Briefing on Recent Developments in the Middle East and Other Issues
Director of Policy Planning
MR. SULLIVAN: Hi, guys. My name is Jake Sullivan. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the director of policy planning here at the State Department and also a frequent traveling companion of many of the people in this room. And because the Secretary is taking a couple of days off to spend the Easter holiday with her family, I found myself with a little bit of time on my hands, and Mark Toner is also out. So I agreed to come down and basically do a little bit of a road show here for you guys, take your questions.
I’m happy to take questions on essentially any topic except for topics I know nothing about, which I won’t be shy about saying I’m going to pass that off to my friends in PA or elsewhere. But otherwise, without really further ado, I’d like to just throw it open to you to any questions that you guys may have on news of the day, trends, topics, and so forth.
Okay, there we go.
QUESTION: So, Jake, has –
MR. SULLIVAN: Do you get to go first, or --
QUESTION: Yes. Has – (laughter).
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m not sure how it works, but Jill and Kim here --
MR. SULLIVAN: -- had their hands nicely raised and – okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Good for them.
QUESTION: Can we turn on the mikes?
QUESTION: Can we turn on the mikes?
QUESTION: So we can hear you.
QUESTION: They’re on.
QUESTION: No, his mike.
QUESTION: The mikes are --
QUESTION: Oh, speakers – yeah, they should be on.
STAFF: Mikes are on.
MR. SULLIVAN: Matt’s mike is what you’re looking for?
QUESTION: Maybe crank up the volume.
QUESTION: I’ll speak very loudly. It’s a pretty short question. Has President Asad lost his legitimacy as Syria’s leader?
MR. SULLIVAN: The – I would say that we strongly oppose President Asad and the Syrians’ Government, the actions that they’ve taken against their citizens, the attacks on civilians in many cities around the country, the arbitrary arrests, the detentions, the torture, as well as the continued destabilizing behavior in the region, including support to terrorist – terrorist groups and terrorism. And we have called on and continue to call on Asad to change course now and to heed the calls of his own people.
Ultimately, the future of Syria is up to the people of Syria. But what is clear is that the way they are acting right now is not consistent with the way that a responsible government acts as against its own citizens or in connection with its international obligations. And that has been our position with respect to Syria, and it remains so. And in that regard, we’re considering a range of options, including targeted sanctions to show the Syrian Government that the United States believes that the course that it’s on is wrong and that it has to take steps to respond to the aspirations of its people and to respect their rights.
QUESTION: So it sounds as though he hasn’t yet, in your eyes, lost his legitimacy as a leader. And there did come a point in Libya where you said that Qadhafi had lost his legitimacy. Has that point not been reached yet with Asad?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, I think what I would say with respect to Asad is that what happens with respect to the future – political future of Syria is up to the Syrian –
QUESTION: Well, that’s fair enough. You’ve said that --
MR. SULLIVAN: And –
QUESTION: -- in Egypt, you’ve said that in Tunisia, you said that in Libya, but you also, in the case of Libya, said that Qadhafi has lost his legitimacy because of the attacks on civilians. In this case, we have a similar situation going on in Syria where Asad’s troops are attacking civilians. Has it gotten – have those attacks gotten to the point – it sounds like they haven’t yet – to where you think that Asad has lost its legitimacy?
MR. SULLIVAN: We take each country’s situation on its own terms. And in the case of Syria, we have consistently continued to condemn in the strongest possible terms the brutal violence that’s being used against its citizens. And we have said consistently that the Syrians – the Syrian people’s call for freedom of expression, for association, for peaceful assembly, for the ability to freely choose their leaders has to be heard. And we have said that President Asad is on the wrong track and that he has to change course.
We have also made the case, as I said earlier, that the actions he’s undertaking, including the actions you just described are not consistent with the actions of a responsible government. And we will continue to make that case publicly, and we’ll make it privately to the Syrians as Assistant Secretary Feltman has done, as Ambassador Ford has done, and as we have done through statements going up to and including the President of the United States.
QUESTION: What makes you think that any additional sanctions that you might impose are likely to have any impact on the Syrian leadership given the fact that Syria is already one of the most heavily sanctioned countries by the United States? It’s a state sponsor of terrorism, very broad sanctions have already been enacted. Why should anyone think that these sanctions, if they actually come to pass, would change their minds at all?
MR. SULLIVAN: The issue of sanctions is something that is under consideration right now, and I don’t want to get into the specifics of it. And without getting into the specifics of it, it’s not easy to answer your question.
But I would say that the notion of targeted sanctions aimed at those who are responsible for perpetrating this violence can sharpen the choice for those people and can sharpen the choice for the regime. And that is the theory behind exploring this potential alternative, and I stress that it is not something that we have decided to do yet, and nor can I get into the specifics of exactly what the mechanics would be or who the targets would be. And without doing so, I’m somewhat constrained in answering your question.
But ultimately the purpose of them is to send a clear message to the targets of the sanctions and to leave them with a clear choice and to make them understand that there are costs, specific costs, related to this action.
QUESTION: If they –
MR. SULLIVAN: Can I guarantee that that’s going to be successful in changing their behavior? Obviously not. But can it be an additional tool along with the other tools that we’ve already brought to bear and that others could bring to bear? We think that that is certainly a possibility, which is why this particular policy option is under consideration right now.
QUESTION: Jake, countries are different, as you’ve said. But I mean, in Libya you had the United Nations responding to what was feared to be a terrible humanitarian disaster, an attack on people. In Syria, people are already dying, very large numbers, and maybe you can’t exactly compare, but Matt’s question, I think, is kind of what we’re getting at. Why this inconsistency between the rationale for what you’re doing in Libya and the rationale for what you are not doing in Syria.
MR. SULLIVAN: From our perspective, we have to take each of the countries in this region on its own terms and consider the range of policy options we have available to us unilaterally as the United States and multilaterally in concert with other countries and with international organizations.
And in the case of Syria, we are considering a wide range of potential options. One of those is the targeted sanctions issue that we were talking about before. And we can also state the core principles that have guided our approach to each of the various situations around the Middle East, some of which apply equally in different places, some of which apply a little bit differently. But the core that there needs to be meaningful political reform, that there has to be an end to violence perpetrated by governments against their own citizens, and that there has to be a respect for and an adherence to the universal rights to include freedom of assembly, speech, religion, and so forth, these are things that are guiding our approach to Syria, and we’ve been unequivocal about them.
QUESTION: But right now, again, people are being attacked, people are dying. How many people have to die before all of a sudden, it’s at the point where you have to do something like what you did in Libya, which is to say stop the killing, save the people, and deal with everything else later?
MR. SULLIVAN: At present the options that we are focused on are diplomatic and financial options. And from our perspective, the choices that the Syrian Government is making are wrong for itself and they’re wrong for the Syrian people, and we condemn them in the strongest possible terms. And we are working with our partners in the international community to make clear that this is not just unacceptable to the United States, but it’s unacceptable to rights respecting nations everywhere.
QUESTION: So am I to read that you’re maybe considering going to the UN or getting a coalition together or something like that?
MR. SULLIVAN: Secretary General Ban is going to be briefing the Security Council this afternoon. I would say that is the next logical step in terms of action in New York. And from there – what occurs after that, I would leave to following on from his briefing.
QUESTION: I have a few short questions. I understand that each country is different, and I’m not asking you to tell me what you’re planning to do exactly on Syria, but why is it taking so long? We’ve had 40 days of demonstrations in Syria. It took a week in Egypt before the President said the transition starts now, President Obama. It took a week in Libya before there was a resolution at the UN. Why is it taking 40 days for any sort of talk about any kind of action to actually take place?
And two very brief questions. Senator Kerry has a – apparently, or had – I don't know what it’s like at the moment – he had a good relationship with President Asad. Have you asked him to intervene or to get in touch with the president? And is anybody in this administration still exploring the possibility of a peace treaty between Israel and Syria?
MR. SULLIVAN: Let’s see. I should of – okay. So we got Kerry, peace treaty, and why –
QUESTION: Why is it taking so long?
QUESTION: And the biblical time span. (Laughter.)
MR. SULLIVAN: Why are we taking so long? Okay. As to the first question, I would say that the United States responded swiftly and unequivocally to the violence in Syria, to condemn in the strongest possible terms, to call for the protection of and respect for the rights of the people of Syria, to end the violence, the brutal crackdowns, the arbitrary arrests, the detentions, the torture, and all the rest of it. That happened immediately, and it has been the consistent and unequivocal position of the United States to maintain that line throughout.
Our work with the international community, our consultations with them about the situation in Syria, also began almost immediately upon the initiation of this violence. We are considering, as we have been, policy options that can help support an outcome that involves the respect of the rights of the Syrian people and an end to the violence in Syria. So it is hard for me to accept the premise of your question.
On the issue of Kerry, I don't know of specific conversations about having Senator Kerry call the leadership of the Syrian Government. But I’ll get back to you if I learn anything more on that.
And on the issue of the peace treaty between Israel and Syria, the position of this administration has been clear from day one, which is that we support a comprehensive peace in the Middle East that includes peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and peace between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors. That remains a goal of this administration, and we will continue, through whatever means we have at our disposal at any given time, to pursue it.
QUESTION: But I think Kim’s question was, is anybody actually trying to do that right now? And is your answer yes, or is that on the backburner?
MR. SULLIVAN: Right at the moment our focus is on ending the violence against the Syrian people and stopping the brutal crackdown that is taking place.
QUESTION: Jake, these core principles that you’ve pushed, you have used them in your arguments with Bahrain about its reaction to its demonstrations and with little or no success. I’m wondering, given that they are – they have reacted to their protestors in similar ways that Syria’s reacting to its protestors, whether you might follow up with more pointed action in Bahrain, whether the U.S. is going to do anything beyond rhetoric, whether there might be sanctions or something.
MR. SULLIVAN: At the moment, our focus in Bahrain is and has been on initiating a meaningful dialogue between the government and the broad cross-section of the opposition that reflects the voices of all Bahrainis.
QUESTION: Yeah, but --
MR. SULLIVAN: We believe that that is the most effective way forward. We’ve also been clear with the Bahrainis, both publicly and privately, about our view, of the importance of both political reform and responding to the aspirations of all the people of Bahrain and that violence and violent actions cannot be the answer and security alone can’t produce a sustainable outcome, that there has to be dialogue in a political solution.
QUESTION: Well, that’s all very well and good, but it’s hard to have dialogue when opponents of the regime, critics of the regime, are disappearing, are being disappeared.
MR. SULLIVAN: With respect to the detention of opponents or opposition figures in the regime, it’s something that we have taken up directly with the government. It’s something that we’re deeply concerned about. We have expressed our condolences for those who have died in custody and we’ve strongly urged the government to ensure that everyone in their custody is treated fairly and in accordance with international principles.
And more generally, we’ve made the case to the Government of Bahrain that it is in their interest, their long-term interest, to take the kinds of actions that we have been urging. This is not simply something that can or should be imposed from the outside, but should be embraced by the Government of Bahrain as the most viable way to produce a sustainable outcome there.
QUESTION: Jake, some of Syria’s neighbors have warned the prospect of sectarian strife in Syria should the Asad regime be toppled. Is that a valid concern at all in your eyes? And does the U.S. regard the greater political involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the affairs of Syria as a good thing, as something that naturally would come as a result of greater political freedom in that country?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think we have avoided speculating on future hypothetical scenarios in Syria, chiefly because the immediate challenge before us is so great, and that challenge is to deal with the ongoing brutal crackdown of Syrian citizens by the Syrian Government. So it is hard for me to address the question you’re posing as it raises a series of scenarios that may or may not come to pass in the future. And where the U.S. Government’s policy energy is focused at the moment is in addressing what is happening on the ground in Syria right now.
QUESTION: Jake, is the Secretary making calls or is – or if she’s sort of off for a few days, can you elaborate more on what the U.S. is doing with its allies to try to cause some change in the behavior of the Syrian Government?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, obviously, any time we consider policy options here in the United States, to include things like targeted sanctions, things of that nature are most effective when there are many countries involved in pursuing and implementing them. But in terms of the specifics of the conversations that we’ve been having with our partners in Europe and elsewhere, I’d like to defer now because those are ongoing conversations and they’re sort of confidential, sensitive, diplomatic discussions. But I can tell you that we are talking to our European friends about what tools we have available to address the situation in Syria.
QUESTION: Can I go to Libya? The British defense secretary today said that Qadhafi is a target and something along the lines of if he doesn’t leave they’re going to strike him. What’s the U.S. position on this? Do you agree with that statement? Would the U.S. be in support of a targeted assassination of Qadhafi?
MR. SULLIVAN: Our position on assassination has not changed. There’s no change in U.S. policy towards assassination, and we’ve been clear, both as the United States and as NATO, that the military mission in Libya is not regime change. As you all know, the goal, as it was laid out in the NATO communiqué that came out of Berlin is to enforce the arms embargo, the no-fly zone, and to conduct a civilian protection mission. And we made very clear to the Qadhafi regime what it would take to secure an end to the strikes, and that is the series of items that were enumerated in that communiqué.
Now, we also believe at the same time that it is critical for the future of Libya and to redeem the aspirations of the Libyan people that Qadhafi go. And we are using a wide variety of means to pressure and isolate the Qadhafi regime and to sharpen the choice for those around him to produce that outcome. But that is distinct and separate from the military mission that has been undertaken to enforce 1973.
QUESTION: Do you believe 1970 – or 73 – gives you the – gives the coalition the authorization to try to attack and kill Qadhafi or not?
MR. SULLIVAN: I don’t want to speak to a legal interpretation of 1973. What I would say is that we see our mission under 1973 as being a civilian protection mission, not a regime change mission. And that civilian protection mission is a mission that is aimed at ending the attacks and threat of attacks on Libyan civilians, leading to the departure from cities of all of Qadhafi’s forces – not just his tanks, but his mercenaries, his snipers, his irregular forces – and the assurance and facilitation of humanitarian access. That’s our focus with respect to implementing the civilian protection aspect of 1973 in addition to the arms embargo, the no-fly zone, and the other elements.
So from our perspective, the broader political objective of securing Qadhafi’s departure so that there can be a peaceful political transition in Libya that leads to the redemption of the aspirations of all the people of Libya is something we are pursuing through a range of political, diplomatic, and economic means.
QUESTION: Jake, the – NATO has hit a couple of command facilities over the past couple of days. And is it the U.S. view, that, under the Security Council resolution, that any facility where there’s – military planning goes on is a legitimate target?
MR. SULLIVAN: As I said, Paul, the goal of our mission on the civilian protection side is to stop the attacks by Qadhafi’s forces on civilians. And as part of that mission, we’ve targeted command-and-control sites that are being used by regime forces to wage attacks against Libyan civilians, brutal attacks that in Misrata over the course of the past week have killed dozens of civilians.
So from our perspective, the degradation of those sites, those command-and-control sites, is a part of the operation and it’s also part of the reason why the opposition has had some success in pushing Qadhafi’s forces back in Misrata.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, actually? You just – you acknowledged that – and I know others in the administration have acknowledged that there are civilians that are being killed. Apparently, Qadhafi’s forces have attacked the port in Misrata today where they’re taking wounded out by boat. At what point is this – the one part of this mission, of the U.S. – continues to be protecting civilians. You’re acknowledging civilians are being attacked, and the U.S. has military assets in the region that could be used. I mean, at what point is the U.S. going to look at this and say, “Civilians are dying, and we need to redeploy more military, U.S. military, to help”?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, the President has made it clear that the United States not only stands ready to play perhaps the central supporting role in this mission on things to include refueling; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; air defense; suppression; and so forth, but also, where appropriate, to have unique capabilities of the United States deployed in order to advance the civilian protection mission such as the Predator drones.
And from our perspective, this is something that we have worked out with the NATO command structure. They have taken over command and control of this operation. The NATO forces are carrying out sorties against Qadhafi’s forces in Misrata and in other parts of the country. And we will continue to pursue the policy that the President has set forth, and we believe that that is the best way to produce an outcome here. Part of what is at play here is that we’ve been at this now for just over a month. And as the Secretary has said, and as Ambassador Daalder has said, there has to be some degree of patience in terms of executing the terms of this mission and trying to secure its military objectives, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
QUESTION: So you remain satisfied – the U.S. remains satisfied with the mission that – with the role that NATO is playing in Libya right now? You’re satisfied with the way that the operation is going there?
MR. SULLIVAN: It’s difficult to answer that question because any time you have an attack on a civilian by a government – by its own government, their own government, it’s difficult to be satisfied. But we believe that the current posture of the NATO mission and the United States’s participation in it is consistent with the policy the President laid out, and it’s consistent with what we are trying to achieve.
QUESTION: Jake, the African Union is accusing non-African actors of essentially sort of scuppering their peace effort with Libya. I’m wondering what you make of that accusation. They’re saying people have non-African agendas at work here. How do you rate the African Union as far as the peace effort has gone so far? And where do you think – is there any hope in that avenue?
MR. SULLIVAN: From our perspective, the TNC, the opposition, has every right to lay out what it believes is the right vision for a peaceful transition and all of the elements that would go along with it to produce the kind of political change in Libya that responds to the aspirations of all the people of Libya.
The African Union has obviously been deeply engaged on the political and diplomatic side. They’ve been engaged through the Contact Group as well as through their own initiatives. From our – the United States’s view and NATO’s view and the chair statement in Doha, all came to a simple unequivocal conclusion, which is that Qadhafi must go as part of any meaningful future for the country of Libya. That’s our position. That’s what we believe has to happen. And we’re in constant communication with the African Union in its various bodies to discuss what a political future in Libya could look like and how the African Union, as an important regional institution with ties to Libya, can play a constructive role in bringing that about.
QUESTION: But they have to then agree – to do that, they have to agree with your starting point that Qadhafi has to go. Anyone on that – at that stage yet?
MR. SULLIVAN: Every regional stakeholder, including the African Union, including the Arab League, has a voice that is heard by people in Libya, including leaders in Libya. And our goal is for the international community to speak with one voice on this issue, as on the broad range of issues under 1973. But obviously, on an almost daily basis, at levels going up to and including the Secretary sitting down with Chairman Ping, we are working with the African Union on the issue of Libya, which is of deep importance. This is one of their member states. It has regional implications. And they have a deep and vested interest in making sure that the outcome is an outcome that is consistent with peace, progress, and stability in the region, and we very much respect that.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about the opposition in Libya? The ambassador was standing right where you were a month or so ago and said that although the picture is still a bit fuzzy, what had emerged is – was an entity that, to that point, could count on the U.S. support. In the time since, what have they done that presumably still engenders the support of the U.S. Government? What actions have they taken?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, so, let me start with their consistent positive embrace of a set of principles relating to the rights of the people of Libya, a political future that is democratic, inclusive, transparent, that respects minorities and women. So they have said all of the right things in that domain. In addition, they have worked very hard in Benghazi and in other areas that are under opposition control to develop methods of trying to ensure that humanitarian assistance – food, fuel, and other things – are reaching the population. They are trying to act as responsible stewards and stakeholders with respect to caring for the needs of the people in the areas that they control, and are working with the international community in that regard. And they are, as the Contract Group statement said in Doha, a legitimate interlocutor to the international community to talk to the international community about their perspective of what the needs are in Libya and about what the best way forward is.
And we’ve got an envoy on the ground, Chris Stevens, as well as others who are there with him. He is working on a daily basis to try and understand better who the opposition is, what they stand for, what their plans are, what their agenda is, and so forth. That’s not a process that unfolds overnight or in the span of a week, and it’s not a process that’s susceptible to a mathematical equation. It’s something that involves the constant gathering of information, a constant set of interactions not just between Chris and the people he’s dealing with, but Gene Cretz and Secretary Clinton are engaged as well, as are others. So this is an ongoing dialogue that we have with the opposition, with the TNC. That will continue in the days ahead.
QUESTION: What is your understanding of the role of a gentleman by the name of (inaudible) has within the opposition with the – what is – what role does he play?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’ve seen the most recent news reports about this over the weekend, but I’ll have to take the question and get you an answer on that.
QUESTION: Jake, what’s happened to that 25 million drawdown authority that was supposed to – in non-lethal military aid?
MR. SULLIVAN: As far as I know, it’s still working its way through the system.
QUESTION: In other words, the President hasn’t signed the authorization?
MR. SULLIVAN: It hasn’t been released yet. Yeah.
QUESTION: When you say –
QUESTION: Sorry. What hasn’t been –
MR. SULLIVAN: The money hasn’t been released yet. So the final authorization hasn’t been signed.
QUESTION: And why is that taking so long?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think it’s just a matter of the standard process of working through it.
QUESTION: Is there a problem?
MR. SULLIVAN: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Jake --
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. You’ve said that Syria is seeking help from Iran in the crackdown. Do you have any information, if any members of Hezbollah have went to Syria recently to assist with this? And a second question: I mean, given that Syria has contributed to instability in the region before – Iraq, (inaudible) Lebanon – how much do you fear that if you increase the pressure, that that might actually take the conflict outside?
MR. SULLIVAN: With respect to your first question, I’ll have to take it and get back to you on the issue of whether there’s specific evidence as relates to Hezbollah activity in Syria.
With respect to the second question, Syria’s destabilizing activities in the region, including its sponsorship of terrorism and terrorist-related activities, is a source of deep concern for the United States. At the same time, we are very much focused on and concerned about the brutal crackdown that is happening inside Syria. We’ve condemned it in the strongest possible terms. We don’t view these as things that need to be traded off against one another. We believe that the Syrian Government needs to hear a clear and consistent message, not just from the United States but from the international community as a whole, that it has to stop this crackdown, it has to stop the killings of its own people and all of the other elements of the crackdown, and that it has to stop its destabilizing activities in the region.
QUESTION: Do you think your comments or your statements or your discussions with Syrian officials have in any way tempered the reaction of the government so far? Have you had any effect on the Syrian Government’s actions so far?
MR. SULLIVAN: I guess what I would say in answer to that question is, one, it’s impossible to know how to assess something like that. But what is clear is that, at latest report, the crackdown and the violence continue. And from the United States’s perspective, that is something that we need to stand resolutely against, publicly, privately, and otherwise.
QUESTION: But to put a finer point on that actually – what – can you pinpoint some specific discussion, direct discussion, with – between a U.S. official and a senior Syrian official?
MR. SULLIVAN: I can tell you that Ambassador Ford has met with senior Syrian officials.
QUESTION: Can you say who and when, when the last time was?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’ll try to get you a specific rundown of –
QUESTION: But do you know when the last –
MR. SULLIVAN: Within the last few days.
QUESTION: So before or after this latest attack, the latest assault on Daraa?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’ll have to get you an answer to that. You know, obviously – I think it was implied in your question that Ambassador Feltman went and called in the Syrian ambassador yesterday here in Washington –
MR. SULLIVAN: -- in response to that activity. And in terms of what precise conversations Ambassador Ford has had, I’ll get you an answer on it.
QUESTION: Jake, on that question –
QUESTION: When – I’m sorry. When you say that Qadhafi must go, it seems like the statement lacks specifics. Now 10 weeks when the fighting started, and is there a timeframe we’re looking at, like where the United States is going to reach a point, say Qadhafi has to go by whichever means? Are we looking at a month, two, six, a year from now or –
MR. SULLIVAN: We’re not looking at a specific timeframe.
QUESTION: A – I’m sorry, and (b) there is many news in the Arab media that’s circulating that says that the al-Maliki government is supporting the (inaudible) regime with an Iranian assistance, out of a sectarian alliance. Can you comment on that?
MR. SULLIVAN: I can’t comment on the news reports out of the Arab media because I haven’t seen them. I would say, with respect to your first question, that there’s not – nobody has set down a specific timeframe. What we have set down is a clear endpoint, which is the departure of Qadhafi to lead to a (inaudible) transition that leads to a democratic future for Libya. And we are prepared to continue to work with the international community to pressure and isolate Qadhafi and to sharpen the choice for those around him to try to produce that outcome. And that’s a daily exercise as we enforce the sanctions against him, as we tighten the noose diplomatically on him, as we increase the number of states that are making clear to him that his departure is necessary. And that will be an ongoing process.
QUESTION: But what if Libya turns into failed state? You know (inaudible) is watching closely to what’s going on. Is there any measure going to take place?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think our political objective for any viable, meaningful democratic future for Libya is to secure Qadhafi’s departure. In terms of the sort of scenarios that can arise upon his departure, it’s something I don’t want to speculate on. But I will tell you that, obviously, the United States is constantly assessing the threat of terror from countries around the world, including (inaudible). But in terms of specific – any specific discussion of what comes next, it’s too difficult at this point, especially in this (inaudible) situation to speculate on.
QUESTION: Jake, are there any – on Syria, are there any diplomatic steps that you could take that are similar – or that are you considering any steps similar to what you did in Libya, which would be closing down embassies, pulling people out of the embassy, et cetera?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, you’re – you may be aware that we have gone to ordered departure in our Embassy in Syria, but at the moment we are not actively considering shutting down our Embassy in Syria. We believe that the diplomatic lines of communication there offer us an opportunity to have – offers an opportunity to communicate directly to the Syrian Government in ways that we would like to continue to do, at least for now.
QUESTION: Can I ask you something on Mexico? These – last Friday the State Department issue another Travel Warning for Mexico, including more states. Does it mean that the U.S. is more concerned about the growing violence that goes beyond anything that we have seen before? And also, can you mention some details about the meeting that is going to take place on Friday between security officials from Mexico and U.S.?
MR. SULLIVAN: On your first question, the Government of Mexico, up to and including President Calderon, is very concerned about the violence in Mexico, and the United States is also concerned. The Travel Warning is not a policy document; it’s simply a statement made on an assessment of the security considerations around travel by U.S. citizens. So I would not read specific policy implications into that statement.
With respect to the high-level group meeting on Friday, the Mexican Government, led by Foreign Minister Espinosa, will be bringing in a high level, very broad-based delegation to meet with an equally broad-based delegation led by Secretary Clinton here for intensive discussions on our cooperation across the range of issues that kind of fall under the umbrella of President Calderon’s and President Obama’s vision for the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
Obviously disrupting violent criminal drug cartels is a big piece of that, but there are other pieces that are equally important – investing in communities and investing in a 21st century border infrastructure – because it is the comprehensiveness of the U.S.-Mexico relationship and the comprehensiveness of our policy work together that is most likely to lead to progress in Mexico and in the U.S.-Mexico relationship. So they will talk about that entire range of issues. And you will see senior participation from a number of agencies here in the United States, as you will from the Mexican side as well. And all of this is an effort to build on the momentum that came from President Calderon’s most recent visit and to build on the meeting that the Secretary had last year when she led a very large delegation of U.S. officials down to Mexico City to review progress on a pretty detailed work plan of what we’re trying to do together.
QUESTION: In Capitol Hill many lawmakers are asking the U.S. to provide more military assistance to stop the cartels. Do you think that will be addressed during that meeting?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think that this meeting will look at every dimension of our cooperation. I would say that a central theme that emerged from last year’s high-level group, which I expect will be carried out in this one as well, is that we have to widen the aperture and look at how we can work together to build safer communities, to address issues along the border, to invest in institutions that will produce long-term peace and security, including justice institutions, security sector institutions. So oftentimes, people like to focus on the hardware side of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. And I think Secretary Clinton has consistently made the point that this is comprehensive, that you have to look at every conceivable dimension of how we work together to try to address what is a multifaceted challenge and threat to the people of Mexico and to the people of the United States.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up to Matt’s question on the $25 million in assistance to Libya. Isn’t it true that since the Defense Department is not landing any ships on the shores of Libya that all of the nonlethal military aid mentioned in the congressional notification would have to go through third parties, commercial carriers? Isn’t it further true that that costs a lot of money and would eat up a lot of the 25 million? Isn’t it also true that that’s – how to get the goods onto the ground in Libya is part of what’s holding up the request? And given all of that, don’t you think we need more than 25 million if we’re going to help these guys?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah. I’d have – I’d be speculating if I got into specific answers on that. I have some instincts about the modalities of how we can transfer goods and assistance around the world. We do it frequently through third parties. But I’d be speculating if I got into it. So I’ll try to get you an answer about the premises of your question, which I’m not sure are actually correct or not.
With respect to kind of the core of your question, do we need to put more than $25 million into Libya, this is something that we’re constantly assessing. And obviously, the conversations that are happening in the run-up to the Rome Contact Group meeting about this temporary financial mechanism will involve consideration of what the United States has on offer in respect to assistance, and we’re looking at that and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Hi. This is a question – sort of with your hat as a diplomat that looks at long-range planning, but are you at all concerned that unelected leaders in the region would look at the U.S. response to, say, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, compare that to the U.S. response to Syria, and conclude that a friendship with the United States is perilous in the event of a democratic uprising?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think the leaders in the region probably understand as well as we do that each of these countries’ situations has a unique context, has unique political, diplomatic, military, economic, strategic circumstances that attend to it, and consider those cases themselves one by one as they look around the region, just as we do. So I don’t believe that the leaders in the region are making blanket conclusions and expecting a one-size-fits-all policy.
I also think that our diplomatic engagement across the region has been at a level and a tempo of intensity that you probably have never seen it before and will continue. And we are having daily conversations in every country in the Middle East and North Africa about how they see the situations unfolding and about how we see the situations unfolding. And that consultation and exchange of views, I think, has been very productive not only in increasing understanding but in allowing us to convey our core messages, which remain sort of steady and consistent around the need for political reform, around the need for respecting rights, and around the need to avoid the use of violence to try to produce political ends.
QUESTION: Jake, can I just go back quickly to Syria – just one brief question? Does this administration still believe that President Asad is a reformer?
MR. SULLIVAN: I guess I don’t fully understand the premise of the question – still believe that Asad is a reformer?
QUESTION: Well, some people see President Asad and believe he is a reformer, that he had the potential to bring reform to the country.
MR. SULLIVAN: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wonder whether that is the view of this administration.
MR. SULLIVAN: But the way – so the way you put the question was: Does the administration still believe that Asad is a reformer?
QUESTION: Okay. Does this administration believe that President Asad is a reformer?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think – I basically laid out for you what I think the administration thinks of President Asad at the moment. They think that he has taken actions which are completely inconsistent with the actions of a responsible leader --
QUESTION: Yeah, but you –
MR. SULLIVAN: -- and that are totally unacceptable and that we have condemned in the strongest possible terms.
QUESTION: But you’ve also refused to say that he’s delegitimized himself, and you appear to have left the door open that – or for the hope that he can redeem himself somehow.
MR. SULLIVAN: I haven’t left any doors open or closed. What I’ve said consistently is that the political future of Syria is up to the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Yeah. But that’s all well and good. You can say that for any – every country in the world. But in the situation that you have in Syria, which is very similar to the situation in Libya in terms of the fact that innocent civilians are being attacked and killed. In the circumstance of Libya, you have said that Qadhafi is no longer legitimate and he needs to go. And you’re refusing – by refusing to say the same thing for Asad, you seem to be – you are leaving the door open for the chance that he can redeem himself somehow. You’re saying that he still is the legitimate leader of Syria. And although you would like him to change, you’re not willing to go beyond saying that what he’s doing is inconsistent with what he should be doing.
QUESTION: Because at the beginning you also said you’re calling on the Syrian leadership to heed the call for change, so you still believe they can bring change?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think I made the point repeatedly and can only make it again, and I know that I’m going to end up sounding like a broken record on this, that this isn’t – this is up to the Syrian people to make decisions about their political future.
QUESTION: Well, it was also up to the Egyptian people.
MR. SULLIVAN: So now the door’s open, the door’s closed, and otherwise.
QUESTION: It was also up to the Tunisian people, and it was also – it’s also up to the Bahrainis, and it’s also up to the Yemenis. But in the case of Libya, you said that Qadhafi has to go. That doesn’t appear to be up to the – you’re not saying that’s up to the Libyan people. He has to go, you think. Why do you not think that Asad because of what he has done, particularly in Daraa in the last couple of days – which rivals anything that Qadhafi has done – why is he still given -- why do you still give him a chance? Why is he -- why is it not time for you to come out and say, as the former spokesman for this Department said this morning, that Asad has now lost his legitimacy and needs to go?
MR. SULLIVAN: I think what I can put before you is the clear and unequivocal position of the U.S. Government about how we view the actions that he’s taken and about how we see the way forward, which is, ultimately, this is something that’s got to be in the hands of the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that – Jake, you have to understand that that answer – that’s not an answer to the question. That’s a nice dodge. I’m surprised you didn’t say – come out with the old line that it’s not about personalities, which we all know to be untrue, even though you guys keep saying it.
Why does the administration think that Asad still could redeem himself after some 400 people were slaughtered by his forces in Daraa?
MR. SULLIVAN: Unfortunately, Matt, I can’t accept the premise of the question that you just gave. I mean, we are stating – and I keep repeating it because you keep coming back to a -- to characterizing an affirmative administration position, and I keep telling you what the position actually is. The position is that the future of Syria is up to the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Jake, that’s not a position. That is something that you say for every – I mean, that is just the way it is. Of course it’s up to the Syrian people. What is the policy on Asad right now? Is he or is he not a legitimate leader, given what he has instructed or ordered his troops to do to innocent civilians?
MR. SULLIVAN: I really believe at this point I’ve given you everything I can give you on the subject.
QUESTION: Can I clarify on sanctions? Because you said you have not decided yet. Are you waiting to consultations with Europeans and the Turks, maybe? Or is it more you’re waiting to see the Syrian Government taking any kind of action before you go down that path?
MR. SULLIVAN: We’re exploring the tools that are available to us and what kind of efficacy we assess that they could have. And we’re also engaged in conversations with international partners.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any idea who is the opposition in Syria? And does that complicate the discussions with the Europeans and other allies in the region?
MR. SULLIVAN: We obviously have a longstanding embassy presence in Syria that involves a political analysis of all the various stakeholders, political actors in the country. As far as our current conversations go about the violence and the repression that’s ongoing in Syria, I think those are -- that is a separate question. That is a question about how we can stop what is a brutal, reprehensible crackdown by the Syrian Government against its own people.
QUESTION: But that doesn’t mean that the U.S. doesn’t have a sense, then, of whether this is purely a grassroots or whether there’s an organized opposition with which it might need to be engaging at this point.
MR. SULLIVAN: I think we haven’t got into the issue of the hypothetical scenario of future engagement. We’re focused on the present question of what we can do to help bring about an end to the violence that’s going on in Syria.
QUESTION: Jake, just about --
QUESTION: What’s the current level of engagement with the Syrian opposition?
MR. SULLIVAN: With – I’m sorry?
QUESTION: What is the current level today of engagement with the Syrian opposition?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, I don’t know that – in Libya, you’ve obviously got the Transitional National Council. You don’t have anything like that in Syria. So to speak in terms of engagement with the Syrian opposition as a concept, it’s hard for me to answer that question. But in terms of our Embassy’s outreach to people outside of government, I can get back to you on what exactly they’re doing.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a bit of a longer-term question? When the administration came into office, looking at the Middle East with kind of a couple key tenets. One was the U.S. would engage the Iranians and the Syrians as an attempt to stabilize the region, and also that the U.S. would seek a comprehensive peace, not with the – just with the Palestinians, with – but with Syria and Lebanon.
Given what’s happened over the past four months or even longer, are these two tenets still feasible or practical, or do you think the administration has changed somewhat its views on these types of issues since – over the past four months?
MR. SULLIVAN: So – just so I understand your question, your question is about whether the tenets of peace with Syria and peace with Lebanon as part of a broader comprehensive peace have become impractical because of what’s (inaudible)?
QUESTION: That, and also there was – the President really had a huge push coming in that he would deal with Asad, he would deal with Ahmadinejad, and these were core parts of the Obama administration. And two years on, it just doesn’t seem like those types of engagements have really borne much fruit, but I would – I just wanted to see if the last four months have changed –
QUESTION: Are you still planning (inaudible)?
MR. SULLIVAN: So let me take the two pieces of this question. And with respect to engagement, we have an ambassador in Syria who is engaging with the government there. We have dealings and engagements with the Syrian Embassy here in Washington on a fairly consistent basis, and that will continue because we believe that the capacity to convey messages directly in this circumstance is an important one. So we intend to maintain lines of communication to continue to convey our strong unequivocal messages.
On the peace process side, it is, of course, the case that over the course of the past two years, there have been a number of challenges that have arisen and obstacles that have arisen with respect to Israeli-Palestinian peace and with respect to peace on other tracks as well. And the current situation in Syria is one that – certainly, it is hard for us to see – it’s hard for us to stand by and see Asad and his government engaged in this kind of campaign against their own people and to then think easily about how to pursue the other diplomatic initiatives with him.
QUESTION: Are you ready to interfere in Syria for humanitarian reasons?
MR. SULLIVAN: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Are you ready to interfere in Syria for humanitarian reasons?
MR. SULLIVAN: What do you mean by interfere?
QUESTION: He means intervene.
QUESTION: To send troops, for example, or to do –
MR. SULLIVAN: I think our focus, as I’ve said before, with respect to options in Syria are in the diplomatic and financial space at the moment.
QUESTION: Sir, just about those sanctions --
QUESTION: And what are you doing --
MR. SULLIVAN: Sorry. This will be my last question, then I got to go.
QUESTION: Okay. I just want to clarify something. Has a decision been made to put further sanctions on Syria but it’s just working out what type of sanctions and who? Or is the decision itself to actually impose further sanctions yet to be made?
And just on Qadhafi quickly, “He has to leave,” this has been repeatedly said by U.S. administration officials. Exile, possibly in Qatar or Turkey. Are others working out a way to get Qadhafi out and give him some sort of immunity, something similar to the GCC plan for (inaudible)? Is this something you would consider or something that is being discussed?
MR. SULLIVAN: With respect to the first question, the – whether or not and in what way to impose targeted sanctions is still under consideration here in the U.S. Government. With respect to the second question, we are in conversations both bilaterally with other countries and multilaterally, especially through the Contact Group, with the UN Special Envoy Khatib in the lead in terms of what a political process and solution might look like in Libya that would result in Qadhafi’s departure and lead to a political transition.
QUESTION: So you’re not ruling out exile with immunity? It’s not ruled out?
MR. SULLIVAN: Oh, I’m sorry. Right now, as things stand under 1970, there is a referral of the --
MR. SULLIVAN: -- this issue to the ICC. So it’s in the hands of the ICC; it’s not in the hands of the United States.
QUESTION: Perfect. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.