The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Gaggle with Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes Aboard Air Force One en route New York, New York
Aboard Air Force One, En Route New York, New York
4:43 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. Thanks for flying with us to New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting. I have with me to talk about just that Ben Rhodes, the President's Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. I turn it over to Mr. Rhodes.
MR. RHODES: Hey, guys. I just want to go through tomorrow, the President's schedule and what we're trying to get out of events tomorrow. And then we'll obviously have chances to brief throughout the course of the next couple days.
But tomorrow morning at a little after 10:00 a.m., the President will begin his day with a meeting with the Chairman of the TNC, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. And then that will be followed by a high-level, multilateral meeting on Libya, where the President will deliver remarks. Open press.
We put a lot of effort into Libya in the course of the last several weeks to get international support for post-Qaddafi Libya, and that's going to be the focus of these meetings in the morning tomorrow. With our strong support, the TNC was recently seated as a member of the General Assembly as a representative of the Libyan government. Similarly, there was just a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in the last couple of days that provided a mandate for a U.N. presence in Tripoli to help with the post-Qaddafi transition, as well as a gradual lifting of the sanctions so that some of the funds that have been frozen can be more readily made available to the TNC.
At the meetings tomorrow, I think it's an effort to mark an extraordinary achievement by the U.N.-led process that the U.S. has supported. The U.N. Security Council resolution 1973 was a rare and historic moment where all necessary measures were provided to protect civilians. And the U.N. sanction action led to averting a massacre, and also the U.N. played a key role in the contact group that helped plan for a post-Qaddafi Libya.
So these meetings tomorrow will be about marking that achievement, about receiving the TNC's plans for an inclusive transition in Libya, and also about underscoring the critical role that the U.N. is going to play as a body that can help provide expertise on the ground in Tripoli and other places as Libya moves into a post-Qaddafi government. Also it's a chance for the international community to express its support for that effort.
So the President will speak at that event after Ban Ki-Moon and Chairman Jalil -- the President will be the first head of state to speak, and then there will be additional heads of state and delegation who will speak.
Following that event, the President has a bilateral meeting with President Karzai, at roughly 11:45 a.m., back at the Waldorf. This is the first meeting the President will have with Karzai since we rolled out our plan for a transition, so they'll discuss the transition to the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government. He'll also discuss the negotiations surrounding the strategic partnership declaration between the United States and Afghanistan and our alignment on the political process in Afghanistan as we head to some important conferences later this year in Istanbul and Bonn.
After that, at a little before 2:00 p.m., the President will meet with President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, and then Brazil and the United States are co-chairing a meeting of the open government partnership that we'll be launching tomorrow. Last year at the U.N., the President called for countries to come back the following year and make commitments on behalf of open government, which is how do you use open government to make governance more accountable to citizens, more transparent, to root out corruption. And so what’s happened is a very unique and kind of unprecedented effort where the United States has worked with countries around the world to put together a coalition of governments who are making concrete commitments.
So this will be started tomorrow by eight governments that will bring national action plans to the table, specifying ways in which they've been responsive to a call for more open government. Those eight governments are the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Norway, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom.
And, again, I think it speaks to part of our efforts to promote democracy and how they reach out to both existing, long-established partners, like the UK, but also emerging democracies, like Indonesia and Brazil and the Philippines, that have a lot to offer in terms of providing a model for other countries that are moving towards democracy.
In addition to those eight countries, each of whom will make remarks at the event, we anticipate over 40 countries coming to this meeting and committing to join the open partnership process -- open government partnership process. So this was a new initiative led by the United States that goes well beyond traditional democracies that we’ve partnered with on these issues. We believe it sends a powerful message about the broadening sphere of responsibility and democracy promotion.
It also includes civil society partners, which is also unique in terms of a U.S. government-led process that makes civil society a partner of governments in developing these initiatives.
Following the open government partnership event, at about 4:30 p.m., the President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. Obviously at this juncture there are a huge number of issues that we’re working with the Turks on, to include Arab Spring related issues -- Turkey has played a key role in Libya and in Syria; issues related to missile defense -- Turkey has agreed to host a U.S. radar; and, of course, issues related to Middle East peace. So the President and Prime Minister Erdogan have a lot of topics to discuss.
So that’s the schedule for tomorrow, and sort of what we’re trying to achieve. Again, I think our emphasis is on capitalizing on a lot of the momentum over the last year -- Libya, of course, being a prominent issue that we've worked particularly through the U.N. system, so Libya is a particular focus tomorrow. The President’s first meeting with the head of the TNC, and first chance to sit with heads of state and the Secretary General to discuss a post-Qaddafi transition, as well as the open government partnership that we're launching tomorrow.
I'd be happy to take any questions.
Q Will the President be meeting with Palestinian President Abbas during this day?
MR. RHODES: We don’t have any meetings scheduled at this point. If that changes, we’ll let you know. Currently, we’re planning on meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday, midday. It’s always possible that there are changes in the schedule, but right now there’s no meeting planned.
Q Is an effort being made to schedule something? I mean, he's there already meeting with Ban Ki-Moon, meeting with various leaders.
MR. RHODES: I'm sorry?
Q Abbas is already there meeting with leaders all day long today. Is there any effort to schedule a meeting with him?
MR. RHODES: I mean, we’re certainly -- we’ve been in touch with the Palestinians at a range of levels over the course of the last few weeks, so we’ve been in communication with them. Again, we don’t have a meeting set up at this point. We’ll let you know if that changes.
Q Ben, as you, of course, know, the United States is part of a broader effort to try to sway the Palestinians not to pursue this bid for statehood from the U.N., for reasons you’ve stated, and now it seems as clear as ever that Abbas is planning to go ahead with that. What is your assessment of the state of play on that?
MR. RHODES: Well, again, we’ve noted President Abbas’s statement that he was going to pursue action at the Security Council. He's yet to file that action. But we’ve made our position clear, which is that we oppose actions to achieve a Palestinian state through the United Nations. Insofar as their actions at the Security Council, we would oppose those, and if it came to a vote, we’ve made it clear that we would veto actions in the Security Council.
What we’re focused on and what a lot of our diplomacy has been into is about not just the next few days, but about what comes next. And we believe there needs to be a basis for negotiation and that actions through the U.N. do not create a basis for negotiation, but rather there needs to be a set of principles that the parties can come to the table around. And that’s what the President laid out in his speech in May, and that’s why we’re talking to our Quartet partners and others about how to build international support for a basis for negotiations between the two parties.
Q Are you seeing progress on that point?
MR. RHODES: Well, we’ve seen support from international -- from some of our allies and partners for the approach that the President laid out in May over the course of the last several months. Several European leaders, you noted, on the President’s trip expressed support for the President’s speech. So we believe that there is support for the type of approach that he laid out in May as being a basis for negotiation. And what we want to do is have broad support for that approach, and make it clear that it’s going to be direct negotiations that achieves a peace and achieves a Palestinian state and a secure Israel, and it’s not going to be actions at the U.N. that achieves that goal.
Q Has the administration decided yet how they’ll respond to efforts in Congress to cut aid for the Palestinians, to close the PLO office in Washington, or other options that are being tabled to deal with this situation?
MR. RHODES: We have not. Obviously a lot remains to be seen about how events play out in the coming days. We don’t want to get ahead of those events. So, again, it’s something that we’ll be talking with our friends on the Hill very closely about. But at this time, a lot remains to be seen about how this situation develops before we begin to assess questions like that.
Q What’s the likelihood that there may be a Merkel meeting added?
MR. RHODES: I don’t think Merkel is coming. But you may -- I don’t know if you saw, but he spoke to her today. The conversation had two subjects. They discussed the ongoing events in the eurozone and the need to stay closely coordinated going forward and heading into the G20. And they talked about Middle East peace and our efforts to align our position on support for direct negotiations.
Q Will Geithner be in on the meetings with Cameron and Sarkozy?
MR. RHODES: Yes, yes. And we anticipate that the meetings with Cameron and Sarkozy will focus in part on the global economy and eurozone, and also on the Middle East and Arab Spring related issues.
Q There was some word today of -- Palestinians talking about bringing some six-month freeze that will be possible before the resolution will be taken up. Do you know anything about that? Is that part of what’s been talked about?
MR. RHODES: I mean, what I’d say is that, first of all, the Palestinians have indicated that they would be looking at a range of different proposals, even as they potentially pursued action at the United Nations. So there are a lot of ideas that have been put in the mix in recent days. Again, we’ve been at the table with our Quartet partners, but also speaking to Israelis and Palestinians. I wouldn’t get into specific proposals at this point, other than to say there's still a lot of discussion taking place -- and, frankly, still, again, it remains to be seen what the exact nature of the actions that are taken at the United Nations will be this coming week.
Q Ben, can I ask on Libya -- I think on Sunday the TNC had been expected to announce a lineup of cabinet members and a new government. That didn’t happen. Is the U.S. disappointed by that? And is there any element to tomorrow’s events that folks might see as sort of premature celebration of a new government, when, in fact, the Libyans are still struggling to put that together?
MR. RHODES: No, in fact, it actually speaks to the importance of the meeting tomorrow in that, first of all, we think it’s most important to get it right rather than to get it done fast. So, insofar as the TNC is taking time to pursue that announcement of a new government, again, the most important priority for us is that this be done in the right way.
That said, the TNC has made very positive statements about wanting to pursue an inclusive transition, about wanting to broaden the nature of the government to include some additional elements of the opposition that were based in different parts of the country. And I think that's precisely the kind of thing that they'll be stressing tomorrow: How can we make a transition more inclusive? How can we make sure that we learn from past transitions in post-conflict situations? What role can the United Nations and the international community play in supporting a successful transition?
So the TNC has made very positive statements. They've put out clear principles over the course of the last several weeks about the type of transition that they want to see. I think the point of tomorrow's meeting is in part to reinforce those positive statements, to reinforce the international community's support for an inclusive transition, and for the chance to be able to engage in the dialogue with the United States, the United Nations, and others about what the best way is that we can support that.
Q On Libya, does the President come into that meeting with any specific asks, any specific requests, either for the TNC or the international community?
MR. RHODES: I think that, again, what he's going to be going to the meeting with is he'll be able to describe the nature of the U.S. commitment going forward. We're obviously close to reestablishing a full diplomatic presence in Tripoli. We've been working to free up portions of the assets that we have frozen. So we'll be able to speak to both the role the United States has -- I'll think we'll want to talk through, again, now that there's a new U.N. mandate with the U.N. Security Council, what type of expertise can the United Nations provide to help the Libyan government as they deal with issues like transition, service provision, moving to elections. So they'll discuss a range of issues about the best way that the U.N. can provide support, and again, want to hear from the TNC about the ways in which they're addressing precisely these questions of inclusivity and seating a government that is broadly representative of the Libyan people and that transitions over a period of time to a duly elected government.
Q Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, guys.
END 4:57 P.M. EDT