International Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre
New Delhi, India
8:09 A.M. IST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hi, everybody. Good morning. And this is Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary.
And I have with me today Jon Finer, our Principal Deputy — Principal Deputy National Security Advisor —
MR. FINER: That’s a lot of words.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Laughs.) A lot of words, but we love it. Thank you so much for joining us, Jon.
I’m just going to really kick it off to you. I know you’re going to lay out what the President’s going to do in his first full day here India, New Delhi, at the G20 Summit.
So, over to you.
MR. FINER: Thanks, Karine. And thanks, everybody. I’ll go through a few things and then, obviously, happy to take questions.
So, a bit later this morning, President Biden will head to the first session of this year’s G20 Leaders’ Summit. I’ll, of course, go through the highlights of the schedule. But before that, I do want to take a brief step back and draw your attention to some of the themes that we see running through the day.
President Biden has been clear from the moment he took office that it is profoundly in the interests of the United States to work with our partners and allies to tackle the hardest problems the world faces. We think we’ve walked the walk in doing just that, and this G20 is no exception.
What you will see again and again, over the next couple of days, is the United States working alongside and investing in a truly wide range of the world’s major economies and emerging economies to advance our shared interests in improving our infrastructure and connectivity, our health outcomes, our climate and clean energy transition.
And while we have all read — and maybe you all have written — a lot of analysis about who is or isn’t in Delhi for this summit and why or why not that may be, the United States is focused on the fact that President Biden is here and rolling up his sleeves with the other G20 countries and partners to produce real results.
So, I think you will see a demonstration of why we continue to believe in the G20 format, because we believe that it can deliver real concrete outcomes that benefit the people in each of our nations and beyond.
Now, what will that look like? During the first session today, titled “One Earth,” President Biden will highlight how the United States is leading the global energy transition through historic job-creating investments at home, while pressing for higher levels of climate action and ambition from other major economies.
President Biden will use this session to highlight how Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine is harming many of the countries in that room and their neighbors; that Russia continues to commit unconscionable crimes that all nations abhor, like forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia; as well as the fact that the war is having devastating social and economic consequences far beyond the region, including exacerbating global food insecurity.
The President will also reiterate his call for a just and durable peace grounded in the fundamental precepts of the U.N. Charter, such as sovereignty and territorial integrity — a call, by the way, that many other G20 members with varying views about the war have reiterated in recent weeks and months.
In the day’s second session, titled “One Family,” President Biden will reaffirm the United States’ leadership and commitment to global development. He will call on G20 members to redouble their efforts to accelerate progress toward the sustainable development goals. And he will urge them to mobilize significantly more financing for development from all sources to get us back on track to meet these goals by 2030.
To that end, President Biden will highlight his commitments to fundamentally reshape and scale up the World Bank to more effectively tackle poverty and deliver inclusive economic growth so it can better address global challenges like climate change and pandemics.
The President will point to his request to Congress for funding that would unlock over $25 billion in new concessional World Bank lending from the United States and urge other countries to join us in this ambitious commitment.
Now, some have speculated that China’s absence indicates that it is giving up on the G20, that it is building an alternative world order, that it will privilege groupings like the BRICS.
I would just point out that the three democratic members of the BRICS — India, Brazil, and South Africa — also happen to be the current and next two chairs of the G20. They are committed to the G20’s success, so is the United States. We will host after those three. And if China is not, that’s unfortunate for everyone, but much more unfortunate, we believe, for China.
President Biden will also be calling on G20 members to step up efforts to provide meaningful debt relief so that low- and middle-income countries can regain their footing after years of extreme stress — from climate change, from the pandemic, and from other factors — and invest in their future.
And later that afternoon — this afternoon, President Biden and Prime Minister Modi will bring together a number of leaders for an event centering on the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment — or PGI.
We’re looking forward to making a number of groundbreaking announcements focused on high-quality investments in building sustainable infrastructure around the world.
This will include a memorandum of understanding among the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the EU, and other G20 partners to explore a shipping and rail transportation corridor that will enable the flow of commerce, energy, and data from here in India, across the Middle East, to Europe.
Like the Lobito Corridor project we are launching in Southern and Central Africa, it will be a clear demonstration of a new model that President Biden has pioneered for more transparent and sustainably — and sustainable develop — sustainable high-standard infrastructure that fills a damaging global gap and enables greater prosperity and better connectivity for key regions around the world.
So, as you can see, this is a — really a big, rich agenda with the United States leading different groupings of our G20 partners to take on the biggest challenges we face.
And I’m now happy to take your questions about it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. So what we’re going to do is we’ll take questions from folks here. We’ll try to alternate with the folks here and the folks who are online as well — on the Zoom. So we’ll start here first.
Go ahead, Aamer.
Q Thanks, Jon. On the memorandum of understanding and this project, can you put a little bit more meat on the bones on the ambition of it — maybe a ballpark dollar amount, how long this will take?
And then, secondly, just a broad question about the meeting last night. There’s been some sense of — with Modi appreciating the turn and the attention that the administration has given to the Indo-Pacific, but would like to see a little bit more “Indo” to that part of it. Did that come up in the conversation?
MR. FINER: Thanks. So, a couple of things. First, on the corridor project: I’m not going to get into the details and, sort of, scoop our own announcement in that way. I did want to preview it a bit for you all to give you some context.
Taking a step back though from the details, I can give you a bit more of the strategic theory of the case for why we think this is important. First and foremost is the value proposition we see in a corridor linking these three key regions of the world — enabling the flow of commerce, of energy, of digital communications — that we think is going to help increase prosperity at a time in which that is in high demand.
Second, we have talked at great length about the broader global infrastructure gap, which is particularly acute in low- and middle-income countries, and much of the theory of the case of PGI is about doing what the United States can with our partners in filling that gap.
Third, for the Middle East in particular — which, you know, historically, has, you know, obviously, often been a net exporter of turbulence and insecurity — to have the opportunity to play this key role in the, kind of, global connective tissue — of commerce, of inf- — of digital communications, of energy — linking these key regions, we think, is a huge opportunity, building on our broader efforts over the last couple of years, to turn the temperature down across the region, increase connectivity within the region, and address a conflict where we see it.
But to — just taking one — one more step back on the theory of the case: We see this as having a high appeal to the countries involved and also globally because it is transparent, because it is a high standard, because it is not coercive. We feel demand that we are being responsive to in these regions of the world. We are not going out and trying to impose anything on anyone. And so, we feel good about what we have on offer.
On your question about the prime minister and — and our Indo-Pacific strategy and implementation, I would be, frankly, surprised to hear the charge that you laid out, in part because of how intensive our focus has been on the bilateral relationship between the United States and India, but also on the broader Indian Ocean region, you know, given, obviously, the enormous steps forward that were made around Prime Minister Modi’s state visit to Washington, if you go back and read the documents that emerged from that visit — the deep commitments that were made on both sides to enhance our cooperation.
And then, just to follow up only a few months later with — with this bilateral meeting last night that was important in its own right, but that also helped drive further implementation and outcomes, building on the high ambition of the state visit.
And I think you all saw an extremely detailed joint statement that was released last night. That is not just rhetoric; it is actual things that are happening in the world that the United States and India are — are driving together.
And so, I think we feel good about our investments here — here in India; here in this region, more broadly, in the Indo-Pacific — and are going to continue implementing that strategy.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, we’re going to start with somebody on — on the Zoom here. We got — give people a chance.
MR. ZISKEND: Alex Ward, let’s kick it over to you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, Alex.
Q Thanks. First, in the Modi meeting, I just wanted to know if anything about the — the bulldozing of the slums came up at all. Did the President mention that as a way of just saying, “Hey, you know, we — this is not how democratic nations behave”?
MR. FINER: So, Alex, first, thanks for the question. What I will say is that the sort of state of democratic governance, both in the world and in each of our countries, is a core facet of the U.S.-Indian bilateral relationship — and both Prime Minister Modi and President Biden have said that — which means that those issues are very much on the agenda in every one of their conversations.
What I’m not going to do — given the fact that we did a pretty extensive on-the-record readout of this meeting last night and — and also submitted, which I just referenced, quite an extensive and detailed joint statement — is go through sort of issue by issue and say what was covered and what wasn’t.
I mean, what I will say is: We have got an enormously broad and consequential relationship with India. And all of these meetings are — take place in the context of limited time. So, it would be, I worry, misleading to say what was above the line and below the line in terms of what they were able to cover.
What I will say is: The broad category of issue that that falls into — democratic governance and its state in the United States and in India — was very much on the agenda.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead. Go ahead, Justin.
Q Thank- —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Justin is going to take it. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Jon. One sort of thing that we’ve heard from the meeting so far is, I think, familiar complaints and frustration from Europeans and some in Asia over the President’s economic agenda: the subsidies for climate and CHIPS.
I’m wondering how you’re — if there’s any new explanation that you’re offering for that. And, assuming not, to kind of spin it forward, are you confident that the steel deal with the Europeans is going to come together by the von der Leyen summit next month? Has there been progress on the critical minerals deal for the EU? And are you engaging with any new countries on those types of deals here at the summit going forward to, sort of, address some of their concerns over, you know, subsidies?
MR. FINER: So, first, thanks for the question. Justin, as you know, you know, we have a deeply integrated economic relationship with countries across Europe, with the Eur- — European Union as an entity. And when it comes to the historic investments that the United States and that President Biden is making, you know, in our own country — you know, on infrastructure, on chips, on driving the climate and clean energy transition through the IRA — we believe that that is not just a set of initiatives and major pieces of legislation that are good for the United States, we believe they’re fundamentally good for the world. And we believe that our partners are increasingly seeing the value proposition — again, not just for us, but for them — in what we’re doing.
We work extremely closely with those partners on ways in which they can be integrated and incorporated into what we are doing domestically, the ways in which it benefits them, their citizens, their companies. And we think that we are on a very constructive and positive track in making that case with our core partners.
So, I — you know, beyond that, I’m not going to get into the specifics of steel or other, kind of, ongoing conversations, other than to say: We consider these conversations extremely important. We’re working very hard to — to make progress.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, who do we have online?
We’ll — we’ll come back.
MR. ZISKEND: Let’s go to Barak Ravid. Barak.
Q Hi. Thank you you for doing this. Hi, Jon. I missed the beginning of the briefing, so maybe you covered it, and if so — so, let me know, and I’ll look afterwards what you said.
But how does the railway project fits into the wider strategy in the Middle East with the mega-deal you’re trying to get with Saudi Arabia, the normalization processes? Is Israel going to be a part of it?
MR. FINER: So — I’m sorry, Barak, were you finished?
I think so.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.)
MR. FINER: I won’t repeat everything I — I said in the — in the, sort of, prepared remarks at the beginning.
What I will say is: First, it’s not just a railway project; it’s a ship and railway project. And that’s, I think, important for people to understand because it speaks to both the breadth and the scope of how expansive and ambitious and, frankly, groundbreaking this will be.
Second, in terms of how the Middle East fits into it, we have an approach to the Middle East that we have been implementing since the very first day of this administration that is focused on turning the temperature down; on de-escalating the conflicts that have been underway, in some cases, for many years in the region — and I would point to the 18-month, now, relative truce that has been in place in Yemen as just one kind of core example of that; and, frankly, on incentivizing bos- — both stability in the region and connectivity among the countries of the region.
And this railway project and the opportunities that it presents and will provide to the countries of the Middle East and beyond, we think, is wholly in line with and will further exactly that strategy that we have been implementing across the Middle East.
And so, we think this is a very consistent and, in many ways, a big potential step forward once these conversations can now get underway more formally with — with the launch of the MOU.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nandita.
Q Thanks, Karine. Jon, you just spoke a little bit about China’s absence from the summit. And you said if China is not committed to the success of the G20 then that is “unfortunate.” Could you expound on that a little bit? And if — is that your takeaway from their absence at the G20?
And then there is an event at 5:00 p.m. to talk infrastructure today on the President’s schedule. Is that where we should hope you’re announcing the rail deal?
MR. FINER: So, on your second question, yeah, that is likely to be the slot in which you’ll learn more about what I’ve laid out.
But, look, on China, I feel like one interesting dynamic of — of China’s, kind of, role in these institutions and some of the steps it takes in the world is that the United States is often called upo- — called upon to explain actions that are taken by the Chinese government. And to be honest, I don’t think we really see that as our role.
We are focused on — on, kind of, our agenda here at the G20, on the leadership role that we see President Biden playing.
And when you go through, kind of, the highlights of what is likely to be accomplished here, it is very much in line with and consistent with our global priorities and those of our partners and, we believe, of the rest of the G20, including countries that China considers to be its core partners, like some of the BRICS countries that I mentioned earlier.
As for why China isn’t here, you know, I don’t see that as something for the U.S. to — to expound on or speculate about. One, you know, I’m not sure we have a clear answer to that question. But, two, really, it’s incumbent upon the Chinese government to explain why a leader would or would not participate.
What I was responding to, in many ways, was analysis that we see, which I think is also speculative, about trying to explain, you know, China’s participation or lack thereof. They will be represented here. They will be represented at the premier level.
And, you know, beyond that, I think I’d leave it to them to explain the decision-making on their side.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, who do we have on the Zoom?
MR. ZISKEND: Let’s go to Ed O’Keefe next. Ed.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Ed, are you there?
Okay, go ahead, A- — go ahead, Asma.
Q I wanted to ask you —
Q Can you hear me now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, sorry.
Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead, Ed. And then we’ll go to Asma — Asma after that.
Go ahead, Ed. We can hear you.
Q Sorry about that. Thank you, guys, for doing this.
Real quick. Can you give us, Jon, a sense of who else he might be meeting with, either formally or informally, today?
I realize this is fluid and it’s kind of like going to a high school reunion where you never know who you’re going into, but is there any better sense of who he might meet with formally or informally? Which helps us fill out what we’re telling folks back home, especially this morning on broadcasts.
And then, we know we’re in another country that has different press rules and restrictions. Can we walk everyone through sort of why it is we may not be able to see certain things today and what we are now hopefully going to be able to have access to? I know there’s been a lot of work on that by the White House with the Indian government, despite the fact that, for example, last night, we were kept off the grounds during that meeting. Thank you.
MR. FINER: Thanks, Ed. So, this may not be a satisfying answer to your first question, but I promise you, it’s an honest answer. These events tend to be extremely highly regimented and scheduled, with, kind of, every minute or even, you know, five-minute block, kind of, accounted for during the course of the day.
And so, the reason we have not read out what bilateral interactions that the President may have during the course of the G20 is that those interactions will often happen in a very ad hoc way, kind of done on the fly, kind of catch-as-catch-can. And we do expect that he will have substantive interactions with some of his fellow world leaders.
If and as those occur, you know, we will read them out to you all, so you both know what happened and a bit about what was discussed. But because I can’t actually be sure which interactions we will be able to produce during the course of a very scheduled day, I don’t want to preview any of that for you at this point. We will — we will be as transparent as possible about who he sees and — and what they talk about.
On access, I think we’ve spoken to this quite a lot. I know Karine has. I know Jake and others have. We have all been in touch directly with our Indian counterparts conveying not just, by the way, the requests that you all have for greater access to these proceedings but our own view that that would be a better way to proceed.
You know, at the end of the day, the Indians are — are the host of this event. They have a set of — of protocols that they are adhering to. We are going to continue to advocate for access as we do in — in all visits and all interactions that the President has when overseas.
But I don’t think I can, you know, explain the — the exact details of — of where you all will be allowed to be present and — and why other than to say this has been on our agenda in — in every one of our recent conversations.
Karine may have more to add. But — but for now, you know, we’ll continue to raise these things. We know they’re important to you. They’re also important to us.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, and like Jon said — and you guys have heard from me, heard from Jake, most recently in the gaggle on our way here — we have made some improvements for — for today in particular. And so — which is good. It’s not what we want 100 percent.
As you all know, as Jon just said, we work with every summit anytime we travel to do these travels to make sure that we give y- — get you all access. And — and we will always continue to do that.
And so, again, we’ve made some — some improvements today, and we’ll just continue to hammer that home. But obviously, free press is the pillar of our democracy, as you’ve heard me say many times before — and the President say. And so, we will do everything that we can to make sure that you all are cov- — are able to cover as much as — as much as possible, especially as it relates to the President of the United States.
Go ahead, Asma.
Q And I had two, just, brief questions. One is on the joint communiqué. I know there has been historically — recently, I should say, difficulty — right? — in issuing one given the conflict in Ukraine. I’m curious with these — China’s top leadership not being here, Xi Jinping, if you can give us an assessment of if, specifically on the Ukraine matter, there is more consensus in your optimism on that front.
The second is on this memo of understanding. Can you give us a timeline — a horizon of — how far off is this from becoming a reality? I realize there is a memo of understanding being issued. But then, when does it become real?
MR. FINER: So, look, on — on the potential for a joint communiqué, I don’t want to get ahead of conversations that are genuinely ongoing about the — the substance of all that.
What I will say is that this is always more challenging in this format than it is, for example, in the G7. You know, the — the G7 tends to be an extremely likeminded grouping of countries, and the G20 is just a more diverse body with a wider range of views on, particularly, some of the global issues, with Russia and Ukraine, you know, being high on — on that list.
What I will say is that that is part of what makes the G20 an appealing format for the United States. It gives us a chance to interact with and — and work with and — and take constructive steps with a wider range of countries, including some, you know, frankly, that we don’t see eye to eye with on — on every issue.
But, you know, it’s not lost on us and I’m sure it’s not lost on you that getting agreement on specific language related to, for example, the Russia-Ukraine conflict in a body that includes Russia, which is the perpetrator of, you know, what is a war of aggression, is going to be more challenging. So, we’re working through those challenges.
We think we have made a very compelling case for how we see that conflict to the other countries of the G20. We see, outside of the context of this format, I think, you know, increasingly constructive comments and approaches to the Russia-Ukraine conflict among some of the G20 members and other countries in the regions that they represent.
Where exactly we land on a joint communiqué, we’ll learn more about in — in the coming hours. But this is always a harder proposition here than it is in bilateral meetings, than it is in some other multilateral settings where countries are much more purely likeminded. And that’s just the way it is.
Q And then, on the shipping corridor.
MR. FINER: Yeah, on the MOU. So — so, look, all of that is going to be subject to the actual detailed conversations that — that the MOU will launch. And so, you know, the exact timeline of, kind of, how long it will take to play that out, I don’t even want to speculate about at this point.
What I will say is this is a long time coming. This has been the result of — of months of — of careful diplomacy — quiet, careful diplomacy, you know, bilaterally and in — in multilateral settings that has kind of led to this moment where we’re ready to now unveil what will be a process going forward that we think has enormous potential. But exactly how long it takes, I — I don’t know.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay, so we’re going to wrap this up. I know, Aurelia, you have a quick question. Do that —
Q Yeah, a quick one —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: — and then we’ll take one last one from Zoom.
Q — on climate. Can you maybe update us where are we, too, on the negotiating phrasing, for example, on “phasing out” or “phasing down” fossil fuels? And do you see this G20 summit as setting expectations for the — for the COP?
MR. FINER: So, on — on climate, again, I don’t want to get ahead of the exact, you know, details and negotiation that will take place in the joint communiqué. What I — what I will say is there will be a lot of discussion in the sessions that I described earlier on.
For example, the clean energy transition on — when it comes to infrastructure, the United States’ view — which we think we’re finding increasing traction for — that infrastructure project should be done in a way that is sustainable. It should be in furtherance of sustainability goals and not at odds with them.
And so, I think you’ll hear us speak to that as well during the course of — of today. You know, we’ve got, now, several months to go — or — or at least a couple of months to go before the COP. There is a lot of intensive negotiation going on about that as well.
This is obviously a milestone on the path to the UAE for that event. And — and, you know, beyond that, I think you will see some language in — in the communiqué when it’s — when the negotiations are completed. But I don’t want to prejudge where that’s going to land.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. We’re going to take one last question for someone on Zoom. Who we got?
MR. ZISKEND: Nadia — Nadia Bilbassy, let’s go to you, please.
Q Hi, can you hear me?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We can hear you. Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Hello. Okay, great. Thank you, Karine. Thank you, Jon.
On the infrastructure deal. By involving India, some say that, actually, the deal aims to counter increasing Chinese influence in the Middle East. Do you agree with this analysis?
And at later stage — I know you don’t want to go into the details of implementation, et cetera — but do you see Israel being involved at one stage since you’re talking about a greater (inaudible)?
MR. FINER: Thank you. So, what I will say is I — I realize the appeal of — of, kind of, the — the narrative that you just laid out. And — and — but what I — the way we see the infrastructure project — and, frankly, the way we see all of PGI — is that it is an affirmative, positive agenda and, kind of, vision for a global infrastructure that the United States and our partners are laying out that we think has real appeal for countries and regions that are underserved by — by infrastructure that — that have these enormous gaps that — that need to be filled.
We do not see it as zero-sum with other approaches to — to infrastructure. We are not asking countries to — you know, to — to make, you know, this zero-sum choice, but we do think the value proposition that we have to offer is — is high.
And — and, frankly, you know, we have seen other efforts that are not as ambitious when it comes to high standards, when it comes to transparency, when it comes to sustainability and that are fundamentally more coercive in nature. We feel good about the contrast that what we have — that we are — that what we are offering provides.
In terms of other countries beyond those that I’ve mentioned that are participating in the announcement today, I will let those countries speak for themselves about what role they may be playing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Then, Jon — sorry — one last question from Sara.
Go ahead, Sara.
Q Thank you — thank you so much, Karine. Thank you, Jon.
You said the President plans to raise the — Russia’s war in Ukraine in the first session. Zelenskyy was not invited to attend the G20 in person. Did the President make an appeal to Modi to have him participate virtually or in some other way, as he has in the past with international summits?
I know Jake said yesterday it would be a good thing for Zelenskyy to have a role in the G20. And is the President disappointed that he doesn’t in this one?
MR. FINER: So, our view is that it is fundamentally a good thing when President Zelenskyy is able to make his case and Ukraine’s case for, you know, how — how damaging this conflict has been to his people and — and to his country — that he is the most effective messenger for that. And that certainly in a — in a format in which, you know, Russian representatives will be able to give their views about the conflict, it is appropriate for Ukraine to be able to offer its perspective.
Ultimately, that was not and is not our decision. We did express our support for — for his inclusion. He will have no shortage of other opportunities to do that. He is a very credible and effective messenger for it.
But you will — you can expect that the United States and that our other partners who are working with Ukraine so closely and who have committed to doing so for as long as it takes will make that case quite forcefully in the context of these conversations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. All right. Thanks, everybody.
Okay, have a great day.
8:40 A.M. IST