5:04 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. I hope everybody is having a good evening. Thanks so much for joining us on our background briefing on Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany’s visit to the White House tomorrow.
I just want to run through a couple of ground rules before we get going here. The call is going to be on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.” This call is not held under any embargo.
Not for attribution, but for everyone’s awareness — for those on the call, our speaker this evening is [senior administration official].
And we don’t have a ton of time this evening, so I want us to jump right in. And with that, I will hand it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, [Moderator]. And hey, everybody. I know John Kirby did a full rundown on the Scholz visit at the podium today. So will be fairly limited in my opening comments, and then happy to take a couple of questions.
As everybody is tracking, tomorrow, President Biden is going to welcome Chancellor Scholz of Germany to the White House. Scholz was just here over a year ago in February, and obviously a very different geopolitical landscape that we are facing now than when he was first here. He was also here several weeks after he had been elected and taken office.
And so, this meeting really is a good opportunity for the two leaders, a year in, to take stock on the further deepening of our bilateral cooperation over the last year. And in particular, to assess where we are with the war in Ukraine a year on.
President Biden obviously had a good working relationship with Chancellor Merkel when she came in, who he had known for many years, and I think very quickly has developed a strong partnership with Chancellor Scholz over the last year-plus that the Chancellor has been in office.
Last year, Chancellor Scholz and Germany, of course, had the chairmanship of the G7, which ended up being a very pivotal, critical time for the G7, given everything that we were seeing in Ukraine, and also gave a lot of opportunities for the two leaders to engage over the last year.
So, they saw each other, of course, on the margins of the G7 summit in Germany last summer. They saw each other at a number of NATO summits that we have had, as well as the G20 Summit in Bali. And they have spoken by phone regularly, including three times, I believe, in January, focusing on security assistance and our continued coordination on Ukraine.
This visit, of course, comes as we have just marked the one-year anniversary since Russia launched its brutal invasion of Ukraine.
And as I mentioned, one of the overarching objectives for the President heading into this conflict was to build and maintain transatlantic unity, as well as broad international support. And I think feels that we have worked hand in hand with Germany, both bilaterally as well as through the Quad, the Quint, the G7, in partnership with the EU, and also within the NATO Alliance, as well as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
The meeting that the two leaders are having tomorrow is very much a working visit. We’re expecting it to be a one-hour meeting or so. There will likely be a significant one-on-one component, which I think is a reflection of the close relationship between the two leaders and the opportunity for the two of them to be able to have in-depth and face-to-face conversations.
Ukraine, I think, will be a major topic of conversation in this meeting. The President, of course, was just in Kyiv. Chancellor Scholz also had the opportunity to meet with the Zelenskyy in person, along with President Macron, in Paris last month. And so, this will be a good opportunity for the leaders to be able to exchange notes on their recent meetings with the Ukrainian President and their assessment of where things stand in the war, one year on.
We also anticipate that the leaders will touch base on a number of other issues that are on our shared global agenda. Both of them focused on the upcoming NATO Summit that we’ll have in Vilnius in July, as well as other global issues, including the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China.
So very much looking forward to his visit, and very much expected to be a productive conversation between the two.
So let me leave it there, and I’m happy to take some questions.
Q Hi. I wanted to see if you can talk some more about the concerns that China could provide lethal aid to Russia and how that has provided the impetus for the meeting tomorrow or — and how that might be a topic of conversation for the meeting tomorrow.
And also, you know, for a one-hour long meeting, you know, how long do you think it will just be the two of them? And where in the White House do you expect them to meet?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. I — in terms of where they expect to meet, I would assume that a significant portion of the meeting will take place in the Oval Office.
In terms of how much of that will be one-on-one versus an expanded bilateral is going to be very much a decision made by the two leaders. So, hard for that to predict.
In terms of China, it was not a driving focus for this meeting. Like I said, the overarching purpose of this meeting was a chance for the two leaders to be able to coordinate specifically on Ukraine, as well as to touch on a broader set of foreign policy challenges. But I think it certainly is possible, within the context of a conversation on Ukraine, that the China aspect would come up.
So far, we haven’t seen that — that China has provided lethal aid to Russia — but obviously it’s very much a situation that we’re tracking.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has put China in a difficult position, and every step that China takes toward Russia makes it harder for China with Europe and with others around the world. It’s a distraction for China and a potential blow to their international relationships that they don’t need or want.
And we have been clear with China from the beginning about our concerns and the implications of providing this kind of support to Russia.
Chancellor Scholz spoke to his parliament earlier today and similarly said publicly that he was very much cautioning against Chinese support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and calling on Beijing to use its influence with the Kremlin to encourage Moscow to withdraw from Ukrainian territory.
So, I think this is another aspect of our approach to Ukraine where we’re aligned with the German view.
Q Hi, thank you so much for doing this, [senior administration official]. I wonder if you can say a word about, you know, the — in the run-up to the start of the war, the U.S. and the G7 allies and others had a whole package of sanctions ready to go, basically, when the war started. And you’re — you know, obviously, you’ve been working through subsequent packages of sanctions. Are you doing similar prep now to get ready for this possibility that, you know, there is evidence that China is providing lethal aid to Russia?
And can you tell us — you know, we understand that you are reaching out to allies. Can you just put some more color on that? Like, you know, will that be a significant — sort of preparing for a next load of sanctions? Is that a significant part of what will be discussed tomorrow?
But can you also say what other countries you had reached out to specifically on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so I’m not going to be able to get into full detail about all of the conversations we’re having. But obviously, a situation that we’re tracking and obviously something that we’re talking about, especially with our partners in Europe. And as I mentioned, I expect it will be something that the two leaders will discuss tomorrow.
In terms of your question on sanctions, you know, we’ve already taken action against third-party actors who support Russia’s war against Ukraine. And we’ll continue to do so.
And if you look at the recent G7 statement that came out on the anniversary, that also made clear the commitment and the current action of taking actions against third-country actors materially supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine.
So very much something that we’re engaging on diplomatically with our partners and something that we’re already actively taking action on and continuing to discuss.
Q Hi, thank you for taking my question. So you mentioned about — they’re going to talk about the challenge posed by China. Does that mean that President Biden will ask Germany to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region? And with the announcement of providing arms sales to Taiwan, the recent one, will that encourage — would you worry that — or have concerns that China is going to use that as its excuse to provide weapons to Russia as a revenge move? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I’m not the China expert here at the NSC, so I’m not going to get into the details of China and Taiwan and some of the broader implications, and really can only reiterate what I had said previously, which is that we’re going to continue to have conversations with our allies and partners about the concerns that we have.
I think, very much welcome Chancellor Scholz and others who are similarly conveying concerns to Beijing about supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine; calling on Beijing to use their influence with the Kremlin to encourage Moscow to withdraw from Ukrainian territory; and as all of the leaders in the G7, Europe, of course, then, and including Japan, noted, the fact that we are taking actions against third-country actors materially supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine.
So, assume that the conversation that they have will be very much along those lines.
Q Hi, thank you so much for taking my question. I just wondered, are you expecting Chancellor Scholz to bring up Germany’s concerns about the Inflation Reduction Act? I mean, obviously, Germany is a big automotive producer and Europe, in general, has been concerned about the effects of that legislation on its auto sector. And if they do bring it up, is there anything that President Biden has to tell them about how the U.S. is going to be addressing those concerns?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s certainly possible that Chancellor Scholz will choose to raise the Inflation Reduction Act in their meeting. I think President Biden’s message is going to be along the lines of what we have been saying and doing, which is continuing to consult closely with our allies and partners on the implementation of the IRA, as well as on European plans to further incentivize clean energy development.
I think our view very much is that the IRA’s benefits expand beyond the U.S., in terms of helping drive down costs for clean technology, which will help other nations go further and faster in building their own clean energy economies.
Our belief also very much is that energy security is national security, and hope that other countries follow the U.S. lead and pass their own IRAs. And we want to coordinate with them as they do it.
Chancellor Scholz, of course, is in coalition with the Green Party, which has long been making the case on the importance of climate change, and, I think, will welcome the increased U.S. focus on the climate crisis and on taking active steps to try and address that crisis.
We, of course, set up a task force with the European Union, and we’re continuing to work through that process as well.
Q ZDF German TV. Thank you very much for doing that, [senior administration official]. Question: During the Munich Security Conference, we heard from many Eastern European countries that they would like Germany to play a bigger role in coordinating the efforts and being their — I would say — advocate a little bit more. Is that something that the Biden administration would support and ask for in a meeting with the Chancellor?
And number two, if I may —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, just on that — playing a more active role in being an advocate on what specifically?
Q Basically coordinating with the Eastern European countries within NATO, specifically the Baltics and some other Eastern European countries. It’s a little bit difficult with Poland right now. We heard it specifically from the Baltic countries.
And if I might add one more, which is: How eager are you to have Germany have a national security strategy that it can work with? We have been waiting, I think, for this for more than a year now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I — thanks for both of those. I think both of those questions are ultimately better directed against the German government or to the German government rather than here.
I, you know, on the question of the role that Germany is playing, in terms of its neighbors, I will let Berlin speak to that. Certainly, we’ve had very good coordination with the Europeans generally, as well as with Germany specifically, in response to the war in Ukraine.
The President, of course, engaged with the B9 NATO eastern flank allies during his meeting to Warsaw.
And I think it’s going to be in everyone’s interest to continue this close coordination, especially in the run-up to the Vilnius Summit. And obviously, it’s in our interest to have strong relations within all countries in the alliance.
And on Germany’s national security strategy, again, a decision for the German government to make. Obviously, sitting here in the U.S. National Security Council, it’s a structure that has worked for us, but we’ll defer to Germany for them to make their own decisions on their internal bureaucratic processes.
I will say that we’ve had excellent coordination throughout this administration with the Chancellor’s government, including very regular communications between us here at the National Security Council, the Chancellery’s office, the two national security advisors are in regular contact, as well as good communication between our foreign and defense ministries as well, particularly on these Ukraine-related issues.
Q Thank you so much, [Moderator]. I really appreciate you giving us the time to get an understanding of the visit. My question to you is: Will Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa be touched upon, given also the fact that Germany has been ramping up to put together its own Africa strategy? So, if you could speak to that: Will the two leaders spend some time to talk about this very important voting bloc at the U.N. and other areas where they may have an overlapping interest on the region? Thanks, [Moderator].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, as I said at the top, I suspect that the bulk of the meeting is going to focus on Ukraine, just given the outsized role that the Ukrainian conflict is playing in terms of European security at the moment. So, it’s a one-hour meeting, and I think a lot of it will focus on Ukraine.
As I also said, I think it is possible that the leaders will touch on some other shared global foreign policy interests. So, it is possible that Ukraine — or that that Africa could come up in that context. Hard to — hard to say, but certainly possible that the leaders could touch on that.
Q Hi, thank you for taking my call — my question, I’m sorry. During today’s White House briefing, John Kirby said that tomorrow there will be an announcement that the U.S. is providing another round of assistance for Ukraine. I’m just wondering if you can provide or give us some details. You know, what kind of assistance are we talking about? Is it humanitarian assistance? Are we talking about weapons? What exactly are we talking about here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I don’t have the exact transcript of what John Kirby had said. [Moderator], I don’t know if you’re tracking that.
We certainly have continued to roll out a series of security assistance packages to Ukraine, as well as ongoing provision of economic and energy and other types of assistance.
So, I don’t know specifically what John Kirby was referring to, but I think, in general, yes, we are continuing to provide security assistance packages to Ukraine and have been continuing to announce them and roll those out on a fairly regular basis.
MODERATOR: Michael, stay tuned for tomorrow. As Kirby said, we’ll have more detail. More to come.
Q Hi. Yeah, let — honestly, the other reporters pretty much asked all the questions I was going to ask. So let me just toss this one out there: You folks gave Emmanuel Macron of France a steak dinner. Why not do the same for the German Chancellor? Did that come up as a possibility?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is very much a working visit. You know, there’s a — I’m not going to get into — to all of what is done or is not done in terms of state visits. I — this certainly is not intended in any way as a commentary on the relationship that we have with Germany.
This is, in fact, the second time that the German Chancellor is going to be in the White House in just a year. And I’m hard pressed to think of other leaders that have spent as much time here in the White House this early in the administration or have spoken to the President as nearly frequently as the two of them have.
So both of the leaders wanted this to be a working-level meeting, wanted it to be very much a “get down into the weeds” focus on the issues of Ukraine. And so, this is very much in keeping with both — what both of the leaders were interested in having and what they thought was going to be essential to get the necessary work done on our shared focus.
5:26 P.M. EST
Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/03/03/background-press-call-by-a-senior-administration-official-previewing-german-chancellor-olaf-scholzs-visit-to-the-white-house/