Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, 5/24/2011
5:48 P.M. BST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us here in London. I have with me today Ben Rhodes, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. He'll give you a briefing on this visit so far as well as an update on events for tomorrow. Before he does that, though, I have a statement by the President regarding some news involving Chrysler’s full repayment and final repayment of its TARP money today, making a final payment of $5.1 billion. The statement by the President is as follows:
Chrysler’s repayment of its outstanding loans to the U.S. Treasury and American taxpayers marks a significant milestone for the turnaround of Chrysler and the countless communities and families who rely on the American auto industry.
This announcement comes six years ahead of schedule and just two years after emerging from bankruptcy, allowing Chrysler to build on its progress and continue to grow as the economy recovers.
Supporting the American auto industry required making some tough decisions, but I was not willing to walk away from the workers at Chrysler and the communities that rely on this iconic American company. I said if Chrysler and all its stakeholders were willing to take the difficult steps necessary to become more competitive, America would stand by them. And we did.
While there is more work to be done, we are starting to see stronger sales, additional shifts at plants, and signs of strength in the auto industry and our economy, a true testament to the resolve and determination of American workers across the nation.
That's the end of the President’s statement. I would add that since June of 2009, the American auto industry has added 115,000 jobs.
With that, I'll turn it over to Ben. And then we'll take -- depending on the nature of your questions, we'll each take questions.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, Jay. So I just want to, before we take your questions, give you some updates on the visit so far and plans for tomorrow.
The President was in very good spirits after his trip to Ireland; had a wonderful day yesterday with the people of Ireland and very much enjoyed himself in getting to know some of his distant relatives and the broader Irish public.
Today, of course, we had a series of events with the Queen and the Prime Minister. I think in general, as you saw the President reaffirm in an op-ed with Prime Minister Cameron this morning, the U.S.-U.K. relationship is both essential for our countries and for the world. And the purpose of this visit is to reaffirm that relationship, to further align our approaches on all the core issues that we work with the United Kingdom on. And that runs the gamut from our cooperation on global economic recovery to the effort in Afghanistan, counterterrorism, our efforts in Libya, our nonproliferation agenda, and a whole host of issues that the Prime Minister and the President will have the opportunity to discuss tomorrow.
I think also the President was very honored to be received by the Queen today. She, of course, is a historic figure who in many ways embodies the depth of the ties between our two nations, dating back, of course, to our shared effort in World War II and throughout the Cold War. And again I think her receiving the President was a deep honor for both him and the First Lady and, again, underscores the friendship between our two countries.
The President then, of course, was able to visit with Prime Minister Cameron and to visit a local school in town. The President and Prime Minister Cameron both very much wanted to have the opportunity, within the context of the formal state visit, to get out and interact with some young people, and they were able to do so at the Global Academy. And again I think it spoke to the President’s desire to, again, interact with some of the British people during his time here, in addition to his official business.
Just a couple of scheduling things to run through. Tonight of course is the dinner at Buckingham Palace. Tomorrow the President will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Cameron. I went through some of the subjects that they’ll be discussing.
After that they’ll drop by a barbeque that's being hosted by the First Lady and Prime Minister Cameron’s wife to celebrate military families, and this will have service members from the United States who are based in the U.K., as well as of course British service members.
They’ll be announcing a new joint initiative focused on military families and care for our veterans. This of course has been a focus for the First Lady of the United States. It’s also a focus for Prime Minister Cameron and his wife here. And this will establish a new service personnel task force that will share best practices on how we can better provide support for military personnel and their families.
That includes linking them up in their communities to meet their needs. That includes supporting the transition of those who are leaving service into civilian life through vocational training and education. It includes support for wounded warriors and other ill and injured personnel, including the physical and psychological care and rehabilitation that they need.
And it speaks to the fact that we’re coming through a period of time where we’ve had, of course, nearly 10 years of conflict. So many of the same challenges that we have in the United States associated with wounded warriors and military families are present here in the U.K.
So what this task force will do is bring together experts from both countries on a regular basis, seek the use and involvement of charitable organizations and the private sector, and bring together, again, government officials who can on a regular basis share those best practices and help strengthen our efforts to support service members and their families.
So after that event, the President and Prime Minister will hold a joint press conference. Then the President will address the British Parliament. Again, it’s an honor that he’s very deeply moved to receive.
I’ll just say a few things about the speech, and you may have questions on it. I think what he’ll again underscore is both the essential nature of the U.S.-U.K. alliance as well as the broader transatlantic alliance to global security and prosperity. I think he’ll speak to the fact that we’ve obviously come through a very difficult decade, but in some respects we’re turning a corner insofar as we’ve successfully ended our combat mission in Iraq, removed 100,000 troops. The British forces of course have left Iraq. Our efforts to dismantle, defeat -- disrupt and defeat al Qaeda have weakened that organization, of course including the killing of Osama bin Laden recently. We are preparing to begin a transition -- or have already begun a transition in Afghanistan to Afghan lead that we’ll continue to undertake over the course of the next -- until 2014. And of course we are working very hard every day to advance a global economic recovery.
In that context, of course we recognize that we live in a new world that’s quite different from the one that we faced after World War II or the end of the Cold War. You have of course rising powers around the world. And I think what the President will reaffirm, though, is that even in that changing context, that it is the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom and the broader transatlantic alliance that is the cornerstone of global security and the extension of the democratic values that we share.
The United States and the United Kingdom, along with our allies, are the ones who shoulder particular burdens for global security. We see that in Afghanistan. We see that in our efforts against al Qaeda. We see that of course today in Libya. We are deeply invested in an international system that marshals collective action and that can be applied of course to not just our efforts in Afghanistan but our efforts around nonproliferation, the ongoing effort to enforce sanctions on nations like Iran and North Korea that are not meeting their obligations.
We see that, of course, in our efforts to promote development around the world, to combat disease together. But above all, we see that in a set of values that we share, democratic values. And again, at a time when we see people in the Middle East and North Africa in particular reaching for those democratic values, it underscores that the things that we believe in are not just relevant but essential to the development of greater prosperity and security and democracy for peoples around the world. So he'll speak about steps that we can take to support universal rights in the Middle East and North Africa.
So that's a brief preview. I think there will be a broad lay of the land about, again, our economic efforts, our efforts on behalf of global security and our values, as well as what it is exactly that binds the U.S. and UK together.
After that, of course, the President will then, later on that night, host a dinner for the Queen to reciprocate for her hospitality.
The only other thing that I'd mention at the top of this is, as you know I think, the President signed an executive order associated with our Iran sanctions efforts last night, and today there’s an announcement of the designation of a number of additional companies in the nonproliferation and energy sectors associated with our Iran sanctions effort.
This continues to reenforce the message that we've sent, which is that there’s going to be a cost to doing business with Iran, that Iran is increasingly isolated and paying a price for its illicit nuclear program, and it, frankly, comes on the heels of a very robust set of European Union sanctions that were announced in recent days, I think which further underscores the point that the U.S. and Europe are working in concert to advance the agenda of nonproliferation and the agenda of peace and security more broadly.
So with that, we’d be happy to take your questions.
Q I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the discussion tomorrow between Cameron and Obama on Libya. A lot of the talk that we hear now is sort of forward-looking, what happens after Qaddafi leaves power. But he’s still there, he’s still in power. So what is the discussion going to focus on in terms of the next steps in the NATO mission? And then also, there are some British politicians that have criticized the U.S. and asked for more U.S. involvement in the NATO mission. Is that something the U.S. is open to, or is what we’re doing now the extent of what we are going to do?
MR. RHODES: I’d say a number of things. Libya will certainly be one of the lead agenda items tomorrow. First of all, I think it’s important to understand the current context, which is that I think we believe that the trends show that time is very much working against Qaddafi. Since we began the operation just over two months ago, we’ve significantly degraded his forces. We’ve enabled the enforcement of a no-fly zone. And not only have we stopped his advance on major population centers like Benghazi where there could have been a massacre, but you’ve actually seen the opposition take the time and space that it needs to organize to push Qaddafi’s forces back from Misurata, to push them back not just from Benghazi but Ajdabiya.
So we believe that Qaddafi and his forces are under tremendous strain. I think you saw today there were additional targeting in Tripoli at command and control centers, all of which I think sends a message that the trend lines are against Qaddafi, that time is working against him.
I think tomorrow in their discussions they’ll talk about, again, the need to sustain that kind of pressure through the NATO mission, along with our coalition partners. They’ll also talk about ways that we can support the opposition. We recently have received in Washington members of the council who we believe are a credible interlocutor, a legitimate interlocutor of the Libyan people. We're providing assistance to them, non-lethal assistance, in line with a number of other nations. And so one of the things that we can do over time is, again, build their capacity to deliver on behalf of the Libyan people.
And lastly we’ll talk about the international alignment and the international effort that's necessary to support Libya, not just through our military action but the political and diplomatic support, as well. There's a contact group that's met several times to discuss both the military effort that's ongoing but also the humanitarian assistance that can be provided, the political support for the opposition in Libya, and ultimately what kind of transition could take place in Libya when Qaddafi is no longer in power. And in that effort the council has made a number of positive statements about moving towards a democratic and inclusive Libya. So I think they’ll talk about that, as well.
And on your second question, I think the United States provided enormous amount of resources on the front end of the military effort to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks and to degrade his capability so a no-fly zone can be more easily enforced. We already said that we will then transition to a NATO command and that our partners would take on a lot of the responsibility for the no-fly zone and striking targets on the ground.
But we’ve continued to provide a range of assistance to that effort -- logistical support, intelligence support, targeting support, a jamming of Libyan communications. And in addition to that, we identified a unique capability that we thought could help with the effort, which was the ability to target -- to hit targets with an unmanned aerial vehicle, for instance, which allows for precision targeting.
And again, we also think it’s important to look at the broad picture. You have the striking of targets on the ground, but you also have the need to enforce an arms embargo, to enforce sanctions, and so we’re looking at ways to both do that and to get more resources to the opposition. And there's an ongoing effort on the Hill right now to look at how we might be able to vest some of the funds from the money that we seized from Qaddafi and the opposition.
So there's a lot of ways that the U.S. is contributing diplomatically through support to the opposition and through support to the military effort. And we’re satisfied that we’ll continue to do so and that that is playing an incredibly important role in the operation.
Q -- is considering sending attack helicopters to Libya. Is this something that you support? And is it a sign that the war is dragging on sort of indecisively?
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, I don't think it’s a sign because as I said, in just two months, we’ve not only accomplished the initial objective, which was stopping a massacre in Benghazi and putting in place a no-fly zone, but you’ve seen all of the trends running against Qaddafi, again, whether it’s the opposition taking control of Misurata and Ajdabiya, whether it’s his being cut off from the cash and arms that he needs to resupply, and the degradation of his forces. So there's, again, a steady erosion of Qaddafi’s ability to endanger his own citizens that we believe demonstrates that time is going to work against him.
With regard to the helicopters, what we’ve said at the outset is that there's an international effort under NATO command, along with Arab participation -- which is, again, unique in the history of NATO to have Arab participation under a NATO-led effort -- each nation will make individual decisions about the nature of its contributions. So you’ve had nations, for instance, that have flown missions and hit targets on the ground. You have nations who have enforced a no-fly zone. You have nations who are providing more support from more a logistical nature.
But we welcome the contributions of every member of the coalition. So this additional contribution by the British, of course, is an important effort to strengthen the capability of the coalition, and we certainly welcome it. And, again, it’s in line with how the operation was set up, which is that you have a unified NATO command and then you have coalition members who make their own determinations about their contributions.
Q Ben, but how can the U.S. continue to support the war without having Congress -- now that 60 days have expired late last week -- how can you continue to participate in a war without Congress approving a resolution to say the U.S. can still participate?
MR. RHODES: Well, Ed, I think we addressed that through the letter the President sent up to Congress at the end of last week, again, reaffirming our ongoing efforts in Libya and expressing support for a resolution that is currently being worked in the Senate by a number of senators including, for instance, Senator McCain, Senator Kerry and others. So we believe we have the authorities we need.
We believe we have the obligation to continue to consult with Congress on this issue, and we, again, expressed our support for the resolution that is being worked in the Senate.
Q -- Congress’s support why didn’t you get it before the 60 days expired? I don't understand, if you continue to do it, if you don't have the approval you say you're going to seek --
MR. RHODES: It’s Congress’s decision as to whether and when they take up a resolution. So, again, that's -- Congress will determine the timing of when it might consider a resolution. What we've done is consistently consult with Congress through testimony and other means, and again, in the letter from the President we've expressed support for the particular resolution that was brought to our attention.
Q The letter in which the resolution is mentioned suggests that the role is limited, the U.S. role is limited so that congressional authorization is not needed. Are you expecting to hear from the French in the next stop and also tomorrow with Prime Minister Cameron a much harder sell for the U.S. to increase the mission back to providing the unique capabilities that the President talked about two months ago?
MR. RHODES: I think that the President, before the operation began, spoke to both President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron that the nature of that commitment would be limited in scope and duration and that we would hand over command from the United States to NATO, and that we would similarly hand over responsibility for the enforcement of the civilian protection mission and no-fly zone to our partners.
So that was the understanding from the beginning. What we’ve said since then is that we -- again, we would consult with NATO, consider requests, but that the nature of our commitment was always going to be limited in scope and duration.
I will say, however, that the contributions we’re making now are very significant to the mission. We do have a unique capability, for instance around our intelligence, around our refueling capacity, around our ability to jam Libyan command and control, for instance. So the things that we’re doing in support of the mission continue to be very important to its success.
And again, we believe that that’s totally in line with the understandings that we’ve had with our allies throughout this effort. And what these conversations are, are an opportunity to continue to make sure that we’re aligned, to continue to make sure that there is broad support for the mission, and to continue to talk through some of these other issues, which are very important, around how do we get support to the opposition, how do we make sure that the international community is preparing to support perhaps a transition to a post-Qaddafi Libya. So there’s a whole host of issues associated with Libya that the leaders will be discussing.
Q You talked about the alliance being a catalyst for global action. Is that -- is it credible that Europe, given its declining defense budgets and declining in relative power throughout the areas of the world, can play the role the United States would like it to play?
MR. RHODES: I think, in the first instance, it’s essential that the U.S. and Europe continue to serve as that catalyst for global action. There’s a lot of talk about other emerging powers, and that talk leads to questions as to whether or not the United States and Europe are going to continue to play the role in the world that they have for several decades as world leaders.
But I think if you look at it, there is no other alliance that assumes the burdens that we assume on behalf of peace and security, and that, again, invests as much as we do in enforcement of international law and in global development. And I think the message to Europe -- and, frankly, in answer to your question, I think we've been very pleased with the contributions, just to take the security side of things, that we've seen out of our European allies to the mission in Afghanistan. We've had a dramatic increase in resources after a period of under-resourcing over the last two years. And I think Libya also speaks to the fact that our European allies are accepting a burden on behalf of the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions and in terms of trying to, again, not just stop a massacre but give the Libyan people an opportunity to determine their future.
So our focus is on maintaining the role that the U.S. and Europe play together as a catalyst for action and we believe that in the emerging context of the 21st century, not only is that as relevant as ever, but it’s going to demand contributions from all nations.
And just to take one example, in that respect, at Lisbon, NATO agreed on a new strategic concept where different nations would develop different capabilities that could be brought to bear so that NATO is no longer an alliance built to simply repel a Soviet invasion but can meet new threats, whether they come from ballistic missiles or cyber attacks or terrorism.
So all of us, frankly, need to be reorienting our capabilities, and we're confident that that's already taking place through efforts such as NATO’s adoption of the new strategic concept.
Q Do you have concerns as Europe, and the UK in particular, grapples with the global economic recovery and makes cuts, that that, in the words of former Under Secretary of State Nick Burns, makes them perhaps a less capable military partner? There’s talk of mothballing the aircraft carrier -- the one aircraft carrier of -- mothballing their Harrier fleets. Given the essential nature of the relationship, do you have concern that the economic recovery would make them a less capable partner?
MR. RHODES: I'd just say a couple things. First of all, I think all nations, of course, are focused on their economic recovery. That's certainly true in the United States and it’s certainly true here. We also know that a lot of nations are looking at ways to reduce spending. The United States is looking at a range of ways, including in our defense budget. But we believe that we can pursue that effort in a way that's entirely consistent with our security needs.
And that's part of the reason why it’s so important to focus on developing the capabilities that are going to be necessary to the threats that we face, and they’re -- because they’ve changed. Part of what you have is nations whose models of defense spending and habits of defense spending over a period of time, again, were focused on 20th century challenges. And now what we see is we’re more likely to be faced with threats from very different places, whether it’s ballistic missiles or whether it’s piracy on the high seas, whether it’s cyber.
So what we want is the alliance to be able to modernize and to make sure that the investments that we’re using are smart and are focused in the right place, and that we do that on a coordinated basis. Because what NATO provides is it provides a framework for countries to make decisions so that their spending and their investments are amplified because there are different capabilities that are going to be invested in different places against the challenges that we see.
So we think -- we’re confident that Europe can continue to play the role it’s played as our principal and fundamental security partner in the world, even as, of course, we have a number of very critical security relationships ranging from obviously our Asian allies to Australia to other countries.
Q On the Iran sanctions thing, if you could elaborate on the unique aspects of that -- is there a message in this for the government of Venezuela?
MR. RHODES: Yes, I think there’s a message to the government of Iran that there is going to be an increasing cost to its failure to live up to its obligations. What we’ve said from the beginning of our time in office was if Iran couldn’t demonstrate the peaceful nature of its program, we were going to -- we’re going to increasingly ramp up the pressure that they face. The Security Council resolution provided a baseline for that. The national actions that we passed through our Congress provide a baseline for that. And the authorities of previous sanctions, laws, provide a basis for that. And what we’ve done since June of last year is steadily ramp up the pressure.
Now, I think you’re right to identify the fact that the energy sector is one that we’re focused on, and it’s a message to Iran that we’re going to target those places where we believe, again, it’s in violation of its obligations, and where there will be a cost imposed upon them for their actions.
So the message to the Iranian government is, we’re going to be stepping up the pressure. It’s not going to pause. It’s not going to let up. And we’re going to be continually looking for ways to tighten the screws.
In terms of the companies involved, there is a very clear message that there is a cost to doing business with Iran; that essentially there’s a choice in many respects between doing business with us and doing business with Iran, and so that therefore we’re going to disincentivize those companies that engage in business with Iran. And what you’ve seen in the course of the last year is a number of major companies make their own determinations that they would rather stop doing business with Iran than continue to do so in the current climate where they’re facing these sanctions and they’re under these pressures. So that expands across the board to everybody that we’ve sanctioned, including the company you mentioned.
Q Just to be clear, so you’re saying the message is more for the business community as opposed to, in Venezuela’s case, the government itself?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think it’s everybody who does business with Iran. I think -- and again, that’s not a safe -- that’s not the right place to be investing; that the international community has a program of sanctions and that we’re going to be tightening those sanctions; and that business is better off done elsewhere. And that’s a big part of the isolation that Iran is going to face and it’s a big part of the costs that they’re going to continue to face if they don't meet their obligations.
Q When it comes to the Eurozone debt issues, how much did that play into the conversations the President had yesterday, played into today -- Jay, this may be for you -- and does the President think that while he’s here, that the Euro debt problems are, at the very least for the short term, contained?
MR. CARNEY: That our debt problems are contained?
Q No, the Eurozone.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we both can take this, but that is part of the discussions. Obviously economic issues are on the table for the meetings both here and at the G8. And we monitor what’s happening in Europe very closely, as you know, as we have since we came to office. But I don’t want to characterize the efforts that are being made one way or the other, but we obviously are discussing with them the need to get debts under control, get deficits under control, just like we’re endeavoring to do in the United States.
MR. RHODES: And I’d just add that from the -- throughout these issues, President Obama, Secretary Geithner and others consult regularly with their European counterparts on this. We of course did throughout this situation in Greece last year. So I fully expect that as a part of our global economic recovery agenda they’ll be discussing these issues in the coming days.
Q Ben, so in a speech before this joint meeting of Congress, Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to Hamas as the Palestinian version of al Qaeda. Does the U.S. government share that assessment? And if not, is this rhetoric that helps the peace process or not?
MR. RHODES: Well, the U.S. very clearly believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization; that until it ceases its use of terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist, that they can’t be a credible partner for peace. The President made that very clear in his speech on Thursday, that the Palestinian leadership is going to have to provide some credible answers to Israel about how it can be a partner for peace, and that those answers are going to have to include of course recognizing its right to exist.
So we do share an assessment and have for some time that Hamas is a terrorist organization --
Q (Inaudible) --
MR. RHODES: Well, those are Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words. The comparison that’s fair is that Hamas has in the past indiscriminately targeted innocent women and children and men through the firing of rockets or through bombs on buses. So we certainly -- they certainly share the characteristics of a terrorist organization that has indiscriminately taken civilian life.
Q Any overall response to the speech?
MR. RHODES: Again, I think Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. He laid out his deep concerns about Iran, which we certainly share, and again have taken additional action in the last couple of days around our sanctions effort, and again pointed to the importance of peace. We had -- again, the message he delivered to Congress I think is very similar to the discussions he had with the President and the speech he gave last night. And what we’ll continue to do is reaffirm our shared goal, which he -- the Prime Minister referenced today, that a two-state solution is in the interests of all the parties and that we have to redouble our efforts to pursue that.
Q One more quick question. It looks like the Senate is not going to vote on that resolution on Libya before the Memorial Day recess. Is the White House disappointed in that?
MR. RHODES: Again, these determinations are up to Congress, so we defer to them on what they decide to take up.
Q Would you like to see it before Memorial Day?
MR. RHODES: We don’t have a timeline that we’re pursuing with regard to the resolution. We’ve expressed our support for the resolution and its Congress’s determination about when to have that kind of vote.
Q Ben, does the President view the formula he laid out last week about ’67 borders with swaps as a disincentive for Europeans that are thinking about whether to support a Palestinian drive for statehood? Does he think that’s a good counterargument to say stick with the process, don’t allow this snowball to roll down the hill? And if so, has he begun articulating that to Prime Minister Cameron? Do you think he will tomorrow?
MR. RHODES: I think -- I’d just say a number of things, Mark. First of all, the President doesn’t think that statehood can be achieved through the United Nations; that any kind of unilateral effort to pursue statehood is not going to succeed because ultimately these issues have to be negotiated and agreed upon between Israelis and Palestinians. So he’s been very clear with respect to prospective efforts in September in the fact that they won’t achieve the ultimate goal, which is of course a Palestinian state next to a secure Israel.
We do believe that it’s important, however, to make sure that there is a credible alternative to those efforts. And again, we believe that that alternative needs to be negotiations between the parties. And what the President was doing on Thursday and then reiterating in his AIPAC speech over the weekend is that we believe that there can be a more successful foundation for those negotiations if we begin with discussions on the basis of -- on security and territory, on the basis of 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps for territory, and the assurances that are necessary around Israeli security; that by starting there -- around a set of ideas, by the way, that have been discussed at length over the course of the last decade or more among the parties -- you can show that there’s a foundation for progress that didn’t previously exist in the public realm, and that that, again, is a credible alternative to efforts that we don’t think can and will succeed, such as the pursuit of unilateral -- some kind of unilateral effort to pursue statehood, whether at the United Nations or in other places.
So it will certainly be a topic of discussion tomorrow and I’m sure with other leaders.
Q -- either the Prime Minister or other European leaders?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think -- absolutely, because there was a very strong statement from the Quartet the day after the President’s speech, welcoming it, expressing strong support for what he laid out as a basis for negotiation. So we had a very good response from our European allies the day after the speech. And I think the -- certainly the President and Prime Minister made reference to it in their op-ed this morning, and we expect that -- again, we want to marshal international support for negotiations and for the basis of negotiations that the President laid out.
Q Can you explain the goals of the national security task force that you guys are forming? And are there going to be other sorts of things like that that the U.K. and the U.S. announce tomorrow?
MR. RHODES: I think that what we’ve seen since we came into office is that on the core issues that are focused on every day at the National Security Council, on just about every single one the United Kingdom is a partner with us, and that that requires very close coordination -- when you talk about implementing a transition in Afghanistan, when you talk about our counterterrorism efforts, when you talk about the nonproliferation agenda that I discussed.
And so in order to better enable that coordination, we have decided to formalize the process by which we consult and coordinate with the U.K. so that you have regular established contacts between the senior members of our team and our senior British counterparts so that our approaches are aligned, so that we can share ideas and information, and so that we can speak about what efforts we might carry back to other countries, as well.
So I think it’s an effort to formalize consultation to make sure it’s on a regular basis, to make sure that the lines of communication are constantly open between us. It speaks to the uniqueness of the relationship that we have with the United Kingdom that we would coordinate with them at this level.
And these types of mechanisms prove quite useful. For instance, we have a separate one with our quad partners -- Germany, France, the U.K. and the United States -- where Tom Donilon regularly has a secure videoconference with his national security advisor counterparts. And of course, the President speaks on a fairly regular basis with each of those three in a quad setting.
So again, we believe it’s a signal of the depth of the relationship, and it will allow us to make sure that we’re totally synched up as we deal with some very big pieces of business in the next year or two.
Q Are there other things like that -- some other initiatives that you’re going to --
MR. RHODES: Yes, well, the military families one that I spoke to is a manifestation of that. There will be a designated lead official from both of our governments, again, to meet on a regular basis to marshal private sector and charitable support for military families and wounded warriors. So it’s the kind of thing we do in different sectors. And we’ll continue to pursue that in the economic and security realm.
MR. CARNEY: We’ll just do a couple more. Yes.
Q Is it the President’s hope, is it the delegation’s hope, that you will come out of tomorrow and the G8 with something on Libya that will sort of show that you’re trying to end this sooner rather than later, and that everyone is going to put in more of an effort than they have, or various parties are going to put in more of an effort than they have so far? And if that's the case, how would that correspond to the Security Council resolution?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think that you’ve seen already a very robust pace of targeting and operations in recent says, including in Tripoli -- command and control targets. And I think that that sends a very clear message that the pressure is not going to relent, that it’s actually going to increase. And I think we want to underscore to Qaddafi that the foot is not going to come off the gas pedal in terms of the decisions he’s going to have to make because NATO is going to continue our efforts. With the passage of time, the opposition has more time and space. So I think it’s a set of messages, all of which convey to Qaddafi that leaving is in his best interests and the best interests of the Libyan people.
Again, around the military effort, the civilian support for opposition and the international community’s support for Libya’s future -- and I think it’s entirely in line with the U.N. Security Council resolution -- all the targets we’re doing are in line with the mission of civilian protection and taking all necessary measures to achieve that goal -- whether it’s striking targets on the ground, disabling their assets, or disabling command and control targets.
I should just add, just since you mentioned the G8, it is important I think to underscore how much the Middle East and North Africa and the democratic transitions there will be an agenda item both tomorrow and at the G8. One of the I think big topics of discussion that the President and Prime Minister will have tomorrow is the change in the region, the support we can provide to Egypt and Tunisia, for instance, as potential democratic models, as they go through their transitions, and then that will be reaffirmed at the G8.
We’ve been in touch with our G8 partners and they’ve been in touch with us about precisely the kinds of ideas the President referenced in his speech around international support, around some of the reorientation of institutional support to the Middle East and North Africa. So I think both in tomorrow’s meetings and Deauville, you’ll see Egypt and Tunisia as a topic of conversation, and the region more generally.
Q Thanks, Ben. Some Europeans have said they're not inclined to support the statehood resolution -- Palestinian statehood resolution, but if no peace process has begun by September, they’d have a hard time telling Palestinian leadership that they won’t support it. Would the President reconsider his position if no peace process has begun by September? And what will his response to that be in the meetings with some of these leaders in the next couple days?
MR. RHODES: Well, we certainly don't believe that the U.N. is the appropriate forum for achieving Palestinian statehood. So that is the U.S. position and will continue to be.
I think one of the things that's important, though, around a peace process is, first of all, you have to make sure you have a credible partner on both sides. And I think our European allies have, of course, similar questions about the best way to get the process going. And we believe that getting the process going is going to require a credible answer from the Palestinians about the role that Hamas is going to play in the new government, and whether a Palestinian partner and interlocutor can credibly say it recognizes Israel’s right to exist and is not committed to engaging in terrorism.
So in the first instance, there is some -- again, some step that needs to be taken on the Palestinian side, again, to give Israel that confidence coming into the negotiation.
And in the second instance, we do believe, though, to catalyze the process and to, again, give an affirmation that we believe it can succeed. It was our position that putting out U.S. principles, U.S. positions on the fundamental issues of territory and security provide that basis for negotiations. So, again, all of that is a part of investing in a credible alternative to what we believe are efforts that won’t succeed in resolving the conflict.
MR. CARNEY: I have to let Ben go. We’ll just take one more for Ben if you want.
Q So with markets down in Europe, is the economy going to become an even bigger part of the discussions? It seemed like North Africa and the Middle East were going to be the central theme last week in the briefing. Is the economy going to become a bigger part? And then also, is the President going to express support for Britain’s austerity measures at the Parliament tomorrow?
MR. RHODES: I think the economy is always an issue on the agenda, and we’re always consulting about the respective situations in the Eurozone and the United States that we’ve learned, frankly, through the G20 process that coordinating our efforts is essential to sustaining a global recovery. So I think the economy will be certainly a first order of business along with a pretty broad peace and security agenda -- as I’ve discussed, Libya, Afghanistan, Iran and other issues as well as of course the Arab Spring -- so I think the economy looked at in that context.
In terms of the austerity plan, I think what we see is that both of our nations have a strong commitment to sustaining a strong economic recovery and a strong commitment to reducing deficits, and that's the position of the U.S. government, that's the position of the British government. And I think what we’re focused on is staking out the goals that we’re both trying to achieve, which is a global economy that is able to have balanced and sustainable growth. So I think the President will talk about it in that broader context of the place that we’re trying to get to both as partners but also as a global effort through the G20 and other measures.
Q -- a lot farther than the President is willing to go and the U.S., as far as their austerity measures?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think, again, every country pursues these challenges based upon their own decisions. And the President -- I may defer to Jay here -- the President has laid out his approach to deficit reduction. So has Prime Minister Cameron. We share a goal within each of our countries of reducing our deficits. We’re obviously very confident in our approach.
But again, in the global context, we believe that we need to focus our efforts, and ensuring that the economic recovery, that it’s balanced. So that's the nature of our discussions.
MR. CARNEY: We’re going to have to wrap it up. Ben is going to have to go. I'll take Ann.
Q Has the President expressed any frustration he’s so far away from home during the destructive storms in Missouri and other locations? Another storm front coming through there tonight -- any discussion of him possibly going home early?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any scheduling updates for you, Ann. I can tell you that the President is very concerned, as he noted this morning and expressed this morning, about the devastating damage caused by these terrible tornadoes.
He has spoken twice now with Governor Nixon. He has spoken with the FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate, as well as his deputy, and is being updated regularly about the situation on the ground there, and, as you know, announced this morning that he’ll be traveling to Missouri on Sunday to view the damage, consult with officials there on the response and recovery efforts, as well as meet with families.
Q Any concern about the ash cloud maybe complicating any of his travels here in Europe later in the week?
MR. CARNEY: We’re monitoring that. Again, we don't have any scheduling announcements to make. We remain on schedule, as planned. But we’ll obviously apprise you if anything changes.
Let me just take one more. I’m going to have to go, too. Let me get -- in honor of our special, essential relationship --
Q In his speech tomorrow, will the President go any further than he did on Thursday on the economic assistance that the U.S. and the U.K. and allies together could offer to Egypt, Tunisia and other struggling democracies?
And separately, on defense, will there be any specific message from the President to the Prime Minister about where the U.S. thinks British defense spending levels should be? There have been some fairly specific suggestions from the Pentagon to parliamentary delegations. I’m wondering if he’s thinking of echoing any of that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the discussions he might have. Ben answered a question related to military spending and how we view that. We obviously think that the alliance has proven itself to be vital for many years, and continues to be in the future of meeting the challenges that we face together. But I don't have any more than the rather robust preview of the speech that Ben gave to provide for you.
Q Earlier Ben made a reference to a rising new world power or powers of interests or concerns, so to speak, that the U.S. and U.K. alliance would be -- would he be alluding to China? Or what exactly --
MR. CARNEY: I don't remember the language he used. I think the --
Q -- new world nations --
MR. CARNEY: Right, I remember, I heard that part. I think he was talking about the durability and significance of this alliance, even as the world has changed, obviously, with the rise of new powers around the globe.
Q That doesn’t necessarily threaten the alliance?
MR. CARNEY: No, he certainly didn’t say that and neither would I.
Thank you all very much.
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March 31, 2015
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