Fwd: Travel Pool Report #3 - POTUS questions

Begin forwarded message:

From: Michael Shear >
Date: April 21, 2016 at 5:07:38 PM GMT+3
To: "Gabriel, Brian A. Jr. EOP/WHO" >
Subject: Travel Pool Report #3 - POTUS questions

POTUS took three questions after his statement at the conclusion of the GCC summit. With apologies for typos, heres a very quick summary. Please make sure you check quotes against transcript

Asked about strains in the relationship with the GCC allies, Obama said "a lot of the strain was always overblown." He said the greatest area of "tactical" differences centered on how to deal Iran.

POTUS said: "What I've said is we have to have a "dual track" that includes a strong defense against Iran and a "dialogue" that reaches out to "the more reasonable forces in Iran so we don't see an escalation in proxy fights across the region." He said that the high level of mistrust, centered on past Iranian aggression, made starting such a dialogue hard.
Some of the GCC allies warned  against being "naive" regarding Iran. But Obama pointed to the nuclear deal with Iran as proof that dialogue could work.

He said he reminded  the GCC allies that the US and Soviets talked throughout the Cold War.

POTUS said that the US and GCC allies had  "extensively cooperated on counter terrorism."

He also cited progress since last years summit. "We have a new government in Libya that is very nascent... " he said and credited effective diplomatic pressure from the US and GCC allies   for making possible  the cease fire in Yemen and the Iran nuclear deal.
"At any point in time there are going to be differences in tactics," he said of the US GCC relationship and said that the differences focused largely on Iran.

Q: About PM Abadi in Iraq and whether he has a plan B in Syria

A: Of Abadi's government, POTUS said: "I'm concerned. I think Prime Minister Abadi has been a good partner for us."

But he added that the challenges for Abadi's government dont fall along traditional sectarian lines. "There's significant dissension and disputes even among the Shia power blocks."

He said it is "up to the Iraqis to make these decisions." But he said that "We do think, however that it is vital for the health and stability of Iraq that the cabinet and the makeup of the government is finalized and stabilized."

He said that "we have been urging them to get that done."

On Syria, he said that if the cessation of hostilities collapses, as appears possible, "None of the options are good. It has been my view consistently that we have to get a political solution inside of syria, and that all of the external actors involved had to be committed to that."

He said that "the problem with any Plan B that does not involve a political settlement is that it means more fighting, potentially for years. Whoever comes out on top will be standing on top of a country that's been devastated."

He repeated what he has said before about the reasons for wanting Assad to go not just because he killed his people, but because "it's hard to conceive of him being at the head of a government that would end the fighting" by being legitimate.

Michael D. Shear
White House Correspondent
The New York Times

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