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White House Press Briefing

04 June 2013

Following are excerpts of the White House press briefing related to U.S. foreign policy and international engagement. The full transcript of the press briefing is available on the White House website.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
June 4, 2013

PRESS BRIEFING

BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction to the transcript, marked with an asterisk. [Portion with asterisk not included.]

1:13 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. …

Sorry, Darlene, go ahead.

Q Thank you. Is there any reaction to the reports in Paris with the French Foreign Minister saying that tests confirm that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times?

MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you about that is that we have worked very closely with the French, as well as other allies, as well as the Syrian opposition, to build on the information that we had developed about the likely use of chemical weapons in Syria. And we continue to work with the French and the British and others, and the Syrian opposition to do that. I would note that the French report that you're citing says that more work needs to be done to establish who was responsible for the use and the amount that was used and more details about the circumstances around it.

And that is of course what we said when we made that letter available that was sent to members of the Senate, discussing the information that we had and that we need to build on as we investigate the likely chemical weapons use in Syria. As the President made clear, we need to expand the evidence we have. We need to make it reviewable. We need to have it corroborated before we make any decisions based on the clear violation the use of chemical weapons would represent by the Syrian regime. So we will continue in that effort.

Q There was a U.N. report today along the same lines. How much longer before the U.S. will be able to say definitively whether Assad -- whether it believes Assad has used --

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a timetable for you, but we are working very assiduously on this issue with our allies, with the Syrian opposition. We obviously have been pressing for the United Nations investigation team to be allowed into Syria to pursue that investigation into the possible use of chemical weapons. President Assad has, having called for that investigation, has consistently blocked and not allowed -- blocked the investigation and not allowed investigators in. But we continue to press for that.

But we are not relying on the United Nations alone. We are aggressively pursuing other avenues to gather the evidence that is required here. And I can assure you that we are working very diligently as an administration with our allies and the Syrian opposition on this matter.

We would note that, as the U.S. delegation to the Human Rights Council said yesterday in their statement, that we agree with the inquiry’s expression of serious concern for the unacceptable levels of violence being perpetrated against the Syrian people. And I would note that we are deeply concerned by the continued fighting in Qusayr and condemn the indiscriminate killing of civilians by Assad's forces and his proxies, including Hezbollah fighters.

The regime's siege of Qusayr has created a dire humanitarian situation with severe shortages of food, water, and medicine. We are appalled by the regime's statement that they will not allow the international committee of the Red Cross to enter Qusayr to aid trapped civilians until its military operations are completed.

We call upon the Syrian government to cease its siege and its attacks on civilians; to allow civilians to escape Qusayr without the threat of violence; and to allow immediate and unimpeded access for all humanitarian actors and supplies into Qusayr.

We are also concerned about the spillover violence into Lebanon, which we've discussed in the past, and which highlights the risk of regional instability from Hezbollah's intervention on behalf of the Assad regime -- an intervention both Hassan Nasrallah and Bashar al-Assad have acknowledged publicly. Hassan Nasrallah is risking Lebanon's stability and the security of the Lebanese people in order to preserve Bashar al-Assad's rule, and we condemn in the strongest terms the active role Hezbollah has taken in the fighting on behalf of the Assad regime.

We reaffirm our support for Lebanon's policy of disassociation from the conflict in Syria, and urge all parties to avoid actions that will involve the Lebanese people in the conflict.

Yes, Mark.

Q Jay, just following up on Darlene's question. Do these two statements or reports of evidence, actual evidence of toxic weapons, inconclusive though they may be, raise the U.S. concerns about what's going on there in any way?

MR. CARNEY: I think they affirm the concerns that we've expressed. They affirm the evidence that we have already gathered and noted to the Senate and to the public. And they make clear the need to investigate further and to gather more evidence to corroborate the evidence that exists that chemical weapons have been used; to pin down when those weapons were used, by whom, what the chain of custody was; and to establish a body of information that can be presented and reviewed, and upon which policy decisions can be made.

Q About Turkey -- Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister recently said the crackdown on the protests have been excessive and unfair. He apologized to the protestors. Can you say, were there discussions between the administration, the United States and Turkey in this regard, and that may have swayed these comments which differ from those of the Prime Minister recently?

MR. CARNEY: I think it's useful to check with the State Department on conversations that may have been held between State Department officials and the Turkish government. And I don’t mean to suggest that there were. I’m simply saying that, as I did I think yesterday, that I have no conversations from the White House to report. But we are obviously in regular contact with the Turkish government on a range of issues, and we have made clear our concerns about the excessive use of force that has been reported and had called on all sides to refrain from provoking violence. And we noted, obviously, the comments by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Q Did the more conciliatory comments suggest a lowering of the temperature, in a way?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we hope that, as we have made clear, that the Turkish government will handle this in a way that respects the rights of free speech and assembly that are elemental to democracies. And we welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments apologizing for excessive force, and we continue to welcome calls for these events to be investigated.

Jon.

Q Jay, of course the President said the use of chemical weapons in Syria is a red line, a game changer. Now with more evidence that chemical weapons were used in Syria, what is the President going to do about it?

MR. CARNEY: Well, as you heard the President say, Jon, he wants to be sure that we have collected not just the evidence that we had when we talked about this earlier and that was discussed in the letter to the senators. We need more and we need to build on it. We need to establish chain of custody. We need to establish the incidents themselves of the use of chemical weapons. And we need to be able to have the kind of evidence that can be corroborated and reviewed if we are going to make policy decisions based on the assertion that chemical weapons were used by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Q And if you come to the same conclusion after gathering all that evidence that the U.N. has and that others have, what does the President do about it?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the U.N. report said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical weapons have been used. We have already said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical weapons have been used. The French announcement today is entirely consistent with what we said a number of weeks ago, that there is evidence that exists that established reasonable grounds that chemical weapons have been used. And we have made clear that we believe that if chemical weapons were in fact used in Syria, they were used by the Assad regime. We are highly skeptical of claims that the opposition used chemical weapons. The chemical weapons in Syria we believe have been and remain under the control of the Assad regime.

But we need more information. Others have said, and I think it is worth noting, that the case for Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction was stronger than the case initially presented for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And I think that it is essential and I think the American people expect that we take that evidence and we build on it and we build on it until we know what we have and we can present it. And that's what the President is insisting we do.

Q But, what I'm asking is --

MR. CARNEY: What he will do once --

Q -- what he will do if he is convinced that red line has been crossed.

MR. CARNEY: I think the President will be the one to make that announcement when he decides on action to be taken, if action is to be taken, if we establish the evidence necessary.

Q But action will be taken if you are convinced that the red line was crossed?

MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear that he would consider the use of chemical weapons by Assad, by his regime, to be a game changer to basically -- well, a game changer is the phrase he used, but that this would be cause for an evaluation -- a reevaluation of our policy options.

But I’m not going to get into specific choices. I have said all along, as he has and others, that we retain every option available to us to address this situation in Syria. And that is certainly the case today.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Thank you, Jay. Back to Turkey. Do you think the unrest in Turkey will affect the long-term political, economic relation between U.S. and Turkey? Or is this just a minor bump in the road?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we've made clear our concern about the reports of the use of excessive force, and we welcome the comments by the Deputy Prime Minister about -- that apologized for that excessive force. We call on all parties to refrain from provoking violence, and we continue to make known our opinion that these events should be investigated.

We have a very important relationship with Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally. We are working with Turkey on a range of regional issues that are obviously of great importance to U.S. national security and to regional security, and we will continue to do that.

Q Jay, I want to press you on Syria again. So if this U.N. report is implicating the rebels in using chemical weapons, you seem to be vague about how you're going to deal with the Syrian government. How are you going to hold the rebels accountable if they use chemical weapons? And, on Turkey --

MR. CARNEY: Wait, the U.N. report doesn't say that. The U.N. report says that there are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical weapons have been used.

Q -- reports that are implicating the rebels as well. It's not just the government.

MR. CARNEY: Well, that was a statement from a number of weeks ago. I don't think that's reflected in today's report.

Q Then how are you going to hold them responsible?

MR. CARNEY: We do not believe it is -- we are very skeptical of the suggestion that chemical weapons that we believe have been in the control of the Assad regime were used by the opposition. Obviously, we are gathering facts. We are gathering evidence rather than making assumptions. But it is fair to say that we are skeptical of suggestions that the opposition has used chemical weapons.

Q Okay, just on Turkey, please. If you are concerned about what's happening in Turkey, why are you raising it on the ambassador level only and not on the level with the Secretary of State or the President?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd refer you to the State Department for conversations that we have with our counterparts in the Turkish government all the time. I just don't have any conversations to report to you from the White House.

Thanks, all.

END 2:07 P.M. EDT