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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Overview of the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy

Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication
Washington, DC
February 9, 2015

4:30 P.M. EST


MR. RHODES: Well, thanks, everybody. I’ll just make a few opening comments about the National Security Strategy that was released last week and then take your questions on any topics.

First of all, you saw Susan Rice’s speech on the National Security Strategy, so I won’t go into great length. I’ll just highlight a few important points that I think are relevant, certainly to a broader audience around the globe.

This is our second National Security Strategy. It’s customary that administrations release one in each term. And I think what we tried to outline in the strategy is a vision for a sustainable American leadership in the world. And as you look at the document you see our approach as it relates to many of the prominent issues in the news today our ongoing efforts against ISIL and how that fits into a broader framework for counterterrorism in which the United States is using its unique capabilities to disrupt and defeat terrorist networks, but is also seeking to work with partners on the ground and building their capacity, and again, not using the kinds of models that we had in Iraq and Afghanistan where you had significant deployments of American ground forces in those efforts.

You saw, of course, a reference to our efforts to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, something we’re working very closely with partners on, but again, putting that in the broader principle of the United States acting at the center of a rules-based international order. But at the same time, I think it’s very important to note that in the strategy we outline a much broader vision, a much broader field for the United States as it relates to the interests that we have to advance going forward in the 21st century, and that applies to both issues and to regions.

In terms of issues, for instance, in addition to terrorism and nonproliferation, you also see a focus on climate change, which has been seen as not just a domestic priority but a national security priority by this Administration. And as we head into the Paris talks this year, we want to build on the momentum that was achieved with the President’s visit to China and work cooperatively with nations around the world to achieve an ambitious global agreement to combat climate change.

On health, you’ve seen the United States take the lead in the Ebola response, particularly in West Africa, but we want to be building broader global cooperation on global health security so that we’re more prepared for future pandemic disease.

On trade, we obviously have very ambitious efforts underway in both the Asia Pacific with the TPP and in Europe with TTIP, where we’re seeking to advance a higher standard for 21st century trade agreements. You see us deal with issues of maritime security and our efforts to foster a process to avoid escalation and to peacefully resolve claims.

Cyber security, an increasing issue of concern globally, was a priority in this strategy, both in terms of our efforts to get domestic legislation here in the United States to improve our cyber security, but also to work cooperatively with other countries to disrupt and defeat cyber threats to infrastructure that we all rely on.

So the point is, as we look out at the issues that are going to define the future, we want to be getting ahead of the curve in dealing with those challenges, and we want to be working cooperatively with other countries so that we’re establishing clear rules of the road, clear responsibilities for how different nations can contribute to dealing with these issues.

The other point I’d highlight is we focus on a truly global approach that, again, reinforces America’s core alliances – in Europe and Asia our treaty alliances that are at the center of everything that we do in the world – but also seeks to capitalize on the emerging regions. And President Obama’s invested a lot of time in our relationships in Africa, in East Asia and Southeast Asia, in India most recently with his trip, and in Latin America. And there I think we’re poised to continue to make significant progress.

In Africa, we hosted the first-ever head of state summit here with the President. We have signature development initiatives on food and power and health that we really believe can help forge a partnership around a sustainable African democratic development and growth.

In Latin America we’ve done a significant amount of work to cooperate on citizen security, on economic growth, on energy issues. Now with the opening between the United States and Cuba, we believe there’s additional space for the United States to work cooperatively with Latin America to really build a deeper partnership going forward.

And of course, the Asia Pacific rebalance features prominently in the strategy both in terms of what we’re doing with our security posture, with the TPP negotiations and our deepening commercial relations, and with our ongoing efforts, again, to strengthen alliances and also develop close working relationships with the other countries of the region.

So it’s a broad agenda for the United States that I think makes clear that we’re not going to allow ourselves to be defined simply by one or two pressing issues, but we want to, again, be operating within an international system that can work effectively to deal with the challenges that are going to define our times – and that we’re operating globally so that we’re in both regions that have great challenges, like the Middle East and North Africa, but also, again, in emerging regions where we’ve such economic growth and democratic development.

So I’ll stop there and take questions on anything that’s on your mind. We’ll start here.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is Eleni Argyri, Greek Public TV. Do you think that the potential breakup up of the Eurozone, in the case of a Greek exit, would undermine the strategic interest of the United States in the region and the world economy, of course? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: So the United States has consistently favored the success of the European project, and we’ve encouraged Greece to work cooperatively with the European nations, with the IMF, to address both its structural issues in terms of its economy and its participation in the Eurozone, but we’ve also that there has to be a pathway to growth for nations like Greece that have, again, suffered severe economic hardship in recent years. And so what we’d like to see again is a dual focus, both on the structural reform but also on a plan for a return to growth for Greece. We believe that that is best accomplished within the Eurozone. Again, there are many uncertainties that would come from any type of instability or breakup inside the Eurozone.

So again, in the conversations that the President had with Chancellor Merkel today, I think their focus was on how do we advance the European project instead of moving away from it, and how can that be done in a way that is mindful of the structural reforms that need to take place but that also offers the people of Greece a pathway to growth so that they have some hope and expectation that all of the economic pain that has been suffered leads to a better future and greater economic opportunities.


QUESTION: Thank you, Ben. Thank you, Ben, welcome back – always nice to see you here. And thanks to our friends at the FPC for arranging this. My name’s Andrei Sitov. I’m with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. I have one single subject which is Ukraine --

MR. RHODES: That’s not a simple subject.

QUESTION: -- yes – in three installments. One, today we heard the President and the chancellor. We haven’t heard anything we haven’t heard before, so what’s changed? Are we closer to peace or to escalation and war? Number two, if you want peace, as I assume, as the Russian Minister Lavrov always asks, why don’t you encourage Kyiv to have more direct contact and dialogue with the eastern regions? And number three, a question from my professor in Ottawa, who asks: Why do the peace initiatives from the West always come when the government forces in Ukraine face imminent defeat? Thank you.

MR. RHODES: So let me unpack those. There’s some interrelation there, though. So in terms of where we are, Chancellor Merkel and the President discussed her efforts with President Hollande and her discussions with President Putin around getting back to a pathway to peace through another Minsk process. And President Obama made very clear that he is fully supportive of those efforts. Our preference has always been to see a diplomatic resolution to this issue. So going forward this week, as our European allies will be working with the Russian Government and the Ukrainian Government, they have our full support in seeking a de-escalation of the current situation and a pathway towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

At the same time to address your other questions, what changes each time is the escalation that we see coming from the Russian-backed separatists. So the reason why you see an uptick in this activity is because we’ve seen in recent weeks an uptick in the support that has flowed into eastern Ukraine from Russia in terms of arms and, again, significant military advice and support. You’ve seen the Russian-backed separatists pushing beyond the boundaries of the original Minsk agreement, so in our view the violation of the existing agreement and the responsibility for that violation clearly falls with Russia and the separatists that it’s been backing. And I think that is the broadly-held view in the international community, certainly between the United States and our European allies.

In terms – and that relates directly, Andrei, to the question of the government in Kyiv and their engagement with the separatists. In our view, it’s very clear that Russia does supply arms to the separatists, does supply a degree of command and control to those separatists, and in many respects therefore is responsible for the activities of those separatists. And so therefore it’s important for Russia to be a part of those discussions.

Similarly, we don’t recognize the political status of those separatists in terms of their self-proclaimed republics. This is Ukrainian territory. I think the world recognizes the Ukrainian border as encompassing Donetsk and Luhansk, and so therefore this is really a matter for the government in Kyiv to be the principal actor in engaging with the Government of Russia, European governments, the United States.

But we do and have always recognized that Russia has significant interests in Ukraine and a historical relationship with Ukraine, cultural and linguistic overlap with certain populations inside Ukraine. That does not give Russia any right to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but it does mean that we want to be able to maintain dialogue and diplomacy as we discuss the future of this conflict. But again, the best solution would be one that preserves the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, that sees an end to this fighting and a pathway towards de-escalation. And the Ukrainian Government has consistently put on the table proposals for things like decentralization that would go a long way towards addressing any legitimate concerns about the protection of minority rights inside of the country.

So that’s what we’ll be continuing to focus on, and we’ll have to see what the outcome of those diplomatic efforts is.


QUESTION: Thanks for coming here. Kang Duk Lee from KBS. Can we expect President Obama will go to Moscow on May for the celebration of anniversary? If the President Park of South Korea will go to Moscow in May, what would be your recommendation or response? You want to find out some solution, resolution to the North Korean nuclear problem?

MR. RHODES: President Obama, it may not surprise you to know, is not planning to travel to Moscow. Well, I’ll leave it at that. (Laughter.) But at the same time, again, individual countries make their determinations about their own travel to those types of events. I think that in terms of our allies around the world, I think the key point we’ve made is that it’s important for the world to speak with one voice on behalf of the principle of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and the notion that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones, to redraw maps, that that is something that should be left to the past – and, frankly, that even those countries that don’t have significant interests in Ukraine have a significant interest in that principle because ultimately, it could set a worrisome precedent for other regions that – if we return to the days when there’s not a cost imposed on nations that do violate basic international norms, again, that could set a precedent for how nations choose to deal with things like territorial disputes.

So it is important, I think, for all countries to be speaking with one voice on behalf of those international principles.

Now, different countries are going to take different actions. Clearly, countries like the United States and our European allies, which have significant interests in European security, are going to be more forward-leaning in terms of applying sanctions, for instance. But there is a role, I think, for every country to speak up for those basic principles.

As a general matter, though, I would say that obviously whenever we commemorate the anniversaries associated with World War II, we do have an extraordinary amount of respect for Russia’s role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Russia suffered extraordinary losses in that effort. As the President said when he went to Normandy, the fact of our differences over Ukraine does not diminish an important shared history that the Russian people are a part of. But again, I would not expect us to be participating at the head-of-state level.


QUESTION: What about – quick follow-up. What about the North Korean nuclear issue? There are some indication that North Korea leader Kim Jong-un will come to the – to Moscow. So going to think we need some – put some pressure on him, direct pressure on him for the resolution of the problem?

MR. RHODES: Absolutely. All the six parties, I think, need to be making very clear to North Korea that the only pathway toward stability on the Korean Peninsula is denuclearization. That nobody has an interest in the types of provocative actions that we’ve seen from North Korea. So Russia, for instance, has no interest in instability in the Korean Peninsula, that when North Korea is engaging in actions like launching missiles or testing nuclear devices, that that inherently contributes to instability. So we would encourage every nation, particularly those within the six-party – the Six-Party nations to be sending a clear message to North Korea that denuclearization has to be the road to stability on the peninsula.


QUESTION: Regarding to Latin – I’m working for NTN24. Regarding to Latin America, I would like to mention the reference of the freedom of expression, especially in Venezuela and Ecuador. It’s going to be one year since NTN24 has been censored in Venezuela, and I know that the relations between both countries has been in a critical point. I would like to know exactly what the United States is doing in order to help these particular two societies to regain the freedom of expression, and particularly with NTN24, where one year ago the government, or State Department, mentioned that it should be re-established, the signal to the whole population of the country.

MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, as a general matter, the U.S. Government is always going to support freedom of expression, and that includes the freedom of any media organization to operate freely and the right of journalists to operate without fear of intimidation. And we’ve been very critical when we’ve seen practices by governments like Venezuela and Ecuador in rolling back those types of freedoms.

With respect to Venezuela, for instance, first of all, clearly, the approach the government is taking is not working. By any measure, Venezuela is facing significant economic challenges. It is facing significant opposition from a public that is frustrated with an approach that has not worked. It has not worked in delivering prosperity to the Venezuelan people, but it also has cracked down on what has been a very vibrant civil society. And again, our message has been simply that the pathway towards a better future for Venezuela is one where there are free and fair elections, where civil society is allowed to flourish, where journalism is allowed to go forward without that fear of intimidation. They often accuse the United States of being behind the challenges that they face; I don’t think anybody in the region buys that. I think it’s laughable and it cannot serve as an excuse for their own domestic problems.

We have imposed sanctions on certain individuals in Venezuela given what we see as an ongoing series of actions that do suppress universal rights. So we’ll continue to make clear the type of future that we would like to see that is consistent with the Inter-American Charter, which upholds universal human rights. But ultimately, again, that’s what’s going to be successful for the peoples of the Americas, whether they’re in Venezuela, Ecuador or elsewhere. Those countries that are pursuing open economies and open societies and free elections are performing very well, and I think set a positive example for the rest of the region. And as we head into the Summit of the Americas, certainly, issues around human rights and freedom of expression will be on the agenda. Civil society, we’ve insisted, needs to be included at the Summit of the Americas, so that will be a forum where we can lift up some of these issues.

QUESTION: Regarding to the censorship of NTN24?

MR. RHODES: We absolutely oppose any censorship of free expression as a general matter. So it’s not a principle that is rooted in any one news agency, but rather we believe it needs to be universally applied so that journalists can operate freely.

Yeah. We’ll go right there. Yeah. Yeah?

QUESTION: Okay. Barbara Plett-Usher from the BBC. Just a quick question on North Korea: There have been reports that the Americans are exploring talks or renewing talks. Can you just clarify that?

And then about Ukraine: Angela Merkel at the weekend sort of illustrated her view of how to approach the Russian issue, the complexity of it, and she gave as an example her background being in Eastern Germany and how the Berlin Wall – nobody – she said nobody expected the West to come and attack the Berlin Wall; it was there for 28 years before it finally fell, which is a very long-term perspective. How does the Obama Administration view that kind of a timeline or a timeframe for this conflict? I know that strategic patience has been used to describe the National Security Strategy, but I’m not sure how patient. (Laughter.)

MR. RHODES: Yeah. So with respect to your second question, I think the point that Chancellor Merkel was making, again, is that what the – well, I wouldn’t speak for her, but as I listen to her words, I mean, I think that what’s clear is that from the Cold War model, the countries that embraced freedom and the universal values of human rights and respect for civil society, those nations that embraced open economies ultimately were more attractive models and ultimately succeeded over closed societies. And again, that took a significant amount of time in the Cold War context.

Here’s how I think today is different: If you look at the Cold War – and often you hear this analogy brought up that this is a new Cold War – in the Cold War, you had the Soviet Union at the center of a significant block of countries, including Eastern European governments and then many other governments around the world. Today, it’s not as if there is a very large constituency for Russia’s policy in Ukraine. Russia is far more isolated in its policy in Ukraine than the Soviet Union was in conducting its own Cold War policy. And that’s why it’s so important, frankly, that all of Europe continue to speak up with a unified voice on this, continue to stand firm in applying sanctions, and supporting the Ukrainian Government. Because frankly, Russia’s – the costs that it’s facing in terms of its economy are coming much quicker than would be the case if you didn’t see that unity between the United States and Europe.

So, no, I don’t think that this is something that is going to play out over decades. There’s a very specific challenge right now in terms of resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. But then I do think there’s a longer-term issue of, again, how are nations going to be able to freely choose their own course so Ukraine can decide for itself what relations it wants, and then what types of values and systems do nations embrace. And we don’t dictate the systems that nations embrace, but again, I think what’s clear is there’s a model in Europe that’s been very successful, and the EU, I think, represents the success of democratic values and open markets.

So again, strategic patience, I think, applies as a far more general term in terms of how the United States is positioned and how we’re tending to the fundamentals of American strength and influence in the world in terms of our economy and our alliances and our position in the world. But when we look at Ukraine, we want to resolve an immediate crisis, but we also want to, again, have an international environment that is rules-based and that can allow nations like Ukraine to make their own decisions. And that is something I think we can accomplish on a quicker timeframe than, certainly, the Cold War.

On North Korea, the – our position has not changed. We have been having consultations with our allies and partners in the region, as we frequently do. Tony Blinken took his first trip as deputy secretary of State to the region. He was recently in Korea. And as part of that, he’ll have consultations. But our basic point has always been that we’re willing to come back to the table, but it has to be based on a credible indication from North Korea that it’s going to abide by its past commitments to denuclearization. We’re not going to talk, just have a meeting; there has to be a recognition from North Korea that it has made commitments in the past to denuclearize, and they can’t move the goalpost and expect to get back into talks.

So we are in those discussions, but in terms of going forward with Six-Party Talks, I think we’d need to see more action, more of a signal from the North Koreans that they’re serious.

Yeah. The gentleman right there, yeah.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. My name is Jeremy Au Yong from Singapore Straits Times. Two questions. First one is: Could I get a few more details on the invitations to presidency and Prime Minister Abe? What led to the decision to invite him for state visits, and when will they be coming?

My second question is: Can you elaborate a little bit on how strategic patience applies especially to the pivot to Asia and disputes in the South China Sea?

MR. RHODES: Well, in the first instance, I think the President is very mindful that we have to be sending clear signals to the Asia Pacific region, that the rebalance is here to stay, that he is personally invested in it. And there’s no substitute for the President of the United States being engaged in those efforts, and I think that’s been borne out in his recent trips, for instance, to the region. We know we’ll be attending summits at the back end of the year, as we always do, but again, we felt like as we lay out our vision for the year – and really, our blueprint for the next two years – that we did want to signal the degree of high-level attention that this was going to get.

We review at the beginning of the year which state visits we expect to have, and we felt it was important, number one, to have Japan for a state visit as a key ally in the region that has not yet been here for that type of state visit. And again, allies have been the cornerstone of everything we do in the region, and we want to be reinforcing that message.

But then secondly, we felt it was important to have President Xi here. With the Chinese, what we found is it’s very important to – there’s no substitute for the two leaders sitting down together, and we wouldn’t have had the type of progress that we had last year in China were it not for that summit. I mean, it took the two leaders getting together to have the progress on climate change, on trade, on military-to-military relations. So we wanted to keep that momentum going, and the best way to do that was to have, again, the occasion and marker of a state visit. We don’t have dates for those, but again, it will certainly be in advance of the summits at the end of the year.

We also wanted to indicate, of course, the importance we place on our relationship with the Republic of Korea. So we wanted to make clear that the President will be extending that invitation to President Park. But also, we’ve put a premium on engagement with ASEAN, and so we also wanted to indicate that the new president of Indonesia will be visiting this year. And as a snapshot, I think, of how we’ve approached the region – very close cooperation with allies, aiming to work cooperatively with – where we can with China, even as we have differences, but also ensuring that we’re reaching out robustly to Southeast Asia.

In terms of the South China Sea, I think as you look at what the rebalance is about, it’s positioning the United States to work cooperatively with the nations of the region, to assure continued prosperity and stability going forward. And so everything that we’re doing is meant to reinforce a rules-based system in the region. So on trade, TPP is meant to establish high standards for increased trade and commerce between Asia Pacific nations. If you look at our security posture and how we’re working with allies, but also deepening partnerships with emerging nations, again, broadening America’s partnerships in places like Australia in Darwin or the Philippines, where we’ve increased our defense relationships, we want to make sure that we’re well positioned to support stability in the region.

And then in terms of our political engagement, we’ve really sought to try to empower an architecture through ASEAN and the East Asia Summit whereby there’s a process for a dialogue for addressing issues like maritime security in the South China Sea, so that that can lead to things like a code of conduct to avoid escalation, and so that can lead to a process for resolving claims not through force but through international law and international mechanisms.

So I think strategic patience applies in terms of our efforts to establish a strong economic, security, and political footing in the region, not just for the United States but for that that type of rules-based order that can ensure the continued success of the region and can avoid conflict and escalation.

Yeah, in the middle.

QUESTION: Mohamed El Menshawy, Al-Araby Television. As we speak here about Russia and the Ukrainian crisis, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin is in a state visit to Cairo. Does the White house has any comment on that? And do you have anything new about the military aid to Egyptian Government?

MR. RHODES: No, I wouldn’t offer a particular comment. We don’t see – and this gets to the Cold War point. We don’t see the world as some type of chessboard in which the United States and Russia or any other country are competing in a zero-sum way for the affinity of governments. What I think is the case is that the U.S. relationship with Egypt in terms of security is unique and it’s rooted in decades of cooperation, it’s rooted in significant exchanges with the Egyptian military and a very substantial relationship in terms of the provision of military equipment to Egypt. So I do think that that is essentially a unique and irreplaceable relationship in terms of all of the history that’s gone into it and all of the – both relationships and military hardware that’s associated with it.

In terms of the current status, I think we continue to be where we are, which is that we’re providing some of our security assistance to Egypt with a particular focus on what is helpful in the Sinai and in their counterterrorism operations. And we continue to have certain military assets under review based on requirements that we have with the United States Congress to certify Egypt’s continued efforts to transition to democracy.

So that’s something that we are regularly reviewing. The relationship has proceeded. There has been a continued flow of military equipment. But again, we do look at certain weapons systems in the context of our congressional requirements. And again, our goal and our objective and our hope is to be able to fully restore that relationship. But in order to do that, we’d like to see Egypt continue to take the steps that they say they’re committed to taking in terms of elections and respect for the rights of the Egyptian people.

We should go to New York for one, I think.

QUESTION: Yep. Good evening. Nizar Abboud of Al-Akhbar Television from Beirut. My question is regarding your strategy against terrorism. It seems it’s not working very well, especially that we see Daesh now, or ISIS, has franchises all over the place from Libya to Yemen and other parts of the world. Al-Qaida is dwarfed by the size of ISIS and the allies are not working in concert together in order to curtail the flow of fighters and to curtail the flow of money and support to this organization. In Syria in particular, you have no coordination between your forces or your attacks and the government. And in the meantime, there are a flood – there are a flow of fighters who are trained through the Jordanian border going into the Golan area, al-Nusrah particularly, and working from there.

How are you going to reconcile all these discrepancies or conflicts between interests, between allies in Yemen, in Maghreb? Saudi Arabia is supporting certain tribes which are affiliated with the al-Qaida, whereas the Houthis on the other side are emerging as superpower in the country. How are you going to reconcile all that?

MR. RHODES: I’ll try to reconcile as much of that as I can in my answer here. So first very quickly on the terrorist threat, we believe that the threat has evolved in many ways. And the President’s talked about this. On the one hand, you’ve seen a diminishment and degradation of al-Qaida core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the risk of the types of spectacular attacks that we saw on 9/11 has been significantly reduced as we have steadily dismantled the al-Qaida safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the same time, there’s clearly been a diffusion of different smaller al-Qaida affiliates, including some, though, that are very lethal like AQAP in Yemen, as well as the emergence from al-Qaida in Iraq into ISIL. And what that poses is, number one, huge challenges in the region, where there’s extraordinary violence in different places, especially in Syria, but also an increasing risk when you talk about the flow of foreign fighters or you talk about the effort to inspire individual extremists in the West – the risk of the types of attacks that we’ve seen in Ottawa or Sydney or Paris.

And so what does that mean for our strategy? Well, we’re keeping up the pressure on al-Qaida, including through, as necessary, the use of direct U.S. action against terrorist targets. But with respect to ISIL, which was the focus of your question, we built in the last several months a strategy and a coalition to do several things: number one, to support the Iraqi Government in trying to evict ISIL from some of the territory that they’ve claimed. And we’ve had some successes on the ground in Iraq in terms of being able to degrade ISIL there, and where we’ve seen organized forces – either Iraqi Security Forces or the Peshmerga in the north – work in coordination with us, they’ve been able to push back. But it’s going to take time. This is going to be a long-term effort. But again, we believe, with the training that is taking place and with the arms that are flowing to the Iraqi Government, that we’ll be able to steadily reverse those territorial gains that ISIL’s made.

Inside of Syria, it’s a far more difficult challenge, because there is not the same type of organized ground force that we can operate with. And we would not, as your question may have suggested, work with an Assad government that has precipitated the environment that ISIL has taken advantage of. And the reason there’s a terrorist safe haven in Syria is because you have a government that acted with such violence against its own people that it essentially lost control of its own territory and lost legitimacy with its people. I can’t see any scenario where the people of Syria accept the governance of the Assad regime after all that’s happened. So therefore, what we’re doing is we’re currently degrading the ISIL safe haven in Syria, financial targets, command-and-control targets, weapons. Where we’ve been able to support forces on the ground, as we have done in Kobani, we have been able to push back ISIL. But this is going to be a long-term challenge in Syria. That’s why we’re seeking to build up a moderate opposition that can be a counterweight to ISIL inside the country.

That’s not the only part of our strategy, though. We obviously have to deal with the financing, and we’ve taken significant steps to curtail the flow of financing to ISIL, but also, again, to target things like mobile oil refineries that they rely on. Foreign fighters – we have been working more cooperatively with our European allies and other countries around the world coming out of the UN to align our approaches, to make sure that there’s the ability to apprehend those individuals who are either traveling to or from Syria to fight with ISIL, and that’s going to be a continued focus. And then also working with partners around the world to counter this ideology, and I think, frankly, the more people learn about ISIL, the more they reject them. And what we saw with the horrific killing of the Jordanian pilot, for instance, was, without any prompting from the United States, I think a significant blowback within the Arab world to that type of treatment and brutality. And ultimately, again, it’s going to be Arab partners standing up and making the biggest difference in rejecting this type of extremism in their midst.

So it’s going to take time, but I do think we’ve aligned a coalition and are working on the different elements of a strategy that will push back ISIL. And I think, ultimately, they’ll fail because they don’t have anything to offer the people of that region or the world except for death and destruction.

Go ahead in the middle there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Inga Czerny for the Polish Press Agency. So we heard today President Obama talking about the possibility of sending arms if diplomacy fails. I would like to know, what would you do if other NATO member states would start to arm Ukrainian army?

And secondly, President Obama also said that the U.S. would keep bolstering its military presence in Central and European Europe – central and Eastern Europe. So I was wondering if the U.S. Administration is considering to do something more that would go beyond the – what was decided in Newport at NATO summit --


QUESTION: -- to prevent Russian aggression in Baltic countries. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. So on your second question, this is relevant to the National Security Strategy. As we looked at how the strategic landscape had changed from the first National Security Strategy to this one, one of the obvious factors was Russia’s more aggressive posture in its neighborhood. And that accounts for a shift in terms of how we look at resources. And we’ve already established additional resources to reassure Eastern European allies through our European Reassurance Initiative.

But I think that you should read the strategy as signaling the fact that that’s not the end of the story for the United States. We believe that the United States and NATO as a whole need to be looking at what can we do to reassure those allies to the east, particularly those like the Baltic countries that border Russia or countries like Poland – what can we be doing to reassure them that our Article 5 commitment is real? And that’s, again, going to include the United States, but also, we’ll continue to make the case to our NATO allies that European countries need to be spending at 2 percent of GDP on defense. President Obama raised this with Chancellor Merkel again today, as he does with every European leader, because ultimately, it shouldn’t just be a United States solution; it has to be a NATO solution. And so we do want to look at continued ways that we can reinforce the security of our Eastern European allies. And that can manifest itself in exercises, in a presence on the ground, in initiatives like Baltic air policing, all of which sends a signal that the Article 5 commitment is real.

And this gets to the question of our staying power. I think we want to signal – again, Ukraine has been a significant challenge, and we’re responding to that with many different tools. A NATO Article 5 commitment would absolutely trigger a U.S.-NATO military response, and we want to make sure that that commitment is real not just on paper, but in terms of contingency planning and resourcing, and we’ll continue to look at how to strengthen that going forward.

On the first question, look, I think you’ve heard a difference of views from different countries on this question. Germany, for instance, has opposed the provision of lethal assistance. I think, again, we’re not going to necessarily dictate to individual countries what they do. NATO took a decision as a whole at the last summit in Wales to have everybody providing security support to the Ukrainians, and different countries found different ways to do that, all in the nonlethal space, of course.

I think the United States will make its own decision based on what happens on the ground in terms of the diplomatic process, but also based on our evaluation of how effective certain types of assistance can be, about what we’re going to do. I think that’ll be important as other countries make their own decisions.

Again, the bottom line holds that you’re not going to have a military solution here. What we’ve seen, of course, is that the Russian military – the Ukrainian military’s not going to be brought up to parity with the Russian military. But if – we’re constantly looking at ways that we can provide the type of equipment that can help the Ukrainian security forces deal with a very difficult situation and we’ll consult with all of our NATO partners in that.

MODERATOR: I have – sorry, I have to be the timekeeper. I think we have time for one more question.


MODERATOR: Ben, I’ll let you call that one, but on a different topic.

MR. RHODES: Okay. I’ll take a Cuba – yeah, who had a Cuba one?


MR. RHODES: Yeah, okay. Sorry. (Laughter.) I’ll take two more. I’ll take another one. I’ll take --

MODERATOR: All right, he gets two.

MR. RHODES: Yeah, we’ll do Lalit here.

QUESTION: Thanks. Daniel Pacheco with Caracol Television from Colombia. How is the United States going to use its newly obtained leverage in the Western Hemisphere after these Cuba talks? And I’m also curious if Cuba hosting the negotiations between FARC and the Colombian Government was a positive influence on those conversations, which you, I understand, were very involved with. Thanks.

MR. RHODES: Yeah. Well, look, there’s a number of dimensions to that. Number one, it’s just a fact that our Cuba policy has been an irritant in the region. I say that from experience. Every Summit of the Americas that you go to, you end up debating our Cuba policy for the majority of that summit. That’s time that you’re not spending talking about other things. So just from one very narrow piece, the President has said there’s a lot of history in the hemisphere, but we have to put that in the past and focus on the areas where we can cooperate. And so there are practical areas of cooperation on citizen security, on counternarcotics, on economic development, on peace and reconciliation – as in Colombia – where the nations of the hemisphere can cooperate. And I think, frankly, if you remove the irritant of the U.S.-Cuba relationship, it does open up space and bandwidth, frankly, for us to have a broader conversation with the nations of the hemisphere about what we’re doing cooperatively in that space.

So part of this is simply putting the past in the past and focusing on what we can do together in the future, because if you look at it – whether it’s what we’re trying to do in Central America to promote greater citizen security; what we’re trying to do on energy cooperation, including clean energy; what we’re trying to do on having a regional approach to economic growth and deeper commercial ties; and to people-to-people exchanges – all of that will benefit from being forward-looking and not being anchored by these kind of ideological conflicts of the past.

Second, though, I do think we also want to make the case that the hemisphere should stand for certain values, and that if you look at the Inter-American Charter, it upholds universal values and basic human rights like freedom of expression, freedom to organize. And frankly, the issue should not be our Cuba policy; the issue should be: What are – what is every nation doing to uphold those values? And where there are countries that are not upholding those values, including Cuba, let’s have an open dialogue and debate about how we can better, again, strengthen support for human rights in the hemisphere.

So again, I think the issue shouldn’t be the U.S. policy; the issue should be how is everybody upholding the basic tenets of the Inter-American Charter. And so for instance, at the Summit of the Americas, we want civil society to be there, and we want to have an open discussion about human rights, not simply a discussion about a 50-year-old policy that we acknowledge has not worked and has failed. So I think there’s a broader effort to have a conversation on those values.

Third, on Colombia, we have been very supportive of President Santos’s efforts. And so, insofar as he has been working with the Cubans over the course of his negotiations with the FARC, we’ve been in full support of those efforts. And again, if he can reach a pathway to resolving one of the longest-standing conflicts in the world, as a close friend and partner of Colombia, we want to be supportive of those efforts. And there are very thorny issues to come in that negotiation, but at every juncture, he’s managed to find a way to move it forward.

But it does show that there are areas where we can identify a practical overlap of interests with the Cubans. We’re going to have differences. And in our discussions with the Cubans, in my discussions with the Cubans, it was very clear that we’re going to have differences on issues related to democracy. And they don’t like our democracy programming, and we certainly find much to criticize in their treatment of civil society. And we’ll continue to be vocal about our views there, but we can actually cooperate on practical issues. I mentioned a number of them: counterterrorism, counternarcotics, economic growth. And frankly, if we can find a way to support a successful conclusion to the Colombian peace process, I think that would be good for the entire hemisphere.

Lalit, yeah. I’m trying to get regional --

QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks, Ben, for coming to the Foreign Press Center. I have a question on President’s successful trip to India, after which – during which you had a breakthrough understanding on the civil nuclear liability issue. Day before yesterday, Indian Government came up with a frequently asked questions clarifying its position on that issue. Is it – have you seen that, and is it the same understanding that – are you and India on the same page after that has been issued?

MR. RHODES: Yes. Look, a very successful visit to India, and part of that was the resolution between the two governments on the civil nuclear issue. I think the two steps that have been taken since then – we have encouraged the Indian Government to make information available about the nature of the understandings as part of its ongoing engagement with companies, so that people can have a clear understanding of what the way forward is. And we’ve also been able to consult with our companies and brief them on the ongoing discussions that we’ve had through the contact group with India.

So I think this is a sign of an effort to continue to move forward and using the breakthrough to try to open the space to resolve the concerns of U.S. businesses so that they can participate in the Indian nuclear industry. Again, as we said on the trip, companies are going to make their own judgments. They’re going to look at the liability pool; they’re going to look at India’s, again, clarifications of its laws. We believe as a government that we’ve reached a sufficient understanding, and now I think this process will continue. And we’re hopeful that it will lead to our companies having their concerns addressed and being able to participate in India.

I’ll take – I’ve got time for two more.

MODERATOR: Okay. (Laughter.)

MR. RHODES: Just because I --

MODERATOR: You’re running this show.

MR. RHODES: Well, I just -- She lowered expectations so that I could exceed them, I think. (Laughter.)

Okay, we’ll go here. Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. Manar Ghoneim, Middle East News Agency, Egypt. You have just mentioned your assessment on the relations between Egypt and the United States, but don’t you think that the last visit made by the Muslim Brotherhood to the State Department and their meeting with some officials there have some sort of criticism in Egypt, and this could affect the relations between Egypt and the United States?

And the second question is regarding the reported summit on terrorism that is going to be held here in the – in Washington. So if you have any update on this summit and the attendees and the agenda of the summit. Thank you.

MR. RHODES: So on the first question, look, we’ve engaged a broad cross section of Egyptian society for many years. We certainly don’t engage people who the United States believes to be participants in any type of terrorist efforts. And so we’ll continue to engage a diversity of actors from within Egypt. We do, again, continue to have a close relationship with the government. The government has clearly expressed its views as relates to the Muslim Brotherhood generally. I think what we’ve said to them in our engagements is that we understand the profound security concerns that the government has, but on the other hand, there has to be a way to find peaceful outlets for political participation for the broadest possible cross section of Egyptians; that ultimately, that’s going to help bring about the stability that President Sisi is pursuing. So there – again, while we recognize the need to deal with specific security challenges, and there are certain terrorist groups operating inside of Egypt that we share concerns about, we also recognize that there are also many Egyptians who may have been supporters of Mohamed Morsy, for instance, who are not terrorists or who do not sympathize with terrorists. And they need to find a pathway to peaceful political participation.

On the upcoming summit involving Countering Violent Extremism, we’ll have more on that to come, but I’ll just say a few things. First, in the current environment, we think it’s very important to look at how here in the United States we’re dealing with the challenge of violent extremism. And we partner with communities and cities and states around the country in terms of finding approaches to combat radicalization; to find, again, peaceful and productive pathways for individuals to participate in American society. And frankly, at a time when we see efforts to radicalize individuals in the United States – ISIL is very active in the social media space, for instance – we want to make sure that we’re empowering communities to push back. And the good thing for the United States, as the President said when he was with Prime Minister Cameron, is we have an extraordinarily vibrant and successful and diverse American Muslim community that is a huge asset for the United States in terms of our economy, in terms of our culture. They have been very successful as an immigrant community here. So this is about how do we partner with them and other communities of all faiths in combating extremism.

Then I think certainly in the current context there’ll also be an international component in addition to a domestic component given how many other governments are operating in the space and building on the UN Security Council resolution that dealt with foreign fighters but also the broader issue of the ideology that is undergirding this. So there will be international participation to discuss the different challenges individual governments are facing, how different governments – whether they’re in the United States or Europe or in the Arab world – are dealing with this challenge of violent extremism, and then how we can work cooperatively, particularly, again, in an environment where you see an organization like ISIL seeking to work across borders and to exploit grievances towards violent ends.

So we’ll have more details about it, but it’ll have both a domestic component for the United States and also international participation to look at the broader picture. And again, this is all very relevant to the type of world that we want to build, which is where groups like ISIL that have nothing to offer are rejected by the vast majority of humanity, who I think just want to live in peace with greater economic opportunity.

One more question here in the front row.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for today. My name is Tatsuya Mizumoto from Jiji Press, Japanese Wire Service. Just I would like to ask about the Asian Pacific front. Do you both – Susan Rice said last week that you have invited Japanese prime minister, and you said the date is not fixed. But I want to ask: Does Prime Minister Abe’s visit put pressure on both countries to reach an agreement on TPP before he arrives?

MR. RHODES: Yes --

QUESTION: And then one more. So this year is 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. So given that, so what kind of message will two leaders, President and then – the President and the prime minister will give to audience? Thank you very much.

MR. RHODES: So on the first question, we’re certainly not going to be planning the timing around the TPP negotiations. I think we feel a sense of urgency to conclude an agreement, but it also has to be a good agreement, because ultimately this is an agreement that has – is going to have to succeed domestically in our country, in Japan. So again, we would not want to shortcut that process. So we want to get it concluded as soon as possible. We believe we’re close.

But again, we’re going to be driven by getting the very best agreement. Just from the perspective of the United States, that’s because we’re obviously going to have to get support from the United States Congress. The good news on that front is that this is an area where the Republican leadership has indicated that they want to work with the President, so there is bipartisan support for a good, high-standards trade agreement. So again, I think it’ll be a key item on the agenda, and I think we’re moving to conclude the bilateral issues and the broader TPP issues as soon as we can. But we’re going to be driven by getting the best possible agreement, and we’ll see how the state visit interacts with that. Again, the timing won’t be dictated by the status of the TPP negotiation.

On your second question, look, first of all, I think the United States and Japan set an example to the world of how former adversaries can become very close friends. We have much difficult history rooted in World War II; but at the same time, we’ve demonstrated that a shared commitment to our alliance, a shared commitment to democratic values can transform the relationship between not just governments but also peoples given the overwhelming support in both countries for our alliance.

So it’s a chance to reflect on how far our two nations have come. And again, at a time when we are constantly confronted with the ghosts of history, we think it’s important for all nations to be sending messages that were respectful of the past and were respectful of historical sensitivities, and we don’t allow historical sensitivities to stand in the way of progress; but that if we commit to the future that I think has been at the heart of the U.S.-Japan alliance, a future of, again, democratic values and peaceful resolution of disputes and economic prosperity, that that’s a better way of dealing with issues than obviously how the 20th century often devolved into conflict. So it’s a good opportunity and I’m sure the two leaders will mark that in their visit.

Thanks, everybody.

MODERATOR: And with that, we have to end. I’m very sorry. Ben, you’ve been very generous with your time. Thank you so much and thank you, everybody. The briefing is closed and we’re off the record.