Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 09/24/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:44 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good Monday morning, everyone. Thanks for being here. I have no announcements at the top of this briefing, so I will go straight to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President will be heading up to New York for the U.N. General Assembly meetings. How does he intend to frame the U.S. response to some of the hot spots in the world right now, whether it be Syria, the unrest in the Middle East, the issue with the potential concern of Israel confronting Iran? What does he hope to accomplish in his speech?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question. The United Nations General Assembly always provides an opportunity for the President to put the international situation in context and to put forward a vision of U.S. leadership, and that's what he will do tomorrow.
I would expect the President to address the recent unrest in the Muslim world and the broader context of the democratic transitions in the Arab world. As he has in recent days, the President will make it clear that we reject the views in the video that has caused offense in the Muslim world, while also underscoring that violence is never acceptable -- a message that has been echoed by the leaders he has personally reached out to in places like Egypt, Libya and Yemen. He will also send a clear message that the United States will never retreat from the world. The United States will bring justice to those who harm Americans and the United States will stand strongly for our democratic values abroad.
With respect to Iran, we have consistently framed that issue around Iran's profound failure to meet its international obligations with respect to its nuclear program. Therefore, the United Nations General Assembly present -- the UNGA presents another opportunity for him to underscore that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.
Q Does he see this, though, as a couple days of do no harm, or is this a real opportunity for him to make progress on these issues?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think it is a real opportunity. The President always looks forward to the opportunity to address the General Assembly. As you recall from last year, he gave a very important speech where he made clear the United States' positions with regard to the Middle East peace process.
And it's a real moment for the United States to assert its values and its leadership role, to make clear where we stand in the midst of this remarkable period of transformation in the Arab world; how U.S. leadership, combined with the leadership of other nations, is helping the peoples of that region to overcome decades of tyranny and move towards democratic forms of government that are more responsive to their aspirations, that respect the rights of women and minorities.
And he will also address, as I just mentioned, the most recent unrest, the fact that the United States government condemns and finds reprehensible the content of the video -- the anti-Muslim video -- but that the United States government was not responsible for it, and it is absolutely our position that there is never justification for the kinds of violence -- for any violence in response to a video. He'll make that clear as well.
Q There are some reports that the White House is intending on providing an executive order on cyber security. Could you discuss that? Are we going -- expecting any movements there, and could you tell us anything about the standards that might be set for it?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything for you on that. The President takes the issue of cyber security very seriously. He had hoped that Congress would act legislatively on it, but I have no preview to give you of next steps.
Q Any discussions of -- with Congress during a lame duck session?
MR. CARNEY: One would hope that action could be taken and progress could be made with Congress, but I have nothing specific for you on that.
Q Thank you, Jay. In the 60 Minutes interview yesterday, the President, in talking about whether he felt any pressure from Israel on Iran, he said that, I'm going to block that out -- any noise -- he says, "I am going to block that out, any noise that's out there." Who represents that noise that the President was referring to?
MR. CARNEY: The President was making clear that his commitment and this country’s commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is as strong as ever and unbreakable in nature.
There’s obviously a lot of noise around this issue at times. His point was clearly that his objective is to take every step possible to enhance Israel’s security as part of our strong relationship with Israel. It is demonstrated by the unprecedented level of cooperation this administration has had with Israel on matters of defense and security. That's a fact testified to not just by the President and representatives of his, but by the Defense Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, and others in the Israeli government.
He is also quite clear that he is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And he has marshaled a consensus internationally that has never existed before behind a policy that pursues a diplomatic track with Iran as we attempt to compel Iran to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions on the one hand, and then a track that through punitive sanctions puts enormous economic and political pressure on Iran and isolates Tehran further and further from the world, making it clear that the price of refusing to abide by its nuclear -- by its international obligations with regards to its nuclear program is very high.
As he has said, the President believes that the window of opportunity for a diplomatic resolution to this matter will not remain open indefinitely, and he retains all options on the table for keeping that commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Q In that same interview, he was talking about the Arab Spring and support for the democratic reforms that took place there, but went on to say while that was the right thing to do, he knew there would be “bumps in the road.” What’s happening now, is it not bigger than just a bump in the road?
MR. CARNEY: The President was making clear that in this historic transformation that's taking place in the region, progress will not always come in a straight line, that there will be challenges in the region and in individual countries as they make that transition from decades of autocracy and tyranny to what we all hope will be governments that are more responsive to their people’s aspirations, that are more democratic, and to economies that are more robust and prosperous and therefore more beneficial to millions and millions of residents of the region.
But this transformation will not happen overnight, and it will encounter challenges along the way, as we’ve seen. And certainly the unrest in recent weeks represents one of these periods of challenge that the countries in the region must overcome. I would point out that in Libya, there was a rather remarkable demonstration the other day against the militias that are trying to hijack the democratic transition in that country. Average citizens in Libya, in Benghazi, protesting against the militias that they hold responsible for the unrest, they hold responsible for the murder of four American personnel. And I think that’s certainly a sign that the transition continues, even as it meets challenges.
Q But I’m sure you’ve heard Republicans jumping on the term -- the words that he used, as “bumps in the road,” sort of minimizing the vast challenges that exist in the region.
MR. CARNEY: The President, as you know, is not minimizing what we all recognize as historic transformations taking place. And the President is certainly not minimizing the challenges that those transformations are facing, as these countries in the region that have experienced or are experiencing democratic transitions move forward with them, move forward to systems of government that are hopefully more responsive to their people’s aspirations -- more democratic, fairer and better for their people.
I understand that Republicans in this case are searching for reeds to grab onto, but I think the President’s views on these matters are very clear and very strong.
Q Any bilats added to the President’s schedule in New York?
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward very much to participating at the United Nation General Assembly. He’ll be there later today through tomorrow. He will speak, as you know, tomorrow morning to the General Assembly in remarks that I previewed just a moment ago.
The President has, just in the last few weeks, had extensive consultations with foreign leaders, including the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Yemen, Turkey, Libya, and those consultations will continue -- not just with leaders in the region but with leaders around the world. It is part of the job of being President that that be the case, and he will certainly encounter many leaders tonight in New York as well as tomorrow.
Q The complaint this morning about the line “bump in the road” is not that it’s minimizing the Arab Spring, but it’s minimizing the death of -- violent death of the U.S. Ambassador, three others. And what -- when he said “bump in the road,” did he mean not to draw a parallel or not to define that event in Benghazi?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question, Ann, because that assertion is both desperate and offensive. The President was referring to the transformations in the region, to this process that has -- only began less than two years ago, as we saw in Tunisia, and continues to this day with remarkable transformations occurring in countries around the region. And obviously in these countries there are huge challenges, huge obstacles to the kinds of change that the people in these countries are demanding, to the kinds of governments that are democratic in nature and responsive to the interests of average citizens in these countries.
That was the context of the President’s comments. And again, I think I would say what I said to Dan, which is that there is a certain rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage, and in this case that’s profoundly offensive.
Q President Ahmadinejad told reporters in New York this morning that he does not worry about the threat of an attack, especially by Israel, because “we have defensive means at our disposal,” “we are ready to defend ourselves.” Do you think President Obama has not made it clear that he still has a military option? Has he been too vague about that?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I don’t think he’s been vague at all. He’s been exceptionally clear.
Q Doesn’t sound like President Ahmadinejad got the message.
MR. CARNEY: Well, President Ahmadinejad says foolish, offensive and sometimes unintelligible things with great regularity. What he should focus on is the failure of his government, of Iran, to abide by its international obligations, to abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions.
That has resulted -- that failure has resulted, because of the President’s leadership, in unprecedented pressure being applied to Tehran, being applied to Ahmadinejad’s government that has resulted in diplomatic isolation as well as extreme economic consequences for Iran. And that pressure continues.
As you know, we, with our international partners, are regularly taking steps to increase pressure through punitive sanctions and other means on Tehran, as we continue to -- with the effort to try to compel Iran to make that choice to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, to abide by its international obligations, and to, through doing that, have an opportunity to rejoin the community of nations.
Thus far, Iran has failed to do that, and so the pressure will continue. And let me be very clear, as the President has been -- every option available, and that includes the military option, remains on the table when it comes to keeping the President’s commitment to Iran not acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Q Quickly on the bilaterals, you mentioned that he would see leaders tonight -- that’s a party. Are you suggesting tonight’s event -- that he will have any substantive talks with other leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not previewing any conversations he may or may not have. I’m not giving any details on encounters or conversations that he’s yet to have. All I’m saying is that he looks forward to it. He will see a number of leaders, I’m sure, tonight; he will see more tomorrow. He is giving remarks at the General Assembly tomorrow. And broadly speaking, he is intensively engaged, as he has been since he took the oath of office, in matters of foreign affairs and national security. And just in the last several weeks, as you know, because we’ve read them out, the President has been intensively engaged with leaders in the region, including the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Turkey and others. And that will continue. It is part of the job and a part of the job he takes extremely seriously.
Q Would you please let us know if he does have any chats?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll apprise you as I can.
Wendell, and then Kristen.
Q In light of that, what do you make of the Republican complaint that the President has time to tape The View and no time for Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Wendell, Prime Minister Netanyahu is not in New York in the days the President is in New York, and the President is not in New York in the days when Prime Minister Netanyahu will be in New York. The President just recently had a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu that lasted more than an hour, I believe, and that was just one in countless conversations that they’ve had.
As you know, the President has met with and spent time on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than with any leader since he took office. And that is a reflective of the importance of and the closeness of the relationship between the United States and Israel, the importance of and the priority that the President places on America’s support for Israel’s security, as demonstrated by the unprecedented level of assistance that this administration has provided Israel for its security, the unprecedented level of cooperation between our militaries and intelligence communities in the effort to enhance Israel’s security.
And that cooperation and deep partnership continues every day. And the President had a very constructive conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu recently and I’m sure he will in the future. Secretary Clinton will be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in New York, and I’m sure, as I said, the President will be speaking with the Prime Minister as he does with some regularity.
Q On this comment about the “noise,” does the President think Prime Minister Netanyahu is involving himself in U.S. domestic politics?
MR. CARNEY: No, I would point you to what the Prime Minister himself said when he appeared on American television I think a week ago Sunday. And he said, A, that he’s not interested in involving himself in American politics and, B, that he knows that President Obama is firmly committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That’s the President’s policy, and it’s a policy that’s backed up with the most comprehensive international consensus that’s ever existed against Iran, with the most punitive sanctions that have ever been imposed on a nation against Iran, with a degree of isolation that is unprecedented with regards to Iran, and with the firm commitment that every option available to him remains on the table in dealing with this challenge.
Q Jay, I just want to try one more follow-up on the bilateral meetings. What is the justification for the President not having sideline discussions with these world leaders?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I’m not going to preview every minute-by-minute of the President’s schedule when he’s in New York. Secondly, the President just in recent weeks has had intensive consultations with leaders in the region, with the leaders of Turkey, of Egypt, of Israel, of Yemen, of Libya, of Afghanistan. And that process will continue.
It is a simple fact that when you’re President of the United States, your responsibility as Commander-in-Chief never ends, and you are constantly engaged in matter of foreign affairs and national security. And that's what this President is doing. He looks forward to being able to present his case to the United Nations to make clear what the United States stands for, what its views are, what his views are in response to the recent unrest in the Muslim world, what American values are and how we project them, and why we support the democratic transitions in these countries in the region and why it is so important that the international community support those democratic transitions.
Q I understand that he has ongoing discussions with these world leaders, but given that he’s missing an opportunity to sit down and talk with them, how does it not send a message that he’s more concerned about not doing any harm in the weeks leading up to the election than actually --
MR. CARNEY: I encourage you to await the President’s speech --
Q -- addressing these pressing problems?
MR. CARNEY: I thank you for the question, and I think that if you wait to hear the President’s speech you will find it to be very bold and forthright about what his views are and what the United States -- the interests of the United States are with regards to this region and the unrest that's currently taking place within the broader context of the so-called Arab Spring.
These are profound changes that are happening in the region and in the world, and the United States has led under President Obama and will continue to lead because it must lead. And we cannot, as the President will say, we cannot retreat from the world. We must engage, and we must promote our values. We must absolutely defend our interests. We must hold to account and bring to justice those who kill Americans or would kill Americans, and that is the President’s commitment with regards to those who killed four Americans in Benghazi. You will hear some very clear things from the President tomorrow. And I urge you to wait for those remarks.
Q And, Jay, just one more on comments that President Obama made over the weekend. He said, “My biggest disappointment is that we haven’t changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.” Does the President think that he can change the tone in Washington if he’s granted another four years, or is he waving the white flag at his Republican --
MR. CARNEY: He’s absolutely convinced that with the insistence of the American people that the tone can change, that together we can bring about that change in Washington. As he made clear, it requires the voices of average Americans across the country making clear to their elected officials in Washington that they will not tolerate the kinds of partisan gridlock that is often waged and engaged in for the sake of small-bore political advantage at the expense of the interests of average Americans across the country.
And you’ve heard the President talk about how he hopes that if he is reelected, elected officials in Washington, in Congress will begin to move forward on some of these very important issues that have divided us, but to which there are fairly clear bipartisan solutions, if there’s a willingness to compromise. And you’ve seen, and has been reported widely, when Republican leaders in Washington decided, in some cases on the day of his inauguration, that their agenda would be driven by a desire to defeat him, when the leader of Republicans in the Senate said that his number-one objective as leader of the Republican Party in the Senate was to defeat the President -- if he’s reelected, that agenda, that priority is taken away because he will no longer be a candidate for office, he will be serving his second term. And that presents an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together, to set aside maximalist positions, and deal with some of these difficult issues that have challenged us in these last several years.
I would also point out that even with the kind of lack of tonal change in Washington, and even with the kinds of disagreements we’ve had, this President with this Congress has been able to accomplish significant things, including extension of the payroll tax cut, including a measure by Congress ensuring that 7 million American students won’t have their loan rates doubled, including a number of issues that are very important to the American economy and the American people. And the opportunity for greater cooperation exists, we hope, after this election.
Q Jay, in the 60 Minutes interview the President also said that Israel was “one of our closest allies in the region,” and I guess the Middle East. Who is our closest ally?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve heard the President say numerous times that Israel is our closest ally in the region. We have an unshakeable bond with Israel. We have a commitment to Israel and to Israel’s security that is profound and unique. And that is demonstrated by the policies of this administration as well as the policies of the President’s predecessors.
And as I just said in answer to some other questions, President Obama has taken action to assist Israel with its security that is unprecedented. The depth of our cooperation, the amount of our assistance has never been greater. And you’ve heard Israeli leaders verify that.
The President’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is categorical and clear. He, upon taking office, took an approach that changed the dynamic of this situation, a dynamic, which, prior to him taking office, had much of the world divided on the issue. He has through his efforts unified the international community in pressuring Iran and viewing Iran as the problem. And the result has been an unprecedented regime of sanctions, as well as isolation that this President believes needs to be pursued because the surest way to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is if Iran itself decides to forego nuclear weapons in a verifiable way.
Q And I know you said the President has gotten readouts, has had consultations with leaders throughout the region. But isn’t there something different between having a phone conversation and meeting and talking with someone in person?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the President will see a number of leaders tonight and tomorrow. But I would make the point that he does not wait for the annual meeting in New York to have meetings with or consultations with foreign leaders. He has a fairly robust schedule of meetings with and conversations with foreign leaders. The ones I just mentioned have had to do with the recent unrest in the Arab world. But those kinds of consultations continue all the time, including in earlier parts of this year and continuing to this day -- regular consultations with leaders in Europe over the situation in the eurozone, as well as with leaders in different parts of the world over different issues. And that continues and will continue going forward.
Q Jay, I’m guessing the reason you’re getting so many questions about the absence of bilats is that last year the President had 13 bilateral meetings with key foreign leaders during his U.N. visit; this year, you can’t tell us of any. So what is different about last year and this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Mark, I would simply say that this President looks forward to speaking tomorrow, will lay out clearly what his views are on the recent unrest in the Muslim world, on the United States’ role in the region, the U.S.’s absolute commitment to holding accountable and bringing to justice those who killed Americans, his firm belief that while the video was offensive and disgusting and was the product of -- was the work of a handful of individuals and in no way represented the views of the United States government or the American people, violence and reaction to it is unjustified.
He will discuss broadly the American role in the transformations taking place in the region. And he will continue, as President, as he has over these past several weeks, and he will going forward, his intensive consultations with leaders in the region over the current period of unrest in the Muslim world. The fact of the matter is the President does not wait for an annual meeting to have consultations with or meetings with foreign leaders, and they will continue.
Q But the U.N. meeting has always lent itself to a number of bilats, but not this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have no meetings to announce to you, Mark. I mean, the President’s schedule includes the reception this evening. It includes his speech tomorrow. Beyond that I don't have details for you. But again, I think it’s fairly clear, based on the President’s engagement with foreign leaders just in the last several weeks, that he is intensively engaged in matters of national security and foreign policy as he has been throughout his presidency.
Q He is the host of that reception tonight?
MR. CARNEY: I believe that's the case, yes.
Q Are you leaving the door open to him having bilats and saying we just don't have any on schedule?
MR. CARNEY: We have no bilats scheduled. I just don't want to -- I can't give you a minute-by-minute account of the President’s schedule since it hasn’t happened yet.
Q May we follow on Mark?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q If Ahmadinejad or Chavez, any others come up to the President if they're invited tonight, will the President speak to them?
MR. CARNEY: Connie, I just -- that kind of thing has happened in the past. I can't anticipate who he’ll run into.
Karen -- I mean Kate, sorry.
Q That's okay. Does the U.S. have any apprehension about Netanyahu’s visit to the U.N. later this week? I mean, is there a concern that possible Israeli actions on Iran or what Netanyahu said recently could further add to the turmoil and the tension in Egypt and Libya, other countries in the Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to the Prime Minister’s appearances on American television a week ago Sunday, refer you to the remarks I just made. This President will continue to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the Israeli government on their shared objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And I don't anticipate any other issues with that beyond the importance of this objective and the fact that Iran has thus far stubbornly refused to abide by its international obligations.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting with Secretary Clinton, and I’m sure that they will go over the same subjects in terms of our shared commitment to this objective, and the same subjects with regards to U.S. support for Israel’s security that the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed in their lengthy phone conversation just recently.
Q So there’s no concern that any remarks he could make could be incendiary to -- and cause more riots and tension in parts of the Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: I think that's purely speculative, and the answer is no.
Q And just one quick question. Do you know -- why didn't the President say that Israel is the closest ally in --
MR. CARNEY: The President has said this -- this was a lengthy interview. The President has made clear again and again and again that Israel is our closest ally in the region, that we have a unique relationship with Israel, bonds with Israel that are unlike our bonds with any other nation. We have an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and we have proven that commitment -- this administration has -- with unprecedented assistance to Israel’s security.
Q So he misspoke in the interview?
MR. CARNEY: The President, again, has made clear on numerous occasions that Israel is our closest ally in the region.
Q Jay, on Friday, Governor Romney released his tax returns for 2011 and a summary of the last 10 years. Does that resolve the tax return issue for President Obama?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's a question I think best directed to the campaign.
Q You’ve spoken of it here, though, in terms of the President believes that as a candidate that Governor Romney has an obligation to the American people to be forthcoming.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I would say, Bill, as I have in the past, the President believes that the tradition of candidates releasing their entire returns, many years of them, is a useful and valuable one for the American people. It's certainly one that he has abided by. I have noted that it began I guess just coincidentally with Governor Romney of Michigan back in 1968 and it's a process this President think is important, even if it might be uncomfortable. But when you run for President, you should be an open book, and that’s his view.
Q So therefore, he did not meet the test --
MR. CARNEY: I think the campaign has spoken to this. But the President's view hasn't changed, which is that it is an important part of the process of running for President to demonstrate, by the release of your complete returns for many years, an openness to the American people about who you are and your financial past, and that that’s a useful tradition that has been abided by, by most major party candidates since it was begun in 1968.
Q Jay, could you detail anything about the President and the CGI?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if we've read out any or provided any details yet previewing the President's speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. He looks forward to giving those remarks. He thinks that the work of the Global Initiative -- President Clinton's Global Initiative is very important. And I'm sure we'll have more details for you as we get closer to it.
Q And let me ask you this as well. Do you think poverty, especially as the U.S. Census Bureau has come out with American poverty issues -- 1 in every 6 Americans are in poverty -- do you think he's going to address issues of global poverty at the CGI?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to preview his remarks at this time. I can tell you that the broader issue is one that is of great significance and that the President views as very important, because it's all about global economic growth and improving the plight of people in poverty around the world is an important objective because it increases stability, improves the lives of people around the world, and it's very much a focus of his foreign policy.
Q And what's the campaign and the White House response -- basically the White House -- on the fact that Mitt Romney will be addressing the CGI as well this year?
MR. CARNEY: I think there is a tradition, at least since the CGI has been up and running, for this to be the case. I believe Senator McCain spoke to CGI four years ago. And the President thinks that’s perfectly appropriate
Q Jay, to get back to the topic du jour for a moment -- the President does seem to understand, though, that some of the "noise," as he put it, is being caused by the fact that he's not meeting Netanyahu. Is that a safe assumption on our part?
MR. CARNEY: Safe assumption that the "noise" is --
Q Yes, that he understands that?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President is a consumer of the news that you produce, as we've discussed. He's aware of trends in the news. I think his focus is on the importance of the relationship that the United States has with Israel, the importance of his commitment and the United States' commitment to Israel's security, the importance of the shared goal that he and Prime Minister Netanyahu have of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and the steps that we are taking with our international partners to meet that commitment and ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
That’s the essence of what he is focused on, with regards to these issues -- with the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and, in particular, the challenge faced by Iran's persistent refusal to abide by its international obligations.
Q Jay, over the weekend the Congressional Black Caucus held as part of its annual dinner a forum on the issue of same-sex marriage. Views reportedly differed, but there was a lot of opposition to the President's support for marriage equality. Even the Reverend Jesse Jackson said he supports same-sex marriage and (inaudible) understand why the issue had gained providence. How would you evaluate the continued support of the black community to the President as a result of his support for marriage equality?
MR. CARNEY: The President said at the time and firmly believes that people have different views on this issue, and he respects that. He has made clear that his support for the right of every American to decide who he or she loves and the right to marriage is a matter of civil marriage, and that religious institutions -- churches and -- have their own sacraments and decide what they are. And he respects differing views on this.
He expressed his opinion and he has taken positions on different matters of policy, but he certainly respects the views of others.
Q The President has talked about his support for marriage equality in subsequent speeches, but would you expect the President to make his case for support for marriage equality if he were to address a venue specifically for the black community?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s a couple of ifs and bits of speculation there. The President has been very clear about his position. He had a number of conversations at the time when he made his views public, and I'm sure, given the opportunity, he will express his views in the future.
Q The President said in the 60 Minutes interview that if Mitt Romney wanted to start a war he should say so. Does he actually think that Mitt Romney does want to start a war? Was he simply exasperated, or was he being provocative?
MR. CARNEY: I think he was saying what he has said in the past, which is that while there has been a lot of rhetorical criticism from Republicans, including Governor Romney, about the President's approach on Iran, there is no substantive difference that we can discern. And if the distinction then is a willingness or desire to go to war, then that should be clearly stated, because otherwise, the things that have been called for by critics -- punitive sanctions, diplomatic and political isolation -- the kinds of actions that this President has taken and has led on in his effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, are the same that his critics say should be taken.
So I think that if there is -- if the issue is what the distinction is -- if the distinction is a willingness to go to war, then it should be clearly stated.
Q Is part of the reluctance to meet, say, with President Morsi, that it might just not look good to meet with an Islamist President at this point in the election cycle?
MR. CARNEY: The President spoke with President Morsi of Egypt at length very recently. I read out in considerable detail that phone conversation, and I am sure that President Obama will continue to have consultations with the Egyptian leader going forward.
He made clear in that conversation that he expects the government of Egypt and the governments of other regions in the -- other countries in the region to abide by their obligations to provide security to diplomatic facilities that they host. And that’s a conversation he had with other leaders in the region.
So I think he was -- we were very clear about the fact that he had this extensive conversation with the Egyptian President, the contents of that conversation. And I'm sure there will be more consultations going forward.
Steve, then Donovan.
Q Given that the U.N. speech is coming 40-odd days before the election, how much of it should be viewed as a sort of accounting and a justification of the foreign policy that the President's achieved over the last four years? And in that sense, is this year's speech perhaps more aimed as much of a domestic audience than the normal kind of foreign audience that you would expect him to speak?
MR. CARNEY: This is not a campaign speech. This is a speech in which the President will make clear his views, the administration’s positions and America’s role with regards to a lot of transformation that's happening in the world, and that will be the focus of his remarks.
Q Thanks, Jay. At the risk of asking the same question a number of times, on Mark’s question, I’m not sure that we actually got an answer. He gave you some stats that last year the President has 13 bilats during the General Assembly, and this year there is zero. What is the specific reason?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President -- I can tell you again that the President has had extensive conversations with leaders in the region where there has been unrest of late. He will continue to have those conversations. He will see leaders from a variety of regions tonight at a reception in New York as part of the General Assembly meeting, and will deliver very important remarks tomorrow at UNGA. And his consultations and meetings with foreign leaders will continue going forward as they -- with the same kind of intensity that we’ve seen of late as dictated and required by events in the world and by this President’s commitment to U.S. national security interests.
Q Is his scheduled too packed this year?
MR. CARNEY: The President has obviously got a busy schedule. He has a busy schedule all the time. It is a fact that he has in recent weeks been intensively engaged in matters of foreign affairs. And that's part of being President.
Q Here at home, how soon is the President going to sign the CR? And also now that Congress has left, and given the drought this summer, how anxious is the White House to get a farm bill?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as we’ve said, a comprehensive farm bill is something that Congress should have acted on and did not, and that is unfortunate. I don't have a -- as for the CR, I don't have a timing for you. We can get back to you on that.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Goyal.
Q Thank you. Two questions. One, personally, how does the President feel about the United Nations itself as an organization as far as Human Rights Council and other issues are concerned? And second, if he’s meeting with President Zardari -- Pakistan is also burning because of this anti-Islam -- or Muslim --
MR. CARNEY: I have no scheduling announcements to make in terms of encounters with foreign leaders.
Look, the President believes that the United Nations can act effectively, but does not always act effectively. It did act effectively and it has acted effectively in terms of isolating Iran, taking aggressive action to hold Iran accountable for its failure to live up to its international obligations. It acted effectively in response to the imminent threat to citizens in Libya. It has failed to act, the Security Council, because of vetoes by Russia and China in response to the heinous actions of President Assad in Syria.
So the President’s views are case-by-case and very clear about when the United Nations has come together, when the United Nations Security Council has acted appropriately, and when it has not. I mean, beyond that, I don't have a broader assessment for you.
Q And second, since the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is not coming this year in New York at the U.N., has the President spoken with him? Because India has recently passed the opening of the doors for the foreign conference, including hundreds of American companies go to India.
MR. CARNEY: We don't have any other foreign leader conversations to read out to you.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, in the back.
Q Thank you, Jay. Two questions. First is, Romney has released a new ad on China, and the Obama campaign reacts to that. Do you think this might sour future U.S.-China relations?
MR. CARNEY: The ad by Governor Romney?
Q I mean, the overall China bashing --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I got this question fairly recently. The President believes that we have an extremely important, broad relationship with China, and there are significant, vast areas of cooperation and there are areas of disagreement. The President makes clear and has made clear since he took office that when there are clear indications of unfair trade practices that harm American workers or harm American companies, his administration will take action. That was true with imports of Chinese tires and it’s been true of, I believe, eight actions taken up at the World Trade Organization.
And that’s the President’s commitment, that he believes that if we have a trading relationship that’s fair, that allows for fair competition by American companies and American workers, that that’s beneficial for both countries and it’s certainly beneficial for the American economy and American workers. And that’s his approach.
But it does not mean that we cannot continue to cooperate with China, as we have on a variety of issues. Our relationship is very complex, it is very broad, and it is very deep. And the President is committed to all aspects of it, and he is committed to making clear, through the actions that he’s taken and in his conversations with Chinese leaders, where we disagree and where we need to remedy inequities that have existed in the past that have put American workers and American companies at a disadvantage.
Q Second question -- does President pay attention to recent China-Japan dispute over Diaoyu Island?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I addressed this in I think my last televised briefing and I would refer you to those comments.
Thank you very much.
12:32 P.M. EDT
March 5, 2014
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