President Barack Obama held a press conference on June 13, 2014, to provide an update on the situation in Iraq regarding the actions of the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and U.S. security assistance to the Iraq military.
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. I wanted to take some time to give you a quick update about the situation in Iraq.
Yesterday, I convened a meeting with my National Security Council to discuss the situation there, and this morning I received an update from my team. Over the last several days, we've seen significant gains made by ISIL, a terrorist organization that operates in both Iraq and in Syria. In the face of a terrorist offensive, Iraqi security forces have proven unable to defend a number of cities, which has allowed the terrorists to overrun a part of Iraq's territory. And this poses a danger to Iraq and its people. And given the nature of these terrorists, it could pose a threat eventually to American interests as well.
Now, this threat is not brand new. Over the last year, we've been steadily ramping up our security assistance to the Iraqi government with increased training, equipping and intelligence. Now, Iraq needs additional support to break the momentum of extremist groups and bolster the capabilities of Iraqi security forces. We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces, and I'll be reviewing those options in the days ahead.
I do want to be clear though, this is not solely or even primarily a military challenge. Over the past decade, American troops have made extraordinary sacrifices to give Iraqis an opportunity to claim their own future. Unfortunately, Iraq's leaders have been unable to overcome too often the mistrust and sectarian differences that have long been simmering there, and that's created vulnerabilities within the Iraqi government as well as their security forces.
So any action that we may take to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces has to be joined by a serious and sincere effort by Iraq's leaders to set aside sectarian differences, to promote stability, and account for the legitimate interests of all of Iraq's communities, and to continue to build the capacity of an effective security force. We can't do it for them. And in the absence of this type of political effort, short-term military action, including any assistance we might provide, won't succeed.
So this should be a wake-up call. Iraq's leaders have to demonstrate a willingness to make hard decisions and compromises on behalf of the Iraqi people in order to bring the country together. In that effort, they will have the support of the United States and our friends and our allies.
Now, Iraq's neighbors also have some responsibilities to support this process. Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq, and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos. So the United States will do our part, but understand that ultimately it's up to the Iraqis, as a sovereign nation, to solve their problems.
Indeed, across the region we have redoubled our efforts to help build more capable counterterrorism forces so that groups like ISIL can't establish a safe haven. And we'll continue that effort through our support of the moderate opposition in Syria, our support for Iraq and its security forces, and our partnership with other countries across the region.
We're also going to pursue intensive diplomacy throughout this period both inside of Iraq and across the region, because there's never going to be stability in Iraq or the broader region unless there are political outcomes that allow people to resolve their differences peacefully without resorting to war or relying on the United States military.
We'll be monitoring the situation in Iraq very carefully over the next several days. Our top priority will remain being vigilant against any threats to our personnel serving overseas. We will consult closely with Congress as we make determinations about appropriate action, and we'll continue to keep the American people fully informed as we make decisions about the way forward.