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Remarks by Press Secretary Little En Route to Singapore

Presenter: Press Secretary George E. Little
June 01, 2012

                 Q:  So we’re looking for a little guidance on Syria. 

                 MR. GEORGE LITTLE:  Okay, all right.

                 Q:  We clearly have heard Ambassador Rice saying action could proceed without the U.N.  You know, we might be moving to that phase.  He seemed to say definitively we only act when the blue helmets tell us to. So can you help us clarify? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  Yes, I mean, I – he made four key points, I think, in his Syria comments.  One is that Assad must go.  Two is that the international community must act. 

                 Q:  Are you on background now? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  No, I’m on the record. 

                 Three is that the United States is not contemplating unilateral military action at this time.  And fourthly, and he said this very directly in his comments, that the United States is preserving all of those options for the future.  So I would encourage all of you to read the entire transcript.  So those are the four key points that I would make. 

                 Q:  Hey, George, my clarification, my question on this is, you know, and you just said in point three, unilateral action, there’s the way to mobilize with international backing that does not need the U.N.  I mean, the Kosovo example is where the international community acted through NATO and that wasn’t a unilateral act.  It was a multilateral act by a robust coalition. 

                 I mean, there’s other ways besides the U.N. to have international consensus.  And he seemed to today say that the only way for international consensus was through the U.N.  Am I overinterpreting that or am I being too aggressive or –

                 MR. LITTLE:  I wouldn’t say you’re over – well, he said very clearly that we are preserving all of our options.  He’s not taking any option off the table or suggesting that that’s administration policy.  There are any number of ways to come at this.  The key points that he made that this is really a diplomatic and economic effort at this stage.  Number two, that we are not taking any options off the table, but that the right path at this time to help the Syrian people is to focus the international community’s efforts on working together to bring pressure on the Assad regime. 

                 Q:  Are you saying that one of the options is for us to take at some point military action without U.N. authorization? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  I am saying that the full range of options are available to the United States government over time.  The focus right now is on diplomatic and economic pressure.  That’s exactly where we’ve been for some time. 

                 What’s happening in Syria is abominable and unacceptable.  And the United States government, working closely with the international community and our partners, continue to make that clear and all options remain on the table. 

                 Q:  But Susan Rice said that diplomatic efforts had hit a wall.  Does the Secretary agree with that assessment ? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  I didn’t see precisely what Ambassador Rice said since we’ve been travelling. 

                 Q:  She said the wheels had come off the bus and that diplomatic efforts had hit a wall and that the next logical,

                 Military action is most likely the remaining option, most likely the remaining option.  So diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed have hit a wall.  Does he agree with that? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  I think the Secretary doesn’t necessarily – the two are not mutually exclusive, the two sets of comments.  I think that she is speaking as our ambassador to the United Nations and in her view we have perhaps hit a diplomatic impasse and I don’t want to speak for her.  The secretary – that doesn’t mean that the secretary’s comments are at odds with what she said.  There are still ways to mount diplomatic and economic efforts and those efforts continue. 

                 We continue to work diplomatically with our partners and allies in the region and beyond to try to bring an end to this crisis.  And that is precisely what both Secretary Panetta and apparently Ambassador Rice have indicated. 

                 Q:  (Inaudible.) 

                 Q:  That exactly ties into that question, though. 

                 Q:  (Inaudible.)  Does the secretary oppose military action that’s not backed by the U.N. security council? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  I think you heard very clearly the secretary’s view that at this time we’re not contemplating unilateral military action and that it’s – the focus should at this point be on diplomatic and economic pressure.  The time is not ripe in his mind for military action.  He’s made that clear repeatedly over the last couple of months, including congressional testimony.  He’s talked about the need for clear objectives to be set before U.S. troops are sent into harm’s way.  So I think his comments on Syria have been consistent over time and he’s today where he was a week ago and a few weeks ago. 

                 He made it very clear as well in his comments that he remains very concerned about what’s happening on the ground in Syria.  And that’s a very important point for you all to bear in mind as you’re reporting the story.  Gopal

                 Q: He said that the longer this goes on, the worse it gets.  So does that sort of suggest that maybe there’s a window for some military option – (inaudible). 

                 MR. LITTLE:  I would say again that no options are necessarily off the table for the international community to implement.  Yes, it’s hard for me to speculate on your comments in terms of timing and I wouldn’t do so.  That wouldn’t be prudent for me to do. 

                 But let’s be clear, the crisis in Syria is a top priority for this administration.  We’re going to continue to work it hard with international partners.  Look, it’s tough.  This is a terrible humanitarian crisis.  It’s complex.  Addressing the crisis is not easy.  This is a tough neighborhood.  It’s a tough situation and the dynamics inside Syria are sometimes difficult to sort out.  And it’s important to bear that in mind, too. 

                 So we can talk for a long time about scenarios and hypotheticals in Syria.  We all acknowledge the overall terrible situation in the country, but how to solve it is something we’re going to have to continue to work closely on with our partners. 

                 Q:  George diplomatic efforts essentially are focused right now getting Russia on board.  This is something Clinton and Rice have been focused on.  Does the secretary have a message for Russia as well? 

                 MR. LITTLE:  He’s going to leave our engagement with Russia to the State Department.  That’s where that diplomatic engagement is taking place.  And I would respectfully take issue with your characterization that’s the only diplomatic effort that’s underway right now.  There’s a robust diplomatic effort underway with a number of countries to try to address the Syria question. 

                 MR.         :  Okay, thank you all.