Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Press Roundtable at the U.S. State Department
May 4, 2007
Assistant Secretary Fried: I’m looking forward to a good conversation on missile defense. And it’s also been a very interesting week, another interesting week, on some other issues with the Russians, so I’m willing to talk about that as well.
I testified with my friend and colleague John Rood yesterday on missile defense, and we are in the United States and in conversations with Europe just still in a beginning stage of working through this issue with our allies, with the Russians and with the Congress.
The issue of missile defense went from being, if you pardon the phrase, a wonk issue of specialists, to being a major political issue and an issue that captured intense scrutiny and interest in Europe and in Russia. This happened suddenly as a result of President Putin’s speech in Munich, and we have intensified the pace of our consultations and increased the level of our consultations, hence Secretary Gates’ trip to Moscow and Secretary Rice’s trip to NATO last week; his trip also to Prague — Gate’s trip, sorry, to Warsaw and Berlin. We’ve had other trips to Prague, other trips to Moscow, other trips to NATO.
So we’ve increased our outreach and work with the Europeans.
We have been very gratified by the results of now three weeks of intensive consultations with our European allies and with the Russians. We have seen a noticeable shift in European attitudes. I cite today’s editorial in Suddeutsche Zeitung which urged its readers to take a second look at missile defense and pointed out that the missiles the Americans were thinking of putting in Poland seemed far less cause for concern than the missiles that Iran was, in fact, developing.
Which means that our central message is getting through and that is this: missile defense should not be seen in the categories of 25 years ago as a replay of the debate over President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. We’re in the 21st Century. We face different strategic challenges. The missile defense of today is being proposed in a radically different strategic context when we have not one great superpower rival in the form of the Soviet Union with its massive arsenals, but also its very considerable assets and interest in the status quo. But we face the possibility that Iran, a very different and in many ways — in most ways — less stable and perhaps more dangerous country, could develop a nuclear arsenal. And as Secretary Gates said in Moscow and in Warsaw, we must think 20 to 25 years ahead about other threats that could arise.
Given that strategic context and the fact that a new generation of technology makes a much more limited system vastly more practical, missile defense makes good strategic sense.
As I said, we’re at the beginning of a process. NATO is grappling with the complicated issues of missile defense, both NATO’s own medium range missile defense programs, and how this could be linked to the American proposed program. Russia, despite the words and the public statements, I am reasonably confident is taking a hard, serious look at the American proposals for missile defense cooperation.
The debates in Germany, in Poland in the Czech Republic, all through Europe I think are going to develop and grow more sophisticated, and as we make our points I’m confident we will meet with greater understanding.
Now a word about the House Armed Services subcommittee reduction of funds for the so-called third site, that is the missile defense installations in Europe. This is one step in what is going to be a very long process. People who understand the defense appropriations process and authorization process know that there are many committees, many, many stages. I regard this rather as a signal of Congress’ state of mind about this program at the moment, or rather, honestly, a state of mind of a few weeks ago. I don’t think the Congress has fully absorbed the intense work we’ve done. The questions yesterday were good questions but did not seem informed by the most recent developments where we’ve gotten stronger support from our allies on missile defense. But, nevertheless, I look forward to working with the Congress. Chairman Wexler is a very serious person, a very thoughtful person. His questions, frankly, even his skeptical ones, are well founded, which means he is also I think interested in really listening, and I look forward to working with him and with others.
With that I will be happy to take questions. As I said, it’s been an interesting week.
Question: Can you give us a preview of the arguments that Secretary Rice will make when she is in Moscow later this month? And can you give us, to try persuade the Russians that missile defense is not indeed a threat to them?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I would never attempt to predict what my boss, Secretary Rice, will say to the Russians. That is both futile and even dangerous.
Question: But will she bring up something new?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I can characterize the arguments that Gates has made and the position he took, and I’m very comfortable talking about what Secretary Rice, the position she took on missile defense at NATO last week, which can give you a clue.
Secretary Gates said that after listening to Russian concerns, which the Russian General Staff presented in some detail, he had two reactions. He said first, Russian concerns seemed motivated by a misunderstanding of the system’s limitations and capabilities. Second, he said that Russian concerns seemed motivated also by a fear not of what the system is today but what it might become. And he said both of these concerns can be addressed, and he said he looked forward to working with the Russians to address them in detail.
He proposed, and the Russians accepted, that we set up a working group on missile defense as well as, by the way, working groups on CFE. We are putting together these working groups. We have my colleague Eric Edelman at the Defense Department, John Rood here, going to play very active roles in this process. Then we have agreed to a Russian suggestion that the Secretaries of Defense and State meet with their Russian counterparts and do so in a so-called 2+2, possibly a 3+3 format if the respective National Security Advisors Steve Hadley and Igor Ivanov were interested.
So all of these offers stand. All of these offers stand and we look forward to working with the Russians.
At the same time, I don’t doubt that Secretary Rice will maintain her position. That is, well, her word was “ludicrous.” It is ludicrous to assert that ten unarmed interceptors stationed in Poland pose any threat to the Russian nuclear arsenal. They simply do not.
Question: Is it conceivable to you that the U.S. government would be willing to give the Russians assurances on the limitation of the [inaudible] in the future to allay that particular concern?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I don’t want to prejudge what the working groups and what we will manage to do with the Russians, but I will say this. Secretary Gates was quite comfortable saying that he wanted to address Russian concerns. He was quite comfortable underscoring our intention to not simply address their concerns, that is deal negatively, allay their concerns, but wanted to deal positively, that is propose rather far-reaching missile defense cooperation. All of this is on the table. I look forward to productive discussions.
Question: The Russians also seem to be really keen on discussing the nature of the threat for some reason, analysis of the threat. Angela Merkel, when she was visiting the other day mentioned that also. So is that a part of the discussion that you are willing to take on with the Russians?
Assistant Secretary Fried: We have, of course, had discussions with the Russians about the threats. We have had long sessions both at the NATO-Russia Council and bilaterally about the threats. However, that said, if the Russians are interested I’m sure that we’re willing to talk about this. And it is, some of the public statements by Russian officials that suggest there is no threat are not necessarily, are not entirely consistent with Russia’s developing views on Iran and their cooperation with us about Iran and its nuclear weapons program.
Question: Sir, since you covered all of the other questions I had on this subject I wanted to ask you about –
Assistant Secretary Fried: That’s good. [Laughter].
Question: Well, you’ve given us situation coverage on the subject. V-Day in Europe. May 8th, May 9th. How important is the legacy of that victory in today’s world?
Assistant Secretary Fried: It is a fact that the grand alliance working together was necessary to defeat Nazi Germany. Now part of your question may be colored by the dispute about the Soviet War Memorial in Tallinn. But let me say in answer to the question you did ask, that we remember that common victory. We have celebrated that common victory. It is a source of great regret that that common victory was followed not by an era of general cooperation to advance freedom and consolidate what the Americans thought had been achieved, but by the Cold War.
It is our view now, with a Europe finally whole, free and at peace, that we can cooperate more and recall that spirit of cooperation. So we do remember this victory and we honor that grand alliance.
Question: Since you mentioned the position of some countries, for their own reasons, and the reasons are understandable, for their historic reasons, may view the situation a little differently. Is it acceptable for someone saying that yeah, our history included taking part in the, I don’t know, extermination of the Jews in Europe, but since it’s our history it must have been good so we will erect monuments to that one and we’ll skip the other side. Is that acceptable?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I don’t know what you’re referring to because I don’t know of any country which expresses itself in those terms.
Question: In Estonia the monuments to –
Assistant Secretary Fried: I don’t know –
Question: – still stands, undeterred.
Assistant Secretary Fried: History is a complicated thing. As I’ve said, for Russians the monument to the Soviet soldiers represented a victory over Fascism in general and Nazi Germany in particular, and that is a valid view. For the Estonians that monument represents something else. It represents the occupation of their country by the Soviet Union and the illegal annexation of that country, and that view has to be also respected.
You are aware, I’m sure, of the history of what happened in 1940 and 1944 and the mass deportations. This history is tragic and it is complicated. It does not excuse the actions of individual Estonians who committed crimes. It does not justify this. And it is also important for the Estonians to come to terms with their history. Not all acts of resistance against the Soviet Union were justified simply in the name of defending, cannot be justified. But Russia also has to look at its own history and understand the point of view of people who were treated rather roughly.
Do we really have to go into the history of what happened when the Soviet Army came in in 1940 and discuss the deportations?
Question: We may and we may –
Assistant Secretary Fried: It’s probably not, I agree, probably not a good idea. But since I’m aware of the rhetoric it is important to remember that you have two sides and two points of view which are not compatible, yet very strongly and in many cases very honestly held. We Americans are trying to be sensitive to both sides.
But in any event, the decision about the war memorial is something the Estonians have to make, have made. We have urged them to do this in a way which is sensitive, sensitive not only to the concerns of Estonians but the concerns of Russians in Estonia, the Russian community, ethnic Russians who are Estonian citizens, and Russians in Russia.
Question: A different subject. I was wondering if you could respond to what I think is a fair description of the skeptics in Congress, not the opponents, but skeptics, which is that missile defense has a value and a broad deterrence policy, but this system in particular is still unproven, although tested. The GAO in March itself said this is relatively untested and unproven.
So bottom line question, why the rush in a manner that is so clearly alienating and isolating Russia and does threat Russia’s [inaudible] the alliance until the system is actually proven to the satisfaction not just of the military, but of those government watchdogs that are paid to watch this?
Assistant Secretary Fried: First, I’m not sure that there is a massive rush. If you look at the timeline for the system becoming operational, I’m told that it would take some years. In fact, quite a number of years before it would be operational.
There are people here who know the details of the system better than I do, and I may turn to them and they are certainly welcome to revise and extend my remarks. I am not a technical expert.
But it seems to me that the technical capabilities from what I have studied, and, again, I do not pretend to be an expert; it seems to me that the technical capabilities of the system are much more advanced than was any system in the mid ’80s during the debate about President Reagan’s initiative and the task, the technical task, is much simpler. We’re not dealing with the Soviet missile arsenal, massive numbers capable of counter-measures. You’re dealing with a system which is going to be much simpler. So I’m convinced there is a much more plausible technical case to be made.
Again, it isn’t so much of a rush as it is a movement in a deliberate way to get this program on track so that there is something fielded by the time we estimate the Iranians might have this kind of capability. You don’t want to have them develop the capability and then only begin to develop your system.
Yesterday in response to this question my colleague John Rood pointed out that Israel, which is kind of a no-fooling target of missiles, has an interesting way of developing its own systems, which is to develop them but also leave in the system enough flexibility to deploy more and more advanced versions of the same system. So you develop these as you’re moving.
Question: Spiral development.
Assistant Secretary Fried: That’s right.
So I think there is a good case to be made. I also don’t accept the characterization that alienating Russia is a result. The Russians are saying a lot of things right now. How much they mean them, how much they’re doing it for other reasons, I can’t say.
Question: If I could pick up on that, what the Russians are saying and why they’re saying it. You restated just a little while ago Secretary Rice’s view that it’s ludicrous to think that ten interceptors could threaten the Russian strategic deterrence. If that’s the case, if we accept that for the moment, what are the Russians really saying? What are their real goals in opposing this so publicly?
Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, it is dangerous to start characterizing the motivations of a foreign government and I myself don’t have a fixed view. The administration doesn’t have a fixed view. But there seem to be several factors.
One, I suppose, is a genuine misunderstanding of what is proposed, and I say that because the Russian military briefing about their concerns over the system had a number of technical thoughts which should be answered and we offered to answer them. So it may be simply a misunderstanding.
Secondly, there may be a fear that we intend this as the beginning of a much larger system which they fear could degrade their deterrent. That’s what Secretary Gates was addressing when he said wait, we can deal with these concerns. To the degree you’re worried about a breakout capability, let’s sit down and talk about that to allay your concerns in a meaningful way.
There may be an element of politics in this. I notice when Russian points in their media and Russian media spokesmen use points that are circulating in Western Europe, I feel that I’m back in the 1980s when the Soviets used to calculate their argument and craft their argument based on what West Europeans were saying critical of the United States. So I think there’s an element of politics involved.
Then there’s the larger question of what if anything has occurred in recent weeks in Russian foreign policy or at least the tone of foreign policy following President Putin’s Munich speech. More assertive, more challenging. That’s an open question. We’re looking at this. It’s one explanation.
In any event, our answer, whatever the explanation, and as I’ve said, we don’t know, our answer is to offer cooperation with the Russians bilaterally, through the NATO-Russia Council, and be completely transparent in everything we do. That’s the right answer. Partly because we’re serious about working with the Russians. It would not be a concession on our part. It would actually be a good thing to work with the Russians, so we mean it, and we will continue to offer that cooperation. Our offers remain on the table.
Question: Just to follow up quickly, what is your sense of why Russian foreign policy has become so much more assertive and challenging?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I have theories of, well, speculations, but you should ask the Russians what lies behind a lot of the rhetoric. Elections? I don’t know.
Question: Have we asked them?
Assistant Secretary Fried: We have lots of conversations with the Russians about a lot of things.
I should also say –
Question: Have you gotten a good answer to that question?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I should also say that in many areas we’re continuing to cooperate well, including on sensitive areas. Including on sensitive areas.
Not only is our cooperation continuing, but we’re making progress in some areas. Our discussions about Georgia and the break-away areas are continuing, and I find that the Russians, my Russian colleagues, are quite serious about this. Wherever we see the chance to make progress, to avoid conflicts, to improve things on the ground, we’re willing to work together.
Question: Can I ask a basic question? The United States can protect itself against long-range missiles by locating the third phase on its own territory. So American officials keep saying that it’s not only for our protection but also to protect Europe.
Assistant Secretary Fried: Yes, that’s right.
Question: But Europe didn’t ask you for the protection. Why do you insist on locating the third phase in Europe?
Assistant Secretary Fried: It is in our interest that Europe be protected as well as the United States. We have discovered that if Europe is not secure the United States is not secure. And during the Cold War there was a concept called decoupling, meaning that Europe and the United States would find themselves no longer linked in a common security space but decoupled. We find that to be something very much not in our interest, and we fear that if the United States were protected against, let us say, an Iranian nuclear arsenal and Europe was not, the impact on us would be bad as well.
I don’t agree with your characterization that we’re insisting and Europe is resisting. I think Europe is having a debate about this. Poland is having a debate about this. I think as Europeans examine this issue beyond the sound bytes and rather primitive political rhetoric that’s been thrown around at first, they will come to see that it is in Europe’s interest to have this system.
Now by the way, European countries — Germany, the Netherlands — are developing national missile defense systems of their own. Smaller range, but they are doing so. And NATO has determined that there is really a threat. They determined this at the Riga Summit last November. This was reaffirmed in NATO-Russia meetings in the last two weeks.
So there is agreement by NATO governments that the threat exists. We are discussing the best ways to combine NATO systems, possible American systems if the Poles and Czechs agree, and even possibly linking this up with a cooperative system with the Russians. So we’re at the early stages of this debate.
Question: Israel was part of the debate yesterday on the Hill and I was a little confused. Geographically a missile defense arrangement in Europe would have no impact on Israel’s security so far as I can tell. Maybe I’m wrong. But why was this part of the discussion on the Hill yesterday?
Assistant Secretary Fried: In strategic terms if Iran were able to threaten Europe with nuclear weapons, it might increase Iran’s ability to intimidate countries in its own region. In fact in my testimony I quoted remarks by President Ahmadi-Nejad which said exactly that. He said Europe might get hurt, America is far away, and we may have our own business in the Middle East. Now he may be an extremist, but he is not stupid. What he was saying is we, Iran, may develop the capability to intimidate Europe which will give us the ability to further intimidate countries in the region of the Middle East. That’s a complicated, strategic argument, but it’s a valid one, I believe.
Question: General Obering has said 2013 is the timeframe for having a full capability in Eastern Europe if negotiations can be wrapped up this year with Poland and the Czech Republic. To what degree are you concerned — given the estimate that Iran will have its capability by 2015 — that the funding debate on the Hill might delay that 2013 date General Obering has talked about?
Assistant Secretary Fried: As I said earlier, you don’t want to wake up and find that the Iranians have a nuclear missile capability and that you are five, eight years away from developing a credible defense. That’s not a situation I want to be in.
Look, I think it’s a very disturbing prospect to think that a country whose President denies the existence of the Holocaust and has said he wants to wipe Israel off the map will have nuclear weapons. Okay? That’s not a very comforting prospect. It doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence.
We don’t want to be in that situation, so I hope as a result of serious discussions such as we had yesterday in the Hill that the funding will be restored and this can go ahead.
Of course we have to negotiate this with the Poles and Czechs. They are sovereign countries. They’re going to ask a lot of tough questions, and we have to have answers.
So the fact that we’re beginning negotiations doesn’t mean these will succeed. The Poles and Czechs have to think this through themselves, and we have to be ready to answer their questions.
Question: To go back to the Russians. After the Gates trip there was, as you said, some modest encouragement that the Russian objections were pretty narrowly focused. Subsequent to that we’ve had this next Putin speech, the state of the union address, that sort of repeated a lot of the rhetoric from the Munich speech.
Assistant Secretary Fried: Although he did not address missile defense per se, he was talking about the CFE Treaty, which I thought no one — there’s probably nobody in this room who really knows the CFE Treaty except maybe a couple of experts.
Question: My general point was you still express some optimism because of some ministerial discussions. Can you give us a sense of why you’re so optimistic on the Russian response while most of the rhetoric we’ve heard from both the Foreign Ministry and from Putin himself has still been rather contentious?
Assistant Secretary Fried: In my experience it’s important not to take initial Russian rhetoric as the final word. It’s important when faced with, initially, let us say skeptical or hostile Russian rhetoric, to do a couple of things. One is work with your allies to make sure you’re in sync, and we’ve done so. Another is to make sure the Russians understand that you are very serious about cooperation and let them know that they have something to gain through cooperation.
So I think if NATO unity crystallizes as it has been, and if the negotiations with the Poles and Czechs go reasonably well, and if it becomes clear to the Russians that we are serious about addressing what legitimate concerns they may have, that they might find a way forward, at least I hope so.
Question: Can I just clarify your point about the CFE. Are you saying there is some hope that he focused on CFE and not missile defense in that speech? Is that a sign that he is actually –
Assistant Secretary Fried: Oh, no. I would not want to read that into it. I was just pointing out that many commentators said he [inaudible] CFE and missile defense. In fact he did not do so. He linked CFE to the Istanbul Commitments. That’s a completely different subject.
Question: Any expected timeframe for this 2+2 meeting, or anything expected in terms of the Putin –
Assistant Secretary Fried: I thought that the general timeframe we were looking at was September, early fall. I don’t think that’s agreed in terms of date, but that was what we were talking about.
It struck us as a good idea. The Russians came to us some time ago and said we really do need to increase our strategic dialogue. We agreed with them and I think we’re in the process of doing that, and we’re going to have quite a number of channels up and running.
Question: It seems to be put on paper after –
Assistant Secretary Fried: Oh, I don’t know. I think that we need to get the working groups established, we need to get our dialogue intensified. I look forward to that process and we’ll see what happens.
Question: And CFE working group will be separate.
Assistant Secretary Fried: Yes, there are four working groups that have been agreed. One is CFE, one is missile defense, one has to do with I believe Trident modification, and START. Post-START regime.
Question: Those are all linked?
Assistant Secretary Fried: No, those are all separate groups but they will fall under two more senior level groups. One group headed by Eric Edelman at Defense; the other headed by John Rood here. And those two will fall under the 2+2 format which the Russians proposed. So you have then quite an elaborate structure of bilateral discussions on a lot of security issues and we’re all looking forward to it.
Question: You’re looking in Geneva?
Assistant Secretary Fried: I certainly hope not. [Laughter]. No offense to Geneva, but I am not so fond of the 1980s that I want to see it repeated.
We are not adversaries. Russia is not the Soviet Union. We do not threaten each other. We face common threats. I do not have the slightest bit of nostalgia for the Cold War. None. It was a rotten waste of resources, a terrible time for a divided Europe. I don’t know why anybody would wish for any of that back. I certainly do not.
Question: A slightly different topic. On Kosovo, after the Contact Group in London, Nick Burns said Russian objections of the Ahtisaari Plan were not insurmountable. Are there signs that there are compromises that could be made in the Ahtisaari Plan, or simply that the Russians are going to ease up on their opposition possibly by –
Assistant Secretary Fried: I don’t want to characterize the Russian position. Nick Burns has returned from London but I haven’t talked to him in detail.
I will say this. We are now prepared to move ahead in the Security Council. The Security Council Permanent Representatives visited Serbia and Kosovo last week. We know that the situation in Kosovo is not inherently stable, and we must move ahead. We know that we cannot go backwards to the situation of 1999.
We look forward to working with our Russian friends to find a way forward to resolve this in a way that is practical, that protects the Serbia community in Kosovo and does so in a way that is lasting and genuine.
Now Ahtisaari’s plan is often commented on by people who have not looked at it, and those who condemn it need to read it because most of Ahtisaari’s plan involves very detailed provisions to protect the Serbian community, the Serbian churches and their lands, the monasteries, and provides very strong and detailed guarantees for that community in the future. It is a good plan. We support it.
Question: Is there room for improvement that might meet some of the Russian reticence?
Assistant Secretary Fried: Let’s see what the discussions on the Security Council Resolution come up with. The Ahtisaari Plan is a balanced, strong plan. Those who criticize it need to become more familiar with its provisions. But we look forward to discussions of the Security Council Resolution. That’s the way ahead. And I think those will begin; I think Nick Burns said next week.
Question: You mentioned that you are just at the beginning of negotiations with the Czechs and Poles.
Assistant Secretary Fried: We have not even started our formal negotiations.
Question: But [inaudible] expressed [inaudible] conditions [inaudible]. Could you confirm the strategy of those two sides, on the Czech Republic and Poles? Are [inaudible]?
The other question is from diplomats I heard they already begin kind of [inaudible] what will be negotiation between the EU and Russia, [inaudible] too far over the heads of [inaudible], in the middle of something.
Assistant Secretary Fried: We have been very transparent not only with the Czech and Polish governments but with all of our NATO allies about our discussions with the Russians. We will continue to do so. The period of negotiating about you without you is over, it is not returning. We don’t do that.
At the same time I can’t comment about differences between the Czech and Polish positions because the negotiations haven’t started, so by definition we don’t have any positions whatsoever. It is true, though, that in my conversations with Czechs and Poles that they want to determine that this system will improve their own security. There’s a very lively debate in both countries about this. And there’s a need for their populations to understand what this is and what this isn’t, and I look forward to having those discussions.
Question: The non-White Paper on missile defense has been presented to NATO –
Assistant Secretary Fried: The non-White Paper, is that a brown paper, a blue paper? [Laughter].
Question: There’s a punch line coming here. The non-White Paper was [inaudible] in NATO, the proposals in the non-White Paper are now before the Russians. So my non-question about the non-White Paper is can you tell us what’s in it?
Assistant Secretary Fried: That paper was a proposal for detailed cooperation on missile defense: technical cooperation, systems integration, all kinds of joint testing of components. There were all kinds of very specific elements. When the Russians saw it they were quite taken aback. They had obviously not expected a proposal that was this far-reaching and this serious.
These are smart people. They knew exactly what that paper meant. They are perfectly capable of telling the difference between empty words and real proposals and they knew that this was real.
I should say that the Czech and Polish governments are perfectly aware of that paper because we also distributed it to NATO. After all, we are talking about integrating NATO systems, possible U.S. systems, and maybe even a Russian system so we’re not doing this in the dead of night. We’re doing this in a way that is cooperative and transparent with our allies and our Russian friends, and we hope that as the discussion continues the sense of cooperation will take hold rather than rhetoric from 25 years ago being tossed around Europe as if nothing’s changed.
Question: Thank you very much.