... President Putin and I had a — share a unique responsibility to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries — a relationship that has to be stable and predictable. And it should be able to — we should be able to cooperate where it’s in our mutual interests.
And where we have differences, I wanted President Putin to understand why I say what I say and why I do what I do, and how we’ll respond to specific kinds of actions that harm America’s interests.
Now, I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else; it’s for the American people: fighting COVID-19; rebuilding our economy; reestablishing our relationships around the world with our allies and friends; and protecting our people. That’s my responsibility as President.
I also told him that no President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view. That’s just part of the DNA of our country.
So, human rights is going to always be on the table, I told him. It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights; it’s about who we are. How could I be the President of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights?
I told him that, unlike other countries, including Russia, we’re uniquely a product of an idea. You’ve heard me say this before, again and again, but I’m going to keep saying it. What’s that idea? We don’t derive our rights from the government; we possess them because we’re born — period. And we yield them to a government.
And so, at the forum, I pointed out to him that that’s why we’re going raise our concerns about cases like Aleksey Navalny. I made it clear to President Putin that we’ll continue to raise issues of fundamental human rights because that’s what we are, that’s who we are. The idea is: “We hold these truths self-evident that all men and women…” We haven’t lived up to it completely, but we’ve always widened the arc of commitment and included more and more people.
And I raised the case of two wrongfully imprisoned American citizens: Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.
I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech.
I made it clear that we will not tolerate attempts to violate our democratic sovereignty or destabilize our democratic elections, and we would respond.
The bottom line is, I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by.
I also said there are areas where there’s a mutual interest for us to cooperate, for our people — Russian and American people — but also for the benefit of the world and the security of the world. One of those areas is strategic stability.
You asked me many times what was I going to discuss with Putin. Before I came, I told you I only negotiate with the individual. And now I can tell you what I was intending to do all along, and that is to discuss and raise the issue of strategic stability and try to set up a mechanism whereby we dealt with it.
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I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack — period — by cyber or any other means. I gave them a list, if I’m not mistaken — I don’t have it in front of me — 16 specific entities; 16 defined as critical infrastructure under U.S. policy, from the energy sector to our water systems.
Of course, the principle is one thing. It has to be backed up by practice. Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory.
So we agreed to task experts in both our — both our countries to work on specific understandings about what’s off limits and to follow up on specific cases that originate in other countries — either of our countries.
There is a long list of other issues we spent time on, from the urgent need to preserve and reopen the humanitarian corridors in Syria so that we can get food — just simple food and basic necessities to people who are starving to death; how to build it and how it is in the interest of both Russia and the United States to ensure that Iran — Iran — does not acquire nuclear weapons. We agreed to work together there because it’s as much interest — Russia’s interest as ours. And to how we can ensure the Arctic remains a region of cooperation rather than conflict.
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There are also areas that are more challenging. I communicated the United States’ unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
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It was important to meet in person so there can be no mistake about or misrepresentations about what I wanted to communicate.
I did what I came to do: Number one, identify areas of practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world.
Two, communicate directly — directly — that the United States will respond to actions that impair our vital interests or those of our allies.
And three, to clearly lay out our country’s priorities and our values so he heard it straight from me.
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We’ll find out within the next six months to a year whether or not we actually have a strategic dialogue that matters. We’ll find out whether we work to deal with everything from release of people in Russian prisons or not. We’ll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order.
Because, look, the countries that most are likely to be damaged — failure to do that — are the major countries. For example, when I talked about the pipeline that cyber hit for $5 million — that ransomware hit in the United States, I looked at him and I said, “Well, how would you feel if ransomware took on the pipelines from your oil fields?” He said it would matter.
This is not about just our self-interest; it’s about a mutual self-interest.
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Look, guys, I know we make foreign policy out to be this great, great skill that somehow is, sort of, like a secret code. All foreign policy is, is a logical extension of personal relationships. It’s the way human nature functions.
And understand, when you run a country that does not abide by international norms, and yet you need those international norms to be somehow managed so that you can participate in the benefits that flow from them, it hurts you.
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I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability. And he knows it. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it’s significant. And if, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber. He knows.
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This is not a ‘kumbaya’ moment, as you used to say back in the ’60s in the United States, like, ‘Let’s hug and love each other.’ But it’s clearly not in anybody’s interest — your country’s or mine — for us to be in a situation where we’re in a new Cold War.” And I truly believe he thinks that — he understands that.
But that does not mean he’s ready to, quote, figuratively speaking, “lay down his arms,” and say, “Come on.” He still, I believe, is concerned about being, quote, “encircled.” He still is concerned that we, in fact, are looking to take him down, et cetera. He still has those concerns, but I don’t think they are the driving force as to the kind of relationship he’s looking for with the United States.
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What is going to happen next is we’re going to be able to look back — look ahead in three to six months, and say, “Did the things we agreed to sit down and try to work out, did it work? Do we — are we closer to a major strategic stability talks and progress? Are we further along in terms of…” — and go down the line. That’s going to be the test.
I’m not sitting here saying because the President and I agreed that we would do these things, that all of a sudden, it’s going to work. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is I think there’s a genuine prospect to significantly improve relations between our two countries without us giving up a single, solitary thing based on principle and/or values.
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Look, this is not about trust; this is about self-interest and verification of self-interest. That’s what it’s about. So, I — virtually almost — almost anyone that I would work out an agreement with that affected the American people’s interests, I don’t say, “Well, I trust you. No problem.” Let’s see what happens.
You know, as that old expression goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” We’re going to know shortly.
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Let’s get something straight. We know each other well; we’re not old friends. It’s just pure business.
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I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior. ... What will change their behavior is if the rest of world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. ... If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.