July 15, 2024
Background Press Call Previewing the NATO Summit
Background Press Call Previewing the NATO Summit

Via Teleconference 3:51 P.M. EDT MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us today for our NSC background call to preview the NATO Summit.  As a reminder of the ground rules, this call is being held on background with the contents attributable to a senior administration official. For your awareness, but not for […]

The post Background Press Call Previewing the NATO Summit first appeared on Social Gov.

Background Press Call Previewing the NATO Summit
Background Press Call Previewing the NATO Summit

Via Teleconference

3:51 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, and thank you all for joining us today for our NSC background call to preview the NATO Summit. 

As a reminder of the ground rules, this call is being held on background with the contents attributable to a senior administration official.

For your awareness, but not for your reporting, our speaker today is [senior administration official].

The contents of this call will be embargoed until the call concludes. 

With that, I’ll turn it over to our senior administration official for some opening remarks, followed by Q&A.  If you’d like to ask a question, would just ask you to please indicate so by raising your hand via the Zoom feature.

Over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thanks.  And it’s good to be with all of you.

President Biden is looking forward to hosting the leaders of our 31 NATO Allies, as well as a number of our NATO partners, next week in Washington for a historic summit to mark the 75th anniversary of NATO’s founding. 

I’m going to go over the schedule in a minute, but I first want to take some time to discuss the context in which NATO leaders will be gathering at such an important moment in transatlantic security.

For 75 years, NATO has kept America and the world safer.  NATO is the strongest defensive alliance in history, and it’s been truly indispensable to Euro-Atlantic security, deterring threats to the United States and our allies. 

Today, our Alliance is larger, stronger, better resourced, and more united than ever before, and that’s in large part due to President Biden’s effort over these last three years. 

When President Biden assumed office, he made it his mission to restore America’s standing on the world stage and revitalize and rebuild our alliances and partnerships, most especially NATO.  He’s worked to expand the Alliance by welcoming two new members, Sweden and Finland.  And he rallied the Alliance to build a global coalition to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has shattered peace in Europe and shaken the rules-based international order, posing the greatest threat to transatlantic security in decades, if not longer. 

Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States and our NATO Allies provided critical support to Ukraine and enhanced our global partnerships.  NATO Allies are also making significant investments in our own defense and deterrence capabilities. 

When the Biden-Harris administration took office, only nine Allies were spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.  Today, a record 23 NATO Allies are at or above the minimum level of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending, more than twice as many as in 2021 and nearly eight times higher than when Allies first set the 2 percent benchmark a decade ago. 

Cumulative defense spending for European Allies is also collectively exceeding the 2 percent spending mark for the first time, and these numbers will continue to improve. 

Our Allies are not just spending more on their defense, they’re also spending more on American platforms and munitions.  This spending is helping to revitalize production lines across the country and securing jobs for American workers. 

We’re manufacturing weapons that improve our military readiness and make the United States and its allies more secure while at the same time strengthening our economy.  This is something you’re going to hear more about from us on Tuesday afternoon, when Jake Sullivan addresses the Defense Industry Forum ahead of the summit. 

Next week, you’ll also see a strong demonstration of U.S. and Allied support for Ukraine.  Allies will reaffirm that Ukraine’s future is in NATO; will make significant new announcements about how we’re increasing NATO’s military, political, and financial support for Ukraine.  This is part of Ukraine’s “bridge to NATO.” 

And on the sidelines of the summit, President Biden will host an event with President Zelenskyy and nearly two dozen other Alli- — excuse me, and nearly two dozen of our Allies and partners who’ve signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine, which, of course, President Biden did last month for the United States while at the G7 Summit in Italy. 

The United States will also announce new steps to strengthen Ukraine’s air defenses and military capabilities to help Ukraine continue to defend themselves today and to deter Russian aggression into the future. 

Together, the Washington Summit will send a strong signal to Putin that if he thinks he can outlast the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine, he’s dead wrong. 

We’re also going to send an important message to the rest of the world, including through our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, as we stand together united and in support of democratic values. 

Now, turning to the schedule, quickly I’ll go through some of the topline highlights.  I know that many of you will be receiving a more detailed schedule for the week with the exact timing and logistics information, but let me just tick through a few items now. 

On Tuesday evening, President Biden will welcome NATO leaders, and he and Dr. Biden will host a 75th anniversary commemoration event at the Mellon Auditorium, which is the site of the original signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, which of course established NATO on April 4, 1949.  It’s also the site of the 1999 50th anniversary commemorative event hosted by President Clinton. 

On Wednesday, the President will welcome Sweden as the newest member of the Alliance at a meeting of NATO’s 32 Allies.  And that evening, he and Dr. Biden will host NATO leaders for a dinner at the White House. 

On Thursday morning, NATO will hold a meeting with the EU and with NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners — that’s Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and New Zealand — to deepen our cooperation.

In the afternoon, also Thursday, there’ll be a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, after which the President will host an event with nearly two dozen Allies and partners who have negotiated and signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine, which is the event that I mentioned earlier. 

After that, the President will hold a press conference and take questions from the media. 

And while the President will have quite a busy schedule given his commitment as the host of the summit, we’re working to set up several bilats and meetings with various world leaders on the margins of the summit, including President Zelenskyy, again, as I mentioned earlier.  And we’ll have more information on those to share in the coming days. 

So with that, I’m happy to turn to your questions.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you so much.  For our first question we’ll go to Aamer Madhani with the Associated Press.

Q    Hey.  Thanks, Sean.  Thanks, [senior administration official].  Two things.  On the air defense announcement, what specifically will the President be announcing?  Will this be on Patriots?  And if so, where will those Patriots be coming?

And then secondly, more broadly, how will the President be addressing with the other leaders their concerns about, you know, the elephant in the room, about his performance at the debate and whether, you know, just more broadly, that he remains up to the job?

And then finally, you know, I know these summits are busy, but this one seems busier than usual.  A packed schedule for President Biden.  Is this extra packed because the President wants to show that he has the vigor and stamina to do these things?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Okay.  So, a three-part question. 

On air defenses: This is part of a number of historic and far-reaching deliverables for Ukraine that we’ll be announcing at the summit.  So we, together with some of our Allies, will be highlighting our support for Ukraine’s air defenses.  I have more — or we will have more to share with you in the coming days about how our Allies are continuing to work to strengthen Ukraine through various military, political, and economic support.  So, stay tuned on the specifics, but this is one of a number of areas where we’re going to be looking to announce significant enhancements for Ukraine’s defense capabilities. 

Look, on the second question you asked, I mean, here’s what I’ll say: Look, foreign leaders have seen Joe Biden up close and personal for the last three years.  They know who they’re dealing with, and, you know, they know how effective he’s been.  What the President has done over the last three years is to reinvigorate the NATO Alliance, including expanding it, making it more capable.  He has stood up to President Putin’s unprecedented aggression against Ukraine by mobilizing a coalition of — minimum of 50 Allies and partners to provide capabilities to Ukraine.  And he has worked to invigorate our partnerships around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific and in other regions.  So, I’m just going to leave it at that. 

And of course, the schedule has been planned for a long time in advance, and it is fairly characteristic of NATO Summit events.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go to Nick Schifrin from PBS.

Q    Can you talk about the efforts to help Ukraine in the long term?  Obviously, their defenses, weapons are designed both for defense, as you put it, and deterrence in the long term.  What are the priorities in terms of giving Ukraine structure with NATO that can outlast the U.S. election?  And to be even more blunt, are any of these efforts — how many of these efforts are to essentially Trump-proof Western support for Ukraine?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  So, as you rightly said, a lot of the defense capabilities that we’re currently surging to Ukraine are designed to enhance Ukraine’s short-term efforts to defend itself.  But the longer-term effort is what we’re calling the “bridge to membership,” which includes the Ukraine deliverable that we’ll be announcing at the NATO Summit, which will help Ukraine with training coordination, equipment coordination, logistics, force development.  It will have a political overlay to it, which will focus on defense institution building and interoperability with NATO.  And it’ll have a financial pledge associated with it as well. 

And so, all of that is precisely designed to help NATO — or to help Ukraine, via NATO, to build its future force.  Right?   And so, in combination with the, we expect, over 20 eventually, maybe even 30, bilateral security agreements that NATO Allies and other partners around the world signed with Ukraine, this is part of the effort to institutionalize this longer-term trajectory for Ukraine’s armed forces but also for its larger defense enterprise to include its defense industry, to include the institutions that make up the Ministry of Defense so that when there is consensus among the 32 Allies for Ukraine to join the Alliance, Ukraine is ready — truly ready on day one to plug and play with the rest of the Alliance. 

So that is, in brief, how we’re looking at this bridge to membership that we’ll be unveiling at the summit.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Jenny Hansler from CNN.

Q    Hi.  Thank you so much for joining the call.  I appreciate it.  You keep referencing a bridge.  I assume that means that the irreversible language for Ukraine’s path to NATO is not going to be included in the leaders’ statement.  Is that correct?

And then, more broadly, on sort of future-proofing NATO, we saw Viktor Orban in Moscow today talking about peace plans with Putin.  How are the Allies going to confront this challenge from not only a potential future President of the United States, but also members of the Alliance that are already in power?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, sure.  So let me take your second question first. 

So we’re concerned that Prime Minister Orban would choose to take this trip to Moscow, which will neither advance the cause of peace nor will it promote Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. 

Look, at the end of the day, we believe that Russia could end this war today by ceasing its aggression against Ukraine.  So I’ll just stop there on that part of your question. 

On the question of the language: Look, I expect that the summit declaration, which is still being negotiated — or at least the final pieces of it are being negotiated — will include very strong signals of Allied support for Ukraine on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration.  And it’s going to also underscore the importance of Ukraine’s vital work on democratic, economic, and security reforms. 

The declaration will, as I already mentioned, also reference NATO’s efforts to support Ukraine as part of this bridge to membership. 

So, look, I don’t want to get ahead of what appears in the communiqué, but I think we’re going to have very strong language that testifies to what the President has said before, which is that — and I’m going to quote him now — quote, “I believe that Ukraine can get there.”  And, quote, “It’s not about whether or not they should or shouldn’t join.  It’s about when they can join.  And they will join NATO.”  End quote.  So that’s the President.  And I think the declaration will amplify that sentiment.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  For our next question we’ll go with Alex Ward from Politico.

Q    Yeah, thanks.  Very quickly, just to put a fine point on it — and sorry for going into politics too much — but will the President be hosting any events that go beyond 8:00 p.m.?  That’s one question. 

And then, will there be any movement on commitments for F-16s? 

And also, what kind of conversations have you had with the Ukrainians to avoid a Vilnius-like dustup that we saw last year in terms of, you know, here’s what you’re getting, so, you know, there’s no anger about not seeing the irreversible language or anything like that?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  So, off the top of my head, I’m not familiar with when each of the various events and the dinners is ending.

On the F-16s, as you know, the United States has for more than a year now been training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 platform.  And we’ve been making good progress, and I expect that we’re going to have more to announce on this next week. 

And then, I’m sorry, what was the third part of your — oh, Vilnius. 

Look, we’ve been in constant communication with our Ukrainian partners as we have with all of our Allies.  And what I described in terms of the bridge to membership and the deliverable that NATO will be unveiling for Ukraine is quite substantial.  I mean, we’re not talking about some sort of plan for how they’re going to get from here to there.  We’re talking about standing up an entire command at Wiesbaden that will look at how we do these various pieces that I mentioned earlier of trading coordination, equipping coordination, logistics, force development.  This is a very serious effort to get Ukraine in a position, as I said earlier, where it will be ready to assume its roles and responsibilities within the Alliance on day one. 

And I think — you know, I’ll let the Ukrainians speak for themselves, but I think they understand the value of what NATO will be doing for them.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And, Alex, just on the logistics piece, we will have FPPO guidance going out to you all in the next couple of days, but the answer to your question about events going past 8:00 p.m. is yes.

Next, we’ll go to Michael Birnbaum with the Washington Post.

Q    Hi.  Thanks for doing this.  I wondered — you know, we’re having a summit of leaders who — many of whom are pretty weak at the moment.  Macron is going to be coming fresh off his second-round parliamentary results.  Scholz has a growing far-right in his country.  Keir Starmer is brand new.  And President Biden is, you know, whatever he’s dealing with. 

How does that impact the summit?  I mean, I know this is an emphasis on celebration and strength, but what kind of message does that general weakness send to NATO adversaries?

And I was wondering if there’s anything you could tell us about the negotiations right now or the communiqué.  It sounds as though they’re still in motion.  How close are you?  And what are the biggest sticking points right now that you’re still haggling over?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, Michael, first of all, I’m going to challenge your presupposition here, which is that leaders of the Alliance, or at least some that you referenced, are somehow weaker.  I think there are any number of leaders in the Alliance that are extremely popular, that are very strong, delivering for the Alliance, delivering for Ukraine, delivering for our transatlantic defense industrial base.  I think you see that in a range of countries.  So I just don’t buy it. 

I think, collectively, the Alliance is, of course, stronger, more capable of deterrence and defense, better postured with more precise planning that is aligned to its strategic vision and the strategic concept that was unveiled a few years ago. 

So I think the Alliance is in great shape.  I think the leadership of the Alliance — something I also forgot to mention at the top, which is that we have consensus on a new Secretary General, which is fantastic.  We’ve had a very, very strong leader in Jens Stoltenberg over these last 10 years.  But I just don’t see how leaders within the Alliance are somehow weakened.  So, just future premise there. 

On the communiqué, look, I’m not going to get into the details of diplomatic conversations behind closed doors.  I will say that I think we’re very close on almost all of it.  So just typical last-minute discussions of a few paragraphs in the communiqué, and we should be done soon.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have time for a couple more.  We’ll go to Ed Wong with the New York Times. 

Q    Hi, thank you.  I have two questions.  One is: Obviously, a lot of NATO leaders are worried about the prospect of a Trump presidency.  We know what he said about cutting off aid to Ukraine as well as withdrawing the U.S. from NATO.  What will you do in this summit, in terms of actions, to try and reassure the NATO Allies?

The second thing is: You’re obviously having a meeting with the eight leaders of the Asia Pacific nations.  NATO has been more forceful in its language on China in some of its recent statements.  But what actions — concrete actions — will we take coming out of the summit on China, especially given the recent emphasis on the Russia-China nexus where China is helping rebuild Russia’s defense industrial base, in your assessment?  Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  All right, Ed.  Well, one of the benefits of my job is I don’t do politics, so I’m going to leave that aside. 

What I will say, while I have the mic, is that we have NATO Allies that are fully committed to the Alliance.  As I pointed out at the top, in my opening remarks, we’ve gone from having nine Allies spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, at the start of this administration, to 23 spending 2 percent of GDP on defense today.  That direction of travel is significant. 

And just since — to put a dollar figure on it — just since 2020, NATO collectively has spent an additional $180 billion, so — on a yearly basis.

So, look, I think there’s a lot that’s going on.  On your — that is positive, that shows positive trajectory for the Alliance, also reassurance for our eastern flank allies in terms of the capabilities that we’re positioning in the east. 

On the Indo-Pacific element of your question, I will say that the draft communiqué text on the PRC I think is very solid.  You’ll see that when it’s unveiled. 

And of course, we’ve got the North Atlantic Council meeting with the EU and Indo-Pacific partners, which will also take up this critical issue, which you rightly pointed to, of the PRC’s support for the Russian defense industrial base, with something like 90 percent of Russia’s semiconductors coming from the PRC; 70 percent of its nitrocellulose, which is used for propellants — and a lot of it’s optics, machine tools, et cetera — all of this not only fueling Russia’s war against Ukraine but also creating a long-term challenge for European security that, obviously, our Allies recognize.  And so we will have, I think, strong language on this to address.

But also, I will say that we’ve got some new projects that we’re going to be talking about at the summit with our Indo-Pacific partners on resilience.  So, resilience in the region; supporting Ukraine, as I mentioned; countering disinformation; cyber; and then also on tech cooperation, emerging technologies. 

So, yeah, I’ll leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  I think we have time for about two more questions.  I will go to Fraser Jackson with France 24.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  I read the readout of POTUS’s call with the new British Prime Minister, Starmer, earlier.  I just wanted to know whether there’s been a date confirmed for a bilateral meeting between them yet. 

And secondly, Mark Rutte takes over the Secretary General role on October 1st.  We’re not expecting any formal engagement from him in that role during the summit, but will he be meeting with President Biden to discuss his upcoming tenure?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so I don’t have any bilats to announce today.  But you’re right that the President had a very constructive and productive call with Prime Minister Starmer earlier today, in which they talked about the importance of the special relationship.  They talked about our cooperation on Ukraine, around the world, including on upholding the gains of the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.  So, very good, productive conversation there.  I fully expect that the leaders will interact at some point during the summit, but I don’t have anything to announce for you today. 

And on Mark Rutte — similarly, we welcome, of course, the consensus around Mark Rutte as the new Secretary General to take over on October 1st, but I don’t have anything to announce in terms of meetings with President Biden in the coming future.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll next go to Marek from Polskie Radio.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Hello, [senior administration official].  Polish President Duda said that during the summit he would push NATO to increase the spending threshold from 2 percent to 3 percent GDP.  So, my question is: Is it going to be a topic of the discussion?  And can we expect any decision on that?

And also, are you concerned that this idea, this proposition may undermine the message of the NATO Summit, which is a success, and change the narrative from NATO members are stepping up, paying more and more, to a different narrative which is Europe doesn’t pay, which is former President Trump’s narrative?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Okay, thanks, Marek.  Look, I’m not concerned about the narrative.  I think, obviously, any NATO Ally is welcome to come to the table and articulate whatever points they want to make.  And the reality is that some Allies are spending well upwards of 2 percent of GDP on defense; some are spending as much as 3, 4 percent, or even higher. 

Obviously, different Allies have different circumstances.  We’re going to continue to press for equitable burden sharing and for credible plans from all Allies that haven’t yet met the 2 percent commitment to be able to reach that commitment as soon as possible in the coming years.  And I think a number of Allies will come to the table with credible plans for achieving that benchmark in the near-term future. 

Look, it’s something that it’s natural and normal for Allies to have this conversation, to hold each other’s feet to the fire.  I expect that to continue, and I expect Allies to continue to resource the strongest alliance in history that is contributing so much to deterrence and defense in the Euro-Atlantic area.  Thanks.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And we have time for one final question.  We’ll go to Paris from VOA.  And, Paris, over to you.

Q    Thank you very much for doing this.  So, follow-up on the question on the Indo-Pacific.  Of course, you mentioned about there’s going to be strong language regarding that China is fueling Putin’s war machine.  But I’m also wondering, of course, the reason that you invited Indo-Pacific allies — Japan, Australia, South Korea — to join is President Biden is going to establish a coalition with NATO and those allies to counter China’s threat, not just its efforts to help Russia but also in the region, in the Indo Pacific region, including South China Sea, (inaudible) in Taiwan, and also China’s economic conduct that also trouble European and NATO Allies.

And can you also preview a little bit just what kind of strong message that is expected to be sending in the agreement, you know, what the language in the joint statement to China?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so let me just say that the events with the partner countries, with the Indo-Pacific partners specifically, that the North Atlantic Council meeting at the leaders’ level will also include the EU.  So, we’re bringing together our closest — or some of our closest non-NATO partners to have a discussion around issues like resilience and cyber disinformation, technology and the like. 

In terms of deterrence and defense, of course NATO is focused on the Euro-Atlantic area, and that’s where its capabilities are being deployed.  And so, not in the Indo-Pacific.

But the United States has a range of partnerships with countries around the world, which you might call variable geometry, with different partners including in the Indo-Pacific.  And this particular grouping of the IP4, as we call them in NATO lingo — Australia, Japan, New Zealand, ROK — these are some of our closest partners that we work with in the region. 

So I think I’ll leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you very much.  And thank you, everyone, for your questions.  That is all the time we have for today.

As a reminder of the ground rules, this call was held on background, with the contents attributable to a senior administration official.  The embargo on the call is now lifted.  Thank you so much, and hope everyone has a wonderful day.

    4:22 P.M. EDT

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2024/07/05/background-press-call-previewing-the-nato-summit/

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