A special online briefing was held by Amanda Sloat, NSC Senior Director for Europe and Ambassador Julianne Smith, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO on July 7 2023.Read the whole briefing here:
MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I’d like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today we’re very honored to be joined by NSC Senior Director for Europe Amanda Sloat and Ambassador Julianne Smith, U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
And finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Senior Director Sloat, Ambassador Smith, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over first to Dr. Sloat to walk us through the President’s trip as a whole, and then to Ambassador Smith for more on the NATO Leaders’ Summit.
MS SLOAT: Great. Thanks, Andrea, and thanks to everybody for joining. Greetings from Washington. The whole team here is looking forward to being in Europe next week.
On Sunday the President will be departing for this major trip overseas at a time when the United States is reaffirming its strong leadership, and in particular its leadership and engagement with Europe, with the NATO Alliance specifically, as a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.
In terms of the President’s agenda, he will travel first to the United Kingdom. While in London, the President will meet with King Charles at Windsor Castle and will engage with the climate finance mobilization forum – excuse me – which is focused on mobilizing climate financing in developing countries. He will also meet with UK Prime Minister Sunak to consult on a range of bilateral and global issues, which will mark the President’s fifth meeting with Prime Minister Sunak in as many months.
The President will then travel to Vilnius, Lithuania, to attend the NATO Summit. In advance of the summit, he’ll hold a bilateral meeting with Lithuanian President Nausėda and then will meet with his NATO counterparts and partners at the summit. This will certainly be a historic summit at a very important moment in history. Ambassador Smith will be able to provide more details on the summit, but just in general, the President and our Allies will be discussing a wide range of subjects ranging from strengthening NATO’s eastern flank to modernizing NATO’s deterrence and defense capabilities. Allies will also be demonstrating our continued unity and resolve in support of Ukraine, which hasn’t wavered, disproving President Putin’s expectation of fracturing Western unity – and we believe that the Alliance remains stronger and more united than ever.
After the summit, President Biden will give a major speech in Vilnius about the importance of supporting Ukraine and defending democratic values globally.
After Vilnius, the President will head to Helsinki for the final stop on the trip. He will have a bilateral meeting with Finnish President Niinistö, and he will then participate in a U.S.-Nordic Summit with the leaders of the Nordic countries. This is a meeting in a format that the United States has done twice before, most recently in 2016 when President Obama hosted the leaders of the five Nordic countries at the White House. In these meetings, the President will advance our close cooperation across the Nordic region on shared regional security objectives, including discussing the climate crisis and advancing technological innovation for the benefit of all citizens.
So let me stop there with the general overview of the trip and turn it over to Ambassador Smith to talk about the NATO piece specifically.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Thank you very much, and thanks to everybody for joining us. I’ll just walk quickly through some of the main baskets of deliverables, which I think many of you are already tracking, and then eager to hear your specific questions.
First and foremost, as you heard Dr. Sloat say, the focus will be on reaffirming our support for Ukraine. There will also be a package of concrete deliverables both in terms of longer-term practical assistance on things like their military modernization and questions of interoperability. We’ll be working with them on enhancing their political relationship, and so there’ll be some developments there. You heard the secretary general today talk about the creation of a NATO-Ukraine Council, and we can talk in the Q&As about the significance of that if you are interested.
And then in the communique, we will be addressing Ukraine’s membership aspirations, and that is something that NATO Allies continue to work on. But it is not just restating Bucharest. It will look different than what we said in 2008, and we’ll have more to say on that when we get to the summit.
On deterrence and defense, essentially what we have there is the rollout of these new regional plans. It’s a generational shift for the Alliance to now have these three regional plans in place that will ensure that we can literally defend every inch of NATO territory. We’ll be focusing not only on these multi-domain plans, but we will also be focusing on the resourcing that’s needed to execute the plans, and that takes us to the defense investment pledge and the desire for Allies to say something about what follows the defense investment pledge from 2014, which comes to a close next year. And so we’ll have more to say about the 2 percent target and the fact that this will now be an enduring commitment and a floor, not a ceiling. And then we’ll have associated C2 changes that will reflect these new regional plans, and so we’ll be moving out with some news in that category as well.
In addition, three other things to mention.
We’ll have a handful of cyber security deliverables where the Alliance is moving out on strengthening its ability to either deter or prevent or respond to future cyber attacks.
And then secondly, I would mention that for the second time in NATO’s history we have the four leaders of the Indo-Pacific partners coming to the summit – our friends from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. They will be present in Vilnius, which is fantastic to have them present for this historic summit.
And then lastly, we will see where we are on Sweden. The trilat that took place yesterday in Brussels where the foreign ministers, the national security advisors, and the intel chiefs from Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye met with the secretary general was a constructive and positive meeting, and so we’ll see where we are when we get to Vilnius. You’ve heard the United States; our interest is in getting Sweden into the Alliance as soon as possible. We believe Sweden is ready to do so. It brings an enormous amount of capacity and clearly shares our values, and has certainly heard and responded to many of the concerns that our friends in Ankara have raised over the last year, so stay tuned on that front as well.
So, without further ado, looking forward to your questions, and I’ll turn it back over to the moderator.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. So we’ll now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. So our first question will go to Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency. Alex, you can unmute yourself and ask your question. Alex, are you able to unmute yourself?
QUESTION: Andrea, can you hear me now?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can.
QUESTION: Thank you so very much for doing this. And I thank both speakers for being here.
Dr. Sloat, will the President be open to meet with his Turkish counterpart to convince him regarding Sweden’s membership? Given that we are just a few days away, is it possible to say which way the wind is blowing on this topic?
To the ambassador, given what you just said on Ukraine’s membership and comparison with the Bucharest Summit, is it fair for us to expect NATO leaders to spell out a concrete and speedy timetable this time?
And finally, to you both, Georgian prime minister is not attending the summit, and some say that it is signifying that Georgia has given up on NATO and its drift towards the Kremlin orbit is going further. Does this require any policy response from both Washington and Brussels? Thank you so much again.
MS SLOAT: So let me go ahead and start with your first question, and then we’ll turn it over to the ambassador on the others. In terms of Sweden’s accession, I would simply echo what Ambassador Smith said, which is that the strong position of the United States is that Sweden is a strong and capable military and democracy and we believe is ready to join NATO now. President Biden had a good meeting earlier this week with the Swedish prime minister where he reaffirmed that, and we have certainly continued to make that position clear to our Turkish counterparts. I don’t have anything to announce at this stage in terms of whether or not the two presidents will have a meeting at the summit, but obviously they have met in the past. They have spoken recently, including when President Biden called President Erdogan to congratulate him after the election.
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Maybe I’ll jump in with the other question on the NATO language. I mean, I really don’t want to get into the specifics of what the language in the communique looks like. We are still finalizing it, putting the finishing touches on it. But I do think that President Zelenskyy, if he opts to come to the summit as he has mentioned, will come to a summit and be well received, will see resounding support for his – Ukraine’s relationship with the Alliance, and will find himself holding a whole collection of concrete deliverables that signals a longer-term commitment to Ukraine from the NATO Alliance.
On the question about Georgia, I will say that Georgia remains a very close partner to the NATO Alliance. We obviously continue to stand with Georgia. We continue to condemn what Russia did in 2008 and the fact that Russia still occupies about 20 percent of Georgian territory. We will continue to stand with them as they work towards full sovereignty and support their – obviously their territorial integrity. But I don’t see any reverse course in terms of how the Alliance is looking at Georgia. We still support this country as a close NATO partner and see no change in that in the future.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And so for our next question we’ll to Myroslava Gongadze from VOA. Myroslava, you can unmute yourself and ask your question. Myroslava, can you hear us?
Okay, I think that we’re having difficulty connecting there. Then let’s go temporarily to our next question from Politico. A. Ward – it’s showing as AWard@Politico.com.
QUESTION: Hi, Alex Ward here. Thank you for having me. Question: Will the security guarantee language that you’re working on with the UK, France, and Germany say that what you’re providing will not be a substitution for Ukraine membership?
MS SLOAT: So I’m not going to get into the details at this stage of the diplomatic conversations that we’re having, but it’s certainly true that we’re continuing to have talks with Ukraine along with other allies and partners on how we can best reassure Ukraine about their long-term security to deter any future aggression after this war ends.
But while those conversations are ongoing, I’m not in a position to get into any details at this stage about the specifics of what we’re discussing. Obviously, the overarching message, as the ambassador said, coming out of the summit in NATO is going to be reinforcing our continued commitment to ensuring that Ukraine remains democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous. And certainly from the U.S. perspective, we are committed ourselves as well as to working with allies and partners to continue providing the support Ukraine needs on the battlefield as well as helping them strengthen their military to increase their security over the long term, including some of the ways the ambassador was talking about in terms of ensuring greater interoperability.
QUESTION: And in terms, really quickly, of the going further than Bucharest, is that mostly the removal of the MAP requirement?
AMBASSADOR SMITH: Well, again, I don’t want to get into the line-by-line here, but you’ve heard the secretary general talk about the fact that the possibility of removing MAP has been on the table and that is one option. Again, we’ll look at the language as it comes out, hopefully on the back end of this weekend, but it is not – we are not showing up in Vilnius just to restate Bucharest. We’re obviously acknowledging the current set of circumstances and the fact that Russia is waging a war on Ukrainian territory, and I think it will reflect the Alliance’s commitment to Ukraine’s long-term stability and security.
MODERATOR:Thank you very much. Let’s go back to Myroslava Gongadze and see if she’s able to ask her question. I think it seems that we’re still having some technical difficulties there.
Okay, let’s move on to our next question from Marina Jakubowska. Marina, you can ask – unmute yourself and ask your question. Okay, having difficulty there as well. Let’s then move on to – let’s see – Sam Blewett has his hand up. Sam, the floor is yours.
QUESTION:Thanks very much. I just want to know what does the President hope to get out of meeting with Prime Minister Sunak, and will he be raising any concerns about Brexit and the Northern Irish peace process?
MS SLOAT: As I said, this is going to be the fifth meeting that the President has had with the prime minister in as many months. They have obviously engaged on a wide range of subjects over the last number of months, including launching recent developments on AUKUS as well as strengthening our economic partnership when the prime minister was in Washington a couple of weeks ago. Given that they are meeting the day before, both leaders will be flying to Vilnius. I would imagine that this will be an opportunity for them to touch base on developments and discussions heading into the summit in Vilnius. It will be an opportunity for them to compare notes on both of our support for Ukraine and their ongoing efforts on the battlefield.
And President Biden has consistently raised Northern Ireland in his conversations with Northern Ireland leaders. He remains very focused on working in partnership with the UK, with Ireland, and continuing to ensure peace and prosperity and stability in the broader region. So while I cannot speak to specifically what the President will be discussing, I would imagine those would be the general range of topics that they would discuss, and Northern Ireland is certainly an issue that the President regularly talks about with his British counterparts.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. And now we’ll move to a journalist from Sweden, Mikael Holmström from Dagens Nyheter. You have your hand up. You can go ahead and ask your question. Mikael, can you unmute yourself and ask your question? Okay, I think we’re having technical difficulties there as well. Let’s then move to Steve Erlanger from the New York Times.
QUESTION:Thanks to both and hello to you both. A couple questions. One, when President Biden says there are no shortcuts to Ukrainian membership, am I right to understand that he means there’s no automaticity once the war ends? First question.
And second question. In these mutual commitments, these bilateral commitments, what will be the organizing principle? Not NATO – will it be the G7 or the Quad? Who’s going to start this process to which countries will sign up? Thank you both.
MS SLOAT: I – thanks, Steve. On the first question, I mean, the President has spoken to that very directly and has said Ukraine would have to make reforms to meet the same standards as any other NATO country before they join. So there’s standards that the Alliance sets for all members, and the President made clear that Ukraine would need to make those reforms. And certainly everything that we are continuing to do now and will continue to do forward is working with Ukraine to ensure that they are able to do them.
And then on the security commitments process, I – same answer to you as I had to Alex. This is something that we are actively engaged in diplomatic conversations about with Ukraine, as well as with our allies and partners. And so I’m not able to get ahead of that process at this time beyond saying that we remain very committed to ensuring that we are continuing to provide the support that Ukraine needs and so are talking with them about structures and formats to be able to do more effectively.
MODERATOR: Okay. And I think we have time for one more question, and I’d like to turn the floor to Zoriana Stepanenko from RFE/RL. Zoriana, you can unmute yourself and ask your question.
QUESTION: Hello, Andrea. Thank you so much for giving me the floor. Just want to make sure that you hear me well (inaudible).
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much once again. So as far as we read in numerous reports from Western media, United States currently are considering ATACMS, long-range missiles to bolster Ukraine’s fight. So as we heard officials see new urgency after long reluctance to provide advanced missile systems, so I would like to ask you at what stage currently are these discussions. Is there any movements in that? And my second question concerns the cluster ammunition. So United States made decision to grant Ukraine with this kind of weapon, so I’d like to clarify when Ukraine can expect for the delivery. And how would it affect the situation on the battlefield? Thank you.
MS SLOAT: So thanks for that. On the question of DPICMs, I don’t have anything new to announce at this stage, but I would make a few general points. First – and this is response to all your questions, we base our security assistance decisions on Ukraine’s needs on the ground. And currently, Ukraine needs artillery to sustain its offensive and defensive operations, and artillery really remains at the core of this conflict. We’ve provided Ukraine with a historic amount of unitary artillery rounds so far, and we’re ramping up domestic production of these rounds as well as working closely with our partners in Europe to continue doing that.
Second, Russia’s been using cluster munitions since the start of the war. If we were to provide that capability, they would have dud rates far below what Russia is using.
And finally, we are continuing to coordinate closely with Ukraine, which has requested these munitions, and offered assurances that they would be using them responsibly. But at this stage, I don’t have anything further to announce on the question of DPICMs, and I also don’t have anything further to announce at this stage on ATACMS.
MODERATOR: Okay. I think, unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today. I’d like to thank all of our journalists for their questions, and thank you, Dr. Sloat and Ambassador Smith, for joining us.
Before we close the call, I’d like to see if either of our briefers have any final remarks for the group.
MS SLOAT: Nothing further from me here in Washington. Thanks to everybody for joining, and certainly all of us in the White House are looking forward to being in Europe next week.
AMBASSADOR SMITH:Look forward to seeing you all in Vilnius.
MODERATOR: Shortly we’ll be sending the audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists, and we’ll provide a transcript as soon as it’s available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at
TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon. This ends today’s briefing.