Transcript of DAS Rosenblum’s on-the-record briefing with journalists

DAS Rosenblum at a briefing with journalists in Ashgabat on November 18, 2015

Good morning, everyone. I’ll do this briefing in English, but I do understand Russian. So I should be able to understand your questions at least.

So, I am here in Ashgabat this week for the Oil and Gas Conference. I was at last year’s Oil and Gas Conference as well. And I might have met some of you. I think I’ve done other briefings before. I actually was counting the number of times that I’ve been here in Ashgabat when I arrived yesterday. And I think I’ve been here five times in the past fourteen months. And I think that demonstrates the growing engagement of the United States with Turkmenistan. And probably the best illustration of that was the Secretary of State Kerry’s visit two weeks ago to Ashgabat. And I am happy to talk more about the Secretary’s visit if any of you are interested during the question period.

During my time here this week in addition to attending the conference, Oil and Gas Conference, I’ll also have several government meetings, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Energy. And I will have an opportunity to see some representatives of international organizations while I am here, and have some internal discussions at the U.S. Embassy.

And I will have an opportunity that I am very much looking forward to to visit Dashoguz on Thursday and to see some of projects that the U.S. has in that city. I always look forward to getting outside of a capital city because as I know in the United States what happens in Washington is not real life for most people. What happens outside of the capital is what people really experience. So with that let me open up for your questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Question: You said that you would tell in details about Secretary of State Kerry’s tour to Central Asian countries. During the meetings with the leaders of Central Asian countries with John Kerry did they discuss scenarios of worsening of the situation in the region? Let us say if events go in the way of Syria or something like that?

DAS Rosenblum: Well, there were discussions during the Secretary’s trip in each of the five countries about security issues and stability. And we talked about, the Secretary talked with them about some of the threats that they see from instability whether it’s related to Afghanistan whether it is related to the activity of extremist groups such as ISIL, they openly expressed their concerns and there was a discussion about things that could be done regionally and internationally to help address those concerns.

Question: Do you have any information about the situation at the Turkmen-Afghan border?

DAS Rosenblum: So, we’ve seen reports some in the press and elsewhere about incidents happening on the border, not just recently, but going back to last year, and there was one incident that we have heard about where some border guards were killed on the border. And we’ve talked to our partners here in Turkmenistan and the government about it as well as other international organizations. And the Government of Turkmenistan has said that they feel they can guarantee the border security of their country and have not required assistance directly in terms of border security from outside.

I will say that we are supporting a program being implemented by the OSCE here in Turkmenistan that involves joint training between border guards in Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. We think it’s a very useful program and so, we are happy to be supporting that. And we’ll continue to find other ways to help improve the capacity, the capability of the border forces here if asked by our partners in Turkmenistan.

Question: in continuation of this theme[…] U.S. support of the TAPI pipeline. And here is a question. Who will guaranty safety of the pipeline, especially on the territory of Afghanistan?

DAS Rosenblum: So, first of all, I’ll say, and this won’t be the first time, that you heard me and other say this that we support TAPI project. And we think that if it is realized that will be very significant contribution to energy security and the efficiency of energy supply in this region.

Ultimately, it will be up to the project partners, whether they are private or government, to ensure reliable supply through the pipeline, including the security question.

I am not an expert in international energy as some of my colleagues in the U.S. government, but I do know that there have been many energy projects involving pipelines and other electricity lines and other forms of transmission that have gone through very challenging regions where there are security concerns and that there are ways of addressing those issues that work. They can work. So, I think, ultimately the participants in the project both the countries and governments and private investors will find a way to ensure security. It might not be easy, but they will find a way.

Question: may I ask one more question since my colleagues do not have any now? In light of the recentevents in France, and in light of Mr. Holland’s statement about his willing to talk to President Putin will U.S. and Russia coordinate their actions against terrorism in Syria? Will it bring those two powers together?

DAS Rosenblum: So, you know, there have been ongoing discussions about Syria between U.S. and Russian leaders and particularly between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, for some time now. And that dialogue continues. And, you know, I think we’ve always said, we’ve consistently said throughout the past couple of years when there have been difficult times in our relationship with the Russian Federation that we continue to share common interests in certain global challenges where our perspectives, you know, coincide. And, clearly, the threat of terrorism and extremist groups, and the recent events are something where there is much that we share with Russia and other countries in the world. And we need to unify efforts to address the threat. So, I can’t speculate on what might come, what the future might hold, but I will say that where there common interest and where we can join our efforts together we will do so.

Question: Can I have a copy of your remarks at the conference, please? Unfortunately, I could not make it there yesterday.

DAS Rosenblum: Yes, you can. We have a version of the speech that was maybe not quite as delivered, but I don’t know whether or we… I guess, we can… Yes, I mean the answer is yes. In some form, we can provide the speech, but it may not be right away. Because I made some changes. Some hand changes to the speech, but we should be able to provide.

Question: Is it possible to get them today?

DAS Rosenblum: We are working on it.

Question: May I add to the previous question? There is no more problematic region than Afghanistan. How are you going to provide safety? As U.S. declared “We will provide safety of the TAPI pipeline”. Will you have a guard on every meter? After all, that is seismologically active region in mountains. And there is was going on. (unclearly) Pakistan, Afghanistan. How are you going to provide safety?

One of the journalists: No one is going to provide safety.

Question: U.S. declared that they are responsible for security issues. This was declared during Secretary Kerry’s visit.

Same journalist as before: I have never heard that U.S. …

Question (interrupts): Yes, I read online in internet.

DAS Rosenblum: Well, don’t believe you read everything on the internet.

Question: I understand, but that was an official declaration.

DAS Rosenblum: There is no official position of the United States that we will provide security for the TAPI pipeline. The security responsibility will be as I said earlier on the owners and operators of the pipeline, which will be a combination of governments and private companies. The U.S., at the moment, is not a partner in the TAPI pipeline. Even though, as a policy matter, we support it.

Question: What is the point in policy support if there is no actual provision of security? Because if the security is not provided by a large enough force, then the project is doomed.

One of the journalists: Private army should be hired.

Question: Yes, private army.

DAS Rosenblum: So, I’ll go back to what I said earlier, and again I will add the caveat that I can’t give you the history of all energy projects in the world and a kind of review on how this is worked. However, I am told by our experts on energy that there are many examples of energy projects that have gone through challenging territory. And that there are ways of providing security that are found by the participants in the project. Therefore, we don’t think it’s impossible to work out a security arrangement for the TAPI pipeline. Although again it will not be the responsibility of the U.S. government.

Question: Will somebody come from State Department to the groundbreaking of TAPI?

DAS Rosenblum: Oh, I don’t know, actually. I can’t say. I suspect that if, assuming it happens this year as the government is projecting, that there will be representation there from our embassy, at a minimum. I don’t know that someone will come from Washington.

May be I should go for number six? My sixth visit? No, that was a joke.

Question: Would you like to participate in the opening?

DAS Rosenblum: I always enjoy my visits to Turkmenistan. So, I am sure, I would enjoy it if I were here. But at the moment I don’t have plans to come again this year.

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your interest.