February 27, 2024

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Hanoi, Vietnam

11:15 A.M. IST

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  (Inaudible.)  We wanted to make sure that we, kind of, gave a little bit of a preview of our next leg.  As you all know, we’re heading to Viet- — Vietnamese, and so — or Vietnam, I should say.  (Laughs.)

And so, we have, as you can see, Jon Finer, the Principal Deputy National Security Advisor, here to — to level-set with us and lay out what’s going to happen on this next leg with the President.

Go ahead, Jon.

MR. FINER:  Great.  Thanks, Karine.  So, first, I want to say a couple words about the G20.  At the G20, President Biden continued to deliver on the commitments we’ve made to champion an economic agenda at home and abroad, to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth for American families and families everywhere. 

Leading by example and working with partners around the world, the U.S. and the G20 delivered for developing countries and for our shared planet.  At a moment when the global economy is suffering from the shocks caused by climate crisis, fragility, and conflict, including the immense suffering unleased by Russia’s war in Ukraine, this year’s summit at the G20 can still drive solutions to our most pressing issues.

President Biden championed an ambitious agenda to mobilize significant additional financing for development from all sources — public and private, domestic, and international.  He rallied G20 partners to agree to collectively mobilize more concessional finance to boost the World Bank’s capacity to support low- and middle-income countries. 

And alongside India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Union, we announced a landmark commitment to work together to develop a new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.  The transformative partnership has the potential to usher in a new era of connectivity from Europe to Asia with a railway linked through ports connected to the Middle East.

This will create novel interconnections to facilitate global trade, expand reliable access to electricity, facilitate clean energy distribution, and strengthen telecommunications links.

Now, I’ve seen some reporting that seems to imply what we think is actually not the message that the G20 sent on Ukraine.  First of all, the countries of the G20 signed up to the Bali language last year, and the vast majority of G20 countries have supported multiple U.N. resolutions that call our Russia’s illegal aggression.

The joint statement issued yesterday builds on that, to send an unpreceded, unified statement on the imperative that Russia refrain from using force for territorial acquisition, abide by its obligations in the U.N. Charter, and cease attacks on civilians and infrastructure.  This is fundamentally consistent with the strategy that we have been adopting for some time now to focus countries in the world that are seeking an end of the conflict, to make sure that they are pushing for a just peace on the basis of the key — core principles of the U.N. Charter, including sovereignty and territorial integrity.

President Biden is engaging with countries around the world to press for just that.  And the statement is a major step forward in this effort, highlighting the major economies from around — around the world — including, by the way, Brazil, India, South Africa — are united on the need to uphold international law and for Russia to respect international law.

Now, on to Vietnam.  The reason we’re headed to Vietnam today is because we believe the U.S. and Vietnam are critical partners at (inaudible) time. 

When we arrive, President Biden will participate in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.  Together, they will announce a new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the United States and Vietnam.  This is Vietnam’s highest tier of international partnership.

It’s important to make clear that this is more than words. In a system like Vietnam’s, it’s a signal to their entire government, to their entire bureaucracy, about the depth of cooperation and alignment with another country that is possible.

As a top 10 trading partner and a key stakeholder in the security of the South China Sea, Vietnam is a critical relationship of the United States, and we will be deepening that relationship through this visit. 

A through line you will see during our time there is this five-decade arc in the U.S.-Vietnam relationship that shows how far we’ve come — from conflict, to normalization, to the establishment of a comprehensive partnership in 2013, and now to this elevated status of partnership — again, the highest level in the Vietnamese system.

On Monday, the President will meet with Prime Minister Chinh and Vietnamese and American industry leaders to discuss continued opportunities to enhance our business and technological cooperation.  Together, they will announce a new memorandum of cooperation to help strengthen our semiconductor industries.  

President Biden will also meet with National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue and President Vo Van Thuong to discuss economic issues and — of importance to our people and our people-to-people ties. 

Before the President departs on Monday, he will also pay his respects at a memorial for the late Senator John McCain — obviously, a close friend of the President’s who played a critical role in the progress that we have been able to make with Vietnam. 

So, with that, happy to take questions

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Aamer, go ahead.

Q    Going back to yesterday, did the President have a chance to have any more pull-asides than what you guys have read out?  And particularly with the Crown Prince, was there anything more substantive beyond what we saw when they were on stage?

MR. FINER:  So, on the Crown Prince, the President was very pleased, obviously, with the event that took place where they were both present.  Saudi Arabia obviously contributed substantially to that, and we believe it is a very important opportunity for all the countries in the room and for interconnection among the three regions involved.

The President exchanged brief greetings with the Crown Prince, but there was not time in that setting for a more substantive conversation. 

We can get you a more complete list of some of the pull-asides that the President had.  I mean, I think you’re aware.  I won’t — what I’m going to give you is not comprehensive.  He spoke with President Jokowi of Indonesia.  He spoke actually today with — with President Tinubu of Nigeria. 

We believe he had an interaction with just about every other leader within the G20, so I don’t want to go through all of them and risk leaving somebody out.  But he has had a number of substantive conversations along the margins. 

As I said when I talked to you all yesterday, it’s not the kind of event that lends itself to long, formal bilateral meetings, so you do this kind of catch-as-catch-can, and he was able to do a number of them.

Q    Did he talk with Sergey Lavrov or the Chinese Premier?

MR. FINER:  I’m not aware of him speaking to Foreign Minister Lavrov or the Chinese Premier.

Q    What role does Sergey Lavrov play in the resolution that you just talked about or the declaration that they made?

MR. FINER:  I mean, as you’d expect, Foreign Minister Lavrov represented Russia’s view of the conflict, which, by the way, is not a widely held view in that room.  But I think, honestly, the most important role that Sergey Lavrov played is by simply representing the fact that his own boss, President Putin, could not be present in this conversation. 

And so, that, plus the tone and tenor of the remarks made by a number of countries in the room, shows the degree of discomfort that Russia continues to have on the international stage, including in a venue where, you know, I think, historically they have had countries that have been somewhat sympathetic to their worldview.  There is not a lot of that in the G20 right now.

(Cross-talk.) 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, (inaudible).

Q    Thank you.  Can you comment a little bit on new reporting from the New York Times and several other outlets that Vietnam is in talks with Russia over a new arms deal, one that could potentially trigger sanctions from the U.S.?

MR. FINER:  So, look, this requires, I think, a bit of context.  So, one, the United States has been clear.  We discourage countries from having these security partnerships, these military relationships with Russia for a whole range of obvious reasons.  It should not be appealing to have a security relationship with a country that is committing war crimes, that is committing violations of — of international law.  And we stand against that, and we work with a number of countries around the world to limit those interactions.

Second, you know, it is important to acknowledge Vietnam has had a decades-long relationship with Russia and a decades-long military relationship with Russia.  But our strong sense is that there is an increasing discomfort on the part of the Vietnamese with that relationship. 

We are working — not just with Vietnam, but with a number of countries that historically have had these close security and military partnerships with Russia — to point out something that they realized very clearly for themselves: that the value proposition of that relationship is not what it once was and that there are opportunities to diversify away from those partnerships. 

We are going to work on that with Vietnam.  We are working on that with a number of historical partners of Russia.  And we are finding not just that they are receptive to our ideas on this subject, but that many of them are seeking out these opportunities to diversify, again, away from Russia themselves.

So, this is going to be a work in progress.  It is something that will be on the agenda of this visit.  And, you know, beyond that, don’t have much more to say about it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Anita, go ahead.

(Cross-talk.)

Hold on, guys.  Go ahead, Anita.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Everyone is going to get a question.  Go ahead, Anita.

Q    On the grain deal, the G20 leaders renewed their commitment for a return to the grain deal.  Can you just update us on any progress on that either from the U.S. side, from intermediaries like Turkey, or anybody else?

MR. FINER:  Yeah.  So, look, we believe that the grain deal was a fundamentally positive thing: positive for the wider world because it brought more grain to market; certainly positive for Ukraine because it enabled them to conduct commerce that is core to their economic — economy and prosperity.

There is no reason that Russia had to pull out of that deal.  They made that decision on their own.  We totally disagreed with it.  We support efforts by the Secretary General and by the Turks, principally, to try to restore the grain deal because we think it is in the interest of the wider world at a time when food insecurity continues to be a challenge.

But we don’t have any more to say about this.

Q    Are we any closer to —

MR. FINER:  The ball really is — the ball really is in Russia’s court to decide whether it is willing to go back into a deal from which it derived maybe some benefit, but that broadly probably benefited the rest of the world.

(Inaudible.)

Q    Just to follow on the potential arms deal between Vietnam and Russia, is the U- — is there a security component to this new elevated relationship between the U.S. and Vietnam?  And is the U.S. willing to sell weapons to Vietnam in order to discourage them from buying more from Russia?

MR. FINER:  So, let me point you to two words: comprehensive and strategic.  It’s hard to imagine a relationship that is both comprehensive and strategic that doesn’t have a security dimension. 

So, yes, there will be a dimension that is security-related to this partnership.  I don’t have anything to announce to you in terms of — of some sort of arms sale or something like that.

But, again, we believe that we and other countries that are aligned with us and that are likeminded have the ability to offer an alternative — an alternative security cooperation to what Vietnam and other countries that have worked for a long time with the Russian military and can make an offer to help them diversify away from a relationship that we think they’re increasingly uncomfortable with.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Geoff- — go ahead, Geoffrey.

Q    Jon, there’s a new book out on Elon Musk, and it says that he basically denied extending Starlink protection to Ukraine that — because he thought it was a risk that it would bring a wider war if they attacked Crimea. 

My question is: What’s the risk to the U.S. and to Ukraine to have so much reliance on one person and commercial space and in stuff like that?

MR. FINER:  So, I don’t have a lot to say on this beyond the fact that we think access to Starlink has played an important role for the Ukrainians in the course of this conflict.  We think they should continue to have that access. 

And, you know, beyond that, I’ve read the reports about the book.  I — you know, I don’t have any more knowledge of — of his role.

Q    And on Lavrov also, do you know if any senior U.S. officials had a chance to talk to him about detained Americans or anything else?

MR. FINER:  Not that I’m aware of.

Q    Jon, several other leaders scheduled multiple bilateral meetings for the G20.  Why didn’t we see that with President Biden?  And we only received one readout from a formal engagement.  Was that a decision by the President?  Was there a lack of interest?  Can you speak to that?

MR. FINER:  I think you may well see more during the course of today — more information that we put out.  But I guess what I would say about that is it is not exactly the same for the United States and for other countries to step out of the room while leaders are speaking and then conduct side business in a formal way that pulls you away from the sessions of — of the G20.

People take note when the U.S. president is present for their remarks.  We think that’s a sign of respect to other leaders to listen to them the way we expect them to listen to President Biden. 

And so, the way we decided to handle this was, you know, we had bits of business that we wanted to get done with different leaders, but we did not want to distract from the overall proceedings.  We just handled it differently.

Q    And back in July, the President said at a fundraiser that he got a call from the head of Vietnam.  Was that the General Secretary?  And he said that they wanted to upgrade their partnership to the same status of China and Russia.  Is that what we’re going to see today?

MR. FINER:  That is what you’re going to see today.  The President spoke over the summer with the General Secretary, who he will be meeting later on today. 

That was then followed up in a series of meetings: Jake Sullivan with the chairman of their external relations operation in — in Washington and then a phone call between Jake and that same person to talk about advancing, again, the prospect of a deeper cooperation between our two countries and elevating the level in a formal way.

We also engaged with the Vietnamese ambassador in the United States to get to the point where we are now ready to announce what will be the highest-level relationship that Vietnam has with any countries in the world after the meeting that takes place later today.

Q    Can I ask (inaudible)?

Q    Jon, a quick question on — sorry — semiconductors and rare earth minerals.  We understand that is a huge part of what is going to be discussed.  Would you talk about any agreements, especially around rare earths, that the U.S. plans to strike with Vietnam?

MR. FINER:  So, what I will say is I don’t want to scoop either the President or the rest of — of the work that is still ongoing, by the way, to land what I think will be a very detailed joint statement that will lay out deliverables for this visit. 

They will have those elements that you just described.  I don’t want to get into the details before all the work is done because this stuff is still being negotiated.

Q    Jon, can you talk about the package for Ukraine —

Q    Did North Korea come up during the G20 talks, particularly as it relates to Russia’s war on Ukraine?  And can you provide any update on what we know about the North Korea- Russia talks and if the U.S. still anticipates that Kim could go to visit Putin potentially while the President is in Vietnam?

MR. FINER:  So, what I’ll say about North Korea is what we have said a number of times: We have serious concerns about the prospect of North Korea potentially selling weapons — additional weapons to the Russian military. 

But taking a step back, it is interesting to reflect for a minute on what it says that when Russia goes around the world looking for partners that can help it, it lands on North Korea as maybe the best and maybe the only option that it’s got, with maybe one or two exceptions.

We have, over a period of months now, made public when we had these concerns.  And when we think these talks that are ongoing between the two countries might actually lead to a significant arms sale, we have not only highly discouraged that, we have sanctioned that activity; we have worked with our partners and allies to raise these concerns directly with — with the North Koreans, including countries that maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, which obviously the United States doesn’t.  And we’ll see what happens.

Q    Did this come up during the G20?

Q    On ATACMS for Ukraine, there is a report that the President sup- — approved that.  Is that right?

MR. FINER:  So, what I guess I’d say on that at this point is I’m not taking anything off the table.  We don’t have a decision to announce on new capabilities, but our position all along has been we will get Ukraine the capabilities that will enable it to succeed on the battlefield.  We think that approach has worked at every phase of this conflict, including the current phase, where I think, you know, you are seeing slowly but inexorably — inexorably, the Ukrainians start to make progress in their counteroffensive.

And we will continue to assess the situation on the ground and make decisions based on that.  But no new capabilities to announce today.

Q    To announce today.  Should we just be one in the near future, though?

MR. FINER:  I mean, again, that — I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t anticipate.  I hear the anticipation in your voice, but I’ll leave it at that.  (Laughter.)

Q    The President went to dinner last night.  Was it worth his while?  Did he get something out of that diplomatically?  He hasn’t gone to those in the past a couple times.

MR. FINER:  So, look, these things are often of value in terms of building relationships with key people.  I don’t have any specific substance to read out from the dinner, but I think he did find it of value.

Q    Can we get —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right, we’re going to wrap this up soon.

Q    Yeah, can we get a quick update on U.S. assistance to Morocco after the quake?  And then, also, Iran has arrested six people and accused them of organizing riots on the — on the anniversary most of Mahsa Amini’s death, so I want a reaction to that.

MR. FINER:  So, on Morocco, look, we have made very clear to the Moroccan government that we are ready to provide significant assistance.  We’ve got search and rescue teams ready to deploy that can help not just with — with that activity, but with medical and other forms of assistance. 

We are also ready to release funds at the right time that can help the Moroccans recover and deal with this horrific tragedy that has befallen them.

You saw the statement that the President has put out.  Secretary Blinken has reached out to his counterparts to offer help.  And, you know, right now the — the Moroccans are obviously preoccupied focusing internally on this recovery, and the United States will be with them at every step of the way when they are ready to avail themselves of what we have to offer.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.

Q    Iran?

MR. FINER:  Oh, on — look, on Iran, the arrest of dissidents in Iran is both appalling and, unfortunately, not new.  I’ve seen the reports.  We obviously are against, you know, politically motivated arrests along these lines.  And beyond that, don’t have much more to say.

Q    Any consequences?

MR. FINER:  I mean, we have imposed a number of consequences, as you well know, on Iran for a full range of activities.  I will look at these most recent reports, but I don’t have any new consequences to announce at this time.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Okay.  Thanks, everybody.   

11:33 A.M. IST

Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/09/10/press-gaggle-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-and-deputy-national-security-advisor-jon-finer/