and year ago.  Russia left the INF Treaty when it decided to design and deploy systems that violated the treaty.  We’ve had engagement, we’ll continue to have engagement, but where the announcement of late with President Putin saying that he’s leaving the treaty, the truth of the matter is it’s more Russian propaganda.  They left the treaty years ago when they decided to design and field the system.

Moderator:  The next question comes from Vladimir Ermakov at Interfax in Russia.

Question:  Given the situation around the INF Treaty, is the New START Treaty also in jeopardy?

U/S Thompson:  New START -- again, the premise of arms control, and I like to remind folks of this as well when they talk about the INF Treaty and New START.  Arms control only works if the parties adhere to the standards that they signed up for.  And when you allow violations of those treaties to occur you undermine the principles of arms control.

So again, year after year Russia has violated the INF Treaty.  We have an obligation to call them out, hold them responsible.

That said, we’ve both met our central limits for the New START Treaty February of last year.  Both are in compliance. 

The other point to raise with some folks that may not be familiar is the New START Treaty is in effect for two more years.  We have until 2021.  It is a relatively simple treaty to extend, so we have time with that. 

The important piece here is to work the INF Treaty, to ensure that arms control continues to maintain those standards and where appropriate take action when they’re not.

Moderator:  The next question from Michael Peel at The Financial Times.

Question:  Is the U.S. considering extra deployments of non-INF compliant missiles in Europe?  And if so, what, where and when?

U/S Thompson:  First, that’s an answer for our partners over at Department of Defense.  As we mentioned with suspension and intent to withdraw, but now the Department of Defense will be able to conduct those research and development activities that they hadn’t because we’d been complying.

So DOD will start those steps on the systems that they couldn’t before.

The other important piece to mention is this is in connection with partners and allies before, during and after.  So that dialogue will occur with Department of Defense and our partners.

Moderator:  A question from Kaarel Kressa at Delfi.

Question:  Russia’s Minister of Defense yesterday stated that they will create new land-based missiles within the next two years.  Is the U.S. going to respond with similar steps?

U/S Thompson:  The U.S. doesn’t do things based on reactions for Russia.  We take actions that will support and defend the security of the American people, whatever that takes.  We’ll develop systems and we’ll continue to refine and innovate those systems that increase the security of the American people.

We have a wide range of adversaries, but at the end of the day it’s not important.  Protecting American people, we’ll do what it takes to do so.

Moderator:  Next question from Simon Shuster at Time Magazine.

Question:  What is your assessment of the threat from Russia’s Poseidon system which is designated by NATO as Kanyon, the nuclear-armed autonomous torpedo?

U/S Thompson:  Well, we have a full range of threats, Russian and others.  Again, the important thing to remind folks is that we have the strongest military in the world.  We have in the past, we have currently, and we’ll continue in the future.  You heard it from President Trump last night in his State of the Union Address, he will continue to fund the systems necessary and we have the strongest military.  And again, I don’t give much credence to the propaganda of Russia.  I have utmost faith and confidence in the United States military.

Moderator:  Next question comes from Ukraine, Dmitry Shkurko at the National News Agency of Ukraine.

Question:  After Russia has suspended its participation in the INF Treaty, what immediate measures should be taken to ensure Euro Atlantic security?  Do you see any international and multilateral format for new arms control treaties to keep nonproliferation under control?

U/S Thompson:  We currently have a strong arms control regime.  Again, I just mentioned the P5 discussions.  We have had meetings at my level, at the Secretary’s level, the technical experts.  I’ve been at NATO multiple times at those levels.

So the relationship is there.  I’m confident that will continue to be.  There are multilateral organizations and we have strong bilateral relationships.  You’ll see Defense Ministerials, you’ll see the 2+2 Dialogue with the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs.  So we’ll continue with that.  It’s one of the strong suits of our relationship.

Moderator:  Next question, a topical one from Andrei Sitov at the TASS News Agency in Russia.  He says:

Question:  President Trump said in the State of the Union that the U.S. wants to negotiate a new agreement to replace the INF, “adding China and others”.  Have you decided on whom else to invite to join the negotiations?  And how soon may you issue the invitations?

U/S Thompson:  Actually what he said was maybe we will, maybe we won’t negotiate a new deal.  So it’s too soon to tell.  Again, right now we’re in that six-month window engaging with Russia to get them back into compliance with the INF Treaty.

Moderator:  Another question from Russia.  This from Mikhail RIA Novosti.

Question:   What will the response to the announced improvement of the Caliber systems and hypersonics missiles be?

U/S Thompson:  Again, I go back to the discussions we had a little bit earlier with Department of Defense and the President.  The President will fund every system that we need to ensure that we have the security and safety of the American people and partners and allies.  You’ve seen it in his budget, you’ve seen it in his actions, and the Department of Defense will move out accordingly.

So with a wide range of worldwide threats, at the end of the day the United States is best postured to address those threats.

Moderator:  Question from Robin Emmott at Reuters.

Question:  What do you say to European countries that are worried about being caught in a new arms race between the United States and Russia?

U/S Thompson:  What I’d say to our European partners is first,

Thank you for your partnership.  We saw a strong NATO statement not only in December when Secretary Pompeo made the announcement about a suspension, and then the statement last week with the follow-up with a very strong NATO statement.

That’s a telling indicator of our relationship with our European partners and allies.  They continue to call out Russia.  Not one country has said, you know, you’re right.  Maybe Russia isn’t in violation.  So that’s another indicator of the strong relationship that we have.

I also tell folks that the systems that Russia has can range them today.  So this isn’t a discussion of what if, what if they build a system?  The system’s already there.  So we need to continue with our partnership, continue with next steps, but remind folks, this is Russia’s violation and it’s up to Russia to destroy the systems that are a threat to the U.S. and our partners.

Moderator:  Next question comes from Jakub Borowski at the Polish Press Agency.

Question:  What control mechanisms could be set in the future should other countries with missile capabilities be included?

U/S Thompson:  With the control systems, again, arms control writ large is working.  We have standards.  We uphold those standards.  And it’s recognized worldwide.  We have multiple forums where we discuss the importance of fulfilling our obligations.  And as you’ve seen, the party that is destroying that reputation is Russia.

So we’ll continue to uphold those standards and we’ll continue to abide by our treaties.  We’ll continue to remind folks, when you sign that piece of paper it’s much more than that.  It is ensuring the safety and security and the standards of our arms control regimes.

Moderator:  Thank you. Unfortunately, that is all the time that we have for today.  Thank you to the participants for your questions.  And thank you again, Under Secretary Thompson, for joining us here. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another Live at State program again soon.

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Public Diplomacy – Press Office

U.S. Embassy-Bucharest