Tag Archives: Iran

The Fight for Yemen (PBS Frontline)

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This video contains information on the current conflict in Yemen, including the Houthi rebels, AQAP, and the Saudi coalition.

See the full video here.

Counterterrorism: Interview With Milliyet

Interview -John Allen

Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
U.S. Embassy
Ankara, Turkey
November 19, 2014
Gen. Allen, courtesy of the Guardian
Gen. Allen, courtesy of the Guardian

“Asli Aydintasbas: Thanks for meeting me for the interview. I heard you have recently been to Abu Dhabi, right?

General Allen: I was.

Aydintasbas: So, let me start with the obvious question. Is there a policy review, what’s happening? We have all seen the CNN story. Are you reviewing Syria policy?

Allen: We are always looking at the strategy. We have a policy with regard to Syria, which is that the U.S. intends for there to be a political outcome that represents the voice and the desires of the Syrian people. And that policy with that outcome does not include Bashar Al Assad. With respect to the strategy…

Aydintasbas: Doesn’t include or…?

Allen: Does not include Bashar Al Asad. With respect to the strategy, it is the nature of strategies that we are constantly assessing and reassessing the strategies, and that’s what is underway now.

Aydintasbas: So, basically the President has said “We are not working on toppling Bashar Assad”.

Allen: Well, once again, our policy is that we will help to pursue a political outcome in the context of the Communique of Geneva II which looks for a negotiated political outcome that does not, in our case, include Bashar Al Asad. I think that is very different than toppling. So, in this case, we are looking for a political outcome that does not include Bashar Al Asad.

Aydintasbas: You are looking for a transition, that I understand; you wish for a transition, that I understand. But the question here is of course the priorities. My understanding from what your president, President Obama has said at G-20, is that it is not a priority to overthrow Bashar Assad right now.

Allen: If that’s what he said, then I’ll go with what the President’s comments were . If that’s what he said.

Aydintasbas: So, in this whole dilemma, “ISIS first” vs. “The regime first”, in terms of what the source of problem is or who to tackle first in Syria, where are you?

Allen: Well, we are clearly going to be dealing with ISIL. ISIL is a threat to the entire region and that threat not only spans Iraq but spans Syria. It is a threat to Turkey, a threat to the United States and a threat to the region. The strategy with which I am associated is to help to build the coalition, which ultimately brings together in this case 60 countries who are intent on being engaged on ultimately defeating ISIL. That’s the role that I play. And eventually, of course, our policy intent for the U.S. is that there be a political outcome in Syria that does not include Bashar Al Asad. While we will be doing work in Iraq, which is the main effort at this point but does not mean it is the only effort, so we will be working the ISIS issue associated with Iraq, [and] we’ll be doing that in Syria as well.

Aydintasbas: Why are you here?

Allen: I am here to continue conversations I have had with the Turkish government.

Aydintasbas: Can you tell me where you are in terms of your discussions on safe zones…?

Allen: No, I don’t want to get into those details. This is a long-term conversation that we have been having. It is, I think, a very positive conversation on the whole. I have been very clear that we view our relationship with Turkey as a deep friendship. It is a long-term friendship, an old alliance. And in the context of this emergency, we are in a conversation, the U.S. with the Turkish government but more broadly within the context of the coalition as well, on how we can partner to deal with this emergency.

Aydintasbas: Technically speaking, is Turkey part of the coalition?

Allen: It is.

Aydintasbas: I believe State Department spokesman several times said that safe zones and no-fly zone are not on their agenda right now, is it on your agenda?

Allen: What I want to say is that the conversation I am having with Turkey is a wide-ranging conversation about the measures that we could take together, ultimately, to deal with this crisis, and I don’t want to get into any particular aspect of that conversation.

Aydintasbas: This is what I want to, I would be very curious in terms of what your response is, when Turkish officials tell you that they have constraints when it comes to fighting ISIS as in you know we have a border, they could blow up things here, etc. So you know there are understandable reasons for them to be reserved and cautious about taking on ISIL. What is your response when you hear all these reservations and constraints and complaints? What do you as somebody lobbying in the other direction?

Allen: Well, I am not lobbying, obviously. First of all, I am extraordinarily respectful of Turkey’s sovereignity, territorial integrity, all of those things. Turkey has been a dear friend of the United States and a partner in so many things over the years so I am very sensitive to concerns. We also recognize that every single participant in the coalition, every country that is involved, every country that has an interest in this comes to the table with its own national interests. And we absolutely must consider Turkey’s national interests and special considerations. It is very clear that Turkey is a frontline state, [and] has had to endure the effects of terrorism for a long time. And so we know that fıgures into the thinking of Turkey as it considers its way ahead and the moves it may well take in conjunction with ISIS. So, we are very attentive to that.

Aydintasbas: But what are your talking points?

Allen: Let me continue. We are also very attentive to the fact that Turkey has also I think very generously hosted a large refugee population and they have been well taken care of by your country. So, we are very attentive to Turkey’s interests and very attentive to Turkey’s concerns as they raise these issues. And so, for us, it’s being knowledgable of those issues over which Turkey has concerns, being understanding of the interests Turkey has, as we seek to coordinate our activities and look for those areas of common interests where we can obviously, to the extent we can, bring the maximum efficiency and effectivemess to the strategy.

Aydintasbas: So, how do you convince Turks to do more? What is your overarching argument when you are talking to Turkish officials and they are like ‘You know we would love to but this, that and the other’?

Allen: Again, I am not going to paraphrase what their comments are. We are in an excellent conversation with Turkish officials and I am not going to preview what the outcome of the conversation is going to be. In the end, Turkey will do what Turkey will decide to do and we’ll have a conversation about those areas where we can cooperate, those areas where we can combine our capabilities to have an important outcome. But in the end, Turkey is a sovereign country and Turkey is an old friend. And we recognize that Turkey will be very conscious of its interests when it commits. It already has committed to some extent on its participation, but as Turkey continues to consider how it will play a role in this process, we are going to be very conscious of that.

Aydintasbas: I am going to ask the same thing in a different, roundabout way. OK, now you are talking to Turkish public. What do you tell Turkish public in terms of ISIL, how can you convince me or the man/woman on the street that we, Turkey, should do something about ISIL?

Allen: First of all, Turkey is doing something about ISIL. But second, what the Turkish citizen needs to be concerned about is the growth of extremism in the region, how that extremism has in many ways undercut the stability of countries across the region, not just in Syria but clearly in Iraq as well.The reach of ISIL, the reach of that ideology of extremism and hatred, has had a wide range of effects across the region. And again, the Turkish citizens, who I have known for many years, have suffered from years of terrorism. And so this is yet another of the potential threats that is posed in the region that Turkey is considering , that Turkey is talking with us about, in terms of potential courses of action we might take together. And as a citizen in Turkey, watching the activities of ISIL to the south, watching the activities of extremist groups in Syria and others in the region, I would be very concerned and very attentive to what action Turkey would be willing to take or what the means by which Turkey could cooperate or collaborate with the U.S. and other partners in how to provide for Turkey’s national security.

Aydintasbas: Do you know what the latest is in terms of, how do you assess the situation in Kobane? Because, while there is the campaign by the coalition it is clearly now proving it would not be that easy to get rid of ISIL in that town.

Allen: I think the situation has largely stabilized there. We intend to continue to provide the support of the coalition for the defenders in Kobane, and at this point, while I would not attempt to predict over the long term how it will turn out. Both the activities of the defenders inside the city but also the fire support that has been provided outside the city with respect to how ISIL has been able to occupy key terrain and use that terrain to their advantage. That’s put them into a distinct disadvantage.

Aydintasbas: How?

Allen: Well, ISIL has in so many ways impaled itself on Kobane. It has sought to create that moment, that particular action as its ability to achieve victory over a conserted defense, a victory over a group of resistance fighters who are in fact putting up a very stiff resistance and ISIL continues to pour fighters into the process. And as they pour fighters into the process, we are going to continue to bomb them, we are going to continue to interdict their supply lines, we are going to continue to disrupt command and control, and at the same time, do what we can to support the defenders. And ISIL will find that it is not going to be successful there.

Aydintasbas: Has it served, in an ironic way, a useful purpose ın terms of gathering all the ISIL guys in the same geographical location.

Allen: Any time you mass, to achieve the affect that they are trying to achieve with respect to Kobane, you create targets. And the precise number is probably not known but we are convinced that our air attacks have killed well over 600 ISIL attackers and created for them, some real problems. At what point do they decide that it has cost them too much.

Aydintasbas: And they haven’t made that decision.

Allen: They haven’t made that decision. They are going to keep pouring those troops in and we are going to keep dealing with those troops as they go in. But when ISIL ultimately decides to withdraw from Kobane it will be a very strong indication, once again, that ISIL has not been able to achieve its objectives, just as Asad has been pushed out of a substantial number of places in Iraq at this point.

Aydintasbas: Why aren’t they making that decision?

Allen: Well, because I think, the sense is, if they pull out this is going to be a real indicator that the “march to victory” of ISIL has finally hit its high water mark.

Aydintasbas: It will be symbolic…

Allen: It will absolutely be symbolic.

Aydintasbas: But then, now I’m going to make another argument which is that, there is another way of looking at the Kobane situation, which is, it is also not a good sign in terms of our ability to deal with ISIL, in the sense that we are still not able to get rid of them in one, tiny, small town with airpower, peshmerga, weapons, heavy weapons, you name it. We cannot get rid of them from a tiny enclave. What does it say about the larger goals of your effort in the coalition?

Allen: But let us not focus only on Kobane. Let us talk about what happened in Iraq, where in fact ISIL has been pushed in a lot of areas. But let us just review the bidding of the last few weeks: ISIL had seized the Mosul Dam and that was taken back from it; they threatened the Haditha Dam– so there is the Tigers and the Euphrates River– they threatened the Haditha Dam, and they were pushed off of the terrain on which they were threatening the Haditha Dam. They were pushed out of the siege of Amerli.

Aydintasbas: Thanks to Hezbollah and Suleymani.

Allen: Don’t give them credit for something they did not accomplish but …

Aydintasbas: The guy was posting pictures of the …

Allen: Of course there are lots of pictures out there. The fact that he takes a picture with a couple of fighters does not mean that he directed the battle or ultimately achieved the objective. The point is that the Iraqi Security Forces supported by some local fighters were able to defeat ISIL at that location. And at other locations…

Aydintasbas: Bayji?

Allen: The drive on Bayji is another example where the ISF has been supported both in terms of their ability to move up Route 1 towards Bayji, but also supported by coalition air power. So there are places frankly where ISIL is being pushed out of a lot of positions. And our sense is, as we continue to deliver air power, as we continue to see the Iraqi security forces for example gain in capabilities – and this is going to take a while, but – as we see them continue to gain in capabilities, that the operational and tactical momentum has been checked. That is what you always seek to accomplish in a military operation.

Aydintasbas: Operational momentum?

Allen: Strategic momentum, operational momentum and tactical momentum. And our sense is strategic momentum is long past done. The operational momentum has been checked and in most places now, while there might be some exchange of terrain back and forth at a tactical level, even their tactical momentum has been checked. Now the point is, as we began to move forces in Iraq – Iraqi Security Force elements — into the attack, as we support those, now is the time to reverse what has appeared for some period of time to be ISIL’s invincibility. And, in truth, what we are learning is that they are very defeatable and we are going to continue.

Aydintasbas: You are learning that in Iraq but not in Syria yet?

Allen: Well, we have someone to work with obviously. We have someone to work with on a day-to-day basis.

Aydintasbas: You mean PYD?

Allen: No, I’m talking about the Iraqi Security Forces.

Aydintasbas: Oh, in Iraq.

Allen: Yeah. Over time with the train and equip program and the support that we will give to the moderate Syrian opposition. We will be working more closely with them.

Aydintasbas: Aleppo? They say that it is about to fall to the regime and how does that change your calculus?

Allen: We are obviously very attentive to what is going on in Aleppo. Again, I am not the military commander here; I deal with the coalition and the coalition in the context of the overall strategy. But I know that we are very conscious of what is going on in Aleppo and to that extent, if we are able to provide support we will provide support.

Aydintasbas: To whom?

Allen: Well, to the moderate Syrian opposition movement.

Aydintasbas: Of which there is dwindling numbers.

Allen: Well, there are. We recognize the current tactical situation has been difficult for them but we are going to provide the support that we can. The support that we have for some period of time, the train and equip program will be helpful to them over the long term. So we are going to remain very conscious of this.

Aydintasbas: Is Aleppo part of your discussion with Turks?

Allen: Well, again, broadly it is the situation in Syria but the situation with ISIL very broadly, the situation with the coalition, how the coalition will operate both in terms of Iraq and Syria. And of course within Syria we talk about a variety of things.

Aydintasbas: Is PYD going to be the Kurdish forces in Kobane? Are they going to be part of the train and equip program ultimately?

Allen: We will be consulting very closely with Turkey about who gets into the train and equip program. And so I will not comment on that.

Aydintasbas: Does it not make sense to include them?

Allen: I am not going to comment on who is going to be in the train and equip program.

Aydintasbas: The relationship and the coordination you have with PYD has become a sticking point with Turkey. They are clearly not happy about it. How do you plan to go about continuing to help PYD forces?

Allen: You are talking about Kobane?

Aydintasbas: Yes.

Allen: We are going to help the opposition in Kobane and that is the way we will articulate it.

Aydintasbas: And Turks now accept what you are doing in Kobane?

Allen: You would have to ask the ambassador in that regard.

Aydintasbas: And my final question is, basically, I know you are about to start the train and equip for 2,000 guys it has been reported I think, and then 2,000 guys in Saudi, and people are not really convinced – 2,000 guys here, 2,000 guys there – is enough to take on ISIL. I mean look how much difficulty Iraqi security forces had back early this summer, so what is that going to do?

Allen: It is not the only thing that is going to happen. Obviously we are going to support the FSA and the moderate Syrian opposition, we are going to continue to deliver air power, we are going to continue these capabilities through the train and equip program which is 5,000 a year for several years. We are going to keep a very close eye on the operational environment. We are going to look at the totality of the support that we give, to determine that we are focused on the right direction and the resources are being allocated properly and that we are doing all that we can to provide the kind of support that is necessary for the Free Syrians.

Aydintasbas: How do you define your goal, containing ISIL, degrading them?

Allen: As we said our goal is to degrade and defeat over time.

Aydintasbas: Any important points?

Allen: To make a couple of points, it is important that we understand again that my role is to work with the coalition, we work to consolidate the members of the coalition, to integrate the contributions that the members of the coalition are making into the strategy– and I will talk about the strategy in just a moment– and then ultimately to coordinate the role of the coalition. The coordination takes a number of forms. We will have on December 3rd, for example, our first ministerial meeting of the coalition.

Aydintasbas: Where is it going to be?

Allen: In Brussels. This will be the first political consultation of what will be a series of conversations where we will consult politically about the strategy and the way ahead. So consolidate, integrate the capabilities and ultimately, to coordinate the activities. We do it to cross five lines of operation; the first is a military line which is attracting so much attention. The other four are dealing with and impeding foreign fighters – both going to the battlespace and returning; disrupting the revenue flow to ISIL from the various means by which they generate; fourth is in humanitarian assistance; and fifth is in delegitimizing the brand of ISIL.

Aydintasbas: The PR campaign?

Allen: It is much more than that actually. Each country has an ability to contribute based on its audience, its population, based on its segments of population which are potentially susceptible for recruiting for ISIL. So it is much more than that. As we have organized in each one of those five lines, some countries can only contribute in one of those lines. Some countries can contribute in several, some in all of them. And so the activities between and among those lines seeks to create the synergy necessary to degrade and ultimately ISIL. So the conversation that we are having with Turkey is a very important conversation; we are able to find ways for Turkey to feel comfortable in its contribution across those lines of operation.

Aydintasbas: So sounds like you feel Turkey is on board?

Allen: I think Turkey has very clearly viewed ISIL as a threat, Turkey is already contributing in important ways, because it has a refugee population that has been inflicted upon Turkey. And I think as I said at a meeting the other day, I was very clear that Turkey deserves a lot of international credit for the work that it has done in terms of humanitarian assistance. So each of these countries ultimately makes its own sovereign decision wıth regard to how it will participate in those five lines of effort, integrating it so that we get the maximum return within that line of effort and between and among those lines of effort is the challenge that we will all face in the long-term. And then the political meetings from time to time help us then to ensure that we have a common political vision on the way ahead with respect to this strategy.”

On the frontline with Shia’s Badr Army in Iraq – BBC News

Great journalism by the BBC describing the front lines around Baghdad.

“The BBC’s Jonathan Beale spent the day with the Badr Army on the outskirts of Baquba in Iraq. Much of the fighting is between the Isis extremists and Iraq’s oldest Shia military, the Badr Army, which is intensely loyal to the government and has a history of violence against Sunnis.”

Kerry on Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesperson
Vienna, Austria
July 15, 2014

REMARKS

Secretary Kerry
Secretary Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry
Press Availability

SECRETARY KERRY: Good morning, everyone. I want to first thank the extraordinary team of diplomats and experts who have been on the ground here for weeks and who have been working tirelessly, actually, for many months in these negotiations. And I’m talking about both our American team as well as our colleagues from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran, and particularly I would like to thank Baroness Cathy Ashton of the European Union and her team, whose stewardship of these negotiations has been indefatigable and superb.

In today’s world, it’s an understatement to say that diplomacy is difficult. But diplomacy is our preference for meeting the challenges that we do face all over the world, knowing even as we do that solutions are rarely perfect and nor do they all come at once. But that has never deterred us from pursuing the diplomatic course, and that is exactly what we are committed to doing and doing now.

President Obama has made it a top priority to pursue a diplomatic effort to see if we can reach an agreement that assures that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. In that effort, we have built a broad coalition of countries, including our P5+1 colleagues, to ensure that the international community is speaking with one voice. Despite the difficulties of these negotiations, I am confident that the United States and our partners in the P5+1 remain as squarely focused as ever on testing whether or not we can find a negotiated solution to this most pressing international security imperative.

Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

In these conversations, and indeed over the last almost six months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made progress. We have all kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have all continued to negotiate in good faith. But after my conversations here with both Iran and with our P5+1 partners in particular, it is clear that we still have more work to do.

Our team will continue working very hard to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns. I am returning to Washington today to consult with President Obama and with leaders in Congress over the coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted, based on the progress we’ve made and how things are going.

As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues. And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

I want to underscore: These goals are not incompatible. In fact, they are realistic. But we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula. There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful. So we are going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to work with the belief that there is a way forward.

But – and this is a critical point – while there is a path forward, Iran needs to choose to take it. And our goal now is to determine the precise contours of that path, and I believe we can.

With that, I’d be happy to take a few questions.

MS. HARF: The first question is from Jo Biddle of the AFP. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. You said that you’re returning to Washington for further consultations with President Obama, but you did say that the July 20th deadline is still on the table. How confident are you that you can get an agreement by July 20th? And if we’re talking about an extension, have you any idea how long that could be?

And I wanted to ask you about reports that – today quoting Mr. Foreign Minister Zarif that the Iranians are proposing a freeze on a nuclear program for a few years in return for being later treated as a country with a peaceful nuclear energy.

SECRETARY KERRY: I’m sorry. That got garbled in – take – hold the mike a little bit away.

QUESTION: Sorry.

SECRETARY KERRY: A little bit away, sorry.

QUESTION: There was a report in The New York Times today, an interview with Foreign Minister Zarif, in which he suggested that the Iranians have proposed freezing their nuclear program for a few years in return for being treated later as a country with a peaceful nuclear civilian energy program. Does this meet any U.S. demands or is this one of the real gaps that you’re still talking about?

And if I may, can I just ask you about the crisis in Gaza as well? Did you talk with Foreign Minister Zarif about this? Are you asking the Iranians to use their leverage with Hamas? And what could the United States do to try to achieve an implementation of a ceasefire which Hamas appears to have rejected? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the issue of July 20th, yes, it’s obviously still on the table and we’re still working, and we’re going to continue to work. The team will be here. They’ll continue to meet. And I will, as I said, go back to Washington to talk to the President and also our team back there in order to assess where we think we are with respect to the progress that we have made.

As I said, we have made progress, and there is work still to do, and we believe there is a path forward, so let’s see what happens in the next hours and days. I’m obviously prepared to come back here if we have the team say to me that there’s a reason to do so, but I have no plans to do so as I leave to go back to Washington to consult with the President.

With respect to the issue of the – what was in The New York Times and the question of a gap or no gap, I am definitively not going to negotiate in public. I’m not going to comment on any stories with respect to substance one way or the other. The real negotiation is not going to be done in the public eye; it’s going to be done in the private meetings that we’re having, and it is being done there. And I might add these are tough negotiations. The Iranians are strong in their positions. They understand what their needs are, we understand what ours are. Both are working in good faith to try to find a way forward.

And as I said, I think we’ve made some progress. Obviously, there’s more work to do. We’ll assess where we are in the next few days and make judgments at that point in time. And we don’t do this, obviously, exclusively. We are part of a team, the P5+1. Our partners, all of them, weigh in equally in this decision, and we need to be consulting as we go forward.

With respect to Gaza, let me say a few words. I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets in multiple numbers in the face of a goodwill effort to offer a ceasefire in which Egypt and Israel have joined together, and the international community strongly supports the idea of a ceasefire, the need – the compelling need to have a ceasefire. At the same time, there are great risks in what is happening there and in the potential of an even greater escalation of violence. We don’t want to see that – nobody does – and nor does Israel.

But Israel has a right to defend itself, and it is important for Hamas not to be provoking and purposefully trying to play politics in order to gain greater followers for its opposition, and use the innocent lives of civilians who they hide in buildings and use as shields and put in danger. That is against the laws of war and that’s why they are a terrorist organization. So we need to remember what is at stake here, and we will continue to work for a ceasefire.

Now at the moment, one of the reasons I’m going to Washington and not to Egypt, just to answer possibly another question ahead of time, is because there was this offer on the table, and we believe that it was important to give this offer an opportunity. And I still think perhaps reason could prevail if the political wing can deal with the military wing and Egypt can have some leverage. Let’s see what happens.

But we are prepared, as the United States is always prepared – and President Obama has said this again and again – to do everything in our power to help the parties come together to work to create a climate for genuine negotiations to be able to deal with the issues that truly separate these parties, and we stand prepared to do that. I am prepared to fly back to the region tomorrow if I have to, or the next day or the next, in order to pursue the prospects if this doesn’t work. But they deserve – the Egyptians deserve the time and the space to be able to try to make this initiative work, and we hope it will.

We urge all parties to support this ceasefire, and we support and we ask all the members of the Arab community, as they did yesterday at the Arab League meeting in Cairo, to continue to press to try to get Hamas to do the right thing here, which is cease the violence, engage in a legitimate negotiation, and protect the lives of people that they seem all too willing to put to risk.

MS. HARF: Our next question is from Lou Charbonneau of Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I wanted to return to the issue of Iran first. The Supreme Leader of Iran last week had a major speech in which he spoke of Iran needing the equivalent of what some see is as many as 190,000 older-generation centrifuges over the long term, a kind of massive industrial scale. How did you respond – how did you react to this speech? And in your meetings here with the Iranians, have you seen any sign of a new and substantial flexibility on the Iranian side since your Washington Post op-ed two weeks ago, enough progress that could, in theory, justify an extension?

And then I wanted to add on a question about Libya, where the situation is quite alarming. The UN is pulling out its staff and there has been shelling of as many as 90 planes at the airport. Thanks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the Supreme Leader’s speech on the 190,000 centrifuges, that’s not a new figure. It didn’t come as a surprise to me or to others. And what it is is it’s a reflection of Iran’s current ambitions with respect to a nuclear power program, and it reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power. It is not something, I think, that’s meant – and I think it was framed that way, I believe, in the speech.

Obviously, that’s not – I’m not going to get into what we’re talking about in numbers or whatever, but we have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment. And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.

Now I do want Iran to understand, I want the Supreme Leader to know, that the United States believes that Iran has a right to have a peaceful nuclear program under Article IV of the NPT – there’s no question about that – a peaceful program. And what we are now working on is: How do you guarantee that what they do have is in fact purely peaceful and that it adheres to the stated intentions of the Supreme Leader and other leaders of Iran never to have a nuclear weapon?

Now, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa. We take that very seriously. The fatwa issued by a cleric is an extremely powerful statement about intent. But it is our need to codify it. We can’t take any declaration because that’s not what a negotiation nor a nuclear agreement is about. It’s about verifiable, specific steps by which parties that have disagreed can agree that they know each of them what they’re doing and how they’re living up to their responsibilities. And that’s what we’re seeing in this particular effort.

So Iran can have a peaceful nuclear program and they know how to get there. It’s by living up to the demands of the international community, the United Nations Security Council; the IAEA questions need to be answered, the additional protocol needs to be adhered to; and a specific set of verification and transparency measures need to be put in place among other things that make the promises real. That’s the nature. It’s not specific to Iran. Any country would be in the same place and need to do the same thing, as they do with respect to any kind of agreement.

Libya: We are obviously deeply concerned about the level of violence in Libya, and every single day in the State Department, we make assessments about the level of violence, about our personnel who are there, about our Embassy, about the overall nature of the violence. And that is why President Obama has appointed a special envoy, David Satterfield, a diplomat with a great deal of experience who most recently filled in in Egypt. And he has been working very closely with Jonathan Powell, the British special envoy, and with other special envoys – France, Italy – all of them focused on how we can transition Libya away from this militia violence, which is what is threatening the airport at the moment. It is not violence that has broken out every single day, all day. It’s mostly fighting at night and it is not threatening broadly every interest within Libya, but it is dangerous and it must stop. And we are working very, very hard through our special envoys to find the political cohesion, the glue that can bring people together to create stronger capacity in the governance of Libya so that this violence can end. And we’ll continue to stay very, very precisely focused on it.

MS. HARF: And our final question is from Amir Paivar of BBC Persia.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Secretary Kerry. Many Iranians wonder – I would like to be very specific – why the U.S. and the world powers would not accept Iran maintain, say, 10,000 centrifuges. And here, I’m not haggling over numbers, but if the other terms of the deal are secure, numbers capped, degree of enrichment low, inspections intrusive – if trust is an issue, they say, both Iran and the United States have their checkered history when it comes to nuclear capability.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said earlier, when you start asking about specific numbers of centrifuges and so forth, you get into a zone of public disclosure that is just not helpful to the negotiations at this point in time. So I’m not going to talk about a specific number, what number might work, not work, what we will accept, won’t accept. All of those questions belong at the negotiating table, and that’s where they are.

But let me just say, in general terms, this is not an issue of trust. This is an issue of factual process by which you can verify on a day-to-day basis what is happening. Now why do we need to do that? Why are there P5+1 at the table? Why is China joining with Russia, joining with the United States, joining with Germany, France, and Britain – all of them together at the table demanding the same thing, as well as the rest of the world through the United Nations Security Council and the resolutions?

This is not a fabricated issue. The reason that trust has to be built and a process of transparency and accountability has to be created is because over the years, a secret program has been pursued in a deep, under-the-ground, mountaintop facility that was concealed for a long time until it was discovered, and levels of enrichment have been going on on a regular basis and serious questions raised about weaponization in that context.

Now we’re working to answer those questions, and I want to – Foreign Minister Zarif is a tough negotiator. He knows how to fight for what he is fighting for. But he’s been clear, as we have been clear, about what we need to do to try to arrive at a fair, reasonable way to meet both parties’ rights and interests in this situation. And I believe that, as I said, we’ve made progress, and I think both of us can see ways in which we could make further progress and hopefully answer those questions.

But I’m not going to get into why Iran might have done that or who pushed who in what direction or what mistakes were made in the past. You can go back to the 1950s and find lots of things that have happened that have given rise to the relationship we’re in today. What we want to do is try and see if that’s changeable, put that to the test. The first test is to answer the questions and come up with a formula that says to the world this is a peaceful nuclear program, and it cannot be used to make weapons and we know that to a certainty. The test is: Can we know whether or not Iran is able to and is or might be building a nuclear weapon?

Now we’re going to continue to do what we are doing here. We’re going to work hard to try to find this agreement. This is not just important to the United States, Iran, and the P5; it’s important to the world. And it is important for us to try to work hard in order to see if we can find success, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

MS. HARF: Great. Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all. Appreciate it very much. We’ll see you again at some point, I’m sure.

U.S. Official on Obama’s Foreign Policy Priorities

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS BEN RHODES
FOREIGN POLICY UPDATE FOLLOWING THE PRESIDENT’S WEST POINT SPEECH
TUESDAY, JULY 1, 2014, 2:00 P.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

 

 

 

MR. RHODES: Great. Well, thanks, everybody. Always good to be back here at the Foreign Press Center. Glad we could time it before the big game this afternoon, which we’ll all be watching. Actually, this originally showed up on my schedule at 4:30, and that was a problematic time for me. But I wanted to take this opportunity to go through a range of issues that are obviously taking place. I’ll just highlight a couple at the outset and then take your questions.

First of all, our team is en route or about to be en route to Vienna for the next round of negotiations with the P5+1 in Iran with respect to the Iranian nuclear program. We have a July 20th deadline associated with the Joint Plan of Action. To date, we have seen very good progress made in the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action with Iran meeting its commitments to, again, get rid of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, not install new advanced centrifuges, provide for additional transparency, not move forward with the progress of its Arak reactor.

So across the board, we’ve seen good compliance from Iran on its commitments with respect to its nuclear program. And in return we have provided the limited sanctions relief in the Joint Plan of Action.

At the same time, there have been negotiations towards a comprehensive agreement, which was the purpose of this Joint Plan of Action in a period of six months of negotiation. Those have been serious and substantive discussions. At the same time, however, we do have gaps that need to be closed. Our view here is that Iran now has a choice in the coming weeks. They should be able to demonstrate that their program is peaceful. The international community and the P5+1 has made clear that we will respect the right of Iran to have a peaceful nuclear energy program, provided that they can provide confidence and assurance that that program is peaceful; meet their international obligations; allow for the necessary transparency; accept the necessary limits on their nuclear program to provide that assurance.

Thus far, Iran has not taken the steps necessary in this negotiation to provide that assurance. In fact, they’ve been very optimistic in their public comments about reaching agreement, but we are going to need to see them take additional steps in the negotiations for there to be a comprehensive resolution. So we’re hopeful that we can make progress in narrowing those gaps and pursuing that comprehensive resolution, but the Iranian side is going to have to take additional steps that it should be able to take, frankly, if in fact their nuclear program is peaceful. And that will be a key focus of ours in the coming weeks. President Obama has been following the progress of those negotiations closely. This has been a top priority for our Administration, and it will be a focus of ours in, again, the days to come.

I’d just say one additional thing on Iraq, which is that the United States very much welcomes the announcement that Saudi Arabia will be providing $500 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq. Given some of the tensions in recent years, I think this is a significant show of support from Saudi Arabia to the people of Iraq at a very difficult time. Secretary Kerry had very productive discussions with King Abdullah when he was in Saudi Arabia, and again, we see this as a positive step forward.

What we’ve said is all – that the neighbors in the region have a stake in addressing the crisis in Iraq and reducing the tensions inside of Iraq, and also meeting some of the urgent needs, including humanitarian needs of the people of Iraq. So I just wanted to be sure – to make clear that we in the White House very much welcomed that Saudi announcement today.

With that, I’d be happy to take questions. Yeah.

MODERATOR: Before you ask your questions, please wait for the microphone because we’re transcribing, and our friends in New York need to hear this as well. And please identify yourself and your outlets when you ask a question. In New York, if you have questions, please step up to the podium, and we will see you just like we see you now. With that —

MR. RHODES: Great, let’s start over here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ben. Hisham Bourar, Al Hurra TV. What has changed in your assessment of the Syrian opposition to think, or to lead you to think, that with $500 million you will be able to fight the ISIL while they couldn’t withstand the Syrian regime? I mean, these are the same group that – President Obama himself called them a few days ago that they’re a bunch of farmers and teachers and pharmacists.

MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, much has changed in our assessment of the opposition, not just today but over the course of the last several years. What President Obama was saying is at the outset of the Syrian protest against the Assad regime, many of the protesters were not trained fighters. They were ordinary citizens who were standing up and demanding their rights. So that was an assessment he was making – the comments he made the other day – that didn’t apply to the opposition today. It applied to the opposition at the outset of this crisis.

As he indicated, over the course of the last two or three years, we have gotten to know the opposition much better, and we have steadily expanded the types of assistance that we provide for the opposition. That began with humanitarian assistance into Syria. That then led to the provision of nonlethal assistance. And then we announced a little over a year ago that we were going to begin to provide certain types of military assistance to the opposition, including the armed opposition.

So there’s been an evolving assessment and relationship, frankly, that we’ve had with the opposition. And again, it was important for us to develop that relationship, in part so that we knew if we provided certain types of assistance, it would not fall into the wrong hands. Precisely because you have groups like ISIL operating in Syria, we did not want to deal with people that we did not know very well, because frankly the very presence of ISIL shows the risk that if you’re introducing certain types of lethal assistance, that could fall into the wrong hands.

But we very much now have confidence in the people that we are dealing with in terms of the Syrian opposition. The 500 million provides for the funding that could expand the training and equipping of the opposition, but it would also provide new authorities, so that the Department of Defense could conduct this type of support to the opposition. So it would expand, again, both the types of support we provide and also the different authorities under which our government can provide that support.

I think it’s important to note that we see strengthening the Syrian opposition as a goal that relates not just to ISIL but still to the Assad regime. So again, we believe it is important to say that there’s a moderate opposition that we want to get behind. That’s a counterweight to ISIL. But it’s also very much a counterweight to the Assad regime, which has brutalized its own people. And frankly, we believe that the source of the terrorism threat in Syria is not simply ISIL. It’s a regime that, through its own actions, has created a humanitarian crisis which has created space for extremists like ISIL.

If we had the type of political resolution that we’ve been seeking through the Geneva process in which Syrians could have faith in their own government, you would not have the type of ungoverned spaces that ISIL’s taken advantage of. So these are still interconnected problems in which we’re fighting against a terrorist threat, in which ISIL is at the forefront right now, in which we’re supporting a moderate opposition to be a counterweight to that terrorism threat, but also very much we see the need for transition in Syria. Because until Bashar al-Assad leaves power, you’re going to have areas of chaos and violence and instability in the country.

QUESTION: How does that new level of comfort (inaudible) —

MODERATOR: Sir, the microphone.

QUESTION: How does that new level of comfort with the opposition change your opposition to giving them MANPADS, for example?

MR. RHODES: Well, again, we tend not to get into the specifics of different weapon systems. It is the case, though, that our position hasn’t changed with respect to that particular weapons system. We’re constantly reevaluating and assessing what types of assistance can make a difference and balancing that against concerns about proliferation. So again, our position hasn’t changed but it’s something that we evaluate on a regular basis.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Hi. Chen Weihua, China Daily. Thank you. I have a question. The S&ED with China is coming in a week from now. So, I mean, the two countries have been engaged in sort of a more (inaudible) shouting game, probably, people feel in the past months or so. And the kind of Sunnylands spirit people feel is lost. Do you think, I mean, China-U.S. going to get back to the kind of a positive tone leading up to President Obama’s trip to China in November? And also, do you think that there’s going to be a cyber talk after this at the – at the S&ED, after this indictment of five PLA officers? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: So we are optimistic that we can make good progress at the S&ED in terms of practical cooperation between the United States and China. I think when you look back at Sunnylands and you look at the approach we’ve taken from the beginning of President Obama’s administration, and you look at the new model of great power relations put forward by President Xi and President Obama in Sunnylands, it always allowed for the fact that we’re going to have differences. I think the key point has been that the United States and China can have differences, articulate those differences publicly, but still find areas to cooperate. That if we have a difference in one area, it need not derail the entire bilateral relationship, because both of us have so much at stake in that bilateral relationship, and in fact, the world has a lot at stake in that bilateral relationship.

So for instance, we have had differences with China with respect to cyber issues, and the indictments speak to some of the concerns that we have. We’ve had differences over certain territorial disputes and maritime issues in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea.

At the same time, we continue to cooperate through the P5+1 on dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. We continue to have a very broad economic dialogue that has space for areas of agreement and cooperation and then occasional differences. So again, I think there’s an ability for us to find common ground, develop areas of cooperation, even as we’re going to be very – we’re not going to be shy in articulating our differences. So as we look to the S&ED on economic issues, on climate change, on strategic issues, I think there’s good space for dialogue. Part of that dialogue will be both sides, I think, articulating where there are differences.

Cyber – I do think the cyber dialogue will go forward. Again, it’s better that we talk to one another about these issues, have a forum for sharing information, raising concerns, and working through those issues. And so the cyber dialogue that was set up out of the Sunnylands meeting, I think, is an important forum. The S&ED is the right venue for that dialogue to take place. And again, just because we’ve made clear that we’re going to insist that rules and laws are abided by doesn’t mean that we’re not going to explore areas of bridging gaps with China through the dialogue at the S&ED.

QUESTION: Are you sure that there will be cyber talk, or you’re not sure?

MR. RHODES: My expectation is that there’ll be a cyber dialogue, yeah.

We’ll go to New York, take a question from there.

QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli with the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Thank you very much for doing this. I have two short questions. The first one is the Italian Prime Minister Renzi is assuming today the European Union presidency. What do you hope that will do in order to promote policy for economic growth and possibly to finalize the TTIP Treaty?

And the second question is about Israel, the killing of the three boys, the reaction of the Israeli Government. How do you think that will impact the peace process and the already very tense region?

MR. RHODES: Sure. Well, on the first question, let me just say President Obama and Prime Minister Renzi have established, I think, a very good and close working relationship. That was developed on the President’s trip to Italy, a variety of phone calls they’ve had, many of which focused on the crisis in Ukraine but also touched on broader European issues and the program that Prime Minister Renzi is pursuing in Italy. And I think President Obama believes that Prime Minister Renzi has brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the project of governance, not just in Italy but in Europe. And one of the things that they spoke about is the need to, again, revitalize the trans-Atlantic alliance. And part of revitalizing the trans-Atlantic alliance is, again, our encouragement of Europe to play an assertive role in resolving both regional issues like the crisis in Ukraine, but also serving as a global partner with the United States.

So I think as we look to the Italian presidency, clearly on the economic side we have supported policies within Europe that promote growth, that recognize that there’s going to be a need for fiscal consolidation and austerity in certain places, but at the same time that if we’re not catalyzing growth, ultimately you’re not going to have the type of job creation and generation of revenue that is going to be in service of the global economy as well as dealing with issues like unemployment in Europe. So I think we would support Italy’s focus on growth within the Euro zone, even as, again, they’ll work with other partners in Europe to address fiscal concerns as well.

I think on the broader agenda, clearly Ukraine is going to continue to be a focus of our relationship with the European Union. And that hopefully can lead to a firming of support for the Ukrainian people as they seek to build on the progress of their election and their new government, but also sending a clear signal to Russia that ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity will have to bring additional consequences. And we’ll coordinate closely with Italy bilaterally and within Europe in that respect.

On the second question, first of all, our hearts go out to the families of the three teenagers who were found killed yesterday. As the President said, it’s just a heartbreaking tragedy to lose three young people like that. We want to continue to support Israel in trying to find those perpetrators and bring them to justice. We believe that that is done effectively with cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and so we’ll continue to encourage that cooperation as well.

At the same time, we also have made clear that there does need to be restraint on both sides so that we don’t see a further destabilization of the situation, that we can focus on the issue of terrorism. There can be a focus on bringing, obviously, these perpetrators to justice. But at the same time, there has to be an avoidance of steps that can further inflame tensions. And that’s the type of policy that we’re going to continue to encourage going forward: one that again focuses on counterterrorism, bringing perpetrators to justice, but again avoids further destabilization on either side. Because ultimately, the parties are going to have to work together to address both these very pressing security issues – as we recently saw with this tragic incident – and also, ultimately, the pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Well, we’ll go here, and then down right here.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I have a question about Iraq. My name’s Wei Xujiao from China Central Television. So as we know, the United States has increased military presence in Iraq recently, and indications show Iran and Syria also trying to support Iraq Government to solving this problem. So do you think – how do you evaluate their actions, and do you think this will push Barack Obama Administration to work with Iran and Syria in Iraq crisis? What is the next step in solving Iraq crisis? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. So we believe that a big part of the challenge in Iraq today is because of the ongoing tensions between different communities inside of Iraq, sectarian tensions that have come from a failure to bridge different divides in terms of how governance is implemented in Iraq, and a need for every community in Iraq – whether they be Sunni or Shia or Kurd or Christian – to be invested in the future of Iraq. In the absence of an inclusive government and in the absence of inclusive security forces, we believe there’s going to continue to be tensions. ISIL is obviously taking advantage of those tensions.

The reason that is related to your question is because if Syria and Iran are intervening inside of Iraq, that really is only going to feed those sectarian tensions. I don’t think anybody would expect Syrian or Iranian intervention, particularly military intervention, to be in service of all of Iraq’s communities. I think it would be and has been perceived as favoring one community over others, and frankly not just one community, but subsets within that community. That’s why we would not encourage or welcome or cooperate with in any way Iranian and Syrian military intervention inside of Iraq.

What we would say to all the neighbors is that if you have an interest in reducing tensions inside of Iraq, that you should be encouraging inclusive governance. And frankly, here Iran could play a role in using their influence to encourage an inclusive process of government formation. Because it’s not in Iran’s interests for there to be this type of vacuum in the Sunni areas that ISIL has taken advantage of, that Iran should not be feeding sectarian politics inside of Iraq. Because frankly, that is only, again, going to bring greater instability which, ultimately, is not in any of the neighbors’ interests. So our message to Iran is the same message that we would send all the neighbors, which is let’s support an inclusive politics inside of Iraq. And again, today we welcome the fact that the Saudis stepped up, and through their provision of assistance, I think, are sending a signal that now is the time for countries to look at this with a sense of urgency and try to invest in a different type of process going forward.

Andrei, yeah. Just because I’m sanctioned doesn’t mean that you and I can’t have a dialogue. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Thank you to our friends at the FPC, as well as congratulations on the U.S. national team’s success, and wishing every success in the coming match.

President Putin was speaking to the Russian ambassadors today, so all points from him. First, he says we are not shutting down, we have no intention to shut down our relations with the U.S. These relations are seriously important for the world. My question: Is the U.S. still interested in a further convergence with Russia, or is it diverging – on a diverging course?

Second point from him: blackmail against French and their banks. He says this is done specifically to prevent the French from selling Mistrals to Russia.

Thirdly, and importantly for all journalists, recently – yesterday, a Russian journalist was killed in Ukraine, a third one, a colleague. This is a tragedy that should stop. Putin claims that this seems like deliberate targeting of journalists. What can you say about that? Thanks.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. On the – let me just take the third question first. We absolutely condemn the targeting of journalists, and our hearts very much go out to the Russian journalists who have been killed or harmed in Ukraine. We believe that journalists deserve special protection, and that the ability of the journalists to cover events is fundamental to what the United States stands for around the world. So again, our thoughts are with the family of that journalist and all of the Russian and other journalists, frankly, who’ve been harmed inside of Ukraine.

On your first question, Andrei, we very much want to work with Russia where we can. I think it’s important to note that even throughout this very difficult period, President Obama and President Putin have determined to stay in touch with one another. The ability of the two of them to speak very candidly to one another is important. It allows for space for diplomacy and hopefully a reduction of tensions in Ukraine going forward. And President Obama coordinates very closely with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande and Prime Minister Renzi and Prime Minister Cameron as well in their discussions with President Putin. So on Ukraine specifically, we have had very significant differences with Russia, as you know. But we believe that we always need to keep that door open to diplomacy.

More broadly, we have been cooperating with Russia through the P5+1. They have an important role to play in that process and insisting that nonproliferation is upheld as a fundamental international norm. And so if you look at the fact that we’ll be at the table of this negotiation, it’s important that Russia stand with the rest of the international community in insisting that Iran meet its obligations.

So there are going to be areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia, but we’re going to have differences. And I think those differences have grown, obviously most acute over Ukraine. But they’re rooted not in any desire by the United States to seek out punishment for Russia. It’s rooted in our belief that nations should be able to make their own decisions, whether it’s Ukraine or Moldova or any other country. People should have the ability to make determinations about their own future, who they want to associate with. And that’s what’s guided our Ukraine policy throughout this whole process.

And Russia has in the past, I think, been an advocate for the notion of state sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our point is that that has to apply in all neighborhoods, including in Eastern Europe.

And your second question, Andrei, was —

QUESTION: Mistral.

MR. RHODES: Mistral. Well, look, the settlement with the French bank was – that’s, as you know, something that’s handled by our Justice Department. We don’t politically interfere in that. It is important to note, however, that our concerns about the potential French sale on Mistral is separate from that case. And that’s, frankly, more an expression of a political concern that this is not the right time, given events in Ukraine, to move forward with that type of defense agreement. So that’s actually not related to a specific U.S. sanction that’s in place. It’s more related to the fact that this is not an opportune time to move forward with that type of defense transaction given ongoing events in Ukraine. So we would separate those two issues out.

We’ll take one from New York there.

QUESTION: Hello. This is Edvard Zitnik, Slovenian public television. Last week when Russian foreign minister’s visit to Slovenia was announced – I think he’s coming to Ljubljana the 8th of July – American Embassy in Ljubljana expressed kind of concern. They said that the timing of the visit is not the best. Could you elaborate on that? Obviously, United States are not very happy with the visit – foreign minister to Slovenia.

MR. RHODES: Well, sure. I think as a general matter, we have sought to make very clear that the United States and Europe are most effective in dealing with the situation in Ukraine and resolving tensions in Ukraine when we are standing united and sending a very strong message to Russia that we are united against any incursions into Ukraine, against any violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the continued activity of separatists. And we believe support for those separatists coming from Russia has been a concern. So we do want a united front with our European allies.

Clearly, obviously, again, Russia has relations in Europe and those will be ongoing, and we’ve had ongoing conversations with Foreign Minister Lavrov as relates to diplomatic efforts on Ukraine and other issues. Again, I think our baseline has been we also, though, need to be in close coordination and we need to be sending a common message to Russia in all of our discussions. And so that’s the type of policy that we’ll continue to encourage. And again, that’s not one that closes the door to any type of communication with Russia. It’s just one that says that we need to be sending the same message.

Yeah, we’ll go right here.

QUESTION: Thank you again. This is Sumiki Mori from Fuji TV. This is about Japan. What is the White House reaction to the Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s reinterpretation of constitution to allow collective self-defense? Considering the reaction of China and South Korea, are you worried about any effect this might have in relations in Asia? And also with this collective self-defense, what is U.S. expecting Japan to do beyond what they do already? Thank you so much.

MR. RHODES: Well, President Obama discussed this issue with Prime Minister Abe when he was in Japan, and the United States very much welcomes the steps that Japan has taken forward with respect to collective self-defense. And President Obama’s been very supportive of his policy, of Prime Minister Abe’s. Again, we believe it’s part of the continued maturation of our alliance and it opens the door to additional cooperation. And when you look at issues such as Japan’s support for peacekeeping efforts around the world or their commitment to regional security and stability in Asia, I think this policy creates space for Japan to play an even greater role as a security partner of the United States and as a country that upholds international order.

With respect to the neighbors, I think what we’d encourage Japan to do is to be very transparent about its policies, be very clear about what they mean and what they don’t mean. We would welcome their continued efforts to engage in diplomatic consultations with the neighbors to have those discussions, particularly the Republic of Korea. So we support Japanese efforts to engage in diplomacy to make clear what this new policy means, and again, to have a degree of transparency around it so that there are no misunderstandings.

And again, we very much believe that in terms of the region, the United States wants our allies to get along. So we very much want to see Japan and the Republic of Korea to continue dialogue to address not just collective self-defense but also some of the issues around historical tensions that have emerged in recent months.

But again, bottom line is the White House welcomes the Japanese announcement and the policy of collective self-defense, believes that if it’s pursued in a transparent fashion in consultation with neighbors in the region that that can reduce misunderstanding and tensions and contribute, ultimately, to the stability and security of the Asia Pacific region.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

Yeah.

QUESTION: What does the U.S. even expect Japan to do more beyond what they are doing right now?

MR. RHODES: Well, I think that’ll be an ongoing process. Again, I think Japanese contributions to international security efforts – peacekeeping and other international efforts to uphold rules and norms – I think there is space for Japan to be a positive contributor in that respect. And then again, I think in the Asia Pacific we’ve had a security dialogue, obviously through our alliance. We know Japan has had increasing dialogue with other partners in the region.

And I think we’ll have to evaluate as this policy’s implemented what it means in practice. I think what people need to understand is it doesn’t mean Japan is going to engage in any destabilizing activity. I think it means that Japan is going to be better able to invest in the types of international cooperation that supports stability. So that’s why we think it’s a positive step forward. We’ll continue to discuss with them in practice what it means on everything from exercises to support for international efforts beyond Japan’s borders.

We’ll go to – just want to move around regions here – so the gentleman behind you there. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks a lot. Can you talk a little bit about NATO, the summit is coming in Wales. And what about open doors policy? I know you always say that we support open door policy and everything, but can you tell us more information about maybe position of Montenegro, Macedonia? By the way, I’m Ivica Puljic from Al Jazeera Balkans. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Well, I think every summit we obviously review the progress of partner nations. We have an open door policy. I think if you look at countries like Georgia and Montenegro, they are making good progress in terms of their own plans. And so I think the upcoming summit is an opportunity for the alliance to sit down with different countries, including Montenegro, including Georgia and other aspirants, and to review the progress they’ve made in cooperation with NATO in figuring out how they can further build their relations with the alliance and figure out what the pathway potentially is to NATO membership.

So this is something that, again, there’s a very clear process for. And we expect it to certainly be a topic leading into the summit in September and a topic at future NATO summits as well. And we want to encourage nations to stay on that track and ultimately their people will – their militaries and their governments will have to make the steps necessary to complete the process of their membership action plans, and their own publics will have to make their own decisions about whether or not to join the alliance. So this is an ongoing process of cooperation, but again, we’ve had good progress in recent months and years in Montenegro and expect that to be the case going forward.

QUESTION: Will you do the same for Macedonia? I’m sorry, I ask you for Macedonia also.

MR. RHODES: Yeah, yeah – no. All the aspirants. I mean, I think everybody is at the table in this conversation, and there are different stages. So I think we recognize that some nations are further along than others, but our goal is to have capable partners of NATO and to make clear to those partners that there’s an open door, but that that involves an extended process so that, again, states are taking every step necessary to come into consistency with both the alliance practices, but then also to have their publics express the determination to join as well.

We’ll go over here, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Atushi Okudera from Asahi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper. Nice to see you again. I’d like to ask – my question was almost covered by my friend, but let me ask about – on China. As you say, there are lots of differences between United States and China. One year has passed since the last Sunnylands, but lots of things, including declaration of the ADIZ and the maritime dispute in South China Sea and East China Sea, lots of things happened. So – and at the same time, the West Point speech – President Obama concerned about the aggression in South China Sea. So my question is: How would you in the United States raise these concerns to the Chinese leader this time in the S&ED next week in Beijing?

I know the United States always urge Chinese leader to resolve dispute peacefully and they should follow the international law. But how the United States, then – the Chinese leader understand the importance of the international law? What is the strategy to solve these maritime disputes for the United States? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Well again, I think, clearly, issues associated with territorial disputes, maritime security, have been a key focus not just in our bilateral conversations with China, but in the region more generally. And the principles we apply to that are consistent to whatever country’s involved, which is we don’t want nations to try to resolve those disputes through coercion. There are established international legal means for resolving those disputes. There are negotiations underway around code of conduct to avoid unnecessary escalation, between, for instance, China and ASEAN countries. And this will certainly be a topic at the S&ED given how much it is a leading topic in the region.

And our point is simply that we don’t want to see a process where a big nation – a bigger nation can bully a smaller one to get its way on a territorial dispute. We want to see an understanding of what the international legal basis is for resolving claims and what the process is in the region for avoiding tensions. So I think we’ll make very clear the same points that President Obama made throughout his trip to Asia.

With respect to the U.S. and China, though, I think it’s also important that we have our own military-to-military dialogue because we, too, want to avoid an inadvertent escalation or a misunderstanding. So we’ve sought to introduce greater transparency between our own militaries and greater lines of communication.

And ultimately, that’s the type of dynamic we’d like to see in the region, where countries are able to work together, again, to avoid miscalculation, to avoid a confrontation that neither side is seeking, and to find peaceful means of addressing problems, whether it be arbitration, for instance, as the Philippines has pursued, or other means of resolving claims. The United States is not a claimant, but we do have an interest, obviously, in the free flow of commerce and in the stability of the region.

So it’ll be a topic at the S&ED, one among many, and I think you can expect that will continue to be a topic in our conversation with all the countries in the Asia Pacific region given how much it’s at the forefront right now.

Yeah, we’ll go here.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Wada. I am with Japan’s Mainichi newspaper. Thank you very much for doing this. Kind of quick follow up to the Japanese Government decision to allow the use of – the right to collective self-defense. There’s a sizeable opposition inside the Japanese public about this government move. How would you address that kind of opposition inside the Japanese society? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Well, we understand that there’s clearly very deeply held views inside of Japan about these issues. That’s a process for the Japanese people to determine. We respect the fact that Japan has democratic institutions and a very vibrant press, as is on display here today. And so we would not want to put ourselves in the middle of an internal debate inside of Japan. We’d expect there to be differences of opinion about any policy that a democratic government pursues. That’s certainly the case here.

In terms of our alliance, I think what we can make clear to the Japanese people is we welcome Japan playing a growing role in terms of supporting international peace and security and contributing to the U.S.-Japan bilateral alliance. That’s a sign of the progress that we’ve made over the last several decades. And so I think what we would make clear is that we believe that this is good, potentially, for our alliance, which has been very much in the interest of the U.S. and Japan, and I’d argue in the interest of the region. I mean, the network of U.S. alliances has provided the environment in which many nations have thrived and prospered.

And so again, we’ll fully respect the internal Japanese debate. We’ll look to the leaders and democratic institutions of Japan to sort through that debate, and we will continue to look for ways to mature our own alliance because we believe it’s so profoundly important to the United States and in our own interest.

Yeah, we’ll go to the gentleman there.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Jane Bojadzievski, Voice of America. I have a question regarding the NATO enlargement, the same one. NATO insists that its open door policy remains. However, it doesn’t seem that the new members who were received at this year’s summit in Wales. Still, does the U.S. plan to pressure European allies in NATO to extend membership to Macedonia, Montenegro, and Georgia? Does giving them support that Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia received in light of the situation in Ukraine? Thank you very much.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. Look, I don’t think it’s a matter of pressure from the United States. NATO is an alliance. We make – we take decisions together, so inherently there is a collective nature to NATO decision-making. I think what we would say to our European allies is there’s a very clear process. Everybody knows what the steps are that are necessary in terms of military modernization, in terms of alliance interoperability, in terms of enhanced cooperation with NATO. And everybody should have the opportunity to – who has, again, a membership action plan and is an aspirant, to participate in that process and to be judged on the basis of their progress. And at the point in time in which I think nations can demonstrate that they’ve fully gone through that process and are a good candidate for membership and have the public’s support for taking that step, the alliance has an obligation through its open door policy to take that seriously.

But that takes time. There’s a reason that NATO is the best and strongest alliance that we’ve had in history, and the reason is that there’s a very high standard of membership and there are very strong commitments that come with membership. So it’s natural that there be an extended period in which nations work through those issues.

So this will be addressed at the summit, but I think people should know the United States has always demonstrated not just in its words but in its deeds that there is an open door to NATO membership, and that’s certainly the – continues to be the case with all the aspirants. And that’s what we’d say to our European allies, that we as an alliance have committed to an open door, committed to nations that, if they work through this process, that there is a pathway for them.

However, we’re in alliance; we take decisions together. There’s a standard that needs to be met, and we can all work through our view of how far nations have come and how much farther they need to go to meet that standard.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. Ben, on the occasion of the presidential inauguration in Panama, Secretary Kerry is said to be having a chance encounter or informal meeting with President Ma of Taiwan. What is the significance of this meeting to U.S.-Taiwan relations? And also, could you also comment on the Taiwan’s aspirations for inclusion in the TPP negotiations at an early date? Thank you very much.

MR. RHODES: I don’t have the latest on Secretary Kerry’s engagements to Panama, to be honest, so I – we’d have to check on whether or not they did have an interaction. I mean, the fact is that in the international fora that Taiwan participates in it’s not uncommon for us to have interaction with Taiwan. We obviously have very close economic and defense ties with Taiwan that are important to the United States, and even as we have a one China policy we very much look to reaffirm our commitment to those longstanding political, economic, and defense ties with Taiwan. So I would imagine that that would be the nature of any exchange that takes place.

On TPP, I think we’re focused on the current negotiation, which is very much entering an endgame with the current participants in TPP. So I wouldn’t want to go beyond that in terms of potential participation. We have – in APEC, for instance, we have a forum to coordinate with Taiwan on economic issues. I think right now, we’re focused on getting TPP done, which is proving hard enough. And again, we have other venues through which we can cooperate with Taiwan economically.

Yes, the lady back there.

QUESTION: Claudia Trevisan from the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de Sao Paolo. I have two questions, the first regarding Iraq. I’d like to know in which condition – which kind of conditions would trigger military action from the U.S. against the ISIL in Iraq?

And the other one regarding Latin America, Argentina. Argentina is now facing the risk of an involuntary or technical default because of decision of the American justice. Has the Argentinean Government in any way approached the Administration? Has the President Kirchner talked with President Obama? And what kind of solution do you think it’s possible in this case? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: So on your first question, we – President Obama has been very clear that there’s not a U.S. military solution that can be imposed on the current dynamic in Iraq. Actually, the fact of the matter is that even a very extended, nearly nine-year U.S. military engagement wasn’t going to force Iraq’s political leadership to govern in an inclusive way. Ultimately, these are challenges that the Iraqis need to settle themselves, and that starts with forming an inclusive government, and then that includes committing to inclusive security forces that all of Iraq’s communities can have confidence in.

But the United States has a role to play in a number of different ways. First, we’re going to continue to provide training and assistance and equipment to that Iraqi security force. And our assessment teams are on the ground. The up to 300 advisors that President Obama announced, they are looking at ways in which we can better provide support to the Iraqi Government in their fight against ISIL. Our joint operation centers that we’ve – we are establishing with the Iraqis will help support their efforts to coordinate operations against ISIL as well. But those are Iraqi operations, ultimately.

In terms of additional U.S. military action, President Obama again made clear that while he has not ordered any military action, he reserves the right to do so as necessary. I think the threats that we would look to, for instance, would include an evaluation of whether ISIL is posing a threat to U.S. interests that would necessitate our taking action against them, as we have against terrorist organizations in other parts of the region. I think the security and safety of our personnel would certainly be of profound interest to the United States. And we’ve deployed additional military resources to provide for the security of our Embassy in Baghdad and our personnel in Iraq as well.

Again, ultimately, that’s a core interest of the United States: the security of our people, counterterrorism. And I’d add keeping that Embassy open and keeping our operations running in Iraq is what facilitates our ability to cooperate with the Iraqi Government and provide them with security assistance and political support.

So we’re going to be very deliberate in making any decisions about direct U.S. military action. We have left that door open if we believe it can make a difference, a positive difference, or if we believe that it is in our core interest to do so because we face a counterterrorism threat or a threat to our personnel. But ultimately, this has to be an Iraqi-led solution, and that’s why we’re focused, above all, on supporting a urgent and inclusive government formation process and training and equipping of Iraqi security forces.

On Argentina, I don’t have any particular engagements in the White House to read out. I know we are obviously engaged with Argentina through the State Department and other departments of the U.S. Government, but President Obama has not had recent conversations with the president of Argentina about these issues, although they have obviously seen each other at the G20. Again, I think that we believe that this is not simply a bilateral matter, that there are established mechanisms for Argentina to address its own financial commitments, and it’s going to be necessary for Argentina to do so to have the full confidence of the international community and to have their economy on a stable footing.

That’s of interest to the United States. That’s of interest to the region in countries like Brazil that have very deep trading relationships with Argentina. So we’ll encourage Argentina to resolve these issues, to meet their obligations. But I don’t have a particular engagement with President Obama to read out.

QUESTION: Like, is there a concern that this might affect other countries that, in the future, might face difficulties in paying their debt and having difficulties in restructuring it?

MR. RHODES: Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve learned a lot in the last 10 or 20 years about financial crises in different countries, and we’ve learned both how to address and contain those crises and try to – and also how to try to support countries as they seek to get back on a sound fiscal footing. So there’s always a concern when you see countries facing the type of fiscal difficulties that Argentina has faced.

But there is a wealth of knowledge to draw from in looking at how different countries have addressed fiscal crises, and there’s a lot of tools in the international community, frankly, and expertise to draw from in seeking to resolve those issues. So we believe that if countries have the political will to take difficult steps, it is possible to again put a firmer foundation underneath a fiscal crisis, and that’s what we’ve consistently encouraged Argentina to do.

MODERATOR: Unfortunately, we only have time for —

MR. RHODES: We’ll take a couple more, yeah.

MODERATOR: — a couple more, there you go.

MR. RHODES: So let me just move around here, though. So —

QUESTION: Egypt?

MR. RHODES: We’ll take an Egypt question. Yeah, sure. (Laughter.) We’ve – yeah, and then – we’ll take three more questions. We’ll take three more questions.

QUESTION: This is Thomas —

MR. RHODES: Don’t think that that’s the way to get a question. I just – I’ve not taken any Egyptian questions. (Laughter.) I always look for an opportunity to talk about Egypt.

QUESTION: Thomas Gorguissian with Al Tahrir Egyptian daily newspaper.

MR. RHODES: Yes.

QUESTION: The question is related to Egypt and the tense relation that it’s leaving now with United States and regarding the partnership, that strategic partnership you are always mentioning it. What is done or has to be done from your perspective, from your side and the other side, to improve the relation?

MR. RHODES: Yeah.

QUESTION: This is first one. The second one related. Beginning of August, the United States-Africa Leadership Summit is going to take place. Is President Sisi of Egypt is going to attend it? Do you extend your invitation to him or what?

MR. RHODES: So on your first question, yes, the United States has a strategic partnership with Egypt, and President Obama discussed that partnership with President Sisi. I’d say a couple things, though. We recently made some certifications in terms of Egypt’s compliance, for instance, with its – with a range of its obligations, including some of the strategic interests that we share. And so as we look at the U.S.-Egypt relationship, we obviously have an interest in the continued peace treaty with Israel, in terms of regional security, counterterrorism issues. And that’s why you’ve seen us maintain a degree of cooperation and a relationship with Egypt on the security side.

But we did not make the certification on the progress towards democracy. And in terms of what we need to see, I think we have consistently pointed to a number of different issues that are of concern to us. Number one, it is outrageous that these Al Jazeera journalists are still in prison in Egypt. There is no basis for detaining them. You can’t lock people up just for reporting the news, even if you don’t like it. And so we believe that there needs to be a resolution to those cases, and that the notion that there’s a judicial system that overrides any ability to deal with that challenge is one that we just don’t accept, because the fact is there’s no demonstrable crime of which these people are guilty of.

And again, Egypt clearly has a vibrant media environment, and lots of voices have been raised in Egypt over the last two or three years. That’s part of what has brought us to where we are today. In that spirit, we’d like to see respect for independent media, and I think the clearest indication of that would be the release of those journalists.

I think more broadly, even as we’ve seen an election held, there are still concerning detentions of different political activists, including, for instance, not just members of the Freedom and Justice Party, but some of the secular activists who actually supported the removal of the Morsy government. Some of them, I think, have been confronted with harassment and detention, so we’d like to see that type of action come to an end.

And I think more broadly, just see that there’s a pathway towards a truly inclusive Egyptian democracy. Yes, Egypt needs strong leadership from President Sisi. Yes, the Egyptian military is an incredibly important institution within Egypt. But at the same time, the long-term stability and success of Egypt is going to depend upon all of Egyptians being able to express their views freely and to participate in the political process freely. If we see Egypt moving in that direction, I think it broadens our ability to fully restore our assistance relationship and deepen that strategic partnership.

And it’s very important to note that that’s what we want. We want Egypt to succeed. We want the United States to have a full and robust assistance relationship. And in fact, we have been looking at ways that we could increase it through things like enterprise funds and support for education. But it’s hard for us to do that if we don’t see progress in some of these other areas that get at kind of core universal rights that, frankly, the Egyptian people so clearly demanded a number of years ago.

So we believe there’s a good platform for cooperation, that we’re better off when we cooperate. The strategic relationship is in place with President Sisi and the Egyptian Government, but we would like to see a broader and deeper partnership, frankly, between the U.S. and Egypt. And I think that can come about if we see progress in some of the specific areas that I mentioned.

On the summit, I don’t – this was an initial determination made based upon the fact that Egypt was not in full standing with the African Union. So as that process works through the African Union, I think we’ll make determinations about invitations. I don’t think we’ve made those yet. But – so that’s something that we’ll be making a decision about here in the coming days in conversation with the African Union.

But again, it’s important to note we want this relationship to succeed. At some cost to the United – to – look, it hasn’t been easy for us to, at times, defend the sustainment of this relationship through the various ups and downs that have taken place. The reason that we’ve maintained the relationship is because it is so important to us. Egypt is important to the United States. The Egyptian people are important to us. And we believe that cutting the cord on that relationship would be a bad thing, not just for our strategic interests but, frankly, for our – the values that we want to see that the Egyptian people have stood up for. So we’ve maintained that connection, but again, there’s a much broader horizon that can be reached, much broader cooperation that can be achieved if we see Egypt take some of these concrete steps.

Yeah. This gentleman here.

QUESTION: Lukman Ahmed, BBC Arabic here from Washington. I have couple of question on Sudan. First, I will take you to Darfur. It’s – there are 2 million people for more than 10 years staying in refugee camp after the war in Darfur in 2003. The report from the UN shows that the situation there is very dire and people are dying every day because of hunger and disease after the Sudanese Government expelled the international organization and helped them out of the country. What is your – and right now, reportedly some of these refugees are getting back home. What is your strategy dealing with these refugees? Are you supporting staying there with the status quo in the refugee camps or trying to do more action that will have a solution so these people can go back home?

And the second question is we know that Mariam Yehya is in the U.S. Embassy, and so they are trying to get her to the United State of America. Your government is negotiating with the Sudanese Government her exit. Any progress on that? What are the problems that preventing her to get out till now? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Yeah, I don’t have the specific progress report on that. I do know that the State Department is providing her with all of the support that they can and – her and her husband, for that matter. And this is an ongoing discussion with the Sudanese Government. Obviously, we were outraged by the charges against her. We believe that she needs to be released and have the freedom to make her own determinations about her future. But State is best positioned to talk about the current status of negotiations.

With respect to Darfur and the refugee camps, I think there have been a number of things that we would encourage. First of all, there needs to be full access for international organizations, NGOs, to the refugee camps and to some of these more difficult areas in and around Darfur. At times we’ve seen limits placed on that type of access. We want the international community to be able to provide full support both to those who are in camps and to those who are seeking to resettle. And so essentially, the message to the Sudanese Government is that they need to cooperate fully with the international community, including different aid organizations in the UN to allow for that access and to help – to let the international community help people who are in need both in the camps and people who are seeking to resettle.

At the same time, there needs to be a follow-through on all the commitments that the government has made in terms about respecting the rights of minority populations, in terms of cracking down on acts and incidents of violence against vulnerable populations. And so that’s something that we’ve seen, frankly, there be a very mixed record on. At times there is cooperation; at times it slips back. And I think the point is that there needs to be a sustained focus on ensuring peace in this area, in terms of cracking down and holding accountable those who commit acts of violence against civilians, at the same time that, again, there’s an effort that allows the international community to support these vulnerable populations.

So this has been an ongoing focus of the United States and the international community for years, and ultimately the measure of success is only going to be when people are allowed to live without fear, to return home or resettle to places that they so choose, and to not have the type of threat of violence that has hung over them for so long.

I’ll take one more question. Yes, so the woman there. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Patty Culhane, Al Jazeera English. You’ve repeatedly called for both sides to show restraint, Israel and Palestine. Do you feel the Israelis are showing restraint right now? And you also mentioned earlier that you were trying to help Israel find the perpetrators. What exactly is the U.S. doing in that role?

MR. RHODES: Well, on the second question, the – frankly, we’ve just offered to provide whatever assistance we can. And —

QUESTION: Did they accept it?

MR. RHODES: Yeah, they’ve accepted, but at the same time, in their own neighborhood, they tend to have substantial intelligence resources and law enforcement resources. But insofar as we have any information, we are going to share that with them. We have had a dialogue with their security officials, for instance, so this has been a topic of discussion in terms of seeking to determine whether we can provide any additional support on the intelligence and law enforcement side. But they have, again, tended to have the clearest understanding of what is taking place when it pertains to issues in their immediate environment.

On your first question, look, I think Israel clearly has a very deeply held belief that they need to provide for the security of their citizens. And when you have three teenagers who are abducted and killed, there has to be a response and that there has to be an effort to find those responsible and bring them to justice. And there has to be an understanding in the Palestinian leadership that there should be cooperation with Israel in those efforts. And President Abbas has, I think, made very constructive statements to that end in offering the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority. But Israel needs to be very careful to not be so heavy-handed in its response that they’re further destabilizing the situation, and they need to respect the dignity of the Palestinian people. And so that’s what we’ll continue to urge going forward, and ultimately that’s what’s going to be in their best interests.

MODERATOR: Do you want to take a follow-up?

MR. RHODES: Sure.

QUESTION: I have just one quick follow.

MR. RHODES: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are launching airstrikes an attempt to find the perpetrators?

MR. RHODES: Well, I won’t get into tactical advice to the Israelis. I mean, clearly some of those are related to rocket fire from Gaza. But no, I mean, I think generally they should be precise and they should not cast a net that harms innocent Palestinians in their actions.

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