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Press Briefing with Andrea L. Thompson and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison
January 17, 2019

Press Briefing with Andrea L. Thompson and Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

Press briefing with Under Secretary Thompson and Ambassador Hutchison

Andrea L. Thompson

Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security


Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

Press Briefing

January 16, 2019


Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison:  Thank you all very much for coming.  I am very happy to be here. We have just briefed our allies. I will introduce the Under Secretary shortly, coming just from Geneva, but this afternoon with our allies I wanted to set the stage for all the things that we have done here to keep our allies up to date on the evidence that we have had that Russia has been in violation of the INF treaty for five years. In my time in the Senate I know that we have reached out in the Bush administration, in the Obama administration and now in the Trump administration, calling Russia to the table, trying to get the meetings, trying to get the evidence before them that we knew that they were in violation and to no avail.

So, we have kept our allies informed starting in 2017 in September – the Appropriations Committee, the Armed Services Committee and the House Armed Services Committee equivalent, we said very openly and in the public records that we were now funding the research, which was treaty compliant, because of Russia’s violations of the INF treaty. We needed to begin the research to have a defensive mechanism. And with that, that was 2017 when the bill passed in the fall, and still Russia has denied that they were not in compliance.

So we are now at the point where last December, as everyone knows, Secretary Pompeo did say that we would give the allies the 60 days that they asked to be able to message their publics and try to get Russia to come to the table. And so we gave 60 days. But now the time is coming short that the 60 days is going to be up and it will be then the time that Russia knows that we will give notice of their violation and America’s withdrawal.

So, one of the things that goes right along with America’s transparency is that our Under Secretary, Andrea Thompson, took a team – an interagency team – to meet with the Russians in Geneva yesterday. And they agreed to come back to Brussels immediately to brief our NATO-Russia council – our NATO council – on what has happened. And we will look forward to continuing the dialogue with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council as well, going forward, to try every way we can to tell Russia that we need verifiable information that they are not in violation, but that has yet to come forward.

As I introduce the Under Secretary, I want to say that she comes with 25 years of military service, she has served in combat zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia and just before she was nominated and confirmed by the Senate to be Under Secretary, she was the National Security Advisor for Vice President Mike Pence. So she comes with great experience and the arms control and international security and we really appreciate all that she has done in her briefings with the NATO Council just a few hours ago. Everyone was very pleased that they had that straight from Geneva and she was able to answer their questions.

So with that, Under Secretary Andrea Thompson.

Under Secretary Thompson: Thank you so much Ambassador and thank you for the time today and I’d like to thank up front our partners and allies, for not only our past time spent but for today with the Secretary General and be able to engage yet again with our key partners and allies and I wanted to take this opportunity to give a few minutes of a quick read on the meeting and then provide some opportunity for you to ask questions.

As the Ambassador noted, on December 4, Secretary Pompeo announced that the U.S. found Russia was in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty and NATO strongly supported this announcement, made clear it is incumbent on Russia to get back into compliance with the Treaty and we discussed that again this afternoon with the NATO council.

Secretary Pompeo has also announced that as a remedy for Russia’s material breach the United States would suspend its obligations under the Treaty effective 60 days until, unless Russia returns to compliance.

So, as the Ambassador mentioned, yesterday in Geneva, I led an interagency delegation, met with Russia Deputy Foreign Minister and his senior delegation in order to discuss the issue. I was there to listen, but my objective and the message was clear from the administration that Russia must return to full and verifiable compliance with the INF Treaty.

This meeting was yet another step. As the Ambassador has mentioned and you all know, over five years we have engaged in diplomacy with ourselves and with the Allies on the subject of the INF and with Russia. And over that period of time, we have raised it with Russian, noncompliance over 30 occasions, some like to think in days and weeks but I’d like to remind that this one is years over multiple administrations, over 30 occasions at the senior levels of the Russian government.

So yesterday we again outlined our U.S. concerns with Russia’s noncompliance. I outlined that to my Russian counterparts on specifically what Russia would need to do in order to return to compliance in a manner the United States could confirm. And at the end of the day, this includes the verifiable destruction of Russia’s noncompliant missile system.

Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, we weren’t able to break any new ground yesterday.

They paid lip service to transparency. They offered a briefing and demonstration, a static demonstration, of its noncompliant missile system. They continued to dodge questions. They continued to push false information regarding the missile’s capabilities and the testing activity. For example, a demonstration that Russia can’t possibly address the fact that they previously tested the missile, again I reiterate, they previously tested this missile to Treaty-prohibited ranges.

Furthermore, in order to deflect the blame for the material breach, they continued to make false counteraccusations, many of you probably saw it in the press again today, regarding U.S. compliance with the Treaty.  And as our NATO partners have repeatedly reaffirmed, the accusations have no merit, and the United States is in full compliance with our obligations under the Treaty and we discussed that again this afternoon with NATO and they reiterated the same.

The NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has said: The problem is the deployment of new Russian missiles.  There are no U.S. missiles in Europe, but there are more Russian missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and those missiles put the INF Treaty in jeopardy. I’d like to remind folks, that Russia continues to… their continued violation represents not only to Europe but our global security and it holds our allies at risk today.

My approach yesterday and the administration’s approach to the bilateral meeting, we came good faith, again to listen, to hear the Russian side. We reaffirmed that an INF Treaty with which all parties comply is the in the national security interest of the United States.

However, in our current situation, in which Russia continues to violate the treaty while the we abide by the treaty, is untenable, and I’d like to add, based on yesterday’s discussions and the corresponding rhetoric today that we see no indication that Russia will chose to return to compliance. As the Under Secretary for arms control and international security and a leader within this administration, for arms control to serve its purpose, violations must have consequences.

And as I told Russian counterparts yesterday, Russia faces a choice: It can either have its noncompliant missile system, or it can have the INF Treaty. But it cannot have both.

Welcome your questions at this time.

Moderator: Thank you very much Under Secretary. Thank you Ambassador. Questions. If you could announce your name and the outlet you are reporting from, I would appreciate it.

Question: Thank you, Robin Emmott from Reuters. Earlier today, the Russian Foreign Minister had said that Russia did, in fact, present constructive proposals to you. So are you saying that they weren’t constructive or that they should be ignored? Thank you.

Under Secretary Thompson: Yes, thank you for the question. They did offer proposals. A proposal that couldn’t be verified, couldn’t be verified in compliance with the treaty. So, for example, the issue at hand is the range of the system. So a static display of the system doesn’t tell me how far that missile can fly. We need to see the missile in testing and not having control over the environment with their military, which will control the results. They did present proposals, but they weren’t able to verify – to get them back into compliance. So static displays aren’t going to help us determine the range of the system.

Question: [Inaudible] National News Agency of Ukraine. I know what we understand that INF is now under the pressure and Ukraine is one of the countries which is, that is more affected.  Because we constantly hear from the press from the Russian politicians including [inaudible] of the Russian Duma, to strike our country in minutes. That have an implication to another treaty like nuclear cooperation treaty. What kind of violation could be, you know for that regard, from Russian side. And my question is, are the allies or the United States could share how to assist Ukraine to deal to our own missile defense capabilities. Thanks.

Under Secretary Thompson: I’d like to, if I could address the question on the importance of partners and allies is again as I mentioned this isn’t just a European problem this is global problem. As I reiterated today with our partners, our NATO Allies are on board. We worked before, during and after, through partners and allies with this with consistent messaging, information sharing. We’ve worked very hard with our intelligence agency to be able to downgrade some of that intelligence so we can ensure that our NATO partners and Allies have the information that we have so that it’s not just words but indeed in showing the materials. So we continue to work and I appreciate that.  I don’t want to get ahead on any of the defense steps that would be done with our partners in Ukraine, with our key partners in Ukraine. But know that our partner Department of Defense officials are working hand in hand with your senior leaders.

Question: Terri Shultz with Deutsche Welle and NPR. Thank you, to the Undersecretary: None of the European Allies dispute that Russia is not in compliance with the treaty, but they aren’t all completely comfortable with the U.S. approach either. Can you tell us at this point that you do expect at the end of the 60 days, which is pretty soon, that the U.S. will either suspend or withdraw and can you sort of explain how the U.S. views the difference between those two actions?

And for Madame Ambassador – you probably predicted you were going to get this – this story about President Trump being determined to pull out of NATO at some points and having to be talked back into staying in the Alliance by advisors and cabinet members. How do you respond to this story? Is it overblown or do you have concerns that at some point you’re going to get a call and say, “Well, your job is up. Thanks for serving.” Thanks.

Ambassador Hutchison: Well, let me start with that. The President has said very clearly at the end of his press conference when he was here in July. He made a commitment that NATO is a very important alliance. It’s the most important defense alliance in the history of the world and that America is 100 percent committed to NATO and I have no doubt about that and that has never been a question from any of the guidance that I have gotten that we aren’t 100 percent, not only a part of NATO, but the leader of NATO. And this alliance has been so effective at keeping the peace in Europe and North America for 70 years – which we are very excited to celebrate in Washington, April the fourth, the signing of that treaty that came because of the experience of having two world wars in Europe in the last century. We wanted never to have that happen again and the United States is an integral part of the strength of this alliance and the President is committed 100 percent.

Under Secretary Thompson: If I may on the upcoming date that yes, indeed the Secretary has announced and we reaffirmed today to our NATO partners that unless Russia gets back into compliance that we would suspend our obligations on February 2nd as the treaty, we’ll continue to abide – uphold – our obligations under the treaty. And then once that decision is made, we’ll continue to follow the steps that are clearly lined out in the treaty. And we did have those discussions with our Russian counterparts.

NPR/Deutsche Welle: So suspend and not withdraw?

Under Secretary Thompson: Suspend. Intent to suspend.

Financial Times: Thank you, Michael Peel, Financial Times. Can you just clarify and confirm because you seem to imply that the Russians offered only a static display for inspection.  Did they try to strike a bargain in which they would get to inspect US missile defense facilities, drones, etc. And then secondly, Foreign Minister Lavrov also talked about the New Start today, he said he was worried that the U.S. was, walking away from the idea of extending that. Can you respond to that? What are the U.S. intentions on extending New Start? Thank you.

Under Secretary Thompson: Yes. I’ll take the last one first.  We did not discuss New Start during this discussion. I did raise the issue of arms control writ large and the importance of supporting an arms control regime means you abide by the treaties that you sign. So if he wants to talk about New Start we will talk about New Start when and if the environment is right. I encouraged and reminded him that he continues to raise other treaties when the foundations of arms control is already in violation. So again very import to us, to this administration, and to our partners to hold arms control regimes which we are not ….

Financial Times: Sorry, sorry, are you saying no New Start talks until you are satisfied that Russia is not violating any arms control treaties.

Under Secretary Thompson: I’m saying that it’s not conditional but the environment, at this point in time, I’m only going address where we are today, the environment isn’t in a place where I can discuss the New Start Treaty. And as far as the measures that they offered, it wasn’t just static displays.  They offered other things but I prefer not to, you know, it was a classified discussion between two delegations, heads of delegation. They did offer other things but none of them would verify the range of the system and that at the end of the day was, the lack of transparency, the false transparency, again offering things that don’t prove the distance of the missile is not an act….

Financial Times: Did they seek a quid pro quo…

Under Secretary Thompson: They did.

Financial Times: …of the kind they described…

Under Secretary Thompson: They did.

Financial Times: Thank you.

Moderator: I think we have time for one more question. Is there another question?

Question: Bloomberg News. [inaudible]. I have a question. Earlier, at the beginning of the press conference, Ambassador you said that the U.S. is researching counter system counter measures. When is that going to be ready? And between yesterday’s meeting in Geneva and the deadline are there going to be any more meetings with the Russian side? Any more exchanges? Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison: Let me say that there will likely be a NATO-Russia Council, which is something that happens twice or sometimes three times a year, and that will likely happen. The Russians have not yet agreed to meet, but we are willing to at NATO and I assume that probably we will be able to do that. And the timetable after the research is done is unclear. The Department of Defense will have to begin to then develop what kind of system we would have that’s very much in the beginning stages because of course we have been treaty compliant. But once, and I want to clarify to make sure – and I think the Under Secretary did – but at the end of 60 days, then that suspends our obligations so that we can then go forward. But the Russians still have 6 months before withdrawal would be final and we would look forward to Russia coming forward in those 6 months. They haven’t in 5 years, so we don’t know if they would change and show evidence of compliance. But, they’ve had 5 years. They haven’t done it. They have 6 more months, but this is the final time for Russia to come to the table, for Russia to save the treaty, for Russia to come into compliance, which United States has been and it has been acknowledged that the United States has been in compliance throughout the term of the treaty.

Moderator: Under Secretary, do you have anything to add?

Under Secretary Thompson: Spot on. Echo those remarks. The ball’s in Russia’s court. We’ve given them the 60 days. We continue the dialogue. I’m not going to commit to future discussions. There will be opportunities, as the Ambassador mentioned, in the NATO venue. We’ll have opportunities. I’ll have to see. I have a wide portfolio. [inaudible] engage with the Deputy Foreign Minister in the next couple of weeks to a similar, but not INF specific topics. So there will be opportunities to engage. But at this time we don’t have a formal next step, sit-downs planned. This opportunity was yesterday and as Ambassador mentioned, it has been over 5 years and they have not budged, so.

Moderator: I’d like to thank the Ambassador and the Under Secretary. I thank you and I’m afraid that’s all the time we have.