UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


U.S. Department of Defense
Press Operations
News Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook September 22, 2015

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in the Pentagon Briefing Room

PETER COOK: Afternoon, everybody. Sorry I'm a little bit late. Got a few announcements off the top and then I'm going to get to your questions.

On September 10, coalition forces conducted an airstrike resulting in the death of Abu Bakr al-Turkmani, the senior leader of ISIL. The strike happened near Tal Afar, Iraq. Al-Turkmani was an ISIL administrative amir. He was part of Al Qaida in Iraq before joining ISIL, and was a close associate to multiple ISIL senior leaders in Iraq.

This act will help disrupt ISIL operations in the Tal Afar area, and shows their leadership is not beyond the coalition's reach. I can also confirm that French national David Drugeon, an Al Qaida operative and explosives expert, was killed in a coalition airstrike on July 5, 2015, near Aleppo, Syria. Drugeon was a member of a network of veteran Al Qaida operatives sometimes called the Khorasan Group, who were plotting attacks against the United States, its allies and partners.

As an explosives expert he trained other extremists in Syria and sought to plan external attacks against Western targets. This action will degrade and disrupt ongoing, external operations of Al Qaida against the United States, its allies and its partners.

Wanted to update you on the status of defense talks with Russia; as you know at the request of the Russians, Secretary Carter spoke with his Russian counterpart on Friday to discuss the situation in Syria, and the secretary agreed to continue that dialogue with the Russians; if their actions are aimed at countering ISIL and advancing a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria.

Actions not in-line with those goals will not be seen or treated as constructive. The secretary continues to consult with the rest of the national security team on the next step in that dialogue, but we don't have any additional calls or meetings scheduled at this time. We will let you know if that changes.

And just finally, I wanted to make sure everyone saw the statement from earlier today from General Campbell, the commander or resolute support, the U.S. forces Afghanistan, underscoring our policy regarding suspicions of sexual abuse committed by Afghans against children. He makes clear, General Campbell does, in that statement that expects all personnel to treat others with respect and dignity, and that he further expects that any suspicions of sexual abuse will be immediately reported to the chain of command regardless of who the alleged perpetrators or victims are.

The chain of command, he said in that statement, will take appropriate action under applicable law as well as DOD and service regulation. If the abuse involves Afghans a report shall be forwarded to General Campbell through operations channels, copied to the staff judge advocate so that the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can be advised and requested to take action.

And I just want to reiterate from this podium as well that we consider these reports of sexual abuse to be abhorrent. We are deeply concerned about it. This form and sexual exploitation of children is a violation of Afghanistan's laws and international obligations.

There is no policy in place that directs any U.S. military or government personnel overseas to ignore human rights abuses. On the contrary, we monitor such atrocities closely and have continually stood up for those who have suffered exploitation and denial and basic human freedoms.

Both our annual trafficking and persons report and our human rights report on Afghanistan have noted this form of child sexual abuse and training of Afghan law enforcement has focused on human rights in order to improve reporting and accountability. We continue to urge the Afghan government to strengthen enforcement of its laws.

And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions. Bob?

Q: Peter, on Russia, do you have any further insight into what Russia's intentions are in Syria based on the secretary's phone conversations and the nature of the build up -- military build up there. Does it look like they're intending to take unilateral air operations? What's your understanding at this point?

MR. COOK: I think it's fair to say, Bob, at this point that we still do not have an entirely clear picture of exactly what the Russians are hoping to do in Syria. We are hoping to further that dialogue if there is an opportunity for them to engage in the counter-ISIL fight.

But as the secretary stressed in his phone call with Minister Shoygu, that has to happen on a parallel track with a diplomatic conversation -- diplomatic talks aimed at ultimately, resolving this conflict in a peaceful fashion, because as you know, we still do not believe that this is ultimately going to be solved through a military resolution. There has to be a political component to this, political resolution, and the secretary stressed that in his phone call.

Q: So is the fact that there are no further calls or other contacts scheduled at the moment, does that indicate that the secretary's not convinced that they're going to take a constructive approach?

MR. COOK: Our lines of communication remain open and it's to be determined at this point exactly what the next step will be, but again, the secretary also thought that the call was constructive and so we're leaving that door open, and he's consulting with the rest of the national security team.

But I think, again, what's important is this notion that any defense talks need to take place in a parallel track with these political conversations and the secretary feels very strongly about that, yet at the same time, leaving the door open to the possibility of having Russia play a constructive role in the fight against ISIL.

The secretary believes very strongly, however, that any Russian further support for the Syrian government is counterproductive to that effort, more like fanning the flames, if you will, of what's already played out in Syria and so again, the focus should be on countering ISIL.


Q: Hi, Peter. Just a question going over to China. There were reports this morning that a Chinese jet flew dangerously close to an American spy plane over the Yellow Sea around September 15th. Can you confirm this event and also speak to why the Pentagon has kind of downplayed it? Because in the past, this -- this building has discussed it in length.

MR. COOK: I can confirm for you that the department's reviewing a report that came in from PACOM regarding, as you said, a September 15th intercept of a U.S. RC-135 by an aircraft from the People's Republic of China.

The incident in question happened in the Yellow Sea, approximately 80 miles east of the Shandong Peninsula, and one of the maneuvers conducted by the Chinese aircraft during this intercept was perceived as unsafe by the RC-135 air crew and at this point, right now, there's no indication this was a near collision, but the report that came back was that the plane operated in an unsafe fashion. And that's report that's come in here, and there's been no further determination at that time. It's still under review.


Q: A little bit more in Syria, and then I have an Iraq -- Iraq question.

MR. COOK: Sure.

Q: Jane's International Weekly (sic) came out with a report today saying that Russia's expanding its footprint in Syria to bases north of Latakia, based on unclassified commercial imagery. Do you have anything on that to confirm the report?

MR. COOK: Tony, I'm not gonna get into intelligence matters here. I know that there have been some public reports about what the Syrians have. I know Secretary Kerry referred specifically to some of the weaponry that they've brought in there. He mentioned specifically fighter aircraft.

Just rest assured that we're keeping a very close eye on what we see moving in there, and again, we continue to believe that there may be an opportunity for the Russians to play a constructive role in the fight against ISIL, and we are eager to find out more about Russia's intentions, going forward.

Q: (inaudible) -- this was commercial imagery, not secret NRO satellites.

MR. COOK: I'm just not going to comment here as to exactly what we're seeing on the ground for -- I would hope you understand -- understandable reasons.

Q: I do.

I want to shift to Iraq train and equip. There's been a lot of interest in the Syria train and equip. On Iraq train and equip, does the Pentagon or CENTCOM have a set of metrics now to determine their effectiveness a la what we do in Afghanistan, the U.S. does in Afghanistan, with monthly assessment reports of Afghan national forces?

Is there such a -- a checklist of capabilities and readiness for Iraqi forces, and if so, is that something you could share on an unclassified basis?

MR. COOK: First of all, because we are, of course, so involved in the train and equip mission in Iraq, you can understand that we do have a good assessment, and there are metrics for Iraqi forces specifically, but we're not gonna get into exactly what those are here, particularly.

This is a sovereign nation, and we'll let the Iraqi government speak to -- to exactly the status of their forces, the skills of their force levels, but this is something we are tracking, in part because we have a baseline because we've gone in there to do training, and can see the progress made to date.

So I think it's fair to say that we are keeping -- this is something we -- we are tracking.

Q: Well, how will the public know that the Iraqis aren't hyping or exaggerating the readiness of their units if -- you know, DOD doesn't serve as some kind of a -- you know, at least a truth squad on those types of reports. On the metrics.

MR. COOK: This is something that we'll continue to work closely with the Iraqi government on. Our assessments certainly will be part of the conversation with the Iraqi government, but we'll leave it to the Iraqis to state publicly the position and skill level, and the status of their own forces.

Q: One final -- $1.6 billion was approved last year by Congress to help train and equip the Iraqi forces. A year later, roughly how much has been obligated, if you have that?

MR. COOK: Tony, I don't have that right here in front of me, but we'll take that question, we'll try and report back to you as soon as we can.


Q: Peter, does Secretary Carter believe -- or desire Russia to stop this build-up in Syria?

MR. COOK: I think Secretary Carter wants to find out more clearly exactly what Russia's intent is here, and I think he made that clear in the phone call with Minister Shoygu, and again, it's not clear exactly what Russia's plans are, and if Russia hopes to play a constructive role in the fight against ISIL, then certainly, that's something that the secretary of defense would welcome.

But it has to happen at the same time. It has to be coordinated, and it needs to happen the same time -- most importantly -- as a political conversation that moves forward in terms of final resolution to what's taking place on the ground in Syria.

Q: So as far as you know, the secretary has not asked Russia to stop sending fighter jets or stop this build-up inside Syria?

MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into all of the details of the call that came out the other day. The secretary has a constructive conversation with Minister Shoygu and again, we're deciding the next step.

Q: What are your plans to de-conflict your military actions over Syria with the Iranians?

MR. COOK: We are not in any consultations with the Iranians right now regarding that.

Q: Do you think that, since you're talking to the Russians and de-conflicting your military actions with them, it would make sense to do the same with the Iranian government?

MR. COOK: Well, we have not begun those conversations with regard to de-confliction with the Russians and if we see a need to engage with others over that issue, we'll do so. We have 60 coalition countries involved right now. The safety and security of the pilots who are flying everyday in that region is of critical importance to us and we're going to do everything we can to make sure they are as safe as possible.

Q: Finally, this morning on Capitol Hill, General Petraeus briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee and he said that if the U.S. government wanted to see Assad's barrel bombs stopped, that it should tell Assad and -- do you have any take on that? Would you like to see Assad stop barrel bombing his own people? And also, he said that there should be the establishment of an enclave inside Syria that would help the refugee problem. Your reaction to that?

MR. COOK: Well, first of all, we've made clear we think the actions of the Assad regime are reprehensible and barrel bombing's at the top of that list. So I don't think there's anything new in terms of our condemnation of those actions.

With regard -- I didn't catch the general's testimony, so I didn't hear exactly what he had to say there, but as I've stressed from this podium and I think you've heard the secretary as well, we're considering a range of options of moving forward in Syria to make our fight against ISIL as effective as possible and the humanitarian situation is another major factor going forward, as we look to the future.

Q: Do you think a safe zone inside Syria would mitigate the refugee crisis right now?

MR. COOK: Again, I'm no going to discuss options at this point what would be the most effective way to do that. These are things -- there's a range of things under consideration right now, and I know some people have suggested that, but no decision at this point to be made.


Q: Peter, I asked you a couple of weeks ago about the status of Syrian rebel training with regard to Qatar and Saudi. We were told earlier this year they would take part, along with Turkey, in the training. What's the status?

MR. COOK: Tom, I can talk to you about what's happened so far with regard to the training that you've been made aware of, with regard to the new Syrian forces that have gone in. That training, to my understanding, has not happened anywhere else than the location that we've discussed publicly, but again, we appreciate the support and help we've received from other countries that have pledged to be a part of this.

But the focus so far has been specifically the training of those forces that we've talked about, the T&E program.

Q: Do you still expect those two countries to take part in the training program?

MR. COOK: I don't have an expectation here. I don't have anything to tell you specifically at this point about their participation, exactly what they're doing right now, but we again appreciate their offers to help and I think it's something that obviously we're going to assess going forward.


Q: Thanks, Peter.

We're eight days away from a government shutdown. What -- excuse me. What preparations has the department put in place and what sort of guidance has it put out to Pentagon employees in case of emergency spending and agreed to?

MR. COOK: Well, first of all, as I'm sure you are well aware, the notion of another government shutdown is not something that's even it's not a very pleasing prospect for this building and for -- for anyone in the federal government, particularly here at the Department of Defense. It's going to -- if we were to reach that situation it would have an impact. A significant impact on this building and on operations going forward. And it's something that we feel very strongly needs to be avoided, and we call on members of Congress to do the right thing here and reach an agreement on a budget that provides budget certainty going forward, we've made that clear from the start.

As you can imagine we have, unfortunately, gone through this before. We are conducting the prudent planning that would be needed in the invent something like that happens, we do have some experience at that. And so the steps that needed to be taken at this point, and we still have some time where we're optimistic for some resolution, that it -- shut down can be avoided. But we are taking some of the prudent steps behind the scenes, I'm not going to detail all of them, just to be prepared in case something like that does happen.

Q: Could you provide a few examples though, or any guidance that Pentagon employees have received in case emergency spending bill isn't agreed to?

MR. COOK: Just -- right now you know that there has been an impact on employees in the past. We're not at that stage right now that we need to be alarming or concerning employees with it. We still believe that there's time to reach a resolution, but we have to do prudent planning, and the comptroller has been doing that. Others within this department taking those steps necessary in the event, not only that we potentially see a budget shut-down, but also even a continuing resolution, that will have some impact on us as well and we've been clear, as well as the secretary in particular about continuing resolution that lasts for an extended period of time would be the equivalent for us in many aspects a sequester.

It will not serve the needs of the men and women in the U.S. military and the civilian work force here as well, and we feel very strongly about the need to get budget certainty going forward and really call upon the Congress to try and reach a resolution.


Q: What was unsafe about this Chinese intercept? I think the last time the P-8 was intercepted that they did a barrel-roll, is that what we're talking about here?

MR. COOK: Yes, my understanding is, and I don't have all the details, but it was -- the pilot believed that there was -- that the plane passed in an unsafe fashion in front of the plane. But my understanding was it was not similar to the event, the last event, that you mentioned that I think happened some time ago.

Q: Was that -- was it a matter of feet or something in terms how close it was, and do you have that detail?

MR. COOK: My understand is that the pilot reported that he felt like the plane, the aircraft, passed in front of his nose in an unsafe fashion. So I don't have anything more detailed on that.

Q: (off-mic) -- report today that was moved about General Allen stepping down in the next couple weeks. Do you know if that's true, and if it is true, what will his departure mean for this campaign?

MR. COOK: Yes. I can't confirm that. I did hear that report just as I was walking in here, and I'd say refer you to the State Department since his role as an envoy came about through the State Department, but I can tell you that General Allen is someone obviously very familiar to the folks here at the Department of Defense, and he's done a great job in pushing the ball forward in terms of the diplomatic effort in the fight against ISIL and building up a coalition.

And I'm going to refer you to the State Department as to exactly what his status is, but we hold General Allen in high regard for his work and appreciate the efforts he's made in the overall effort to bolster the coalition against ISIL.


Q: Peter, since your last briefing, there are -- there were reports out of Turkey and perhaps elsewhere that the second group of U.S.-trained Syrians went into Syria, and I've -- I heard two secretaries of defense and others beneath them -- say that the Pentagon is a learning institution.

So what did the United States learn from what happened to the first group of Syrians who went into Syria, train and equip? And what is it doing differently to protect the second group better than it did the first group?

MR. COOK: Well, I think you've heard some of the things we've talked about. Obviously, I'm not gonna get into operational security about where they are, what they're doing now. I don't want to do anything to expose them to greater risk than they're already taking --

Q: I'm not asking where or when. I'm just asking what steps the -- the Pentagon and the other parts of the U.S. government is taking to try to ensure that the same thing -- something similar doesn't happen again.

MR. COOK: Yeah. I think some of the lessons learned from the first class certainly have been instilled, it's my understanding, through the training process that these folks went through, in terms of the actual return to Syria for these troops. We have learned some lessons.

There were some mistakes made, initially, with the first class. I think they've been documented pretty well. General Austin talked about some of them in his testimony the other day, and we're doing what we can to provide support for these forces as they go back into Syria.

And this is a learning institution. I've talked about lessons learned. There have been some tough lessons learned here, quite candidly, and we're gonna do what we can to support those troops in a very, very dangerous mission.

But we still believe that the effort to counter ISIL involves -- requires -- capable ground forces, and these troops are part of that effort, but they're part of a much larger effort that includes forces that were not necessarily train and equip by U.S. forces, includes a host of opposition groups that have been taking the fight to ISIL very successfully, and those number in the thousands.

Q: Is the size of the second group similar to the size of the first group?

MR. COOK: I think CENTCOM issued a statement last night advising everyone on the -- on the size -- I think the number is about 70 -- and -- so I'll refer you to CENTCOM's statement for the latest on that. They're your best source of information right now on exactly what the status of this second class.

Going to the back. Yes, sir?

Q: Mr. Cook. The commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and North Africa claims that the United -- NATO is losing air superiority as a result of the technology gains by the Russians in their aircraft, as well as their anti-access and area denial capabilities. Would you agree with that assessment?

MR. COOK: I would not agree with that assessment, and would just make clear that we feel confident in NATO's capabilities. Obviously the Russians have technological know-how. They have military equipment that is substantial, but we feel confident, certainly, in NATO's ability to do its work and to carry out its own mission and responsibilities.

Q: And he went on to say that we're going to have to revert back to old Cold War tactics of extended range capabilities, more so than we -- we have, because of their fielding of S-400s and -- and -- and their advanced SAMS. So --

MR. COOK: I'm not sure exactly what he was talking about, the exact substance and where he made those comments, but I just --

Q: (off-mic) -- Air & Space audience recently.

MR. COOK: The secretary's talked about the need for the U.S. military to constantly adapt to new threats, including new technologies, new innovations, he's been quite upfront in talking about the need to maintain our military edge around the world, and that's something this secretary feels very strongly about and I think you'll see reflected in his budget coming forward and in his commitments going forward that that's something he aims to maintain.

Q: (off-mic) -- in Russia, a constructive -- potentially constructive role for Russia in Syria, what would that constitute? You know, how would you define that and how -- how do you distinguish between military actions -- Russian military actions that might counter ISIL and those that might support Assad's regime? How do you sort of distinguish between those?

MR. COOK: Well, I think it's pretty clear to us what the counter-ISIL campaign looks like and how to wage that going forward, and I think the secretary believes that there is a potential for a role to -- for the Russians to play there and at the same time, anything that the Russians do that would be seen as supporting, further enhancing the capabilities of the Syrian government would be counterproductive, and that those would be -- again, as I mentioned before, more like fanning flame.

And so we think that's part of the conversation that needs to happen going forward if the Russians want to play a constructive role, and those are some of the conversations that potentially could take place and I think it'll be -- it would be an opportunity for the Russians to make clear exactly what their intentions are so we can see exactly what it is they hope to do, and if indeed they are sincere about taking the fight to ISIL, then our hope would be that that could be demonstrated clearly.

Q: Is the only constructive role then to be, you know, sort of part of the air campaign or are there other roles that -- that it might be able to in coordination?

MR. COOK: I think it's premature to talk about exactly what role they could play. Let's see if we can actually reach an agreement to continue this dialogue and these conversations. Again, for this to move forward, it's not just a defense conversation that needs to take place, but we feel very strongly that there has to be a second component here and that is, again, a political resolution, a conversation on that front as well.

Progress needs to made on that front, or else the defense conversation really doesn't serve a larger purpose.

I'm sorry, you've already had a question. Joe, in the back.

Q: Follow up on -- on that question.

MR. COOK: Sure.

Q: How does Secretary Carter see Russia's manipulative presence in Syria? Does he think it is –legitimate, legal?

MR. COOK: Again, Joe, I'm going to sort of restate what I said before, that the secretary believes that there is the potential for Russians to play a constructive role in the fight against ISIL, and if the intent of those forces is to bolster and enhance the capabilities of the Syrian government, then the secretary would have great concerns about that.

If it's as the Russians have discussed, the prospect for taking actions against ISIL, then the secretary would be more open to hearing what it is they hope to do.

Q: My question -- my -- my question is, since -- based on the statement that came out after the secretary's phone call with Minister Shoygu, based on the content of the statement, it looks like both have discussed a political solution in Syria, a peaceful transition of power in Syria. Am I correct?

Based on that, does he think Russia's role -- or rather, Russia's presence in Syria is legal? Is legitimate? That's my question.

MR. COOK: I think, first of all, the Russians have had a presence and close ties to Syria for some time, so their presence there is not a -- a new set of facts. Certainly, the size of the presence is new, and that is something that we have taken note of, and the secretary took note of in the call with Minister Shoygu.

And again, the emphasis here is on what the Russians' intentions are, and it's still not entirely clear to us exactly what they plan to do. The secretary would like to get more information on that, would like to see if there's an opportunity for the Russians to play a role in the counter-ISIL effort.

But unless they can demonstrate that they're also willing to move forward on the political front -- and we're hopeful that they will be -- this is gonna be sort of a situation in which we still are trying to determine their exact intentions.

Q: You said --


Q: -- last quick follow-up.

Since Russia's latest movement in Syria, could you say yes or no if the Pentagon has had any contacts, directly or indirectly, with the Syrian regime?

MR. COOK: We've had no direct contact with the Syrian regime. We've had no contact of any kind, that I'm aware of, with the Syrian regime.

Let me move over here.

Q: (inaudible) -- have two questions. One on the train and equip program in Syria.

MR. COOK: Yes.

Q: A CENTCOM spokesman said over the weekend that the Kurdish rebels are now part of that program. Can you elaborate more on that?

MR. COOK: I'm not sure exactly which statement you're referring to here. So I --

Q: A statement -- (inaudible) -- and Colonel Patrick Ryder.

MR. COOK: Yeah.

Q: He said -- he emphasized, U.S. and coalition forces are also supporting and enabling --

MR. COOK: Yes.

Q: -- Kurd opposition fighters in its train and equip program.

MR. COOK: I think what -- yeah, what Colonel Ryder's been talking about, I think, is the larger support we've provided to moderate opposition groups in Syria that are taking the fight to ISIL. We provided coalition air support, as well, for a range of groups there, and I know that that's likely what he's talking about, and the efforts we've made to try and provide equipment and support to those forces.

Q: How many Kurdish fighters are now part of the program? Because in the past -- as far as I'm aware -- your support was confined to just air strikes for the Kurds, nothing else.

MR. COOK: Yeah, I'll refer you to Colonel Ryder for exactly what he was referring to there.

Q: (inaudible) -- Iraq. The -- the chancellor of Kurdistan security and intelligence forces has publicly criticized the coalition for having stopped providing them with arms over the past four months. He said they haven't received any weapons.

I just want to know whether you believe Kurdistan is safer now and they don't need weapons, that's why the coalition has stopped sending them weapons?

MR. COOK: I'm not familiar with exactly the comments that this individual made, but I know that we've provided significant support to the Kurds, and will continue to do so. And so I'm not exactly sure of what you're referring to here, but we've been quite public in our -- in support we've provided, and some of that support's been quite substantial.

It's moved through the Iraqi government, as we believe it should, and so I'm not exactly familiar with what you're referring to there, but we've been pretty public about it.

I'll go to Carla here, and I got time maybe for two more here.

Q: Really quickly on the Al-Turkmani hit. Was he the primary target, was he the only target, or were there other Islamic State fighters hit?

MR. COOK: I'm not going to get into more details. I've been able to provide you all the details I can at this point.

Q: OK, and then, do you -- you spoke about the hit in Syria and the hit with (inaudible) in Iraq. What does that have to do with the overall force size of the Islamic State, is it still that they're gaining a recruit for every fighter hit on the ground, is that still the assessment of the pentagon?

MR. COOK: I think what these strikes highlight is what I pointed out before, and that is that the ISIL leadership remains very much within the reach of the coalition, and that is part of our ongoing fight as well. And we think it can play a role in undermining ISIL's effectiveness, its ability to wage its own campaign, and so I'm going to get into the exact status of ISIL's forces right now, but we think these strikes will make a difference and that ISIL's leadership, again, remains within the reach of the coalition, and that should be a message that we're sending from here loud and clear.

Q: Lastly Peter, what is the primary revenue now of the Islamic State? At some point the Pentagon assessed that that was oil, and they were targeting oil reserves. Is there an update on that, is it still oil as their primary revenue, or are they using other -- other means?

MR. COOK: I don't have a specific update for you, but I know that we've talked about the fact that their primary means of revenue has been theft, extortion, robbery, you name it. These are people who have plundered the communities they've captured. And oil has been a portion of the revenue stream, we'd like to think the Coalition Air Campaign has played a role in undermining that.

But they do have resources, and part of our effort, the many lines of effort, is to try and address that, and that's a responsibility that falls not just to the Department of Defense, but some of our government partners as well, the Treasury Department and others, who have tried to makes gains with regard to tightening the noose around their financial support-- The resources for ISIL going forward, and we applaud their efforts towards that end.

Last one, Luis.

Q: (off-mic) -- the drone strike, or those two strikes, were those drone or fix-wing?

MR. COOK: I've provided all the details that I can, as to exactly how they've been carried out.

Q: I heard you say several times today talking about how the military to military contact with Russia may proceed, and you seem to be saying that Secretary Carter believes that there won't be any military contacts unless there is a commitment from the Russians to proceed along with the political process. Is that what you're saying?

MR. COOK: That was the message that the secretary delivered to minister shouldn't, again, a constructive conversation, but the secretary feels strongly working with his national security partners here in the United States, that for Russia to play a constructive role in this, that there has to be a political component that needs to move forward.

The strife in Syria, we've seen it all play it out on television screens, something needs to be done on the political front to end what's happening there, and the secretary feels strongly about that, and if Russia wants to play a role in terms of the military component against ISIL, the secretary feels strongly that it needs to move at the parallel track as those diplomatic conversations.

Q: In other words, if there is no commitment, then there will be no military engagement between the Russians -- between Russia and the U.S. on this issue?

MR. COOK: We're going to continue to have our lines of communication with them are open, but the secretary made clear his position and again, there's the prospect here for the Russians to play a constructive role. They have the opportunity there and we'll see if they take advantage of it.

Q: How do you reconcile that though with what Secretary Kerry and other officials have characterized this immediate need to de-conflict any potential misunderstandings of an escalation in Syria?

MR. COOK: We agree with that as well, but there's no reason the two cannot move in tandem. We're not saying anything different than what Secretary Kerry's been doing. Secretary Kerry's been leading that diplomatic effort, trying to bring the necessary people to the table to try and resolve this.

He's extended efforts on that front, including with his Russian counterpart. We hope that those can gain momentum now and we would urge the Russians to play as constructive a role as possible in working with Secretary Kerry. And again, perhaps the door opening to the military conversation with Secretary Carter, the leadership here, within the Department of Defense.

And with that, guys I'm seven minutes late for a meeting, so my apologies, but --

Q: (off-mic)

MR. COOK: I know. I apologize for that. I still have that meeting, which I will get in trouble for. So I'm going to cut it short there. Tony, if you've got another question, you can feel free to send it to me e-mail or otherwise.

Q: (off-mic) -- government shutdown, if you can for the next briefing get a list of the top ten states that would be affected in terms of personnel that would be furloughed?

MR. COOK: I will take that question and put it to our (inaudible) staff and see what we can come back with.

All right. Thanks, everyone.


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list