Executive Summary Sample

Executive Summary for the Week of 16/5/2012 – 23/5/2012

Egypt: Elections

All of the Think Tanks summarized below hold very different viewpoints concerning the same issue, the Egyptian elections; although, there are some statements that hold true throughout all of the think tanks. All believe that this is a very important time for Egypt and that the outcome of this election is very detrimental, possibly even predictive of the future of Egypt. The pieces primarily examine parliament and the role of the Islamists in Egypt. The Brookings Institution conducted a poll that is telling of what Egyptians want and see in their future, which shown alongside the Gallup poll can be disconcerting. The Gallup poll shows a more pessimistic view of the current political climate, whereas The Brookings Institution is more optimistic, this however can be attributed to the types of questions asked, as well as the depth of the questions. Both the Center for American Progress and Washington Institute for Near East Policy examined the role America can play in the transition process. The Center for American Progress, being more progressive, took a centrist approach to reinstating ties with the new Egyptian government; it was also the only report to provide more detailed background knowledge about the candidates. In contrast, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, under the guise of fostering stability, took a very American Exceptionalist approach to the elections, assuming the worst and even regretting the inability for the Obama administration to get involved. The second report from WINEP also indicates concern with the ability of Egyptians to monitor the elections for fairness and vote rigging. The Plofchan report from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, although not the first to talk about the Salafis and The Muslim Brotherhood, it was the first to chronicle, however briefly, the beginnings of the split between the two groups, as well as state some of the differences in beliefs amongst the two. Lastly, the Council on Foreign Relations report was the only report to put a face to a people, speaking of the obstacles Egypt may face and providing a more in depth look at what many Egyptians may be feeling.

Think Tank: Brookings Institution

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 21/5/2012

Author: Shibley Telhami

Type: Report

Title: What Do Egyptians Want? Key Findings from the Egyptian Public Opinion Poll

Address: http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2012/05/21-egyptian-election-poll-telhami

The Brookings Institution has conducted a poll surveying the Egyptian public about political preferences, leaders and regional issues, during May 4-10, 2012 in light of the first presidential election. The Brookings Institution places great emphasis on the importance of the inaccuracies of probable predictions, as there is no analytical model of voting behaviour as of yet. Egyptian voters have also shown a difference in criteria by which they judge parliamentary and presidential candidates.

Poll Results:

  • Abul-Fotouh led the polls with 32%, followed by Mousa (28%) then Shafiq (14%), Morsi and Sabahi at (8%).
  • In parliamentary elections, 24% a favoured political party determined their vote, whereas in presidential elections, personal trust is a determining factor for 31%.
  • Christians supported Mousa the most, with 43%, as well as voters outside of cities with 31% of the vote.
  • Abul-Fotouh led among university graduates with 35% and among youth, under age 25, with 36%.
  • 54% believe Turkey to be the model reflection in terms of Islam in politics, followed by Saudi Arabia with 32%
  • A majority of those polled hold very unfavourable views of the U.S., with 68% and 73% support Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.
  • 66% of Egyptians support Sharia as the basis of Egyptian law, but 83% believe Sharia should be adapted to modern times.
  • A majority of Egyptians admired the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, with 63%. When asked to include Egyptian leaders, Erdogan fell to 15%, with Sadat at 35% and Abdel Nasser at 26%.
  • Brokering Middle East peace and establishing a Palestinian State ranked highest (66%) in regards improving U.S. favourability, followed by stopping military and economic aid to Israel as 46%.
  • While 55% believe there will be no lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis, 46% would like to maintain the peace treaty with Israel and 44% would like to see it cancelled.
  • The two countries that pose the biggest nuclear threat are Israel (97%) and the U.S. (80%).
  • Egyptians have been in support of the rebels against Assad and the Syrian government, but only 18% wish to see external military interventions, 15% support a Turkish Arab military intervention and 43% wish to see no military intervention.

Think Tank: Center for American Progress

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 23/5/2012

Author: Brian Katulis

Type: Brief

Title: Previewing Egypt’s 2012 Presidential Elections

Address:  http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/05/egypt_elections.h tml/#1

This report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank dedicated to public policy research, provides a brief description of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, as well as recommendations for the American government to restore and reinforce ties with the new Egyptian government. In addition, the brief lists and describes the presidential candidates.

According to the report, it is believed that “no candidate will receive more than 50% of the vote,” which would lead to run-off elections in mid-June between the two top candidates. By June’s end a new president will be sworn in for a four-year term and military rulers will hand over power to the new government. However, the transition is still incomplete as a new constitution is to be written and their remains questions over:

  • The economy- Candidates have addressed unemployment and inflation, but have yet to address public-sector debt, the currency crisis, and energy and food subsidies.
  • Security, Law and Order- The drafting of the new constitution has been halted due to Egypt’s disunities over the identity of their new political system; ie. The role of Islam in the government and legislation.

The drafting of the constitution is set to take six-months to draft, although it could take longer to get approved and gain public support. The new constitution may also address a checks and balances system, as well as the role of parliament. The role Egypt is to take in the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional security is also a source of debate amongst the candidates.

The report suggests that the American government conduct a “major interagency review of its Egypt policy.” This review will prepare the U.S. administration for dialogue with the new Egyptian administration later this year. The dialogue should consist of:

  • A renegotiation of “basic terms of the relationship.”
  • Enhance bilateral relationship through common interests.
  • “Build a more stable foundation for U.S.-Egyptian bilateral ties.”

Results of these dialogues would redefine ties and include more parts of the Egyptian government that were not included in past years.

Egypt Presidential Candidate Profiles

  • Amr Moussa- He served under the Mubarak regime as Egypt’s Foreign minister, as well as the secretary general of the Arab League. His platform consists of a centrist political strategy. He has been labelled as a remnant of the Mubarak regime. He is known for his anti-Israel and America statements and has campaigned as the “alternative to Islamist candidates.”
  • Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh- His candidacy is opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He is an Islamist activist and “would implement Sharia as a formal legal code.” His platforms are “populist economics and “people first” economics.” He served on the Muslim Brotherhoods decision-making council for twenty-two years. He has the support of leaders from the Salafi Nour Party.
  • Ahmad Shafiq- He has served as prime minister, and air force commander under Mubarak, causing him speculation amongst “revolution minded voters.” His platform is to “restore law and order within 30 days of being elected.” Public perception of him has been negative. He is running as an “alternative to Islamist candidates. “
  • Hamdeen Sabbahi- He has nationalist ideologies, basing his campaign on criticism of the U.S. and Israel. He founded social and political organizations and worked as a journalist, in which he was arrested for his “public confrontation” with former President Sadat concerning “rising food prices.” He did not serve under the Mubarak regime and is not an Islamist. He has proposed an alliance with Iran and Turkey and severing ties with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  • Muhammad Mursi- He is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party Leader. He has served in Egypt’s Parliament and is the Brotherhood’s leading spokesman. He plans to amend the peace treaty with Israel “to create a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and have Israel recognize the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees.”

Think Tank: Council on Foreign Relations

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 21/5/2012

Author: Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh

Type: Expert Brief

Title: A New Presidential Authority in Egypt

Address: http://www.cfr.org/egypt/new-presidential-authority-egypt/p28308

This brief takes a more optimistic approach to the Egyptian elections, summarizing the possible obstacles for the newly elected official, obstacles pertaining to religion in politics, and while also providing a look at the voters’ demands and desire for dignity.

While Egypt has witnessed violence, protests and authority turnover in the last sixteen months, it has empowered Egyptians to take part in their political system. Current polls show “a clear majority of Egyptians continue to hold the military in high regard,” although not nearly as many Egyptians “support a military-dominated political system.” The SCAF has been contested by the public for the “Selmi principles,” granting “autonomy from elected civilian officials,” as well as for their “application of the State of Emergency.”

The Muslim Brotherhood votes are split between two candidates, Aboul Fotouh, who was expelled from the Brotherhood, and Morsi, who has been behind in the polls. Despite the parliament being a Brotherhood majority, the Brotherhood is not leading in the presidential polls, possibly due to a Brotherhood announcement against running in the presidential race, that was later followed by Morsi’s presidential bid.

Egyptians demand more accountability of politicians. Although economic strife “helped create an environment of misery,” in years prior to the uprising, “Egyptians were demanding freedom, justice, and dignity when they brought Hosni Mubarak down.”

One thing that may delay the transition process will be the role of Islam in politics. Within that lies the issue of whether the Salafis or the Islamists are to speak for Islam. It is anticipated that whomever wins the election must negotiate between different religious groups. If the organised labour parties can emerge in large-scale, they can be very influential in the economic and social policymaking.

Think Tank: Gallup World via The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 18/5/2012

Author: Mohamed Younis and Ahmed Younis

Type: Report

Title: Support for Islamists Declines as Egypt’s Election Nears

Address: http://www.gallup.com/poll/154706/Support-Islamists-Declines-Egypt-Election-Nears.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=syndication&utm_content=morelink&utm_term=World

According to the Gallup poll, spanning from July 2011 until April 2012 the Islamists have seen a steady increase, followed by a sharp decline in overall support as well as in the areas of prime minister appointment and constitution drafting.

  • July 2011 saw Muslim Brotherhood support at 17%, steadily increasing and peaking at 63% in February, then sharply declining to 42% in April.
  • In July 2011 Salafi support was at 5%, steadily increasing and peaking at 37% in February, then sharply declining to 25% in April.
  • The Nour Party saw 5% support in July, peaking at 40% in February and declining to 30% in April.
  • The Freedom and Justice Party saw 15% support in July, peaking at 67% in February and declining to 43% in April.
  • In February 2012, 62% of Egyptians felt comfortable with parliament writing the constitution, in April 2012 that percentage fell to 44.
  • In February 2012, 46% of Egyptians believed the party that wins the most seats in the parliament should appoint the prime ministers. Egyptians supporting the newly elected president appointing the prime minister next summer was 27%.
  • In April 2012, 27% of Egyptians believed the party that wins the most seats in the parliament should appoint the prime ministers. Egyptians supporting the newly elected president appointing the prime minister next summer was 44%.
  • In February 2012, 62% of Egyptians thought a parliament influenced by the Brotherhood was a good thing; 27% thought it was a bad thing.
  • In April 2012, 36% of Egyptians thought a parliament influenced by the Brotherhood was a good thing; 47% thought it was a bad thing.

This dissatisfaction can be attributed to the economic decline and bouts of violence. The transition has been twisted by power struggles within parliament, as opposed to reversing “financial decline and working to hold former regime members accountable.”

Think Tank: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 22/5/2012

Author: Eric Trager

Type: Policy Analysis

Title: Presidential Elections Will Not End Egyptian Instability

Address: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/presidential-elections-will-not-end-egyptian-instability

This WINEP analysis focuses on American interests within the Egyptian elections and states that given the economic situation of Egypt and the lack of clarity in the role of a new president, the elections will not provide stability in Egypt, but could further instability. Trager states that Sabahi is considered a favourite amongst expatriate voters, and while Mousa appears to be leading in the polls, there is no anticipated winner. With 75% of the parliament being Islamists, “ongoing instability has damaged the Islamists’ popularity and raised the profile of former regime candidates,” such as Shafiq, who has sought the votes of former Mubarak supporters.

The analysis concentrates on the shift from an American friendly regime to the current stance of the candidates that express anti-Western platforms, with the exception of Shafiq who is the only candidate who is not anti-Western or pro-Sharia. 

Fair elections will not likely cause stability as the parameters of the role of the newly elected president are undefined, as the new constitution has not been drafted. The proposals to allow the SCAF “to retain absolute powers in reviewing its internal affairs, including its budget,” and the ability of the president’s power to dissolve parliament, are likely to “ignite a severe confrontation between the military and the Islamists.”

The Obama administration has not declared support for any candidate. Washington should insist the SCAF conduct the elections fairly and to “follow a credible constitutional process,” otherwise mass protests could occur. Such protests could suppress stability restoration. Concerned that Islamists may play a role in an uprising against the SCAF, Washington should “use its $1.3 billion in military aid as leverage,” to ensure proper SCAF administration.

Think Tank: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 22/5/2012

Author: David Schenker

Type: Policy Analysis

Title: Egyptian Elections: Beyond Winning

Address: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/egyptian-elections-beyond-winning

This policy analysis of the Egyptian elections by WINEP, often criticised for being pro-Israel, discusses the credibility and speculation surrounding the actual voting process in Egypt. Concern is raised over an Islamist sweep within the new government, as Islamists are the majority of the new parliament. WINEP believes that regardless of the election process, a group of Egyptians may not accept the results if their candidate does not win.

Egyptians have been to the voting polls four times in fifteen months, causing concern that Egyptians may be losing their enthusiasm to vote. The constitutional referendum in March 2011 saw 41.2% of eligible voters vote, but Shura Council elections in January and February 2012 saw only 6.5% of voters in the first round and 12.2% voters in the second. About 54% of voters cast their ballots for the People’s Assembly elections. The high turn out rate is thought to be because some Egyptians believed the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would fine them for not voting. The threat of SCAF imposing an “interim constitution” could discourage voters or encourage voters to vote.

The Carter Center, the only American based democracy promotion organisation currently in Egypt  “will not be allowed to observe any single polling station for more than thirty minutes.” Thousands of Egyptians have volunteered to monitor the polling stations.

WINEP believes that in the event Shafiq or Mousa win, there may be “claims of SCAF fraud,” accompanied by mass protests. The key to stabilizing Egypt is in the credibility of the voting process.

Think Tank: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Topic: Egyptian Elections

Date: 16/5/2012

Author: Thomas K. Plofchan III

Type: Report

Title: Egypt’s Islamists: A Growing Divide

Address: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/islamists/egypt’s-islamists-growing-divide

This report chronicles and examines the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi rivalry from the fall of Hosni Mubarak until more recently into the elections. The two organisations originally held similar positions on issues after the fall of Mubarak, although began to divide mid-2011.

Three Salafi organisations, The Nour Party, being the biggest, joined the Brotherhood led Democratic Alliance that soon dissolved afterwards. The Salafis then formed the Islamic Bloc that won approximately 27% of the parliament vote, despite political inexperience. “The Nour Party won 111 of the 508 parliamentary seats, making it the second largest part in the People’s Assembly, the lower house of parliament.” The Brotherhood won 40% of the vote. Both parties have stated little interest in forming an Islamist alliance in the parliament.

The media has recently depicted the Brotherhood in a negative light due to entering the presidential candidacy after stating they wouldn’t. The Salafi party supports Aboul Fotouh, an expelled Brotherhood leader, while the Brotherhood’s Morsi is behind in the polls.

Salafis “oppose the use of alcohol and exposure of women’s bodies,” in regards to tourism standards; The Nour Party encourages cultural tourism contrasting to resort tourism and the Brotherhood “have distinguished between Egyptians and foreigners traveling in the country.” The biggest contrast deals with the role of Sharia in the new political system. The Brotherhood supports the principles of Sharia in legislation, whereas the Salafis support Sharia judgment.

Get involved with Israeli Apartheid Week


Want to support Palestinian freedom, justice and equality?

Join #IsraeliApartheidWeek 2016

Each year, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) takes place in more than 150 universities and cities across the world. With creative education and action, IAW aims to raise awareness about Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid over the Palestinian people and build support for the nonviolent Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In response to the impressive growth of BDS in the last few years, Israel and its right-wing allies in the west have launched repressive, anti-democratic attacks on the movement and the right to boycott, instead of fulfilling their obligations to end Israel’s violations of international law. This makes this year’s #IsraeliApartheidWeek more crucial than ever.

Support Palestinian popular resistance to oppression–join IAW 2016.

Check out apartheidweek.org and #IsraeliApartheidWeek to find out what’s happening in your area. More events in different cities are being added all the time, so do check back if there’s nothing in your city listed yet. 

Want to organise #IsraeliApartheidWeek events on your campus or in your city? Register your organisation here and you’ll receive an info pack full of ideas about how to organise #IsraeliApartheidWeek.

UK: February 22-28
Europe: February 29-March 7
Palestine: March 1-10
South Africa: March 7-13
Arab World: March 20-26
US: various, including March 27-April 3
Latin America: April 10-24
Canada: various throughout March, check with local organisers

Some Thoughts

The terrorist attacks in Paris are really sick and sad. My heart goes out to all those families and friends who are waiting to hear from their loved ones and especially those who won’t hear from their loved ones. May they rest in eternal peace.

I do need to address why we get more worked up about white people or people in “The West” dying than people of color, all over the rest of the world, dying.

Look at all the madness and uproar on Twitter and Tumblr  for Paris (And rightfully so) and take for instance the past few weeks in the Middle East, particularly the last 24-48 hours, have been hell. Multiple terrorist attacks in Lebanon and Iraq, I believe all claimed by ISIS. And very little in comparison was and has been mentioned about Lebanon and Iraq.

I believe the Paris attacks are also being claimed by ISIS, or at least that is what I have heard as of now. And in light of the Paris attacks all these racist Islamophobes come out and rant their ignorant mouths.  You know ISIS and other terrorists have killed thousands of Muslims in the past few years? And that the attacks in Lebanon and Iraq targeted both Muslims and non-Muslim Middle Easterners alike? Additionally, Paris has a high Muslim and Arab population. Who is to know how many Muslims and Arabs were injured or murdered in the Paris attacks.

What I’m trying to say is there’s no reason for the Islamophobia, because we’re all on the same side here. We’re all under threat by ISIS and other terrorists. We’re all against terrorism and violence. Who these psycho extremists are is beyond me, but they’re not the large majority of Arabs and Muslims. And the Arab and Muslim community continually condemns the violence and yet we are still bombarded with hate.

My fear is that the innocent refugees fleeing the violent terroristic regime of Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, etc., will pay the price for the horrible and violent few who threaten us all. I fear reprisal attacks and an unending cycle of violence.

There are too many uneducated people full of hate in this world. And all I want is to keep everyone safe and wrapped in a warm and loving blanket of puppies and kittens.

[announce_onepalestine] Counterpunch: Sometimes People Fight Back–Amer Jubran Names His Torturers

October 16, 2015

Sometimes People Fight Back:
Amer Jubran Names His Torturers

by Lana Habash

… What is compelling about Jubran’s case is that he knows the names of those who tortured him. And the reason Jubran knows those names underlines the absolute confidence that the Jordanian government has in the State Security Court to act as a rubber stamp for the government’s agenda. There is not even the need for the pretense of a fair system. Coerced confessions of different co-defendants carried identical phrasing and were literally edited several times throughout the course of the trial to serve the needs of the prosecution.  Jubran discovered the names of his torturers because they were the first five witnesses for the prosecution. In a recent statement by Jubran on October 10, 2015, he names two of the torturers: Colonel Habes Rizk (who threatened Jubran with being disappeared) and Captain Motaz Ahmad Abdurrahman (who threatened to assault Jubran’s wife to get Jubran to cooperate and also physically tortured Jubran).  …

Impunity for torturers is dependent on a system that permits those who torture to remain anonymous. Though it may benefit repressive regimes to advertise what can happen to you if you are criminalized, it certainly doesn’t benefit those regimes for the names of those doing the dirty work  to be common knowledge. Anonymity is the main source of protection for those who torture. …

Read the full article on Counterpunch:



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TRANSCRIPT: Press Call on Upcoming UNGA Events



Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                       September 24, 2015










Via Telephone


5:06 P.M. EDT


     MR. PRICE:  Good afternoon, everybody.  And thanks for joining the call.  We wanted to convene this call to preview next week’s activities at the U.N. General Assembly up in New York City. 


     First ground rule, this call is on the record.  It is embargoed until the conclusion of the call, so we would ask you not tweet or otherwise use this material until the call concludes.


     We have three senior administration officials on today’s call.  First we have Ben Rhodes; he’s the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.  We have Steve Pomper; he is the National Security Council Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs.  And we have Celeste Wallander; she’s the National Security Council Senior Director for Russia. 


     So, again, this call is on the record and embargoed until its conclusion.  And I will turn it over to Ben to start.


     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  I’ll just say a few opening comments and go through some of the main elements of the President’s schedule at the U.N., and then Steve can talk through a number of the summits that we’re hosting or participating in.  And Celeste can talk through the bilat with President Putin of Russia.


     First of all, every year at the U.N it’s an opportunity for us to try to address global crises, but also to make progress on an affirmative agenda.  And this year is, of course, no different.  There have been some very noteworthy, positive developments since last year’s session.  For instance, last year the President had to convene an emergency session to deal with the spread of Ebola.  The collective action that came out of that effort successfully stopped the spread of Ebola, and now we are working hard to try to stamp it out while also building a broader architecture of global health security.


     Last year we were in the midst of the Iranian nuclear negotiations.  This year we clearly will have an opportunity to mark on the global stage the progress that has come with the nuclear deal, which is set to be implemented and will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.


     The President goes to the U.N. focused on a number of affirmative priorities that are represented in this schedule.  Our commitment to development and the goal of eradicating extreme poverty is going to be on display as we attend the Sustainable Development Goals Summit meeting.  The President’s commitment to build capacity around international peacekeeping, which has been a priority of ours at the United Nations, will be on display at the summit he’s convening. 


Importantly, climate change will be a focus at the United Nations this year.  This has been a core priority of the President’s, at home and abroad.  It’s been a priority of the Secretary General.  And this session at the U.N. is an important opportunity for nations to come together once more before the Paris discussions at the conclusion of the year where we’re aiming to reach a global agreement to combat climate change.


     Of course, we will have to be addressing some very significant global challenges.  Certainly, the counter-ISIL efforts, which was a focus last year, will continue to be a focus this year given the summit the President is convening.  And it relates to both the situation in Iraq and Syria, and our efforts to combat ISIL, and also the humanitarian challenges that are emanating from the region will certainly be a topic this year.


     And the situation in Ukraine continues to be of significant concern, and our support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine will be front and center throughout our discussions, particularly with President Putin.


     So with that as a backdrop, let me just go through the schedule, and turn it over to my colleagues to go into more detail.


     The President will arrive on Sunday afternoon, and the first thing he will be doing is giving remarks at the Closing Session of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  This is the world’s commitment to embrace a set of sustainable development goals that hold out extraordinary promise for lifting people out of poverty and promoting the type of development that, again, will lead to not just better standards of living for individuals, but broader and shared economic growth and good governance.  And Steve can speak to that.  That’s the main element of his agenda on Sunday at the United Nations.


     On Monday morning the President will address the United Nations General Assembly.  Again, this will be an opportunity for him to review the progress that’s been made over the course of the last year while addressing a range of global challenges.  And he will be making the case about the type of leadership that is needed to build on the progress that’s been made, but also to confront the very real challenges we face.  And I’d be happy to take any additional questions around the speech.


     Following his address, he will be having a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India.  This will give the two leaders an opportunity to build on the discussions they had earlier this year during the President’s historic trip to India.  We are deeply committed to strengthening the U.S.-Indian relationship, building our economic and commercial ties, advancing our political and security cooperation in Asia and around the world.  Notably, India will be critical to a successful global effort to combat climate change, so the two leaders will certainly address their shared vision of how to approach the upcoming meetings in Paris.


     Following the bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi, the President will attend, as he does every year, the lunch that is hosted by the Secretary General for the leaders.  And he’ll have an opportunity to have brief meetings, as he does every year, with the U.N. Secretary General and the President of the U.N. General Assembly.


     Then the President will convene a summit on peacekeeping, which again has been a priority for us at the United Nations.  Steve will speak to that in more detail.  Following the summit on peacekeeping, the President will have his bilateral meeting with President Putin of Russia.  And I’ll let Celeste describe the agenda for that.  And then that evening, the President will host his traditional reception for the leaders who are attending the U.N. General Assembly.


     On Tuesday, the main event on the President’s schedule is a summit that we are convening that is focused on countering ISIL and combating violent extremism.  This builds on the meeting the President chaired last year — the Security Council focused on this issue — and brings together our broad counter-ISIL coalition and other partners committed to combating terrorism and countering violent extremism.


     I’ll stop there.  I would just note we expect that there will be additional bilateral meetings that may be scheduled in the coming days, so we will keep you updated as that comes together.


     But I’ll turn it over to Steve now to go through the summit.


     MR. POMPER:  Hi.  So thanks for joining us on this call.  And some of what I say will be a little bit reiterative of what Ben has already mentioned, but I’ll try and give a little bit more detail, and then leave plenty of time for questions.


     So this is the 70th anniversary of the United Nations’ founding, and it’s the kickoff, therefore, to the U.N. General Assembly’s 70th session.


And high-level week — which is what this is — it’s always a busy time for the diplomatic community, but particularly so in the 10-year anniversaries, which are really a particular focal point for the world leaders to come in and hone in on the challenges facing the international community and to plot a course for the future.  And really, that’s a consistent theme that unites the three major leader summits that President Obama will be participating in.


So Ben has already alluded to them, but I’ll just highlight a few details with respect to each of them.  So on Sunday, he’ll be speaking at the Secretary General’s Summit on Sustainable Development Goals, which are also known in shorthand as the SDGs.  The adoption of these goals marks the culmination of a multiyear process where the international community has come together and thought through I think the 17 goals that are going to organize its work on development for the next 15 years.


The last set of goals, the Millennium Development Goals, are timing out.  Those goals really did galvanize international action on a host of issues, including reducing the global share of people living on very, very small amounts of money every day, helping to achieve gender parity in primary school enrollment, reducing rates of child mortality, et cetera.  So these are really very important organizing principles for the international community’s work on development, and the President’s participation in this even demonstrates a commitment to the agenda and our sense that its implementation will both bolster, frankly, international peace and stability, and promote inclusive economic development and American values all around the world.  So we’ve very excited to be able to participate in that event.


On Monday, the President will be co-hosting a summit on U.N. peacekeeping with Secretary General Ban and eight other co-hosts.  Now, U.N. peacekeeping has been — never been, I should say, more stretched or more important than it is to international peace and security right now.  I believe there are probably 100,000 troops deployed around the world under U.N. blue helmets in something like 16 missions.  It’s a critical tool for the advancement of both U.S. security and humanitarian interests, and we have a very strong interest in seeing this system sort of strengthened as we sort of face the future.


Last year, Vice President Biden co-hosted the summit where participants were invited to make concrete pledges in support of a more modern, nimble and capable U.N. peacekeeping architecture.  And this year’s summit is the culmination of a years’ worth of efforts, in the meantime, to generate very concrete commitments towards those ends. 


We expect to hear very significant pledges, some from states that will be returning to U.N. peacekeeping in important ways after years of essentially non-participation.  And we also anticipate this will be a forum for states to support reform initiatives recommended by a high-level panel appointed by the Secretary General that will also help gird this instrument for the future.


The final big multilateral event in which the President will participate will be on Tuesday.  It’s an event focused on countering ISIL, and, more broadly, on countering violent extremism and on the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters.  This summit will focus not only on counter-ISIL coalition efforts, but, more broadly, on what the international community is doing to counter violent extremism a year after the President chaired a Security Council summit that produced a resolution on countering foreign fighters.  And we’re going to be looking at how implementation of that resolution has been going and what more we can be doing as an international community to counter that threat.


So really, this is an event that’s about addressing a broad spectrum of issues relating to the terrorism threat at every stage in its life cycle.  And the summit will include leaders and other officials from governments and other multilateral organization, and also, importantly, partners in civil society who are critical to the countering violent extremism effort.


I think that’s all I’m going to say about the summits right now.  Maybe it’s time to turn it over to Celeste.


MS. WALLANDER:  Thanks, Steve.  Thanks, Ben and Ned.  So as we confirmed today, there is a bilat between President Obama and President Putin scheduled for Monday.  The two agenda items that we will focus on in that summit are the continuing situation in Ukraine, and, of course, the new issues raised by Russia’s involvement in Syria.


On Ukraine, this moment comes at a particularly opportune time.  The implementation of all of the elements of the Minsk Agreement, which were signed by President Putin and President Poroshenko, Chancellor Merkel, and President Hollande back in February, are coming to a critical turning point in October.  Ukraine has scheduled local elections for October 25th, and it remains insufficiently clear that Russia is committed to implementing its obligations under the Minsk Agreement, which is to support a local election that is consistent with Ukrainian law and that will be overseen by the international community — that is, specifically, the OSCE and its particular election-monitoring agency, ODIHR.


     So this is an opportunity for President Obama to make crystal-clear to President Putin that the United States supports full implementation of the Minsk Agreement; fully supports the diplomacy of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in advancing implementation; and make clear our expectations that Russia, and President Putin in particular, fully lives up to the commitments that Russia overtook in signing that implementation agreement back in February. 


Those elections are critical because they unlock the opportunity to implement all the other elements of that Minsk Implementation Agreement, including the special status for regions of eastern Ukraine, constitutional reforms that have made their way to the Ukrainian Rada, and then eventually to get, before the end of the year, to Russia’s commitment to fully withdraw its military forces and return control of the international border — the Ukrainian-Russian international border back to the Ukrainian government.


     So October is really important, and the opportunity to speak to President Putin directly is something that President Obama will embrace in this bilat.


     The second issue that the Presidents will discuss will be  — Russia has now announced clear military involvement in Syria, which goes beyond the assistance and the training that Russia has noted that it has been involved in for years in Syria, and has now involved the direct Russian military presence in Syria  — which we’ve talked about in other for a, but I can talk about in more specificity if needed.


     And in particular, President Obama will seek to understand what Russian government means when it states that it is enhancing or increasing its military involvement in Syria in order to support efforts to counter ISIL — because the United States certainly would welcome a constructive Russian contribution to counter ISIL — so the meeting is an opportunity to understand whether and how President Putin can see the Russian involvement and increased military presence might lead to that objective, and to make clear, of course, our longstanding policy and strongly held view that the only resolution to a conflict in Syria which allows us to tackle the problem of ISIL obviously involves a political transition of the Syrian regime — and that remains as key to the successful resolution of the challenge of ISIL in Syria as any other element that the Russians may bring to bear in terms of a new military presence.


     So let me leave it there.


     Q    Celeste, you mentioned a few of the other conversations that have happened between the U.S. and Russia.  And I’m wondering if there were any assurances or any more clarity that what Russia is doing there is not going to be enormously destabilizing or destructive to the situation as it stands.


     And secondly, a year after we heard the President’s resolution on foreign fighters, we’re hearing from military leaders that the flow continues as it has been.  As soon as you get rid of them, more pour in.  So is there going to be an effort to kind of realign or change the effort in that respect? 


     Thanks a lot.


     MR. RHODES:  So I’ll take the second question, Michelle, then I’ll turn it over to Celeste.


     First of all, I think we have seen progress over the course of the last year.  There have been significant efforts to work with dozens of countries to share more information about the flow of foreign fighters to align some of our laws and authorities that relate to stopping the flow of foreign fighters to address the challenge on the border between Turkey and Syria.  So nations have taken concrete steps to enhance their own capabilities in this space and we have been able to disrupt some of the foreign fighter flows. 


And, frankly, we’ve seen some progress in recent weeks as Syrian Kurds have been able to take territory along that Turkish border that was previously used by ISIL to move fighters into Syria.  That said, you are absolutely right that there continues to be a challenge of foreign fighters going to Syria and then potentially leaving the battlefield and returning to countries where they might conduct attacks. 


That’s part of the reason why the agenda for the summit is broader than just the foreign fighter issues.  So, for instance, we’re going to be focused on efforts to counter violent extremism.  This gets at what are respective countries doing to counter the ISIL ideology — which is the attraction, in part, that draws people to Syria — just as we’ll have an opportunity to update our efforts on the military side in degrading the ISIL safe haven in Syria. 


So the purpose of the summit is to look across all these different elements of the challenge — how are we using our military to go after ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq; how are we using our various authorities and capabilities, and sharing information to stop the flow of foreign fighters; and also how are we getting at the ideology that has been an attraction for some people to go to Syria.


Clearly there’s much more work to be done.  This is going to a long-term effort.  The counter-ISIL campaign is going to be measured in years.  But what we do have is a significant coalition of countries that are seized with this threat and that are enhancing their capabilities, and that are joining with us in this effort.  And I’d note, for instance, importantly, that Prime Minister of Abadi of Iraq will be attending that summit given the challenge he faces in his country.


But I’ll stop there and turn it over to Celeste.


MS. WALLANDER:  On assurances, we haven’t gotten any specific assurances in the conversations that have taken place so far with Russian officials.  The Russian public narrative has been very focused on the argument that the way to counter ISIL is to work with the Assad regime.  President Putin gave a speech just this week where he made that argument.  And this has certainly been one of the themes that Foreign Minister Lavrov has consistently advanced.


We think they got this backwards.  We think that one of the reasons why ISIL has taken hold and been able to attract support and gain recruits is because of the actions of the Assad regime.  So there’s clearly a difference of views in that regard.  And right now, that difference of views tends to take place — at least coming from the Russian side — in public rhetoric and speeches.  So this is an opportunity for the Presidents to talk directly about this very key issue face-to-face and one-on-one.


     Q    Hi, Ben.  Can you give us any indication whether President Obama might meet with President Rouhani, if there has been an overture to the Iranians, if the Iranians are giving you any indication whether they’re willing to meet, whether it’s in a bilat or in a broader setting at the reception?


     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, Robin.  We currently don’t have any plans for a meeting with President Rouhani, and we’re really not expecting one. 


     Secretary Kerry I’m sure will have the opportunity to have discussions with Foreign Minister Zarif.  That has been our effective and direct channel of communication with the Iranians on a host of different issues.  And I’m sure there will be other activities among foreign ministers who are engaged in the P5+1 discussions.


     Our general approach to this in the past has been that the President is willing to engage President Rouhani if it can make constructive progress.  Back in 2013, they did not meet but they spoke on the phone.  And that was an important moment because that was the initiation of the public discussions devoted to the P5+1 process that ultimately resulted in the nuclear deal.  So they had a clear purpose for that engagement at that time to try to catalyze those negotiations.


     So again, we don’t expect a meeting at this session.  We do expect engagement with the Iranians, however, through Secretary Kerry, of course.  And I’d also note that some our key allies who share many of our interests and concerns as it relates to regional issues regularly engage President Rouhani.  And so we’ll have the opportunity to follow up with them as they have those discussions.


     Q    Hi, everyone.  Thanks for doing the call.  I was hoping that you could talk in a little bit more detail about the climate summit on Sunday.  Are you looking at specific deliverables, pressure on sort of non-players to step up their game ahead of Paris?  Do you think there will be any announcements or conclusions out of there?  And also can you talk a little bit about what the Vice President’s role this year will be at UNGA, whether he and the President will be doing something jointly and/or whether he’ll be doing some things on his own?  Thanks.


     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, Margaret.  So in terms of the Secretary General’s event on Sunday, President Obama won’t be attending the climate discussions.  He’ll be attending the SDG summit.  However, we very much welcome the Secretary General’s focus on climate change.


     And what we want to get out of the discussions in New York is a sense of momentum for a successful outcome in Paris.  Many nations have made commitments in terms of their emissions reductions targets, in terms of their contributions to Green Climate Fund, in terms of various steps that can be taken to phase out the use of fossil fuels, but some countries have been more forthcoming than others.  So I think, first and foremost, we welcome the Secretary General’s effort to catalyze further action from all nations — major economies and developing countries — around this challenge.  And we see the U.N. this year as a key milestone on the pathway to Paris.


     Now, in terms of what President Obama will be focused on, first and foremost, of course, we’ve done significant amount of work on the domestic side with respect to the Climate Action Plan to ensure that we are going into Paris with very concrete steps that we’re prepared to take to support a successful outcome.  But we’ve also spent a lot of time — and I can tell you in his diplomatic engagements this year, climate has been front and center.  So in terms of how I think this plays out, you heard Pope Francis here at the White House the other day issue a very strong call on the United States and the nations of the world to confront climate change. 


You then will have President Xi Jinping of China here tonight and tomorrow.  Climate change will be high on the agenda in that bilateral meeting.  As the two biggest emitters of the world, the leadership shown by the U.S. and China heading into the U.N. session and the meetings in Paris will be critical to a successful outcome.  So after the breakthrough last year in terms of the United States and China both announcing targets in terms of emissions reductions, we’ll have an opportunity to put some additional meat on the bones in the discussions over the next two days about the commitments the United States and China will be taking into Paris.


     So I think what you can see very clearly is the moral authority of the Pope behind global efforts to combat climate change, the leadership of the Secretary General in making this at the top of the U.N.’s agenda at this moment in time, the leadership of the two largest emitters in the world coming together to support aggressive action to reduce emissions and have a successful agreement in Paris.  And then the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi will be very important because India, of course, is also another major economy — major emitter and we’ll want to continue the discussions that we had in India about what Prime Minister Modi is prepared to do to support successful international action against climate change. 


     So this will feature in the President’s diplomacy.  It will feature in his remarks certainly.  And I think taken together, all of those different elements provide very strong momentum towards Paris and, frankly, puts pressure on countries to step up and make some meaningful commitments.


     I don’t know, Steve, if you have anything to add on that.


     Next question.


     Q    Ben, can you just talk a little bit more about the priorities that the President will lay out going forward?  You already said that he is going to talk about some of the accomplishments, but what do you see as a couple key things that he is going to emphasize with this?  And also, how significant in the big picture of the attendance of Raul Castro is as well as his speech — can you put that into some perspective for us?  Thanks.


     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, I always appreciate Cuba questions, Chris.  I think it’s very significant.  This is Raul Castro’s first time at UNGA.  It comes on the heels of the United States and Cuba establishing diplomatic relations earlier this summer, and on the heels of Pope Francis traveling to both Cuba and the United States on this trip of his.  I think it’s a symbol that things have changed and that the United States’ approach to Cuba has changed. 


And one thing that you can be sure of is that the nations of the world overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, support the President’s policy.  One of the many things that was wrong with our Cuba policy is that it was succeeding only in isolating ourselves.  It was a major irritant in the hemisphere, but even around the world, frankly, we did not have any support for a policy of embargo and isolation that was only failing to improve the life of the Cuban people.


     So I think, symbolically, it’s important that President Castro is coming to the U.N. General Assembly.  I think it’s a symbol that we’re in a new era.  I think that the world will welcome the steps that President Obama has taken, and we see this as a way to unlock positive cooperation particularly in our hemisphere, but also around the world.


     Now, we’ll have differences, and particularly with respect to human rights, we have been very clear with Cuba that we’ll continue to raise those differences.  But we also believe that the best way to advance our interests and our values in Cuba is to open it.


     I’d expect that the President will have some opportunity to see President Castro at some point during the days that we’re there.  So we’ll certainly keep you updated on any interaction that they may have.


     On the question about the President’s speech, first and foremost, I think the President made clear time and again at the U.N. the necessity of an effective international system that can solve problems and advance collective action and burden-sharing.  So when you look at our affirmative agenda in the world, so much of it depends upon building coalitions and advancing collective action. 


     So, with respect to climate change, we need all of the nations of the world to step up and be a part of the solution.  With respect to peacekeeping that can help resolve conflicts and advance stability, the concrete contributions that we are seeking with other countries to U.N. peacekeeping missions will help make us more secure and help make the world more secure.


     With respect to development, we have the opportunity to promote global health security in ways that can prevent pandemic that could threaten us and save countless lives around the world just as we have the opportunity to lift many people out of poverty in the coming years.


So there’s a set of affirmative items I think the President will be speaking to.  He’ll also be underscoring the importance, however, of there being a rules-based approach to solving problems.  Now, some of that is on the firmer side, as well; the Transpacific Trade Partnership that we’re pursuing aims to establish rules of the road that apply to trade that opens markets, but also protects workers and the environment.


But when we look at conflict, the President will certainly be focused on the situation in Syria and Iraq, and he’ll be focused on the situation in Ukraine.  And there, too, I think our focus is going to be on the fact that there has to be a cost for a nation like Russia that is violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and that cost has been imposed through sanctions, even as we’re focused on and have a preference for diplomacy in resolving that crisis.


At the same time, in Syria, even as we have an aggressive military effort underway against ISIL, the only lasting resolution to that challenge is for there to be a political settlement, as well. 


So I were to say there’s a common thread between (inaudible) and diplomacy.  Diplomacy has borne significant fruit this year with the Iran deal, with the Cuba opening, with the advances on the TPP negotiations.  Diplomacy is necessary to bring about a conclusion, or at least a political resolution, as it relates to the situation in Syria.  Diplomacy is necessary to resolving the tensions in Ukraine.  But diplomacy has to be backed by teeth, and, in some cases, that’s force, as we’re using against ISIL.  In some cases that’s sanctions, as we’re using against Russia. 


But in all cases, I think the case the President will be making to the world is we need to remain invested in an international order that can solve problems and hold people accountable when they break the rules.


Q    Hi.  Thanks a ton for doing the call.  My question is for Celeste.  The administration has repeatedly said that Russia’s intentions in Syria remain unclear.  I was wondering if there’s been any update, if you could provide more clarity as to what Russia is perhaps up to in Syria, and if not, why is it still unclear?  Thanks a ton.


MS. WALLANDER:  Thanks.  As I tried to indicate earlier, we have a lot of public statements from Russian officials, senior Russian officials — including President Putin himself — about what he argues is necessary to successfully counter ISIL.  Since that argument doesn’t fit with our understanding of what’s necessary to counter ISIL, it doesn’t really hold water as far as we’re concerned, we’re going to use the opportunity to talk to President Putin and understand what he means by that, and make clear what we think is necessary to successfully counter ISIL, and test whether Russia’s efforts to basically deal itself in to a counter-ISIL effort will yield a constructive approach.


     So there’s a lot of talk, and now it’s time for clarity and for Russia to come clear — come clean and come clear on just exactly how it proposes to be a constructive contributor to what is already an ongoing multi-nation coalition. 


     So, no, I’m not going to — that’s a question for President Putin, and it’s a question we’ll be posing to President Putin.


     MR. RHODES:  Let me add just very quickly in addition to the current military deployments that we see, President Putin had reached out and initiated a phone call with President Obama earlier this year to discuss his concerns about the situation in Syria and to discuss the potential for a political resolution.


     Now, we continue to have very serious differences with the Russian government about the nature of the Syrian government that would emerge from that political resolution.  We believe Bashar al-Assad will have to leave power as a part of any durable solution given that he has lost the legitimacy with his own people.  Russia is continuing to support Assad.


     But again, even as we have this discussion about the very specific issue related to military deployments, I think we will want to be discussing, what are the prospects for advancing a political resolution?  And clearly any successful political resolution would have to benefit from the support of Russia and the United States and the countries in the region, and of course, importantly, the Syrian people.  So the political element will be discussed as well as the military.


     Q    Thank you.  It seems like it’s been a real long time before the President and Putin have met face to face.  Can you explain policy-wise what seems to be a shift away from a position of isolation, particularly a shift that’s happening when Russia is only escalating its intervention in Syria?  And is the President going to walk into that meeting with any new clarity or any new elements to the U.S. position in Syria?


     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, Margaret.  Well, you’re absolutely right.  It has been some time since they had a bilateral encounter.  We canceled the summit that had been planned in Russia for a variety of reasons.  And we have not had bilateral discussions.


     They have seen each other at global summits like the G20, and had conversations on the sidelines of those summits, but frankly, given the situation in Ukraine, we wanted to make very clear that Russia was going to pay a cost for its actions in terms of not being isolated from groups like the G8, which is now the G7, and in terms of the sanctions we’ve imposed.


     All that said, at every juncture we said that we remain open to engagement if it can make progress.  They’ve spoken on the phone a number of times.  I think — to your question very specifically — given both the situation in Ukraine and the critical juncture that we’re at there, and the situation in Syria, it would be irresponsible to not have a face-to-face encounter and to not directly address with President Putin our positions and concerns on these two issues.


     I should also add that President Obama was urged to have this meeting with President Putin by some of our closest European allies who thought it would be constructive in the context of Minsk for him to hear directly from us as well as them about the importance of following through on the Minsk agreement.  So this is something that we’re doing with respect to Ukraine very much in coordination with our European allies who have taken the lead on many elements of the diplomacy with Russia, even as we’ve of course led with them in imposing consequences on Russia for its actions.


     I think with respect to Syria we’ll be making — the President will have the opportunity to make clear to President Putin that we share the determination to counter ISIL, that we welcome constructive contributions to counter ISIL.  But at the same time, we believe that one of the principal motivating factors for people who are fighting with ISIL is the Assad regime.  And its zero justification, obviously, for the horrific extremism we’ve seen in Syria, it’s simply a pragmatic fact that if there is a political transition in which Assad leaves then, frankly, we have the opportunity to better focus on going after ISIL because there will be a better political context in the country to do so.


     So I think that both — as I said, both the military and the political components will be discussed, and the key question, right, is how do those two converge.  And how do you have both a successful counterterrorism effort against ISIL alongside a political resolution that can ultimately restore some semblance of stability to Syria.


Q    Thank you.  Ben, quick question regarding the conversation that Secretary Kerry will have with Foreign Minister Zarif.  As you said, if there is nothing to be happening between two leaders, what do you expect to get out of that now that the deal is in the implementation phase other than the nuclear deal?  Are you hoping — are you seeing signals that the Iranians are more willing to talk about Syria?  Or is that — we know there’s going to be that bilateral on Saturday, then the P5+1 will have another one on Monday evening.  What do you expect to get out of that?


MR. RHODES:  Well, I don’t want to speak too much for Secretary Kerry.  I’ll just say a couple of things.  Number one, I think it is important to discuss implementation of the Iran deal.  We are nearing adoption day, at which point Iran will have to take — or begin to take its significant nuclear steps.  And in terms of how that implementation goes forward, it’s always important to have direct communication among the P5+1 and with the Iranians, because there are significant moving parts associated with Iran’s nuclear steps, the institution of the verification regime, and then, after Iran completes its key steps, the provision of our sanctions relief.


I think, secondly, we always raise with the Iranians the detained Americans.  And so I’m certain that there will be a clear message about our continued and grave concerns about the ongoing detention of Americans in Iran. 


With respect to regional issues, as we’ve made clear throughout the debate over the Iran deal here, we continue to have significant differences and concerns about Iranian destabilizing activities in the region — whether it’s in Syria or Iraq or Yemen, or threats to Israel.  In the past, issues like Yemen and Syria have come up in these discussions.  At times, Foreign Minister Zarif in his public comments has suggested a desire to play a constructive role with respect to regional challenges, but we have not seen actions from Iran that follow through on that.  So, for instance, with respect to Syria, again, their ongoing support for the Assad regime is what — is part of what is fueling this conflict. 


So I would imagine that regional issues may come up, but again, our position has been to underscore our concern with destabilizing Iranian activities.  And again, we’d have to see in actions, not just words, that Iran, after this nuclear deal, is prepared to move in a more constructive and less-destabilizing direction on these issues.


Q    Yes, hi.  Thanks for doing the call.  You’ve insisted on the fact that Mr. Putin is the one who asked for the meeting at the U.N., but what kind of interaction are you — can you expect?  Do you believe — does the President believe that Vladimir Putin can be trusted or that he can be a partner in Syria? 


MR. RHODES:  The Russians requested the meeting.  President Obama, like I said, believes that it would be wrong to not engage at this critical time given the pressing issues.


     I think our approach with respect to trust is one of watching deeds, as well as listening to words.  With respect to Ukraine, what Russia says publicly has often not matched what the world has seen happening — whether it’s the provision of arms to separatists or other activities.  So look, we would be measuring the outcome of this meeting not just by the nature of their discussion by what follows. 


     The one thing I would say is even as we’ve had these differences — and very significant ones — on Ukraine and Syria, Russia was a very constructive partner in the P5+1 process.  They very much were united with the P5+1 and insisting on a good deal.  So it does demonstrate that we can have sustained cooperation on critical global issues even as we have very significant differences.  And we would not want to deny ourselves the ability to have that cooperation because of our differences on important issues.


     So again, that’s a demonstration of the fact that we will follow these things in deeds, not words.  And Ukraine, the deeds have rarely matched the words.  But in the Iranian nuclear issue, Russia did follow through on its commitments and played a constructive role.


     Q    Yes, thank you.  Thanks for having the call.  I’m just wondering about the meeting with Raul Castro.  Are you trying to set up a bilat?  Are you thinking they might run into each other in the hall?  How hard are you guys pushing that?


     MR. RHODES:  I don’t know that they’ll have time for an extended bilat.  I would just expect that they’ll be able to see each other at some point over the course of the several days.  They’ll be both at the U.N. I expect on Monday and perhaps Tuesday morning. 


     So I think that they’d just look for an opportunity to exchange some words.  But we’ll keep you posted if anything is scheduled.  What I would say is that they spoke on the phone in advance of the Pope’s visit to Cuba and the United States.   They were able to note the — and speak the first time since the establishment of diplomatic relations.  Note that there are areas where we are working to cooperate constructively — whether it’s on counter narcotics, counterterrorism, the provision of health assistance in Haiti, which we just did jointly with Cuban medical professionals — while also continuing to have very real differences from our standpoint with respect to the human rights of the Cuban people.  From their side, certainly issues like Guantanamo come up.  So I think they’ll have some opportunity to speak with one another and continue this process of normalization.


     And I think the message to the world — and it will be very powerful that the United States has turned the page on a failed policy, that we’re willing to pursue our interests and values through engagement.  And I believe that will be very welcome here in the hemisphere and around the world.


     And one opportunity for me to note that one area where there’s been U.S. and Cuban involvement is in the Colombian peace process, where Cuba has hosted discussions between the Colombian government — a close stalwart, ally, and security partner of the United States — and the FARC.  And we’ve had an envoy who has been able to participate in those talks and we just had a significant breakthrough.  That’s separate and apart from our bilateral normalization process, but I think it shows that we’re committed to broader efforts in the hemisphere to solve problems.


     All right, thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  And we’ll keep you updated as any other bilateral meetings are scheduled.  I wouldn’t anticipate there being many, but there may be one or two so we’ll keep you posted in the coming days.


                        END                 5:57 P.M. EDT







TRANSCRIPT: Conference Call to Preview the Visit of President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China





Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                         September 22, 2015









Via Telephone



5:53 P.M. EDT


MR. PRICE:  Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining this preview call to preview the visit of Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China.  This call will be on the record but it will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call, so we would ask that you not tweet or otherwise use the contents of this call until its conclusion.


We have three senior administration officials on today’s call.  We have Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.  We have Caroline Atkinson, the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics.  And we have Dan Kritenbrink, who is the Senior Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.  


So with that, I will turn it over to Ben Rhodes to kick us off.


MR. RHODES:  Great.  Thanks, Ned.  Appreciate everybody getting on the call.  I’ll just make some opening comments about how President Obama has approached this relationship with China in office.  I’ll turn it over to Dan who can go through the agenda and some of the specific issues related to the visit.  And then Caroline can speak to some of the economic issues that will come up around the visit.


First of all, we start from the premise from the beginning of this administration of pursuing a policy of sustained engagement with the Chinese leadership.  We do so in the belief that this is the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world given the breadth of issues on which the United States and China have common interests, or at times have differences.  But we believe strongly that engagement, including at the highest levels, is necessary to work through both those issues where we agree and can pursue constructive cooperation, and on those issues where we differ.


And as such, throughout this administration we’ve sustained a regular pace of meetings through our strategic and economic dialogue, and also at the head of state level. 


To recap, you’ll recall that President Obama was hosted for a state visit by Hu Jintao, and then he reciprocated and hosted President Hu here in Washington.  After President Xi Jinping came to office, we hosted him at Sunnylands for a very extended discussion in a more informal setting where they were able to get to know another and cover the very broad range of issues upon which the United States and China deal with one another.


Last year we had a very successful state visit to China in which we were able to reach a number of significant breakthroughs, particularly as it relates to climate change, some trade irritants that we were able to overcome, and advancing our military-to-military cooperation among others. 


Just to make a couple of other comments here — again, we’ve approached this relationship knowing that we’re not going to agree on everything, but with the strong belief that we benefit when we can advance cooperation.  That includes on bilateral issues, but it also includes multilateral and global issues.  We believe that the more China is invested in resolving global issues and supporting a rules-based international order, the better it will be for the United States and for the world.  And the climate commitment that came out of last year’s state visit is a direct indication of how sustained engagement can yield results in which the U.S. and China, again, are cooperating not just bilaterally but setting an example and helping provide momentum to global efforts as well.


Bilaterally we have a very broad — I should add actually just one more note on global issues.  Another issue in which we’ve worked very persistently with China over the years is the Iranian nuclear issue.  It took a lot of time and effort at the highest levels of our government to secure Chinese cooperation for the sanctions that applied so much pressure on Iran.  And then China was side-by-side with us at the table and the P5+1 discussions that resulted in the breakthrough and the nuclear deal that was reached to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.


At the same time, of course, we’re going to continue to have a range of bilateral differences, some of which I’m sure we’ll discuss on this call.  But we certainly believe that the way to address those is directly with the Chinese, through engagement.  Denying ourselves that type of engagement with the Chinese would simply deny ourselves the ability to advance our interests and to make clear to China where we stand.


The last thing I’d say is that the U.S.-China relationship is just one part of the broader rebalance to the Asia Pacific region.  You’ve heard the President speak often about how America’s interest in the 21st century will largely be defined by our engagement in the largest-emerging market in the world.  A central pillar of our Asia rebalance is this bilateral relationship with China.  Other pillars of course include the U.S. alliances, which are the cornerstone of our approach to the Asia Pacific, and we’ve invested significantly in those alliances, as well as our emerging partnerships with countries such as the ASEAN countries.


So this is part of a broader Asia policy.  But what I will say is that the countries of the Asia Pacific certainly believe that a good U.S.-China relationship, a stable U.S.-China relationship contributes to the stability and the prosperity of the region.  So even as we are deepening those alliances, building those partnerships with emerging countries, working to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will be a landmark effort to advance America’s economic interest and to cement our engagement in Asia, we see this bilateral relationship with China as fundamental to our Asia rebalance.


With that, I’ll turn it over to Dan to go through the details of the visit.


MR. KRITENBRINK:  Thank you, Ben.  If I could just walk you through, briefly, the schedule here in Washington, and then I’ll talk just a little bit about some of the goals of the visit.


President Xi will arrive in Washington on the afternoon of September 24.  That evening, President Obama and President Xi will have a private dinner similar to the meal that they had done at Sunnylands and at Yingtai last November.  And we expect they would use that meal as a somewhat more informal occasion to have a strategic-level discussion about their respective priorities and visions for the future of the bilateral relationship.


President Obama and Mrs. Obama will then host President Xi and Madam Peng Liyuan for a state visit on September 25.  That will begin with an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, followed by meetings in the White House and then a joint press conference.  From there, Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry will host President Xi and Madam Peng at the State Department for a state lunch.  The President and Mrs. Obama will then host President Xi and Madam Peng for a state dinner at the White House that evening.


I think Ben has covered very well our approach to China and how our China policy is embedded in our larger approach to the rebalance to the region.  I guess I would just emphasize, as Ben did, that we take a balanced, clear-eyed and realistic approach to our relationship with China.  There will be, I expect, a real focus on some of the key international security issues such as Iran and North Korea when the two Presidents sit down to meet.


We’ll also focus on ways we can expand cooperation on several of the global issues that Ben mentioned, including climate change, global health, building on the work that we did to combat Ebola in West Africa, and perhaps on some other issues.


And then of course, there will be a range of bilateral issues as well, including, we hope, further work at building out confidence-building measures between our two militaries, and some things we can do to improve people-to-people interaction between the American and Chinese people, building on last year’s visa-related extension agreement.


I would close by just saying, as Ben said, there will also be I think a very robust discussion of the differences between our two countries.  As the President has said, the national security advisor has said, we won’t paper over those differences.  We’ll be very clear and candid about them.  Some of those differences will include cyber, economic and trade issues, maritime issues and human rights.  So I think you’ll see that balanced approach on display during the state visit. 


That’s all I wanted to say.


MS. ATKINSON:  Thank you, Dan, and thanks to everybody on the call.  I just wanted to make a couple of points about the relationship with China in the economic sphere.  Clearly, as Ben said, this is an extremely important and deep relationship.  We have seen, this summer, that it’s important that China demonstrate that its economic reforms are on track; that it will refrain from competitive devaluation; and that it will implement pro-growth fiscal policies that accelerate the transition to consumer-led growth.  This is extremely important, we believe, for the acceleration of China’s reform for continuing the growth that China wants and that is also in the interest of the global economy.


Secondly, the United States believes that it’s time for China — it’s important that China should share responsibility for sustaining the rules-based international economic system.  This system, which was put in place with a lot of work by the United States and others, has benefitted China and enabled its rise.  We believe that China recognizes this, and that it’s important for us to work together to strengthen that international financial system, including through more balanced economic growth in China.  Of course, the United States is in a relatively strong position at the moment in terms of our economic performance.


And finally, as Dan mentioned, there are some irritants on the bilateral economic relationship that can be threatened by China’s policies that can be discriminatory and protectionist on technology, uneven enforcement of anti-monopoly law, and actions in the agricultural sphere where science-based approach is not yet fully in place.


So we believe that it’s in China’s interest and our interest that China move to reaffirm the protection of intellectual property and allow market forces to play a decisive role in the economy as they have said, and allow for fair competition and a level playing field for foreign firms in their domestic market. 


Q    You guys have talked a lot about cyber and we know that cyber will be probably a tense discussion.  Can we expect that there will be an agreement at all on the cyber issue — and/or will you say to Xi, will the President to President Xi that sanctions are pending?


     MR. RHODES:  I’ll start, Jeff, and then see if Dan wants to add anything.  I think cyber will certainly be a very important part of the agenda and the discussion.  We made very clear to China our deep concerns about certain cyber activities.  In particular, we focused on a Chinese government-sponsored, cyber-enabled theft of confidential business information and proprietary technology from U.S. companies.  And so to be very clear here, this is not just a matter of whether or not countries conduct traditional espionage; it’s a matter of whether our businesses can have the confidence that they can operate in China or operate globally without being subjected to cyber intrusions and that seek to steal their intellectual property.


     This should be of interest to the Chinese as well.  In the last several decades, as we’ve expanded this relationship, one of the key stakeholders for the U.S.-China relationship here in the United States has been the business community.  But we are increasingly hearing concerns about activities that the Chinese have been engaged in.  So we want to make very clear that this puts at risk China’s ability to continue on its economic growth if businesses don’t have confidence that they’re not going to be subjected to cyber theft.


     Our preference is to handle this through dialogue and through diplomacy, and through mutual understandings that we can reach.  I don’t want to suggest a particular formal agreement — we’ll have to see again what type of discussions the leaders have.  What I do want to emphasize is that the area where we would like to reach a greater understanding with the Chinese is on the protection of intellectual property and the ability of businesses to operate without concern of cyber theft.  And, again, this will be an ongoing dialogue.


     Now, we’ve also made clear that we have other punitive measures available when we do see instances of cyber intrusions and cyber theft.  In the past, the United States government has already engaged in law enforcement actions, for instance, that targeted Chinese entities who we believed were behind that type of activity.  Sanctions remain the tool of the United States, and we would be prepared, if necessary, to pursue sanctions as a tool if we felt that there was a case that merited that type of punitive action.


     So there’s a range of options available to us, ranging from constructive dialogue and mutual understandings to more punitive measures to include sanctions.  And I think we’ll have the ability to lay that out for the Chinese.  But I think we do so from the premise that it’s in China’s interest to ensure that businesses have the confidence that there is a level playing field in China and that they’re not at risk from Chinese cyber actors.


     Q    Hi, there.  It seems like the course of this relationship is always one step forward and then one step or two steps backwards, especially in Chinese actions in the cyber realm, maritime security and human rights.  Do you feel like it’s an inevitability that that’s going to be the course of this relationship in the future?  Do you have any optimism or confidence that China will be a better actor in cybersecurity?  And if you do have some optimism, where does that come from?  Thanks.


     MR. RHODES:  So, Michelle, I think that there’s going to be aspects of the relationship that are cooperative and there are going to be aspects of the relationship that are competitive.  And that’s always been our understanding.  And as a general matter, we welcome the peaceful rise of prosperous China.  That can benefit our own interests.  It can support U.S. jobs in economic activity.  And it can contribute to the stability of the Asia Pacific region.


     What we’re not going to do is say that because we have significant differences with China, we’re not going to cooperate with them on other issues.  Because if you look at the steps forward, to use your formulation, there have been some very significant steps forward.  The U.S.-China cooperation on climate change, which will be a focus of this summit as well, is absolutely essential to achieving an ambitious agreement in Paris when the nations of the world will come together to try to deal with climate change.  As the two biggest emitters, our ability to work together is what unlocks the possibility of reaching that type of agreement.


     On Iran, China was instrumental in reaching the P5+1 agreement.  On North Korea, I think we’ve seen in recent years an increasing Chinese willingness to understand that we need to be underscoring the necessity of denuclearization, and as necessary applying pressure on the North Korean regime.


     So there’s a range of issues, I think, where I think we can say we’ve made progress.  At the same time, we are going to have concerns and we’re going to be open about those concerns.  We talked about cyber.  Again, the chief reason I think the Chinese have an interest in changing some of their behavior in the cyber realm is because if they’re operating outside of established international rules and norms, they’re ultimately going to alienate businesses, including U.S. businesses who have been critical to Chinese economic growth. 


In the South China Sea, similarly, we are not a claimant; what we have an interest in is the free flow of commerce and stability in the region.  But when we see militarization of the South China Sea, when we see land reclamation, that obviously has the potential to be destabilizing.  What it also does, frankly, is provoke some of the other nations in the region.  And it’s not in China’s interest to do so.  China has benefitted from a stable Asia Pacific; benefitted from good relations with the ASEAN countries.  And so, therefore, I think we would make the case that abiding by international law, having ways of avoiding conflict, having a code of conduct so that there’s transparency in the South China Sea, and ultimately resolving these claims consistent with international law is in their interest as well.


So we’ll continue to expect that when you have two countries that are as big and different as the United States and China, we’ll have disagreements and we’ll be competitive.  But again, I think through engagement we can still make important progress.


You mentioned human rights.  Human rights goes beyond the difference.  We have a set of universal values that we stand for everywhere.  So this isn’t, like, a policy difference like we have on a trade irritant.  We believe that people should have the right to speak freely.  We believe that journalists and NGOs should be able to operate freely, and we are going to be very clear about that not just with China but with any country in the world.  And I’d expect that that would be a part of this visit as well.


MR. KRITENBRINK:  I completely agree with that.  I mean, I think it’s an exceptionally complex relationship; I think it always has been.  I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, as Ben very correctly pointed out, that we’re cooperating in a broad range of areas.  I think you could argue that we’re cooperating in more meaningful ways, on a more diverse set of issues than ever before.  At the same time, the challenges that we face are exceptionally important and they’re complex, and we intend to tackle those issues head on and deal with them in a forthright manner. 


And could I add just one comment on the human rights issue.  I also thought, in addition to the fact that we have very clear views about how states should behave in the way that they treat their peoples and the universal rights of their peoples that they should respect, I think increasingly we’ve been concerned about certain steps that China has taken domestically through various national security-related laws — draft NGO law — that really seem to be designed to further constrict the operations of civil society, and unfortunately seems designed to restrict the activities of many NGOs, universities, foundations and others who have contributed directly to China’s development and to the development of our bilateral relationship.  And so I think that will be another area of focus under the human rights rubric during the visit.


Q    Hi, guys.  Thank you for doing the call.  I wanted to see if you could just talk a little bit about the relationship between President Obama and President Xi.  We hear the relationship between Obama and Putin described sometimes as “businesslike.”  Considering their meeting at Sunnylands, what kind of relationship do he and Obama have?  And can you talk a little bit about in their talks, perhaps, that private dinner or their other meetings, how President Obama will approach breaching some of these tougher issues if they do have a somewhat more friendly relationship?  Thanks.


MR. RHODES:  I think he’s been able to develop a good relationship with President Xi.  That doesn’t mean we agree with everything President Xi does.  But I think that they have been able to have constructive conversations.


And here’s how I’d put it.  The U.S.-China — someone who’s been in a lot of these meetings — oftentimes, frankly, because we have such a long agenda, you end up sitting there and going through a list, and “here’s our position on X-issue and here’s your position.”  I think what’s been distinct about their relationship, starting at Sunnylands, is far and away the most constructive engagements they’ve had have been in their private dinners. 


You have the bilateral meetings, you work through the agenda, and that’s necessary and very important.  But both at Sunnylands and in China, President Obama commented afterwards that he felt the most constructive engagements were when they were able to talk for several hours over dinner without a formal agenda, and give a vision for where they want to take their country, give a vision for how they think the U.S. and China should operate together in the world, and kind of put aside the talking points and actually get a window into one another’s world view. 


And those world views are very different.  And that’s part of why I think the conversations are useful and important, because it provides a context for all these issues.


And so again, I think starting in Sunnylands and then in China, this ability to step back and offer a perspective of where we are in terms of our relationship and where our respective countries are, President Obama was able to hear from President Xi about his own domestic program, and was able to share some thoughts on his domestic program, as well.  It doesn’t mean that there’s going to be perfect agreement, but I think they have an understanding as leaders of where they’re coming from on these issues — so that way, when there is a dispute, they’re able to address it directly.  And when there’s an opportunity to make progress, we seize it.


So for instance, at Sunnylands there was a lot of talk about climate change, and there we had an important but more modest goal of dealing with the Montreal Protocol.  But those conversations I think led to the effort to have the breakthrough last year, where we announced these joint targets with respect to our missions.  And I think that was rooted in President Obama’s understanding that President Xi is ambitious, and that ambition can serve global interests. 


I think it’s a misnomer to say that we don’t want China to play a large role on the world stage.  If China is invested in addressing climate change and supporting health security and working with us on development efforts, and expanding infrastructure in places like Africa, that can be beneficial.  Now, how that would be done matters.  But the conversations I think provided a framework where we could find, okay, here’s a target of opportunity. 


In Sunnylands, we had a good discussion about climate and the environment, and how China is thinking about that domestically.  I think that allowed us to make the progress that ultimately resulted in the announcement last year.  So I think as we look ahead to this state visit, starting with that private dinner is very important because at that dinner it won’t be a formal agenda, ticking off a list of issues.  They can step back, look at the strategic context, acknowledge the differences and some of the tensions that are there, but also look for what are the opportunities for the next areas where we can cooperate. 


And last thing I’d say is, a good example of this is the military-to-military cooperation, which had become moribund but has expanded significantly since President Xi took office.  Even as we’re having significant differences over certain activities in the South China Sea or the Air Defense Zone, the ability to have our militaries be in contact is critical to avoid miscalculation or any further escalation, and hopefully over time to build some sense of trust that can add to the stability of the region.  So I think that private dinner will set a context and then help us make more progress on the agenda the following day.


Next question.


Q    You mentioned some of the previous interactions these two Presidents have had, and presumably the issue of cyber has come up at Sunnylands and in China.  And it seems like things have gotten progressively worse, even after those dialogues.  So I’m wondering, though you say you want to fix things with dialogue, if the fact that things have gotten worse after previous encounters indicates that if there isn’t something concrete, something deliverable, some kind of pact that comes out of this, sanctions are pretty likely.  And then, secondly, I just want to know if you were able to see the Wall Street Journal interview that President Xi did.  And in that interview, he said that the Chinese government does not engage in theft of commercial secrets in any form, nor does it encourage or support Chinese companies to engage in such practices.  I wanted to know what your response was to his denial.


MR. RHODES:  Well, candidly, cyber is an issue where we have not made the progress that we’ve wanted to make.  We have not seen the types of steps that give our companies greater assurances.  And we’ve been very forthright about that.  And while our preference is resolving this through dialogue, we’re not averse to punitive measures, including sanctions, if we feel like there are actors in China and entities that are engaged in activities that are sanctionable.  So that remains very much a tool of U.S. policy and we’ll have a mix of tools available, some of them more focused on dialogue and cooperation, but as necessary, we’d be willing to take punitive action.  And we have in the past; you’ve seen some major law enforcement actions, for instance, that have been focused on Chinese entities.


And I just want to underscore this — I didn’t see the full interview from President Xi.  What I would say is that we’re drawing a very clear distinction between the fact that, look, there are activities that all governments engage in as it relates to national security, but what we don’t engage in as the United States is the theft of trade secrets.  And that’s something that gets at the integrity of the global economy, and that’s why we’ve been so focused on this.


MR. KRITENBRINK:  Could I — yes, one point.  I think on this issue, certainly this has been an issue for the past few years.  The President has raised it very directly.  I think one indication that the Chinese side has taken seriously are concerns of the fact that they sent Secretary Meng Jianzhu here as President Xi’s special envoy to address these issues.  And we had very candid and open discussions with him on that.


And you mentioned, President Xi’s comments — I mean, what I would say is, of course we would welcome a commitment on the part of the Chinese not to engage in this type of behavior.  The focus of course has to be on actions not simply words.  So I think we’ll be looking very carefully at the actions of the Chinese state going forward.


MR. RHODES:  Yes, and President Xi did say also, looking at this interview, that he wants to strengthen cooperation with the United States on this issue.  I think this summit will be an opportunity for us to hear directly from him what form that takes, and then we’ll be able to make a judgment based on those conversations.


Q    Along the same line on this, can we rule out any action before the meeting?  There had been some discussion of perhaps this could happen before or after the trip.  It is now safe to say that there will be no action ahead of the meeting?


MR. RHODES:  Yes, I would not anticipate — if you’re talking about sanctions — I would not anticipate that type of action before the meetings, no.


Q    Thanks.  I have two quick questions.  One is, I know White House officials and, to some degree, Chinese officials have sort of discounted some of the anti-China rhetoric that’s coming from the campaign trail right now, saying it’s a campaign phenomenon.  But there are folks — foreign policy analysts around town in think tanks and so on — who say that there is a sense from the Chinese folks they’ve talked to that there’s concern in Beijing about a next administration, whether Democratic or Republican, taking a stronger line against China. 


And so some of what you’re seeing with the Chinese leadership right now, not just in locking in some agreements with the United States but also in taking some belligerent actions in the South China Sea, is aimed at sort of doing that before the U.S. might take a tougher policy.  I’m wondering how you would react to that.


And then the second thing was, because the news just broke, I wanted to see if Ben might want to respond to — Hillary Clinton has come out and said just moments ago that’s she’s opposed to the Keystone Pipeline.  I just thought I would offer you an opportunity to respond to that, as well.


MR. RHODES:  It might shock you to know that I believe that there’s an ongoing review that the State Department is doing.  And we don’t have any announcements to make as it relates to Keystone.


I’ll just say a word on your first question, and then Dan may want to chime in.  There is always a degree of rhetoric related to the U.S.-China relationship.  And, look, some of that is rooted in very real differences.  When President Obama was running for office, he highlighted some areas where he had significant differences with the Chinese government, and we’ve acted on those differences in many ways — for instance, we brought numerous cases through the WTO and been very successful in that effort.


And there is concern across the spectrum about some of the activities in the South China Sea, and we share those concerns.  And I think this administration has sought to raise the profile of maritime issues in the South China Sea, including through the President’s regular engagement at the East Asia summit and our belief that we need to work both with China and ASEAN to address those issues.  I will say, however, that this is such a big and complicated relationship that it is a mistake to oversimplify or suggest that somehow we can benefit from disengaging from China or taking a purely adversarial stance with China. 


We conduct over half a trillion dollars in economic activity with China.  There is an enormous amount of U.S. jobs that are created and supported through our trade with China.  China is a member of the U.N. Security — a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.  China is the biggest country in the world, and also the biggest emerging power in the region of the world that is going to be a focal point for the United States. 


So I think anybody who is President of the United States will find an interest to work through differences with China and to find areas of cooperating with China.  It’s not a coincidence that there’s been bipartisan support for that type of policy for decades — from Nixon and Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton to Bush to Obama.  There have been differences of emphasis and differences on issues, but on the core premise that the United States of America benefits from engagement with China, I think that’s clearly supported by bipartisan administrations.


What I would say is China needs to be mindful that its activities don’t undermine its standing here in the United States.  Congress has a very important role to play in U.S.-China policy.  The stakeholders who supported the U.S.-China policy — significantly our business community — have an important role to play. 


And so part of our message is, look, if you are not taking steps to address some of these concerns as it relates to particular trade irritants or cyber activities, you risk eroding the support for the U.S.-China relationship that comes from the business community; you risk inviting responses from Congress.


So China does need to be mindful of the broad concerns in the United States on certain issues.  And so I think that’s an entirely valid point that, again, across the political spectrum, people are concerned about certain Chinese activities, and that is going to reflect itself not just in what this President does and the next President does, but in what Congress does and how different stakeholders in the United States see the relationship.


And the same is true around the world and in the region.  The more China is invested in a rules-based international order, I think the more support the Chinese will find for their objectives in Asia and around the world.  The more China is testing or going beyond the boundaries of that rules-based international order, I think the more countries are going to raise concerns.


And so that’s very much the nature of the discussion, but I don’t think people should discount the fact that engagement has yielded very concrete results, including an administration — when you look at our signature initiatives — be it the Iran nuclear deal or climate change — China’s cooperation was fundamental to that progress, as well.


MS. ATKINSON:  Just then, to add, that in terms of the global economy, China is the second-largest economy, and what it does matters a lot for the rest of the world.  And I think the way we see it is that this rules-based international order, which we have in the economic sphere as well, supported China’s rise.  And that was remarkable, but it’s now time for China to embrace the responsibility that’s commensurate with its size. 


China can’t be a free-rider on the international system.  China needs to help to sustain the rules that enabled its rise and that will support a stronger and more stable global economy.


     Q    Question first for Dan or Ben on the South China Sea.  There’s been a lot of discussion about the U.S. sending planes and ships within the 12-mile limit toward the man-made islands that China has been constructing to show that reclaimed land does not grant China any sovereignty rights over large parts of the South China Sea.  There’s an option that’s been proposed by a number of military officers.  I wanted you to say what the White House’s view on that is.  Is that the right step for the U.S. to be taking to push back against China’s military build-up in the South China Sea?  And then quickly for Caroline.  Given China’s economic reforms, do you now think that the Chinese currency is now ready to become part of the SDR in the IMF’s basket of official reserve currencies?


     MR. KRITENBRINK:  Well, could I address your first question on, as I understood it, U.S. military operations in the South China Sea.  I would just emphasize the United States has a global freedom of navigation program that it conducts throughout the world and is also very active in East Asia, including in the South China Sea.  That is what we’ve done in the past, that is what we will continue to do in the future.  And as the Secretary of Defense and other senior U.S. officials have made clear, the U.S. military intends to operate anywhere and at any time it is allowed to do so under international law.


     And, again, this gets to Ben’s earlier point of our goal is to support and sustain the international rules-based order, and that applies on maritime issues and it applies on a whole range of other issues.  We’re looking to uphold these larger principles of international law, such as freedom of navigation; freedom of overflight; unimpeded, lawful commerce; and peaceful resolution of disputes.  And as a maritime nation, that’s why we carry out these activities on a regular basis — to make clear that everyone is subject to these rules, both large countries and small countries and, of course, including the United States.


     MS. ATKINSON:  Thank you.  So as far as the SDR is concerned, as you know, there is a review underway in the IMF.  I’ve noticed comments from France and the U.K. in the last few days in discussions with China that they believe that if China is able to move its reforms forward so that it can meet the tests in that review, then presumably it could meet the tests, it can join the SDR.  I think that all of us — all of the other countries in the IMF feel similarly that what’s most important is for China to take the steps necessary to meet the IMF’s criteria and then to see what happens in that review, which will take place later this year.


     Q    I kind of have to repeat the first question.  Can you speak to reports that appeared in the New York Times this weekend stating that the United States and China are pursuing what’s called the cyber arms control agreement?  Basically relinquish the use of certain cyber-offensive capabilities against each other’s critical infrastructure during peacetime. 


MR. RHODES:  Sure.  What I’d say is we’ve had a number of very focused discussions with the Chinese, including on the recent trip from the Chinese minister.  We believe very strongly that the U.S. and China both have an interest in investing in clear international norms as it relates to cyber activity.  We’re working together to try to arrive at common principles that could give us greater confidence that China is acting in a manner that does not disadvantage our businesses, and that upholds and invests in those evolving international norms. 


I don’t want to suggest that we reached an arms control agreement here, but I do want to suggest that ultimately the goal here is we start from a common understanding that you have agreed-upon principles which we believe must include that cyber theft does not go forward.  And then as the two largest economies in the world, I think we can lead an effort to develop international norms that govern cyber activity.  And that is going to be something that is of interest to the United States and China and the whole world, and is an example of where we need to address bilateral differences but we can also, frankly, set a global framework that can deal with cyber issues going forward.


MR. KRITENBRINK:  I think that’s absolutely right.  I would just say, as we’ve I think explained earlier in this call, the issue of cyber and particularly of the concerns that we have with various Chinese behaviors in the cyber realm will be a key focus of the discussions.  I’d be reluctant to raise expectations about an agreement along the lines of what you’ve described.  But certainly that would be, as Ben said, a long-term goal of working towards establishing those norms.  But I think we’re a long ways from getting there, but that certainly is the goal.


MR. RHODES:  Great.  Thanks, everybody, for joining the call.


                   END                6:40 P.M. EDT


U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Remarks at a Security Council Session on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Remarks at a Security Council Session on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria

02/26/2015 06:35 PM EST

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

New York, NY

February 26, 2015


Thank you. Thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Kang, High Commissioner Guterres for your powerful presentations.

One year ago, the Security Council adopted resolution 2139, aimed at addressing the humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in Syria. As today’s briefings made clear, the humanitarian crises have only deepened – there are multiple crises.

It is estimated that 12.2 million people need humanitarian assistance in Syria. At this time last year, 9.3 million people were said to need humanitarian assistance. That’s nearly three million more people who need aid to survive, in just a year. Think about that.

That is why it is absolutely crucial that all donors make generous commitments at the Humanitarian Pledging Conference in Kuwait in March, commitments that are commensurate with the magnitude of Syria’s crisis – this is what the United States plans to do.

While the international community absolutely must meet the immediate and dire needs of the Syrian people, we must also face the fact that humanitarian assistance is a band aid, it must be accompanied by more intense political pressure to stop the violence and widespread abuses that are fueling the crisis. Although more people in Syria need humanitarian aid than ever before, the Assad regime also seems more intent on denying aid and causing civilian harm than ever before.

Security Council resolution 2139 called on the Syrian parties to immediately cease the indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas, including through aerial bombardment using barrel bombs. Yet in the year since the resolution was adopted, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Assad regime has dropped at least 1,950 barrel bombs, which have killed at least 6,480 people, 95 percent of whom were civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, the report released earlier this week, satellite imagery identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in ten opposition-held towns and villages in the Daraa governorate, and more than 1,000 major damage sites in the Aleppo governorate, between February 2014 and January of this year.

The Human Rights Watch report shows that many impact sites have damage signatures consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Yet in spite of this clear evidence, Assad cheerfully denied that his forces used barrel bombs and called any such claims, “a childish story”– a particularly grotesque choice of words, given that well over 10,000 children have been killed in the conflict so far.

The recently released UN Commission of Inquiry report on Syria documents many attacks on civilians. One of them occurred on Aleppo’s al-Shaar neighbourhood on November 6th. The first barrel bomb reportedly killed civilians in its area of impact, and buried more in rubble. When others rushed to the area to dig out the people buried and assist the wounded, the government dropped a second barrel bomb. At least 15 people were killed in all, most of them women and children. Some of the wounded later died in field hospitals, according to the report, due to the lack of necessary medical supplies.

The lack of medical supplies is no accident – it is the result of the Assad regime’s routine confiscation of medical and surgical supplies transported by UN convoys. The UN and its implementing partners have tried to be maximally transparent with the Syrian regime by allowing the government to inspect cross-line shipments, going beyond the provisions in Security Council resolutions 2165 and 2191. Yet, even when these “regime approvals” for cross-line operations are granted, the regime seizes medical supplies such as surgical items, midwifery kits and rehydration kits, which could save the lives of mothers, small children, and babies. The Council was clear in its demand that all parties allow delivery of medical assistance and cease depriving civilians of food and medicine indispensable for their survival in resolution 2139.

The Physicians for Human Rights report that Assistant Secretary-General Kang mentioned documented 228 attacks on 179 separate medical facilities. Of these, PHR found, 90 percent were carried out by regime forces. To date, according to Physicians for Human Rights, 145 medical personnel have been executed or tortured to death in Syria. One hundred and thirty-nine of those 145 individuals, those deaths were carried out by Syrian government forces or by ISIL.

In Yarmouk, 18,000 civilians – most of them Palestinians refugees – are virtually cut off from assistance and surrounded by fighting. In 2014, the UN was only able to provide the equivalent of 400 calories a day for each inhabitant of Yarmouk – the equivalent of two cups of rice – due to the extremely limited access provided by the Syrian regime. If you haven’t seen the photos of the kids inside Yarmouk, you should force yourself to stare at their sunken, hollow faces and glossed eyes. This is what Assad’s regime has done to children, and he is under insufficient pressure from his backers to do something as simple as let food through. And Yarmouk is not an outlier. Of the 212,000 Syrians living in besieged areas, 185,000 of them, or 87 percent, live in areas being besieged by Syrian government forces.

Now, terrorist groups like ISIL have committed horrific abuses against Syrians, and we must be absolutely adamant and united in our condemnation of those horrors, which are on the rise. We condemn in the strongest possible terms ISIL’s attacks on February 23 on Assyrian Christian villages in the northeast Syrian province of Hasakeh, where they kidnapped hundreds of civilians, including women, children, and older persons, and we join others in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of these civilians, together with all of ISIL’s hostages.

In December, four mass graves were discovered in Deir ez-Zor, containing the bodies of some of the hundreds of people abducted by ISIL months before. ISIL has also established what they call “cub camps,” where they indoctrinate kids, teaching them how to use weapons and to carry out suicide attacks. At the same time we condemn ISIL and unite to confront them, we must remember that the rise of these violent extremist groups in Syria would not have happened without the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime. And the regime’s ongoing atrocities continue to be the extremists’ best recruiting tool. So any plan that would ally the international community with Assad to confront these violent extremist groups would be completely counterproductive, as it would further fuel ISIL’s rise.

There is only one way out of this horrific crisis, and that is through a comprehensive political solution. To that end, the United States again joins others in commending the efforts of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to halt – even for a limited time – the use of all aerial bombs and heavy artillery in Aleppo, whose civilians have suffered immensely amidst fierce fighting. While it would be a welcome step if the Assad regime were to fulfill the commitments it made to de Mistura to stop unilaterally its aerial bombardment in Aleppo and allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians for six weeks, the regime has an abysmal track record on honoring its commitments. Indeed, these very commitments are supposed to have been implemented under resolutions adopted by this very Council. So what matters, and what we must look to, are the regime’s actions.

In addition to being a year since the adoption of Resolution 2139, we also mark other terrible benchmarks today. On March 15th, we will enter the fifth year of the Syrian conflict. And it has been three years since plain-clothes security officers raided the office of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression – a Damascus-based group dedicated to promoting freedom of expression – detaining 14 staff members. Many of those detained were tortured, according to staff members who were later released. Among those detained was the group’s director, Mazen Darwish, who was charged with so-called crimes, such as publishing human rights reports and documenting the names of people tortured, disappeared, or killed during the conflict.

Mazen is still behind bars today, despite a UN General Assembly resolution last May that included a demand for his immediate release. Writing from jail last year, Mazen said, “There is not a single prison in Syria today without one of my friends inside it, nor is there a cemetery in Syria today that doesn’t contain the remains of one of them.”

There is a risk, in our regular meetings on Syria, to get used to the fact that the numbers of individuals detained and killed and disappeared and displaced and denied food – and so many other measures of human suffering – those numbers continue to rise. Indeed, there is a perverse dynamic whereby, as those numbers continue to rise, our sensitivity falls. Our nerve endings harden, and a sense of inevitability takes hold.

We must not let that happen. We must remember each of those rising numbers, each one of those millions, stands for just another person. We must return to the commitments this Council has made, such as those in past resolutions to take further measures in the case of non-compliance and to hold accountable those responsible for violations and abuses.

This Council’s impact will increase only if member-states’ positions change. And that will happen only if we recognize that there are children just like our own starving in Yarmouk, and mothers just like our own who die in childbirth in Aleppo, because medical supplies have been stolen off UN trucks; or mothers who feel helpless in the face of their children’s pleas for food. If this doesn’t motivate us, literally nothing will. Thank you.


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