Ambassador Sondland’s remarks at EPC Breakfast Policy Briefing

November 13, 2018
Remarks by Ambassador Gordon Sondland (as delivered)
European Policy Centre (EPC)
Breakfast Policy Briefing
“The State of the Transatlantic Partnership: A U.S. Perspective”
Brussels, Belgium

Thank you, Fabian. Wow, what an auspicious and distinguished group. Who did you come to see this morning? If I’m the opening act, who is the headline? This is amazing, thank you. It’s really an honor to be here. Looking around the room, I see some of the most influential faces in Brussels, from both the public and private sector. And this is really a testament to the role that the European Policy Centre plays. And I’m truly honored to be here. Thank you.

I have had the pleasure now of serving as the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union for about five months. And it’s a job I wanted, because it’s got strong policy components and because I value the transatlantic relationship and it’s transformative powers. When President Trump was gracious enough to honor me with this appointment, I readily accepted. I am really happy to be here in the heart of Europe. I’ve always had a great affinity for Europe and its people. And that is partly because my parents emigrated from Germany. They fled the Holocaust and eventually made it to the United States, where I’m the first born in our family that was born in the United States. My sister, as I was mentioning this to this distinguished Ambassador from Uruguay, was born in Uruguay so I was the first-born.

And, as the U.S. Ambassador, I have the honor of executing President Trump’s vision of the U.S.-EU relationship. And you might have noticed the President likes action. He likes “getting things done.” Except he doesn’t always use the word “things”. And I have to clean up the language.

As the chief of the U.S. Mission, that really means that we will be dealmakers. We’re going to advocate aggressively. We’re going to achieve outcomes that benefit the United States. And we’re going to engage the highest leadership at the EU as the issues take shape to provide the best face-to-face, unfiltered version of what is possible.

While we will always put America first, my team and I will also seek bold new ways to built the transatlantic relationship and to improve the transatlantic relationship. Shortly after I arrived in Brussels, I wrote an opinion piece titled “The Power and Potential of the U.S.-EU relationship”. I am certain you all read it. Read it and studied it. Maybe pinned it to your office. But in case anyone missed it, let me highlight a few key points.

First, the U.S. relationship with Europe is one of our most important partnerships. Let me say that again. It is one of our most important partnerships. It encompasses longstanding cultural and historic ties and the largest bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world. It includes strong security and defense cooperation, and generally a like-minded approach to our common foreign policy challenges. It is indispensable as we seek to promote shared values, address common global challenges, and advance the prosperity of all of our citizens.

Of course, the United States and Europe, we’ve had our share of disagreements and difficult discussions. We will continue to have them. We will always have them. I like to compare the relationship to a faithful marriage that has its ups and downs, but remains solid.

When I arrived, I pledged I would not try to sweep aside our differences. That’s not useful. It’s not realistic or productive. And, most important, it’s not necessary. One of the key strengths of the U.S.-EU relationship is our ability to talk candidly and often about our differences. This is an advantage that we share with the EU but it is not an advantage we share with all of our other partners, and we should not lose sight of its importance.

While our differences make for exciting headlines, what is very often overlooked is U.S.-EU cooperation.

Our cooperation in areas of common interest is astounding. From counterterrorism, to preventing global drug trafficking, to ensuring the safety of civil aviation, to calling out Russian aggression and standing unified on sanctions, we do make each other more secure. Through our businesses and investments, and our scientific, educational and cultural exchanges, we make ourselves more prosperous.

More importantly, and this is a key point, we share unshakable values, and a commitment to free and open societies and markets. Our commitment to these values has been tested many, many times in the last half-century. Today, we urgently need to rededicate ourselves to these values to preserve them for ourselves and for future generations to come.

Now I would like to spend some time talking about a few issues I know are on the top of everyone’s minds. But before I do, let me make one thing clear. While the United States and the European Union sometimes disagree about tactics, we always, always share the same goal: to improve our mutual security and prosperity.

Let’s start with trade. The transatlantic market accounts for about one-third of global GDP. Forty trillion dollars. A stock of $5 trillion in two-way foreign direct investments fuels annual trade of a little over $1.1 trillion in goods and services, supporting 15 million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. Let that sink in to get a sense of how important it is to get this right.

Recalibrating our trade relationship to make it more free and fair is the United States’ number one goal. The President is committed to eliminating artificial market barriers, irrational standards and regulations, and subsidies that create unfair advantages on both sides of the Atlantic. We must also ensure proposed legislation in areas such as digital taxation and e-privacy does not impact the large and growing digital trade relationship enjoyed by our citizens.

I was in the room this summer when President Trump and President Juncker stood together and launched a new phase in our relationship. Despite what you might have read and heard, the two presidents have great rapport and strong mutual understanding of where our trade relationship needs to go: ultimately, zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on each side.

But we need action now to reduce the tension between us. And we need to listen to those who drive our economic progress, not just the unelected officials. I have spoken with many, many industry leaders here in Europe who feel as though the EU is not taking their concerns to heart, and these are European business people, not American business people. And they urge us to reach an agreement in a reasonable amount of time to reduce market uncertainty and to forestall an escalation.

The most important elements the Trump administration brings to our trade discussions are seriousness and urgency. And, to be frank, so long as the EU leadership plays the delay game, the more we will have to use leverage to realign the relationship. But some believe they can delay and wait out this President. The problem is that that tactic really doesn’t work because a President of either party is very likely to demand a realignment.

Getting on a firm negotiating path on trade will allow us to focus on the most serious challenge for both of our economies: China. We have a clear interest in addressing China’s persistent and unfair trade practices. They threaten our mutual economic and national security and the core values we share. We also have an interest in confronting China together about egregious theft of intellectual property. I see real opportunities for the transatlantic relationship to be a force that curtails Chinese economic aggression and unfair trade practices — and those are concerns shared both by the U.S. and by the EU.

So, looking down the road, if our economic relationship is to grow even further, the European Union must also reduce barriers to entry for U.S. industries and research institutions into programs such as Horizon Europe and the European Defense Fund. This would create jobs and growth, and improve the lives of the people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Trade and economic issues of course play a huge role in our relationship. But our relationship is much more. Europe and the United States have a long history of standing together against aggression around the world, and we must continue to uphold that tradition.

We must defend the United States and Europe against Russia’s nefarious activities and the Kremlin’s attempt to divide us. We must continue to work together to end Russia’s war on Ukraine, and address Russia’s increasingly brazen cyber and chemical weapons attacks. We must increase our resolve as the Russians increase their threat. To do this, we must maintain sanctions unity, and the EU must maintain and expand its sanctions against those closest to President Putin, who are conducting these attacks. We also must closely monitor and counter malicious cyber activity and disinformation to safeguard the integrity of our democratic institutions.

Now let me touch on Iran. Fundamentally, Iran is a destabilizing force that threatens the West as a whole. The plot uncovered in Denmark is just a recent example of the danger posed by an unconstrained Iran. As Secretary Pompeo and Danish Foreign Minister Samuelsen discussed, this type of behavior calls for very strong collective EU action to hold Iran accountable for its continued use of terrorism on European soil.

I know many in this room were dismayed that the United States withdrew from the JCPOA, but, folks, that decision is in the rearview mirror. The JCPOA was an incomplete agreement that does not address the long-term consequences of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It does not address Iran’s malign activities, including assassination attempts, in the region and beyond. Iran is wreaking havoc in the Middle East—in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. And it is initiating terrorist acts inside European borders. And it is continuing its ballistic missile development as we speak.

Last week, the United States resumed its full program of sanctions on Iran. And we will maintain the strongest sanctions program in history until Iran behaves as a responsible member of the global community. I believe the SPVs, or the Special Purpose Vehicles, and other sanctions avoidance mechanisms are really unhelpful and will be ineffective. I have been very pleased to see the number of companies that have already curtailed their business with Iran. And I and the United States applaud their actions.

Look, we are not seeking to change the regime. We are not seeking to harm the people of Iran. And despite what you read in the media, sales of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices to Iran have long been and remain, exempt, I say that again, they are exempt from the sanctions. We are seeking not to change the regime but to change the regime’s behavior.

As President Trump said – we are willing to talk to the Iranians – but Iran must be willing to address a wider set of concerns beyond those contained in the current JCPOA. Specifically, the 12 points Secretary Pompeo announced during his speech at the Heritage Foundation earlier this year. If the regime can engage constructively, we stand ready.

Another one of my top priorities is security and defense. We already have excellent cooperation on non-proliferation, cyber security, and law enforcement. Additionally we are intensively engaged with the EU on energy security and military mobility.

The United States considers energy security in Europe one of the cornerstones of transatlantic relations. The threat of Russia using energy for political coercion cannot be overstated. Europe should not entrust its energy needs to a state intent on undermining European unity and the transatlantic relationship.

Our opposition to projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is very longstanding. It is based on geostrategic concerns and not, and I say it again, it is based on geostrategic concerns and not U.S. LNG sales. Nord Stream 2 threatens transatlantic security by making Europe’s eastern flank more vulnerable to Russia. The United States—and many EU Member States—firmly believes the only solution for Europe is diversification of energy routes and supplies. We stand ready to work with you to achieve genuine energy security.

A secure Europe is also one in which Allies and partners can cooperate on military mobility. NATO Allies and EU Member States must be able to quickly and freely move military equipment and personnel to respond to threats. Currently, the EU is seeking to improve military mobility through major investments in transportation infrastructure.

As the EU deliberates where and how to make investments, the United States will work closely with the EU to ensure its efforts are consistent with NATO security priorities.

So in conclusion, and this is my message: No one can seriously question the United States’ commitment to the transatlantic relationship. The areas of close and likeminded cooperation are not going to change or be put on hold because we have a few disagreements in a few areas.

But let’s be candid, if the situation were reversed, and the United States held a significant trade surplus with the European Union, the European Union would be laser-focused on resetting that imbalance. Further, the U.S. taxpayers are being asked and are more than willing to fund NATO and Europe’s defense needs. What they ask in return is that the EU be reasonable in its own military expenditures, and allow the U.S. a seat at the table, so that in no way is NATO undermined as those funds are spent.

I firmly believe that engagement – especially with our European counterparts – is indispensable and irreplaceable. Together we can achieve concrete agreements and actions that advance our common interests.

Thank you for your attention and I’d be happy to take a few questions.