Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Visit to Iraq
MODERATOR: [Senior State Department Official] will have some opening remarks. And then, as per usual, we’ll go around and take a question from everybody in the room. So with that, I’ll turn it over to [Senior State Department Official].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks. Good morning, everybody.
QUESTION: It’s embargoed until landing, right?
MODERATOR: That’s correct. I apologize. Thank you for reminding me of that piece of this unique trip.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So the goal of the Secretary’s visit today is to demonstrate the strong U.S. commitment to Iraq. The framework that we work in, in terms of our conversations with the Iraqis, is through the Strategic Framework Agreement that allows us – it provides the forum in which we have conversations about every possible element of the U.S.-Iraqi bilateral relationship. And it’s something that Prime Minister Maliki is likely to talk about with the Secretary in terms of wanting to thicken the relationship through the FSA and to accelerate some of the discussions, which we are perfectly amenable to.
The Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Maliki. He’ll meet with Speaker Nujaifi. He’ll talk with Massoud Barzani on the telephone. Massoud is in Erbil finishing up the Nowruz celebrations. He would have talked – he would have met with Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, but is today in Doha for the Arab League foreign minsters meeting. You’ll remember, speaking of the Arab League, that a year ago the Arab League Summit was in Baghdad. It was opened by President Talabani a year ago. That’s another meeting the Secretary would have had, except that, of course, Talabani’s recovering in Germany at the moment, so he’s not able to speak to him.
We – there are a lot of challenges in our relationship with Iraq. There are a lot of challenges in Iraq. The watchword for this – these – the set of conversations today is engagement. The Secretary will be talking to Prime Minister Maliki about the importance of engaging with all elements of Iraqi society, with the Kurds, with the Sunni, to work out how best to counter the very serious terrorist threats that are of deep concern to Iraqis. We see dozens of deaths every day at the hands of terrorists around Iraq.
Another issue that the Secretary and Maliki will certainly talk about is Syria. The conversation there is likely to be along the lines of how the situation in Syria is very dangerous for Syria; it’s also very dangerous for Iraq. There are associations between the extremist groups, some of the extremist groups, terrorist groups, in Syria with groups in Iraq.
Prime Minister Maliki is likely to ask the Secretary to participate in conversations about the future of Syria. And the Secretary will talk with him about the importance of Iraq participating, but at the same time it wouldn’t be appropriate, make any sense, for Iraq to participate so long as it is facilitating Iran over-flights and over-flights of fighters and weapons that support Assad, that the key here is to discuss the political future of Syria, that Iraq should be part of that, but it should be on the basis that Assad has to go, not on the basis of continuing – of permitting continued Iranian support for Assad.
In another element of engagement – an element of internal engagement is for the Secretary to talk with Prime Minister Maliki about upcoming elections, the importance of making sure that all elements of Iraqi society feel enfranchised, feel that they’re able to participate. The recent decision by the Iraqi cabinet to delay elections in two of the provinces is a serious setback for that enfranchisement, that – and the Secretary will suggest that Maliki should revisit with the cabinet that decision so that the Sunni, who are the largest populations in Anbar and Ninawa, the two provinces where the elections are delayed, so that they are able to participate in the April 20th provincial elections.
Another element of the engagement strategy is to talk with Prime Minister Maliki about engagement with – in the region. There’s been some progress on that front in terms of Iraq’s engagement with Kuwait. You’ll recall that their – that several of the outstanding elements with Kuwait have been resolved, signified most recently by the first flight since 1991 of an Iraqi Airways passenger flight from Baghdad to Kuwait that Hoshyar Zebari was one of the passengers on. There’s still a few outstanding issues on the borders. Those are – border demarcation. Those are almost complete, so we’re close to being able to close out the Chapter 7 issues between Iraq and Kuwait and move to Chapter 6.
The other element in regional engagement, of course, is the agreement between Iraq and Jordan on the pipeline. So that’s a good commercial set of engagements that Iraq and Jordan have. And the Secretary will be talking with Maliki about other ways that Iraq can engage with others of its neighbors to increase its integration or reintegration back into the neighborhood and to expand his – Maliki’s relationships with the moderate Arab states.
With Speaker Nujaifi, the Secretary will talk again about the importance of engagement. Nujaifi is on the – is in the Sunni group that is promoting keeping the Sunnis out of the cabinet. We think that the Secretary will talk to him about how that is not the way to ensure that their interests – the interests of the Sunnis are realized, that it’s far preferable for him to engage, no matter what he thinks of Maliki, that the United States supports the Prime Minister of – Maliki as the Prime Minister of Iraq, just as we are dealing with Nujaifi as the Speaker of the parliament. These aren’t – this isn’t personality driven, this is driven by respect for the constitution and by respect for the elements of the constitution that outline the democratic future of Iraq.
He will suggest to Nujaifi that he return his colleagues to the cabinet, that had they been in the cabinet for the meeting in which the decision was made about delaying the two – the elections in the two provinces, they probably could have prevented that decision, and that – and he’ll argue that that’s – that participation, engagement, is the only way to ensure that the interests of the Sunnis who support him can be realized.
He’ll also talk about the – that – say he will support the importance of the popular demonstration of the goals of the Sunni, that he will – he will talk to him about the importance also of making sure that moderate voices – that he is enfranchising the moderate Sunnis in this effort and to be careful not to allow the demonstrations in the street to be taken over by al-Qaida in Iraq or by others who don’t have the same interests as he does.
One of the – I guess a last point is that in each of the conversations the Secretary will recall the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the engagement in Iraq. We’ll talk about tributes to the lives lost for the future of Iraq and use that as sort of – as the baseline for the importance of the U.S. and Iraq engaging, for Iraq engaging with – Maliki engaging internally, Nujaifi engaging internally, the Kurds engaging internally, and for each of them to think in terms of how to use their leadership, their leadership positions, to bring Iraq together as a unified state, taking its rightful place in the region.
Why don’t I stop there and see what you all would like to talk about?
MODERATOR: Why don’t we start and go around just to keep – make sure everybody gets one?
QUESTION: I actually wanted to ask about the commercial engagement piece.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And could you talk a little bit more about what the U.S. role would be, if any? Any update on the U.S. role, in particular in the oil sector?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we have – there are a tremendous number of American companies who are interested in engaging in the commercial sector. I don’t have the list off the top of my head in terms of which ones that are. That’s something that I’d be glad to get for you.
One of the issues remains the need to regularize contracting, the contracting regulations in Iraq, to make it a little bit more straightforward for international companies to be able to invest in Iraq. You asked about the energy companies in particular. There are American energy companies that are engaged both in the south and in the north. And one of the things that we’ve talked with each of them about is the importance of assuring that as they engage across Iraq that they think in terms of the unity of Iraq and make sure that their engagements take into account that Baghdad is the capital of a unified Iraq.
QUESTION: Two things, if I may.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Please.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to explicitly ask Prime Minister Maliki to halt or at least slow the supply of weapons from Iran through Iraq into Syria for the Syrian Government?
And secondly, the Kurdish – the KRG has said recently that it intends to proceed with the pipeline directly to Turkey, despite the opposition of the central government, and it’s something that will give them an ability to sell the oil directly to the Turks, earning the revenues from that, and not only displease the central government. Is he going to, with Mr. Barzani, explicitly ask them not to do that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the over-flights, he will be very direct with Prime Minister Maliki about the importance of stopping the Iranian over-flights and the transits across the territory, or at minimum inspecting each of the flights. And his goal is not to get into a tit-for-tat about how we know this or how we know that, but to explain that the number of the flights is, in itself, an indication that these can’t possibly be only humanitarian flights and that he, himself, as Secretary of State, is convinced that they include weapons and fighters and that this is absolutely contrary to the international goals with Syria and is dangerous for Iraq.
QUESTION: Can you, when you said numbers, give us a sense of how many you mean?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have the numbers at the top of my head, but --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- it’s close to daily.
QUESTION: And could you say – our reporting suggests that the pace has accelerated in recent months. Is that your understanding, even if you can’t give us numbers?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s not that it’s accelerated necessarily in recent months. It’s got – it goes up and down. But it’s substantial. But I wouldn’t say – but there – it’s not on a trajectory. It’s frequent.
QUESTION: And then on --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And then on the question on the – on oil, in the conversation he’ll have with Barzani, he will talk about the importance of maintaining the unity of Iraq, that separate arrangements with Turkey, with anybody else, any other country, undercut the unity of the country, that the Kurdish Republic cannot survive without – survive financially without the support of Baghdad, with the 17 percent, and that it is very important that he and – that Erbil and Baghdad engage with our help, and with the help of anybody else that they’d like, to think in terms of developing the Iraqi strategic pipeline, that that is the route to prosperity and success for all parts of Iraq.
MODERATOR: Matt. Nicolas.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MODERATOR: It’s early.
QUESTION: The former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker was saying a few days ago in Washington that U.S. expenses in Iraq was decreasing and he was calling for more U.S. reengagement. Do you have any reaction to that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, that’s one reason the Secretary is going, is to – it’s not reengagement, but it’s to demonstrate our commitment to intensive engagement with Prime Minister Maliki and with all the various players in Iraq.
I think there’s a misconception that just because there aren’t troops there that somehow that’s automatically reduced our influence. I would argue that our diplomatic presence is more important than our troop presence was, in the sense that we have more detailed conversations on a greater variety of subjects now with Iraq, not least through the Strategic Framework Agreement. Although I would never disagree with Ambassador Crocker. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Tell us what potentially might be (inaudible) in terms of assistance to Iraq? I mean, can’t the terrorism support, in the event that the over-flights were not reduced or the perceived assistance from the Iraqi regime to the Syrian regime wasn’t lessened?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, looking at it from the other angle, not to – not as a what don’t you get but what do you get if you participate in the way that we think makes sense – and what you do get is you get a seat at the table. And that, we believe – Maliki certainly has said to us that that’s important to him, and we believe him.
QUESTION: Is that a seat at the table in the in the – in terms of Iraq --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I shouldn’t – it’s a seat at the --
QUESTION: -- in terms of Syria?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not necessarily. It’s a theoretical seat at the table. Participation in the conversation in a more effective way is probably the better way to put it.
QUESTION: And conversation over Syria?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Conversation over Syria. Right.
QUESTION: They seem responsive to that idea at the moment?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll see.
QUESTION: Following up on that, how do you counter Iran’s influence with Maliki? What is the leverage that he has in persuading him to stand up against Iran, given their close relationship, commercial, geographic, and obviously ethnic?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I would say that the main lever that we have is that we are able to demonstrate or provide an alternative, not that it – he – we’re not insisting that he choose either-or, but we want to be able to demonstrate that he has other friends in the region and he doesn’t have to rely only on Iran for support. And he can see from – it seems to us, that from the spillover of the fighting in Syria into Iraq, which we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, that he’s on a dangerous track to think in terms of only working with Iran. Now, he knows that his future requires integration into – or reintegration into the Gulf, into the rest of the Arab world. And he is, after all, an Arab.
QUESTION: Could, at some point today, you give us some information on the Embassy itself, the staffing --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Let me give you --
QUESTION: -- Embassy versus contractor and also what is the long-term future of this fortress that --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Let me give you a few. I’ll give you a few numbers just to give you the – a sense of the glide path. A year ago, the staffing – the U.S. direct hires, we put it, and contractors was around 16,000 in Iraq. Today, it’s 10,500. By the end of this year, because of the glide path we’re on to reduce principally the number of contractors there, by the end of this year it’ll be 5,100. Out of that 5,100, about 1,000 are what we would call diplomatic personnel.
QUESTION: And the rest are?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Contractors.
QUESTION: But --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Contractors providing security, food, that kind of administrative support.
QUESTION: The majority are supplying security, that support?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right.
QUESTION: And those numbers are for Iraq as a whole?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s for Iraq as a whole.
QUESTION: Do you have a breakdown for the Baghdad Embassy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t. But it’s mostly going to end up in Baghdad.
QUESTION: On the over-flights, then-Secretary Clinton extracted a commitment from the Iraqis in the time that she had that they would carry out inspections of flights coming from Iran. I have two quick – to Syria. Two questions. How many inspections have been carried out since then?
And my second question is, part of the political drama occurring in Iraq, as you know, is the former Finance Minister is holed up in Ramadi under the protection of the tribes under threat of arrest, and he was a fairly prominent and moderate figure. Do you intend to ask – does the Secretary intend to ask Prime Minister Maliki not to arrest Rafi Al-Issawi?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the question of how many inspections, I believe there have been two.
QUESTION: That seems low.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s since last July. On --
QUESTION: And who’s conducting those?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Those were two done by the Iraqis.
QUESTION: Yeah. Okay.
QUESTION: And they found?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They found humanitarian supplies.
QUESTION: Of course they did.
QUESTION: Sorry. And those were actually --
QUESTION: And your inspection –
MODERATOR: Let’s just keep --
QUESTION: -- as long as they were – is that not (inaudible)? I’m just curious. I mean --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We don’t – we haven’t done any inspections.
QUESTION: Is there some law, international law or something that’s being violated if the Iraqis, no matter – I mean --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There is a UN Security Council resolution that requires inspections, that requires that kind of inspection. I’ve got it in my briefcase here.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sorry. But to back – go back to
MODERATOR: Let’s just finish Michael’s, and then we’ll keep going around.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Remind me what you – I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The threat to arrest --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, Issawi. Right.
QUESTION: And if he’s going to ask Maliki not to --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What – the theme that the Secretary will use is please pursue this on the basis of rule of law, what is it that Issawi has done that requires his arrest?
QUESTION: Is there a warrant for his arrest?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There is a warrant for his arrest.
QUESTION: Would you ask him to rescind it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not directly, not that way, but to talk in terms of what is the rule of law here that has resulted in this arrest, arrest warrant.
QUESTION: I missed one word. You said what is it that Issawi has done that has --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That has warranted the arrest warrant.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I think we skipped Justin by accident in the back.
QUESTION: Thanks. So what’s the plan for – the strategy for getting the provincial elections back on track? Why the six-month delay, and what’s the strategy to get that on –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The argument that I understand Maliki has made is that the situation is dangerous for the election workers in these two provinces because of the demonstrations. However, this was pushed through in a cabinet meeting in which there were no – in which many of the Sunni and the Kurds were not present. So this – the request that the Secretary will make is for – to ask Maliki to reconsider, to revisit this decision with the cabinet, at the same time as the Secretary works to persuade the Sunni and the Kurds to end their boycott of the cabinet.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Maliki has publicly said – voiced some concern about the future if Syrian rebels do win, so to speak, in Syria, in terms of ousting Assad. What spillover? Can you elaborate on that a little bit more? What spillover have you seen from the conflict in Syria into Iraq?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Just a couple of weeks ago the AQI was – attacked a column of Syrian soldiers who happened to be inside Iraq, so that’s one. And there’s increasing concern about the associations between AQI and Nusrah.
QUESTION: And that you think Maliki has direct knowledge of, support for?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And that – he doesn’t – of course, he doesn’t support the fact that they may come back into Iraq and attack his – attack him. But the argument that we make is that that kind of thing easily gets out of hand and can easily come back and threaten Maliki himself, threaten Maliki and the Shia in Iraq.
QUESTION: In terms of him voicing that specific concern about the Syrian rebels and the oust of Assad --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: What Maliki has said is he understands that Assad is – has done terrible things to his own people. But not unlike the Russians, he says but the situation is bad because there are so many extremists inside Syria. And you say yes, there are, and you’re contributing to – and by allowing the Iranian over-flights, you’re contributing to the expansion of extremism and the increase in fighters and fighting inside Syria. So why not end that, get on the side of those of us who are trying to pursue a political solution that results in Assad leaving under the Geneva communiqué, under the arrangements that are outlined in the Geneva communiqué.
QUESTION: Can you skip me for just a second?
MODERATOR: Sure. Anne.
QUESTION: How would you rate, overall, the U.S. relationship with Maliki at this point? I mean, there’s been a lot of discussion here, things that essentially Secretary Kerry will lay out as arguments for why Maliki should reconsider this, that, or the other decision that you all don’t agree with. And secondarily to that, did the United States make a mistake in backing him, and him exclusively, a couple of years ago?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m going to start with that one. The decisions made back then were based on an evaluation of the results of the election. So it wasn’t sort of a decision that was made out of thin air by any means.
In terms of the relationship that we have now with Maliki, as with many leaders in the world, it’s an ongoing discussion; it’s an ongoing set of engagements. It’s constant discussion on a great variety of issues. We focus on several themes, but focus on particular themes so we’re not talking about every single one of them. But the engagement theme that the Secretary’s going to use in this visit is a very important one, and it’s one that the Secretary can speak to from his experience as being – as having been in politics for so many years, that engagement is the way to achieve your goals, that if you boycott and turn your back that you’re likely to hurt yourself more than you’re able to help yourself.
QUESTION: Is that an argument that you feel that you’ve gotten any traction on with Maliki?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see. We keep working on it, but this will be – this is one of the main reasons the Secretary is going now, is to work hard on this with Maliki, because – I mean, one of the things that we’ve seen is the election scene has hardened the positions of a lot of the players, that they’re each playing to their constituency as opposed to reaching out to each other to try to solve these problems. And it’s something that’s not unusual in election campaigns, as we know.
QUESTION: Is that’s what happening with the Kurds?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s with all of them.
QUESTION: To Anne’s question then, is that – do we – in your opinion – excuse me. Doing the right thing on Syria, is that part of the argument for Maliki then to reintegrate with the region?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Two questions. One is, I mean, how do you view Maliki? I mean, is he a budding autocrat? I mean, how do you describe him? And then secondly, if you could just talk a couple of minutes about Secretary Kerry’s meetings yesterday, whether he feels like he’s getting any traction on either reviving their peace initiative or whatever he was doing in those meetings.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to characterize Maliki in any couple of words or with any sort of title like that. What I’d like to do is simply say it’s imperative that we speak to Maliki in terms of the leadership role that he has taken on as the Prime Minister of democratic Iraq, with a democratic constitution, and the responsibilities of leadership that that brings with it. And the responsibilities of leadership are defined ways to keep – to assure the unity of the country and to assure its security and prosperity. And we think the way to do that is to make sure that he’s reaching out to all elements of Iraqi society to bring them into the political discussion and to make sure that each one has an equal chance to participate, and the best way to do that is through the elections coming up.
QUESTION: And yesterday’s meetings?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Honestly, I can’t speak to yesterday’s meeting. You all had a readout last night, a very brief readout after everybody got back during the morning I think it was. But I think fundamentally when – what I can say is the Secretary was asked by the President to follow up on the discussions that the President had, to follow up on the speech that the President made, which, as you’ve seen, has generated quite good resonance among Israelis and Palestinians. So that’s what the Secretary’s pursuing.
QUESTION: Why did he issue a statement reinforcing the need of the two sides, Turkey and Israel, to follow through on the phone call? And is there concern that Erdogan’s statements made represent a walk-back or bit of a fraying of that understanding?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would just as soon not characterize why the statement was issued. The Secretary decided he wanted to issue it.
MODERATOR: I can just add one thing, from having spoken with somebody who was there last night, is that as part of the discussion, obviously which was in the Secretary’s statement, which I know you all received very late, so I apologize for that, he referenced their discussion about this during their long meeting. The meeting was about four hours, just so you all know. And you should also know that they’ve known each other for 20 years. Part of – one of the things they talked about was how they used to have coffee in Boston. So they’ve known each other, again, for many years.
But part of the discussion was the importance of following through on implementing the agreement and the belief that this would be helpful for the Secretary to issue a public statement. As much as the President has spoken to it, obviously the Secretary supported it, but they all agreed it would be a positive step forward. The Secretary wanted to do that. That’s why the statement went out. Obviously the meeting went late. That’s why the statement went out at the time it did.
QUESTION: Was there pushback at all from – on Netanyahu’s part, or the next steps in that relationship?
MODERATOR: I don’t want to characterize Netanyahu’s comments during a private dinner. All I will say is that they did discuss how it was an important step forward, but they felt strongly that implementing it was the key piece, that his statement would be a positive step toward that.
QUESTION: And can you tell how long the last meeting went?
MODERATOR: I will get back to you on that. I can guess, but I don’t want to do that. So – I was sitting out there, but I don’t remember what it said on my watch.
QUESTION: Can I ask, I know you referenced al-Qaida in Iraq in general (inaudible) Syria, information you could give us. Just how successful do you think this policy to (inaudible) has been so far? They’ve been able to push back inside Syria into (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The primary purpose of our doing the Jabhat al-Nusrah designation was to allow us to have very clear conversations with the Syrian opposition, with whom we were talking about the dangers of their associations with extremist groups who were likely not to have Syrian national goals in mind but rather the goals of their own groups, that they were really using the situation in Syria for their own purposes. That designation highlighted and helped us highlight for the Free Syrian Army in our conversations the importance of their being careful who they were working with and who they were associating with so that they understood, from our perspective, just how dangerous we think their association with Jabhat al-Nusrah is.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) if you could supply sort of any sort of --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. No. Partly because we know so many of them so well.
MODERATOR: This has to be the last one, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Any comment on the story --
QUESTION: That’s hilarious.
MODERATOR: Oh, I’m sorry, Paul. I didn’t even see you back there. Sorry about that. You didn’t even get your question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: My question is there’s been a flow of Shia extremists into Syria and Iraq. And I wondered if the Administration has any concerns that the Maliki government might be helping or making that possible, or at least acquiescing?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That hasn’t been a particular focus as a separate matter. Our focus has been on how many extremist groups there are finding footholds in Syria on the basis of the fighting that’s going on there. So we’ve been focusing with the Free Syrian Army on the importance of their being sure that they know who their associating with and making sure that the relationships we have with the moderate elements of the Free Syrian Army are clear and allow us to do the kind of work with them that the Secretary announced in Rome.
QUESTION: There was a report in The Wall Street Journal yesterday about an intelligence ramp-up in terms of working with the opposition forces in Syria. Was that something that the Secretary had worked on in Rome?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Secretary worked on providing the humanitarian-type assistance, or nonlethal – I shouldn’t call it humanitarian – nonlethal assistance to the military, to the military side. That’s what he was working on. That’s the straight, overt --
QUESTION: Arguably --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But his focus is on the overt, is on overt assistance to the Free Syrian Army, which is – which is a change in policy.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.
QUESTION: Well, wait a second. We’re not doing my question?
MODERATOR: Oh, Matt. I’m sorry. We skipped you.
QUESTION: Well, I asked you to skip, because –
MODERATOR: I know.
QUESTION: One, into Syria, how is it you exactly know that these shipments are not carrying humanitarian supplies? And if they are carrying humanitarian supplies, is there a problem with that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: If they are carrying humanitarian supplies? There’s not a problem if they’re carrying humanitarian supplies.
QUESTION: So how do you know they’re not?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Suffice to say that we know. That’s the best I can do.
QUESTION: Well, but is there someone at the receiving end who is telling you that – or is it just an assumption, because before the flight – before a flight goes in there weren’t 2-11s, then you see 2-11s on the ground then after? I just – I mean, there’s got to be some way that you know. If it’s --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We know.
QUESTION: -- through national intelligence means, that’s fine. That’s fine.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s the best I can do.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
QUESTION: When are these elections happening? I think you said --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: April 20th.
QUESTION: And sorry, he will – can you describe how he would say hey, we want to see you at the table at the Friends of Syria – or not the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Not necessarily. He --
QUESTION: Whatever. If you want to be involved in the discussion --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: He said he wants to be involved in the political discussions.
QUESTION: And the Secretary will tell him not until you – there’s no place at the table for you until you deal with these Iranian --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You can’t be supporting Assad in the way you are if you want to talk with – about the political results.
MODERATOR: But I think that deserves a clarifying though. It wasn’t like a seat at the physical table. It was a theoretical.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The theoretical. The discussions.
MODERATOR: A seat at (inaudible) table.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Discussions.
QUESTION: He’s not meeting with Barzani in person, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone.