From: Memoli, Michael [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, November 19, 2015 04:07 PM
To: Barnes, Desiree N. EOP/WHO
Subject: WH Travel Pool 11/19 #5a: Opening stmts/POTUS on Syria
POTUS’ opening statement began by highlighting the shared values and cultural ties between the U.S. and Canada. “We are NATO allies, and across the board our interests are aligned.”
He took note of the “incredible excitement” that was generated by Trudeau’s campaign. “I’m confident that he’s going to be able to provide a great boost of energy and transform the Canadian political landscape.”
On ISIS, Syria, he said they had an “excellent conversation” about how to coordinate on the military operation and how to stabilize the situation in Syria, as well as counter-terrorism efforts, noting the long shared border. On the economy he noted that the PM was reviewing the TPP agreement, but said he expected they would establish “the kind of high-standards agreement that protects labor, protects the environment.” He then looked ahead to the Paris climate summit, noting both nations are major energy producers and said it was important to transition to cleaner fuels.
He ended by saying he looked forward to welcoming Trudeau to the White House and having a fuller bilateral meeting. “Overall, it’s not unexpected that it was a wonderful meeting,” POTUS said.
Trudeau spoke first in French and then English. He said Canada “is committed to continuing to engage as a strong member of the coalition against ISIL in ways that will continue to support international efforts, including military engagement around training to ensure that Canada continues to be a strong player, doing it’s part – more than it’s part – to defend against ISIL.”
Trudeau said he looked forward to visiting. “My wife Sophie is going to be very excited to hear about Michelle’s garden, because she has started a vegetable garden as well in our backyard.”
Your pooler then asked POTUS if the U.S., given the urgency of the threat by ISIL now, could accept any scenario in which Assad stays in power through the elections as the Russians insist; links Republicans have made between the refugee crisis and his plan to end the detention center at Guantanamo; and to Trudeau, whether POTUS had asked him to reconsider his pledge to end Canada’s air campaign against ISIL, and whether he’d sought advice from POTUS on how to manage expectations at the start of a term in office reminiscent of his own.
On the latter point, POTUS chimed in: “The first call I made to him, I said, ‘Justin, congratulations. You and your family look great. I know Canadians are incredible inspired by your message of hope and change. I just want to point out that I had no gray hair when I was in your shoes seven years ago. So if you don’t want to gray like me you have to start dying it soon. Because it’s too late.” “So young, and yet so cynical,” Trudeau interjected.
On Syria: POTUS offered a wide-ranging summary of his position. “We have always had a sense of urgency about the need to defeat ISIL.” The international coalition “has put consistent, steady pressure on the organization.”
“But what I have also said is that it’s going to be a multi-year task and that we’re not going to be
able to fully succeed in eliminating their safe-havens until we have a political settlement of some sort in Syria.”
“It is also my view that it is not going to be sufficient for us to have formal political processes that lead to Assad still being in power. And the reason is not simply because of my opinion of him. It is because it is unimaginable that you can stop the civil war here when the overwhelming majority of people in Syria consider him to be a brutal, murderous dictator. He cannot regain legitimacy. And if in fact he is still in power, regardless of what outside powers do there is still going to be large portions of the population that are fighting.”
He outlined the goals of the Vienna talks, ultimately hoping a cease-fire could “create pockets of calm that could hopefully grow over time.” And for the talks to succeed Russia and Iran “are going to have to make a fundamental decision. Do they actually believe that they can prop up Assad and win on the ground militarily inside Syria against all the opposition, or do they actually think that it is better to save the Syrian state and work with the international community and the UN to find a government that truly can be legitimate?”
“The bottom line is, I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power. And by the way, that's not a matter of my decision-making. Even if I said that was okay, I still don't think it would actually work. You could not get the Syrian people -- the majority of them -- to agree to that kind of outcome."