Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 8/1/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:46 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome to the White House today for your daily briefing. And before I take your questions, let me make a bit of a statement.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Patricia Millett’s nomination to be a judge on the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. This is an important step toward filling that court’s three vacancies.
Millett is a leading appellate lawyer, having argued before the U.S. Supreme Court 32 times. And seven former solicitors general of both parties believe that she is “ideally suited” to serve on this court.
Republicans cynically opposed Millett’s nomination today in an effort to obstruct the President’s constitutional responsibility to fill judicial vacancies. But the D.C. Circuit has more pending appeals per active judge today than it did when any of the previous President’s four nominees to that court were confirmed. In fact, during the last administration, the same senators who voted against Millett’s nomination today had no problem voting repeatedly to confirm judges to the ninth, tenth, and eleventh seats on the D.C. Circuit. One of those seats was to a classmate of mine, Brett Kavanaugh.
So Senator Sessions, for example, voted to confirm that nominee, and now says that the lack of a workload at this circuit -- in this court is a reason to oppose this nomination, when, as I demonstrated, that is a spurious argument.
That is why we are confident that when the full Senate considers Millett’s qualifications, it will confirm her without delay. With that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Jay, thank you. On Snowden, what is the White House reaction to Russia’s decision to grant asylum? And is the decision by Russia some sort of a rebuke to President Obama?
MR. CARNEY: The Russian Federal Migration Service has confirmed publicly that they have issued Mr. Snowden temporary asylum for one year and allowed him to leave the airport. We are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him.
Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower. He is accused of leaking classified information and has been charged with three felony counts, and he should be returned to the United States as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protections.
This move by the Russian government undermines a longstanding record of law enforcement cooperation -- cooperation that has recently been on the upswing since the Boston Marathon bombings.
Q Russia has said they’re not going to send him back. So where does the effort by the administration to get him to come back to the U.S. to face prosecution, where does that go from here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we will be in contact with Russian authorities, expressing our extreme disappointment in this decision, and making the case clearly that there is absolute legal justification for Mr. Snowden to be returned to the United States where he is under indictment on three charges, felony charges, for leaking classified information. He’s not a dissident. He’s not a whistleblower. He’s been charged with a crime. He will be accorded upon return to the United States all of the rights and privileges provided to defendants in this country under our system of justice.
And we’ve made that view clear both publicly and privately in our discussions with the Russian government. So I’m sure those discussions will continue.
Q Will the President now not go to Moscow in September as originally planned?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a scheduling announcement for you today. But obviously this is not a positive development. And we have a wide range of interests with the Russians, and we are evaluating the utility of a summit.
Q Do you see this as a deliberate attempt to embarrass the United States as Senator McCain says?
MR. CARNEY: We see this as an unfortunate development, and we are extremely disappointed by it. We’ve made clear that there is legal justification for Mr. Snowden’s return, that he would be accorded full rights accorded to defendants in this country and protections under our system of justice. And in terms of motivations for a decision like this, I would leave Russian authorities to describe them.
Q What are the diplomatic repercussions for this move? Are there some options that you can take other than what’s --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not -- again, I think -- Darlene asked me about Moscow. I made clear that I don't have an announcement today. We are evaluating the utility of a summit in light of this and other issues, but I have no announcement today on that.
Q I guess what I’m asking is, are you rethinking this reset in U.S.-Russian relations as a result of this that Hillary Clinton had begun?
MR. CARNEY: Our relationship with Russia, as is the case with other important countries around the world, is based in realism. And it is a simple fact that the so-called reset in our relations with Russia produced positive benefits for American national security and for the American people. They produced cooperation from Russia on the transit of supplies and materiel to our troops in Afghanistan. It provided cooperation with Russia in dealing with Iran. It provided cooperation with Russia that led to the New START Treaty. It provided other forms of cooperation that benefit the United States and the American people and our national security.
Throughout the process of the evolution of our relations with Russia over the past four and a half years, we have had conflicts with Russia. We have had disagreements with Russia, and we have been extremely clear about those conflicts and disagreements, most recently and seriously over Syria. And that has been the case and will be the case moving forward.
But it is simply -- I think if those who might suggest that we should not have engaged in our efforts to -- with the Russians upon President Obama’s taking office would then say that the benefits that were a result of that engagement were not worth it. And I don't think that's the case. I don't think anybody would argue that that's the case sensibly.
Q Jay, what do you think the Russians are up to? Obviously, by granting Mr. Snowden temporary asylum, they must have known that this was not going to go over well here at the White House.
MR. CARNEY: I suspect they did, yes.
Q But they did it anyway. So what do you think they're up to?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was just asked that question. I’m not going to ascribe motives. I think Russian officials can speak for themselves. We are obviously extremely disappointed in this development. We have a broad and important relationship with Russia. It encompasses areas of cooperation and agreement, as well as areas of disagreement and conflict.
And we had long stated, as had President Putin, that we did not want this issue of Mr. Snowden to become a problem in our bilateral relationship because of its breadth and importance. So we will obviously assess this and be in consultation with the Russian government moving forward.
Q And, Jay, you said that Mr. Snowden is not a whistleblower. But given the fact that the House last week had a vote on these programs and came very close to I guess delivering a blow to these programs, there have been hearings going on this week; Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has questioned the utility of these programs. The President is having some lawmakers over at the White House today, some of whom have called into question some of these programs. Didn't Mr. Snowden in some sense do the American people and people around the world a favor in disclosing these programs, given the outrage that's been expressed about these programs?
MR. CARNEY: When you take an oath to protect the secrets of the United States, you're bound to protect them and there are consequences if you don't. There are also procedures in place for whistleblowers that are available to those who would blow the whistle, if you will. The unauthorized leaking of classified information has and can do enormous damage to our national security interests. And those are just the facts.
Now, in terms of our --
Q But if he had never come out and disclosed these programs, people wouldn't even know about them. We wouldn't be talking about these programs now. He would still be in the United States. But he decided to do this. He disclosed these programs.
MR. CARNEY: Jim, I think maybe you didn't know -- obviously, there has been a great deal revealed because of the release of unauthorized classified information. But the fact of the matter is, as we've discussed, these are programs that have been reviewed and overseen by Congress, by the courts, that contain within them protections that are designed to achieve the balance that is necessary between our security and our privacy. And the President has made clear that he wants that balance, supports that balance -- believes that balance has been found -- but also thinks that there ought to be a debate about these issues and discussion about these issues. And he is engaged in that.
He is meeting this afternoon, as I'm sure you know, with members of Congress -- both Republican and Democrat, both from the Senate and the House -- on these issues at his invitation, and including members who have been very critical of the programs that we've been discussing under Section 215 and 702.
The fact is our intelligence services need to have tools available to them to help protect our national security interests, to protect us from attack. And I think most Americans would agree with that.
We also design our programs in a way -- and put in safeguards and layers of oversight -- to ensure that those programs do not abuse the privacy of American citizens. And that is the balance that the President was talking about. That is the balance that has been a focus of the implementation of these programs. And there's an ongoing discussion about these programs. And under the administration, through -- the ODNI has undertaken an effort to declassify and release more information about them in the wake of the Snowden leaks. And I'm sure that process will continue. But I don't think that we can sensibly say that programs designed to protect us from a terrorist attack are not necessary in this day and age.
Q So the President believes that these programs should have been kept a secret?
MR. CARNEY: Again, you're conflating a bunch of things here. The reauthorization of the Patriot Act and FISA, these are known facts. Congress has known about them. The public has known about them. There's no question that there are details about programs that are now known because of the leaks. The President obviously believes that it's inappropriate to leak highly sensitive, classified information, because that can and has done and can do harm to our national security interests. It can put people's lives in danger.
Q Can you explain to the American people, is this just a legal issue that the White House is upset at Russia because it didn't follow extradition procedures? Or does Snowden actually still have in his possession things that the United States government is concerned about that could be turned over to Russian intelligence?
MR. CARNEY: What I can say about that -- well, it's certainly not just a legal matter. There's the matter of our relations with Russia. There's the matter of the release in an unauthorized fashion of classified information and the possible release of more classified information.
But let's be clear -- Mr. Snowden has been, since he left the United States, in possession of classified material in China and in Russia. And simply the possession of that kind of highly sensitive, classified information outside of secure areas is both a huge risk and a violation. And as we know, he has been in Russia now for many weeks.
So I can't get into further detail about what he possesses or what kind of disclosures there may be or have been. But there is huge risk associated with -- as anybody who works in this building and handles classified information knows -- removing that information from secure areas. You shouldn’t do it. You can't do it. It’s wrong.
Q And I'm not minimizing the other issues, but is he still a danger to the United States --
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the intelligence community for assessments -- damage assessments in terms of damage that's occurred and could occur. I'm not the right person to respond in detail about that.
Q When we were in Senegal, the President told us he had not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He told us he didn’t have to, didn’t think he had to. Has he placed any calls since then? Has the Vice President?
MR. CARNEY: We've publicly discussed the fact that he spoke with President Putin -- I forget how long ago.
Q On this matter?
MR. CARNEY: I think they discussed a range of issues.
Q Could you describe the President’s personal level of disappointment about this turn of events?
MR. CARNEY: His level of disappointment is reflected in the words I just spoke. We’re very disappointed, extremely disappointed in Russia’s decision to provide temporary asylum to Mr. Snowden. And we made clear both privately and publicly that there was ample legal justification for his expulsion from Russia and return to the United States. That's a discussion we've had with Russia as well as with other countries that might have been considering providing asylum to Mr. Snowden. And those views were I think clearly stated both publicly and privately, so they weren’t -- I don't think there was any confusion about them.
Q Did the Russian government in any way let the administration know ahead of time it was going to do this?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Senator McCain, in addition to saying this was a slap in the face, said the administration ought to look at a wide range of possible reactions. Among those he listed expansion of NATO to include Georgia; expansion of the Magnitsky Act -- the names under that; and more efforts to deal with dissidents in Russia being prosecuted -- he has a couple of names. Are those things you would broadly acknowledge could be part of the menu of options before the administration in reaction to this?
MR. CARNEY: I think we're still reaching out to Russian government authorities and counterparts to both get a formal confirmation of this information that has been publicly announced, and to have discussions, further discussions about the decision and what’s happened here, and our view that Mr. Snowden should be expelled and returned to the United States.
I don't have -- I don't want to speculate about -- I'm not going to speculate about consequences or next steps even on the issue that Darlene raised. I don't have anything to announce at this point.
Q You mentioned that this has been overseen by Congress. Senator Wyden said on the Senate floor yesterday that it’s his belief, based on the release of some classified documents, that there was an effort by the administration to mislead Congress about some of the email surveillance going on. Is it the administration’s position that every time administration officials have briefed Congress they’ve done so truthfully and that there was an effort to mislead --
MR. CARNEY: Jim Clapper has addressed the specific issue here. And I would --
Q This is separate from his testimony.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't think that's separate from what some on Capitol Hill have included in the assessments that you’re citing. And I think Director Clapper has addressed that.
On the broader issue, I can tell you that Congress has been briefed in numerous venues on these programs, including public testimony, paper briefings, and classified sessions. And I have seen reports of 22 briefings on the 702 program and nearly as many on the 215 program. And I think you can check with Leader Reid and Senator Chambliss and Senator Feinstein and Congressman Rogers and Congressman King, all of whom have said that all members were fully briefed on these programs. And there’s not many things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, but this seems to be one of them.
Now, we are undertaking an effort to evaluate these programs and, as the ODNI demonstrated yesterday, provide more information where that can be done in a way that doesn't compromise further our security. But the fact is these programs have been fully briefed to Congress, to members of the relevant committees as well as leadership, and in some cases broadly to all members of the House and the Senate.
So I think that what we’ve talked about in the past here is that we have a situation where some of what we do to make sure that the United States is protected and that our interests are protected has to, by necessity, be secret. And there’s congressional oversight of these kinds of programs, and that oversight has to, by necessity, be conducted behind closed doors. And that of course will remain the case, even as we engage in a process where, as I said about the ODNI, we’re providing as much information publicly as we can.
Q One last question before I let you go. Senator Blumenthal in his press conference just before you came out said that it was his interpretation that senior White House officials were, in his words, “extremely enthusiastic about the concept of adding an adversarial component to the Foreign Intelligence Service Court, foreign intelligence surveillance process.” Is that a fair characterization of the White House attitude about this concept that Senator Blumenthal will be here -- will not be here, but others will be talking about with the President today?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to characterize our position on different proposals that have been --
Q Not necessarily a specific piece of legislation, but the idea.
MR. CARNEY: Sure, but rather than engage in a public --
Q -- putting an adversarial voice in this process.
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand the question, Major. What I’m saying is I’m not going to engage in a discussion about or characterize our views on proposals that have been put forward -- and certainly there is more than one -- except to say that we’re in conversation with members of Congress about various ideas. And we’ll continue to do that and, as the President has said, continue to take steps to improve the effectiveness of these programs, working with Congress.
Q Is there a gap between “extremely enthusiastic” and you repeatedly telling us that really the President -- the balance has been struck?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President, as he has made abundantly clear, welcomes the discussion and debate. He believes that the balance is essential. And I think he certainly doesn’t doubt that there are ways to improve the effectiveness of the programs that we have.
Q Senator Graham calls the release of Edward Snowden a “game changer” in U.S.-Russian relations. Is that going too far?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think I’ve said clearly that we are extremely disappointed that the Russian government would take this step despite our very clear and lawful request in public and in private that Mr. Snowden be expelled and returned to the United States.
Again, as I’ve said in answer to previous questions, I don’t have -- I don’t want to speculate about what will become of our ongoing discussions with Russian officials about this matter or about other matters that we have on the table between us, except to say that we’re obviously very disappointed about this development.
Q Does that mean you have not concluded that there’s no chance now of Russia turning Snowden over to the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t say that we reached conclusions at this point. We’re going to be consulting with Russian authorities, Russian counterparts about this matter.
Q On another matter, in yesterday’s talks with House Democrats, the President reportedly said the administration is considering ways to improve the circumstances of at-risk youth, particularly minority youth. Can you talk to me about some of those ways? Can you give me any specifics?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President came out here and talked a little bit about that not that long ago, on a Friday, where he surprised the occupants of this room -- you and others -- by his appearance.
I don’t have anything to add onto that, except to say that he is obviously interested in, as many are, what we can do as a country and at various levels to ensure that our children have opportunity to be educated and to join the economy in a productive way.
Q But can you at least confirm that the President told Elijah Cummings he’s looking for ways to help at-risk minority youth?
MR. CARNEY: I wasn’t in the meeting, Wendell, and I didn’t get a verbatim readout. I’m not contesting that, I just didn’t hear that.
Q Jay, you said a little bit earlier that the White House is “evaluating the utility of a summit.” Does that mean that the White House is evaluating the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg? Will you continue -- and perhaps you wouldn’t go to Russia at all? Or are you referring exclusively to --
MR. CARNEY: I’m referring to the bilateral summit in Moscow.
Q So without a doubt, we will travel -- the White House will travel to St. Petersburg?
MR. CARNEY: I have no changes in our travel plans to announce.
Q Another topic that’s been heating between the U.S. and Syria -- and Russia is the topic of Syria. We heard today from Bashar al-Assad, who left Damascus -- a first public trip. He went off to a former rebel stronghold. The red line has been crossed. The U.S. is now, as you guys have acknowledged, aiding the rebels directly. But now the Syrian regime is almost claiming victory. So has the White House’s policy towards Syria failed?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I hadn’t seen that they declared victory, but I would take --
Q He said -- a sure victory.
MR. CARNEY: And I'm sure you can take what Bashar al-Assad says to the bank, because his words have been so credible for so long.
So with that immense caveat, I would say that we are working with our partners and allies and directly with the opposition to strengthen the opposition and continue to help unify the opposition as it engages with Assad’s forces and as it works to help bring about what has to be a political transition to a post-Assad Syria.
On the issue of the use of chemical weapons, we have said and continue to say that all parties in Syria should facilitate the U.N. team’s efforts to complete its mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons. It is critical for the U.N. to be able to visit all of the sites for which it has received credible information indicating the use of chemical weapons. And the U.N. must be able to talk to key witnesses, doctors and affected individuals and examine and collect any physical evidence available without any interference or manipulation from the Syrian government.
And I say this because there’s been some indication from the Syrian government about its willingness to allow for the U.N. investigation to proceed. And I would refer you to my opening remarks, which is when it comes to statements by the Assad government, there’s a certain history of a lack of credibility, so that promises need to be backed up by actions.
Q The President is meeting today with the President of Yemen. Fifty-six of the 86 detainees at Guantanamo that have been cleared for transfer are from Yemen. When will we learn that those transfers begin to take place, and for what do we wait, I guess?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would not anticipate any announcements today on this issue, with respect to whether, when, or under what circumstances Yemeni detainees may be repatriated. As you know, the President -- well, as I think I said yesterday, I anticipate that the President will reiterate to President Hadi his firm commitment to closing Guantanamo and his decision to lift the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen in favor of a case-by-case approach. But the lifting of the moratorium did not mean a mass exodus. It meant that we would then move to a case-by-case evaluation of each detainee, which is the case in the -- and has been the case in the non-Yemeni detainees.
So while I'm sure that will be a subject of discussion between the two Presidents, it will not result in any announcements today.
Q So given that the biggest problem -- that the largest number is from Yemen, of those who have already been cleared, as a big-picture issue, what is the number-one issue that exists within Yemen? And I suspect I can anticipate your answer, but articulate the White House’s position on what needs to change within Yemen for you to start to feel more comfortable sending the dozens of Yemenis back --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the lifting of the moratorium reflects a change in policy that reflects also changes in Yemen. And then when it comes to each individual detainee, there’s a rigorous case-by-case evaluation made and that involves consultations with potential host governments, so I don't think it’s any one issue. But we obviously, in every case, when it comes to detainees and the possible transfer of them, working with host governments to receive assurances and the like regarding what happens after the potential transfer.
So, again, the moratorium was only the first stage in a process that then begins potentially a case-by-case evaluation.
Q Can I get follow-up on that, please, Jay? Just about Yemen, if you don't mind.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Thanks. So the President in May gave that speech on the current status of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He said that he would be lifting the moratorium on detainees who are connected to Yemen. And in that same speech he said, “In some of these places, such as parts of Somalia and Yemen, the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory, and in other cases the state lacks the capacity or will to take action.”
And I was hoping that you could square those two thoughts. It seems to be a disconnect between lifting the moratorium and then what the President later said in that speech.
MR. CARNEY: No, I think that's why you have case-by-case evaluations and assessments made, discussions with potential host governments. And I’m sure that will be the case as the individual detainees are evaluated after the lifting of the moratorium.
Q But he indicated in that speech -- I realize what you’re saying about the case by case, but he indicated in that speech that the state, Yemen, has the most -- the state only has “the most tenuous reach into the territory,” and again, repeating what the President said, “the state lacks the capacity or will to take action.”
MR. CARNEY: No, no, you actually sort of changed your quotation a little bit in the second reading. There are certain facts about Yemen that are true, and that's why in making these assessments we evaluate them carefully in case by case.
And again, we’re not -- there’s no announcement of a transfer here. There was the lifting of a moratorium that made it impossible to even consider the transfer of any individual detainee. Now at least that consideration can take place, but it will be full and rigorous as it is in every case.
Q So Yemen has full control over its territory including parts related to al Qaeda?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the effort to use the words that way, but that's not obviously what I’m saying or what the President said.
Q Jay, you said earlier that the U.S. didn't have any advance notice of this temporary asylum for Snowden. So how did the White House find out about it?
MR. CARNEY: As I think I said, the Russian Federal Migration Service confirmed publicly that they had issued Mr. Snowden temporary asylum for one year. I can't speak to every piece of the administration in terms of how they learned, but we were not certainly given any advance notice by the Russian government.
Q So it was through media reports --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't -- I haven’t asked every individual -- every principal in the President’s national security team. I can just -- all I do know for a fact is that there was not advance notice given.
Q And at what level now are the contacts on this issue going to proceed?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department for any contacts or conversations that might be occurring. At this point, I’m not aware of any that have occurred here at the White House.
Q Would U.S. representatives in Russia, people at the embassy, other agencies there, would they like to talk to Snowden at this point now that he’s out of the transit area?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Justice Department for conversations with somebody who is wanted on felony charges.
Q Will Mr. Snowden be part of the agenda on the FISA meeting this afternoon?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's certainly possible it could come up. The meeting was organized after the President saw it to invite these members of Congress last week; it was when this discussion began. So obviously, today's events related to Mr. Snowden happened after that fact. But it's certainly possible that this will be discussed. I think the goal of the President's with regards to this discussion is to assess some of the concerns and issues around FISA that have been expressed by members of Congress. And I know he looks forward to the conversation and the debate.
Q And also, the reactions coming in from the Hill, Republicans are saying that it shows Obama's weak foreign policy. Does the President believe that if he had a tougher foreign policy stance against Russia that the outcome would have been any different?
MR. CARNEY: Well, counterfactuals are always hard to prove or disprove. What I can tell you is, I think in answer to either Jim or Steve's question, when it comes to the policy the administration adopted in 2009 toward Russia, there is no question that that reset produced results that were beneficial to American national security and beneficial to the American people. And it was a very clear-eyed approach to our relations with Russia that included unsparing and vocal statements about our position when Russia and the United States disagreed on matters, whether it was missile defense or Syria or other issues.
This is an issue where we obviously have not seen eye to eye. We made very clear representations of our position when it came to the full legal rationale behind seeing Mr. Snowden expelled from Russia and returned to the United States. We did that publicly. We did it privately. So it's impossible to engage in a game of how this might have turned out if other things hadn't happened.
What we do know for a fact is that the result of the policy approach that President Obama took was enhanced cooperation in the effort to supply our troops in Afghanistan, enhanced cooperation in our effort to produce an international consensus with regards to Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons as well as other dividends. So those are significant achievements on behalf of American national security.
Q Given that within one week there has been the acquittal of Bradley Manning on the most serious charge and now the escape of Edward Snowden, does the administration need to reevaluate the way it's fighting the war on leakers?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not even sure I understand the question. The fact is there is a legal process underway with regards to Mr. Manning. As I said yesterday, I'm not going to inject myself into that as that process continues. And we've made clear our views about the decision by the Russian authorities to grant temporary asylum to Mr. Snowden.
Q These are the two most high-profile cases in something that's been a priority for this administration relative to other administrations. They both within a week seem to have gone south.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ari, I think that's a statement of opinion. I'm not sure what the question is.
Q Has the President decided there will be a consequence to this decision by Russia, forget what it might be?
MR. CARNEY: I just have no further elaboration of our views on the aftermath of this decision by Russia, except to say that we're certainly evaluating the utility of a summit in Moscow, a bilateral summit, and also in conversation with Russian officials.
Q He hasn't asked for anything to be drawn up, arranged proposals, options?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything to present to you here about the President's views on this.
Q Jay, just picking up on what you said earlier about the value of the reset and these critical issues that the United States and Russia have to discuss, if you look across the range of these, leaving Snowden out of it -- nuclear arms reduction, missile defense, trade, democratic reform in Russia, Syria -- there's really not a single major issue where the United States and Russia see eye to eye right now. So I'm wondering what the utility is of a meeting between President Putin and President Obama. Even apart from the Snowden dispute, what do they have to talk about that would meet your standard of a useful meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I said that we are evaluating the utility of a bilateral summit in Moscow. And there is no question that there are a range of issues -- setting aside the disposition of Mr. Snowden -- on which we are currently in disagreement with Russia.
We have over the past four and a half years engaged with Russia in a way to try to move forward where we disagree and to move even further forward in areas where we can come to an agreement. And not included in your list has been the assistance provided in the transshipment of materiel to our forces in Afghanistan, as well as Russian cooperation in our efforts to produce a consensus with regards to Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons program.
So, again, as I just said earlier, those are not insignificant achievements on behalf of American national security. It's also true that the New START Treaty is a significant accomplishment in a relationship that is, no question, complicated and currently faced with a lot of disagreements.
So I would answer your question by saying that's precisely why we're evaluating the utility of a summit, mindful of the approach we've taken all along, which is it is our belief that whether it’s -- whichever country we're talking about where we don't have purely harmonious relations, that there is a usefulness in engaging in order to see if we can move forward on areas of cooperation and to make clear directly our views where we disagree. But again, I think that comes into the evaluation of utility of that kind of meeting.
Q Can I ask a follow on Yemen? There’s been some reports in the last few days of increased -- of an uptick in drone strikes in Yemen. I know you can't address drone strikes in a public forum, but should we read some of this as an example of the greater counterterrorism cooperation that you alluded to yesterday that will be discussed in this meeting?
MR. CARNEY: That's an interesting way of asking. But I can tell you that we do cooperate with Yemen in our counterterrorism efforts. And it’s an important relationship and important cooperation given what we know about AQAP and the danger it presents to the United States and our allies, as well as to the Yemeni people and people in the region.
So that cooperation is important to our national security interests, and it is something that we seek to build on with President Hadi and the Yemeni government.
Q Jay, back on Snowden. When was there a breakdown in communication or the relationship between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to Snowden? Because I remember in Africa President Obama talked about how he was not going to let the Snowden matter inhibit the relationship and the working relationship, particularly, with Russia. When did this breakdown happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would clarify by saying that the President expressed the desire that the Snowden matter not cause damage to our relationship with Russia. That's a sentiment that President Putin also expressed, and it is one that we agreed on with President Putin. And that's partly why we are disappointed, as I said, extremely disappointed in this decision by Russian authorities.
So we had, I think as I discussed regularly, consultations with and conversations with, at a variety of levels, Russian government officials about this matter, most especially at the law enforcement level, which is where this kind of cooperation normally takes place and has taken place in the past, and making clear what our views were on the need to expel and return Mr. Snowden here to the United States.
Q Did you see this coming? I mean, again, where was the breakdown? When did the breakdown happen?
MR. CARNEY: Again, April, I would just say that the Russian government made a decision today, knowing full well what our position was on this issue. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s not as if Mr. Snowden were on a plane to the United States yesterday that returned to Russia and led to this development. Obviously, Mr. Snowden has been in Russia for quite some time and had not been returned to the United States. So this has been a matter where we had not reached an agreement with Russia, obviously. And then Russia made the decision it made today.
Q And on another subject, what can you tell us about the President’s conversations with the Attorney General -- kind of following up on Wendell’s question -- when it comes to minorities and the criminal justice system? What is the conversation that the President and the Attorney General have been having?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't been privy to conversations like that. I would just refer you to the statements of the President on that Friday.
Q On health care implementation, the President reportedly told the senators yesterday that he was personally involved in trying to resolve that element of the health care law that prevents lawmakers and their aides from receiving the employer contribution of the health care premiums. And I'm just wondering if you could tell us what that personal involvement entails. And does that mean the administration has decided that it can deal with it administratively, versus legislatively?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't have details on the President’s meetings, private meetings. I can tell you that Congress wrote and passed the Affordable Care Act, and the law lays out details of how people will get insurance. And on our end, rather, we're focused on implementing this law as effectively and clearly as possible for all Americans who will benefit from access to the quality, affordable insurance options and unprecedented levels of insurer competition.
Q The point of contention, though, is whether you deal with it legislatively or administratively. Has the White House --
MR. CARNEY: I think this is something that I would refer you to Congress on. We’re clearly about the business of implementing the law that Congress wrote and passed. And the details of how Americans, including members of Congress and their staff, will receive health care are laid out in the provisions of the law, and that's the law we’re working to implement.
Q Jay, on Syria, with the inspectors being allowed in to take a look at -- for possible chemical weapons, what are the administration’s expectations from these inspections? Do you have high expectations? And has any additional intelligence turned up since Ben Rhodes announced that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government had been confirmed?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any further assessments to announce. We certainly stand by those assessments that we announced previously.
What I said I think in answer to Peter’s question about Syria referred to the announcement of a decision to allow in U.N. inspectors to three sites, I think. And I think what we’re trying to make clear is the Syrian government, the Assad government has to follow through on this commitment and allow full access; the ability for the U.N. to talk to key witnesses, doctors and affected individuals; and to examine and collect any physical evidence available without any interference or manipulation from or by the Syria government.
If the Syrian government is truly committed to an impartial and credible investigation, it will facilitate the U.N. team’s unfettered access to all sites of interest to the U.N. without further delay.
In other words, this cooperation cannot be conditional. It needs to be complete. And I think as I noted earlier, history is not littered with promises made by Assad that have come to fruition, especially in regard to this kind of thing.
MR. CARNEY: Jon-Christopher, last one.
Q Jay, what attempt might the President making in terms of a unified message to Mr. Putin from the U.S. and its NATO allies?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything further on that. We obviously discuss issues like this with our allies frequently, but I have not conversations to read out to you.
Q No reactions yet from the --
MR. CARNEY: You would have to ask our allies for their reactions.
You have something on your BlackBerry you need to --
Q Well, are you familiar with this interview that Secretary Kerry gave to Pakistan television?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not, no.
Q John Boehner?
MR. CARNEY: I think I got to go. I've been given the hook. Thanks, guys.
1:33 P.M. EDT
April 13, 2016
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