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Synopsis on President Obama’s Strategy to Degrade and Destroy ISIS

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On the evening before the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, President Barack Obama outlined his strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. He started his speech by noting that while terrorism can be mitigated, it cannot be totally eliminated. Transitioning to ISIS, he described the organization as not being “Islamic” and not being a state. The President then noted what makes ISIS so unique – its sheer brutality, its ability to hold territory, and its attraction for foreign fighters. Then, he described current American foreign policy actions against ISIS, including airstrikes against the terrorist group in Iraq and building coalitions with partners in the Middle East. Thus, the Commander-and-Chief described the previous actions of the U.S. against ISIS in Iraq.

The President then pushed a new initiative, “a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy,” in the Middle East. He subdivided this strategy into four parts. The first part of the plan is to “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes” against ISIS in Iraq and now Syria. The next part is to increase military support for the Syrian opposition. He also authorized the deployment of 475 more troops to Iraq to build up their forces, raising the total number of American military personnel there to 1,600 troops. The third part of the strategy is to employ threat mitigation techniques to detect and to deter ISIS attacks on the U.S. Homeland. The final part of the plan is to provide humanitarian aid to displaced persons in Iraq and Syria. President Obama emphasized that this plan had international support as well as bipartisan support in Congress. Thus, the strategy President Obama outlined had four parts – airstrikes against ISIS, military support for the Syrian opposition, counterterrorism to protect the U.S. Homeland, and providing humanitarian aid for civilians.

President Obama concluded his speech by attempting to strengthen the U.S.’s morale for as sustained counterterrorism campaign. The Commander-and-Chief then vowed any action in Syria or Iraq would “not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”  He then noted his multilateral approach stating, “Use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges.” He then noted the history of 9/11 and the Great Recession, but then noted America is still a leader on the global stage – including that America “rallied the World against Russian aggression,” led the struggle in containing Ebola, and removed Syrian WMDs. He concluded the speech with the motivating words, “Our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead.” President Obama sought to rally the crowd by portraying ISIS as an expanding evil while stressing America’s role in the international community.

The speech was commendable in seeks to degrade and destroy ISIS; however, several key actors and factors were ignored. President Obama did not mention the Kurds or the peshmerga at all, and they are responsible shareholders in a multiethnic Iraq’s future. Furthermore, 20,000 foreign fighters have or are currently fighting in Syria. Of these 20,000, 100 fighters are American passport holders. Of these 100, at least a dozen are fighting for ISIS. These foreign fighters can easily become terrorists, and need to be monitored and tracked. Additionally, ISIS has executed Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, causing me to question whether the American government has reviewed its policy of hostage negotiations with terrorists. Another point of concern is over whether the U.S. – specifically the CDC – has the resources to deal with an ISIS biological attack in the form of the bubonic plague – as files were retrieved from an ISIS computer suggesting a cell was looking into using this technique. While the change of strategy in Syria and Iraq will be more proactive in countering ISIS, it is not enough to guarantee the safety of the American Homeland.

Obama’s CT Speech on ISIS


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Thoughts on the speech:

  • No mention of the Kurds / peshmerga
  • 12,000 foreign fights HAVE or ARE fighting in Syria – hard to detect / deter due to porous borders (Turkey/Saudi Arabia)
  • Shiite troops will not tolerate Sunni civil guard units
  • Degrading and Destroying ISIS – will take years / decades

“My fellow Americans – tonight, I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL – which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists – Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region – including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then, we have conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That’s why I’ve insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.

Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.

First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work – and Iraq has formed a government – we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission – we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.

Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.

Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into – and out of – the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.

Fourth, we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.

This is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity, and in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom; and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.

My Administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved – especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.

My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back – America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.

Our technology companies and universities are unmatched; our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day – and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny. It is America – our scientists, our doctors, our know-how – that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people – or the world – again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia – from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East – we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding. Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform – pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and service-members who support our partners on the ground.

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said. “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety – our own security – depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for – timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Defense Department Briefing on Iraq, Somalia, Ukraine

 U.S. Marines with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), rappel out of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter during a fast rope and rappel training exercise aboard the USS Bataan. (Sgt. Alisa J. Helin)

“U.S. Department of Defense
Arlington, Virginia

September 2, 2014

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby

September 02, 2014

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Afternoon everybody. A couple of things to open up. First, I know we’ve all seen press reporting about the potential murder by ISIL of Mr. Sotloff. I don’t have anything to confirm it today. Obviously, we’re monitoring as best we can, and our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the Sotloff family, who has endured incredible hardship and suffering just by virtue of his captivity and being held hostage, but I can’t confirm those press reports right now.

Number two, I know that you’ve all been tracking events in Somalia last night. So if you’ll just bear with me, I’m going to walk you through what I can right now. Yesterday, at approximately 11:20 Eastern Time, working from actionable intelligence, U.S. special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft destroyed an encampment and a vehicle using several Hellfire missiles and laser-guided munitions.

This operation was a direct strike against the Al-Shabaab network, specifically the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi al-Muhammad, also known Ahmed Godane. We are still assessing the results of the operation, and we’ll provide additional information when and if appropriate. And I’m not going to be able to provide specifics about the unit or the intelligence itself, and certainly not anything regarded to tactics, techniques and procedures.

The operation occurred south of Mogadishu, located in south-central Somalia, and it did result in the destruction of that vehicle. I think it’s important to remind everybody that in September 2013, Godane publicly claimed Al-Shabaab was responsible for the Westgate Mall attack, which killed and injured dozens in Nairobi.

Under the leadership of Godane, Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for many bombings, including suicide attacks in Mogadishu and in central and northern Somalia, typically targeting officials and perceived allies of the federal government of Somalia, as well as the former transitional federal government of Somali.

A militant wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, Al-Shabaab has occupied most of southern Somalia since 2006 and claimed responsibility for the deaths of numerous government officials, aid workers, peace activists, and journalists. Named a foreign terrorist organization by the Department of State in February 2008, Al-Shabaab has conducted terrorist activities in the region that have resulted in the loss of much innocent life.

They’ve also continued to plan plots targeting westerners, including U.S. personnel in East Africa. In recent months, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Djibouti that killed a Turkish national and wounded several Western soldiers, as well as a car bomb at the Mogadishu Airport that targeted and killed members of the United Nations convoy.

So the operation that we’ve conducted, we believe, is an example of the U.S. government and our allies’ and partners’ commitment to the people and government of Somalia to detect, deter, disrupt and defeat violent extremists who threaten progress in the region, as well as to threaten — as well as threaten to conduct terrorist attacks against innocent people around the world. And we’re going to continue to use all the tools at our disposal — financial, diplomatic, intelligence, and of course, the military — to dismantle Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups who threaten U.S. interests, as well as the interests of our allies and our partner nations.

And then one final comment I’d like to make on Iraq. As you know, over the weekend, at the request of the Iraqi government, the United States military air-dropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli, home to thousands of Shia Turkmen who have been cut off — or had been cut off from receiving food, water, and medical supplies for two months by ISIL.

The U.S. Air Force delivered this aid alongside aircraft from Australia, France, and the United Kingdom, who also dropped much-needed supplies. In conjunction with this air drop, U.S. aircraft conducted coordinated airstrikes against nearby ISIL terrorists in order to support this humanitarian assistance operation and thereby helped facilitate the actual delivery of the aid.

While we continue to monitor the situation in Amerli, at this time we assess that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are in control of the township and are providing for the security needs of the citizens there. So further strikes remain a possibility, of course, but we believe that the township is under the control of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

And as we’ve said before, one of our core military objectives in Iraq is to join with international partners to address humanitarian crises. And where and when we have the ability to do that, we’re going to do it.

With that, I’ll take questions.

QUESTION: Admiral, on the Somalia issue, would you describe the target as a single target encampment and a single vehicle? Or were there two strikes or two targets? Was there just one vehicle?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There was one vehicle and an encampment. So the way I would describe it is kind of the way I laid it out in the opening. The strike was taken at an encampment and a vehicle. That was at the encampment.

Q: So one strike? Single?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What do you mean by strike? One missile? No. As I said, several Hellfire missiles, as well as precision-guided munitions, so there were — there was plural, in terms of munitions, dropped, but they were dropped on one target, an encampment where a vehicle was — was nearby.

Q: Sorry.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Go ahead.

Q: And was there any evidence afterwards that anyone survived?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we’re assessing the results right now, Bob, and that’s — that’s where I’m just not going to be able to go right now. I’m not going to get into trying to assess the effectiveness. We certainly believe that we hit what we were aiming at. And based on intelligence that, as I said, we believe was actionable, in other words, strong enough, we — we took this strike, but I wouldn’t get into assessing the effectiveness right now.

Q: So you’re confident Godane was there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’m just not going to get into assessments right now, Bob. I think I’d like to leave it kind of where I did right now. When — you know, if and when — as I said earlier, and I said last night — if and when, you know, we have more information that we can share, we certainly will.


Q: You said that there were laser-guided munitions. Does that mean that there were U.S. forces on the ground to lase the targets?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There were no U.S. forces on the ground.

Q: No U.S. forces, either before or after the strikes?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No U.S. strikes on the ground, before or after the strikes.

Q: Was there somebody else on the ground that was lasing the targets?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, all I would tell you is that, you know, we continue to work with partners in that — in Somalia and in the region, but I won’t get any more specific than that.

Q: Admiral, did the U.S. inform the Somali government or the AMISOM mission there about the mission before — before it took place?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have a tick-tock on the notification process, but this is very much in keeping with the kinds of operations that we conduct throughout the region and in partnership with the — you know, with the leadership there.

Q: And do you know the Somalia government announced last month this new mission, Operation Indian Ocean, about combatting Al-Shabaab and particularly targeting their access to ports, to seize off their sources of revenue. Was this strike in conjunction with that operation?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not to my knowledge.


Q: You speak of it as if Godane was killed, but I know you won’t speak to that specific question right now. But if he were to be killed, what do you think it would say about the group’s — what would it mean for the group going forward? How important would that be?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, again, without speculating about whether he was, in fact, killed or not, I mean, he is the recognized, appointed leader of the Al-Shabaab network in Somalia. So if he was killed, this is a very significant blow to their network, to their organization, and, we believe, to their ability to continue to conduct terrorist attacks.

Now, mind you, it’s a network, and we understand that. And we’re mindful that there are — there remain other leaders of the organization at large. But he’s the recognized leader. And if we killed him, a significant blow to their organization and to their abilities.

Yep, Justin?

Q: Thank you, admiral. More broadly, can you answer the critics who are saying that the administration does not have a strategy, does not have a counterterror strategy, a Mideast strategy, one that’s good enough? Is there a strategy? Can you articulate that strategy for us and answer those critics?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Absolutely there’s a strategy for our approach to the Middle East. Now, I can only speak from a military perspective and for the Pentagon, but we have been consistently going after the terrorist threat in that part of the world, and not just that part of the world, as I just — as I just read to you.

And inside Iraq, the mission is very clear. We are there to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces as they take the fight to ISIL. We are there to provide humanitarian assistance where and when we can. I just — we just talked about that over the weekend. And we are certainly there to help defend and protect U.S. personnel and facilities.

So the mission set inside Iraq is very, very clear. The strategy, with respect — the military strategy, with respect to the Middle East, also has been very clear, and it’s not just something that — you know, that we just started doing. I mean, we’ve been — we’ve been going after terrorist networks in that part of the world for more than a decade, with — with very good success. Doesn’t mean it’s been eliminated, but we certainly have been very active and very energetic, and the objectives have been very, very clear.

Q: Do you feel that you’ve gone after ISIS as soon as you possibly could? The question is, how good and how early was the intelligence that was being briefed to the White House about the ISIS threat? And could more have been done sooner, I guess?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to speak about intelligence matters, and I’m certainly not going to speak for intelligence issues that were raised to the White House. That’s a question better directed to the intelligence community and to them.

But wait a minute. But to your larger issue here, we’ve talked about ISIL for many months now. And as I’ve said before, we were very closely monitoring and tracking their progress, their growth, their development, well before they rolled in to Mosul. So this is not an organization that we haven’t been watching.

The speed with which they took control of the north in Iraq definitely got a lot of people’s attention. And I’ve said that publicly, too. Nobody expected that four divisions of the Iraqi army were just going to fold the way they did. So there was a speed there that certainly was — did not go unnoticed.

But this is an organization we’ve been long watching, and I think it’s helpful to go back and just look at the last couple of months. I mean, we’re all fixated right now on targeted air strikes, which we are conducting with very good tactical effect, but long before that started, we upped our presence in the Persian Gulf, we added more security assistance personnel in and around Baghdad. We stood up two joint operations centers, which are active and helping right now, as we speak, in terms of advising and assisting and sharing information with Iraqi and Kurdish forces. And then we have done numerous air drops in two different operations to alleviate suffering. So the military has been very active here.

The other thing that we’ve said, Justin — and is this not a small point — is there’s not going to be just a military solution here. Ultimately, the long-term answer has to be inclusive, responsible, responsive, good governance inside Iraq to alleviate, to help take away those conditions that folks like ISIL can exploit for their own purposes.

Does that answer your question?

Q: (off-mic) yeah, just a quick follow-up on Justin’s question. As you may know, the majority of the foreign fighters who are joining ISIL are going to Syria through Turkey. My question is, how do you evaluate Turkey’s role in countering ISIS?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, it’s not for me to evaluate Turkey’s role…

Q: Based on — based on your information, do you think Turkey is cooperating?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We have a strong relationship with…


REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I know that. I’m not going to — I’m not going to — you know, I’m not going to answer a question that should be asked of the Turkish government. What I’m telling you is, Turkey has a stake here. We understand that. It’s an important partner in the region, a NATO ally. The Turkish government has concerns about foreign fighters, and right they should, and we’re going there next week, and I think — I have no doubt that this will be a topic of discussion between Secretary Hagel and his counterpart.

Q: Do you think they’re doing a — a helpful…

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Do I think what?

Q: Do you think they are doing a helpful role?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: A helpful role. We believe that Turkey, because they have concerns just like other partners in the region, are — are expending their effort and their energy in trying to address this as best they can. I’m not going to go into more detail than that.

Q: Could you give us a clear picture of the situation on the ground at the Mosul dam? Why the United States

keeps launching airstrikes at that location?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Because ISIL keeps trying to take it back. As I said last week, as long as they continue to pose a threat to the facility, we’re going to continue to hit them. And we are.


Q: Admiral, on the subject of the secretary’s trip, Secretary Kerry wrote in the New York Times over the weekend that he and Secretary Hagel will be asking NATO allies and other nations for help in this potential campaign against ISIS in Syria. How much more can you tell us about how many nations they’re going to approach, which ones, and what they’ll ask for specifically in building that coalition?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we’re still sort of putting together an agenda here, Phil, for — on the sidelines of the NATO summit. But you’re right. Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry do want to get together with some of these partner nations. Many of them are NATO allies, of course. And I don’t have a list right now.

I think this is going to be more of an informal arrangement, again, on the sidelines of the already very full agenda in Wales, wherein they will try to get together and talk about the contributions that have been made by these other nations, and certainly to encourage others who haven’t contributed yet to look at contributing, as well. But, I mean, I don’t — I don’t have a date certain on the calendar or a time when they’re going to do that, but we’re looking for those opportunities.

And it could be more than one. It could be that, you know, they — that they have these discussions in more than one setting with smaller numbers of these nations at a time.

Q: Can you give us a high-level sense about what they’ll ask for? Do they want partners for airstrikes? Do they want humanitarian aid like you described earlier, somewhere in between? What will they ask for?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We want partner nations to contribute what they are able and willing to contribute in whatever fashion they’re willing to contribute it. And understanding, of course, that they have domestic concerns, as well, and their own legislative bodies to work through on this, and populations who have, you know, different views on assisting against the ISIL threat. We respect that.

So it’s not about going there with demands or a laundry list. It’s about going there to thank them for what they’ve been doing, encourage them to continue to assist in whatever way they deem fit.


Q: Thank you. If I can go back to Somalia, you had mentioned that you were mindful of some of other leaders that were in the area, and I was wondering — because we have officials in Somalia saying that it was a senior Al-Shabaab meeting. Do you know of any other targets — without saying whether or not they were hit, were there any other targets that were at that encampment?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We’re still assessing the results. What I would tell you is the principal target was Mr. Godane. And we’re still assessing the results. And, again, if we have more information about others who may have been killed in that attack, we’ll certainly share it as best we can.

Q: And you said — just a quick follow-up — you said that there was an unmanned and a manned attack. Was the actual hit, was it by a drone? Or was it by the manned aircraft?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What I said was manned and unmanned aircraft participated in the strike. I didn’t actually say what type of aircraft launched these — these missiles and precision-guided munitions, and I won’t get into detailing the platforms here today.

Yeah, Maggie? Maggie?

Q: Okay. Do you consider the operation at Amerli to be a success? And if so, how is the Defense Department defining success when it comes to those operations which target the Islamic State? At Mount Sinjar, there was a potential rescue operation that the U.S. military was looking at and decided not to do. And the intelligence indicated there were 2,000 people on the mountain that wanted off. And then you just said the Islamic State was trying to retake Mosul dam. So I’d just like some clarity on what success looks like for this campaign.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know that I would call it a campaign. But leaving that aside, we do believe that the operations in Amerli have been successful. I mean, obviously, as I said, Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces are now in — are in control of the township. We’re watching that. We’re monitoring that. We’re not taking that for granted.

Just like to Joe’s question on the Mosul dam, if we need to continue to take strikes in and around Amerli to disrupt ISIL, we’ll do that. But so far, we believe the mission has succeeded and, by and large, because we’re able to get needed provisions to the — to the people there. And we know that it got into the right hands and that they’ve been able to sustain themselves with the food and water that’s been provided.

And I should remind you that it wasn’t just us doing this. As I said, there were other countries involved in that, and we’re grateful for that support.

The president also has been very, very clear about — from an anti-ISIL perspective — what we’re trying to do there, and it’s to disrupt their ability to continue to put U.S. personnel and facilities at risk or to further spur more humanitarian crises.

But ultimately — and we’ve also said — so this is to your question about success — that the real measure of success is that their ideology is ultimately defeated, and the only way that’s going to be done is through good governance. And we’ve said that time and again, but I think it’s worth repeating. There’s not going to be a military solution to this. We’re not the answer to ISIL inside Iraq, not the U.S. military. The answer is the ideology gets rejected because there’s good governance, responsive government, inclusive government in Iraq and, frankly, in Syria, as well.

Did that answer your question? Yes, ma’am?

Q: Is there any — before this video was released today of Steven Sotloff’s murder, was there any indication or suspicion that he was killed at the same time as James Foley?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t know that anybody had definitive knowledge one way or the other. And as I would say — and I’d remind you that we still can’t confirm the press reporting about this next video and this potential new murder. So I — I wouldn’t be able to characterize it one way or another that we knew. We’re trying to — just like you, we’re trying to find out ground truth here.

Q: (off-mic) on the Shabaab operation, was there any intelligence that they were plotting an imminent terrorist attack? Was that one of the reasons why this action was taken when it was?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I laid it out in my opening. This action was taken because of the history of terrorist attacks and violence that this organization is responsible for and continues to be responsible for. But, again — and I will just tell you, actionable intelligence led us to that site where we believe he was. But I wouldn’t talk about the specifics of exactly what that intelligence was composed of.


Q: Admiral, I was wondering if you might be able to bring us up to speed on your latest understanding of the size and scope of Russian troop levels, both on the border with Ukraine and inside Ukraine? And separately, has the secretary had any chance to talk to his Russian counterpart in the last couple days about the escalating situation there?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure. He’s not spoken to Minister Shoygu since the last team I read it out to you, which was, I think, more than a week ago. We continue to assess that Russian forces aggregate along the border with Ukraine. I’m loathe, as I typically am, to get into a hard number, but it’s certainly north of 10,000, remains north of 10,000.

More important than the numbers are, as I said, the capability. These are battalion tactical groups that are highly capable, very ready, very close to the border, closer than we saw in the spring, and could move literally on a moment’s notice.

In addition to that, we continue to see support for separatists and we continue to see Russian forces, conventional and special forces, inside Ukraine, in the — again, without getting into a specific number, I’d say in the thousands is safe. And nothing has changed about our position, that that activity needs to stop, those troops need to leave, the support for the separatists needs to stop, and we want those troops pulled away from the border with Ukraine.

So we — again, we continue to see action by Moscow that does nothing but increase tensions inside Ukraine and spur additional violence.

Q: Can I follow on that?


Q: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen yesterday said he plans to build a NATO rapid response force of some 14,000 troops to put along the eastern borders of the NATO nations in response to Russia’s aggression. How would the U.S. participate in that? Would they provide troops, equipment, support, weapons, air cover? What is the U.S. thinking about that force? And would it engage in that operation?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think we would certainly participate in any discussion about the development of this rapid reaction force. As you know, we already do field a rapid reaction force — in fact, they just deployed an army unit.

But to your other question, I think we certainly would participate in discussions about that. I have no doubt but that it will be discussed in Wales this week. And Secretary Hagel looks forward to having those discussions. But it’d be preliminary right now, way ahead of ourselves to try to speculate exactly how we would assist in resourcing that force.

The bigger point, Mick, is that we’re continuing to look for ways to work with allies and partners in the region to bolster the security commitments that we already have in Europe and to reiterate our absolute ironclad commitment to Article 5 of the treaty.

And there’s lots of ways to do that. We’ve contributed to the Baltic air policing mission. We’ve done ground

exercises in the Baltics. We’ve exercised more aggressively in the Black Sea. That continues. So we’re constantly looking for new ways. We welcome the secretary general’s suggestion. And I know we’ll look forward to having deeper discussions about it when we get there.

Q: Does — does the U.S. think that those eastern NATO borders are threatened in the least bit by Russia’s apparent incursion into Ukraine?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: It’s not that there’s a direct threat against the eastern borders of those nations. It’s about making sure that there’s a strong message sent, to friend and foe alike, that we’re going to stand by our Article 5 treaty commitments, and we’re going to — and we have done that, and we will continue to look for ways to stress that again.


Q: Did — so the Ukrainian forces have suffered a little bit more setbacks in recent days in actions against separatists. By some reports, the language from Moscow is increasingly strong. Has that — are you changing your approach to the summit in terms of the urgency of the situation or discussions of what — what the U.S. response might need to be, given — given the changing conditions on the ground, where Russian support for separatists seem to be having more of an effect now?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: From a defense perspective only — and I’m not qualified to speak to everything — it’s not just a defense summit that — or ministerial that we’re going to in Wales — but from a defense perspective, no, nothing essentially changes about the manner in which we continue to monitor the situation, Julian.

So I know of no specific agenda item that’s going to — that has changed because of the last week or so. But, of course, what’s been going on in Ukraine will be a major topic of discussion by all of NATO’s leaders this week.

And it has — as Secretary Hagel has said many times, what Russia has done in many ways has galvanized the alliance and shown into — and brought into sharp relief the need for all NATO partners and allies to continue sufficient and adequate defense spending for their own defense and for the defense of their allies and to look for new ways to combat threats on the continent. But I’m not aware of a specific item.

I think — but if I could just pull back from the summit a little bit, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we aren’t mindful of the intensity of operations in and around Ukraine right now.

I mean, as Secretary Hagel gets ready to leave for Wales, he’s certainly mindful of what’s going on there and how the alliance has got to be able to prove strong enough to send the right message to Moscow going forward.

I mean, I already got you. Let me look around. Yeah?

Q: Admiral, to follow up on NATO and Ukraine, General Secretary Rasmussen spoke at length and in some detail about this rapid strike force. He said that it would be able to strike in a very, very few days. He spoke about numbers. He said there would have to be prepositioned supplies and facilities in place already, so it could strike fast. He also spoke about it as if it was a done deal.

So my question — and that — you know, the details need to be worked out, but that the concept of it, the foundation of it is a done deal. So my question is, did he get ahead of where the United States is, number one? And, number two, has Secretary Hagel and the Pentagon had input to Mr. Rasmussen and other NATO leaders about the formation of this rapid strike force? Or will they be hearing about it for the first time in Wales?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t think anybody from at least the United States side will be hearing about it for the first time when we get to Wales. As I said, we look forward to having these discussions. It is — it’s another idea that is worth exploring when it comes to, again, standing by our Article 5 commitments. But this is — this will be no doubt part of the discussions when we get to Wales.

Q: And Russia — just a quick follow — Russia today responded — the Russian government responded today, in so many words, saying that this — this would be a provocative move and they would have to reassess their own stance, if NATO was to do this. Do you have concerns about Russia perceiving the creation of such a quick strike force as a provocation?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Our concerns are, again, meeting our commitments to NATO allies and partners. And you want to talk provocative? Let’s talk about a few thousand Russian troops inside eastern Ukraine, continuing to support separatists, with heavy weapon systems, and more than 10,000 troops arrayed along the southeast border with Ukraine. Let’s talk about that; that’s pretty provocative.

And I think that it’s entirely reasonable and prudent and responsible for NATO leaders to look for ways to continue to bolster the security alliance and the commitments that we have on the continent of Europe.

Let’s go back here.

Q: Admiral, I’d like to ask about the Mosul dam situation again. You said a few minutes ago that the reason the airstrikes have continued in that area is because ISIL continues to try to take the dam. I mean, is that — they’re taking offensive maneuvers towards the dam, and the purpose of the airstrikes is to deflect that? Or is the current military policy and strategy some sort of broader denigration of ISIL capability in the area? I guess, in effect, I’m asking, if ISIL was to stand down and not take any offensive measures against the dam, would the U.S. military operations against them in that broader region of northern Iraq stop?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The best way to answer your question is that we have specific authorities under which we are conducting airstrikes, to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, contribute to ISF and Kurdish efforts to fight ISIL, and, of course, the humanitarian side. So those are the authorities under which we’re conducting airstrikes. Nothing has changed about that.

And as we talked about when the Mosul dam operations started, that we believed that that was not only for the humanitarian purpose, but also it contributed to the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities. And so as long as ISIL continues to threaten the facility, we’ll continue to strike them. And I think you’ve seen that continue. You guys get the press releases every day. We’re very open and transparent about what we’re hitting, when, and with what. And that will continue, as long as they continue to threaten that facility, because that facility is that important.

Did that answer your question? Did that answer your question?

Q: (off-mic)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I mean, the — I think what you’re getting at is, like, is there some sort of broader mechanism or are we playing loose and fast with rules here? And we’re not. There are very specific authorities under which we are conducting strikes.

Q: (off-mic) talk about Al-Shabaab, you used the phrase, you know, deter, disrupt and defeat. And you don’t really use that language when you talk about ISIL. I guess I’m wondering if — right now, the…

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the president was pretty clear about what the — what the goals are inside Iraq with respect to ISIL, and he did say to disrupt their capability. And we continue to do that. But, look, ultimately, Andrew, it — we’re doing that at a tactical level through these airstrikes. And we’re doing it, quite frankly, I think, you could argue that we’re helping disrupt their capabilities through these humanitarian missions, because we’re denying them what they sought, both with the Yazidis and now these Shia Turkmen living in Amerli.

But strategically, long term, the real answer is good governance. And I know you guys don’t like to hear that. And I know that that doesn’t make for good copy in the Pentagon press room, but that is, in fact, what has to happen. We’re not going to solve this militarily, and we’re not going to solve the threat that ISIL poses just through airstrikes.


Q: Admiral, a clarification, please. I believe you mentioned that an Army unit is moving in Eastern Europe. Is that part of the planned rotation? Is that — is that unit on the first…

REAR ADM. KIRBY: What’s moving — say that again?

Q: You mentioned that an Army unit…

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I’m afraid I just don’t have the details. We have — we have a NATO response force that’s staffed by the Army, and I can get you more details on this, but it’s a normal rotational deployment.

Q: Because that separate from the 1st Cav, which is replacing…

REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, it’s the 1st Cav. It’s the same — it’s the same unit that we’ve been talking about.

Q: Because the movement of that unit, as best you know, has that been sped up? I believe they were not supposed to start moving until next month.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I’ll have to get back to you, Richard. I don’t know if they’ve actually accelerated that deployment or not.

Yes? Yes?

Q: (off-mic)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I was — Bob wants me to choose Phil, but I’m going to go with you because Bob wants me to choose Phil. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you. Let me briefly change the topic. My question is about Korea. There has been a recent press report that the U.S. military has completed a site survey for the THAAD missile defense system.


Q: And, you know, China and Russia have expressed strong opposition to this plan. And my question is, is the U.S. military going to go ahead with this deployment, despite these objections?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don’t have anything for you on that today. We’re in constant consultation with our allies on the peninsula about the requirements to defend the peninsula appropriately, and I just don’t have anything for you today on that.


Q: I just wanted to nail you down a little bit. On the…


Q: You said before that the principal target of the Somalia operation was Godane. And you said earlier that you think you got what you were aiming at. I just want to make sure you — if you’re — I wanted to know if you…

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I meant the facility. I meant the — the encampment and the vehicle. That’s what — that’s what we — that’s what we were targeting. I’m not prepared — no, thank you for making me clarify. I’m not —

that wasn’t a subtle hint that we think we know we got Godane.

Again, guys, we’re assessing this. And when we have information that we can share with you, we certainly


I got time for one more. Yeah, Jon?

Q: Admiral Kirby, are there any specific deliverables that Secretary Hagel is hoping to come out of this NATO summit, either in terms of a NATO response to Russian activities in Ukraine or against ISIL?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, remember, John, this isn’t a defense ministerial. This is a NATO summit of heads of state. So it’s not for Secretary Hagel to — you know, to have specific, you know, deliverables coming in and out of it. I mean, he’s looking forward to participating in the discussions with Secretary Kerry and with the president.

One of the things we do want to accomplish — and this gets to Phil’s question — is we do want to talk to some of our allies and partners about additional things that can be done inside Iraq. That’s clear. He looks forward to meeting with many of his counterparts to talk about not just what’s going on in Russia and Ukraine, but also Afghanistan. And should Afghanistan send a representative — right now, it appears as if they might — he’ll look forward to having those discussions, as well.

But ultimately, writ large, this is a — this is a — as he’s said, this is a defining moment for the alliance. And this’ll — this summit provides the alliance a great opportunity to look not only at what’s been happening in the last few months in Russia and Ukraine, but the future of the alliance itself, from defense spending to operations to exercises to interoperability and capabilities across the spectrum of military operations.

Thanks, everybody.”

U.S. Defense Dept.: No Hint Russia Has Ceased Rebel Support

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By Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. | DOD News | 21 July 2014

This article was originally published on the Defense Department website on July 18.

Washington — Although it’s unclear who is helping separatists fighting in Ukraine and how much help is being provided, there are no indications that Russia has stopped its support, the Pentagon press secretary, Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, said July 18.

During a Pentagon news conference, Kirby discussed the need for Russia to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine and its potential involvement in the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

“We see no hint that Russian support for the separatists has ceased,” he said. “In fact, we believe that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons and other military equipment — financing as well,” the admiral said. “They continue to allow these Russian fighters to enter Ukraine freely.” Some tanks and personnel vehicles have made their way across the border, he added.

“It has been a steady, concerted campaign by Russia’s military to continue to support, resource [and] advise these separatists,” he said.

Kirby noted while there isn’t specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile crossed the border into Ukraine, “we’re not ruling anything in or out at this point.”

“The missile itself, the SA-11, which is the one we believe was used to down Flight 17, is a sophisticated piece of technology,” he said. “It strains credulity to think that [the separatists] could do this without some measure of Russian support and assistance.”

The admiral said “we want to let investigators do their work” to discern whether assistance includes Russian troops going across the border to act side by side with separatists to train and advise them.

“We do not have any reason to suspect that they have not provided some measure of support on the other side of that border,” Kirby said. “These paramilitary forces that we do not talk about as much anymore certainly did not act or behave or organize resources like some ragtag militia.”

Kirby emphasized he is not suggesting that Russian military advice and assistance has not somehow crossed the border, but that it is “just unclear exactly how much and when and who.”

“That is what the investigators are going to look at, and that is what we need to let them do,” he said.

Kirby also said he was unaware of any major changes to Russian military presence in the region.

“It’s roughly still about 10,000 to 12,000,” he said. “And it fluctuates a little bit from week to week, but the point is that it has been, over time, a steady increase of these combined arms tactical battalions across the border on the Russian side, but to the southeast of Ukraine.

“And they are close to the border — in many cases, closer than those forces who were more aligned right on the east,” he added. Tens of thousands were along the eastern border with Ukraine, he said, but not as close as these units appear to be.

The Russian military presence is further escalating tension, he said, and while it’s difficult to know what the intent is, the numbers are growing week by week.

Kirby said the Defense Department is “taking it seriously, and we’ve been monitoring the situation there as closely as we can.”

“Nobody in the Pentagon has been shy about talking about the continued threat posed by these separatist elements inside Ukraine, or frankly, by those combined arms forces that continue to amass along the border,” he said.

Kirby said Pentagon officials continue to review requests for Ukrainian military assistance, and the support continues to flow.

“The focus of that remains on the nonlethal side right now,” he said, “and some [of the] $33 million that the president has authorized of material has been getting to Ukrainian armed forces and border services.”

Recent deliveries include radios, body armor, individual first aid kits, sleeping mats, uniform items,” Kirby said. “Over the next few months,” he added, “additional items will start moving through the procurement process, to include night-vision goggles, thermal imagers, Kevlar helmets, explosive ordnance disposal robots and some additional radios.”

Other equipment has been given to Ukraine’s border guards, the admiral said, such as barbed wire, alarm systems, excavators, trucks, generators and communications gear.

Despite continuing to see “escalatory and dangerous” support from Russia to the separatists — which Kirby said “needs to stop” — the admiral also re-emphasized President Obama’s point that there will not be a U.S. military resolution.

“The president has been very clear from the outset that there’s not going to be a U.S. military solution here to the crisis in Ukraine,” he said. “What we’ve been doing has been efforts to … reinforce and support our NATO allies and partners in the region.”

Officials are looking for ways to improve interoperability and capability, he said, to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.

“And that’s what you’re going to continue to see us do,” Kirby said.

Read more: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2014/07/20140721304276.html?CP.rss=true#ixzz389DPP45z

U.S. General on NATO Transformation, Ukraine

Washington Foreign Press Center
Washington, D.C.
July 15, 2014





MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Lieutenant General Frederick Hodges, commanding general of the NATO LANDCOM component. He is here to deliver a NATO Allied Land Component operational update briefing. Without further ado, here is the general. (Applause.)

LTG HODGES: Thanks, (inaudible). Well, first of all, thanks to all of you for coming in today and giving me the opportunity to talk to you briefly about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO, and specifically Allied Land Command, the only land command for the alliance – to give you a quick update on where we are in implementing NATO’s transformation, which was agreed on at the Lisbon summit. And I’m also anxious to talk to you briefly about what Russia is doing in the Ukraine and what NATO – how NATO views that and what the alliance is doing to assure our allies, as well as deter future adversarial actions.

I’d be happy to take the questions that you might have about the alliance. Also, as an American officer – I’m a NATO commander, but I’m serving in NATO in that capacity, and I’d be happy to talk about why it’s important for the United States to remain engaged and provide leadership to the alliance. So that is a range of things that I’m happy to talk about, and I look forward to your questions.

I think it’s important to remember that our alliance is 65 years old. It’s evolved as conditions have changed from what it first was created to do after the end of World War II to now. It’s grown to 28 nations. It’s the most successful alliance in the history of the world. When you think of its membership, nations that fought each other for centuries have not fought each other for the last 65 years. It’s certainly not perfect. We have many things to continue working on so that the alliance remains able to live up to its Article V collective security obligations, but we are continuing to do that, and there’s plenty of evidence that I’d be happy to talk about.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the alliance works hard at remaining relevant as the environment changes. The Lisbon summit was all about making sure that the alliance was going to be capable for life after ISAF. After the end of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, what did NATO need to be able to do? And it obviously needed to be sustainable. So at Lisbon, the 28 nations agreed to reduce the size of the command structure by a half, and about one-third in terms of the number of positions – so a big cost savings to the nations. The end result is a command structure that includes just one land command – that’s us; we’re based in Izmir, Turkey – one air command that’s in Ramstein, Germany; a maritime command that’s in Northwood, the UK; and then the two joint force commands, of course, in Brunssum and Naples. We all report to the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, SACEUR General Breedlove.

It’s a much flatter, much smaller NATO command structure, which then means that the land forces of the alliance have to be more capable. And that’s why our headquarters was created: to ensure that the land forces of the alliance and the 20 member – partner nations, excuse me – can be more effective and interoperable. So that’s the reason for our headquarters, is to help make sure land forces of the alliance and our partners are effective and interoperable. We’re at a level of effectiveness and interoperability now better than it’s ever been in the last 65 years because of what we’ve been doing together in Afghanistan. Our headquarters has to make sure we don’t lose that as we come out of Afghanistan.

With respect to Russia and Ukraine, Russia’s clearly acting like an adversary. Their actions by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilizing activities that they’re conducting on the – off the eastern end of Ukraine clearly are counter to what we all care about. I think there’s – you’ve heard from the Secretary General and from the SACEUR [GEN Breedlove] irrefutable evidence of what Russia is doing to support the pro-separatists in eastern Ukraine. What our headquarters is doing in regards to this is, of course, assisting in the implementation of the assurance measures that the alliance agreed to to make sure that those nations who are closest to potential threats – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria; those nations – that we’re doing things to ensure – to assure them that the rest of the alliance will live up to its Article V obligation. There is no doubt about that, no; we certainly will.

I’ll stop there and look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion of the event, please state your name and publication for the transcript, and wait for the microphone, which could be coming from other side. Please go ahead and ask a question.

QUESTION: Hi. I am Ani Sandu, U.S. correspondent for the Romanian Public Radio, and I would have two questions. First of all, considering Russia’s actions in Ukraine, what kind of measures did you take to prepare in case an Article V intervention is called upon? And second, some countries in Eastern Europe have asked for permanent bases on their territory. Would you favor the establishing of such a base in Romania or Poland?

LTG HODGES: Well, let me take the first one first. Of course, the alliance has increased the amount of aircraft that are involved in the air policing operations up in the Baltics. And they’ve also – we have increased the number of aircraft who are doing air policing over the Black Sea and in Eastern Europe. There are maritime operations, maritime exercises in the Black Sea, with which you’ll be familiar – Operation Breeze, the largest number of NATO ships inside the Black Sea in quite some time, doing an exercise off the coast of Romania and Bulgaria, all within the normal of what’s accepted in the Black Sea and also in accordance with the Montreux Convention. But we’re doing these things to increase readiness and to – again, to assure the allies that are closest to that.

The part that is most relevant to our headquarters is the use of exercises to improve interoperability and to demonstrate the capability of the alliance, that we will, in fact, be there should Romania or any other country in that area ever be attacked or be threatened.

The – I know in Romania the presence of Russian soldiers in Moldova, which have been there for quite some time and the relationship between Moldova and Romania is important. We watch that very closely, but Romania has a fantastic training area at a place called Cincu that American forces go to train there. We anticipate British forces coming there in the fall also to participate in exercises with Romanian forces. The level of interoperability with Romanians is quite high, actually, because of the significant contribution that Romania has made in Afghanistan.

I was just recently in Bucharest and at Cincu and also at Constanta at the other base up there, what’s known as MK. So there is a strong cooperation between Romania and the rest of the alliance, good training facilities, and I would anticipate you would see an increase in training land forces as well as the other forces inside Romania and Hungary and Bulgaria over the next several months.

So that’s the most important thing, I think, from a land perspective, is making sure that the land forces of the alliance are able to work together.

I don’t think – I didn’t answer the second part. Would you say that second part again?

QUESTION: So the second part was some countries in Eastern Europe, including Romania, have asked for permanent bases on their territory. So would you favor the establishing of such a base in Romania or Poland? And how long would it take? If the decision is made, how long would it take for such a base to be established?

LTG HODGES: Well, I think the infrastructure that I alluded to was done with U.S. assistance, helping Romanians develop their own infrastructure, their own capability, so there is a significant amount of infrastructure available to do good training. And also the logistics base and airfield there near Constanta is an important hub for U.S. forces coming out of Afghanistan working their way back. That’s where they go through.

So should it be required, there is high-quality Romanian infrastructure that could be used to support increased training exercises. I think that there’s an internal decision – or national decisions that would have to be made by those eastern European nations. Do they really want to have other forces living there? I’m not sure that that’s – that we know the answer to that yet, or that it’s necessary. What I think is more important is that there is no doubt that the other members of the alliance will be there should Romania be threatened.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for your presence here and for answering our questions. Marcus Pindur, German National Public Radio. My first question is: Does NATO have any kind of role in training or assisting the Ukrainian military forces? And could you elaborate – if so, could you elaborate on that? And secondly, you mentioned – actually, it was central to what you said – interoperability was very important and was better than ever. Could you elaborate on that and name a few elements of interoperability that could – have improved and that could further be improved maybe?

LTG HODGES: Okay. No, I’d be glad to. First, congratulations to Germany – (laughter) – (in German). I’m very proud of the United States. I think we stayed closer to you than Brazil did, so we’re very proud of that. But, congratulations.

With Ukraine, there – training and operations with Ukrainian forces has actually been going on for quite some time. We had Ukrainian soldiers that were part of the operations in Iraq. They were under Multinational Division Center South. So we’ve been working the Ukrainians for at least the last 10 or 11 years there, beginning in Iraq. We had Ukrainian personnel operating in Afghanistan. And there’s also – there’s been an exercise series. It’s a multinational exercise co-hosted by Ukraine and the United States called Rapid Trident. It takes place each year in Lviv. So – in fact, I was there last year watching the exercise, and it’s scheduled again this year to take place in mid-September. So this is an exercise that goes on routinely. I don’t want to oversell it in terms of the interoperability as perfect yet, but the purpose of these exercises is to try and make sure we retain the professionalism, the capabilities of Ukrainian armed forces, an important PFP, Partnership for Peace, nation in association with the alliance to assist in the development of their armed forces.

And when you talk about interoperability, I think there are two pillars of interoperability. The first pillar has to do with common standards and procedures, and NATO has a fairly well-documented and developed set of standards for how to do things – procedures in headquarters, operations, almost everything you can imagine, that already exists. So everybody’s got to be able to follow those standards, which requires knowing what they are, and practicing and training.

The second pillar of interoperability, I believe, is communications. In NATO-speak, we would say CIS, Communications and Information Systems. All of your computers, your battle command systems, the screens that track information, all this stuff has got to be interoperable.

The standards part I think we’re actually in pretty good shape because of the operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, in the Balkans. It’s generally well-known the – frankly, the European members of the alliance know the standards better than the Americans do. So we’re pretty good there.

The bigger challenge is on CIS, the Communications and Information Systems, because each nation is going to protect its own defense industry, so the nations will buy different systems. And really that’s okay. I don’t care what the label is on the box, whether it’s Telos, Finmeccanica, Raytheon, whatever. What I care about is do the electrons – does the information, the digits, do they match up?

So when you have an Estonian battalion under an American brigade that’s under a German division that’s under a French corps, can they communicate? That’s hard. Technically it’s not hard. You can probably get three teenagers together and they can figure out the technical part. It’s the authorities and policies that need to be addressed to allow that. So we’ve got a little bit of a mismatch between strategic vision and expectations on interoperability and at the lower level actual implementing policies because people are worried about information sharing, who has access to databases and so on. So we’ve got some work to do there.

MODERATOR: Okay, next question.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Jan Schmitz (ph). I work for Bader Zeitung and five other German newspapers. My question is about Germany, the first one at least. I have two.

Last week, the former vice chairman on the National Intelligence Council Mark Lowenthal was on the PBS NewsHour and he said, and I quote here, “In the view of a lot of senior American officials, they — ” meaning the Germans “– are not alliance worthy.” And he also – that was his translation of “Bündnisfähigkeit”. Is that a feeling that you have encountered in the military community as well? And either way, I think it should affect either your cooperation with the Germans or with the intelligence community in the U.S. That will be my first question.

And the second one on a more broader note is: There is a guideline for the financial commitment that each country should make, and most European countries don’t meet it. Germany is lagging far behind, I think. Is that – how big of a topic is that within your daily operations? Thank you.

LTG HODGES: Okay, thanks. First I’ve never heard anybody ever even hint or suggest or opine that somehow Germany is not alliance-worthy. That’s a ridiculous assertion. They’ve been an essential, very strong member of the alliance for a long time, the third-largest troop-contributing nation in Afghanistan, up in RC North with 5,000 soldiers at the peak, which dwarfed the input of a lot of others.

The quality of officers and noncommissioned officers that Germany provides in my headquarters as well as in other parts of the command structure, they’re as good as anybody there is – very professional, obviously very good equipment. Germany has improved its training facilities there in Germany both in Wildflecken and at – in south of Berlin, which is a new maneuver training center modeled after the American one, which is at Hohenfels. I mean, so Germany has invested in those facilities, and the quality of people that they provide to the alliance from German four-star generals like General Hans-Lothar Domrose, the commander of Joint Force Command Brunssum, or General Werner Freers, the chief of staff at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), who’s my classmate from the War College, by the way, these are exceptional officers.

Should Germany do more? Do I wish they would do more? Absolutely. You’ve got that sort of quality; I would like to see more capacity and I would also like to see Germany be more involved in international exercises to what I see them doing inside Germany and German training areas, I’d like to see them be more involved in the – in those. But those are internal decisions. But obviously, the reason I’d want to see it is because of the quality that they bring. And my sense is that they’re moving in that direction now.

The 2 percent standard for percentage of GDP, I think that’s a good standard, it’s a reasonable standard, and more nations ought to get a whole lot closer to it. Having said that, I think it is important to put in context that there are other things about being an ally that are also very important. Access for the United States – the decision to reduce its footprint overseas, particularly in Europe, significant reduction, is based on a premise that the U.S. will have access to airfields, ports, capabilities in Europe to be able to project power. We cannot take for granted that Germany or Italy or Spain or Turkey will allow U.S. forces just to kind of move in and out of there, or that great base in Romania. So the granting of access – overflight, things like that, sharing of information and intelligence – those are very, very important parts of the alliance.

To be candid, I think that a nation that’s as economically strong as Germany has a leadership obligation. I think that they – clearly, what Germany has done – let me restate it. Germany, Italy, and others have significantly strong ties to Russia, economic ties that go way back – in fact, every nation in the alliance, including my own nation, has economic – has business with Russia, some much more than others. Despite that, all 28 nations have continued to stick together on the implementation of assurance measures, on the implementation of leverage sanctions, on advisers, friends, leaders in Russia.

So there are other parts about being a good ally in addition to “Are you spending enough?” And frankly, I would – I’m just as concerned about what are you spending it on versus just the act of spending – communications systems that are interoperable, modernizing aircraft, having logistical capability – those kind of things, how you spend the money is very important.


QUESTION: To follow up with my German colleague, how do you see the role of France in – oh, I’m sorry, Claude Porsella from Radio France Internationale. How do you see the role of France since France has rejoined the military command? As you know, France is decreasing its military budget, so that’s not going to be very helpful as far as the 2 percent is concerned. But usually speaking, what France role is playing in NATO now?


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

LTG HODGES: Sure. Since France re-entered the integrated command structure, they’re back in a very serious way. Of course, General Palomeros is the commander of strategic Allied Command Transformation, which is headquartered in Virginia, so he’s one of the two four-star strategic commanders – General Breedlove, of course, at SHAPE is his counterpart. So you’ve got an extremely high-ranking position there, and then we’ve got – the vice chief of staff at SHAPE is a three-star, Lieutenant General Philippe Stoltz, a French general officer and an extremely influential and important position. In fact, he’s probably the one person at SHAPE that I interact with the most. He’s our biggest champion there, understands and appreciates the importance of land power as part of what the alliance overall does.

So – and then you’ve got senior French officers throughout all the other headquarters. France is the third largest contributor in my headquarters; 10 percent of the headquarters are French positions. So that’s a commitment by France to be back in the alliance, and my senior French officer is my chief of plans – exceptionally talented officer, and he does one of the most important functions that we have in the headquarters.

So at the individual level, those are some examples of where France is fully engaged in what’s going on. We have all been impressed with how French forces operated in Mali, the way they’ve done that, and also they didn’t do that alone. You had a coalition, including U.S., Canada, other nations that supported their operations there that I think are a very positive sign.

France contributes in other ways that are very important. In fact, today, the land component of the NATO Response Force is the French Rapid Reaction Corps that’s based in Lille. So it’s one of the nine corps headquarters that make up what’s known as the NATO force structure. It’s a multinational headquarters, but the framework nation is France. General – Lieutenant General Eric Margail is the commander, he’s been there about a year. So if NATO were to use the NATO Response Force, the NRF, then the lead headquarters on the land would be the French-based French Rapid Reaction Corps. That’s a very important contribution.

The – so in terms of being an important, viable member of the alliance, of course I’d like to see them continue to maintain capacity to help deal with all the different requirements. But in terms of quality, they’re as good as anybody else in the alliance.

MODERATOR: Are there any other questions?

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Anne Walters. I’m with the German press agency DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur. As the mission in Afghanistan winds down, how would you say that the role of NATO should continue? How would you convince people in the member countries of the ongoing importance of NATO as the ISAF mission winds down?

LTG HODGES: Importance of NATO with regards to Afghanistan? Well, I think the nations have already shown how important that they value this, because there’s no shortage of people volunteering to or nations stepping up to fulfil requirements for the RSM, Resolute Support Mission, which is the follow-on. So I think that – you think of the challenges associated with Afghanistan, that’s impressive to me that so many nations continue to stay willing to invest and do their part all the way up to the end. Certainly, I think we’re all happy and proud to see what Secretary Kerry has done and along with other nations helping to get the two candidates to agree to an outcome. But that – and that was very important. Nations were waiting to see that, and I think the unity, the nation sticking together on that, was an important part of Secretary Kerry being able to help them achieve that outcome.

So I think the nations recognize the transition as the right transition, the training and preparation that’s being done, the leadership that’s being put into place to make that transition from ISAF to Resolute Support. Very professional, solid, and I don’t think that – I don’t think you’re going to see NATO members slipping away from that prematurely.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Lauri Tankler with the Estonian Public Broadcasting. I just want to follow up the French question about the military and the NATO. How do you as an officer and as a military leader – how do you see the French Government decision to sell the Mistral warships to Russia and to train the Russian troops there?

LTG HODGES: Well, of course that’s a – each nation in an alliance, each nation can make the decisions – they can make sovereign decisions. To the average person on the outside, it’s a little bit difficult to understand that. But I saw where the French minister of defense yesterday talked about within the EU that there are different levels of measures that could be taken as part of the sanctions regime and that so far that the EU had not yet reached that third level, which would’ve obligated France not to sell, to complete the sale of those ships to Russia. So I think – and I’m certainly not the expert on this, but it seems to me that inside France they’re looking at EU rules for sanctions, that EU was not there yet. And so they will continue down along that path.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to come back to Ukraine once more. You’ve mentioned the transformation that NATO is in and the different strategic concept. And I was just wondering, I think one of the reasons for that was obviously, like, the budget constraints. Another one was the realization that adversaries might be different in the future than they used to be. But now with the Ukraine crisis and the realization that Russia is back as an adversary in a way, at least, I was just wondering: Did that cause any rethinking on NATO’s part? Have there been any changes made to the new strategy, or will you just proceed as you planned?

LTG HODGES: Well, I think the – there’s a couple of ways to look at this. First of all, I think a lot of people who have watched Russia over the years are seeing that Russia is what we always thought they were, that this notion that somehow they could be this wonderful partner, like some other European country, was probably not well founded. Absolutely we need to maintain a cooperative relationship with Russia; all the nations do for not just economic reasons or humanitarian reasons, but it’s an extremely important country with a powerful military and potentially powerful economy. So there’s a hundred good reasons to have a good relationship with the Russians, not just to prevent conflict from breaking out.

But the fact is, regardless of what type of government it was, whether it was Czarist Russia, communist Russia, post-Soviet era, and now under President Putin, use of force – their own interpretation of a lot of the legal instruments that are out there in international domain, using those things, information to achieve what it is that they want to achieve. So I think what’s happened in the last few months has kind of reminded people of that.

Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody’s rushing to re-establish armaments industries and start rearming, necessarily. In fact, very few nations have indicated that they’re going to increase defense spending, but we will – we are going to do one thing that the Secretary General and the SACEUR said that we’re going to do even before this started in the life after ISAF is that you’re going to see more robust exercises, because only through exercising can you retain interoperability, and by exercising in those eastern European nations can you demonstrate the assurance and capability that we can get there and that we will be there. And then, frankly, I think that’s also – by demonstrating that capability, that’s – it has a deterrent effect that’s important.

I think that Russia believes that they probably have seven or eight weeks to do something. I don’t mean seven weeks from today. I mean in general, their planning horizon, I think they probably think they have seven or eight weeks to do something before the alliance could actually respond to it. And they don’t act like a chess player, they act like a checkers player. And they see an opportunity, they’ll do it. I think the – there’s a notion of creeping normalcy, which means that they do something, and if the West doesn’t react to it, that that becomes the new norm. I mean, it clearly is the policy of the nations of NATO that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. But candidly, you don’t hear a lot of discussion about how we’re going – what we’re going to do to help restore it to Ukraine. So it’s almost like the boundary has been changed, and now territorial waters in the Black Sea potentially are changed.

Will that be recognized by international courts, shipping, insurance? All those kinds of things is [are] yet to be seen. I hope not, because Crimea is sovereign territory of Ukraine and it’ll be a political solution to restore that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? On the Ukraine, I asked this – the question before and you said that there’s a history of interoperation with the Ukrainian military. Did anything change from the beginning of that crisis in April until now? I mean, is there new input from NATO into the Ukrainian training forces or is there new hardware that is being sent to the Ukraine? Is there anything that has changed since April?

LTG HODGES: I am personally not aware of specific things that have been provided by any nation. What I have seen is a determination to continue with the Rapid Trident exercise in September, which I think is important. I think we’ve had a couple nations that want to join the exercise that maybe weren’t on it before.

Now, this is not a gigantic exercise. It’s just a very few thousand soldiers would be involved. Obviously, it – I think it sends a powerful signal if we do it. But at the end of the day, of course, Ukraine, I mean, they’re the host, and they are very busy right now. The exercise was originally going to be in August, and they – excuse me, in July – and they asked to shift it to September, because to do this exercise and conduct the operations that they were doing at the time would not have been feasible.

I hope that we’re able to conduct this exercise in September because we want to see their – continue to help them improve their capability, which is something we would be doing regardless of whether or not Russia had ever gone into Crimea. This is a normal part of the very robust partnership program that the alliance has with 20-something different nations to help partner nations to continue to improve their capability.

As I mentioned, Ukraine has been part of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, other places. So we need them – again, separate from whether or not Russia ever went into Crimea, we need them to be able to operate inside multinational formations because they’re so dependable about going to places to do stability operations or otherwise.

MODERATOR: Are there any further questions? If there are no more questions, this event is now concluded. Thank you all for coming.

Facts on Ukraine’s Efforts for Peace, Russia’s Support of Conflict

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, D.C.
July 14, 2014



Russia’s Continuing Support for Armed Separatists in Ukraine and Ukraine’s Efforts Toward Peace, Unity, and Stability

The United States’ goal throughout the crisis in Ukraine has been to support a democratic Ukraine that is stable, unified, secure both politically and economically, and able to determine its own future. Therefore, we support ongoing dialogue among the foreign ministers from Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia to work toward a sustainable ceasefire by all parties in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine that would build toward a lasting peace. We should emphasize, however, that our ultimate goal is not just a temporary halt to violence. We want Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and occupying Crimea, a part of Ukraine’s territory, and allow all of the people of Ukraine to come together to make their own decisions about their country’s future through a democratic political process.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko has proposed a detailed peace plan that includes a promise of amnesty for separatists who laid down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes, decentralization of powers within Ukraine, and protection of the Russian language. He also implemented a unilateral ten-day ceasefire on June 20 to create room for a political solution, which unfortunately was not reciprocated by the separatists and their Russian backers.

While Russia says it seeks peace, its actions do not match its rhetoric. We have no evidence that Russia’s support for the separatists has ceased. In fact, we assess that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons, other military equipment and financing, and continues to allow militants to enter Ukraine freely. Russia denies this, just as it denied its forces were involved in Crimea — until after the fact. Russia has refused to call for the separatists to lay down their arms, and continues to mass its troops along the Ukrainian border. Many self-proclaimed “leaders” of the separatists hail from Russia and have ties to the Russian government. This all paints a telling picture of Russia’s continued policy of destabilization in eastern Ukraine.

Here are the facts:

• Russia continues to accumulate significant amounts of equipment at a deployment site in southwest Russia. This equipment includes tanks of a type no longer used by the Russian military, as well as armored vehicles, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, and air defense systems. Russia has roughly doubled the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers at this site. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived at this site.
• We are confident Moscow is mobilizing additional tanks that are no longer in the active Russian military inventory from a depot to send to this same deployment site.
• We are concerned much of this equipment will be transferred to separatists, as we are confident Russia has already delivered tanks and multiple rocket launchers to them from this site.
• Available information indicates Moscow has recently transferred some Soviet-era tanks and artillery to the separatists and that over the weekend several military vehicles crossed the border.
• Social media videos of separatist military convoys suggest Russia in the past week alone has probably supplied the militants with at least two-dozen additional armored vehicles and artillery pieces and about as many military trucks.
• Publicly available videos posted on July 14 of a Luhansk convoy on the road to Donetsk revealed at least five T-64 tanks, four BMP-2 armored personnel carriers (APC), BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, three towed antitank guns, two ZU 23-2 antiaircraft guns, and probably a 2B16 mortar.
• A video of Krasnodon, near the Izvaryne border crossing, on 11 July showed two BTR armored personnel carriers, two antitank guns, and various trucks on a road heading in a westerly direction towards Donetsk.
• A video filmed in Donetsk on 11 July showed a convoy of three BMD-2 APCs, two BMPs, one 2S9 self-propelled gun, and a BTR-60 APC.
• In addition, after recapturing several Ukrainian cities last weekend, Ukrainian officials discovered caches of weapons that they assert came from Russia, including MANPADS, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.
• Ukrainian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian-provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin of said equipment, in the areas they have liberated from the separatists.
• Photographs of destroyed or disabled separatist equipment in eastern Ukraine have corroborated that some of this equipment is coming from Russia.
• Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” to establish a recruiting office in Moscow.
• Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who has long had a distinguished career in the Ukrainian military, was taken by separatists in mid-June. She is now being held in a prison in Voronezh, Russia. According to the Ukrainian government, she was transferred to Russia by separatists.
• Separately Russia continues to redeploy new forces extremely close to the Ukrainian border. We have information that a significant number of additional military units are also in the process of deploying to the border.

Ukraine’s Good-Faith Efforts: In a bid to unify the country, President Poroshenko outlined a comprehensive peace plan on June 7. President Poroshenko’s plan offers amnesty to separatists who lay down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes; commits to providing a safe corridor for Russian fighters to return to Russia; establishes a job creation program for the affected areas; includes an offer of broad decentralization and dialogue with eastern regions, including the promise of early local elections; and grants increased local control over language, holidays, and customs. President Poroshenko also has reached out to the residents of eastern Ukraine and is pursuing constitutional reform which will give local regions more authority to choose their regional leaders and protect locally-spoken languages.

President Poroshenko implemented a unilateral seven-day (later extended to ten days) unilateral ceasefire on June 20. He also proposed meeting with leaders from eastern Ukraine – including separatists – despite their stated unwillingness to abide by the cease-fire or to negotiate.

Yet Russia and its proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk did not act on this opportunity for peace. Hours after the ceasefire began, Russia-backed separatists wounded nine Ukrainian service members. During the course of the ten-day ceasefire, Russia-backed separatists attacked Ukrainian security forces over 100 times, killing 28 service members. The separatists continue to hold more than 150 hostages, mostly civilians, including teachers and journalists. Separatists have refused all offers by the Ukrainian government to meet.

This timeline of events leading to, during, and after the unilateral Ukraine ceasefire illustrates how the good-faith efforts of the Ukraine government and European leaders to broker a ceasefire with Russia and the separatists it backs have been rejected. Russia and the separatists they are supporting continued to destabilize Ukraine throughout the ceasefire, and continue to destabilize Ukraine today.

May 25: Petro Poroshenko, who had campaigned on a platform stressing reconciliation with the east and Russia, is elected by an absolute majority of voters in Ukraine.
June 8-17: President Poroshenko hosts five rounds of contact group talks, facilitated by the OSCE envoy, in the lead-up to his announcement of a ceasefire.
June 12: Poroshenko initiates a call to President Putin to open communication.
June 14: EU-brokered gas talks end with a final EU brokered proposal: Ukraine accepts the proposal, but Russia rejected it.
June 19: Poroshenko meets with eastern Ukrainian leaders, including separatists, in Kyiv.
June 20: Poroshenko implements a seven-day unilateral ceasefire. Hours later, nine Ukrainian service members are wounded by pro-Russian separatists, foreshadowing separatists’ 100 plus violent actions over the next 10 days.
June 23: The contact group meets in Donetsk.
June 25: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen notes that there are “no signs” of Russia respecting its international commitments with regard to Ukraine.
June 27: Ukraine provides constitutional reform provisions to the Venice Commission for review. This reform would allow for the direct election of governors and for local authorities to confer special status on minority languages within their regions.
June 27: Poroshenko extends the unilateral ceasefire another 72 hours to allow another chance for OSCE contact group negotiations to show progress.
June 28: Ukraine shoots down two Russian UAVs violating Ukraine’s airspace in the Luhansk region.
June 30: Due to the separatists’ refusal to abandon violence in favor of negotiation, President Poroshenko allows the cease-fire to expire.
July 3: President Poroshenko in a telephone conversation with U.S. Vice President Biden reaffirms that he is ready to begin political negotiations to resolve the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions without any additional conditions.
July 8: President Petro Poroshenko visits the former rebel stronghold of Slovyansk to meet with local residents after government forces recapture it from pro-Russian separatists.
July 9: Ukraine restores electricity and train service to Slovyansk, and Ukrainian security forces distribute food, drinking water, and humanitarian aid to the population.
July 11: The Ukrainian government establishes an inter-agency task force in Slovyansk that is conducting damage, security, and humanitarian needs assessments.
July 11: The Ukrainian government reports that it delivered over 60 tons of humanitarian aid supplies in Donetsk Oblast over the preceding 24 hours, bringing the five-day total to 158 tons. President Poroshenko announces that Ukrainian security forces had successfully cleared nearly 100 mines and roadside bombs from liberated territory.

As General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, stated on July 1: “The cease fire in Ukraine was not ended because of accusations; it was ended because Russian-backed separatists responded with violence while President Poroshenko tried to open a window for peace. Russia’s commitment to peace will be judged by its actions, not its words.” As the United States and our European allies have repeatedly stated, we call on the Russian government to halt its material support for the separatists, to use its influence with the separatists to push them to lay down their arms and abide by a ceasefire and to release all hostages. Only then can the process of bringing peace to Ukraine truly begin.

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

TUESDAY, JULY 1, 2014, 2:00 P.M. EDT




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.


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.)


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.


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 —


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.


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?


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?


QUESTION: I have just one quick follow.


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.

Kerry’s Press Briefing at NATO Headquarters in Brussels


Office of the Spokesperson
June 25, 2014


Secretary of State John Kerry
At a Press Availability

June 25, 2014
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium

SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Excuse me. As you know, this is the last foreign ministers gathering before NATO’s next Heads of State Summit in September. Excuse me, let me just get a little water here. (Laughter.) I’ve got the travel whatever. So today, we had a chance to take stock of the strong measures that have been taken in order to provide reassurance to our eastern allies on the land, on sea, and air, and we’ve taken measures that demonstrate that our Article 5 commitment is absolutely rock solid. We also affirmed NATO’s open door policy as well as the vital importance of having strong, capable partners.

Today we spent a significant amount of time in our discussions focused on Ukraine and our allies’ sustained support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and the right of its people to determine their own future. The Ukrainian Government has recently taken a series of important steps to forge a more inclusive society for all Ukrainians, no matter what language they speak or what region the country they live in or what their ethnic background may be. And after a free and fair election, the Ukrainian people celebrated a peaceful transfer of power earlier this month and are now implementing a ceasefire and a peace plan which offers constitutional reform, broad decentralization of power, and local autonomy to Ukraine’s regions and communities.

The United States commends the Ukrainian Government for reaching out to separatists and to the Russian Government. And now we believe it is critical for President Putin to prove by his actions, not just his words, that he is indeed fully committed to peace. It is critical for him to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across the border, to call publicly for the separatists to lay down their arms, to pull Russian forces and equipment back, and to help get OSCE hostages released.

Until Russia fully makes that kind of commitment to the peace process and to the stability of Ukraine, the United States and Europe are compelled to continue to prepare greater costs, including tough economic sanctions, with the hopes that they will not have to be used. But that is dependent on the choices that Russia and its president make in the next days and weeks.

As Secretary General Rasmussen has said, Russia’s recent moves in Ukraine served as a wakeup call. As our economies begin to grow again, a strong NATO requires defense spending by all, and President Obama is committed that the United States will do its part, and he has asked Congress for an additional $1 billion for defense spending in Europe.

As we head to the Wales summit, every ally spending less than 2 percent of their GDP needs to dig deeper and make a concrete commitment to do more. And all you have to do is look at a map in order to understand why – Ukraine, Iraq, Syria – all threats to peace and to security, and they surround the region.

On the minds of all of us today also is the situation in Iraq. Earlier this week, I traveled to Baghdad and Erbil at the request of President Obama, and while here I briefed my fellow foreign ministers on the conversations that I had with Iraq leaders. Iraq is obviously facing an extraordinary security challenge and a set of political challenges and choices. The United States is also working to support Iraq in its fight against ISIL. We need to remember that ISIL is a terrorist army that threatens not only Iraq, but threatens every country in the region which is opposed to it, and Europe and the United States.

Succeeding in this fight is going to require Iraqis to come together, finally, in order to form an inclusive government. And in every meeting with leaders of each of Iraq’s main communities, I stressed the importance, the urgency of them coming together to do just that.

President Obama has also asked me to travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday in order to meet with His Majesty King Abdullah and to discuss regional issues, including the situation in Iraq and how we can counter the shared threat that is posed by ISIL, as well to discuss our support for the moderate opposition in Syria. None of us need to be reminded that a faraway threat can have tragic consequences at home in the most unexpected way at the most unexpected moment.

Just a few months ago right here in Brussels, a man who had recently returned from fighting in Syria shot three people at a local museum. NATO allies in the entire international community must remain focused on combatting the growth of extremism. With the Wales summit in September, our alliance has the chance to become far more adaptable in how we meet emerging threats and far more capable in how we build the capacity of our countries to be able to not only respond to them but, more importantly, to preempt them.

One of the first tests of NATO’s ability to forge stronger, more capable partners will be resolute support – NATO’s post-2014 train, advise, and assist mission with the people of Afghanistan. And today we discussed our coordinated efforts to wind down our combat presence in Afghanistan while continuing our commitment to combatting terrorism and preserving the gains made by the people of Afghanistan. NATO, significantly, has succeeded as an alliance for more than six decades now because it has always recognized that security threats of the future will not always look like the security threats that you face today, and certainly not like those of the past.

Remarkably, this gathering that is now discussing Afghanistan – 50 nations – has come together and stayed together for 12 years. At a time when people doubt the ability of multilateral efforts to make a difference, the meeting here today stands in stark testimony to the contrary. It does make a difference. It has made a difference. And at the Wales conference – summit, I am confident that NATO will demonstrate strength at home in its unity and in meeting, in new ways, many of the 21st century challenges that we face today.

So I’d be happy to take some questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said a moment ago that Russian President Putin will be judged by his actions, not his words, on Ukraine. He did call this week for the rescinding of the invasion powers for Ukraine, and that was acted on today. Is that enough, in your view, to at least start the conversation about what the West might do in response – specifically, not taking the sectoral sanctions step? Is there anything really practical that you want to see Putin do in the next couple of days before the EU meets on Friday to continue that conversation? The things you outlined are much more long term. What do you want to see him do in the next like 36 hours that would change that conversation on Friday?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, we are not announcing a new round of sanctions today, but we are going to continue to take steps to prepare in the event that the circumstances on the ground warrant those sanctions. And so we’re coordinating with our European partners in order to prepare for that.

Now, we are delighted that President Putin put to the Duma the retraction of that law which empowered Russia to take action in Ukraine. That’s important. It’s a great step. But it could be reversed in 10 minutes, and everyone knows that. The greatest difference will be made by the president publicly calling for the separatists to lay down their arms, by President Putin engaging his diplomatic service actively in the effort to help empty buildings, helping to get people to disarm, helping to convene the meetings that need to take place in order to negotiate and to move forward.

There are concrete actions – moving forces out, not allowing tanks and rocket launchers to actually cross the border. There are many concrete things that would make a difference, and we intend to work as cooperatively as possible. These aren’t – what we’re trying to do is make a set of concrete suggestions that really make the difference to what is happening on the ground. Yesterday, a helicopter – a Ukrainian helicopter was shot down and nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed. And it was shot down with a Russian weapon, with a MANPAD RPG capacity that took that helicopter out. And so it is – there are concrete steps, and we are prepared to work very, very closely with Russia in an effort to implement those steps.

And likewise, Ukraine also can take steps in a mutual way, and they’re prepared to do that. President Poroshenko obviously has done so by unilaterally putting in place a ceasefire and by taking great political heat himself in doing so. Now’s the time for this moment to really come together, and that is why the allies are talking about preparing sanctions – not implementing them today, but preparing them in the event that this effort were to fail.

MS. PSAKI: The next question is from Erik Eenlo from Baltic News Service.

QUESTION: Yes. This readiness action plan that NATO is preparing – is that something that addresses the Russian arms buildup and increasing number of military provocations in the Baltic Sea region?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it certainly – that is part of it. But it’s also much broader than that. It’s an effort to recognize that we’re living in a different world. The type of threats that existed in the past are not what played out in Crimea, where you had soldiers who were hiding behind masks and without any identification on them, and a massive public relations campaign simultaneously denying the reality of what everybody was seeing on the ground; where you had this incredible capacity for deception, for denial, which was both a surrogate effort of a government and a linkage to activists, terrorists, and others.

That’s a new animal in a sense, and I think we’re seeing with ISIL crossing from Syria and moving rapidly into Iraq a similar kind of hybrid new form of effort, which is going to require people to think through strategically intelligence gathering, preparations, response, response times, nature of response. And that’s what the NATO alliance has always done effectively, and that’s what the – a lot of today’s discussion focused on, is how do you have not just permanent basing in certain places, but permanent vigilance and permanent capacity to be ahead of the curve. And that’s really the – that’s what readiness really means, and that will be a lot of the focus of the Wales summit.

MS. PSAKI: The final question is from James Rosen of Fox News.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I wanted to ask about two different facets of the Iraq crisis, if I may. First, I presume you saw the comments that Prime Minister al-Maliki made in his weekly address, in which he spoke of a “national salvation government,” quote unquote, as a coup against constitutional processes in Iraq and one in which he declared his refusal to participate. I wonder what you make of those comments, whether you regard them as helpful or not to the task of government formation in Iraq, and whether it is still the professed position of the United States Government that the Obama Administration is utterly disinterested in the question of whether al-Maliki stays or goes.

And the second facet of the crisis I’d like to ask you about is this: I wonder if the disclosure that Iran has been secretly flying drones over Iraq – from an airfield in Baghdad, no less – and has been secretly shipping literally tons of military equipment to the central government in Baghdad serves effectively to complicate the United States’ own evolving military operations and diplomatic mission in Iraq, and whether in fact it represents a widening of the war there.

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me take each question. With respect to the prime minister’s remarks about a so-called salvation government, that is not something that I discussed with him. That is not something that was on the table in the context of our meetings while we were there. In fact, there was no discussion that I had with any of the leaders there regarding a so-called salvation government. And I’ve heard reports about it, but I’m not sure exactly what it is that he rejected or spoke to.

What I do know is that in the prime minister’s remarks today he did follow through on the commitments that he made in our discussions. He clearly committed to completing the electoral process, he committed to meeting on the 1st of July and having the Council of Representatives come together, and he committed to moving forward with the constitutional processes of government formation. And that is precisely what the United States was encouraging. He also called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences to unite in their efforts against terrorism. That is also what we had discussions about.

So what he said today with respect to the things we talked about was entirely in line with the conversations that I had with him when I was there. And the constitutional process that we’ve urged all Iraqis to commit to at this time, we believe is critical to the ability to form a government.

Now, Iraqis will decide that. And the United States is not disinterested in what happens in a future leadership, but the United States is not going to engage in the process of suggesting to Iraqis who that ought to be. It’s up to Iraqis to make those decisions. And we have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis that, like Grand Ayatollah Sistani said, will not repeat the mistakes of the past and go backwards but can actually bring people together. It’s up to Iraqis to decide who has the ability to do that and who represents that future.

With respect to Iran and its intentions and role in Iraq, frankly, you should best direct that question to Iran and to the Government of Iraq. But from our point of view, we’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension. And so it’s very important that nothing take place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flash point with respect to the sectarian divide. And —

QUESTION: Has the war been widened?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, widened from what? Widened from five minutes ago, an hour ago, yesterday? It’s been widened, obviously, in the last days with the reports of IRGC personnel, of some people from Iran being engaged in Iraq, with perhaps even some Syrian activities therein. And that’s one of the reasons why government formation is so urgent so that the leaders of Iraq can begin to make decisions necessary to protect Iraq without outside forces moving to fill a vacuum.

And again, President Obama is very, very clear that our priority is that government formation, and we’re going to take every step we can over the next days. We had conversations about it here. There are people here who will be encouraging that to take place. I know William Hague, the foreign secretary of Great Britain, will be traveling there. He will be having conversations. This is a multiple allied interest in having a unity government that can move Iraq to the future and pull it back from this precipice. And all of us remain hopeful that in the next days that can happen.

Thank you all.

President Obama on Elections in Ukraine

Office of the Press Secretary
May 25, 2014

Statement by the President on Elections in Ukraine

On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate the people of Ukraine for making their voices heard by voting in their presidential election today. Despite provocations and violence, millions of Ukrainians went to the polls throughout the country, and even in parts of eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatist groups sought to disenfranchise entire regions, some courageous Ukrainians still were able to cast their ballots. We commend the resolve of all those who participated, as well as the efforts of the Ukrainian government to conduct these elections in the face of those threats.

Throughout the last few months, the Ukrainian people have repeatedly demonstrated their desire to choose their leaders without interference and to live in a democracy where they can determine their own future free of violence and intimidation. This election is another important step forward in the efforts of the Ukrainian government to unify the country and reach out to all of its citizens to ensure their concerns are addressed and aspirations met.

The United States looks forward to working with the next President, as well as the democratically elected parliament, to support Ukraine’s efforts to enact important political and economic reforms. We also continue to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, condemn and reject Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and remain committed to working with Ukraine and other partners to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.