Jake Sullivan

White House Presser on President Biden's Upcoming First Foreign Trip

delivered 7 June 2021, Brady Press Briefing Room, White House, Washington, D.C.

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


Thank you, Jen. And thanks, everybody. So, as you all know, this week President Biden will head off to Europe on the first foreign trip of his presidency -- certainly not his first foreign trip, but the first one as President of the United States. And the trip, at its core, will advance the fundamental thrust of Joe Bidenís foreign policy: to rally the worldís democracies to tackle the great challenges of our time.

We believe that President Biden goes on this trip from a position of strength: dramatic progress against the pandemic at home; strong, projected growth that will help power the global economic recovery as well; renewed American power and purpose; and a rock-solid foundation of alliances that will serve as force multipliers for our global agenda.

At the G7, he will join with his fellow leaders to lay out a plan to end the COVID-19 pandemic with further specific commitments towards that end. He will also join his fellow leaders to announce a new initiative to provide financing for physical, digital, and health infrastructure in the developing world -- a high-standard, climate-friendly, transparent, and rules-based alternative to what China is offering.

He and the other leaders will endorse a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent, as you saw coming out of the G7 Finance Ministers Meeting a few days ago. And the G7 leaders will make a number of significant commitments on climate, on labor standards, on anti-corruption, and on ransomware.

At NATO, President Biden will address enduring security challenges that have been at the core of the Alliance for a long time, including Russia and coordinating the remaining period of the drawdown of forces from Afghanistan. But they will also focus on emerging security challenges to the Alliance, critically including cyber and the challenge posed by China.

President Biden will also reinforce the importance of burden sharing -- not just the 2 percent commitment that Allies made back in 2014 at the Wales Summit, but the need for Allies to give not just cash, but contributions to exercises and to operations that NATO is undertaking, and to have the kinds of capabilities that make sure that NATO is a full-spectrum alliance with Allies across the board providing the kind of high-end capabilities NATO requires.

At the U.S.-EU summit, the President and European Union leaders will focus on aligning our approaches to trade and technology so that democracies and not anyone else -- not China or other autocracies -- are writing the rules for trade and technology for the 21st century.

President Biden will also have a series of bilateral engagements, including a U.S.-UK summit with Prime Minister Johnson, where the two leaders will reaffirm the Special Relationship and update and upgrade it for the modern era. And we will have further announcements about additional bilateral engagements that he will have both in Cornwall and in Brussels in the days ahead.

After his time at the G7, at NATO, and at the U.S.-EU summit, President Biden will go to Geneva to meet with President Putin. He will do so, of course, after having had nearly a week of intensive consultations with allies and democratic partners from both Europe and the Indo-Pacific. So he will go into this meeting with the wind at his back.

Now, we have made clear repeatedly, and I will reinforce again today, that we do not regard a meeting with the Russian president as a reward. We regard it as a vital part of defending Americaís interests and Americaís values. Joe Biden is not meeting with Vladimir Putin despite our countriesí differences; heís meeting with him because of our countriesí differences. There is simply a lot we have to work through.

We believe that President Biden is the most effective, direct communicator of American values and priorities. And we believe that hearing directly from President Putin is the most effective way to understand what Russia intends and plans.

There is never any substitute for leader-to-leader engagement, particularly for complex relationships, but with Putin this is exponentially the case. He has a highly personalized style of decision making and so it is important for President Biden to be able to sit down with him face to face, to be clear about where we are, to understand where he is, to try to manage our differences, and to identify those areas where we can work in Americaís interests to make progress.

When President Biden returns to Washington next week, we believe that we will be in a materially stronger position to manage the major threats and challenges this country faces: COVID, climate, China, cyber, Russia, and shaping the rules of trade and technology for the future.

So, with that, Iíd be happy to take any questions that you have.


Question: Thanks, Jake. Is this the right time to be having a one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin so early in President Bidenís presidency, before heís met one-on-one with so many other world leaders, and at a time when there isnít a specific deliverable that the White House is looking to achieve from the one-on-one meeting?

Mr. Sullivan: So, first, we donít think in terms of U.S.-Russia summits as being about deliverables. Because if youíre going to wait for really significant deliverables, you could be waiting a long time, conceivably. So what we need to think about this summit as doing is fundamentally giving us an opportunity to communicate from our president to their president what American intentions and capabilities are and to hearing the same from their side. That has value in and of itself.

Secondly, in terms of the timing, it is hard from our perspective to find a better context for a meeting with the Russian president than after time spent with the worldís leading market economies -- the G7 -- plus India, South Korea, Australia, and South Africa; after a meeting with all of his fellow leaders at NATO; after a meeting with the presidents of the European Union; and then, and only then, going into this session to be able to talk through the complex set of issues in the U.S.-Russia relationship. That, from our perspective, is the right context within which to engage Russia.

And as far as whether it comes too early in his presidency, if you think about what weíve dealt with from the outset on Russia, itís been a busy time: Weíve extended the New START agreement. Weíve imposed costs for election interference and for SolarWinds. Weíve dealt with a Russian buildup on the Ukraine border. And, of course, we are contending with a range of issues in the cyber and ransomware domain. So, we feel that it is an effective and appropriate context and time period for us to have this summit.

Question: And then, just as a follow-up to that: The Ukrainian President did an interview today and implored President Biden to meet with him first, before Mr. Biden sits down with Vladimir Putin. Is that something that youíre considering? If not, why not?

Mr. Sullivan: Well, actually, I have come into this briefing room from the Oval Office where President Biden was on the phone with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. This is a call that they had been planning to make in advance of President Biden going to Europe and meeting with President Putin. They had the opportunity to talk at some length about all of the issues in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship. And President Biden was able to tell President Zelenskyy that he will stand up firmly for Ukraineís sovereignty, territorial integrity, and its aspirations, as we go forward. And he also told President Zelenskyy that he looks forward to welcoming him to the White House, here in Washington, this summer after he returns from Europe.

Question: Jake.

Mr. Sullivan: Yeah.

Question: Hi, Jake. Thank you. We know that Afghanistan is going to be discussed with our NATO Allies. Thereís been a lot of concern about replacing some of those U.S. assets, such as the drones, to be able to fight against the Taliban. Can you bring us up to speed on where are the negotiations with Pakistan? And would the United States like to have a drone base in Pakistan?

Mr. Sullivan: So Iím not going to get into the details of our negotiations with Pakistan. I will only say this: We have had constructive discussions in the military, intelligence, and diplomatic channels with Pakistan about the future of Americaís capabilities to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base from which al Qaeda or ISIS or any other terrorist group can attack the United States.

But in terms of the specifics of what that will look like, that will have to remain in those private channels as we work through them.

What I will say is that we are talking to a wide range of countries about how we build effective, over-the-horizon capacity, both from an intelligence and from a defense perspective, to be able to suppress the terrorism threat in Afghanistan on a going-forward basis.

Question: Jake, two questions -- one with Putin and one here back at home. With Putin, the President is going into this meeting where thereís great tension between both leaders. And letís talk about the trust factor: How can you trust anything Vladimir Putin says in this sit-down when the President comes back? You say youíre going to learn what heís thinking and what he wants to moving forward. How can you trust that, as Vladimir Putin has already smeared the Presidentís name? How can you do that? How can you trust?

Mr. Sullivan: Taking the measure of another president is not about trusting them. And the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is not about a relationship of trust. Itís about a relationship of verification. Itís about a relationship of clarifying what our expectations are and laying out that if certain kinds of harmful activities continue to occur, there will be responses from the United States.

Question: What are those responses?

Mr. Sullivan: And our -- well, we will lay those out for President Putin in this meeting, and he will understand fully where the United States stands and what we intend to do.

But one thing I will say, April, is we believe fundamentally that our capacity to ensure that harmful and disruptive activities against the United States do not continue unabated is to be able to communicate clearly, directly -- not by negotiating in public, but by explicating our position and our capabilities in private. And thatís what President Putin intends to do.

Question: My second question, Jake, on voting -- the For the People Act. If it is not passed, what is the national security issue with it? Is there a national security issue with it if itís not passed? Because weíve heard so much over the past few years about issues of voting. If that is not passed, is it a national security issue?

Mr. Sullivan: I would say the basic notion of democratic reform and voting rights in the United States is a national security issue. We are in a competition of models with autocracies, and we are trying to show the world that American democracy and democracy writ large can work, can effectively deliver the will of the people. And to the extent that we are not updating, refurbishing, revamping our own democratic processes and procedures to meet the needs of the modern moment, then we are not going to be as successful in making that case to the rest of the world -- to China, to Russia, or to anyone else. And so there is a national security dimension to this today, just as there was through the decades of the Cold War.


Question: Thank you so much. My question is: Can you talk a bit about how President Biden plans to convince, especially our European allies, that President -- former President Trump was an anomaly in some ways -- all the things that he did to, in some ways, traumatize those leaders; calling into question the need for NATO. Whatís the plan there? And is he concerned that those scars are going to be deeper than his ability to address them in this one trip?

Mr. Sullivan: I think our view going into this trip is that actions speak louder than words, and that showing that the United States is capable of turning the corner on the pandemic; showing that the United States is capable of making the dramatic investments that will pull us up and out of this economic recovery and help power global growth; showing the world that we are ultimately capable of making the investments in R&D and infrastructure, innovation, and workforce -- ultimately, setting that foundation for this country will be the most effective way to show the rest of the world that the United States has the power and purpose to be able to deliver as the worldís leading democracy.

So thatís what heís going to try to demonstrate. And he, as I said at the outset, feels he goes into this from a position of strength because of the record heís built up over the course of the first four months.

Question: And on voting, can you talk a little bit -- is Congress being briefed on the idea of voting as a national security issue? And if the For the People Act isnít passed, what will that say globally, given the fact that you just laid it out as a national security issue?

Mr. Sullivan: So, I will say, humbly, as the National Security Advisor, I donít tend to get into the middle of the debates up on the Hill on issues like voting rights. All I can say is the bottom-line principle -- not a specific question about the vehicle or the timeframe, but rather the fundamental principle -- which is that a strong, vibrant American democracy that protects voting rights is the best way for us to make the case to the world that our model, and not some other model, is the right model to actually vindicate the will of the people here in the United States, and for other democracies to be able to do the same.


Question: Two quick questions. One, a follow-up on Yamiche. The biggest concern of some of our allies has been, over the last four years and even before, just the rapid swaying back and forth of our foreign policy. Now, you canít assure anyone whatís going to happen after you leave, but what assurances and what will you tell our allies that, despite what weíve seen in the past, that we have returned to normal?

Mr. Sullivan: I think the best way to answer that question -- and this builds on what I said to Yamiche -- is what President Biden can do is show the rest of the world what America is capable of. If we can lead the world in ending the COVID-19 pandemic more rapidly; if the growth we are powering for the American people here at home helps power a global economic recovery; if we can help rally, as the President did with his Climate Leaders Summit, action on climate -- on the climate crisis so that we actually beat this thing, ultimately, that is going to be the best way for people to say, ďHang on, the United States can do this. They can deliver and we will stand up and stand behind them.Ē And that is the approach that he has taken from the first day heís been in office. Thatís the message heís going to carry into these meetings.

And what I believe we will deliver just out of the G7 alone, in addition to the other meetings heís going to have on this trip, will show that the United States retains profound capacity to help rally the worldís democracies to solve big problems.

Question: And the second question --

Mr. Sullivan: Yeah.

Question: Yes --

Question: And I had a second question. The second question was: Will you look at ransomware as a national security priority? How will we address that in the G7?

Mr. Sullivan: Yes, ransomware is a national security priority, particularly as it relates to ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure in the United States. And we will treat it as such in the G7. We will treat it at such at every stop along the way on this trip.


Question: Thanks, Jake. What is the point of meeting Putin in person if there are no deliverables and thereís no real trust to that relationship? Why does the President think in-person is the most effective way to address Putin when you could just do this on the phone?

Mr. Sullivan: Well, first of all, thereís no substitute for face-to-face engagement in any dynamic. Heís not just going to Geneva. Right? Heís going to Cornwall. Heís going to Brussels. He will have the chance to look in the eyes of literally dozens of leaders over the course of his time, and all of that will be better than just operating on the telephone. Thatís --

Question: Iím asking about Putin though, not the other leaders. If thereís -- if the relationship --

Mr. Sullivan: Well, but I --

Question: -- is centered around these issues that are so complicated, what does this President believe -- what does he believe he can bring to the table with Putin? And how does he assess Putin as a leader that he can talk to across the table?

Mr. Sullivan: So, first, the reason I answered with ďall the other leadersĒ is this isnít something unique to Putin. Meeting face to face is not just something you do with Vladimir Putin; itís something President Biden is going to do -- I think, all told, when you add it up -- with somewhere approaching 35 or 36 leaders just on this one trip alone. And he has welcomed the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of Korea. He will welcome other leaders here over the course of the summer, because face-to-face engagement is just of a different order of magnitude of diplomatic engagement from doing it over the phone.

Second, on this notion of deliverables in the U.S.-Russia summit: At the end of the day, what we are looking to do is for the two presidents to be able to send a clear signal on question -- to their teams on questions of strategic stability so that we can make progress in arms control and other nuclear areas to reduce tension and instability in that aspect of the relationship. And then, second, being able to look President Putin in the eye and say, ďThis is what Americaís expectations are. This is what America stands for. This is what America is all about.Ē

This, we believe, is an essential aspect of U.S.-Russia diplomacy because President Putin is a singular kind of personalized leader, and having the opportunity to come together in a summit will allow us to manage this relationship and stand up and defend American values most effectively.

Question: Following up on the ransomware issue, given how pervasive it is and has been for some time. U.S. officials have talked about the need for international allies to work together on this issue. Are you looking for specific commitments from allies? What do you want to come out of the G7 and NATO summit with, as it pertains to ransomware to help better protect the U.S.?

Mr. Sullivan: So one of the things weíd like to see out of the G7 is the start of an action plan that covers a number of critical areas.

First, how to deal with the -- increasing the robustness and resilience of our defenses against ransomware attacks, collectively.

Second, how to share information about the nature of the threat among our democracies.

Third, how to deal with the cryptocurrency challenge, which is -- lies at the core of how this -- these ransom transactions are played out.

And then, finally, how we collectively speak with one voice to those countries, including Russia, that are harboring or permitting cyber criminals to operate from their territory.

So those are some of the things that we are looking for as outcomes out of the G7+. We will also speak, in the NATO context, about cyber threats, particularly as they relate to critical infrastructure, as being of a different order of magnitude of security threat that the Alliance has to concern itself with in a way that it hasnít historically. But itís got to become a priority on a going-forward basis.

Question: Jake?

Mr. Sullivan: Yeah.

Question: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much. Okay, so about the infrastructure financing problem that you were talking about is going to be announced, which countries is the United States and G7 look at? Is Brazil one of these developing countries to receive this financing?

And if you could update us about the discussions with Brazil on 5G, because you have a delegation from Brazil here discussing with NSC officials.

And, finally, why hasnít President Biden still talk with the Brazilian president, Bolsonaro? Why are -- why he hasnít? And what is the message that this send to Brazil? Itís June. Heís already going to -- for international trip. He has not yet speak with Brazil. So why is that?

Mr. Sullivan: So there are a number of leaders that he hasnít had the opportunity to speak with. And one of the reasons why, of course, as many people in this room know, is heís had an unbelievably packed and crowded agenda, particularly domestically, and trying to beat the pandemic and get on the road to COVID-19 recovery.

So heís looking forward to making sure he gets to touch the leaders of every significant country in the world over the course of the coming weeks and months.

On 5G, we have made clear our view and we will communicate that with the delegation visiting from Brazil that we believe that trusted vendors for 5G are the best way, both for -- to secure telecommunications networks and to ensure that a countryís democratic values can be protected.

And then, finally, Iím not going to get ahead of the announcements on the financing for infrastructure package. I will let that speak for itself. But I will say, it will cover all of the significant regions of the world, including Latin America and the Caribbean.

Question: Mr. Sullivan?

Mr. Sullivan: Yeah.

Question: Thank you there. When the United States rejoined the World Health Organization, you wrote in a statement that that meant, quote, ďholding it to the highest standards.Ē Does that mean that the World Health Organization had failed to meet those standards at some point? And then, what specifically is this administration doing to make certain that they are held to those standards?

Mr. Sullivan: So, we have made clear from the beginning of this administration, and in rejoining, that we believe the WHO does need to be reformed. Some of those reforms are more programmatic and bureaucratic; they relate to ensuring greater efficiency and effectiveness in responding to things like the outbreak of COVID-19. Some of them are about making sure that there is not undue influence or interference by any single member state or country in the WHO.

And then some of them relate to very targeted issues like the COVID-19 origins investigation where I have personally, and we collectively, have been quite vocal about our view that there needs to be a second round to this investigation that truly gets to the heart of the matter, which is the original data and original information that is still being withheld by China. And our hope is that in the coming months we will see a credible international investigation progress, including in respect to those items.


Question: Thank you, Jake. What is your expectation for when the U.S. will lift travel restrictions on the UK and on Europe? And what are your current concerns? Why havenít they been lifted yet? What specifically are you looking for to have happen -- for that to happen?

Mr. Sullivan: Well, let me start by saying it doesnít really matter what I am looking for personally, because at the end of the day this is a process being driven by science and public health guidance. And so it is ultimately up to the public health professionals in the U.S. government to make that determination.

We have heard very clearly the desire of our friends in Europe and in the UK, to be able to reopen travel across the Atlantic Ocean, and we want to see that happen. But we have to follow the science and we have to follow the guidance of our public health professionals. So we are actively engaging with them to determine the timeframe.

And I canít give you a date today, but I will tell you that we recognize the concern and we are fundamentally being guided by objective analysis in this regard.

Question: What is your response to arguments that those continuing restrictions on the UK and European countries are unfair, given that there are other countries that the U.S. does
not have travel restrictions on?

Mr. Sullivan: My view on this is: We have been transparent and clear about the basis for our travel restrictions. We have done so through a process that has been guided by science and evidence. That is how weíve determined how the travel restrictions have been applied and to whom, and that is how we are going to proceed on a going-forward basis.

This could -- this administrationís commitment to that kind of analysis is fundamental. It is how -- it is what has guided every aspect of our response to the pandemic, including this issue.

Question: Thank you very much, Jake. Nice to see you. Iím Jeanne Pak with [inaudible] Korea. And regarding about the North Korea issues, is there a possibility of U.S. and South Korea, Japan trilateral meeting at the G7, and youíll be discussing with the North Korean issues?

Mr. Sullivan: We donít currently have a trilateral scheduled between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, but I will tell you thereís a possibility for virtually anything in these small spaces where you have just a -- you know, in this case, 10 or 12 leaders in person there in Cornwall. But thereís nothing currently on the schedule.

Question: We have a logistical question, actually. Do you expect President Biden and President Putin to spend any time together alone, or do you expect that staff and aides will be present throughout all this summit? And can we expect a joint press conference between the two leaders? Is this something that youíre actively pushing for?

Mr. Sullivan: All of that is still being worked out. So when Iíve got more to report on the modalities, both in terms of how the meeting will be structured and the press elements, weíll come back to you.

Question: Jake, I want to ask you about the relationship specifically with two leaders. It was announced las week that the President will have a bilateral with the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I know that talks have been challenging with him. Can you describe what the administration is hoping to accomplish on that?

And also, secondly, with the UK, what is the dynamic, or whatís the personal relationship between Boris Johnson and Joe Biden? I know weíve heard about the Special Relationship between the two countries. Whatís their relationship like?

Mr. Sullivan: So, President Biden and President Johnson -- or Prime Minister Johnson -- have had the opportunity to have a couple of phone calls. And those phone calls have been warm. Theyíve been constructive. Theyíve been very much down to business. Theyíve gone through extensive agendas in both of them. And I expect that their meeting together will just cover the waterfront. I mean, really, a wide range of issues where the two of them and the U.S and United Kingdom do see eye to eye. Theyíve been collaborating on this plan to end the pandemic. Theyíve been collaborating on this infrastructure financing plan. Theyíve been collaborating on virtually every aspect of the G7 agenda. And they talked very closely about how the Leaders Summit that President Biden hosted on climate could help provide the runway into COP26, which Prime Minister Johnson will be hosting in Glasgow.

And then, as far as President Erdogan is concerned, they will have a bilateral on the margins of the NATO Summit in Brussels, and there, too, itís going to be a broad and expansive agenda -- issues right there in the region; of course, in the Eastern Mediterranean with Syria, with Iran, Nagorno-Karabakh -- but also the role that Turkey will play on a going-forward basis with respect to negotiations and diplomacy in Afghanistan and how the U.S and Turkey itself deal with some of our significant differences on values and human rights and other issues.

And President Biden knows Erdogan very well. The two men have spent a good amount of time together, and they are both, I think, looking forward to the opportunity to really have a business-like opportunity to review the full breadth of their relationship.

Iím afraid I have to go. Iím sorry, guys.

Question: One more question about Ukraine -- about the Ukraine [inaudible]. Can we ask you one question about Ukraine --

Mr. Sullivan: Sure.

Question: -- and whether President Zelenskyy -- you mentioned his ask to have Ukraine join NATO. What message will the President deliver in response, if it came up?

Mr. Sullivan: So they were able to talk about, basically, every significant aspect of the relationship, including with respect to the U.S.ís support for Ukraine security. But in terms of the specifics of what they discussed, Iím going to let the two of them speak for themselves. Iím not going to read out that aspect of the meeting.

Thank you.

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