“In terms of flights, I really should redirect you to the airlines. They are the ones who make these decisions. In terms of admitting citizens – we are constantly re-evaluating and studying how this relates to the latest developments with the COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of travel restrictions, visa restrictions that we have introduced,” Free News reports the words of acting assistant Secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker.
On Thursday, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker said during a telephone press briefing in response to a Media question that air carriers themselves will make decisions on the resumption of air service between Russia and the US. Meanwhile, the US government will estimate the prospects of canceling the border restrictions introduced earlier.
Below is a full rush transcript of the Briefing with Philip T. Reeker, Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs.
Ambassador Reeker: It’s really great to be back in Brussels. I guess I always say that, but this time I really mean it. This is my first trip since March the 12th, when I went back to Washington thinking we might go into a lockdown, like so many countries, as we faced the COVID-19 pandemic, and of course this ended up now being four-plus months, and we’re able now, traveling with Secretary Pompeo to London.
We flew in Monday, and it was the Secretary’s first overnight trip since COVID, taking all the appropriate precautions, but a chance to engage with our UK colleagues, counterparts. Of course, the Secretary met with Prime Minister Johnson and Foreign Secretary Raab. I think you would have seen the press conference that the foreign secretary and Secretary Pompeo held. We also had a chance to meet, of course, with our embassy team. And the FCO, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, hosted a roundtable with British and American businesses which was a very useful chance to hear about their concerns, their priorities in terms of COVID recovery, economic recovery, and reopening being a priority for all of us, trying to do that safely and securely, working on travel restrictions and easing of those in terms of some of the waivers and exceptions, on both sides of the Atlantic, we’ve been able to do to start up again travel possibilities as part of our economic recovery. So I think it was a very successful and useful visit in London.
The Secretary then went on yesterday morning, Wednesday morning, to Copenhagen. This, of course, was a chance to visit after our earlier visit last year had been postponed, but a great opportunity to engage with our Danish allies, partners. We have a tremendous partnership with Denmark in so many areas: security, the prosperity agenda, also, of course, talking about COVID-19 and how we – steps we can take to recover our economies, and talking about the Danes’ preparation to take over leadership and command in Iraq of NATO operations there. There’s just a whole list of things that we work on together with Denmark. And, of course, we talked about the Arctic, which, as you know, has been a strategic priority for us in terms of Arctic security. And we had a really interesting and useful quadrilateral meeting with the foreign ministers of Denmark, of Greenland, and the Faroe Islands, so those three parts of the Kingdom of Denmark coming together with Secretary Pompeo to talk about engagement there. You may all be aware that we recently reopened, after many years, our consulate in Nuuk, in Greenland. We have now a presence there. It’s something that the Secretary helped spearhead for us. We had a good chat with the Faroese as well, a dialogue there, and, of course, doing this all in conjunction with our Danish colleagues. So, really, a great visit there.
The Secretary headed back yesterday to Washington and today he’s headed to California. You will have seen that he’ll be giving a speech at the Nixon Library there, talking about China.
I took the opportunity to come on down here this morning to Brussels and had some bilateral meetings with Belgian counterparts today, and then tomorrow I’ll meet with a long list of EU counterparts. It’s great to be able to do this in person again, although we’ve kept up good diplomatic contacts and connections over these months through the various platforms, just as we’ve tried through things like these calls to continue our engagement with you, our colleagues in the press. I hope to have a chance to discuss a whole range of issues with EU counterparts, but that will include the U.S.-EU dialogue about China, which High Representative Borrell proposed and the Secretary of State accepted. We’re excited about being able to do that. It’s a good opportunity to exchange views and thoughts as we all look at the concerns we have regarding some of the Chinese activity. You know we’ve talked about 5G, we’ve talked about human rights, Hong Kong, so we’re going to be working on the agenda and the plans for that dialogue, and it’s really a chance to review a whole set of transatlantic engagements that we carry out with the EU.
Let me stop there. I will be flying back then Saturday morning to Washington, but I do hope this is the beginning of more opportunities to travel. Of course, we’re watching very closely how things evolve with COVID. It’s one of the things that we spend a lot of time with our EU counterparts on, is making sure that we can restart more travel but do it safely, according to epidemiological information and working closely not only on the transport side of things, but the broader economic recovery plans as well.
Question: What Turkey is doing against Greece and Cyprus. President Trump and Secretary Pompeo asked, as I understand, Can you tell us what is going on there?
Ambassador Reeker: Well, I would note, as you’ve heard, that the United States has been deeply concerned by Turkey’s stated plans to survey for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean. We’re concerned about actions that are provocative and raise tensions in the region. Resource development in the Eastern Med, I think, is something that should promote cooperation. This is something that can provide a foundation for durable energy security and economic prosperity throughout the region. You know as well as I do that this is a complex strategic space. We want our friends and allies – and let’s remember, we’re all, Turkey, Greece, and the United States, all NATO allies – we want friends and allies in the region to approach these issues in a spirit of cooperation. And I would just echo the message that we’ve given before from Washington as well as elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions, and we’ll continue to urge that message.
I think you may have seen comments today from Ambassador Pyatt in Alexandroupoli as well. So we keep in touch with both of our embassies in Athens and in Ankara, monitoring this situation very closely.
Question: Albanians respect you a lot. Prime Minister Rama broke the election reform agreement, which was signed in the U.S. Embassy. Is State Department going to tolerate ?
Ambassador Reeker: We think it was an important step in the right direction. We’re pleased that Ambassador Kim has been able to help, and help Albania move in that direction. Albania is a NATO ally, a candidate for EU membership, and has come a long way in many years. As you know, I’ve been involved in that part of the world for a long time, and we want to see positive developments in Albania, and it’s important that we see the election reform. It’s important that all sides of the political spectrum participate in the institutions. That’s what democracy is all about and that’s what we’ll continue to engage in and to monitor and to encourage from all parts of the Albanian political spectrum.
Question: According to the Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill 2021, 15 percent of the funds that was made available under assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia for direct assistance to the central Government of Georgia may not be obligated until the Secretary of State determines and reports to the committees on appropriations that Georgian Government is taking effective steps to strengthen democratic institutions, combat corruption, and ensure that the rule of law in the private sector is consistent with internationally recognized standards. Ambassador, this is a very unprecedented event when it comes to the Georgian Government, and your answer will be very much important on this. How serious is this cutting 15 percent of the foreign aid to Georgia? And what Georgian people should expect from the State Department to report to the relevant committees?
Ambassador Reeker: Well, thanks for the question because, certainly, we pay a lot of attention to the Caucasus. We have strong relationships there, and that includes, of course, with the Republic of Georgia, which is an important partner in so many ways and has been for many years. I don’t want to delve into congressional views and legislation and get ahead of any steps that may be taken or determinations that may be made, but what I can tell you is that we continue to work very closely with Georgia. Our embassy there, under Ambassador Degnan, remains extremely active and we’re in close touch with them. I’d hoped to travel to Georgia and the Caucasus just when the COVID pandemic brought all of that travel to a standstill, and I’d like to resurrect those travel plans. So we’re watching conditions closely and hope to get back out there and continue that.
But regardless of travel by senior officials, it’s what happens on the ground that is important, and certainly our embassy remains in very close contact on that and we will continue to monitor the situation and also, of course, keep in close touch with Congress, which has a great interest in the region as well.
Question: My question about relations between Kosovo and Serbia. What is the state of play in terms of American engagement now that the European Union has taken again, as they claim, the driver’s seat? Is there any cooperation or coordination between Washington and Brussels, or you’re going to continue with two separate processes, as it was the case until June 24th? And on that note, has U.S. administration had any kind of contact with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci since the confirmation that he is being charged about war crimes and crimes against humanity?
Ambassador Reeker: As you know, I have a long history on that region and, indeed, on that process, having supported, when I was deputy assistant secretary some years back, the European Union’s very robust and important activities through the dialogue toward normalization between Kosovo and Serbia. That still remains an important priority for us. We think they need to work to find solutions, so we certainly welcome that opportunity. As you know, the Special Presidential Envoy Richard Grenell worked on an economic track to help the two countries find ways where they could improve their economies – in other words, improve the lives of their people. As neighbors, that’s going to be inevitable and an important part of helping them find direction in terms of normalization and moving ahead on their longer-term goals and priorities, and continuing to encourage greater stability and security in the region.
There were some big steps taken in terms of agreements toward air and rail links, and we would still encourage them to work on those. I think it’s great that the new EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak is working. He’s gotten down to – Miroslav is a good friend and colleague who knows the region and the issues extremely well. I will have an opportunity to meet with him tomorrow here in Brussels. I look forward to that. And we will continue to be engaged and supportive of the process and to see through progress in that direction. We think both countries can make big steps in that regard. Our embassies both in Belgrade and in Pristina remain active and in close contact with the respective governments to encourage them to find ways forward, and we’ll continue to talk to the EU and other interested parties about that process, and I’m just glad to see that there is a return to the dialogue and we’ll continue to support that as well.
Question: Your trip includes planning for the U.S.-EU dialogue on China, and I’m just wondering what the goals are from the U.S. side on that. Is there a consensus between the parties on the structure of that dialogue? Will there be a formal decision-making body, for instance?
Ambassador Reeker: This is a great opportunity to sort of do it in person. We’ve been in touch over the – through the different contacts, all of these new-fangled platforms that we all use in terms of communication. You’ll recall that the Secretary announced last month – I think it was June 25th – that he was pleased to accept High Rep Borrell’s proposal and establish this dialogue on the People’s Republic of China. It just gives us a new mechanism for discussing and analyzing the concerns that the transatlantic community has about the threats that the PRC poses to some of our shared democratic values, the threats to the international rules-based order, some of the things we’ve begun to realize and speak out about. Certainly, you’ve seen the Secretary’s remarks; it was on our agenda both in London and in Copenhagen this week in talking about that.
We are going to work to develop a sort of framework for how we do this. I know the Secretary himself and High Rep Borrell look forward to launching this. We don’t have an exact date yet. Some of it, of course, still ties in with limitations of COVID, but we’d like to do that in person. So more news to come on that, but I think that it’s a chance to talk about COVID and recovery and the role of China in that, and then look at our resilience, perhaps talk about things like supply chains, certainly talk about human rights, what’s been going on in the west, the Uyghurs, Chinese treatment of its Muslim populations; Hong Kong is an issue that’s right at the fore right now. And so we’ll have a full agenda, and this week I do hope to be able to sort of work out a little more in terms of the details of how we’ll do that, pull together a plan.
So we will hope to offer more on that as it comes out. I would expect that we’d get underway after the August break, and this will be, as I said, a mechanism that can meet over time, perhaps have a level below the minister – ministerial level that can work on various issues just to share ideas, viewpoints. I think we are very successful when the transatlantic community does this, looks at challenges we have and shares information on how we can move ahead and deal with some of these challenges, and help China to see that they need to be a part of the international rules-based order, and we can analyze our concerns about that together. We hope this will be sort of action-oriented and lead to some more coordinated policy outcomes that can advance our shared interests on both sides of the Atlantic.
Question: I was hoping you could update us on where things stand in relations to, with regards to U.S.-Russian relations. And I also wanted to ask you if Secretary Pompeo has plans to reciprocate and travel to Russia anytime soon considering the fact that Minister Lavrov was in Washington, D.C., in December? And lastly, do the two sides currently engage – are currently engaged in any talks about a resumption of regular commercial flights in light of what’s going on with the pandemic?
Ambassador Reeker: I certainly don’t have any travel to announce for Secretary Pompeo. As I said, he’s been in Europe, in London and Copenhagen. He’s in California today. I know he’s able to speak to Foreign Minister Lavrov among the many, many calls he has with foreign leaders and counterparts.
In terms of flights, I’d really have to refer you to airlines, who are the ones that really make those decisions. In terms of admission of individuals, we are constantly reassessing and looking at how that fits in with the latest developments in the COVID pandemic in terms of travel restrictions, visa restrictions that we’ve had. It’s not something that the Secretary himself would be directly involved in.
And of course, we’ve made very clear the areas of concern we have with the Russian Federation on a number of issues, from interference in our elections, their invasion of Ukraine, and occupation of Georgia. These are areas that certainly restrain our relations, and a series of other challenges we have bilaterally. But we will continue through our embassies to maintain those contacts and continue to call upon the Russian Federation to act in a responsible manner.
Question: I would like to know, in terms of China, if you have received any indication from the Italian Government about the decision they have to make about Huawei and 5G. And the second question, if possible, if there is any progress in the talks to let the Schengen Area citizens to travel back to the United States?
Ambassador Reeker: We have undertaken , you may have seen some of the announcements in the last week or so – to implement some additional waivers and exemptions to the travel restrictions that were put in place because of COVID-19. We certainly have appreciated the transparency and efforts of our European partners to do the same. The Secretary spoke about this on these stops in London and Copenhagen. We’re really trying hard, working closely with friends in Europe and the EU proper, to determine how we can best safely reopen international travel and make sure that all the elements are in place to do that appropriately. And I think – I’m confident that in coming weeks we are going to figure out even more ability, ultimately to be able to lift the various limitations and restrictions that we have. But for now we have been able to restart a significant amount of travel for economic and business purposes, for students and others, and we’re continuing – the State Department, but along with other partners, the Department of Transportation and Department of Homeland Security – to develop full plans and methods by which we can get travel back into place.
Your first question was regarding Italy and its decisions in terms of the 5G networks and Huawei. I’ll let the Government of Italy speak to any things they want to announce and decisions they want to take. We’ve made very clear our concerns. The security of our networks is paramount. This is the challenge with China; one of the challenges is how over a period of years – and the Secretary spoke to this – that we were not attentive as China stole and scooped up our intellectual property, developed new technological systems, used their state-linked enterprises then to market these back to us. And our data is what’s at stake. Our data, your data, the data of Americans, Europeans, our friends and allies is what we’re concerned about here, and having the Chinese Communist Party be able to store and access that data. That’s really what this discussion is about, and finding trusted vendors for our high-tech and IT infrastructure. That’s the crucial thing here. We’re confident that the Italian Government will make the right decisions for the Italian people to make sure that their data, their security, is fully protected.
Question: The United States have recently blacklisted, put sanctions on various companies that are connected to the crimes in Xinjiang, and this is interesting because we still have a lot of European companies who right now are doing business with these blacklisted Chinese companies, they are collaborating with these blacklisted Chinese companies. What’s your recommendation to European companies that are doing business with these blacklisted companies in China?
Ambassador Reeker: Well, certainly as those announcements made clear, we are trying to bring to the fore what is going on there. This is an important human rights question. What’s been carried out by the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Republic of China against their own citizens is something we should all be concerned about, and what our announcements have made clear is that those who are doing business there should be aware of exactly what they’re doing and what it means, and I think they speak for themselves. Those announcements are quite clear, and we’re watching this very, very closely.
You mentioned that you are based in Hong Kong, and we, of course, are very concerned about what’s happened in Hong Kong as well. This was a topic of the Secretary’s conversations in London as well as in Denmark, and it certainly will be something I discuss here with counterparts at the EU. So we’re going to continue to make clear that these are important issues, and as the Chinese Communist Party, the regime, People’s Republic of China, has been committing actions against its own people that we find particularly intolerable, and we’re going to continue to speak out about it.
Ambassador Reeker: It’s always difficult on these things to cover the whole range of issues, but I hope we can do this again and I hope I can get back to Brussels again soon, and just to wish all of you a safe and healthy summer. I hope you’re doing all right as we continue to all together deal with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, wishing you all the best. Thanks. Thanks, Justin.