Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 9/18/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:33 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Well, hello, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here this morning -- still morning. I appreciate, as ever, you coming to the briefing. I don't have any announcements, so we'll go straight to questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. Has the President seen the video that's caused a lot of people to be talking this morning -- the 47 percent video? And if so, what's his reaction to it?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say this. The campaign has put out a statement and I'm sure others from the campaign will be asked about and will address it. So I'll limit what I say in response to questions about it. What I'll say is this: When you're President of the United States you are President of all the people, not just the people who voted for you. You've heard the President say so many times because he deeply believes it that we're in this together, all of us. From the time he began his career in public service, from the time that those of us in this room first heard of him in 2004, his message has been about the fact that what unites us as Americans is far greater than the things that divide us. And that's fundamental to who this President is, and it's fundamental to what guides him as he makes decisions.
When he made the decision against the advice of many to take action to save the auto industry, the President did not ask whether the 1.1 million Americans whose jobs would be saved had voted for him or against him. When he pressed for 18 small business tax cuts he didn’t ask if small businessmen and women were Democrat or Republican. When he fought to pass health care reform he didn’t wonder whether the 129 million Americans with preexisting conditions who would be helped by this reform, who would be given security through the reform, were likely to be with him or against him in 2012. That's just not how he thinks.
And I think the way you have to approach the job is with a keen understanding that you're out there fighting for every American. And this President's agenda has always been about building the middle class, strengthening the middle class, bringing people up into the middle class. And that's what it will be going forward.
Q Has the President actually watched the video?
MR. CARNEY: I don't -- haven’t asked him.
Q One other follow on this. One of the comments from Governor Romney in the fundraiser was that 47 percent who support President Obama believe they are victims. Putting aside just the campaign politics if you need to, does the White House think that that kind of statement has policy implications that would affect how Governor Romney would run the country?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, setting aside what Governor Romney thinks, I can tell you that the President certainly doesn’t think that men and women on Social Security are irresponsible or victims; that students are irresponsible or victims. He certainly doesn’t think that middle-class families are paying too little in taxes.
But again, the broader point that you always hear him make is that we need to come together as a country. We need to work together for what's best for the country and best for especially the middle class, which is the backbone of this nation.
Q Jay, can you tell us a little bit more about how the President himself reacted to the video, whether or not he's seen it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't know if he's seen it and I don't have any discussions with him about it to read out to you.
Q Can you tell us if he talked about it with senior staff this morning or --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to read out any internal conversations about that or other issues.
Q Let me switch to a policy question then. There's some volatility in the oil markets yesterday and today. Some of that some people are saying was due to speculation about an imminent SPR move. Number one, can you give us any update on your SPR thinking? And number two, can you tell us if there was any sort of intel that showed -- may have shown that yesterday's drop was a technical glitch?
MR. CARNEY: Let me refer questions about the market yesterday to the CFTC. That's the appropriate agency to refer those questions to.
Our position on the SPR is what it has been, which is that we monitor the situation regularly and constantly together with our international partners and we continue to say that all options remain on the table. But I don't have any announcements to make today.
Q Do you have -- has the President, has the White House been watching the oil markets in general? Even if you don't want to speak specifically to yesterday's move, any update in your thinking about just developments there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think you saw in May at the G8, and, more recently, finance ministers for the G7, this is something that is regularly monitored and discussed by the United States with its international partners.
I can say that in terms of more recent developments, the administration welcomes the Saudi Arabian oil minister's recent remarks and share his concern about rising oil prices in the international oil market. We also welcome Saudi Arabia's continued commitment to take all necessary steps to ensure the market is well supplied and to help moderate prices.
As we have also said for some time, the administration continues to take steps to expand domestic oil and gas production, which has increased each year the President has been in office. In fact, as you know, U.S. oil production is currently at an 8-year high and domestic natural gas production is at an all-time high.
Q But gas prices are going up in the U.S. right now. Is that something you're concerned about or looking at any additional measures to address?
MR. CARNEY: With regards to the international oil market and oil prices, we monitor them constantly with our international partners. It's something that we keep very close track of. And we retain the right to keep all options for dealing with those issues on the table, and that includes SPR. But I have no announcements of any action that may or may not be taken.
Q The President also had his fair share of private moments that have later been made public. During the 2008 election, he said that rural voters "get bitter" and they cling to their guns or religion. Like Mr. Romney, this was also said privately to donors and then later made public after the fact. Rural voters certainly aren't 47 percent of the electorate, but they are a large demographic. How is Mr. Romney's comments any different from what the President said?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that happened four years ago and was discussed in abundance at the time. What the President said four years ago, what he said eight years ago, what he says today and what he said ever since he took office here is that he's fighting for every American, that he firmly believes that as a nation we're all in this together, that what unites us is far stronger and greater than what divides us, that we're not red America and blue America, we're the United States of America.
And I think that that's a fundamental fact about Barack Obama. And it's been the guiding philosophy and principle behind the policy decisions he's made.
I think, again, citing some of the examples from what he's done in office, when he took action to ensure that our financial markets, our financial sector did not collapse, he didn't check to see whether the people who would most directly benefit from that were supporters or not. He took a lot of grief for that, but he did it because he thought it was right for the American economy and right for all Americans that we do not experience the collapse of an important sector of our economy.
The same thing with the auto industry -- he didn't ask if autoworkers were supporters, he didn't ask if auto executives were supporters. He did what he believed was right for the country. And that's been his guiding principle.
And I think he talked about this in Charlotte, that the people who inspire him, the people who give him hope, he doesn't know whether they're voting for him. The soldier he first met at Walter Reed who lost a leg, he doesn't know; the gentleman who won the lottery and kept working and bought flags for his town.
This is the sort of essence of the American story that inspires him every day. And it does not matter to him whether they're Republican or Democrat or independent, because we're all in this together.
Q The campaign said, in their response to Mitt Romney's statements, that it's hard to serve as President for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation. And you've said repeatedly now that the President obviously does represent all Americans. Why is that any different from Mitt Romney when he makes a comment like this?
MR. CARNEY: What's the question again?
Q The question being that if the President can make a comment like he did in 2008, where he sort of offended a large -- I don't want to say "offended," but where he made a remark in direct relation to a large portion of the electorate, and Mitt Romney makes a similar remarks also offending or --
MR. CARNEY: Then-Senator Obama never said that he did not worry about or would not worry about 47 percent of the population.
A lot of folks, when we travel around the country ask why the President is campaigning on a bus in towns and communities and counties that trend red or Republican. Why is he there if he's not likely to win the count? Because he's there to take his message about his economic vision and his agenda for the country to everybody, because he firmly believes that building this country up helps everybody. You've heard him talk about it, that if we do the right things for our economic policy, if we take a balanced approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges, if we reduce spending, reform our entitlements, ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more, that everybody will benefit, including millionaires and billionaires. That's the essence of his governing philosophy and it's at the core of who he is.
Q Can I ask one more question, just on a different topic? It seems that the U.S. and Libya have sort of different accounts of the attack in Benghazi last week. There are reports that Libyan officials warned the U.S. of the growing extremist threat prior to the attacks, that they admitted they could not control some of these militias. That seems to run counter to what administration officials have been saying, that this was just a spontaneous reaction to this anti-Islam film. Can you kind of reconcile this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that we have provided information about what we believe was the precipitating cause of the protest and the violence, based on the information that we have had available. There is an ongoing investigation. The FBI is investigating. And that investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead.
What we do know about Libya is that it's a country that emerged from war and revolution, and you have a new government trying to assert its authority as that country makes a transition to democracy and broader representation for all Libyans and broader rights for all Libyans. And in that environment there are certainly, in this postwar, post-revolution environment, there are vast numbers of weapons and certainly a number of violent groups in the country.
What is important to note, however, is that the Libyan people do not understand -- or rather they do understand that the United States was with them in their efforts to achieve their aspirations, to rid them of the Qaddafi regime and the tyranny that Qaddafi inflicted upon them. But it is still a very volatile place, there's no question about it.
Q Jay, back to Mary's question for one moment -- did the President regret making those comments about guns and religion? Did he learn something from the fallout?
MR. CARNEY: Nancy, again, these are comments that happened four years ago. There has been plenty of ink spilled and plenty of things said about them four years ago. I know that fundamentally what the President was saying four years ago, what he was saying in 2004, and what he's saying today is entirely consistent, which is that as a country we are united by far stronger stuff than the things that divide us, that he is out there fighting for every American, regardless of whether or not they support him politically or support the Democratic Party.
It is really the essence of who he is as a public official, that that's his guiding principle. And it's reflected by everything I've just talked about. The policies that he's pursued have sometimes earned him criticism from left or right or center, precisely because he's not evaluating when he makes those decisions whether the people who are helped by them are supporters, or people who voted against him or will vote against him. He is guided by what he thinks is best for the country.
And he firmly believes that outside of the rancor in Washington, while people have very firmly held positions and opinions and it is a country that tends to be relatively divided between the two parties when we have national elections, that on the stuff that matters to Americans' day-to-day lives, we're a lot more united than we sometimes perceive here in Washington, and that the President believes that in his bones and it's what guides him.
Q I want to ask you about something else that Governor Romney said and get your take from a policy perspective. On the Middle East peace process, he said the "Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish." Does the President share this view about the Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes and is committed to working with -- the President believes and is committed to the principle that a two-state solution is the right solution for Middle East peace. That is a basic tenet that has been pursued by Democratic and Republican administrations prior to President Obama. And his two immediate predecessors worked on this issue under the firm belief that a two-state solution was the right solution, and it’s what has guided this President. So I think his view is a little different from what was expressed.
Q Governor Romney said that this is likely to remain an “unsolved problem.” Given recent history in the Middle East, is he wrong about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that it’s a difficult problem I think we can all agree on. That it is a challenge that previous Presidents of both parties have embraced because they believe it’s right for the country, they believe it’s right for American interests, for the interests of Israelis, the interests of Palestinians, is also true. And it is simply the wrong approach to say we can't do anything about it, so we’ll just kick it down the field. That's not leadership. That's the opposite of leadership.
And this President has been working on this issue since the day he took office. It is a tough issue, but ultimately peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, a negotiated peace that provides security for Israel and a state for the Palestinians, is in the interest of the Israelis and the Palestinians, and is in the interest of the United States of America, and this President will continue to pursue it.
Q Jay, I want to go back to Libya. On September 10th, you put out a press release saying that the President had a meeting with senior officials to figure out the security posture around the 9/11 anniversary. And in that press release you said that “steps were taken to protect U.S. persons and facilities abroad. The President reiterated that departments and agencies must do everything possible to protect the American people both at home and abroad.” So in retrospect, given the tragedy, did the administration drop the ball on what you promised on September 10th that you had improved security at these installations?
MR. CARNEY: They were numerous steps taken, as there have been every year on the anniversary of 9/11, and as there have been at different times on the calendar when it is judged by the experts that taking additional steps, security steps, is the right thing to do. As for specific measures taken at specific facilities, diplomatic facilities, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Separate from the FBI investigation you mentioned to Mary a few moments ago, is there any sort of inquiry going on here at the White House among the President’s national security team to get to the bottom of -- you told the American people on September 10th, "We’ve taken steps to protect Americans here at home and abroad." Obviously, with four Americans tragically being killed, the steps were not good enough. So is there an inquiry going on here to figure out what went wrong?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that you’re conveniently conflating two things, which is the anniversary of 9/11 and the incidents that took place, which are under investigation in terms of what --
Q Which happened on the anniversary.
MR. CARNEY: -- which are under investigation, and the cause and motivation behind them will be decided by that investigation.
It is certainly -- I would point you to what Ambassador Rice said and others have said about what we know thus far about the video and its influence on the protests that occurred in Cairo, in Benghazi and elsewhere. And all I can tell you is that steps are taken, both seen and unseen, in advance of and in preparation for times like the anniversary of 9/11 when it is judged that there might be greater threats. And those steps are based on the threat assessments that we have at the time. But I would refer you in terms of specific security for specific facilities to the State Department.
Q But you’re not trying to say there was enough security in Benghazi are you?
MR. CARNEY: I am simply saying that this is a matter under investigation. It is an absolute tragedy that we lost four Americans in Benghazi, including our ambassador, including security personnel. And there’s an active investigation underway into what happened and why, and what the motivations were, and driven by the absolute commitment that this President made to finding who was responsible and holding them accountable and bringing them to justice. And I think that’s very important.
Q I think Mary asked as well whether or not there was sort of any heads-up for the administration that there was violence coming in Libya. Reuters reported that the U.S. embassy in Cairo got a heads-up that there was a cable that went around suggesting that violence was increasing around the U.S. embassy there. There were other reports suggesting that the U.S. installation in Benghazi in Libya had up to three days’ notice that violence was increasing. I didn’t hear an answer to that, so I’m trying to understand -- to that question. Did the administration have any sort of heads-up that violence was increasing specifically in Libya before the attack?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of any, Ed. This is a matter that’s under investigation in terms of what precipitated the attacks, what the motivations of the attackers were, what role the video played in that. What we have seen is broad unrest across the region and elsewhere in response to this video, which we have made clear we view as reprehensible and disgusting, and a video that is in no way connected to the United States government and does not reflect the values that we hold as a people.
Q Do you think the video led protesters to get rocket-propelled grenades --
MR. CARNEY: What I know, Ed, and I know you know is that Libya, as I just said, is a very volatile place that has just gone through a revolution and a war, and where there is an abundance of weapons, including heaving weapons. And there are certainly groups that carry those weapons and look to take advantage of circumstances, as there are around the region and the world.
We have seen circumstances in the past, in other parts of the region, where incidents that inflame opinion are taken advantage of and exploited by groups that have an interest in creating chaos and destabilizing either a local government or attacking the West or the United States. And that’s something we’ve seen certainly for the past number of years.
Q Jay, thanks. The U.S. is suspending training for new Afghan recruits. How big of a setback will this be for the withdrawal timeline?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the military continues to work to understand why there has been a spike in the kinds of attacks, the so-called green-on-blue attacks, in Afghanistan. And we’re working with Afghanistan to take measures to better protect our troops. In that vein, General Allen has directed all of his operational commanders to review their force protection and tactical activities in light of the current circumstances.
As a result of that directive, ISAF directed a change in the level at which advising and partnering takes place; most partnering and advising will now be at the battalion level and above. This does not mean that there will be no partnering below that level. The need for that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
More broadly, the President’s policy of gradually turning over security lead to Afghan forces continues, and that is part of a broader strategy that has to -- that will result in more American troops coming home and Afghans taking more and greater responsibility for the security of their nation, and that process continues.
Q But, Jay, handover of power is such a key part of the withdrawal process, so how can this not impact the overall timeline?
MR. CARNEY: It doesn’t affect the timeline. I think the issue here is partnering with our Afghan security forces. That's what General Allen was addressing and ISAF was addressing. And part of this process obviously is training up Afghan security forces so that they are in a position to capably take over responsibility for their own security. That partnering continues with the changes in directives that I just talked about. But the transition that the President has laid out will absolutely continue.
Q And it's been described as a temporary suspension. Can you characterize what temporary means?
MR. CARNEY: I think that's obviously something that's based on the judgments made by commanders in the field as well as officials at the Pentagon.
Q And you point out you're suspending training of the new recruits, but the Afghan army, the national police trained by NATO are not going to be affected by this suspension. So how can you have confidence that they won't --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that's a question best addressed to ISAF as well as to the Pentagon. Our commanders are keenly focused on security for our troops and are taking steps that they believe are necessary to enhance that security and to reduce the incidents of these so-called green-on-blue attacks. For their specific views on how these measures will achieve that I would refer you to them.
Q And I just have one more, Jay. The Washington Post is reporting that due to the protests in Cairo and the Middle East, negotiations have stalled in terms of talking about increased aid to Egypt. Can you confirm this?
MR. CARNEY: The reports that we have cut off aid, which is the report that I saw, to Egypt are completely incorrect. We're continuing to work with the Hill on ways to support a stable, democratic transition in Egypt that is important for defeating extremism of the very kind that we just recently saw. We provide assistance to Egypt because it's in our interest to help them advance regional security and uphold their treaty with Israel and transition to democracy. And that process, as I said, continues, and we're working with the Hill to do that.
Q Jay, I know you can't say whether the President watched the video, but do you know if he's aware of Governor Romney's remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I think I've said frequently that the President keeps abreast of the news. I expect that he is aware of that news.
Q "Expect" -- pretty strong, right? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I'm sure he's aware of what -- (laughter) -- of news that reaches a level that it's the first thing I'm asked about at the briefing. (Laughter.)
Q Back to Afghanistan. General Dempsey said yesterday that the green-on-blue attacks pose a very serious threat to the campaign in Afghanistan. Has that been communicated to the President and does he agree with that assessment?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would have to look at the entirety of General Dempsey's comments. There's no question that the steps that are being taken by our commanders, by General Allen, by ISAF, in reaction to these reflect serious concern about the increase in these attacks. And it is their commitment and the President's commitment that we take the steps necessary to enhance security for our forces in Afghanistan even as we continue with the mission, which is a very important mission of partnering with and training Afghan security forces so that they can gradually, as they are now, take security responsibility for their own country. And as they do that American forces will continue to come home.
Q If the timeline is more affected by (inaudible) the training, does that mean that the quality of the forces that are left behind with the Afghans will be less? And does that mean that the state of the country that NATO is going to leave behind is going to be a worse state than had hoped?
MR. CARNEY: I think it's important to point you to a couple of things. One, what I think Kristen mentioned, this is viewed as a temporary measure, a temporary change in directive, and it is also important to note that partnering will continue at the battalion level and up and at lower levels as judged on a case-by-case basis.
So the partnering relationship continues. It is important to the process of transitioning security lead over to the Afghans so that our men and women can come home. And that process continues.
Q Jay, is there a policy about donors bringing recording devices into presidential events that are closed to the press?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the campaign.
Q Well, you've been to many of them where there are closed press events where the President takes questions from donors and the like. Would you say he's more forthcoming when there's no press there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I'd say at these events the President speaks and the press pool is there when he addresses --
Q Not for the Q&A part.
MR. CARNEY: No, I agree with that, and I would say that that President's message is consistent whether he's talking to donors or to grassroots supporters or to people at an official event on policy matter. And I think it's fair to say that when the President speaks to wealthier Americans who are supporters, he doesn’t change the fact that he believes we need to take a balanced approach to our fiscal challenges, and that includes asking millionaires and billionaires -- including millionaires and billionaires who might be in the room -- to pay a little extra. And his supporters who fall into that category are aware of that and they've made the decision that for the good of the country that policy is the right policy moving forward.
So the President's message is clear and he takes it to all Americans. And it goes to what I was talking about earlier, that he really doesn’t believe that dividing us into categories and groups is the right way to move forward as a nation. And he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what policies he's pursuing -- about the policies he's pursuing and whether or not they benefit specific individuals who may or may not, or groups of individuals who may or may not have supported him in 2008 or will support him in 2012.
He thinks that the best politics is the right policy, and the best policy are the policies that move the country forward, that makes sure that more Americans are getting educated, that more middle-class Americans have work, that they have security -- health care security and retirement security -- and that we're taking steps to develop alternative energy so that we can enhance our energy independence, and that we're investing in research and development and infrastructure so that our country has the economic foundation it needs to move forward so that everybody benefits, everybody from the factory floor to --
Q So if there's no change in tone or substance, why are they closed to the press?
MR. CARNEY: We have taken steps to have the press participate in these events. I spent a lot of time on driveways, in vans as a reporter for this President's predecessors, covering this President's predecessors, when the press pool was not allowed in. And as you --
Q You didn’t like it, I'll bet.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it depended on whether or not there were beverages served. (Laughter.)
Q Is now the time to bring up your April 14 column from 2008 when you said the President's words were poorly chosen on the guns and bitter?
MR. CARNEY: I don't remember that column. (Laughter.) I honestly don't.
Q I can read the whole thing for you if you want.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President, then candidate, addressed this at the time -- this was four years ago -- and I think the broader point is that his message there and everywhere in 2008, and going back to 2004, and every day since, has been consistent, which is that we're in this together, all of us, and that his interest is in moving the entire country forward in ways that benefit senior citizens on Social Security, students who are getting student loans, combat veterans -- I mean, combat troops as well as veterans -- everybody in this country is I think working towards the same goal, which is advance moving the country forward.
And the vast majority of people, this President believes, are hardworking, responsible, committed to their families and committed to their country. And that's the animating principle behind his politics and his policies.
Q Will the President mention it in his fundraisers tonight, the Romney remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any previews for you on the President's remarks.
Q I wanted to go back to the conflict between -- the conflicting reports I guess between the administration and Libyan officials over what happened. On Friday, you seemed to cite that the videos were definitely part of it, but I get the sense that you're backing away from that a little bit today. Is there something that you've learned since?
MR. CARNEY: No, no. I think what I am making clear and what Ambassador Rice made clear on Sunday is that reaction to the video was the precipitating factor in protests in violence across the region. And what I'm also saying is that we have -- we made that assessment based on the evidence that we have, and that includes all the evidence that we have at this time.
I am not, unlike some others, going to prejudge the outcome of an investigation and categorically assert one way or the other what the motivations are or what happened exactly until that investigation is complete. And there are a lot suppositions based on the number of weapons and other things about what really happened in Benghazi and I'd rather wait, and the President would rather wait, for that investigation to be completed.
Q So you're not ruling out that --
MR. CARNEY: Of course not. I'm not ruling out -- if more information comes to light, that will obviously be a part of the investigation and we'll make it available when appropriate. But at this time, as Ambassador Rice said and as I said, our understanding and our belief based on the information we have is it was the video that caused the unrest in Cairo, and the video and the unrest in Cairo that helped -- that precipitated some of the unrest in Benghazi and elsewhere. What other factors were involved is a matter of investigation.
Q Can you talk a little bit about is this going to prompt any --
MR. CARNEY: I'd refer you to the FBI for that. I don't keep timelines, FBI timelines at the ready.
Q You mentioned aid with Egypt and working with the Hill. Is this going to prompt any revisions or any review, I guess, of the President's policies toward the Arab Spring?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President’s policy towards the Arab Spring is that we support the democratic aspirations of the people of the region. And the upheavals that you’ve seen in the region over the past several years have been in reaction to oppressive governments that do not respect the basic rights of their citizens. In cases like in Tunisia and Libya and elsewhere, democratic transitions are underway. They are in early stages, and there is a lot of volatility in these countries -- Egypt as well, of course.
And our policy is geared towards supporting that transition in a way that enhances the prospects of democracy in the region and enhances the prospects that the countries in the region will continue to be -- either will continue to be or will grow to be supportive of the United States and our interests in the region and around the world. And that policy hasn’t changed.
Q Jay, there’s going to be a lot of attention on the Supreme Court next week because they'll consider taking up several pending marriage cases related to both the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. The Justice Department has already made its views known on the DOMA cases, but given the President’s previously supported -- previously stated opposition to Prop 8 and support for marriage equality, does the administration want the Supreme Court to take up the Prop 8 case, making some national ruling on same-sex marriage? Or as claimants in the case have requested, would you prefer that the Court allow the lower court ruling to stand and striking down the marriage ban just in California?
MR. CARNEY: That’s quite a question, and I will ask you to direct it to the Justice Department. I’m not going to make policy towards Supreme Court cases from here.
Q Generally speaking, though, I mean, would this President welcome the Supreme Court taking up a case that will enable it making a court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage across the country?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything to say on that at this time.
Q Back to Libya. Ambassador Rice says on Sunday that it was spontaneous, and then we hear from the State Department that there’s not enough information to make the determination. But you’re saying that there is no shift, right?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m saying that based on information that we -- our initial information, and that includes all information -- we saw no evidence to back up claims by others that this was a preplanned or premeditated attack; that we saw evidence that it was sparked by the reaction to this video. And that is what we know thus far based on the evidence, concrete evidence -- not supposition -- concrete evidence that we have thus far. But there is a lot that is under investigation here, and as more facts come to light, if they change that assessment, we’ll make that clear. But there’s an active investigation for a reason -- so that we actually get the facts and don’t base our policy prescriptions on suppositions about what we think we know happened as opposed to what actually happened.
Q Would the administration still say that it was spontaneous?
MR. CARNEY: Based on the information that we have now, it was -- there was a reaction to the video -- there was protests in Cairo, then followed by protests elsewhere, including Benghazi, and that that was what led to the original unrest. The other factors here -- all factors -- but the other factors here, including participants in the unrest, participants in the violence, are under investigation. And the goal of that investigation is both to find out what happened and why, but also to track down and bring to justice those who killed four Americans. And we’re working with our Libyan counterparts to ensure that that happens, as the President committed it would.
Q Tomorrow, administration officials will be on the Hill briefing members. Can you tell us anything about that?
MR. CARNEY: On what subject? I think members of the administration brief members regularly on different --
Q On Libya?
MR. CARNEY: I assume that they’ll be briefing them on all the information we have up to the moment before they brief. And that’s what I’m reflecting at this time from here.
Q Thank you, Jay. As far as next week, how much is the President realistically going to be able to accomplish at the U.N. General Assembly with partners and allies when he’s only going to be there for such a short time, and he’s spending a lot of that on two big speeches?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is attending UNGA, as Presidents before him have during their reelection years, and he intends it to be a productive time spent at the U.N. General Assembly, as it was last year, as it was the year before and the year prior to that. I don’t have anything specific in terms of what he’s going to say at UNGA or what issues he’s going to press, but you can be sure that he expects it to be a productive visit.
Q What’s keeping him from extending the stay a little longer, like you would in other years, in order to have bilaterals and things like that?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’re there for two days, which is the number of days we were there last year. We were there for an overnight last year.
Q Aung San Suu Kyi is in town for a few days. I was wondering if the President will be meeting with her while she’s here.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling announcements for the President at this time. If there’s a change in that I’ll bring it to your attention.
Mark. Donovan, after Mark.
Q A question on China.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Yesterday, in addition to the trade news, Leon Panetta was in Japan. The Japanese and the U.S. are cooperating on building this missile defense system, which prompted a lot of anxiety in China among analysts and some officials there who said they viewed it as being targeted or aimed at them. Given that you’ve had two major trade cases in the last few months and this, is there a concern that the message, the overall message the United States is giving to China is perhaps too tough?
And given that in the past when China has become a big issue in campaigns -- in ’92 and 1980 -- it’s often led to very difficult period for whoever wins the election in actually dealing with China. Is the President at all concerned that that precedent is being repeated now?*
MR. CARNEY: The President’s policy, with regards to China -- his policies, because this is a broad and complex relationship -- are driven by what he believes are in the interests of the American people and the American economy as well as America’s national security. And that is why we have such a multifaceted, complex relationship with China that includes cooperation in a wide variety of areas, because cooperation is beneficial both to the United States and to China.
It is why when we see instances or the USTR sees instances of unfair trade practices that are harmful to American workers and American businesses, this administration will act as it has to take cases before the WTO at twice the pace of the previous administration.
When the President and senior members of his administration sit with their Chinese counterparts, they discuss all of these issues -- areas of disagreement as well as areas of agreement where they can work forward together. And I have been in the room when the President has been with President Hu, and can testify to that fact that it is a very frank exchange about a variety of issues. And we have a broad and important relationship with the Chinese that we expect will continue with this President after he’s reelected, if in fact he is.
Q On the missile defense system, specifically, though -- what argument, what case would you make to Chinese analysts that are worried that somehow that represents (inaudible) China?
MR. CARNEY: I will have to take that question. I haven’t looked into it to any degree so I’ll have to take that and get back to you.
Donovan, I owe you.
Q Thanks. A brief follow on Libya. There’s still a little bit of confusion. You guys have said that you’re working closely with the Libyan government in the investigation and you’re saying the information available to you guys so far has indicated that it’s the film that prompted the violence. And is the information different that you guys have than the Libyan government has? Are you suggesting that the Libyan government is jumping to conclusions?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not making a judgment on statements by others. I’m simply saying that, based on the information -- what we initially had available and have available -- we do not have any indication at this point of premeditation or preplanned attacks. But it is under investigation and I don’t -- and that investigation will follow the facts wherever they go and wherever they lead.
So, again, I’m not -- we are working with the Libyans -- with the Libyan government in our pursuit of those who killed four Americans and our commitment to bringing them to justice, as well as to the broader -- within the broader investigation. But I’m not casting judgment on others’ assertions. I’m simply saying what we know and what we are working to find out.
Q So have you guys ruled out premeditation or --
MR. CARNEY: No. No, I’m simply saying based on what we knew at the time, knew initially, what we know now, the facts that we have, the video was a precipitating cause to the unrest in the region and specifically in Libya. Other factors involved in the violence that ensued -- other factors that are involved in that are under investigation and, again, the facts will be followed wherever they lead. The point is that we’re not making declarations ahead of the facts here. We’re just telling you what we know based on the information we have at the time.
Q Just one more bit on the Romney video. The other remark he made was that he might have a better chance in the election if his parents were Mexican-born. I’m wondering if the President has seen that and if you had any reaction.
MR. CARNEY: Did I have any reaction?
Q Well --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I think I’ll steer away from that, but thanks for the opportunity.
Q Well, has the President seen that, do you know?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven’t had a discussion with him about the video so -- but I can boldly say that I am confident that he’s aware of it.
Q Thank you, Jay. On North Korea, I hear that President Obama has extended sanctions against North Korea for one more year. Is it related with the terrorist standards of the North Korean regime?
MR. CARNEY: Our position with regards to North Korea is unchanged. And we continue to work with our international partners to pressure North Korea to get right with the international community, to abide by its obligations and, in doing so, to end its isolation, its profound isolation from the world. But I don’t have anything specific on that issue today.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I'm sorry -- go ahead.
Q Back to Burma for a moment. Aung San Suu Kyi is in town. How does the administration assess the progress that’s being made in Burma toward more openness, more reforms? And what’s the next step for the U.S. if that process continues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve said all along that progress that is made towards openness and democracy and reform will be met with positive steps by this administration, this government in its dealings with Burma. And I think that is a step-by-step process. I don’t have next steps to announce before they happen, but we’re closely monitoring that progress and taking steps accordingly, as I think Secretary Clinton has been pretty explicit about in her recent comments.
Thanks very much.
12:22 P.M. EDT
March 12, 2014
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