The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/13/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:36 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, everybody, for coming to a relaxed Friday gaggle. Appreciate it.
Try to move relatively quickly, if we could. And I will start with a week ahead somewhere here. Yes, why don’t I start with that. On Monday, the President of the United States will travel to Memphis, Tennessee, to deliver the commencement address at Booker T. Washington High School, the winner of the 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge. While in Memphis, the President will meet with families impacted by the flooding, state and local officials, first responders, and volunteers.
Later the President will welcome the University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team to the White House for a ceremony honoring their 2011 NCAA National Championship.
In the evening, the President will attend two DNC events in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, the President will meet with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House. Later, the President will host a White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to New London, Connecticut, to deliver the commencement speech at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
Later, the President will travel to Boston, Massachusetts, to attend DNC events.
On Thursday, the President will deliver a speech on the events in the Middle East and North Africa and U.S. policy in the region at the State Department in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, the President will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel at the White House.
And that is your week ahead.
Q George Mitchell?
Q What about next Friday? Situation Room anniversary?
MR. CARNEY: Next Friday? I thought that was --
Q Or is it today?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s today.
Q It’s today?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, indeed.
Q No coverage of that?
MR. CARNEY: It’s kind of a secret room. (Laughter.) We’d have to get you all sorts of security clearances.
Q The Bush folks let us in there when they were redoing it.
Q They sure did. (Laughter.)
Q Aren’t you guys the most transparent administration --
MR. CARNEY: We are. We are indeed. (Laughter.) I’ll see what we can get you about the event surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Situation Room, which is today.
Q Jay, can you tell us whether the U.S. has talked to bin Laden’s wives in Pakistan?
MR. CARNEY: The U.S. government has had access to Osama bin Laden’s wives. I don’t have any information for you beyond that, but yes.
Q Do you know when that happened?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any other information beyond that for you. But they have had access.
Q There’s been a description that they weren’t cooperative. Can you --
MR. CARNEY: I can’t characterize the interaction except to say that we have had access, and we obviously appreciate the cooperation we’ve received from the Pakistani government.
Q Why is George Mitchell leaving?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that except to say that the President will have a statement with regard to that -- paper statement -- later today.
Q But what about -- I mean, this comes right before Netanyahu is here, right before the President’s big Mideast speech. This is supposed to be his point person in the region, and it seems to be bad timing.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to say anything about that because the President will have a statement for you from the President later today.
Q Quick question on bin Laden photos. When the President decided not to release the photos showing bin Laden had been killed, did that also include any photos related to the burial at sea, or is there --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q So those would not be released, either? It covers all of them?
MR. CARNEY: That’s correct. That’s correct.
Q Jay, can you talk a little more about the speech and what the President hopes to do with that? How much of it is going to be on Israel-Palestinian issues? How much of it is going to be on the Arab Spring and those issues?
MR. CARNEY: I was just asking Ben Rhodes the same question a little while ago, but --
MR. CARNEY: No, seriously, I’m not going to say too much because I obviously want the President to have the field. But we’ve gone through a remarkable period in the first several months of this year in that region, in the Middle East and North Africa, and the President obviously has I think some important things to say about how he views the upheaval and how he has approached the U.S. response to the events in the region.
And I’m sure that it will be a fairly sweeping and comprehensive speech about what we’ve all been privileged enough to witness since January.
Q I’m sure he’ll go into this in his speech, but what is his view about the Arab Spring and what it means for the Mideast peace process?
MR. CARNEY: I think as you heard from him back when he spoke in Cairo that he has always viewed the future of the region through the prism of democratization and the yearning of the people -- as all people do, the yearning of the people in the region for greater political freedom, participation in their government, desire for responsive governments that address their grievances, and his -- I’m sure he will call as he has in the past on the governments in the region to respond to those demands through peaceful political dialogue.
And because -- not just because it’s the right thing to do for the people of these countries, but because it is in the interest of stability. And there is that irony and tension right now because obviously some of the governments who have responded inappropriately in ways that we strongly, strongly condemn by using force against their own people, they are doing it in the name of preserving stability, and yet they are only creating greater instability in their country and the region through their reactions -- through the way that they’re reacting.
Anybody else? Jake?
Q Does the administration -- does the White House have any response to the bombings, the revenge bombings by bin Laden? Is there concern that there will be more repercussions?
MR. CARNEY: We are obviously in a sort of state of high vigilance since the successful mission against bin Laden. We take very seriously the fact that while al Qaeda is weakened, it is not dead. And it is obviously entirely possible, even likely, that terrorists -- whether organized or lone wolves -- might try to respond with revenge attacks of some kind. So we’re very vigilant about that. And you can be sure that our intelligence community is focusing very hard on that.
Q Jay, are you guys prepared to ask Congress for some sort of approval to continue the participation in the no-fly zone in Libya?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve obviously been in a lot of -- had a lot of consultations with Congress about our policy towards Libya, and I’m sure we’ll continue that. I don’t have anything with regard to the 60-day issue, if that’s what you’re referring to, for you at this time. But we’re obviously in regular communications with Congress and that will continue.
Q Would it be a surprise if the President dropped in on Mr. Donilon’s meeting today with the opposition?
MR. CARNEY: Actually, there are no plans to have him drop by this afternoon on the meeting.
Q Thanks. To follow up on the Jibril meeting, the NATO Secretary General also is here. Will there -- will they be in the same room at the same time at any point today, or their meeting --
MR. CARNEY: I believe the meeting with the NATO Secretary General has already taken place or is about to end, and we will have a readout on that for you. I don’t anticipate -- because the meeting with Mr. Jibril is later in the day. I don’t believe that’s the plan.
Q Do you expect, even if President Obama is not meeting with him, that there would be some formal recognition by the U.S. perhaps at the end of that meeting of the Libyan opposition government?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t anticipate action like that. I can tell you that we believe that the TNC is a credible and legitimate interlocutor for the Libyan people. And the question of recognition is one of many policy issues still under review. And we are continuing to assess the capabilities of the TNC as we deepen our engagement with the opposition.
Ultimately, of course, it will be the people of Libya, not the international community, who will choose their leadership. But we do applaud the TNC for its commitment to a democratic future for Libya.
Q What time is the meeting, the Jibril meeting?
Q It’s 4:00 p.m.
MR. CARNEY: Four p.m.
Q Italy’s foreign minister said Qaddafi is no longer in Tripoli and that he’s likely injured. Do you have anything on his whereabouts?
MR. CARNEY: Nothing I can share. (Laughter.)
Q It was worth asking.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sure. No, definitely worth asking. Nothing I can share about that.
Q Do you know if he is alive?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any information to the contrary.
Q And could you talk a little bit about how bin Laden’s death is going to tie into the Middle East speech on Thursday?
MR. CARNEY: Again, without overly previewing it, I think that the President views al Qaeda and those with similar views about how they see the -- how they would have that part of the world evolve as being in many ways antithetical in their views toward -- sorry, I’m kind of butchering this sentence. The President believes very firmly that al Qaeda and those who view terrorism as a means to achieving a better future are fast moving towards, if you will, the dustbin of history; that the uprising that we have seen occur, the peaceful demonstrations for greater political freedoms and democracy and prosperity in the region, I think are in many ways a repudiation of the ideology of al Qaeda and the ideology of violence and repression that al Qaeda represents.
Q Jay, can I ask you a follow-up?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q I know you’re not going to comment on what George Mitchell’s plans are, but the fact is you weren’t here in this building at the time, but there was a lot of fanfare when President Obama took office and announced he was going to be pressing the Mideast peace process from the very beginning of his presidency, unlike his predecessor, who waited until the end. George Mitchell was assigned with a lot of fanfare. And now you have two of the biggest players in the region coming to the White House and George Mitchell is stepping down before they arrive. It seems -- I can’t think of anything more symbolic of the hopelessness of this cause of Mideast peace, throwing in the towel, than George Mitchell resigning before the King of Jordan and the Prime Minister of Israel meet with President Obama.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say -- without commenting on something that the President will have a statement about -- I will say that this President’s commitment remains as firm as it was when he took office. The fact that this is a hard issue, an extraordinarily hard issue, is not news to anyone in this room or anyone who’s ever attempted to work on it over these many years. Just ask, for example, Dennis Ross.
But the fact is that it’s important and the President is committed to continue working on it, and the fact that he’s having these meetings next week proves that. So beyond that, I don’t have any comment.
Q Isn’t the timing really a message of resignation?
MR. CARNEY: Again --
Q Not just literarily -- not just a literary resignation, but a resignation, wow, this really isn’t going to work, and here they come and I’m not even going to be here for that.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want to speak for anyone. I would rather wait for the President’s comments and any comments that said individual might have.
Q When you say that the President has got a statement, paper statement coming out, is he going to address these kinds of questions, which everybody here is asking, about why now?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think -- I think I’ve said everything I’m going to say about that report.
Q Well, you sort of led us to believe that the President will address this. Will he really?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’ll have a statement about this issue.
Q Is he going to name a successor, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve just said everything I’m going to say. It’s going to be relatively soon I would anticipate that you’ll see a statement from the President.
Q Is the President going to put out a statement on Senator Kohl retiring?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to see. I’m not sure.
Q Thanks, Jay. Will you be announcing any financial help or any funds from the frozen funds of Qaddafi that will be released to the Libyan opposition after today?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any expectation of announcements of that nature, but I can tell you that we are concerned about the plight of the Libyan people and the humanitarian situation in Libya. We believe that if we could access and use blocked government of Libya assets it could make a different -- significant amount of money available to alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people.
And as you know, Secretary Clinton announced in Rome that we are moving ahead with pursuing legislation to allow us to access that blocked government of Libya assets -- those assets for humanitarian purposes. And we’re in ongoing discussions with Congress to try to make that happen. And we would support legislation that did that when it moves forward.
Q Back to the speech, if I may. Will the President be explaining to the wider audience in the Middle East why he is adopting a new -- a different approach when dealing with Syria and not dealing in the same way he dealt with Libya?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that, as we’ve said and he has said, each of the countries in the region, the Middle East and North Africa, is different. And the circumstances of the unrest and the government’s response have been different in each case. We strongly, in no uncertain terms, condemn the violence that the Syrian government has used against its people and continues to use. It has been made abundantly clear that the Syrian government’s security crackdown will not restore stability and will not stop the demands for change in Syria. The Syrian government continues to follow the lead of its Iranian ally in resorting to brute force and flagrant violations of human rights and suppressing peaceful protests.
As you know, on April 29th, the President signed an executive order imposing sanctions against senior Syrian officials and other Syrian and Iranian government entities responsible for human rights abuses, including the use of violence against civilians and the commission of other abuses. And I would say that absent significant change in the Syrian government’s current approach, the U.S. and its international partners will take additional steps to make clear our strong opposition to the Syrian government’s treatment of its people.
Q What’s the reason that the U.S. has been and is still more cautious than many of the European countries in offering if not recognition, a little bit more public support to the Libyan opposition? Are you still trying to work out exactly who they are, what the implications of doing so would be?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we’ve said that in studying the opposition that that has been our approach. We have commended the TNC on its -- what it has said about how it views the future development of Libya; its need for democracy and representative government that respects the rights of its people. And we are in a process that includes a significant meeting today with the National Security Advisor.
Q Jibril yesterday was quite outspoken about how they need money and they need it fast. Is there anything that can be done --
MR. CARNEY: Well, like I said, we’re working with -- we’re working --
Q -- between legislation being passed and --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we are working with Congress to help provide that extra money, and obviously we have participated in both the NATO mission, continue to participate in that -- which has been successful in achieving its goal as outlined by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 -- and we are working with our allies to take multilateral actions against the Libyan opposition, and we continue to do that with --
Q Follow on that, please? The assets were frozen by -- were not frozen by Congress, they were frozen by the administration, right? Is it necessary to go through Congress to --
MR. CARNEY: It is necessary, as I understand it, to do that, and there is precedent for doing it.
Q Yes, former Governor Mitt Romney gave a pretty lengthy speech on health care reform, drawing distinctions between what he did in Massachusetts and what the President did federally. Do you see any validity to the points he made? And what is the general reaction inside the administration to him calling for, again, a repeal and replace of the law?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously are focused very much on implementing the Affordable Care Act. We think that -- it’s very important to do that to provide Americans with the security and protections that the Affordable Care Act provides. We have said before that the health care reform that then Governor Romney signed into law in Massachusetts is in many ways similar to the legislation that resulted in the Affordable Care Act.
And as to the issue of flexibility, as you know, earlier this year, we made quite a big deal out of the fact that the President wanted to move up to the year 2014 from the provision in the original legislation the starting point at which states can ask for waivers to, if you will, opt out of the Affordable Care Act, as long as, of course, they demonstrate their capacity with their own ideas to achieve the same objectives that the Affordable Care Act outlines.
So we wholly endorse flexibility, and we obviously feel that Massachusetts was -- took a smart approach towards health care reform. It was an approach, by the way, that -- its provenance is so mainstream, even Republican. Don’t forget that there are great similarities between Massachusetts’ law, the Affordable Care Act, and the legislation proposed by then Rhode Island Republican Senator John Chafee in 1993. So that’s the approach we took, and we’re looking forward to continuing to implement it. It’s already been a great help to a great many Americans.
Q One more thing on this topic, the Senate Ethics Committee released a report yesterday on Senator Ensign and referred the matter to the Justice Department. Do you have a reaction to what was contained in the report? And do you agree with the idea that the Justice Department should look into the matter?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any comment on that at all. You know what, I got to go because I have a 12:00 with one of my many bosses.
Q Why do you have some national security and homeland security folks here today? Are they in the Situation Room? Are they meeting with the President?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know what we’ve said about the -- there is the commemoration of the Situation Room today, 50 years the Situation Room.
Q So that’s why they’re all here?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s the case. Is that right?
MS. HAYDEN: We’re putting out a statement.
MR. CARNEY: We did?
MS. HAYDEN: No, we will.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, we will. We’ll put out something on it. Got to run.
Q Can we find out some names now?
MR. CARNEY: Not now, sorry.
END 12:00 P.M. EDT