Background Briefing With a Senior State Department Official

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
St. Regis Hotel
November 17, 2012

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Just one minute on Gaza. So the Secretary has been engaged both with the National Security team back in Washington and with foreign counterparts. She’s spoken with Foreign Minister Lieberman in Israel, twice Foreign Minister Amr in Egypt, with King Abdullah in Jordan, and she’ll be making further calls today to the Qatari Prime Minister/Foreign Minister – same person – Sheik Hamad bin Jasim, and has been coordinating her calls and messages with the President as he’s been reaching out with his counterparts, with Secretary Panetta as he’s been reaching out to his.

She’s also been focused on ensuring the safety and security of American diplomatic missions overseas, particularly in the region. And in that respect has been getting regular briefings from the assistant to the chairman, a three-star admiral who travels with us, who’s been – who she’s tasked with staying on top of where relevant forces are positioned to be able to come to the aid of our State Department facilities if that is ever required.

So you’ve seen the United States public message on this; she’s delivering that same message in private – that the United States is focused on trying to de-escalate the situation, but equally focused on the fact that it is just simply unacceptable for Hamas to continue – and its allies to continue firing rockets into Israel, including into the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, that that has to stop immediately, and that a sustainable and endurable outcome can only come about if Hamas stops using Gaza to threaten and attack Israeli towns, cities, villages, et cetera. So she is carrying that message to her counterparts in the hopes that they will use their leverage and influence with Hamas to get them to cease their attacks and then to bring about a de-escalation where we can get to an end to the violence.

So that’s Gaza.

On the speech for today, so it’s sort of 24 hours of things happening around the world, the Secretary is going to be talking about something that she has put a great deal of personal investment into in the last year and a half, and that is how foreign policy increasingly needs to focus on the centrality of economics in terms of geopolitics, in terms of power, in terms of having relations among countries and institutions. And so she will be speaking before an audience of business school students, representatives of international corporations, and others today at Singapore Management University about what she has called her Economic Statecraft Agenda, which starts from the premise that power is increasingly measured and exercised in economic terms, and that America’s global leadership and economic strength are a package deal.

And she will talk about the four major conventions of economic statecraft and what the United States in general, and the State Department in particular, has worked to do over the past two years to put this agenda into practice. The first is updating our foreign policy priorities so that economics is moved more to the center of those priorities. And that begins obviously with our rebalancing or pivot to the Asia Pacific, which will be the cockpit of the global economy in the 21st century, and the place where defending and updating the open, free, transparent and fair economic system is going to be most important.

But it also goes for other areas of the world where elevating economics on the list of foreign policy priorities is something that she has worked hard to do. So she will speak briefly to the potential for a Comprehensive Economic Agreement with the EU, to a greater focus on growth and private sector investment in our development activities in Africa, to an expansion of our trade and investment links in Latin America, where 40 percent of our exports go today. So in both where we are placing greater emphasis and in moving economics up the sort of foreign policy totem pole, updating our priorities is the first of the four elements of the agenda.

The second is placing a greater focus on market or economic solutions to strategic challenges. And she will talk about a number of examples in this regard, including Burma where we haven’t just intensified our diplomacy, but we’ve intensified our economic engagement not just for economic purposes, but to reinforce the reform process and to try to increase stability in that country. She will talk about the New Silk Road vision in Afghanistan and the South Central Asia region and make the point that there is no sustainable long-term steady state in Afghanistan without economic solutions – that merely having security solutions is not enough. And she’ll provide other examples as well, including a brief recounting of the story of Iran sanctions. But the fundamental use of economic tools to produce not just better economic outcomes but better strategic outcomes is an important part of the remarks that you’ll get today.

Then she’ll talk about a number of steps that the United States has taken, and in particular, the State Department and embassies, in terms of upping our game on commercial diplomacy – traditional commercial diplomacy, how we fight for American businesses, how we level the playing field, how we open new markets. But beyond just hooking a big fish here or there on behalf of Boeing or GE, she will talk about the fundamentally political nature of commercial diplomacy today – or the diplomatic nature of it – that ultimately comes down to getting countries to break down barriers, to change regulations, to create greater space for foreign investment and foreign trade. And that is ultimately a diplomatic exercise, and therefore very much the province of the Secretary, and she will give some examples of specific steps that the Department is taking.

And then finally, she’ll talk about capabilities, making the point that the State Department and the U.S. foreign policy apparatus in general has some work to do to catch up to the trends, and how central economics has become in foreign policy and national security work in the 21st century. And so she’ll make passing reference to a few specific institutional steps at the Department but then talk about three brief examples where our capabilities are getting sharpened and refined. Cyber in particular, cyber-economic espionage; on energy, and the central role of energy diplomacy in providing a stable, secure, and foreign-based supply; and helping us transition to a clean energy future; and then finally on state capitalism and the growing amount of wealth that is concentrated in state hands. And what that means not just economically but strategically.

So that’s her speech today. But more broadly, if you look at her trip to Australia, her trip here to Singapore, and much of her travels in Asia – she’s done three trips since July – she’s sending a very strong message that those who argue that the rebalance for the Obama – the pivot strategy in the Asia Pacific is chiefly a security strategy are wrong, that it is very much about economics and economic engagement, in addition to the political and values-based engagement when we’re done.

And she has tried to show that as well as say that through everything from her visit to the GE plant later today, to the various activities she had down in Australia, to the business delegations that she has led out here, most recently this summer to Siem Reap. So this is not just about kind of a concept of economic statecraft, it’s also about an Asia Pacific strategy that has economics at its center. And I think you’ll hear that from the President when he arrives and goes to Thailand and Burma and Cambodia.

So let me leave it at that and how about take a few questions and then let you guys get on about your day.

QUESTION: Can you tell me anything about the Secretary’s discussions with Israel? We know the message and (inaudible) what needs to happen, but what is she trying to get Israel to do? And they’ve been mobilizing or preparing to mobilize, would it be acceptable if they were to invade Gaza on the ground?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary’s message to the Israelis has been that, as you’ve heard publicly, every nation has a right to take the steps that are necessary to end the kind of threat that it is facing. At the same time, we are working overtime to try to have the other key regional actors bring their influence to bear to allow the situation to de-escalate. So that decision does not end up as (inaudible).

So I don’t want to kind of get into the hypothetical question of what comes next if. I’d rather sort of leave it at the fundamental principle that the Secretary has laid out in terms of the Israeli approach and with the fact that we believe there is an opportunity to de-escalate this if Hamas and those who are engaging with Hamas right now can take the necessary steps to create a situation of calm and stop firing rockets.

So that’s our goal. And if the situation evolves or changes in some way, obviously we’ll update with kind of further messaging. But for the moment, that’s where (inaudible) is.

QUESTION: How much do you – can you shed a little light on the role that Egypt is playing? They seem to be, at this juncture, they’re pretty boxed in to a certain extent where they have not been as much (inaudible). So can you give us any sense of the U.S. communication with Egypt, what your sense is of their ability in this case to really make a difference?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We believe that Egypt has an important leadership role to play on this. It has the relationships in Gaza; Prime Minister Qandil traveled there yesterday and had the opportunity to meet with Haniyeh, and other leaders in Hamas. So we believe that they have the stature, the credibility, and the relationships to be able to persuade Hamas and its allies to stop.

And so our message to them has been: Use it. Use those things. And we recognize that they can’t simply snap their fingers, that this is a back and forth, it’s a process. There are other actors involved like the Turks and the Qataris and others who also have a role to play. But Egypt’s role is absolutely pivotal. And I think the discussions with them have been constructive and they have been open to listening to our perspective. And their perspective and ours don’t necessarily align in every respect, but we share a fundamental interest in de-escalating the situation. And I think they are taking steps to try to do that.

QUESTION: Just one more on this same situation. This is a time when there are a lot of, I guess, pots boiling right now, and Iran is linked to many of them. What are the concerns about – are there any linkages that you’re seeing? Is there any spillover that you’re seeing between what’s happening in Gaza, what’s happening in Turkey, what’s happening in Syria – the Iranian role?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wouldn’t put it in terms of spillover at the moment, but I think it is completely fair to say that there are links among, and feedback loops created through every major crisis in the Middle East and North Africa region. Syria cannot be seen – it cannot be viewed in isolation, Gaza cannot be viewed in isolation, Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon cannot be viewed in isolation. All of these have impacts on one another. How that precisely plays out, I think it’s too soon to tell. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is some kind of concrete impact, but we’re very mindful of the links among all of these different sets of issues, and that’s why, at this moment especially with so much happening in the region, every country has an interest in bringing about a de-escalation.

QUESTION: Any ideas as to why this has blown up now, (inaudible) time?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to speak for either Hamas or Israel in terms of the precise choices they’ve made, but what is clear is over the course of the past few weeks, you’ve seen an increase in rocket attacks in a way that very much became unacceptable for the Israelis to just sort of sit back without taking more decisive action, and so they acted.

The other thing that you’ve seen is obviously the increasing capability of the rockets that are available to the extremist forces inside Gaza, and apparently their willingness to use them. So that is a changing dynamic as well. When you have air raid sirens in Tel Aviv for the first time in many years, it gives a good reminder of just how acute the security challenges Israel faces, and why it is that they feel it’s so important that they go in to take out the infrastructure that supports these rockets and these threats to their population centers.

QUESTION: Conversations with the Israeli (inaudible) today, or when --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was last night, Singapore time, about 9 o’clock, as we said, Singapore time.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick Singapore-related question? You’re talking about free maritime lanes --


QUESTION: -- and commercial traffic, and all this. Last year, I think the U.S. expressed concern about security as the major – one of the biggest (inaudible) shipment ports, you know all that. But expressed concerns of security (inaudible). Were there any – was there anything further on those discussions here? Is that an issue that’s had any progress?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not with the Foreign Minister last night or the Prime Minister this morning. This is not – obviously security of shipping lanes and (inaudible) security of ports is --

QUESTION: It’s a different issue. Yeah, not the lanes, but in terms of vetting ships, containers, inventory, was – there is concern that Singapore doesn’t meet the standard that the U.S. would like.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I – this is not something that’s messaged – the Secretary’s carrying on her trip today.

Okay, guys?

MODERATOR: Anyone else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

PRN: 2012/T47-11