Wednesday, February 04, 2015

White House sending Joe Biden to Europe to shore up support concerning Ukraine

Barack Obama, Joe BidenOn Wednesday, the White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden will be going to Europe to shore up NATO support concerning the current situation in Ukraine. Vice President Biden will also be discussing whether or not there is a need to send lethal weapons to Ukraine in an attempt to stop the continued advancement of the Russians into the country.

Biden is scheduled to meet with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko during on Friday a security conference in Munich. The Vice President will also meet with European Commission leaders in Brussels and brief American allies on President Obama's foreign policy goals.

On Wednesday, the White House held a phone conference briefing about Biden's trip to Europe. Here are some of the important points during the briefing:

Question: Hey, guys, thanks for doing the call.  I’m wondering in the meeting with Merkel and Poroshenko whether the Vice President will be discussing the possibility of the U.S. sending lethal assistance to Ukraine.  And on the TTIP discussions, what will be his message to European countries that are wondering whether the Obama administration can get such a deal through Congress and past the opposition of members of his own party?

White House official: On your first question, since the very beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has put a premium on staying in lockstep with our European allies when it comes to the response to Russia.  And that means that on financial assistance, on sanctions and the isolation of Russia and on security assistance, we have always discussed in advance of any action our options with the Europeans, and we will continue that tradition moving forward.  And in that respect, I think there’s no question that during the Vice President’s meetings -- not just the one that you mentioned with Poroshenko and Merkel but also in Brussels and other meetings in Munich -- all of these issues will be on the table:  financial assistance, increasing pressure through sanctions, and how we can most effectively provide security assistance to Ukraine.

On the security assistance front, we have from the very beginning freshened our look at how best to support Ukraine’s integrity and its sovereignty, and we have had all options on the table from the beginning.  In light of the recent escalation in fighting, exemplified by the fact that the separatists have pushed beyond the line of control and that Russia is resupplying the separatists in a very significant way, we are reevaluating our security assistance again.

But let me just say that our goal here is to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.  We do not see a military resolution in the offing.  And in that respect, our sanctions policy as well as our security assistance are aimed at changing the incentive structure facing Russia and encouraging them to settle this conflict at a negotiating table.

Question: I just wanted to follow up on the earlier question on aid to Ukraine.  Will the Vice President be making any specific asks or engaging dialogue on the sidelines of the Munich Security Summit to ask specific countries to increase their nonlethal aid or training efforts with Ukraine?  Is that part of the agenda here?

White House official: Well, I think that as I mentioned, the Vice President will be consulting with European allies across the board, because we do have three different issue areas in play.  One is the potential to increase the costs to Russia through economic measures.  The second is to make sure that Ukraine has the financial support it needs moving forward.  And the third is to enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and thereby give the Russians and the separatists a greater incentive to negotiate an end to the conflict.

And so in that third basket of issues, the Vice President will be engaged in discussions about how most effectively to achieve that end.  And working bilaterally with the United States, bilaterally with individual European countries, and also multilaterally through NATO, we are in the process of giving both training assistance to the Ukrainians as well as equipment that enhances their defensive capability.  So that will definitely be part of the conversation.

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