MODERATOR: We wanted to do this just on background attributable to senior State Department officials to give you a sense of some of the discussions today, and we thought we would start with the Libya discussion. And [Senior State Department Official One] can offer a sense of how things went, the progress that was made, and what remains. So again, we’ll just do this on background.
And with that, I see [Senior State Department Official Three] joining us. He will be another senior State Department official and he can obviously —
So let’s start with this – let’s start with this senior State Department official to talk about Libya and we’ll go from there.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, hey. I think there are three things that we’re headlining out of this conference today. One is the – it’s the first appearance by a sovereign Libyan more or less united – interim united government in a long, long time, and they made their appearance on the international stage. They articulated their case, pushed for various things, and that’s already a huge step forward from where we were two years ago. So the Berlin process, which started with this summit in January of 2020, has now taken the next step with the participation of a sovereign interim Libyan Government.
The second headline is that – has to do with the elections. I mean, precisely, this is an interim government. Its mission is to establish – pave the way for elections on December 24th of 2021 and to deliver essential services in the meanwhile. Last summer, there were 20 hours a day of blackouts in Tripoli. There were lines at the gas stations, there were lines at the banks. This government’s primary mandate is – some people call it electricity and elections or elections and electricity, the two Es. And, of course, COVID is an issue in Libya too and they’re struggling to get on top of that.
So what we needed to do and what I think was achieved by this gathering was to send the signal and to hear the Libyan prime minister fully commit himself to December elections. Some people have raised doubts about his degree of commitment. There’s the perennial perception that people in power try to stay indefinitely, and in this case, we’re getting good assurances from him that that’s not the case. He plans to respect the process, the so-called LPDF – Libyan Political Dialogue Forum – process that established this date of December 24th.
The elections are really important for a number of reasons, not just to legitimize a long-term, credible Libyan government, but they relate to the third headline for us, which has to do with foreign forces, mercenaries, and fighters. A fully empowered, legitimate Libyan government will be in a much stronger position to turn to some of these foreign actors and say, “Thank you very much, it’s our country now and we’d like to be the ones to define the security cooperation relationships that we’re going to have and not have them imposed on us.” And so we did not get to a complete agreement on this. The Turks did a footnote on the language that relates to foreign forces because the Turks believe their trainers are there with a – by virtue of a legitimate agreement with the – of a viable agreement with a legitimate Libyan government, the previous Government of National Accord. So they don’t like being equated with foreign fighters and mercenaries, and the German foreign minister, I noticed at their press conference, made that point publicly.
But these are contentious issues with some of the other participants. The Egyptians believe that the Turks are just trying to use their influence to embed themselves permanently in Libya with a military presence with an ideological flavor, and so the Egyptians and the French have concerns about that. And there were serious attempts and I think good-faith attempts and useful attempts, because it showed everybody that and it showed the Libyans that there is a strong will to try to bridge the gap here. But they didn’t quite close the deal with the Turks.
The Libyans – again, to have them there as a sovereign government making their own case for themselves was a really instructive moment, because it was quite clear to a number of participants in the group that the Egyptians and the Turks were putting it pretty hard to the Libyans. And that’s not a good look.
So again, the – and then the other important thing on the foreign forces issue is that in addition to whatever might happen in this particular gathering, there have been some discussions underway for a while on how to make progress on the low-hanging fruit, the foreign fighters and mercenaries. You have a ceasefire that’s holding. Most of the foreign parties – I would say all of the foreign parties – realize that trying to achieve their goals by military means isn’t going to work. Those who backed Haftar, it failed. So they’re pretty much all committed now to a political process.
The – sorry, I lost my train of thought. But so the —
QUESTION: Low-hanging fruit.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, the low-hanging fruit. Thank you. The – everybody understands that getting the Turks and Wagner out is really hard, but to preserve the ceasefire and to build on it, you want to make some progress somewhere. And there is a recognition even by some of these outside parties that if you could do some confidence-building measures that don’t undermine the status quo militarily, that don’t expose one side to an attack, let’s try that.
And so we have – the French have put some pen to paper on this. We’ve – even before that we’re talking to the Turks, and we’re basically in a position where both the Turks and the Russians have agreed that this could be a topic of discussion, that let’s talk about whether you could get 300 Syrians on side and 300 Syrians from the other side, put them on a plane, and get them somewhere just as a tangible, practical first step. These processes always work step by step, and the problem with the differences and the inability to agree on language in the end was because, of course, people were trying to be very ambitious. And yes, the UN Security Council resolutions call for the immediate departure of all foreign forces and fighters and the Libyan ceasefire of October 2020 calls for the departure of all foreign – in 90 days. But it hasn’t happened.
So our approach, the typically American, pragmatic approach, is let’s go for the low-hanging fruit. And we think that we have some basis for moving forward on sort of a bilateral and under the aegis of these other activities and the forum here today was useful to pursue this, but it’s not something that was specifically agreed to at the Berlin conference.
So on those three issues – Libyan sovereignty, elections, foreign fighters – we thought – we found this a useful exercise. Got to congratulate the Germans for the role they’ve played. The previous UN secretary – special representative of the secretary-general, Ghassan Salame, I met him shortly after I started this job. He had just come from Berlin, so this would have been about August of 2019. He had met with Merkel and he had persuaded her that this could be a good thing for the Germans to do. It would be a nice legacy for her. It would – Germany is seen as not as terribly self-interested in Libya as, say, the French or the Italians, and they could play this role. And they’ve done it very well. But they can’t deliver 100 percent agreement. Nobody can right now.
So this was – they did a great job of staging a very good conference. And the last thing I’ll just say is the fact that Secretary Blinken showed up was considered as a very big deal. That’s one thing that brought a number of foreign ministers here. You had the Turk, the Egyptian, the French, the – you had pretty good representation here – the Algerian. And having – there’s something about the Libyan process where the Americans are seen as having kind of, again, a less self-interested perspective than some of the other countries and that our influence can still be put to good use and to have the administration engage at this level was really significant. And since this administration took office, one – they’ve tried to send the signal that – taking Libya a little more seriously. They – people got the message.
Joey Hood, the acting assistant secretary, came out and with – thanks to him coming out at that level, we got the airplane we needed to be able to go into Tripoli. So the first – May 18th, the first visit by the most senior official by an American official – most senior visit by an American official to Tripoli since 2014, and the first time an American ambassador had been there for a couple of years. And then now to have the Secretary come here, there was a sense that the United States is taking this issue seriously, lending its diplomatic influence. We’re not necessarily leading the process; we’re supporting the UN in its work.
It’s unfortunate that the UN special envoy was not able to attend. I want to respect his privacy, but let’s just say there’s a virus going around, and so he couldn’t come. But he had a representative here and he was watching it on – he’s monitoring it. So he’ll be able to pick up where this left off through some – several things that are going to happen over the coming days to especially drive the election process. And then again on a bilateral basis, we’re going to pursue some of these foreign force issues.
MODERATOR: Sure, we can – yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Can I just clarify one thing? So you – there was not a complete agreement in the conference on the withdrawal of foreign forces, largely because of Turkey?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m just going to say there was – because the participants were not able to agree.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Turks did a pretty good job of trying to then, in turn, isolate the Egyptians, who couldn’t agree on a different variation. So there are strong feelings – on one side the Turks, on the other side the Egyptians, to some extent the French. Each has a valid position in their own way. The frustrating part about it is that the Libyans were there saying, “Hey, what are we, chopped liver here?” And so their position was we can live with any one of these variations because it’s ultimately aimed at starting a practical process that will result in the departure of foreign forces.
QUESTION: Right. But do you —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: If I could – if I could just follow on [Senior State Department Official One]’s comment. To underscore an answer to what you just asked – what [Senior State Department Official One] said earlier – what we did get, what the participants did agree upon, is something new, which is that foreign fighters —
QUESTION: Yes, I was just going to —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: — need to leave, and that needs to begin now, and that’s something to which all the parties present agreed. On the issue of foreign forces, 2570 sets out that goal. It’s all foreign forces. That’s an aspirational goal. There’s a process here, and saying, “All means all and they all leave tonight – why haven’t they left tonight? Will they leave tomorrow night?” is not, frankly, a realistic approach in a real-world situation such as Libya. Getting at what we think is one of the key destabilizing elements, the presence of those foreign fighters – Syrians, Chadians, Sudanese – that is an important first step and it’s not something we had before.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Now it has to be made operational.
QUESTION: Right. And you also said Turks and Russians have agreed to simultaneously pull out foreign mercenaries, so that was one thing that they —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Fighters.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I would say fighters.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We talked specifically – and I would say this is initial agreement to be pursued, but we have interest and agreement in principle to discuss departure of, let’s say, a cohort of Syrian fighters on each side.
QUESTION: Who was here from the Russians?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The Russian deputy foreign minister, Vershinin.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sergey Vershinin.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sergey Vershinin.
QUESTION: Could I just ask for some more detail on that? You were mentioning the hundreds of foreign fighters coming out and the foreign minister of Libya herself was saying in the coming days. Is that a set process that’s actually something that’s – is that more aspirational that this could just happen in the next few days or is there actually setting something – process set in motion for that to happen?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This – it’s not a concrete process yet. The – again, the value of Berlin was actually the first real opportunity we’ve had to start to talk how to flesh this out. I believe, and I’m not in a position to confirm, but it’s my understanding that this subject was broached at the Geneva – at the Geneva summit recently. And so there is still work to be done with the Russians on this and the Turks. There’s deep suspicion, of course. But there’s also a realization that there could be some value to them in trying to show something on this. So what we want to do is explore that, and I don’t have a format for you yet on how we would do that.
QUESTION: Haven’t the Turks already withdrawn some Syrians or said they’ve withdrawn (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was a story a couple of – even more than a couple of months ago that some cohort of Syrians had left.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We were actually never able to confirm that, and if it did happen it was the only one.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And this is a really complicated issue because the – who was it? The Emiratis told us that the Tunisian foreign minister had called them and said a lot of these Syrians are actually Tunisians, and the Tunisians don’t want them repatriated to Tunis. They don’t want a bunch of radical foreign fighters on their territory. So it’s not – even if you’ve got agreement to get them out, there are issues about where they would go, who would take them, how do you – it has to be verifiable. There is a mechanism through the UN monitoring presence; there’s a modest UN monitoring presence that’s being set up to monitor the Libyan ceasefire, 60 people or something. And then you have this 5+5 joint military commission of Libyan officers from each – from the west and the east. These are the mechanisms that would be used for verification. So we have a concept on that, but this is still at the initial stages.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But let’s not be confused: We know who the Syrians are. They are either pro-regime Syrians brought in by Wagner Group or Haftar, or they’re Syrian National Army fighters brought in from northwest Syria by the Turks. There’s no great mystery —
QUESTION: And the Turks are paying them, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: — as to where they are – the issues of payment is a bit obscure and not something I would be confident in commenting on.
QUESTION: I understand there’s no concrete process yet, but has the U.S. expressed any openness to providing material support to getting these foreign fighters out if that were to be something that’s needed?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve talked about lending diplomatic support to the process, and until we really have a better idea of what the process is, I don’t think we’re in a position to talk about —
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers at all on either side?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I mean, people talk – they throw out the number 300 on each side.
QUESTION: Total? 300 fighters?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: To start with on – as an initial tranche.
QUESTION: Yeah, but what would the total be?
QUESTION: To bring out.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There are thousands.
QUESTION: She’s asking the total number of —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Oh, how many are there?
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) There are thousands.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Oh, there’s – there are 6,000 Syrians at least.
QUESTION: On both sides combined, you mean?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. I think just on the Turkish side there’s 6,000 Syrians. Is that right, [Senior State Department Official Two], or —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Yes.
QUESTION: And that 300 is both sides, Turkish and Russian side?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Do you have 300 from each side —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is all sort of notional still here. I don’t want to send the message that the process has been launched.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But the idea, if it’s ever launched —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: — Chadians, Sudanese, Janjaweed, Syrians, eventually they all go. There’s got to be a tranche process.
QUESTION: If there are thousands on the Turkish side, how many are there on the other side?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thousands.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: What does the United States think about Ankara’s position that they are invited?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The Turks assert, as they did today, that the memorandum of understanding they’ve reached with the Serraj government some years ago continues to apply.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We don’t dispute that, but we are focused on how to get beyond that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And I would simply note I think there is a growing recognition, which is a healthy one, that in a circumstance which we all hope is realized in the course of the coming months where there is a new government that emerges from the elections on December 24th (inaudible) a unified military structure. There is going to have to be a new arrangement for whatever form, if there is one, of train, advise, assist forces are there to help the new unified Libyan Armed Forces. That doesn’t take us to that happy goal tomorrow, and I can’t tell you at, what, 3:00 p.m. plus five it will happen. But that’s certainly the objective, and I think there’s a recognition that things change when there is a government post-election, when there is a unified Libyan military. And referencing to now four-year-old MOUs with a government which would then be twice removed is not going to carry you all that far.
QUESTION: Who picked December 24 for the election?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The – it was one of the Libyan – or some of the Libyan participants in this LPDF.
QUESTION: I mean, I recognize that – I mean, it’s just like – seems designed for people not to be paying attention to it in most of the countries who are represented here today.
QUESTION: The Grinch.
QUESTION: I recognize that – the Grinch? Okay. Yeah, I think that’s (inaudible) —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No. And let’s give —
QUESTION: — going to get. But, I mean, why have an election on a day when no one in this group, most people who are attending the conference, are really going to be having their eye on the ball?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This was not done with any view to the Western calendar. This was done —
QUESTION: Well, clearly. And I think that says my entire point.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And the Libyans would say: So what? We’re not here to please the West. We’re trying to salvage our country.
And what people didn’t want, I think, was to have this drag into next year and have it keep being put off. But they pushed it off obviously as late as they could this year. I don’t know where the 24th comes in in terms of the Muslim calendar in December, but we have to – we should give credit to Stephanie Williams and the LPDF process, because basically that process took 74 people and had them make decisions about the future of Libya politically that have so far managed to stick, and that’s quite an achievement. And now the challenge is to keep it going.
QUESTION: I don’t – I mean, it’s fine for the Libyans to have – they can have – anyone can have their election on any day they want to. But in the – in a situation like this where you have conferences – this is the second one, right – where there are a ton of Western countries involved and any number of things can go wrong, are you going to tell me that any of the countries who are interested, with some few exceptions, are really going to be in a position on Christmas Eve to – or Christmas or over that week to actually do anything about it besides (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think we’re going to know before December 24th whether this is going to fall into place. There are going to have to be – we’ll see if there’s some patriotic election monitors and observers who want to go out around that time of year. But, I mean, nobody – you’re the first person who’s ever raised that question with me.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you – you mentioned the commitment to the election. Was that conditional in any way, saying that we need some more support from the outside world? Where do you think the countries are in terms of the (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I wouldn’t say it was conditional in the way he put it, but I – they will in the same breath say there are definitely going to be obstacles here – security, logistical, financial. But I think they accept our point that, yes, there are obstacles but none of them is insurmountable. And the – there is always a temptation when you’re in power to think you need to stay a little bit longer, and I think the prime minister is understanding that he wants to resist that temptation in the interests of the country.
QUESTION: On the – you said that the process is not a concrete one. So what is next? What is going to make it more concrete? What should we expect, or should we just wait for some withdrawals to (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I would – let’s just say I’m not in a position to give you any detail on that, so I don’t want to speculate.
QUESTION: How would you describe America’s national interest in the outcome here?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Libya had the potential and potential – could still have the potential to be another ungoverned space where terrorists can operate with impunity. ISIS was quite well-installed in Libya, had to be beaten back. In the last month, there have been two small attacks, again, in Libya that were claimed by ISIS. And so it’s a reminder that the terrorist issue has not gone away, and I think for us that’s a primary interest.
The Russian involvement in Libya has turned this now into something that has geopolitical implications for the United States, and it’s on NATO’s southern flank that the Russians have embedded. They are projecting influence into sub-Saharan Africa. Wagner is – we don’t accept that this is a private company; it’s an armed Russian state, and they’re carrying out Russia’s strategic objectives in sub-Saharan Africa and in the southern Med.
Libya is a huge supplier of oil and gas; that’s not the driving interest that it might have been at one time, but it’s still a factor in global economic affairs.
QUESTION: And migration also?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: The migration issue.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The migration issue is – it’s sort of not directly related to us, but to the extent it’s a tool to destabilize allies and partners in Europe, of course it’s an issue. And it’s a humanitarian issue. More Libyans are going to drown every day now because there’s a lot of migrants in Libya who at one point might have been happy to be there and do menial labor or have a job or whatever, but now because of the instability and the fighting and the fact the country hasn’t recovered yet, they’re not sticking around. And so from just a humanitarian perspective and a political perspective of the Europeans, you want to try to help with this.
MODERATOR: I know [Senior State Department Official Three] has to take off shortly, so [Senior State Department Official Three], is there anything you want to say just on the bilateral piece?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah, let me just say I think you’ve heard really a good summary of the topics and the tone when the two foreign – Foreign Minister Maas and the Secretary gave their on-the-record press conference, so I don’t think there’s a lot I can add there. The foreign minister thanked the Secretary for coming back to Europe, returning to Europe this week, underscored the Germany guiding principle of foreign policy of course is multilateralism, and thanked the United States for re-engagement, revitalization of so many multilateral fora. The fact that this is a week after President Biden came to Europe and participated in that series of summits that you’re very familiar with, he came first to Europe. A combined bilateral and multilateral diplomacy engagement was important.
Both of them talked (inaudible) about how there’s a focus on strengthening our own countries, and of course that’s why strong bilateral relations and multilateral relations are good, delivering results efficiently, productively, effectively for our own citizens is something we can do together, and I think they highlighted the fact that the competitive advantage that we have, and you can see this with the President’s progression from the G7 to the NATO summit to the U.S.-EU summit, is indeed the set of partnerships and alliances that we have where the partners and allies themselves choose to come together and support each other through these structures we’ve created. And the Secretary highlighted a response to the thanks that the minister gave for him coming here; in fact, wanted to recognize German leadership on issues like Libya and what my unnamed colleague here has just described. And the Secretary gave the foreign minister a fuller readout of the President Biden meeting with President Putin, just a chance to go into more details there, and promised, of course, to keep in close consultation on those set of issues. Safe to underscore we are very clear-eyed and sober in terms of relations with Russia.
Of course, the foreign minister highlighted the German elections, which are very much on people’s minds here. As we’ve seen in other fora, Russian efforts to influence German elections of course are something they keep a close eye on. They also were able to talk about Turkey, including a readout with a little more detail of the President’s meeting with President Erdogan, and focus on Afghanistan, and the work on maintaining a strong diplomatic mission there as the troops draw down, including international zone security and other issues. They touched on Belarus and highlighted the strong unity that’s remained between the U.S., the EU, and of course the UK, and Canada as well in terms of coordinating our sanctions and our response, and looking at ways to respond to things like the Ryanair incident and the other sort of outrageous crackdown that Lukashenko has perpetrated against people there who were just speaking out for fundamental rights and for a government that delivers for them.
They did talk about Syria and the humanitarian access issue that is important, of course, for – with the UN. Also touched on Iraq, and talked about the critical elections coming up there, our joint support for UNAMI and election monitoring, since you bring up elections. And did talk about Ukraine, of course; reviewed the Normandy format and the fact that there is a dynamic still there, albeit a tough one. And then, of course, as you guys asked and the Secretary described, they did discuss Nord Stream 2 and – in the context of this extremely broad and collegial, familial relationship where we’re able to pursue so much with the Germans, we do have a big difference on that particular issue. Both sides have acknowledged that. And we need to find a way to get to some significant steps in terms of the – mitigating the threats as the Secretary said on the record. And I think the minister acknowledged that and the fact that they were tackling this — well, and I won’t go into more of the details there, but that diplomacy continues, but I think, again, underscores what they both said: The broad relationship and its robust set of issues on which we’re working together is really quite, quite strong. And that allows us then to have an area where we disagree quite strongly, as the foreign minister acknowledged; he’s heard the Secretary and the U.S. position on this, and they’ll keep working on it.
QUESTION: Can you – [Senior State Department Official Three], can I ask you about – there was a report today that the French and German have agreed together to invite President Putin to come and visit, and I wondered if that – this was brought in the EU, much to the dismay of the Baltic states. It was a big story in the FT this afternoon.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Sorry, I missed that. It did not come up in their meeting.
QUESTION: But I wonder if that was something that was discussed at all in the President’s meetings last week or discussed —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: That, I wouldn’t be able to help you on. We’ve gotten no readouts.
QUESTION: Anything on it? Is this, like, totally news to you?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: To me, I’m not following Putin’s travels or this FT story. But —
QUESTION: Well, the story was about Macron and Merkel, that they agreed to do this, and they told the EU today that they want to do it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I’d just —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: — talk to them. I know in the Normandy format, they’re looking at a foreign ministers meeting —
QUESTION: Yeah, no, this was —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: — which is a step they’ve been talking about for some time.
QUESTION: So – just to be clear, then, so the chancellor didn’t pose the idea of having Russia come to some future EU meeting in the meeting with the Secretary today?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I really don’t know what the chancellor has said. I was not in the meeting with the chancellor.
QUESTION: Got it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: But in the meeting with Foreign Minister Maas, there was not a discussion, but they did discuss at the EU foreign ministers meeting yesterday, talked about having – for instance, the Iraqi foreign minister was there and they went through the kind of issues, they talked there. But that piece didn’t come up in the bilat meeting between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Maas.
MODERATOR: All right.
QUESTION: Well, then let me just get in a Nord Stream 2 question. So, I mean, he was asked by one of the German reporters, I think, that – could there be an agreement on how you mitigate the Russian threat by the time that Merkel visits Washington, and he said, well, that’ll be great if it could happen, but – I know you don’t want to get into it, but how advanced are these discussions? Is there any common ground here on how they can actually do it? And the white paper that – or the non-paper – sorry – Jake gave to the German delegation before the President came here with U.S. suggestions, how —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: No, he – so after the decision on the – you know this, [Senior State Department Official Three]. Let’s – don’t play dumb.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: We’re going down the rabbit hole.
QUESTION: (Laughter) Where we were back in Iceland and the sanctions announcement came out with the waivers, right, the Germans sent the team to Washington.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Right.
QUESTION: Okay. And they reiterated their proposal from, like, two years ago about how they were going to try to allay your concerns. I won’t go into those details, but you know them well. Anyway, in response, Jake or someone at the NSC presented them with a response. And they came back here, they had been discussing this. I want to know where that stands, and if you think that there is any possibility that by the time that Merkel visits Washington there could be some kind of a resolution to this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I would agree violently with the Secretary that that would be a good thing and that we’re both – both sides are working hard on this. But it’s the kind of diplomacy and discussion and engagement. Today is another useful step there, and again, I wasn’t in the meeting with the chancellor, so to just keep at it. (Inaudible) And obviously, everybody’s aware of the various timelines, and certainly we all want to see the chancellor’s visit in Washington to be successful.
MODERATOR: One more data point on Sunday. The Secretary will have an opportunity to meet with the Israeli foreign minister in Rome. We will have a bilateral engagement with Foreign Minister Lapid on Sunday. We’ll have more details on the timing of that as it comes together, but wanted to pass that along as well.