Monday, June 23, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry, Remarks on Syria and Iraq, U.S. Embassy Baghdad, June 23, 2014

At the U.S. State Department, "Secretary Kerry's Press Availability on Syria and Iraq in Baghdad, June 23, 2014."

Scroll down for questions with reporters. The New York Times' Michael Gordon spoke first:

... So I’d be delighted to take any questions.

MS. PSAKI: The first question is from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Sir, you mentioned your meetings today with Prime Minister Maliki, and you’re meeting Shiite and Sunni politicians and Iraq’s foreign minister. Do you think Prime Minister Maliki has an effective strategy for dealing with Iraq’s security and political crisis, and what is that strategy? You mentioned the importance of forming a government in an expedited manner. Did you make any headway today on the process of government formation? Was any progress made, and what was that progress?  And lastly, ISIS, as you – has been noted, has been erasing the border between Iraq and Syria. They’ve taken the town of Rutba, which sits astride the highway to Jordan. American officials said that ISIS would like to attack the Shia shrine in Samarra, which could lead to an explosion of violence in Iraq. Given these security developments, can the United States really afford to wait until the government formation process in Iraq is complete before taking some form of action, potentially air strikes? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer the last part of that question first. President Obama has not declared that he will wait. He has made it very clear in his most recent statement that he is preparing with the increased intelligence and the work that the military is doing at this point in time, and the President is prepared to take action when and if the President decides that is important. Clearly, everyone understands that Samarra is an important line. Historically, an assault on Samarra created enormous problems in Iraq. That is something that we all do not want to see happen again. And so the President and the team, the entire security team, are watching this movement and these events very, very closely.

The key today was to get from each of the government leaders a clarity with respect to the road forward in terms of government formation. And indeed, Prime Minister Maliki firmly, on multiple occasions because it was a great part of the conversation, affirmed his commitment to July 1st as the date when the representatives will convene and when they must choose a speaker and then a president and then a prime minister. And he committed to try to move that process as expeditiously as possible. And that was emphasized again and again.

With respect to the strategy for going forward, we agreed today that we will work very, very closely with the joint command. The joint command is now being set up. The additional advisors are coming in and dispersing through their various posts and brigades, and they will be making assessments, and that will help define the strategy on the security front. But make no mistake, the President has moved the assets into place and has been gaining each day the assurances he needs with respect to potential targeting, and he has reserved the right to himself, as he should, to make a decision at any point in time if he deems it necessary strategically.
Recall Michael Gordon's report this morning at the New York Times, "U.S. May Launch Airstrikes Ahead of Forming New Government in #Iraq."