Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/21/14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Before I take your questions I just wanted to congratulate on behalf of the President and everyone here at the White House Meb Keflezighi, who just won the Boston Marathon -- first American to do so in 31 years, which is quite an accomplishment and a great year to do it. (Applause.)
Q Pretty cool.
Q Well done.
MR. CARNEY: That's absolutely true. And that's all I have at the top, so I'll go to Julie.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple of questions on Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia are trading blame over who’s responsible for the shooting yesterday in eastern Ukraine. Can you just give us what the U.S. assessment is of what happened there?
MR. CARNEY: Julie, what I can tell you is that we continue to monitor events in eastern Ukraine closely. We've seen differing reports about what happened in Slovyansk yesterday but cannot independently confirm responsibility for these actions. Overall, we are concerned about the situation there, and we urge paramilitary groups throughout the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine to lay down their weapons and depart the buildings that they have occupied, as was called for in the accord signed in Geneva last week. We continue to call on Russia to use its influence over these groups to press them to disarm and to turn occupied buildings over to the authorities.
We commend the government of Ukraine for continuing to demonstrate restraint, and are hopeful that all parties in the Rada will shortly be able to agree on an amnesty bill to help deescalate the situation in the east. As we have said, if there is not progress within days we remain prepared, along with our European and G7 partners, to impose additional costs on Russia for its destabilizing actions.
So when it comes to that specific incident, we're still unable independently to confirm who’s responsible for what happened there, but there’s no question that there’s been a great deal of destabilizing activity and that Russia has influence over the groups that have engaged in that activity, who have seized buildings. And we continue to call on Russia to use that influence to pressure those groups to disarm and to return the buildings to authorities.
Q You mentioned a couple of steps that you commend Ukraine for taking in order to live up to the conditions of this accord. But do you have any indication that Russia is taking the steps that it agreed to under that agreement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, they signed the agreement and they have committed themselves by signing to use their influence to stabilize the situation in Ukraine or to urge those over whom they have influence to disarm and to return buildings that they have occupied back to the authorities. And we continue to press them to do that. As we have made clear, should Russia continue to engage in destabilizing actions in Ukraine, there will be costs. There has been already. And should they escalate their destabilizing activity the costs will escalate.
So we're in a place now with the Vice President in Kyiv and meeting with Ukrainian government officials where we are demonstrating our support for that government, for the process that they have undertaken of both reform and near-term elections, and we are continuing to call on all parties to honor the agreements they made in Geneva.
Q But at this point, do you see any sign that Russia is doing that, is honoring the agreement they made?
MR. CARNEY: What we continue to see is a situation in eastern Ukraine that remains very volatile and tense and that requires that steps be taken to stabilize it because of the potential for it to become worse and more chaotic. What we hope to see from Russia is the use of its influence on those groups that clearly respond to that influence. And we have been very clear that we firmly believe that Russia has supported the so-called separatists in eastern Ukraine that have popped up with arms to seize buildings, to stockpile weapons, to erect roadblocks. And Russia needs to abide by the agreement signed in Geneva and to take steps to help stabilize the situation.
Q Can you just be any more specific about this coming days timeline? Officials have been using that since Thursday when this agreement was signed and we’re now at Monday. How much longer do you let this play out without seeing some kind of concrete sign that it’s holding and that progress is being made?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an end date for you. We are in a situation where we have potential new sanctions that we could impose, as we mentioned last week, and we are closely monitoring events in eastern Ukraine and monitoring compliance with the agreement signed in Geneva, and we will be evaluating compliance in coming days.
Q What role did the White House play either in the timing or the substance of Friday’s announcement on Keystone?
MR. CARNEY: The Keystone process is run out of the State Department, in keeping with past practice by administrations of both parties going back many decades -- or much time. As I understand it -- and for details you need to go to the State Department -- the issue here has to do with a court decision in Nebraska and its impact on the ability for the state process to continue, for agencies to be able to comment. And absent a definite route through Nebraska, the decision, as I understand, by State is that that can’t continue until the situation in Nebraska is resolved.
Q And is the President frustrated at all at these delays, this indefiniteness in the process?
MR. CARNEY: The President wants the process to be conducted in a way that’s consistent with past practice and consistent with the interests that have to be examined when you’re talking about an international border being crossed by a pipeline. There have been a series of moments along the path here where politics has played a role in delaying the process, as you know -- actions that Congress took, for example. And then there have been other instances where either local or state concerns slow down the process, or, in this case, action by a state court had an impact on the process itself.
What the President has insisted on all along is that this process be run out of the State Department in accordance with established tradition for matters like these, and that’s been the case here.
Q So politics is not playing a role in this current delay?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a State Department process, it’s a State Department decision, so I would refer you to the State Department.
Q On Ukraine, you talked earlier about Russian support for these separatists who are occupying buildings and then these towns. What about evidence that they might actually be Russian? We’ve heard that Ukraine gave the OSCE photographs -- photographic evidence, they say, of actual Russians who participated in earlier events in Crimea or even Chechnya. Has the U.S. seen these pictures, validated them? What’s the response to these photos, which certainly suggest they’re not just supporting the separatists but --
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Well, there’s been broad consensus in the international community about the connection between Russia and the armed militants in Ukraine. And the photographs that you referred to that Ukraine has submitted to the OSCE I think reaffirm that connection. We have noted in the past reporting that -- public reporting that indicates Russian personnel being involved in some of the activity. The actions of the militants bear striking similarities to actions taken in Crimea. And I think President Putin himself noted the other day that Russia -- not just to separatists -- but Russia itself participated in that. So we don’t have any doubt about the connection there, and I think that the photographs that are reported on today simply reaffirm that.
Q So Russia then becomes -- if the separatists are still occupying these buildings and there’s no marked change since this truce, this accord, are the Russians -- do you guys believe that the Russians are negotiating in good faith? It has to be about negotiations and not a military solution, so if the Russians are not just supporting separatists but separatists may be Russian, how are you approaching the Russians on it?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve been very direct with Russia and that was the case in Geneva. Russia understands that the international community holds one view about the actions that Russia has taken and supported in Ukraine, and that we stand prepared, together with our partners, to impose further costs on Russia if Russia does not take action to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine and to cease promoting destabilizing activity.
And in the coming days, if Russia doesn’t abide by the commitments it’s made and we don’t see steps taken to reduce the instability in the region, steps taken to use the influence that Russia has on the militants to get them to disarm and to turn back over the buildings that they’ve seized, then we’re prepared to impose further costs.
Q And also on Yemen, do you know a sense of timing on how long it will take before you’ll know if the bomb-maker, al Asiri, was killed in these strikes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re aware of the reports and I’d point you to the Yemeni government and what the government itself has said. In statements to the press, the Yemeni government has confirmed that air strikes were carried out these weekend against al Qaeda militants in remote training camps and in a convoy. According to the Yemenis, these individuals were planning to target civilian and military facilities in al-Bayda and elsewhere.
Now, I can’t speak to specific operations, but we have a strong, collaborative relationship, as you know, with the Yemeni government and work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP. So in terms of more details about the strikes that the Yemeni government has discussed, I would refer you to the Yemeni government.
Q Just to follow up, you keep saying that you need to see evidence of Russia not fulfilling its promises and what was agreed to. All there has been rhetorically is just the opposite. It’s been Putin saying he doesn’t even understand why parts of Ukraine were even handed over in the first place. I mean, he’s been very provocative. If anything, it’s been reescalating not deescalating. So I guess what is the “okay, enough” as of now?
Q What are you waiting for?
Q What is the cutoff line here?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have a specific deadline for you except to say that the agreement was signed in Geneva; we are closely monitoring events in eastern Ukraine.
Q Is this days?
MR. CARNEY: The situation in coming days, you can expect that we will move forward with the imposition of further costs on Russia if Russia does not take action to comply with its commitments in Geneva.
Q What is the action that you guys are waiting for -- pulling troops back?
MR. CARNEY: To see that there are actions taken that help stabilize the situation. And that would mean militias -- armed militias disarming, removing themselves from buildings that they have seized and occupied.
The other side of the story, which is very important, the Ukrainian government, again, showing great restraint and professionalism, is taking steps that it can to help reduce tensions and deescalate, and that includes actions in the Rada to offer amnesty to those who have participated in these actions.
Q By saying what you just said, this means that Lavrov’s claim that somehow this was -- that the Ukrainian government was behind this recent incident is --
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don't have -- as I said regarding the incident in Slovyansk, we don't have independent confirmation of exactly what transpired there. But broadly speaking, we have seen obviously a great deal of activity seemingly coordinated -- almost indisputably coordinated in eastern Ukraine when it comes to armed groups seizing buildings, occupying them, declaring themselves autonomous or independent and then absolutely in violation of Ukrainian law and constitution.
Q Can you give us some -- moving to the announcement today at the Justice Department about the expanded potential executive -- of what applications for clemency to the President -- that make it to the President’s desk -- can you fill in some of the gaps of some of the criteria that is going to be included in that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, probably the gaps would best be filled over at the Department of Justice. What I can tell you, as we've said before, the President wants to make sure that everyone has a fair shot under the clemency system, and he has asked the Department of Justice to set up a process aimed at ensuring that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated thoroughly.
The number of commutations that are granted will depend entirely on the number of worthy candidates. And in terms of how many deserving candidates are out there, I couldn't begin to speculate. But there’s a process in place that reflects the President’s belief that everyone should have a fair shot under the system for consideration.
Q Under this same thing, is there any -- does the President want a process to reconsider the classification of marijuana?
MR. CARNEY: Our views on that have not changed and I don't think this is a related --
Q There’s no ongoing effort to change it from being a Schedule 1 controlled substance?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of. I'd refer --
Q That would have an impact on how many -- this does have some impact on --
MR. CARNEY: For details you should go to DOJ. And I don't want to venture too far out here because I'm not a lawyer or an expert in this, but this has to do with the Fair Sentencing Act the President signed into law in 2010 and the observation that the President has made, and others of both parties have made, about the inconsistency between current law and sentences that many are serving now. And the President simply wants a process by which everyone who might potentially have clemency available to him or her get the consideration that they deserve.
Q Is there any interest in -- does the administration want the Justice Department to look into reclassifying marijuana?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything new on that issue since the last time we talked about it.
Q Back to the Keystone decision. It's obviously a decision that has big political ramifications. Was there any communication between the White House and the State Department before the State Department moved forward and decided to delay the decision?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a process run out of State. State has made an announcement related to --
Q I'm just asking if they talked to State before --
MR. CARNEY: -- the Nebraska court decision. I don't have any conversations that I'm aware of. This process is run out of State and this is in reaction to, as I understand it, a Nebraska Supreme Court decision which could ultimately affect the pipeline in that state -- the pipeline route. And again, they have the details and the expertise over at State in the running of this process, but it stands to reason that if you're in the middle of a process by which agencies -- and you're at the stage where agencies are supposed to comment on a pipeline route and that route itself may be in doubt because of a state Supreme Court decision, it stands to reason that more time is needed for that to be resolved before the process at State can be concluded.
Q So the President is happy with the decision the State Department took?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I know there’s a great urge, and has always been, to make this about politics, but we've seen along this process -- along the way here, along the route, a series of actions taken in keeping with past practice where the reviews are done out of the State Department. We are at a process where agencies were able to weigh in and then we have a state Supreme Court decision. The State Department has more details or can brief you more fully on it, but that obviously has a potential impact on the pipeline route, and therefore, the decision that the State Department made was made.
Q Does the President have any power in this area? Could he overrule the State Department? Could he tell them to speed this up? Does he have any personal views on this? Is he glad to see it pushed until after the elections, or would he like to see this thing finally resolved? I mean, he’s had the answer I think -- the questions on this for years now.
MR. CARNEY: The President has been consistent in always wanting the process to be conducted on the merits and in keeping with past practices of administrations of both parties. And we have seen attempts to inject politics into this, actions by Congress, for example, that have actually served to delay the normal process that the State Department runs, again, in administrations of both parties.
So obviously nobody, as I understand it, at the State Department or here could anticipate the Nebraska Supreme Court decision. That decision was made; there’s an assessment made by those who are running the process that it could have an impact on the pipeline route, so State Department made the decision that it made.
Q But does he have the power --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have -- I haven’t talked to him about it.
Q But does he have the power? I mean, could he call the State Department and say --
MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you to State for how the process works. It’s obviously his administration, but his interest is not in ruling by fiat, but for letting the process be properly managed and completed.
Q And then can I get you just to respond -- obviously there have been some Democrats who are I guess furious about this delay. Senator Begich of Alaska said, “I am, frankly, appalled at the continued foot-dragging.” Mary Landrieu said, “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary, and unacceptable.” Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota, said it is absolutely ridiculous that it has been delayed yet again. Your response to these Democratic senators?
MR. CARNEY: My response to any questions about this or statements about this is that it is a process run by the State Department, as has been the case in previous administrations of both parties. There was a decision by the Nebraska Supreme Court -- not here in Washington, but by the Nebraska Supreme Court -- that affects potentially the pipeline route, and the State Department that’s running the process has made a decision about the impact of that decision on the process itself. So I would refer you to the State Department.
Q You’d refer these senators to the State Department?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, those are just the facts, Jon. The process has to be compliant with past practice.
Q I know you said earlier that we haven’t been able to -- this administration hasn’t been able to independently verify all the facts of what happened this weekend, but do you know enough to say that there is nothing that you know so far that would justify Russian forces coming in to protect Russians in Ukraine, as some in the areas where this violence occurred have asked for?
MR. CARNEY: That would be, as a general matter, significant and dangerous escalation of the situation. We have made clear that that kind of action, direct military intervention by Russia in Ukraine, in eastern Ukraine, would be a serious escalation of the situation there and would be met with a serious escalation of the cost to Russia. So that’s our view on that as a general matter and a specific matter.
We’re still assessing the events of the weekend, but there’s no question that the overall situation has been greatly worsened by the intervention of armed militants who have seized buildings, stockpiled weapons, blockaded roads, and done so in the name of either joining Russia or being independent and being generally pro-Russia. And our whole position has always been that Ukraine’s future has to be for Ukraine to decide and it should not be dictated to by outside states -- in this case, Russia. The Ukrainian parliament and government --
Q -- use it as a pretext to expand Russian action inside Ukraine?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t speak to how it might be viewed in Moscow, but that is, of course, a very serious concern as a general matter, that pretext of the kind that we’ve seen, some of them fairly blatant and transparent, only serve to further destabilize the situation in Ukraine.
Q You said a moment ago when asked what has Russia done to comply with the agreement, you said, well, they signed it. Is it possible that it was signed knowing full well that the separatists or the provocateurs or whatever you want to call them inside of Ukraine would say, well, we don’t recognize the Ukrainian government in the first place, therefore, it’s not binding, therefore, signing it had no practical effect for the very government you’re hoping will help enforce it?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, people -- they might have rationales for why they act, but that’s not -- such action wouldn’t be lawful in Ukraine under the Ukrainian constitution, under Ukrainian law. Certainly, intervention by another state in violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity would be a transgression of international law, as we saw in Crimea.
So, I mean, I’m sure there are all sorts of unsustainable rationales for why these kinds of things are done and some of them are just pure propaganda. But what we’ve seen out of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian parliament are steps that have been designed to demonstrate restraint and demonstrate a resolve to work with those regions of Ukraine that may want greater autonomy. And the Ukrainian government has committed itself to a process of constitutional reform. There are national elections scheduled for May 25th and the Rada itself has moved along in a process that could result in the passage of legislation that would allow for amnesty to participants in this activity. So I think, again, what you have seen on the Ukrainian side of this is a series of steps clearly designed to deescalate the situation, and we have not yet seen that from the other side.
Q You said a moment ago, in the coming days the cost might go up for the Russian government. Would it be reasonable to interpret that as by Friday?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to put a timeline on it, Major. I will simply say that we will assess Russia’s actions in keeping with the commitments it made in Geneva and then evaluate those actions, and in coming days make a decision about whether or not further costs will be imposed because of Russian actions that destabilize Ukraine.
Q The State Department said they’ve been investigating a chemical weapons attack in Syria, a new one. How serious is this situation and how does it affect ongoing administration policy here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita. We are examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat very seriously and we are working to determine what happened. We will continue consulting and sharing information with key partners, including, of course, at the OPCW.
So this is a matter that’s being investigated and we’re working to determine what happened. And once that has been established, we can talk about what reaction, if any, or response, if any, there would be from the international community.
Q What does it tell you in the context of what the administration has touted has been general success of getting the Syrians to dismantle --
MR. CARNEY: Indications of use -- we are still establishing what happened and who was responsible. We’re examining allegations that the regime was responsible. We continue the process with our partners that Syria committed to -- the Assad regime as well as Russia committed to that has led now to more than 65 percent of the Syrian regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons being removed for destruction, and that process continues.
Q Jay, a couple of minutes ago you said in the coming days you can expect we’ll move forward to impose higher costs on the Russian economy. And then just to Major, you said we’re going to evaluate whether or not --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sorry, the second -- I don’t have a transcript of what I said. We will make a decision about --
Q Whether or not you’re going to impose the costs?
MR. CARNEY: Again, depending on Russia’s actions.
Q I know, but -- okay, so you haven’t decided.
MR. CARNEY: I think I was pretty clear about that.
Q It sounded pretty definitive before that you were going to impose higher costs. Now you haven’t decided yet whether you’re going to?
MR. CARNEY: We have an agreement that was signed by Russia, that committed Russia to take steps to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine, and that includes using its influence on these armed militias -- militants, rather, to disarm and to return buildings that they’ve occupied back to the authorities in Ukraine. So we are evaluating the application -- or implementation of the commitments made in Geneva, and we’ll take steps in coming days as dictated by compliance with those agreements.
Q Okay. So it sounds like higher costs or further sanctions are ready to go if you decide the Russians haven’t complied. Is that what you’re saying?
MR. CARNEY: If progress is not made in coming days, we will impose further costs.
Q And are these further costs by economic sector or are they more individuals? Or could you describe what they would be?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to foreshadow -- as I think Ambassador Rice said on Friday, I’m not going to foreshadow specific sanctions that are under consideration, or individuals or entities that might be under consideration. We have said all along that the three executive orders that the President signed give him and the administration broad flexibility in the imposition of sanctions and the ability to escalate costs in response to escalation by Russia or other individuals and entities that violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
So I think the way to look at this is that the response by the United States and our partners will depend upon the degree of escalation by those violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. So if there is no progress made on the commitments reached in Geneva in coming days, we will impose further costs.
Q Okay. But one of the -- part of the things to factor is how willing Europe, in particular, even more than the U.S., is willing to pay a price of its own, because these sanctions are not without some kind of a blowback. How confident are you that European allies are willing to shoulder the burden of the effect of further sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: I think what you’ve seen, Mara, is a great deal of consensus and unanimity among European nations and the United States and others in how we view the action that Russia has taken in Ukraine, in condemning it and in calling for steps to deescalate the situation there, and also to impose cost, as as the EU and separate European nations have done, as has the United States.
Leaders of various partners in Europe have spoken to the very question that you’ve asked and made clear that there have to be costs that will be imposed on Russia should Russia choose to escalate. And we will work in concert with our European partners and allies and our G7 partners to do just that, as appropriate, depending on the degree to which progress is made or not made in the coming days.
Q The decision to offer expanded clemency criteria for non-violent drug users, was this discussed between Justice and the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Wendell, the President wants to make sure that everyone has a fair shot under the clemency system. He has asked the Department of Justice to set up a process aimed at ensuring that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated thoroughly. In terms of how many deserving applications are out there, I couldn’t begin to speculate, but there is a process in place that ensures -- or that hopefully will ensure that everyone has a fair shot under the system.
The President continues to believe that a resolution is needed for the many offenders who are serving unfairly long sentences under outdated guidelines, and that the clemency process is not an appropriate vehicle to address that injustice in a comprehensive way. That should be done through bipartisan legislation like the measures currently working their way through Congress. And as you know, this is an issue on which there is a bipartisan coalition that believes action needs to be taken and there are measures in Congress that reflect that.
Q The use of chemical weapons apparent, possible use of chemical weapons in Syria -- is this an indication that the President has been unable, basically, to get the Assad regime to keep from going over this red line he drew?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Wendell, we have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month in an opposition-dominated village. We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible and we’re working to determine what exactly happened.
As you know, the United States and other nations are participants in an agreement that commits the Assad regime to relinquishing its stockpiles of chemical weapons and relinquishing them for destruction. And that process continues, and we’re now, I believe, at roughly 65, 67 percent of those weapons being turned over for destruction. But this specific incident is obviously, as a general matter, something that is of concern and that’s why we’re investigating what happened and allegations of who is responsible.
Q And the action in Yemen -- what does this say to the President’s stated desire to actually reduce the use of drones? And can we presume that this group pose a new threat to the U.S. and its allies?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me answer that in a couple of ways. First of all, I can’t speak to specific operations, as you know. But we have a strong collaborative relationship with the Yemeni government and work together on various initiatives to counter the shared threat we face from AQAP. We support the Yemeni government’s efforts to tackle terrorism within their own borders; and beyond that, for details of these reported incidents, I would refer you to the Yemeni government.
Again, without speaking about specific operations, I can tell you that in May 2013, President Obama spoke at length about the policy and legal rationale for how the United States takes direct action against al Qaeda and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, including with drone strikes. And as the President made clear, we take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international laws, and that they are consistent with U.S. values and policy.
Q Jay, is there something that prompted President Obama to think that the applications for commutation of sentence were not getting due consideration?
MR. CARNEY: Well, these are issues that the President and his administration have been working on for a long time. In 2010, Mark, as you know, the President pushed for and signed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce disparities that punished crack cocaine offenses far more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. And since taking office, the administration has supported criminal justice reform at the state and local level.
Last summer, the Attorney General announced a series of changes to enforce our drug laws more fairly, effectively, and efficiently. And last December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight individuals who are serving unduly harsh sentences issued under an outdated sentencing regime. So that’s basically a chronology that answers your question -- that this is a process that’s been in place and of interest to the administration and the President since the beginning, and reflected in the signing of the law in 2010 and the actions that he has taken since.
So making sure that everyone has a fair shot under the clemency system is what’s behind his request to the Justice Department that they set up a process aimed at making sure that anyone who has a good case gets consideration.
Q Is he satisfied with the recommendations he gets from the pardon attorney on both commutation and pardons?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him, but the process works in the way that it has and I’ve certainly not heard a suggestion that the process doesn’t work appropriately.
Q Thank you. Mr. Biden is over in Ukraine. He’s going to be offering a package of technical assistance. Can you describe a little bit what that’s about, what that means, and would it include people from the Defense Department?
MR. CARNEY: Roger, what I can tell you is that the Vice President is in Ukraine to demonstrate our solidarity with the Ukrainian people and to discuss how the U.S. can support the international community’s efforts to stabilize and strengthen Ukraine’s economy and assist Ukraine in moving forward on constitutional reform, decentralization, anticorruption efforts, and free and fair presidential elections on May 25th. He’ll also be consulting on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine and on steps to enhance Ukraine’s short- and long-term energy security.
I don’t have anything to announce ahead of the Vice President in terms of specific assistance that we’ll be seeking to provide Ukraine. As you know, we have taken steps already to assist Ukraine through a package of loan guarantees passed by Congress. We’re working very closely with our partners on the IMF to ensure that assistance is provided to Ukraine as they seek to stabilize their economy in this very difficult time. And that kind of coordination will continue.
Q Can you say how many people it might be?
MR. CARNEY: No, again, I think I would wait for the Vice President to speak about his meetings and any assistance he might be offering.
Q Does the Vice President have any special message to deliver to the people from Belarus or Moldova as well as the Baltic countries while he is there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s there, principally, Jon-Christopher, to demonstrate the United States’ support for Ukraine in all the ways that I just described. We have also made clear because of the events in Ukraine that we strongly support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nations. In addition to that, we have taken steps with our NATO partners to reassure NATO allies, like Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, who are NATO allies. And I’m sure you’re aware of the actions that we have taken as an alliance to demonstrate that reassurance both in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as we well as in Poland. And that process continues.
So I think that there are slightly different answers to the questions that you asked. But as a general principle, I think that this whole situation in Ukraine has demonstrated the world’s commitment to sovereign nations’ territorial integrity, and that there are costs that will be imposed on nations that violate the territorial integrity of another nation, another sovereign nation.
Q Jay, South Korea’s media are counting reports of increased activity at the North’s nuclear test site. Have we seen that? Is there a concern here perhaps that North Korea is maybe doing something -- planning something and maybe even while the President is in the South later this week?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on those reports. Obviously, we monitor that kind of activity very closely, and we note a pattern of provocative actions from the regime in the DPRK that has been consistent unfortunately for many years. But I don’t have anything specific on those reports.
We obviously look forward to -- the President does -- his visit to Seoul, where the alliance that we share will be reaffirmed once again. And the importance of that relationship will be reaffirmed while the President is there.
Q Over the weekend, a very senior Pakistani journalist was shot at while he was coming from the airport. Of late, there haVE been increasing attacks on journalists inside of Pakistan. Is the President worried or concerned about increasing attacks on journalists inside the country?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we condemn Saturday’s vicious attack in Karachi on television journalist, Hamid Mir -- the latest in a series of worrisome attacks on journalists in Pakistan. Freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely carry out their vital mission, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression and to the healthy functioning of any democracy. We wish Hamid Mir a speedy recovery, and we urge the government of Pakistan to bring all those responsible for these attacks to justice.
Q Jay, ever since the Syrian crisis started, President Obama has called on President Assad to step down; very often he said he lost his legitimacy. He obviously hasn’t done that. And on top of that, they announced elections on June 3rd. Is he making a mockery of the President’s statement?
MR. CARNEY: No, he’s making a mockery of his own pretensions to being a democratically elected leader. A presidential referendum, which is what this would be, is a parody of democracy and would have no credibility or legitimacy within Syria or outside of Syria.
Q And does this show any chance of reconciliation in terms of any peace talks with the opposition?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, would this --
Q Yes, would this announcement of elections -- because he seems adamant that --
MR. CARNEY: This announcement that has no credibility and would be a parody of democracy? I don’t think that’s the way for the process to move forward.
Q No, but my point is the U.N. says that the only way to end the Syrian crisis is through a political transition. So now that you don’t have this opportunity by him announcing the election, so what’s the outcome for the Syrian crisis?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the process that can lead to the political transition has to be a negotiated process and resolution through or with the opposition, and it would not include a referendum of the nature that has been announced that bears no hallmarks to true democracy, but is a sham, really.
So the need for a political resolution remains. It’s the only way that the Syrian people can achieve a future where they have more freedom and are subjected to less tyranny. And we continue to support the opposition; we continue to support the Syrian people through the substantial humanitarian aid that we provide; and we continue to push for a process whereby a negotiated settlement that leads to a political transition can be reached.
Q Before the break, Speaker Boehner was asked about the unemployment extension that passed the Senate and said that it’s up to the White House essentially to come up with a new proposal on jobs before he’ll consider an unemployment extension. He said he told the President that in December and he’s been waiting and hasn’t heard a real jobs proposal since then. What’s the outcome here for those 2 million people who aren’t getting their checks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’ve noted that more Republicans have made clear their support for extension of vital unemployment insurance emergency benefits since the last time we discussed this in this room. And we continue to press Congress to take action to restore those benefits.
I don’t have the latest on how that effort is progressing on Capitol Hill, but our position remains very clear, which is that these are benefits that should be extended. Extending them would be, of course, hugely impactful to the families who receive them directly, but also of great benefit to the economy. And Congress ought to take action.
Q Is the White House willing to consider offering some kind of a deal with Speaker Boehner on some of his priorities for those --
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have an update. What we’ve seen in the past in these kinds of situations generally are an attempt to throw spaghetti against the wall on sort of ideological things that have nothing to do with making sure that these benefits get to the people who need them.
Thanks very much, everybody.
2:04 P.M. EDT
May 19, 2016
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