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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

National Security and Foreign Policy

Michele Flournoy, Obama for America Advisor and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; Colin Kahl, Obama for America Advisor; and Marie Harf, Associate Policy Director for National Security, Obama for America
Charlotte, NC
September 4, 2012

1:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: (In progress) this afternoon. We are pleased to welcome a couple of great speakers who will talk on national security and foreign policy. I will turn it over to them to do the proper introductions. So I just wanted to say welcome. And they will all have opening remarks and then we will open it up to a question-and-answer period. At that time, we have microphones, so if you can just please wait for the microphone to come to you before you ask your question. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for being here today. I’m happy that we have such a great turnout. My name is Marie Harf. I’m responsible for all national security and foreign policy related issues on President Obama’s reelection campaign.

With me, I have two distinguished speakers, who are going to give some remarks, and we’ll open it up for your questions: Michele Flournoy, who was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the highest ranking women in Pentagon history, and she was there until fairly recently in our Administration; and Colin Kahl, who was also a senior Pentagon official, responsible for Middle East policy as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. So we have some great resources here today to answer your questions. Both have been advising the President’s reelection campaign on national security issues so are very involved in the work that we’re doing.

Just a few words about how we’re going to be talking about national security and foreign policy during the course of the next few days. We’re really looking forward to highlighting the President’s strong record on these issues and to drawing the contrast with our opponent, with Governor Romney. I think one of the key times we’ll be doing this is Thursday night in a speech by Senator Kerry, who is, of course, one of our party’s foremost foreign policy experts and a war hero himself. He will be speaking in depth about these issues on Thursday evening, both about the President’s record and, of course, about the choice in this election with Governor Romney.

But I also want to make the point that foreign policy isn’t an issue that we’re treating separate from everything else. It will be woven throughout the week in various ways with various speakers and various events. It’s a key part of the President’s record. Certainly being commander-in-chief is the highest honor you can have as president, and we’re looking forward to highlighting that in various ways throughout the week.

So with that, I will turn it over to Michele to give some opening remarks, and then we’ll open it up for some questions. Thank you so much.

MS. FLOURNOY: Good afternoon. It’s good to see you all here. I wanted to spend a few minutes giving you some opening remarks on the President’s record on national security, and then we’ll – after my colleague speaks, we’ll open it up for question and answer.

So President Obama’s leadership on national security issues is very widely recognized as a strong point in the President’s record. The American people understand that he’s kept our country safe, that he’s taken the fight to our enemies, that he has helped to rebuild and revitalize our alliances around the world. For the first time in a very long time, a Democrat has a clear advantage on national security issues. This is a real significant shift in our political system. Voters consistently prefer President Obama over Mitt Romney on this issue by double digits.

While this election is certainly focused on our economy, there are some very important reasons why national security issues matter. When voters go to the polls in November, they will also be electing a commander-in-chief. And being commander-in-chief is about more than policy; it’s about leadership. And the American people recognize that this President’s leadership has been second to none. He is someone who says what he means and then he does what he says.

After – also this election is going to be really close, as you all, I am sure, are aware. So even if 3, 4, 5 percent of the American people vote with national security foremost in their – national security issues foremost in their mind, we want them to be voting for the President, given his strong record.

And finally, we have been a country at war for the past 10 years. Afghanistan, as you know, is the longest war in America’s history. The American people sense that it is time to end this decade of war, and there’s only really one candidate in this race who has a record of ending the war in Iraq responsibly and who has a plan to end the war in Afghanistan, and that’s President Obama.

It’s worth remembering where we were three and a half years ago, what this Administration confronted when it first came into office. The nation was bogged down in two wars; many of al-Qaida’s leaders, including Usama bin Ladin were still at large; many of our alliances and partnerships around the world had been seriously strained after eight years of the previous administration.

As a candidate, President Obama was very clear that he would end the war in Iraq responsibly, and he kept his promise. He also promised to refocus our efforts on al-Qaida and take the fight directly to our enemies, and that, again, is exactly what he’s done. And in Afghanistan, the President has developed a plan – and NATO has endorsed – to end the war there by 2014. For the first time in a decade, we as Americans can finally envision a world in which America is not at war.

President Obama has also understood the importance of rebuilding our alliances, which were seriously frayed when he took office. America’s ability to lead was constrained because the previous administration’s often unilateralist policies made other countries unwilling to work with us. So President Obama has rebuilt those relationships so we can work together to confront common threats.

There are many examples of catalyzing international action towards shared challenges. We united the world against the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, putting the most comprehensive and crippling set of sanctions in history in place against the Iranian regime. President Obama has been absolutely clear that he seeks to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and that all options remain on the table.

We also led an unprecedented coalition of our European allies and Arab partners to prevent a massacre of tens of thousands of civilians in Libya. And today, Qadhafi can no longer threaten his people or the world.

President Obama has also provided steadfast assistance and assurances to the state of Israel. We have an unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security, and perhaps more than any other president in history, the President has made good on that with everything from the highest levels of security assistance ever to an Iron Dome system that is already stopping rockets from harming innocent Israeli citizens.

And we did all this while also putting not only American interest but American values back at the center of our foreign policy. That’s why in the first week of office, President Obama banned the use of torture, he closed the CIA’s secret prisons overseas, because we know that we don’t have to choose between protecting our nation’s security and living our values.

Mitt Romney, by contrast, has failed to lay out a clear set of plans for what he would do as commander-in-chief. He has embraced some of the most extreme elements in his party on national security as well as economic issues, which would only return us to the failed policies of the past which weakened our standing internationally and made us less secure here at home.

In his two major foreign policy speeches during the campaign, he failed to mention al-Qaida even once. In his recent convention speech, he was the first Republican presidential candidate in 60 years not to mention an ongoing war, the war in Afghanistan. He spoke for nearly 45 minutes without even mentioning Afghanistan, even though we have tens of thousands of American troops in harm’s way at this moment. Governor Romney said that ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home was tragic, and yet he has failed to outline any plan for how he would bring the war in Afghanistan to an end and bring our troops home. When Governor Romney took his foreign trip earlier this summer, let’s just say that it didn’t go so well, and I think you all – or you all covered that closely.

Romney’s world view seems to be stuck in the Cold War, in the past. He talks about China and Russia in Cold War terms without recognizing the ways in which we must work with both of these countries on key challenges like confronting Iran. And we can do that; we can cooperate when we have shared interest, even as we can be very candid and stand up for our – for – on issues where we disagree.

Romney also likes to criticize President Obama on Iran, but frankly he has offered no alternative plan. And when pressed what he would do differently, he basically describes current U.S. policy, except to say that he might be willing to use force much more quickly and potentially risk another war in the Middle East.

So let me bring it to conclusion by saying, again, this President’s record on national security is one of the strongest in history, and we hope that these issues will be very clearly discussed and debated in our election because they are so central to the health and security and prosperity of this country going forward.

Thank you.

MS. HARF: We’re going to go ahead and open it for questions now. We’ll direct the questions from up here, and then whichever one of the three of us is best suited to answer it, we’re happy to do so.

MODERATOR: We’ll take the first question right here.

QUESTION: Thank you and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. The Republican platform said, “We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner.” Do you agree with their viewpoint on India, and what is going to be the Administration’s – the Obama Administration’s phase two policy on Pakistan?

MS. FLOURNOY: So let me start with India. President Obama, as you know, has talked about the strategic partnership with India. And as India rises into a more – a greater place of influence in South Asia and in the region more broadly, the United States welcomes that. India has been an important partner for us economically, diplomatically, and militarily. When the President had to make his choice about who would be the first world leader to invite to the White House for an official state dinner, he extended the invitation to Prime Minister Singh. So I think, frankly, that there is no debate about the importance of – how important India is in American foreign policy going forward for very strong reasons of shared interests, but also shared values and commitment to democracy.

At the same time, on Pakistan, the United States values Pakistan as a strategic partner, particularly in counterterrorism. Pakistan has made enormous sacrifices over the years in its fight alongside us against terrorists like al-Qaida. We have had some ups and downs in the relationship, frankly, but I think both sides are very determined at this point to reinvest and to expand areas of cooperation particularly focused on the common enemy that we both have to deal with in al-Qaida and its affiliates in the region.

MODERATOR: For the next question, we’ll go in the front row here.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) with Financial Times, Deutschland. I have two questions, if I may. The first one would relate to – you defended the President’s record on foreign policy and you said that Governor Romney did not offer alternatives. But what about the way ahead? Is the President planning any new initiatives on the Middle East peace process and arms talks with Russia, et cetera, or will he just continue what he’s been doing?

And my next question would relate to an issue that you’ve talked and written about as well, which are the – which is the urgent necessity to do something about the debt and deficit crisis. Why would the President be in a better position to overcome political division on issues like this this time? Does he have a plan for that? And thank you.

MS. FLOURNOY: So first, on the next four years, I don’t want to, in any way, predict or constrain the President about his decisions should he be re-elected, but I think that we could expect him to double down on the big bets that he’s made – continuing the effort to defeat al-Qaida, continuing with the transition in Afghanistan, continuing with the strategic rebalancing towards Asia Pacific while also staying invested in both the Middle East and in staying true to our alliances in Europe. But I think – this is a President who doesn’t sit still. And I have every confidence that if given another four years he would continue to press to find new ways to advance the national security of the United States and to advance and deepen and revitalize our alliances and partnerships worldwide. So I have no doubt that he would have a rich second term agenda, but I don’t want to get out ahead of him and speculate as to what that is.

On questions of deficit and debt, I do think the President is in a better position to solve this problem and help the country to move forward. He has put on the table a balanced program that puts both increased revenues and sharply reduced spending on the table along the lines of Simpson-Bowles. It is that balanced, sort of compromise effort that is going to be required to get Republicans and Democrats in Congress to rally around and move us out of this political paralysis and move us forward. If you take the Romney position, where you – no increase in revenues, they’re putting ideological discipline ahead of fiscal discipline. And I don’t think that’s a basis on which to rally the bipartisan consensus that is needed to move this country forward. So I think the President’s plan is a much more pragmatic and principled approach that will provide a better foundation.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. FLOURNOY: How do we get Republicans to engage? I think there are Republicans who are willing to make compromise, and that after the election – a lot of it depends on what happens within the Congressional elections, whether the extremist elements of the party sort of gain the upper hand or whether they’re pushed back. If they are pushed back in any way, I think that will create room for the more pragmatic and moderate Republicans to join the compromise that the American people want and deserve to move us forward.

MODERATOR: For the next question, we’ll go way in the back.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), Imedi TV, Georgia. Mitt Romney criticized President Obama for his relationships with – or this open mike incident with Medvedev, and he also said that if he will become President of the United States, he will – Mr. Putin will get less loyalty and more backbone. And you just mentioned that you will stand up when there are issues that you don’t agree with Russia. What are the issues that you don’t agree with Russia?

MS. FLOURNOY: So I think we have – this Administration has taken a very clear-eyed approach to our relationship with Russia. There are clearly areas where we have strategic interests in common, and we’ve pursued those: the New START Treaty, for example; working on supply lines to support NATO’s success in Afghanistan; working together in the P-5+1 context to try to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. These are all examples where it’s in our interest to cooperate. But where we’ve had differences, whether it’s on domestic issues of human rights and press freedoms, or Russia’s action in Georgia and so forth, we have been very clear, we have been very consistent. I should say – I shouldn’t say “we” anymore, strike that. I’m no longer part of the Administration. The Administration has been very clear and very consistent, and particularly the President, in his meetings with his Russian counterparts, in no uncertain terms has stated our disagreements and pressed them for change in those areas.

MODERATOR: We’ll go back to the other side here (inaudible). Denim jacket, right here.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Joyce Karam with al-Hayat newspaper. I actually – I don’t know, Colin, if you can answer this. But how much are you concerned that Israel might actually strike Iran before the elections? And there is a lot of concern in the region in the Middle East about Syria and that the U.S. is not doing enough. Are we going to see more in a Obama second term?

MR. KAHL: So obviously there’s been a lot of discussion in the press recently on the possibility of Israeli military action. I’ll tell you this: I don’t know. I mean, this is ultimately a decision that Israeli political leaders are going to make, that Prime Minister Netanyahu and those around him are going to make.

I will tell that the Administration is in lockstep with Israel on the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There’s no daylight between us and Israel on that objective. I will also tell you that no president in recent history has done more for Israel’s security than President Obama, so he takes their security extraordinarily seriously.

I think that Israel’s anxiety of Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions are completely reasonable. This is a country that already supports terrorism around the world to include terrorism against Israel, and it’s a country whose leaders on a regular basis threaten to wipe Israel off the map. If I was sitting in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, I would take threats like that very seriously.

So the President has been clear that Israel has the right to defend itself. The President has also been clear that the United States, under his Administration, is committed to using all instruments of national power to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, which is not only in Israel’s interests but he has made clear deeply in America’s interests. This isn’t the United States doing this for Israel. President Obama has made clear this is in our vital national interest to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. He’s taken extraordinarily aggressive actions to make sure that that’s the case.

But the President’s also made clear that time and space remains open for diplomacy, that we haven’t run out time yet, and that we owe it to our own people, to the people of the region, to our national interests, frankly, to make sure that we see the potential use of force as a last resort, and that that point hasn’t come. So look, I’ll leave it – I would leave it to Israeli leaders to comment on their own timing, but that’s our position.

On Syria, look, I think the Obama Administration has been quite assertive on Syria in the sense of rallying international efforts to isolate the regime diplomatically and economically. In fact, there were press reports just this past week about how the Assad regime is running out of cash. I also think that the Obama Administration understands that the key to a successful transition in Syria – and let’s be clear, there will be a transition away from the Assad regime at some point in Syria – and the key to make that work is to have a unified opposition. And so much of what the Administration is focused on diplomatically, as well as through the Administration’s provision of nonlethal assistance, whether that be communications equipment or humanitarian assistance, is really to try to get the opposition in a place to seize the opportunity of a transition away from Assad.

And here’s one of those areas that I think is symptomatic of Governor Romney’s problem on foreign policy. He likes to talk tough. But when you scratch the surface of details, there’s not a lot of there there. So for example, during the Republican Convention, Senator John McCain had some very muscular language on Syria, and you know he’s on record in terms of supporting no-fly zones and airstrikes and everything else. That’s not where Governor Romney is on this issue. Governor Romney is basically that to help the opposition to get rid of Assad, which is not all that different from where the current Administration is. The difference is is that the Obama Administration actually has to govern on this issue and therefore understands the complexity of diving headlong into Syria’s evolving civil war, and so for all the right reasons has been extraordinarily cautious about what we’re doing. And I think that’s what the American people want and expect from a commander-in-chief, not just more bluster. We had enough of that the last go around.

MODERATOR: Next question (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi, Robert (inaudible) Slovenian Press Agency. I would like to ask you if President Obama in the next four years will still try to close Guantanamo. And how would you go about to overcome the congressional opposition?

MS. FLOURNOY: I think the President has been – made very clear since his he first ran for the office that his goal is to close Guantanamo and that nothing has lessened his commitment on that. He has taken a number of steps to try to reduce the population there and to ensure that no new prisoners are brought there – detainees are brought there, but he has not had the congressional support he needs to actually close the facility. I fully expect that should he be reelected, he will continue to press on this issue, because I think it’s such an important – it’s so emblematic of trying to ensure that our foreign policy is consistent not only with our interests but with our values.

Do you want to add anything?

MS. HARF: Yeah, I’ll just – I’ll add a quick point on that as well. Not only has the President reduced the population significantly at Guantanamo Bay without adding to it, but this is one of those areas where, again, the contrast is very clear that last time Government Romney ran for president, he not only promised to keep the prison open but said he would like to double the size of it.

So that’s a pretty straightforward answer, and we know where we stands. And again, the President is committed to closing the prison and will – is also committed to working with all branches of U.S. Government to do so.

MODERATOR: Next question (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi, Betty Lin of the World Journal. Thank you for the talk. Could you address the issues of South China Sea and East China Sea and the prospects for ratifying Law of the Sea Convention? Thank you.

MS. FLOURNEY: I think this is a – the South China Sea and the broader region are of critical interest to the United States. I think we and many of the – most of the countries, if not all of the countries in the region, have a shared interest in freedom of commerce, free trade, navigation, the principle that any kind of disputes will be resolved peacefully through negotiation rather than resort to the use of force. And so I think that this has been a focal point of discussion in the region, certainly in the ASEAN context. I think while the U.S. is not party to any of these disputes, does not take any sides in these disputes, we do have an interest in the stability and economic prosperity of the region, and so we see we – that we have a stabilizing role to play by staying engaged. And you can see that in this Administration’s policies.

As for the Law of the Sea, I think again here I think this is – my hope would be that would be something that President Obama would be able to pursue in a second term. But again, I don’t want to commit him to doing that because that will obviously be his choice. But certainly I think adherence to the Law of the Sea is certainly of the utmost importance, and I think a second term would allow the United States to consider that issue more formally.

MS. HARF: And I’ll just – I’ll make another point on Law of the Sea as well. If you take a look at the Republican Party platform on general issues of international treaties, international organizations, their focus is not on building these institutions, it’s not on getting these kind of treaties done. It’s on, quote, “maintaining U.S. sovereignty.” And there are a lot of people Governor Romney is listening to who’ve come out very strongly opposed to the Law of the Sea Treaty, including people like John Bolton. So again, always going back to the choice in this election, that it’s a choice election, and that they’ve been clear – the Republican Party and particularly the folks Governor Romney has surrounded himself with – that they don’t support these kind of international treaties, these kind of international actions to confront issues together in that way.

MODERATOR: For the next question, we’ll go the gentleman (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: Next to the end.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Denmark. I was wondering – you began by saying that for once the Democratic president might have an advantage on national security and foreign policy. But at the same time, a lot of surveys show that national security ranks fairly low in this election compared to earlier elections. Why do you think this is, and what kind of consequences do you think it might have?

MS. FLOURNOY: I do – I think that there is a certain irony that when a president is extremely successful in making American feel secure at home and abroad, they tend to worry about it less and so it’s less of an election issue. But the truth is the progress that’s been made in terms of restoring American standing, shoring up our security here at home, and strengthening our position abroad has, I think, made Americans feel like, okay, security box, check, now I can focus on other things.

But I would just remind everyone that, again, when the Americans go to the polls, they are electing a commander-in-chief and that – and in one crisis moment, the quality of leadership, the quality of judgment, can take that feeling of security and either enhance it through one decision or completely undermine it and endanger it in another case. And so I think this has to be an important part of voters’ decisions in November.

MS. HARF: Yeah. And I’m just going to make a couple more points on that as well. I think if you broaden national security a little bit to – I mean, the number of troops that the President has brought home to this country by ending the war in Iraq and starting to draw down in Afghanistan, those are kids, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers of voters throughout this country who are happy today that their family members are home with them and not overseas fighting in wars anymore.

So I think that when you look at national security from the macro level, you’re probably right in some sense; but then on a very basic level for voters in places like North Carolina, places like New Hampshire and Colorado and Virginia, there are a lot of people who’ve seen their loved ones go off on two and three and four deployments over the last 11 years that we’ve been at war, and that that is a very visceral thing that I think people do vote on and they do care about. And they don’t want a candidate that is going to extend wars indefinitely, that talks sort of loosely about the threat of war and about using military force. They want a commander-in-chief that isn’t hesitant to use force, but that isn’t reckless in doing so.

So I think that once you get down in that granular level in a lot of the states that are going to play a key role in this election where there are a lot of veterans – and we can talk a lot about the President’s record taking care of our veterans when they return home responsibly – that it really will actually – could play an impact in a lot of key places.

MODERATOR: For the next question, we’ll go to the gentleman standing right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Inaudible) Georgia. Do you think that restart policy with Russia still is working, or there is just dead end? And second question is: If President Obama will be reelected, does it mean that United States will be more flexible with Moscow?

MS. FLOURNOY: I didn’t hear the second question.

MR. KAHL: Is START working? And will we be more flexible (inaudible)?

MODERATOR: Will we be more flexible (inaudible)?

MS. FLOURNOY: Okay. Right. So I think that – again, I think that there’s been no change in the Administration’s policy or the President’s approach on Russia. Where we can find areas of strategic cooperation, where our interests are aligned, we work together, because that’s not only good for us, it’s good for everyone. But where we have differences, we remain very clear and very candid. And again, I’m aware that this President has on numerous occasions, with both Putin and Medvedev, pushed them on some of these hard issues where there are differences that we want to see progress on from the Russian side.

On START – on New START, I think that there was strong bipartisan consensus that this was a treaty that was in everybody’s interests. I think that the implementation is going well. The Administration was very clear that this does – in no way – does not in any way constrain our ability to protect ourselves and our allies in pursuing missile defense in Europe. You see that program going forward and so forth. So I don’t see any change in that. I think the question of whether it’s possible to pursue additional rounds of negotiation with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons even further, I would certainly hope that that would be explored in a second administration.

MODERATOR: We only have time for a few more question. Next one, we’ll go to the woman in the orange sweater right here in the second row.

QUESTION: Hi. Kathleen Gomes, Portuguese daily newspaper, Publico. Thanks for doing this. None of the campaigns so far has talked about the European debt crisis and how to deal with it. I’m wondering – even though it has the potential to derail the campaign and the American economy. I’m wondering: Is there no difference between both campaigns in terms of approach to this? Thank you.

MS. FLOURNOY: I think that the – if you look at what the President and his Administration’s actually been doing, the – their engagement with our European allies and partners on this issue has been sustained, intense, constant. I mean, what happens to the Eurozone is of critical importance to the United States economy. And I think everybody understands that. And you have daily and ongoing meetings at multiple levels by senior officials who are trying to work together to do what we can from our end to help support Europeans find the solutions they need to move forward. So I don’t think there’s any shortage of focus or attention to this critical issue on the part of the President even though it has not become a major issue between the two campaigns.

MS. HARF: I’d say another thing on that quickly is that I think that the possibility of headwinds affecting the U.S. economy from Europe is one of the reasons that we know we need to continue to rebuild our economy here at home, which brings us back to the clear choice on how we do that domestically. On economic issues, the President’s plan to build the economy from the middle out, build an economy where everyone pays their fair share and everyone gets a fair shot compared with our opponent who has tax breaks weighted towards millionaires and billionaires, doesn’t ask them to do anymore, which comes at the expense of the middle class. So what’s happening in Europe I think for us only underscores the importance of getting our economic house back together here at home and that that’s why we feel we have the better, fairer, more balanced plan to do so.

MR. KAHL: I just want to add one thing, because I think this is important. This is one of those contrast positions. I don’t know where Governor Romney is on the Eurozone crisis, but I do know that the only time he mentions Europe in speeches is when he says, “We don’t want to become Europe.” In other words, our closest and longest-standing allies in the world are in Europe. They’re fighting alongside us in Afghanistan. They – we went together in Libya. They support us on Iran. They support us on a whole host of foreign policy issues, and this Administration, as Michele indicated, has their back and is in close consultation.

And the Romney camp has decided instead that the best way to talk about Europe is to use them as a political punching bag to appeal to their base, which may or may not be good politics for them. I’ll leave that to judge, but it doesn’t set them up to govern particularly well if they were to win the election. So just like naming Russia the number one geopolitical foe or promising a trade war with China on day one of a Romney administration, using Europe as a punching bag is not a particularly a good way to set yourself up to confidently lead the greatest country on earth and partner with other countries, including our close allies in Europe. Remember, it was the previous Republican administration that denigrated Europe in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and we’re just now recovering from the tensions and those relationships. So I think it’s worth remember that little piece of history.

MODERATOR: Great. We’ll take a question from this side now. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Hello. (Inaudible) Spain. How do you reconcile American values with the targeted killings with the drone campaign that Obama Administration is doing?

MS. FLOURNOY: Obviously, without getting into any specifics about that issue, I think a couple of things are clear. When President Obama ran in 2008 for president, he pledged to refocus our efforts on al-Qaida, on going after its leadership, on going after Usama bin Ladin, and that’s exactly what he’s done. And because of that commitment, we have seen – had extraordinary success taking out al-Qaida’s leaders, devastating their leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including, of course, most importantly Usama bin Ladin. Now, I’ll say a couple other points as well. Counterterrorism operations are always conducted in accord with international and U.S. law. Efforts are, of course, always taken to minimize noncombatant casualties when undertaking these kinds of operations, but again, the President’s first responsibility as commander in chief is to protect the American people. And he was clear when he ran, and he’s been clear in office that he will do what’s necessary to do so.

MODERATOR: We’ll go back to this side. The gentleman right here.

QUESTION: Hi. Hurriyet. Thank you for this. Quick question. During the first term of President Obama, the relationship between President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister was very close. I’m wondering: What was the role of a Democratic President sitting in the White House in this relationship? If there would be a Republican President there, it would be the same you think? What is the base of this relationship – close relationship between two leaders in terms of being Democrat? And the second one, how this close relationship has been reflected to (inaudible) your relationship between two countries? I read your platform, for example, yesterday. You don’t mention about Turkey when you are talking about Middle East or regional security concerns, especially Syria. You – some top Turkish officials has been criticizing the U.S. that you don’t act more – you don’t behave active in Syria in terms of the security concerns. How is your commitment to Turkish security concerns in terms of this close relationship between two leaders?

MS. FLOURNOY: Let me say a word, and then if others want to join in, they’re welcome. So this President has been very committed to Turkey as a NATO ally. He’s also, I think – this Administration has seen a democratic Turkey, a rising Turkey, a Turkey with more influence in the region as a very important strategic partner. Turkey has worked with us closely on everything from Iran to Syria to – you name the international crisis, and there’s been a very close relationship. I think the President has invested heavily in his relationship with his counterparts. I think the level of consultation and closeness is unprecedented, frankly.

When you ask – I would hope there would be bipartisan consensus around that strategic understanding of Turkey’s new role. But I don't know, because again, here again, Governor Romney has been silent. I don't know what his plan – his views on Turkey is. I don't know – we don’t know what his plans with regard to Turkey are because he really hasn’t enunciated them. So again, if you focus on the record of this Administration and what’s actually been done to invest and grow in this relationship with all of the positive results that have come from that, I think that record should speak for itself on the Democratic side. But for me, there’s a big question mark as to what Romney would do on this issue.

MODERATOR: Did you have a question? Okay. We’ll go back over here, the gentleman standing up right there.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Just quick question on China (inaudible). Governor Romney and the President Obama are talking tough against China during the campaign. It seems China right now is scapegoat. So does the U.S. Government think this might cause negative impact to U.S.-China relations after the election? Thank you.

MS. FLOURNOY: When I listen to the two campaigns, I hear a very different tone and very different rhetoric from the two on China. The President has talked consistently about building a comprehensive and cooperative relationship with China, about working together on the broad range of issues where we have common interests, on welcoming China’s rise as an economic partner and so forth and so on. Obviously, where we have differences, we’re having all kinds of candid dialogue about that, and we work those out behind closed doors. What concerns me is the harsh rhetoric coming out of the Romney campaign, again, talking about China in a way that would sound like they’re going to start a trade war early on, sort of demonizing China. I think that is very dangerous. China is a very important country that we have to work with closely in Asia, and what we say in campaigns we have to be responsible, because whoever ultimately governs has to be – have a very positive and cooperative and productive relationship with China even as we work through our differences.

MODERATOR: Okay. Next question. We’ll go over there.

QUESTION: Hi. In the last month, we have been hearing in the Congress, particularly, some concerning the Republican Party about what’s going on in the government approach to Latin America. They say that the government that Obama’s Administration is going – is behaving very soft to Latin America, particularly in countries like, for example, Venezuela, Cuba now is having very tough problems with Argentina. So I was wondering: What will change in the approach to Latin America if there is a Republican administration, and what is the proposal of the Democrat government for eventually second term?

MS. HARF: I’ll say a couple words, and then others may want to jump in. I think a couple points on this. When the President took office, he really refocused on Latin America both from a trade perspective signing free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama and from a security perspective, so increasing security assistance, working together, military intelligence, cooperation on a host of issues with our partners in Latin America. And I think that you see today that the standing of the United States is greatly improved in Latin America from where it was in 2008 when we took office. I think you’ll see that our leadership there is much more welcome than it was in 2008. I think in a situation like Cuba, the President’s put in place commonsense, family-oriented reforms that allow Cuban Americans, for example, to attend their important family events with their family members who are still living in Cuba.

Governor Romney has promised to roll those back. He says he opposes those. But he doesn’t say why, and he doesn’t say how rolling back reforms that are geared towards families being able to spend time together to see each other would actually affect anything geopolitically in that country whatsoever. He sort of defaults to a position that he thinks sounds, quote, “tougher,” but it doesn’t sound particularly smarter. So I think that’s sort of what we see not only in Latin America, but elsewhere as well. So I think going forward in a second term, obviously we’re very focused on trade, on exports to the region. We’ve had a lot of success; exports to Latin America are up a huge percent since 2008, certainly working to continue expanding markets for American goods in the region, also continuing our security cooperation as well. And again, I’m not sure what Governor Romney would do. He blusters a lot. He says a lot of things about Hugo Chavez, about the kind of threat that he sees him playing – posing to the United States, but it doesn’t really outline any policies for how he would work with the region.

MODERATOR: There’s time for one last question. We’ll go to the woman right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question was also on Latin America. How present do you see an Iran threat in the Hemisphere, and what would you do if you really see signs of it? Thank you.

MR. KAHL: Yeah. I mean, without going into areas that would be kind of in the classified domain, look, this is one of the issues that at the Pentagon we focus a lot of attention on. I think a lot of times you can think of the Iran challenge as a regional challenge that is largely a Middle East challenge, and clearly it is that. But there’s also a global angle to this. Iran and, in particular, the IRGC Qods Force is active in a lot of parts of the world to include Africa, but also Latin America and so without going into too many details, I would just say that it’s something that we’re focused on very, very, very closely. And I will just say that when the charges were brought against Arbabsiar for the alleged plot against the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., that’s precisely because this government and our law enforcement intelligence community had a laser-like focus on the possible intersection between Iranian agents and criminal networks in Latin America. That’s how that plot was uncovered. So this is not a threat that we’ve – we don’t talk about it a lot, because a lot of this stuff happens in the shadows, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not – that this Administration hasn’t been focused on it.

MS. HARF: Thank you all so much for coming. We’ll probably be around for a few minutes to do some sort of orderly pull-asides over here if folks have additional questions. Otherwise, you can always contact me directly. And tomorrow, we will be back with another one of our experts to talk economic and tax policy and the contrast in the election on those issues. So that’s at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning. So I look forward to seeing all of you then as well. Thank you so much.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Real quick, our next briefing will be at 3 o’clock, and that will be with John Zogby, who is a pollster, and he will talk about the latest polling results. Thank you very much.

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