Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary 1/13/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:48 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you had a fine weekend. Before I take your questions, I have a couple of things to announce.
First, tomorrow, Maria Shriver will present the President with a copy of the latest Shriver report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.” The report focuses on the millions of women who are working hard but are consistently on the brink of poverty, and highlights the need for the nation to address women’s role -- dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners, and the specific challenges they face. As the President knows well, investing in and supporting women over their lifetimes is one of the best ways to tackle income inequality and achieve greater social mobility, and he looks forward to learning about the findings of the report.
The second topper is that the President is looking forward to traveling to Toluca, Mexico on February 19th to participate in the North American Leaders Summit. At the summit, the President looks forward to discussing with Mexican President Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Harper a range of issues important to the daily lives of all of North America’s people, including economic competitiveness, entrepreneurship, trade and investment, and citizen security.
MR. CARNEY: What I have here is that he will be traveling to Toluca, Mexico on February 19. We’ll have more details for you later.
Questions -- Nedra.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to ask you on the Iran nuclear agreement if you’re at all concerned that Congress could hurt this deal in any way. Have you been hearing from lawmakers that the deal has encouraged skeptics to stop their push for new sanctions or have any impact on that debate?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question, Nedra. As you know, the administration, the White House, from the highest levels, have been engaged with Congress on this issue for some time. And it is always important to note that the Congress has been a strong partner with the administration in implementing and enforcing the most effective sanctions regime against Iran that’s ever been created, that was built up for the purpose of testing whether Iran’s behavior would change, testing whether Iran could be compelled through effective comprehensive sanctions to come to the table and negotiate in good faith. And what the agreement on the implementation phase of the Joint Plan of Action tells us is that Iran has responded to that pressure, to that effective and comprehensive sanctions regime in the way that we had hoped.
Now, this is the first stage and it requires Iran to take significant steps in terms of halting progress on its program and even rolling back its program in some areas, and in return, the P5-plus-1 provides moderate relief.
On the matter of further congressional action at this time, we have made our case clear both in public and in conversations with lawmakers on this issue, and we believe that we have the opportunity to test whether or not this can be resolved between the international community and Iran peacefully, which is the preferred way that it would be resolved. What Congress has always done effectively has been to act on new sanctions when doing so would have an impact, and in this case a positive impact, which is what Congress could do if it holds in abeyance any further action if Iran were to fail to fulfill its obligations under the agreement on the Joint Plan of Action or implementation of it, or fail to reach a comprehensive resolution with the P5-plus-1 in the coming months.
So our views on further action right now and on legislation that has been considered are well known. We’re constantly consulting with members of Congress on this matter. We think that the fact that we are now at the implementation stage of the Joint Plan of Action demonstrates that, at the very least, testing whether or not Iran is serious is the right thing to do.
Q But does this agreement seem to be changing any minds, or are your critics still dug in --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t want to speak for any members. I think that some have spoken on this and others obviously will choose to or not. We think it makes clearer why it’s so important to refrain from taking action on further sanctions now and to rather hold in abeyance that action if and when it’s necessary and can be very effective.
Q On one other topic, Senator Ayotte is saying that the Pentagon has told her that last month’s budget agreement will cut the cost of living increases for survivor benefits. So I’m wondering if it’s acceptable to the President that this agreement could affect war widows this way or military widows.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not familiar with that specific item in the agreement so I’ll have to take the question and get back to you.
Q Thanks, Jay. On the Iran issue, why doesn’t the President release the text of the agreement? Members of Congress are eager to see it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll say a couple of things. First of all, it’s an agreement not just involving the United States but the P5-plus-1. And the technical understandings reached as part of the implementation plan are being transmitted to the IAEA. In tandem with this action, we are working with the P5-plus-1, the EU and the IAEA on releasing as much information to the public as we can about the technical arrangements. We fully expect to be able to share the text of the plan with Congress and are working with our international partners on how much and when we can share the information publicly and in what format. So we’ll continue that effort, but I just wanted to make clear from the outset that we will absolutely be able to share the text with Congress.
Q On a different topic, the Supreme Court is today hearing arguments on recess appointments, and early indications are that a number of Justices are skeptical of the administration’s case on that. Why wouldn’t the Senate be the place to determine whether they’re in recess or not? And more broadly, what’s at stake in this matter?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are confident that the President’s authority to make recess appointments will be upheld by the courts. And when it comes to our legal arguments, rather than reciting them today, I would refer you back to a blog in which we laid them out -- a blog item on whitehouse.gov -- and we can, if you are interested, we can make sure we recirculate that. But in our view, we’re confident that the courts will uphold the President’s authority and look forward to resolution of this matter.
Q On a separate topic, Governor Christie is apparently facing some investigation about whether he misused some $2 million in Superstorm Sandy relief funds. His office is apparently saying that that “Stronger than the Storm” ad was part of an action plan approved by the administration. Is that accurate? Can you comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: My understanding is this is something that was under review by the HUD IG and I would refer you HUD for information on that.
Q And lastly, can you provide any details about the President’s meeting with Senate Democrats later this afternoon? What are the topics?
MR. CARNEY: I believe it’s Wednesday evening, and I can confirm that he will meet with Senate Democrats to discuss their shared priorities for 2014.
Q Jay, where are we on unemployment insurance extension negotiations? Are you still looking for the three-month or are you willing to skip over that and just go straight to a year-long extension if there is a pay-for that can be resolved with the amendment process or private negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we want action as soon as possible, because the 1.3 million Americans and their families who have been without benefits now for many days need that assistance as soon as possible.
We strongly supported and support action on the three-month extension. We have noted that the Majority Leader has taken considerable actions to accommodate the concerns of Senate Republicans when it came to -- when it comes to offsets, and as I understand it, following it from here, when it comes to the issue of amendments.
So I would point you to the Senate Majority Leader’s office on next steps, but we certainly look forward to speedy action by the Senate on this important issue and hope that they move quickly so that the benefits can begin flowing to those families who need them.
Q And working out the details for -- starting the time clock January 20th on the six-month deal, what has the President learned about Iran’s ability and willingness to fulfill what it notionally committed to a couple of months ago and now apparently has put to paper?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not quite sure I get what you’re asking, except to say that the President’s approach through all of this has been to not take Iran’s word on any matter, but to verify and to engage in negotiation on agreements that require verification from Iran as to its compliance. And that’s what the Joint Plan of Action, and that’s what any comprehensive resolution of this matter would require. There would have to be transparent, verifiable compliance by Iran in keeping with its stated decision, if it comes to that, and there is an agreement on a comprehensive resolution to forsake its nuclear weapons program.
Q I guess what I’m driving at is does this process of getting from the verbal agreement to something that’s on paper give the President any more confidence that a final deal can be reached?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have always said that each stage of this would be difficult; if it weren’t, it would have been resolved a long time ago. We obviously are gratified by the progress that’s been made by the P5-plus-1 thus far on this matter with Iran, but there’s no question, and others have spoken to this, that reaching a comprehensive resolution will not be easy. But it is absolutely the right thing to do to pursue one, and for two basic reasons. One, peaceful resolution to conflict, verifiable by the international community, is always preferable to military resolution, and that’s doubly the case here because we can be more sure that Iran is free of nuclear weapons if it chooses to be free of nuclear weapons through a comprehensive resolution to this problem.
So throughout this process, the President has made clear that he leaves all options on the table. But the purpose of the sanctions regime, the purpose of the approach the President took when he took office in 2009, was to make clear that the onus was on Iran to come clean and to come into compliance with its international obligations. And we are taking steps now, with our partners, to test whether in fact Iran is willing to do that.
Q The Vice President is in Israel, and this might just be -- I’m sure it’s coincidental. I’m just curious if in his meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Shimon Peres he is giving any updates on this particular agenda item for both governments, the United States and Israel, the --
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Vice President Biden is in Israel leading a high-level U.S. delegation to attend the state funeral for former Prime Minister Sharon. He has also, as you noted, he has met with President Shimon Peres and will be attending a working dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu where, in each case, I’m sure the range of issues that are frequently discussed between our two countries at high levels will be discussed. I don’t have a specific readout of the meeting with President Peres, or I can’t anticipate, beyond what you would expect, what the contents of the conversation would be over the working dinner.
Q In our conversations last week about Iraq, I was sort of asking about the al Qaeda element. I wanted to see if I can engage you a little bit in a more nuanced sense of what responsibility does the United States government believe Prime Minister Maliki has for fomenting some of the violence. There’s a good deal of analysis that his government has been far more repressive than the United States would prefer in the last two years, and that some of the Sunni violence is not altogether driven by al Qaeda; though he labels it as such, it may be legitimate political resistance to what they perceive to be either repressive tactics or the manipulation of security forces and the denial of their political rights within Iraq itself.
MR. CARNEY: Well, our position is that it is incumbent upon the leaders of Iraq, including the Prime Minister and others representing different parties and different factions, to pursue resolution of their differences through political negotiation rather than violence. It is not an acceptable alternative to resort to violence.
Q How would you rate Maliki on it?
MR. CARNEY: And I would say that we have conversations with the Prime Minister and other Iraqi leaders about the need to pursue peaceful political reconciliation. And throughout its very difficult history in the last several years, leaders in Iraq have taken that path and have made that choice, and they need to return to that approach for the sake of all of Iraq’s citizens and the country’s future. And that is the context of some of the conversations that our leaders have had with Iraqi leaders over the last several weeks and months, as you’ve seen an increase in violence in the Anbar Province. And it’s why it’s so important --
Q And not all that violence is al Qaeda-driven. Some of it could be of another --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t analyze the specific violence from here except to say that obviously al Qaeda has been driving a great deal of it, if not all of it. And certainly al Qaeda has a history of, in Iraq and elsewhere, trying to take advantage of sectarian differences through violence, to inflame passions and foster further violence and instability. And that is certainly I believe what is occurring in Anbar, in Iraq, and has been for some time now.
So what is positive, in our view, about this is the steps that Iraqi leaders have taken and pledged themselves to take a unified approach to the need to expel al Qaeda from other regions because Iraqi citizens regardless of their background or their political allegiance overwhelmingly reject al Qaeda. So that work is ongoing.
Q Jay, on Iran, I just want to follow. If the conditions are met that you were talking about with Major, what safeguards do you have in place for -- when money starts flowing back to the central bank of Iran, what safeguards will be in place to make sure that money is not funneled to terror groups by Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in terms of the nature of the relief and how it is released and the steps taken, I would refer you to the Treasury Department. I think it’s important to note, Ed, as a general matter, rather than in response to that specific question, that we have a series of concerns about Iranian behavior. And these negotiations have to do with their nuclear program. We continue to press on other issues when it relates to support for Hezbollah or other organizations, and pursue our national security interests with regards to those issues as strongly today as we always have and will -- which is to say that we have a specific interest with our P5-plus-1 partners in testing whether or not Iran is serious about coming into compliance with its international obligations, forsaking its nuclear weapons program, and that is what we are pursuing.
Q Second and last topic: Gates book. Last week, when you were being hit with questions on this, obviously -- in fairness, the excerpts were being released; you said you had just gotten a copy of it. I have a specific question, but I wanted to ask you more generally -- have you had a chance and others around here to read the book? And do you have a fuller reaction now that you’ve been able perhaps to see it in context?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I confess that I think it will be a long time before I have a chance to read an 800-page book, so I have not read it. I think others have done their best to look at it, and our reaction to it has not changed.
Q Okay, specific thing then as a last question. Secretary Gates in the book and then elaborated on CBS yesterday that he’s charging that he saw a deep passion, he put it, in the President in terms of -- for military matters. He said, other than leaks to the media, the only deep passion he saw was for repealing “don't ask, don't tell” -- this is Secretary Gates’s claim -- and suggested that there was not a deep passion to actually fulfill the mission in Afghanistan and win the war. How do you react to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the same way I reacted last week, which is that the commitment the President has to our men and women in uniform is profound and deep. I think that was reflected by Secretary Gates. And his commitment to the mission that he has asked them to perform, and which they have performed and are performing admirably and heroically in Afghanistan, is passionate and deep.
And that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. That doesn’t mean that we haven't encountered setbacks and challenges in the implementation of that policy. But the fact of the matter is, since he adopted it and moved forward and our troops and civilian personnel have been executing that mission, we have made enormous progress towards the very clear objectives that the President laid out and which were very much at the heart and very much for the purpose of refining a mission and strategy in Afghanistan. And, first and foremost, the objective was to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately to defeat core al Qaeda in the Af-Pak region. And that work continues, but significant progress has been made thanks to the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform as well as others.
Q Jay, you guys just issued a travel warning in Mexico, not far from where the President is going to be, about an hour or so drive. Did that impact at all the President’s decision? Or was there any hesitance about going with the safety concerns, considering the drug war that's going on down there and in that particular region of the country?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, I have not had a conversation of that nature, so when it comes to travel advisories I'd refer you to the State Department. I know the President looks forward to his trip.
Q On NSA, can you say how much of what the President is going to announce is going to need congressional action and how much of it is going to be stuff he can do independently?
MR. CARNEY: I think you can expect that the President will make decisions about and report on the outcome of his team’s work that reflect, broadly speaking, the areas that were reviewed by the review group, reflected in their report, and some of the recommendations, as I understand it, from what I remember having looked at it, some of the actions that were recommended there required legislative or congressional activity and some of them did not.
So I think it’s fair to say that that frame applies to the approach the President is taking, but that's as far as I'll go in terms of previewing --
Q It’s possible he could ask Congress to send him some of this -- some reforms he'll announce that you guys are independent -- you're doing independently?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s a fair assumption to make based on the recommendations that were released publicly by the review group that some of these reforms and changes would require congressional action. But I think it -- I'm saying that it’s simply safe to assume that. I wouldn't -- that the universe looks like that as we're moving forward, but I don't want to anticipate what the breakdown will be in terms of what the President announces on Friday.
Q Jay, just a follow-up on Iran. As you know, the sanctions bill the President has threatened to veto would impose those sanctions six months from now, which is that period for the interim agreement. Can you just remind us -- what happens at the end of that six months? What does the administration do if Iran has not been able to come to an agreement, a long-term agreement?
MR. CARNEY: That's an excellent question, and I think the answer is reflected in how we explain our views on potential congressional action now with regards to sanctions, and that is that further congressional action and further international action when it came to adding new sanctions and more sanctions would best wait, in our view, if and until Iran fails to meet its obligations or fails to reach a comprehensive resolution with the P5-plus-1. That is when it could be most effective and would I think reflect the result of Iran’s failure to make progress on this issue.
So one of the things I’ve said in the past, and it applies today when we talk about potential legislation on sanctions in Congress that would not be triggered until six months down the road, is that it would have the negative effect of imposing sanctions now and it would be wholly unnecessary because obviously if Iran violated the terms of the agreement or failed to reach a resolution with the P5-plus-1 over the six-month period, Congress, we’re confident, could act very quickly in response to that and pass new sanctions at that time that could be implemented very quickly.
Q I guess another way I’m going to ask is how determined --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think Iran -- if I could just add -- I don’t think Tehran doubts that. We’re very confident Tehran understands that failure to abide by its commitments in the implementation agreement or failure to reach comprehensive resolution would result in action by the United States and by the international community. And the second part is important, because one of the reasons not to take action now, here in the United States through Congress, is that it could threaten to do harm to the international consensus that we have built, and that international consensus is one of the foundations behind the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the sanctions regime.
The United States acting alone can only do so much when it comes to sanctions. Working in consensus with the international community, we can have quite an impact.
Q Under this agreement, of course the clock starts ticking a week from today -- another way, I guess, of saying what I’m asking is, how determined is the administration to imposing a new round of sanctions or taking other measures if Iran fails to come to a long-term agreement at the end of that six months? I mean, is there a real hammer at the end of this thing? If this deal is not done within six months is this administration going to take strong action against Iran?
MR. CARNEY: I think the best way to answer that is to point at past actions. And the President’s seriousness about this matter can be measured by the fact that he led the effort to build the most comprehensive and punitive regime in history when it comes to sanctions, and that that effort has resulted in forcing, compelling Iran to negotiate with the international community.
That was the purpose of the sanctions regime; it remains the purpose of the sanctions regime. And it’s important to note in reporting on this issue that even the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action and the modest sanctions relief that comes in stages with Iranian compliance in no way affects the enforcement of the existing sanctions regime. That remains very important and I think that you’ve seen that we’re serious about that as well.
So I think there can be no doubt about the seriousness with which the President would approach a decision by Iran to either not comply with its agreements and its obligations under the implementation agreement or to walk away from negotiations with the P5-plus-1.
Q And that would be more actions --
MR. CARNEY: I think that we would, as we always have, retain every option on the table, and one of those options has been and certainly would likely be further sanctions action.
Q Okay, a quick follow-up on Chris Christie and the HUD IG report. I know you don't manage that, but what do you say to those who look at the timing of this? I mean, here you have this investigation of Christie just announced kind of kicking the guy while he’s down. Suddenly just as this bridge scandal has erupted, the headlines out of Washington is: Federal Investigation Into Sandy Funds. Suspicious at all? I mean, any kind of --
MR. CARNEY: Again, Jon, I would refer you to the IG. We do not involve ourselves in IG reports by the agencies.
Q Thanks, Jay. Are the President’s decisions on the NSA reforms that he’ll be outlining on Friday, where is he at in that process? Are those decisions complete?
MR. CARNEY: They are near completion. He is finishing his work and will be doing so for the next several days in anticipation of speaking about that work on Friday. So we’re not quite concluded yet in that process, but coming close.
Q Any more meetings?
MR. CARNEY: I have none to preview for you. I certainly expect that over the course of the next several days he’ll be finalizing his work and the decisions he’ll make. But I don't have any meetings of the nature that you saw in recent days to predict or preview for you.
Q Any further word on the venue?
MR. CARNEY: I believe it’s been reported, and I can confirm that it will take place at the Department of Justice.
Q And President Obama’s meeting with the King of Spain -- or with the leader of Spain today, Spain is one of several European countries outraged by reports that the NSA monitored phone call activities of its citizens, as well as its leaders. As President Obama prepares to detail changes on Friday, what assurances is he giving President Brey?
MR. CARNEY: The President and other high-level officials in the administration have maintained regular dialogue with leaders of those nations where the disclosures have been an issue, and that has been true with regards to a number of countries, including Mexico -- including Spain -- obviously including Mexico as well, and Germany and others. And those conversations continue and we engage through normal diplomatic channels on these issues.
I don’t have any conversations with the president of the government of Spain, President Rajoy, to read out to you or preview. As you know, the bilateral meeting is taking place this afternoon.
Q And just last question on aid to Egypt. Is the White House pushing for language that would give -- in this omnibus spending bill that would give the President the tools that would allow him to restore aid to Egypt?
MR. CARNEY: When it comes to some of the nitty-gritty of the omnibus, I would have to urge you to wait -- or either take those questions to the Hill or wait for the progress that has been made thus far to come to completion. I just don’t have an answer for you on that specific question.
Q We have talked to some of those sources. They say that the administration helped draft the language to do this.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of that. I’m not saying one way or the other because I just don’t know.
Q Just to follow up on the NSA, where does the White House or the President feel the public is on these issues now? I mean, they haven’t been in the news for a while.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think this is an important issue and I think that, as the President has said on a number of occasions, that this is an important debate in which entirely valid and worthwhile questions have been asked and are being examined and answered by the administration, by Congress, and by others.
The public, in the President’s view, should hope for, and he hopes will get, steps from the government that makes our signals intelligence gathering more transparent in the programs that represent that effort, and reforms that give them more confidence -- give members of the public more confidence in the programs and the fact that they are pursued in a way that meets the standard the President set, which is that we do what we should do in order to keep the American people safe and the country safe and our allies safe, not just what we can do because we have the capacity to do it.
So that is a layman’s way of looking at the approach that the President has taken as he’s looked at the various recommendations and carefully considered the options available to him when it comes to making changes and making reforms.
Q But why should intelligence be transparent? Isn’t the whole idea that it shouldn’t be transparent?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s an excellent question because obviously there’s a balance that has to be achieved here. Transparent to the extent it can be and as much as possible, but we are talking about intelligence-gathering and there are, almost by definition, aspects of it that have to remain secret in order to be effective. But there should be, in the President’s view, steps that we can take to build confidence about the way these programs are administered, and he looks forward to speaking about these issues on Friday.
Q I just want to clarify something on Iran. Is it the White House’s position that any action from Congress would be harmful to the interim agreement even if the President is successfully able to veto it?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, that’s a series of hypotheticals. I think that we’ve made clear that we would veto legislation if it were to pass, but --
Q Right, but are you guys saying -- is your argument that even if he could veto something, that even the act of Congress voting --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think we take an approach in opposition to specific legislation on the theory that just because he can veto it, we shouldn’t oppose it. I think that the point of the matter is, is that Congress has been a very effective partner with the administration in helping build this sanctions regime, helping enforce it and implement it, and the President wants to and looks forward to working with Congress to take further action should it be required in response to failure by Iran to comply with its obligations or to reach an agreement -- a comprehensive resolution in this six-month period.
Our view is that trying to impose new sanctions now, even if they have a delayed trigger or some other mechanism, could do harm to the effort that’s underway to try to resolve this conflict between Iran and the international community peacefully. And we share -- again, this is not about supporting or not supporting sanctions. This President has led an effort to build the most punitive, comprehensive sanctions regime against Iran in history. It’s merely a question of timing and using Congress’s authority and power here most effectively.
Q So just to be clear, so as long as the President can stop sanctions that Congress would pass from going into effect, then it’s not harmful to the agreement?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think our point is that passing new sanctions now is counterproductive.
Q Are you guys worried that the new sanctions legislation is gaining enough support in Congress that it could override the President’s -- a presidential veto?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we remain of the view that it’s important for Congress to reserve action on new sanctions for the appropriate time if that time arrives. And we’re not gaming this out in the way that you described it. Our position is our position because we think it has merit.
Q Isn’t that your goal, to game that out in the way I described it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m just saying that our position is our position because our position has merit. Congress has been an excellent partner in building this sanctions regime. Congress, in our view, should hold in abeyance action on further sanctions pending progress or the lack of progress in the implementation of the joint plan or in the negotiations for a comprehensive resolution, because in that way they can be most effective towards achieving the goal that we all share, which is to deprive Iran of a nuclear weapon. And that’s the goal.
And the President takes nothing off the table when it comes to achieving that goal, but achieving that goal peacefully or at least attempting to achieve it peacefully is absolutely the right thing to do. And one of the arguments in favor of the initial agreement is that it essentially puts time on the clock by halting progress on the program and rolling back aspects of it while the P5-plus-1 tests whether or not Iran is serious about reaching a comprehensive resolution.
Q And then, just quickly, on the NSA, can you describe the thinking behind choosing to do this speech at the Justice Department, which you know the President gave a speech at the State Department and that was intentionally designed to send the message that the administration wanted to move away from military conflict and talk more about diplomacy, and so in choosing the Justice Department as the venue for this speech, what should people take away from that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that we obviously look at a variety of options when it comes to venues. I wouldn’t read too much into the choice here except that it’s an appropriate choice, given the matters that the President will be discussing.
Q On Iran, if I could, there have been a couple of reports in the last few days assessing the state of the Iranian economy. There’s been some reports about a decline in the inflation rate; the economy, which contracted by 6 percent in 2012, may actually grow by 1 or 1.5 percent this year. And it has been, as I’m sure you know, an argument of critics of the administration on sanctions relief that merely extending the offer of sanctions relief is enough to cause a fairly perceptible shift in the economy because of expectations that there’s more where that came from. Are you looking at these numbers? Do you agree with the contention that there is actually an improvement in the Iranian economy? And does it worry you that even if the sanctions relief -- and this plan is, in fact, modest -- that there’s sort of a disproportionate effect on people’s feelings and sentiment in Iran that could lift the pressure on the regime by a good bit more?
MR. CARNEY: These are all excellent questions. I haven’t seen in-house or administration analysis of Iranian economic growth or contraction. I think as a general fact it’s been established that the Iranian economy has suffered under the sanctions regime and that includes the currency.
The test here is not whether Iranian leaders would be satisfied with 1 percent growth and whether that would relieve enough pressure on them for them to decide not to pursue resolution with the international community. The question is do they resolve their differences with the international community? And if they do it in a transparent, verifiable way, that would be good for the international community, for regional stability. If they do not, as has been the case leading up to this point, there will be consequences because Iran needs to abide by its international obligations.
And you’re talking about a window here of six months. And should there not be compliance with the interim agreement, should there not be resolution, then I’m sure that not just the United States but many of our allies and partners in this effort will judge what actions are necessary to take because the objective will not have been achieved, which is to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
But all of this is anticipating a negative outcome -- and that could be what happens. It is the President’s responsibility, in keeping with the whole purpose of building the sanctions regime, to test whether or not Iran will reach an agreement with the international community that's transparent and verifiable and that will result in Iran coming into compliance with its international obligations.
If they decide not to, for whatever reason, that decision will not be met kindly by the United States or any of our allies and partners in this endeavor. And what is unique I think about what that populace looks like is that it is broad because of the steps that President Obama took in 2009 to make clear that the obstacle to progress on this issue was not the United States, it was not U.S. allies, it was Iran. And we are now where we are because of that regime and its effectiveness, and we will test whether or not a resolution is possible.
Q Jay, staying on Iran, I just want to be clear about something. The interim agreement allows for the talks to be extended by mutual consent. Are you saying that you guys would drop your opposition to new sanctions at the six-month mark --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no --
Q -- or is it over the life of the -- I just want to be clear because you mentioned the six-month mark a couple times -- over the life of the negotiations, right?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to anticipate how these negotiations play out, they haven't even begun yet. What I will -- on the six-month piece. What I will say is that if Iran fails to reach an agreement -- and when that happens is hard to predict if it does happen -- obviously, we’d prefer and our partners prefer that this is resolved peacefully. What I was saying and will repeat is that failure to comply with its obligations will, I think, be met by a reaction from the United States and our partners.
I’m not predicting that. I’m simply making the point that when it comes to congressional action -- as we’ve said in the past -- passing legislation that would impose new sanctions would best wait for, as a matter of timing, a failure by Iran to either comply with its agreements under the Joint Plan of Action or a failure to come to resolution with the international community on the comprehensive agreement.
Q But it’s the second part of that -- obviously, if they violate the interim agreement then you’ve got one cause for action. But --
MR. CARNEY: You’re asking me what would constitute a failure? I think that that obviously will have to wait for the negotiations.
Q No, I’m asking for the timetable, not what would constitute --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to the agreement as you described it.
Q Is there sort of -- on Iran -- a good cop, bad cop dynamic going on here with the administration and Congress? I mean, the President had phone calls, he had meetings, putting pressure on members of Congress not to go forward with sanctions, and yet at least 59 of them are signing on to a sanctions resolution. Is it useful as a saber to rattle when you sit down with Iran?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that -- I wouldn’t analyze it that way. I think that our view -- I mean, we’re being pretty clear, I think, in our view that further sanctions legislation now would potentially result in the opposite of the desired impact; that it could undermine the existing sanctions regime, it could undermine the consensus that we’ve built, and it could undermine the progress that’s been made through the P5-plus-1 in negotiations with Iran.
Better for Congress, in our view, to wait to take action until it’s necessary, if it’s necessary, because of Iran’s failure to comply if that comes about.
Q Jay, without getting into the content of the Health and Human Services conference call, which is still under embargo for another 87 minutes or so -- (laughter) -- what’s the President’s reaction to the December report? Is he happy? Is he sad? (Laughter.) Is he angry?
MR. CARNEY: You can come back to me later in the day.
Thanks very much.
Q Will you get back to us, though?
MR. CARNEY: You know my number.
2:32 P.M. EST
March 20, 2014
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