Obama on ISIS: ‘We Don’t Yet Have A Complete Strategy’

The president said in a press conference from the G-7 meeting Monday that the Pentagon is still waiting on “commitments” from the Iraqi government.

President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference at Elmau Castle near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, on June 8, 2015 at the end of a G7 summit. 
National Journal
Nora Kelly and Rebecca Nelson
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Nora Kelly and Rebecca Nelson
June 8, 2015, 6:23 a.m.

In a press conference Monday, President Obama said that the Pentagon hasn’t presented him with a “finalized plan” on combating the Islamic State, specifically with the help of Iraqi forces.

“We don’t yet have a complete strategy,” Obama said, speaking at a press conference from the international G-7 summit in Kruen, Germany, “because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place. And so the details of that are not yet worked out.”

The two-day summit, convened on Sunday, is named for its participating Group of Seven nations—the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Canada. For the second year in a row, the meeting is missing a formerly key player: Russia, which was suspended from the group after the start of the conflict in Ukraine. But that nation wasn’t far from leaders’ minds: Much of Sunday’s talks focused on what Obama characterized over the weekend as “standing up to Russian aggression.”

The president called out Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine—which he said violate “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”—and said sanctions imposed on Russia by the international community have seriously damaged its economy.

“Russia’s actions in Ukraine are hurting Russia and the Russian people,” he said.

In a formal declaration released by the White House on Monday morning, the G-7 encouraged “all sides” in the Russia-Ukraine conflict to abide by the Minsk agreements, which call for the removal of heavy weaponry from the front lines and a cease-fire. The nations said sanctions on Russia would remain until Russia recognizes Ukraine’s sovereignty and abides by the Minsk agreements.

Obama said Monday that the G-7 partners are pursuing a “diplomatic solution” for the Ukraine conflict, but “the G-7 is making it clear, if necessary, we stand ready to impose additional significant sanctions against Russia.”

The G-7 also expressed “support” for the U.S. and E.U. nations’ ongoing negotiations with Iran to craft a nuclear deal, which has a June 30 deadline and which the G-7 hopes will ensure “the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Obama also addressed the attack on a U.S. personnel file that looks to have originated from China. Pushing Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation, he partially blamed the breach on old systems, acknowledging that “both state and nonstate actors are sending everything they’ve got at trying to breach these systems.”

“This problem is not going to go away,” he said. “It is going to accelerate, and that means that we have to be as nimble, as aggressive, and as well resourced as those trying to break into the system.”

Monday’s talks, near the German-Austrian border in the town of Kruen, also focused on combating terrorism around the world. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari are attending the conclave to discuss the threat of groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram. Obama met with al-Abadi earlier Monday and called him a “reliable partner.”

Obama said the United States is examining a “range of plans” for how Iraqi forces might better combat the “nimble,” “aggressive,” and “opportunistic” Islamic State fighters. Two key elements to improving their combat readiness include training Iraqi soldiers faster and finding more recruits.

“Where we’ve trained Iraqi forces directly and equipped them and we have a train-and-assist posture, they operate effectively,” Obama said. “Where we haven’t—morale, lack of equipment, etc.—may undermine the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.”

On the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell, Obama reiterated that “there is no reason why the existing exchanges should be overturned through a court case.”

“This should be an easy case,” he said. “Frankly, it probably shouldn’t have even been taken up.”

Obama added: “What’s more, the thing is working. I mean, part of what’s bizarre about this whole thing is we haven’t had a lot of conversation about the horrors of Obamacare, because none of them have come to pass.”

The nations’ leaders also addressed climate change. In a communiqué announced Monday, they pledged to keep global temperatures below a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—which scientists say is a critical benchmark for curbing the effects of global warming—and called for the countries to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century.

“We continue to make progress toward a strong global climate agreement this year in Paris,” Obama said in the press conference, referring to United Nations-led climate talks later this year. “All the G-7 countries have now put forward our post-2020 targets for reducing carbon emissions, and we’ll continue to urge other significant emitters to do so as well.”

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