Excerpts from the White House Press Briefing by Robert Gibbs
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
March 24, 2010
Q: Thank you, sir. Two foreign topics today. On the START treaty, can you just give us a good assessment on where that stands? Is a deal done?
MR. GIBBS: I have said on many occasions that we are making strong progress toward getting an agreement. We are, I think, very close to having an agreement on a START treaty and — but won’t have one until President Obama and his counterpart, Mr. Medvedev, have a chance to speak again.
Q: Is that scheduled? What’s the time —
MR. GIBBS: I think they will likely speak in the next few days.
Q: Next few days?
Q: So we were hearing Friday as a possible — as the most likely day to pull all this together. How would you assess that?
MR. GIBBS: I would say, again, I would characterize this as having made very strong progress. You know the President spoke personally on March 13th to Mr. Medvedev and I think we’re very close to getting an agreement.
Q: The Czechs have said that there is to be a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8th for the START treaty. Is that premature?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve always discussed internally returning to the city the President outlined a speech in last year envisioning a world without nuclear weapons. We believe that a new START treaty begins to take many important steps between the two greatest holders of those nuclear weapons. So I would anticipate that when we have something to sign, it will be in Prague.
Q: Is it premature to place that date for that event?
MR. GIBBS: Again, as I said earlier, the President I think hopes to speak to the Russian leader in the next several days, but there’s still some things that need to be worked out —
Q: That would be the final conversation you would envision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of what the conversation might be.
Q: Two, Robert. Let me return to START real quickly — Senator Kerry and Lugar meeting this morning — did the President share language with those two senators? Does he have language on verification and missile defense that he’s convinced the Senate will actually ratify?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Mark, we’re not going to — I think we understand that ratification is what ultimately has to happen. We’re certainly mindful of that. The President took the opportunity to update the chair and the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee on the status of our negotiations with the Russians on START. Obviously they’ll play a very big role in Senate ratification.
Needless to say, this is — the President and Senator Lugar have had a relationship on this issue that dates back, in all honesty, to about a week after he was elected to the Senate. They had a phone conversation about the President joining the Foreign Relations Committee. In that phone call the President, in 2004, asked Senator Lugar to be part of a trip to Russia that next year in 2005.
Q: On the two issues that I was asking about, though, is there language now that —
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously we think we’re getting quite close to an agreement, so I would say language and interpretation is certainly part of that ongoing process, yes.
Q: Robert, back to START. How would you characterize the Russians in their negotiating style for the past year or so, since this first commenced? Would you characterize it as respectful and honest in candor? And do you also, when this is signed, do you hope to use START as sort of a new sense of symbolism for other aspects of this important relationship?
MR. GIBBS: I think that ever since the two leaders got together in London, I think last March or April, early April — I forget the exact date — we have been focused on a new type of dialogue and a partnership where the two countries can address the issues that — the issues of mutual agreement. We have worked with them on our next steps on Iran. We’ve worked with them in different avenues relating to North Korea.
I’ve said several times that we wanted to get this treaty right. And I’m sure their perspective would be the same. But we wanted to get this treaty right for the United States of America. It’s taken a little extra time for us to get that. But I think the President believes we’re close. And I would say this: The President has been deeply involved personally in moving this process forward and along throughout that process, speaking directly, again, with — on March 13th, in order to move this process even further along.
Q: Following on that, does the President think there’s been a risk having let the treaty lapse at the end of last year? Does he have any guarantees that the Russians haven’t taken advantage of this period of —
MR. GIBBS: Let me get some more detailed guidance from NSC on any type of bridging agreements that have been had. But I think we have — I think both sides have negotiated in good faith.
Q: And does the President think that the — describe again the endpoint of this new treaty, what the President wants and has held out for in this new version of START.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t — because we have not finished negotiations, I would prefer not to read out where we are on some of the individual aspects of this. We’ll have an opportunity, no doubt, to do that in the next several days pending an agreement.
Q: But he wants reductions in both sides?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, absolutely — no, absolutely.
Q: Eventually leading to no nuclear weapons in, what, a century or a lifetime?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t think he’s — I don’t — I think he said in Prague that he may not live to see this day. But former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are some of the people that the President has spoken fairly regularly to and share the same goal he does of eliminating nuclear weapons from our planet and the risk that — which will be a great focus of the President’s nuclear security summit in April — in securing quickly loose nuclear material throughout the world to prevent that material from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Q: And how confident are you that the agreement will be signed before the nuclear summit?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’re very close.