Phonm Penh, Cambodia–(ENEWSPF)–November 20, 2012 – 2:28 P.M. ICT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us here today in Phonm Penh. As you know, the President has had some bilats this morning and some other meetings that he’s participating in.
I have Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, who can give you an overview of the President’s day and also can answer questions about the meetings, about the trip, and other matters. I’m here to take questions on non-foreign policy related issues, if you have any.
And with that, I’ll turn it over the Ben.
Q Jay, before you begin, there’s a break in the story about the Secretary of State going to Israel. Can you confirm that?
MR. RHODES: We’ll address it, Mark.
MR. CARNEY: We’ll address that right ahead.
MR. RHODES: Okay, first of all, I’ll just give a quick update of the President’s meetings this morning and then an update on the situation in Gaza.
The first meeting the President had this morning was with the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries that are in attendance here at the summit. The countries reviewed the progress that has been made in negotiations over the course of the last year. They also discussed the countries that have come into the TPP. Canada and Mexico have joined; Japan and Thailand have expressed an interest in joining. They’re committed to getting those negotiations concluded with an aim to doing so next year so that they can complete that trade agreement.
Then the President, as you saw, met with Prime Minister Noda of Japan. They reviewed the bilateral security cooperation that we do through our alliance. They discussed regional issues, including maritime security and some of the territorial disputes associated with that. And they addressed Japan and its aspirations to join the TPP, and agreed to continue negotiations towards an achievement of that goal, which we believe would strengthen the TPP and be good for both Japan and the United States.
Then the President met with Premier Wen Jiabao of China. This was the last meeting that the two leaders will have, given Wen Jiabao’s moving out of that role next year. They discussed the importance of the U.S. and China consistently maintaining our cooperation on a bilateral, regional, and global level. They discussed security issues, including Iran. They discussed economic issues, including our commitment to strengthen the rules of the road in the global economy. And they discussed regional stability, reaffirming that China is a part of our engagement here in this important region — a critical part of that engagement; and our interest, again, in resolving territorial disputes and maritime disputes consistent with international rules of the road.
A couple of things on Gaza. Last night, we read out to you, the President after leaving the dinner called President Morsi of Egypt and then Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. He reaffirmed our belief that it’s important for there to be a de-escalation in the region, one that brings an end to rocket fire into Israeli cities.
And then later that night, the President spoke to President Morsi again to discuss Egypt’s constructive role in seeking to bring about a de-escalation in the region.
Then, to Mark’s question, this morning, Secretary Clinton and the President spoke about the situation in Gaza and the calls that he’d done, and they agreed that it makes sense for the Secretary to travel to the region. So Secretary Clinton will depart today and she’ll travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Cairo, leaving from Phonm Penh. And she’ll meet with regional leaders, beginning with our Israeli partners, to consult on the situation in Gaza.
Her visits will build on the engagement that we’ve undertaken over the last several days, including the engagement by President Obama and Secretary Clinton with leaders in the region to support a de-escalation of the violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and restores a broader calm in the region. Again, as President Obama noted in his conversation with President Morsi, we commend Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the situation, and are hopeful that they will be successful.
On her trip, Secretary Clinton will emphasize the United States’ interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel’s security and regional stability — an outcome that can lead to improved conditions for the civilian residents of Gaza, and that could reopen the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for two states living side by side in peace and security. And, of course, she will continue to express our concern about the loss of civilian life on both sides.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Thanks, Ben. Regarding Gaza and Israel, you’ve said that the precipitating incidents in this was rocket fire coming from Gaza. What is that Secretary Clinton can take to the region? What can she offer to Hamas to provide incentives to make them stop doing this? And then could you also talk in more detail about any discussions on East China Sea disputes and South China Sea disputes, and how to resolve those?
MR. RHODES: Well, sure. On your first question, the reason there is a conflict in Gaza is because of the rocket fire that’s been launched at Israeli civilians indiscriminately for many months now. And any solution to this challenge has to include an end to that rocket fire.
At the same time, I think we all agree that the best way to solve this is through diplomacy so that you have a peaceful settlement that ends that rocket fire and allows for a broader calm in the region.
So what we’ve been doing is working with our Israeli partners to reinforce our close cooperation on security matters and our support for their right to defend themselves, but also to work with countries like Egypt that have relationships with the Palestinians so that they may use that influence and those relationships to encourage a de-escalation.
So we want to broaden those discussions as we move forward with Secretary Clinton going to the region so that we can build on the constructive role that Egypt is playing and send a clear message that it’s in nobody’s interest to see an escalation of the military conflict.
So again, she will be speaking to Israelis, and her first stop will be in Israel, where she will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to reinforce our close cooperation. Then she’ll be meeting with Palestinians in Ramallah, and she will be meeting with Egyptian leaders in Cairo. And again, the goal throughout that trip is for everybody to use their influence and their voices to encourage a peaceful outcome rather than an escalation. But again, our bottom line is that peaceful outcome has to include an end to rocket fire that threatens Israel.
With respect to the East China Sea, our view is that there needs to be a lowering of tension around these territorial disputes. There’s no reason to risk any potential escalation, particularly when you have two of the world’s largest economies — China and Japan — associated with some of those disputes. So again, I think President Obama’s message is there needs to be a reduction of the tensions in the East China Sea and a process going forward, more broadly, to ensure that these types of disputes don’t risk escalation.
Q Does it help that tension, though, if there are U.S. — if the U.S. is participating in Japan military exercises?
MR. RHODES: Well, it helps, we believe, the regional security and regional stability to have the United States, as a cornerstone of our engagement in the region, maintain its close alliance with Japan. We believe that the alliance we have and the military cooperation we have with Japan has been an anchor of stability in Asia for decades, and has helped, by the way, create the context that has allowed for broader prosperity and the peaceful rise of China.
So we believe our cooperation with Japan is essential to Japan’s security, but it is also constructive in ensuring that this part of the world maintains the type of stability that has allowed it to have such economic growth.
Q Who is she meeting with in Ramallah? Is she just meeting with Abbas and members of Fatah, or is she meeting with some member of Hamas?
MR. RHODES: I’ll allow the State Department to speak to the specifics of her schedule beyond her first meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I can assure you that she’ll be meeting with the Palestinian Authority. The United States does not engage directly with Hamas. Hamas has not met the conditions that we’ve set for many years — to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to abide by preexisting agreements. So we do not engage directly with Hamas.
MR. RHODES: Look, the Palestinian Authority is the leadership of the Palestinians. President Abbas is the elected leader of the Palestinians. So they are a critical voice in this — in these matters, both as it relates to what’s happening in Gaza and our efforts going forward to improve the situation in Gaza, but also in terms of our broader efforts to pursue peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
So we believe that President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are critical partners in our efforts in the region, and it’s important for us to reaffirm that with her visit.
Q Is this essentially an attempt to send the message that the U.S. is trying to play the role of mediator here?
MR. RHODES: What we’ve been doing is working with a number of countries to play the role in supporting a de-escalation. So her trip is building on the discussions that we’ve had over the course of the last several days, again, with President Morsi of Egypt, with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. The Secretary has been in touch with Ban Ki-moon, who is also traveling to the region, as well as a number of her counterparts.
So this will extend those consultations. And what we hope for is enough support in the region and internationally for a de-escalation, for an end to rocket fire, that can provide for calm and avoid an escalation of a very difficult challenge in Gaza.
Q When does she leave?
MR. RHODES: She’s leaving from Phnom Penh, so she’s leaving here later today. I don’t have an exact time, but she’ll be leaving from the summit. And again, the President and Secretary Clinton have been talking about the situation throughout the trip. They spoke about it last night. Then, after the President’s calls late last night, he met with Secretary Clinton this morning and was able to update her on his calls and to discuss the way forward. And then, throughout the day at the summit site, the two of them were in discussions along with Tom Donilon, the National Security Advisor, who has also been talking to his counterparts.
And again, we believe that the best way to advance the discussions we’ve had with leaders in the region is for Secretary Clinton to take this trip, beginning with our close partner, Israel.
Q But then what leverage does she bring? What leverage does the U.S. have other than trying to gather support of other players? There have been a lot of non-negotiable demands from Hamas.
MR. RHODES: Look, it’s not a matter of leverage, it’s a matter of what’s in everybody’s best interest. It is not in the interest of the Palestinians and the people of Gaza for there to be an escalation of this conflict. That would bring with it a huge cost. As the President said the other day, we believe Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel will make decisions about its own security. At the same time, if we can achieve the goal of an end to rocket fire peacefully, that’s clearly preferable, and that’s a view that’s shared by Israelis and by leaders in the region.
So I think what’s at stake here is whether or not we can come together, and again, see leaders take decisions to support a de-escalation that ultimately can avert a greater loss of life from what we’ve seen the previous several days.
Q Ben, if you were able to characterize how effective Morsi has been so far, how would you characterize the way he’s handled the situation?
MR. RHODES: The President and the Secretary believe that the Egyptians have been quite constructive in the conversations we’ve had with them; that they have expressed a sincere commitment to support a de-escalation here. What’s important now is to continue to pursue that course, to use the influence that they have over the situation to encourage that course.
So to date, we’re encouraged by the cooperation and the consultation we’ve had with the Egyptian leadership. We want to see that support, a process that can de-escalate the situation. But again, the bottom line still remains that Hamas has to stop this rocket fire. So ultimately, they’re the ones who are going to have to be a part of a solution that ends the type of terror that Israeli citizens have faced over so many months with this barrage of rockets coming into Israeli territory.
Q Is Morsi more effective than Mubarak has been in the past, would you say? Is that fair to characterize?
MR. RHODES: I wouldn’t want to draw comparisons at this point. Obviously, this has been a conflict that has been going on for decades. Egypt has been a critical part of our effort to manage that conflict and pursue peace. That was the case under President Mubarak. It continues to be the case under President Morsi, who has upheld the peace treaty with Israel.
What we’ve seen is, again, our engagement has been focused on practical and constructive cooperation that can reduce tensions, but ultimately, it’s going to have to be Hamas within Gaza that takes a step of not pursuing rocket fire on Israeli territory. But we believe that Egypt can and should be a partner in seeking to bring about that outcome.
Q On the ground in Egypt, Morsi is getting a lot of feedback — pushback, that the people in Egypt are saying he’s not being aggressive enough over this train situation. Do you think domestic politics will affect his — while he negotiates?
MR. RHODES: Well, I’d say a couple of things. First of all, in the call last night with President Morsi, President Obama did express condolences for what was an awful train wreck that took the lives of dozens of people, including many children, and President Morsi is of course focused on that.
I think as it relates to the suffering of the people in Gaza, though, our message to everybody — the Egyptians, the Palestinians, other regional and international partners — is that the suffering that they are facing will only increase if this conflict increases. So therefore, those who have the best interest of the people of Gaza at heart will want to see an end to this conflict and a de-escalation of this conflict.
As the President said the other day, any escalation of the military conflict would only bring about greater suffering and loss of life on both the Israeli and Palestinian side. So that should be the basis for people to come together and avoid that outcome. And again, the only way you’re going to have that outcome is if the precipitating factor of this conflict — the rocket fire — comes to an end.
Q Ben, you keep using the phrase “de-escalate the situation.” Are you avoiding using the word “ceasefire”?
MR. RHODES: No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation. Again, what our bottom line is, is an end to rocket fire. We’re open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal. We’ve discussed any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal. But it’s going to have to begin with a reduction of tensions and space created for the situation to calm. So we’ll be discussing going forward, as we have been over the last several days, what are the various ways in which we can accomplish that goal.
Q I have a question about the Japanese bilat. First, my understanding is that it was scheduled for 40 minutes but it ended up being only 25 minutes. Why is that? Second, on TPP, the Prime Minister today, he wasn’t able to announce an official decision by Japan to join the negotiations. Were you hoping for the official decision today, and are you disappointed? And last, can you give me a sense of how much of the conversation revolved around the Senkaku Islands? And what was the President’s message to Prime Minister Noda?
MR. RHODES: On the Senkakus? Well, first of all, on the time, I couldn’t — I’m not aware of exactly how long it was. Obviously, this was on the margins of a summit, so you’re not allowed to — you’re not able to have kind of an open-ended discussion. But my understanding is that it was a good and friendly discussion between the two leaders.
With respect to the TPP, we did not have an expectation that there would be some final agreement today. There are still a number of issues at play. And as I said, we very much welcome Japan’s interest in the TPP. We think they could contribute a lot to the agreement. And I think we want to continue those negotiations going forward.
There are issues, again, that we’re interested in like autos, where we want to make sure that American automakers have access to Japanese markets and have a level playing field both here in the United States and in Japan. We know that there are issues that are of interest to the Japanese as well. So we’re going to continue our discussions around those issues with the goal very much being Japan coming into the TPP. And we commend Prime Minister Noda’s leadership in supporting that outcome.
With respect to the Senkakus, again, it came up; it wasn’t discussed extensively. Our message was that we support our close friend and ally, Japan, and we believe, however, the best way to deal with the situation going forward is to avoid a potential escalation, a potential misunderstanding that could lead to an escalation. So I think it’s in the interest of China, Japan, the United States, and the region to see a reduction of tensions around that issue as well.
Q On China’s — on Iran, could you elaborate on that a little bit more?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think they were just — they were reviewing, given that this was Premier Wen’s last meeting with the President, they were reviewing a number of the issues that they’ve worked on together over the last four years. One of them is Iran sanctions. And so it wasn’t so much a discussion about specific issues as much as it was a reiteration of that fact that we have had cooperation from the Chinese on issues like Iran sanctions. We need to maintain that cooperation going forward, particularly in our sanctions regime, because we share the goal of diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. So that’s the nature of that discussion.
Q Thank you. On the South China Sea issue, it looks like what’s happening is that China is saying that there has been an agreement not to “internationalize the issue;” presumably, that means deal with it in a forum like the East Asia Summit. The Philippines and other countries are saying, no, we don’t, we haven’t — don’t have an agreement along those lines. What is the U.S. understanding of the state of play on this issue? And is this something that President Obama plans to — has already brought up or plans to bring up?
MR. RHODES: I think what we’ve seen for a period of time now is a belief by the United States that there needs to be a process to discuss issues associated with maritime security in the South China Sea, and that the forums like the East Asia Summit are important for that. Because these need to be discussed in a multilateral context so that we can reaffirm the principles of maritime security that can guide the resolution to something like the South China Sea.
So for instance, the U.S. believes that any solution has to be consistent with international law, has to preserve the free flow of commerce that is important not just to the countries in this region but to the world. The U.S. is not a claimant in the South China Sea, but we have significant interest there given its role in the global economy.
We also want to see continued momentum on a diplomatic process. So for instance, ASEAN has been talking to China about a code of conduct that could help avoid misunderstandings, escalations within the South China Sea. We believe that’s the type of diplomatic effort that needs to maintain momentum going forward.
So the President will raise this, certainly, in the East Asia Summit. We expect other leaders to raise it at the East Asia Summit as well. And that’s exactly why we feel like it’s so important to engage in international architecture like this in this region — because as all these countries grow, as there are issues that need to be resolved associated with the rapid growth of these countries, you need to have forums where you can come together to address them.
So we put the issue of maritime security on the agenda last year, along with many other countries, and we expect that to be a sustained process with ASEAN, with China, and through the EAS. And what that can do is create the context for a resolution through diplomacy.
So I expect we’ll raise it here. I expect other countries will. And we believe that’s a very positive and constructive step going forward.
Q So what’s the current state of play right now in terms of — my understanding is that Cambodia, as the host, has some control over what is and isn’t dealt with at the summit. Could you just explain how that all works?
MR. RHODES: First of all, I think the current state of play, more broadly, is that last year you saw a lot of countries come forward — the vast majority of countries in this region — and address maritime security in the South China Sea at the EAS. Since then, that’s created space for diplomatic efforts like negotiation of a code of conduct and a set of other discussions. Here in Cambodia, the Cambodians of course have a degree of say over the agenda and what the product of the summit is, but at the same time, nations can bring to the table whatever they want. And we very much expect that nations will bring to the table maritime security and the South China Sea. And with ASEAN, we discussed maritime security as well, and there’s a significant interest in ASEAN to see maritime security stay on the agenda in these forums going forward.
So it’s certainly going to be the case that it’s on the agenda here. It’s certainly going to be the case that we’re going to have a number of partners who are committed to seeing that there’s a diplomatic process for resolving these conflicts consistent with international rules of the road, rather than leaving it to bilateral discussions between individual nations. We think that’s not the way to resolve the issues in the South China Sea. We believe that these need to be done consistent with international law and discussed in multilateral fora.
Q Ben, it’s been observed this week that right as the President and the administration is trying to show, again, that it’s interested in pivoting to Asia, that events in the Middle East again have, again, sort of raised its head and sort of in some ways overshadowed or at least — part of the message here. Does that raise any — can you comment on whether that raises any risk about sort of so publicly saying we’re sort of pivoting to this direction? Is it hard to sort of leave the focus on one or do you do both?
MR. RHODES: Yes. At the risk of having a double metaphor with a pivot, we believe that the United States can walk and chew gum at the same time. And I think you saw evidence of that the last few days, where you had a truly historic visit by the President of the United States to Burma and a clear indication from both the government and people of that country that they want to move in a democratic direction and they want a deeper relationship with us, which we believe can be a tremendous step forward both for the advance of democracy but also for a very important relationship that the United States could have with Burma going forward.
So that is a significant thing that we’ll take away from this trip, even as throughout the last several days the President, the Secretary — Tom Donilon were in touch with counterparts on the situation in Gaza. You know the pivot, in many respects, reflects not just the time that we’re spending here — which is significant — but it’s also resource allocation. And so much of our resources the last 10 years have been in Iraq, principally, and then Afghanistan.
And so as those resources are dramatically reduced, that not only creates time and space for the President and other senior officials, it allows for us to do things like prioritize our security presence in this region; prioritize our economic engagement in this region; and prioritize our support for democracy and human rights in this region, which was such an important part of this trip as well.
So we’ll continue to move forward with our pivot, even as we’ll manage the inevitable crises and challenges that will come up in other regions.
Q Back to Israel and Gaza, a couple of questions; if you mentioned it, I missed it — with whom is she meeting in Egypt? What role are you looking for Turkey to play? It sounds like you’re asking them to play a more involved role, and why isn’t she meeting there as well? And more broadly speaking, are you asking Israel — what does the end game look like? Have you encouraged them to think about it? And can you describe to us what a ramp down would look like for them?
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, I just want to leave it to the State Department to fill in the details for a schedule. We obviously just took the decision to pursue this trip as coming out of the engagements that the President and Secretary have had over the course of the last several days.
We know she’ll meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. We know she’ll meet with the Palestinian Authority leadership, presumably in Ramallah. And then in Cairo, she’ll meet with a range of Egyptian leaders. They’ll have updates on her schedule.
I think with respect to Turkey, we do believe that they are another country, like Egypt, that has influence with Hamas, with the Palestinians. The President has spoken to Prime Minister Erdogan. One of the people that Secretary Clinton has been in touch with the last several days is Foreign Minister Davutoğlu of Turkey. So she’ll continue to be in touch with the Turks. And they too are a part of this effort, an international effort to encourage a de-escalation.
In terms of what that would look like, our belief is, in the short term, that has to involve an end to rocket fire and also a restoration of calm within Gaza. And that’s necessary to create space to have a broader discussion about the fundamental issues at stake. Ultimately, what we want to achieve is two states living side by side in peace and security. And that is going to be much harder to achieve if you’re going to have conflicts like what we’ve seen in Gaza, which make it that much more difficult to pursue what is already an incredibly difficult challenge.
So we need to walk through the door here of restoring calm to the region, and then address some of the underlying challenges both within Gaza, where of course we’ve worked to support progress in the humanitarian situation there as well as an end to terror and rocket fire, but then also more generally getting back on a track towards the peace that we’ve been seeking for so many years.
Q Ben, is the administration specifically asking Prime Minister Netanyahu to hold off on any ground invasion while all these efforts are underway, while the diplomatic initiative begins?
MR. RHODES: As we’ve said, we think Israel has the right to defend itself. We think that Israel will make its own decisions about the military operations and decisions that it undertakes. However, at the same time, we believe that Israelis — like the United States, like other countries — would prefer to see their interest met diplomatically and peacefully. As the President said the other day, an Israeli operation of that nature would bring with a great cost to Palestinians in Gaza, but also to Israelis, because inevitably it would involve Israelis casualties.
So we want to support the goals that Israel has. We share the goals that Israel has. And we and the Israelis both believe that if you can achieve those goals peacefully, that’s preferable. But ultimately, they’re going to have to make their own decisions about what they need to do to defend themselves, and we believe that they have every right to defend their citizens from the threat of these rockets coming in.
And in addition to that, as they do, we’re going to continue to provide them with the type of support that we have with the Iron Dome system, which has been quite effective in protecting Israeli citizens from incoming rocket fire.
Q Can you be more specific about whether the President has asked them to hold off on an invasion?
MR. RHODES: No, the President has been very clear that Israel is going to make its own security decisions. Again, that doesn’t change the basic fact that it’s just common sense that if you can achieve those goals diplomatically, that would be in everybody’s interest.
But again, our bottom line from the beginning has been that we understand that Israel has a right to defend itself, and ultimately they’re going to make their decisions about how to do that. But if you step back and if you look at what’s in the best interest of the Palestinian people, the Israeli people and the region, it’s a restoration of calm and not an escalation of the conflict.
MR. CARNEY: We have just time for one or two more.
Q One more question about the Senkakus. Am I understanding correct that President Obama raised this issue in a discussion with the Japanese leader and the Chinese leader? And secondly, could you tell us what was the reaction of the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao?
MR. RHODES: The reaction of Premier Wen on the Senkakus? I’m not aware that that issue came up in the meeting with Premier Wen. I think that the President and Premier Wen had a broader discussion about maritime security and the need to resolve disputes involved with maritime security peacefully.
With Prime Minister Noda, I’m not aware of who raised the issue. But this is something we’ve been talking to our Japanese allies about for some time now. Again, our baseline is we, of course, are fully committed to Japan and its security — that’s the cornerstone of our alliance. We just believe that it’s in Japan’s interest, it’s in China’s interest, it’s in the world’s interest that the second and third largest economies in the world are able to reduce tensions around this issue. So we ultimately think that that’s a good outcome for Japan.
Q Do you think in light of the crisis that it’s possible that Secretary Clinton might stay on longer? That the President might want her to change her timeline?
MR. RHODES: I have not heard any discussion of Secretary Clinton staying on longer. I think that, obviously, right now we’re dealing with an urgent challenge; with a window where we’re trying to affect the situation in our discussions with countries in the region. And she has, of course, been an important part of that.
I think stepping back, what you saw on this trip was a recognition of the fact that this is the last trip that she will be on with the President. And I was talking to him earlier today about the emotion around that, the discussions around that, and you obviously saw his comments in Rangoon. And he was intent, for instance, on bringing her down the front steps of Air Force One when it made the historic landing there.
He also said that on the flight back from Rangoon to Cambodia, they spent basically the entire flight alone in his personal office on Air Force One just reminiscing about the last four years. But, as the President said, it wasn’t just the last four years; they have been through a lot together over the last five or six years. And, in fact, unique among people, they have been at this, working as hard as they can, for five or six years now.
And I think what the President expresses and what he believes is not only has she done a great job as Secretary of State, but they’ve really come to become not just partners but close friends. And that’s a friendship that he values very much and that he will want to continue going forward.
But right now there is urgent business to be done. And as they were reminiscing they were also talking about the situation in Gaza and the international challenges that remain. So we will be in, I’m sure, very close touch with her as she moves on to the Middle East in the coming days.
MR. CARNEY: This is the last one.
MR. RHODES: One more. Jessica.
Q Can I just get a sense — where you feel the stance? Are you guys getting any traction from Egypt on what the parameters for a ceasefire would be?
MR. RHODES: We have been — what we think is that the Egyptians are sincere in their belief that it will be — it would be the best outcome for there to be a de-escalation. We have had discussions with them about the nature of a de-escalation, what the ideas are that could advance that goal. We have also been talking to the Israelis, obviously, at every step of the way so that we are fully coordinated with them. Many other regional players have been involved; the U.N. Secretary General is going there tomorrow.
So there are a number of ideas that are at play. I’m not going to get into the details of them.
Q Can you share any?
MR. RHODES: I think if you step back, it’s not that complicated. I mean, there needs to be, in the first instance, an end to the rocket fire and a restoration of calm. That can create space for a range of discussions that address issues associated with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
So what is encouraging is we believe that leaders understand what the best outcome would be here. However, you can only achieve that goal if Hamas takes action to stop what they have been doing. So even if you have support from these regional leaders, ultimately, that’s going to have to have an effect on the ground on Hamas because they are the ones who precipitated this conflict with their continued rocket fire into Israel.
Q And Ben, could you tell me — is she going because talks are stuck? Or is she going because you think you’re close?
MR. RHODES: Well, she’s going because we have been in discussions with these leaders and we want to carry those forward. And obviously, the center of gravity for those discussions is in the region. And the President is going to do a lot of work on the phone. He was on the phone until 2:30 in the morning last night; he left dinner and basically dealt with this for several hours.
And so he will continue to reach out to his counterparts. But she is going to go out there to be in the region, to have direct face-to-face discussions with those leaders. I don’t want to predict exactly what the outcome of those discussions will be. We all know how difficult the situation is. We all know how charged the issue of Gaza is; we have seen conflict there in the past. So this is a difficult challenge.
But again, it’s worth the effort of leaders in the United States, in the region, and internationally to try to bring about the preferred outcome here which is a peaceful de-escalation.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, everybody. We have to — we’re going to miss the plane, guys.
Q What can they do, really, at this point? It’s really all about Gaza. Abbas has no power with Hamas in the Gaza strip, so what can they —
MR. RHODES: Look, obviously the Palestinian Authority as elected leaders of the Palestinian people need to be a part of this discussion, just broadly. Specifically, in Gaza, they are going to need to be a part of the solution in the long term in terms of the goals that we all share in improving the humanitarian situation there, having greater opportunity for the people there and having an end to terrorism there.
So we believe that it’s very important that the Palestinian Authority continue to be a part of these discussions. They have legitimacy to be a part of these discussions, and they are clearly going to play a role in the future of the Palestinian people — and a leading role.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.
3:05 P.M. ICT