The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Chicago, Illinois, 3/16/2012

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chicago, Illinois

11:38 A.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good morning, everyone.  Thank you for joining us on Air Force One as we make our way to our first stop of the day.  Before I take your questions let me give you a readout of the President’s call to President Karzai: 

President Obama called President Karzai early this morning to offer his best wishes and congratulations to President Karzai and his wife on the birth of their daughter. 

The two leaders took the opportunity to reaffirm our shared commitment to the Lisbon framework, in which Afghan forces would complete the process of transition and have full responsibility for security across the country by the end of 2014. 

The two leaders also affirmed that they share the goal of building capable Afghan security forces and strengthening Afghan sovereignty so that Afghans are increasingly in charge of their own security, with the lead for combat operations shifting to Afghan forces, with U.S. forces in support, in 2013. 

To that end, the two leaders also discussed President Karzai’s recent reiteration of his longstanding concerns regarding night raids and house searches, and recommitted to conclude ongoing negotiations on a memorandum of understanding to resolve those concerns.

They also agreed to further discuss concerns voiced by President Karzai about the presence of foreign troops in Afghan villages.  President Obama reiterated that he looks forward to welcoming President Karzai to the NATO Summit in Chicago in May, where they, along with our NATO allies and ISAF partners, will together define the next phase of transition.  The President and President Karzai agreed to stay in close touch.

That is my readout. 

Q    Jay, did they discuss them -- President Karzai’s recent comments that indicated he’d like an earlier withdrawal of U.S. troops?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that was clearly a subject of the conversation, as I just described in a fair amount of detail in the readout.  Broadly, they discussed a variety of issues with regards to the mission in Afghanistan.  And I think what is clear from the readout of the call is that the two leaders agree that within the context of the Lisbon framework, which will result in transfer of full responsibility for Afghan security to Afghan forces by the end of 2013 2014, we will, as the President has said, reach a milestone at some point in 2013, where Afghans will take the lead in combat operations.  U.S. forces will continue to partner with the Afghan forces but will be in a support mode.  So this is all part of a gradual transition that results in the fulfillment of the Lisbon framework by the end of 2014.*

Q    Jay, Karzai’s representation of their conversation suggests that the President expressed some surprise that Karzai had called for a removal of troops or withdrawal of troops from rural -- in villages and moving them back to bases.  And also, that they discussed the transfer of the soldier accused of these atrocities to U.S. soil.

MR. CARNEY:  I am not aware that that was a subject of the conversation, on your second point.  On the first point, I would simply say that the two leaders did discuss President Karzai’s concern about U.S. forces in Afghan villages.  And within the context of a discussion about the transition that is already underway and is taking place that will result in U.S. forces turning over to Afghan forces greater and greater responsibility to the point where they have the combat lead by 2013 and full responsibility for Afghan security -- full lead by 2014, I think that the two men were very much on the same page.

Q    So does that mean that there will be no withdrawal from villages until it’s under the context of the change of role next year?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, there have been -- you’re talking about ground-level decisions that have to do with deployments within the framework of an overall strategy.  There have been ongoing changes in the disposition and location of U.S. and ISAF forces for a long time now as we have begun this transition and begun to draw down U.S. forces.  And that will continue.

So there are places where U.S. forces were more out in the field, if you will, and less now; and then -- and less before and more now.  That's part of an overall strategy.  But those kinds of on-the-ground decisions will be made within the framework of the overall strategy, but more at a ground level.

Q    Jay, the President has now obviously had two conversations with President Karzai arising from unpleasant things, whether it was the rampage or President Karzai’s remarks.  Did President Obama make any kind of a broader plea or commitment that he’d like to see the relationship be on a sort of a sounder footing, and acknowledge that the last couple of weeks have been particularly rough?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has acknowledged, and I’m confident that it is the context -- that it is fair to say with -- about this conversation that it is well understood that the last several weeks in Afghanistan, because of the events that have taken place there, have been particularly challenging.  And the President has very publicly expressed his thoughts on some of these incidents, as well as communicated with President Karzai about them. 

So I don’t have a specific sense of how that general understanding and acknowledgement fits into this conversation, but it is within the context of all these events that that conversation took place.  So as I said yesterday from the podium, there is a broad strategy here that has been underway now for some time that included this surging up of forces, the refocusing of our mission to concentrate on our number-one objective, al Qaeda.  And in support of that, stabilizing Afghanistan, building up Afghan forces, building up their capacity so that we can transition security responsibility to the Afghans and get our forces out of Afghanistan. 

The President’s plan envisions an end to this war, and not just the hope for an end but the concrete measures that need to be taken to withdraw U.S. forces, to transfer security lead over to Afghan forces, to give control of the country to Afghan forces so that our men and women can come home.

So I think that the -- again, the two men very much share the goal of Afghanistan being able to be responsible for its own security, for Afghan forces to be able to do that and have the capacity to do that, and for the success of the -- for the mission to be successful, which is to further erode and ultimately defeat al Qaeda and allow Afghanistan to be stable enough so that it will not become a haven for al Qaeda in the future.

Q    Jay, there are reports out of Kuwait that the government there is upset about the shooter being transferred there, saying that he can’t be kept there for a long period of time.  Do you guys have a reaction to some of those reports, and any details on when and where he may be moved to?

MR. CARNEY:  I saw those reports but I don’t have a reaction to it.  I’ll have to refer you to the State Department for that.  And I don’t have any information that I can impart to you about his -- about any particular individual’s location.

Q    He might be still in Kuwait?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take that question.  I’m not sure what I can say on that.

Q    Jay, was the President consulted on any transfer of the staff sergeant out of Afghanistan?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, we’re not commenting with any specificity about the investigation for obvious reasons.  The President has clearly been regularly briefed and updated on the situation in Afghanistan, including the situation surrounding the incident that resulted in the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan.  But beyond that I’m not going to get into any specifics.

Q    One more question on the call.  I didn’t hear, or maybe I missed it in the readout -- did they discuss reconciliation at all?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know that they did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t.  That is obviously one of the key elements of our overall strategy here, which is to support that Afghan-led process.  But I don’t know if that specifically came up in this call.  As you noted earlier, they've been -- the two leaders have been in contact fairly frequently, of late, and generally have fairly regular contact.  So reconciliation is always one of the topics of conversation.

Q    Jay, about today's trip.  Is it easier when planning campaign and official business to have one day like this where the entire day is fundraisers, in terms of who ends up paying the bill at the end of the day?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not really involved in paying the bills, so I would direct your -- those questions to the campaign. 

The President of the United States is President of the United State 24 hours a day, including when he calls foreign leaders in the very early hours of the morning, and on weekends, and on any given day of the week.  So there are a lot of factors that go into presidential scheduling.  The schedule this week worked out that he was able to do these events in the way that we planned. 

But I can assure you that his day will be full of the execution of his responsibilities as President, even as he is engaging in some of these campaign events.

Q    And I'm not questioning that.  My question is, just from a logistical perspective, if this is easier.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, it's hard -- I don't know.  I mean, that's a logistical, billing question --

Q    The White House is involved in that as well.

MR. CARNEY:  -- that it really is not for me to answer.  I have no idea what’s easier or not.  What I do know is that we do this very much by the book, very much in accordance with the rules that have been in place since we’ve been in office and prior to us coming into office, and will continue to do so.

Q    Did the President watch the documentary that his campaign put out last night online?  And if he didn't watch it last night, has he seen the full film?  And also wondering on that, why was -- from your point of view, why was this necessary?  I mean, it’s obviously targeting the President’s supporters, reminding them of all of his accomplishments.  But why was this necessary at this time?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, that's a campaign video.  Questions about campaign strategy should be addressed to the campaign.  I was asked this yesterday.  I don't know if the President has seen it.  I would be surprised if he hasn’t simply because it is his reelection campaign.  But he has been quite busy. 

I had a chance to see it.  I thought it was superb.  I’ll probably watch it many times.  I hope you will, too.

Q    Jay, big event in Atlanta today -- Tyler Perry, Cee Lo is performing.  Does the President have Cee Lo in his iPad or his iPod?

MR. CARNEY:  I wouldn’t -- I think he might.  I know he’s a fan.

Q    There’s one particularly titled song that kind of goes against the hope and change message.  I can't repeat it on something that's going to be transcribed, but -- (laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know about specific songs, but hopefully we’ll get to hear to some music tonight.

Q    I think the clean version of that title is “Forget You.”  (Laughter.)

Q    It’s still an “F.”  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don't have any comment on specific songs.

Q    Can you be a little more specific on what time that phone call happened this morning?

MR. CARNEY:  I mean, not that long after midnight, as I understand it.

Q    Midnight local time here?

MR. CARNEY:  Midnight, U.S. time, yes -- Washington time.

Q    Because he called sometime in the early hours --

MR. CARNEY:  So I guess it was late night, early morning, Washington and morning in Kabul.  And I think he wanted to speak with him --

Q    During his day --

MR. CARNEY:  And that was when it worked for both leaders.  Also, the President was eager to congratulate President Karzai on the birth of his daughter.

Q    Has he been speaking to Leader Reid about the jobs bill and keeping it as clean as possible so that it doesn't -- so it doesn't get slowed down in the process?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know if the President and Leader Reid have had that conversation.  I -- certainly senior White House staff have been in regular consultation with the Hill about the legislative agenda, including the small business bill.  We’ve put out a SAP on the small business bill.  There are a number of elements in it, in the House version, that were essentially
-- I mean, directly reflect precise proposals of the President’s.  That's why we have been supportive of it.

It is also true that we believe we are supportive of the Senate amendments that would enhance investor protections.  So we’re supportive of those amendments, too, to improve the bill.

That’s it?

Q    Got a week ahead for us, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  I do not have a week ahead.  They’ll be sending it at some point today. 

Q    Jay, do you remember a trip -- last question from me.  Do you remember a trip that was all fundraising?  I mean, we were just trying to figure this out.  I know you did an all fundraising one before, but not that long ago.  There was one in California.  But was there one where you left Washington, did only fundraising and came back?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know.  I’d have to look at the schedule. 

Q    There was a Chicago trip that we talked about; that was an afternoon/evening trip. 

MR. CARNEY:  And was that all campaign events?

Q    It was all campaign.

MR. CARNEY:  So that would be an example of that.  I don’t
think it’s unprecedented.  And to Jeff’s point, it may or may not be simply logistically easier to do these when possible given all the other responsibilities he has.  But I really don’t know how it all gets puts together.

This week, obviously, we had a lot going on in Washington, and I think today was identified as a day where we could pull this off.

All right.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you, all, very much.

END
11:56 A.M. EDT 

White House Shareables