Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Qs & As w/State Dept Spox Turkey, Iran, Iraq, KRG, Syria

Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
1:36 p.m. EDT
Briefer: Jen Psaki, Spokesperson


MS. PSAKI:  Iran?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Just following up, President Rouhani was in Turkey yesterday, and Turkey and Iran signed 10 MOUs yesterday.  So was wondering if you see these MOUs – first of all, they are coordinated with the White House or Treasury or State Department?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we have a close dialogue with Turkey on a range of issues, including Iran.  We share a common goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  I would refer you to them for more information, and I’m sure you’re in touch with them.  I would, though, remind you that Turkey has publicly committed to abide by all of its – all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and that remains our understanding.

QUESTION:  So is it – today – yesterday, they stated, the leaders of the countries, that they want to double the value of bilateral trade to $30 billion by next year.  Do you see these goals within the line of the sanction regime?

MS. PSAKI:  Well again, I think our policy is well known on Iran, and that is that we have made clear to a range of countries and the private sector that it’s best to avoid activity that may be sanctionable or under U.S. or international sanctions.  I’m not going to speculate on what may happen or not happen depending on where we are with the negotiations.

QUESTION:  During the visit, these two countries again find this partnership is strategic and they created this new council.  It is the Iran-Turkey Strategic High Cooperation Council is a milestone.  How do you view this strategic partnership between these two countries?

MS. PSAKI:  I really don’t know that I have any more to add than I’ve just stated.

QUESTION:  And the late – the last question:  Has the United States received any clarification on the reported 87 billion euros in Iran sanction-busting from the Turkish businesses?  These have been discussed in Turkish press for a number of months now.  I was wondering if you have any view on those.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any other details or update to share with all of you.

QUESTION:  One more on Turkey?

MS. PSAKI:  Turkey?  Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:  Yes.  This Kurdish – Iraq-Kurdish oil tankers – today, second one left Turkish port, and the other one is, I think – I don’t know whether it already sold.  Do you have any comment on those tankers?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our position, obviously, here has been clear and longstanding in that we don’t support the export or sale of oil, absent the appropriate approval of the Federal Iraqi Government.  And as you know, this exposes those who are undergoing this effort to potentially serious legal risks.  I’ve seen those reports.  Again, we have the same concerns we’ve had with previous reports of another – of the other ship.

QUESTION:  So these two tankers right now in the international seas, as far as we know, are you coordinating with other countries not to buy this oil tankers, or are you doing anything to prevent this?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our position – as we’ve stated our position many, many times, I think it’s pretty clear to the international community and the private sector, and obviously they’ll make their own decisions. 


QUESTION:  And one on Syria, if I may.  Today, former Ambassador Ford wrote a piece on New York Times, and one of the points he was making that the U.S. should give far greater material support and training to Free Syrian Army.  Are you considering this option any time soon?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, let me say that we’ve been providing political, financial, and other support to the opposition for some time.  As you know, we expanded the scale and scope of our aid and assistance last year, and we are continuing to increase our assistance to the opposition, including vetted members of the armed opposition.  And the President spoke to this during his speech just last week. 

I would also note that in the Secretary’s interview with CNN just a couple of days ago, and on other occasions in this briefing room and others, we’ve indicated a support for the Levin language in the NDAA, which would provide the authority to the Department of Defense to train and arm.  And so I would point you to that.  We continue to work with Congress on that, but I think the Administration has been clear about our commitment to increasing our support.

QUESTION:  So we cannot imagine the ambassador already knows all these efforts.  What he wants is far greater support, something that dramatically different than U.S. already has been doing.  And my question is that:  Do you have any reconsideration to change dramatically?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, Ambassador Ford, who I was – had the pleasure of working with for a year while he was here and while I was here, and he’s an incredible diplomat and gave an incredible decades of service to this and many other issues.  But there is a difference between being a private citizen and being within the government, and a great deal has changed.  Conversations have changed.  Efforts have increased since he left the government.

QUESTION:  Well, it does seem as if Ambassador Ford – Secretary Clinton makes clear in her – former Secretary Clinton makes clear in her book, and I think it’s been pretty widely reported and in fact acknowledged, that Secretary Kerry was an early proponent of arming the rebels to change President Assad’s calculus.  And it does seem as if like two years later, the Administration has finally come around to that point of view.  And it seems as if like a lot of bloodshed could’ve been maybe prevented, and the situation that you now find yourself on the ground in Syria could maybe not be as grave had the Administration come around to this point of view two years ago.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve continued to increase the support and the kind of support we’re providing long before the President’s speech just a week ago.  So obviously I can’t outline the details of that, but this has been an ongoing discussion within the Administration.  We’re continuing to increase our support.  As you know, there have been a range of factors that have impacted the situation on the ground that have contributed to decision-making, whether that’s the influx of foreign fighters or the assistance of Iran and Hezbollah; whether that is our efforts to pursue a diplomatic path or efforts to increase the unity and the strength of the opposition.  Those are all factors that were taken into account in our decision-making.

QUESTION:  You mentioned the vetting of the opposition.  How do you vet the opposition?  I mean, these rebels are known to switch alliances all the time.  Some of them may end up with ISIL, for instance.  How do you vet them to ensure that they are actually – whatever aid you give stays with the vetted opposition?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I can assure you, Said, I’m not going to outline that for you here, but this is one of the most important factors that we have – the Secretary has weighed in with his international counterparts on, that we have made a priority as it relates to international assistance, because we believe that the assistance should go through and needs to go through the moderate opposition.  And the number of times we’ve talked about that and raised that as an issue on the agenda speaks to our commitment to doing that in the best way possible.

QUESTION:  So you agree that sending any arms may in fact exacerbate violence instead of stemming violence?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you know where we stand, that we don’t feel that there is a military solution here.  But again, I just outlined – I just reminded you that we have increased our assistance over time.  We have been supportive of the language in the Levin Amendment – the Levin language in the NDAA, and we will see where we go from here.

QUESTION:  But in your statement about ISIL and the attacks in Mosul, you said that they’re – ISIL gained from the situation in Syria.  So is there any regret here looking back that if things had been different in Syria, you wouldn’t have this problem in Iraq and potentially getting bigger throughout the Middle East?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, Lucas, that there are a range of factors that have contributed to where we are in Syria today, and they include the ones I just outlined:  the influx of foreign fighters, the engagement of Iran and others, the need to strengthen the opposition.  We are where we are now.  We’re taking steps to increase our assistance.  We’re – the moderate opposition had a great trip to Washington, and we’ll go from here.

QUESTION:  But no regrets looking back?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to entertain or bat that around, Lucas.

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