the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

Search form

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle #2 On Air Force One By Press Secretary Jay Carney And Deputy National Security Advisor

Aboard Air Force One
En Route El Salvador

12:03 P.M. CST 

     MR. CARNEY:  We'll just have another gaggle, this one in order to read out some of the President’s activities during this flight between Santiago, Chile and El Salvador -- San Salvador.  So I have with me once again, back by popular demand, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.     
     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, everybody.  I'll just refer to three calls the President made.  Earlier this afternoon -- or this morning I guess, he had a call with his national security team, secure call with Tom Donilon and Bill Daley on here, as well as Hilary Clinton, Bob Gates, the Vice President, Tony Blinken, Denis McDonough, Admiral Mullen and General Ham, to, again, get the update on the latest military activity taking place in Libya, an assessment of what’s taking place on the ground in Libya, and a review of our diplomatic efforts associated with the coalition.

     Then he had two additional calls.  He called President Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom.  They reviewed the substantial progress that's been made in terms of halting the advance of Qaddafi forces on Benghazi, as well as the establishment of a no-fly zone through the targeting of Qaddafi’s air defenses and air assets.

     They also noted the continued effort that's going to need to be done to achieve the goals that are specified in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.  The leaders also agreed that NATO should play a key role in the command structure going forward for the enforcement of the no-fly zone.  And again, those discussions are ongoing in Brussels and in capitals, but of course, in their calls the President -- with President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron, there was agreement that NATO does have a key role to play in this effort.

     So those are the three calls the President made -- the first was his national team, the second was with President Sarkozy, the third was with Prime Minister Cameron.  They also of course, -- the leaders agreed to stay in close consultation on this going forward.

     Then, as you know, just to reiterate, I think there’s been a slight change today.  We are going to have the bilateral meeting with President Funes and then there will be a press conference, so you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions of the President. I think that's a two and two -- so I think that's a two-plus-two press conference.

     Then the President is doing interviews with CNN Espanol and Univision.  Then I think we are going to visit the Tomb of Father Romero later this afternoon and then have the official dinner tonight.

     Q    Why the change?

     MR. RHODES:  The President is going with President Funes today and we just decided to do it this afternoon.  We'll still be here tonight, of course, in San Salvador.

     Q    Does that mean he'll leave earlier tomorrow?

     MR. RHODES:  I'm not sure if it affects the timing of our departure tomorrow.  We'll let you know.

     Q    Is the Mayan visit still on tomorrow, the Mayan ruins visit?

     MR. RHODES:  I'll check that for you and let you know.  I've had no updates on tomorrow.  We just decided to go forward with the visit to the Romero Tomb today. 

     Q    Can you expand a bit on NATO -- you say NATO has a key role to play in this effort.  Can you expand a little bit more on that?  Does that need to be command and control, or --

     MR. RHODES:  Yes, I think there’s agreement that NATO has certain capabilities that are very important in terms of facilitating command and control and that -- however there is a coalition, of course, that is broader than NATO, so this is not simply a NATO operation.  But, again, I think the agreement is that there are specific capabilities within NATO that would be important for the command and control of the -- to support the command and control of a no-fly zone.

     Q    Any examples of what those specific capabilities are -- something that would sort of better explain that?

     MR. RHODES:  Well, the ability to coordinate -- I mean, NATO is essentially set up to coordinate the activities of many different military forces.  So while I’m not a military expert, I think the ability to coordinate different roles and responsibilities of partners in a military operation like this is something that exists within NATO. 

And again, you’re going to have a situation going forward where different nations are going to make different contributions, whether it’s related to flying planes, providing other types of support, logistics, intelligence, et cetera.  So it’s important you have a command structure that can support different types of contributions of different nations.

Q    Ben, has there been consultation with other partners, non-NATO partners?  Are they okay with NATO having command and control?  And what role would they play in that structure?

MR. RHODES:  Well, again, that’s -- I wouldn’t -- what we are saying right now is that NATO will have a key role to play here.  Again, I think there will be a broader structure, if you’re going to encompass non-NATO countries as well.  So I think it’s an important distinction that there are capabilities within NATO that can support a command structure, but there is a broader coalition.

Again, this is not finalized so I don’t want to suggest that it is.  This is still being worked in Brussels.  The command structure is not yet finalized, but I think what everybody does agree is that there is a key role that NATO can play.  Again, just this morning, the President spoke, as you know, to the Emir of Qatar, who has offered to contribute and of course we believe that’s critically important to the effort to have that kind of Arab participation, which obviously goes beyond NATO as well.

So what we’re focused on right now is figuring out what the different contributions are going to be of different nations and then what the structure is going to be in place that can facilitate those contributions.

Q    Is the President pleased with how those conversations are going?  And based on sort of on the calls that he had today, can you give us a sense of the progress that’s been made over the last 24 hours and the days and weeks question, sort of where are we there?

MR. RHODES:  I think there is a -- he was very pleased with the calls.  I think there was a very strong agreement among the three leaders about the state of play right now, about the focused nature of the effort, and about what was going to be required as we complete a first phase of this effort and look towards a second one.  So I think they were very positive conversations. 

Did you have another --

Q    Just a sense of the progress that’s been made over the last 24 hours.

MR. RHODES:  Again, I think we continue to feel -- see that there are not Libyan -- Qaddafi is not flying -- is not capable of flying.  There’s been no indication that he’s had planes in the air or done anything in the air.  So you have in essence the beginnings of a no-fly zone in the sense that we’ve removed that capability from him to date, although we still believe that there are more targets, I think -- and the Pentagon will have this -- but associated with the establishment of the no-fly zone.

Similarly, I think what we saw today, as I referenced yesterday in my briefing, the vast majority of the flights associated with the enforcement of the beginnings of this no-fly zone are already allied flights, which is important.  The United States, of course, continues to bring our capabilities to bear as well, but we’re seeing very robust allied participation, which is good. 

Again, we see -- we do believe that Qaddafi’s -- we’ve seen Qaddafi’s forces pull back from Benghazi, which is very important given that that was the largest population center that was under imminent danger.  But at the same time, Libyan civilians continue to be threatened in a number of places -- Misurata among them, for instance.  So we continue to watch the humanitarian situation very closely.

Q    Ben, what is the opposition doing?  Are they holding in place, as far as you know, or are they advancing against the Qaddafi regime?

MR. RHODES:  I think what’s clear is the opposition is pleased that the threat that they faced in Benghazi is certainly -- has been pulled back in terms of the advances that Qaddafi’s forces were making, so that there’s more space for people to be freed from fear in the Benghazi area and for the opposition to operate freely in terms of their own consultations.

In terms of what their next steps are, I’m not in a position to say.  We were not -- we’re not in that kind of coordination with them.

Q    Ben, could you tell us -- could you say something about what they -- where the Arab League and Turkey, in particular, are on the current plans for NATO?

MR. RHODES:  Again, I think -- and I want to be very clear on this, that we’re talking about NATO in a broader context.  So this is not simply a NATO thing; this is what capabilities can NATO contribute in the context of an international coalition that extends beyond NATO.

     Turkey, of course, is an important NATO ally.  And I think Prime Minister Erdogan and the President had a good discussion last night where they agreed about the aims of the resolution.  And Turkey is a part of the discussions we’re having about how this is going to be structured going forward.

     And with regard to the Arab League, we saw a reiteration of the political support for the effort from Amr Moussa yesterday.  Again, the President had a good conversation with the Emir of Qatar this morning.  And again, I think it’s very that we continue to underscore that the coalition includes, but goes beyond us and our European allies, to include, for instance, all those nations who expressed strong political support in Paris, as well as nations like Qatar that have signaled that they’ll make important contributions.

     Q    So what’s still needed to resolve the command and control issue that would lead to the transition?  And after you have that transition, how does that change the U.S. participation?

     MR. RHODES:  Well, I think that this is just a matter of continuing to make sure that we have the best structure in place. I think it’s a matter of just military planning and diplomatic consultation in different capitals with different partners -- some of that in NATO and some of that, again, with other partners.

     In terms of the U.S. contribution, as the President has said, we are bringing a set of unique capabilities to bear in this first phase, the front end of this operation, which has helped stop the advances of Qaddafi’s forces and helped establish and shape a no-fly zone.

     When we move to a separate phase, our allies and partners will be in the lead in terms of enforcing a no-fly zone.  We have capabilities that we can use to support that effort, but in terms of the enforcement of the no-fly zone, we expect our allies and partners to be in the lead.

     Q    Can I just ask if the President plans to make a specific speech or perhaps an address of some kind to further explain the rationale for the involvement?  There have been critics who say that it hasn’t been sufficiently -- I know he’s talked about it a lot, but has he planned something else?

     MR. RHODES:  Well, I’d make a few points.  I mean, the President spoke in some detail about Libya on Friday.  He made a statement again on Saturday.  He addressed it yesterday.  I imagine he’ll have plenty of opportunity to address it today at the press conference.  So he also provides in the letter to Congress a fairly detailed explanation of precisely what the mission is.

     The U.N. Security Council resolution has a detailed description of what the nature of the mission is.  So in the first instance, I just think there has been a consistent communication about precisely what our efforts are going to be in Libya. 

     That said, I am sure the President will continue to want to communicate to the American people and the international community what our goals are, particularly as we move through each stage of this.  So I’d, of course, anticipate the President continuing to speak to this in the coming days.

     All right, we should probably get ready to land.  I heard the gear drop.

     Q    Are both pilots now safe?

     MR. RHODES:  Yes.  I think the Pentagon probably did a briefing while we were in the air, but they're both safe.

     Q    Quick question on --

     Q    -- yesterday apparently spoke to the President according to local reports to make a personal appeal for help with the investigation into his father’s death?  Can you give us anything on that?

     MR. RHODES:  I can’t.  I can check on it.  It’s first I’ve heard of it.  I’ll check with Restrepo.

     Q    Okay.

     MR. RHODES:  Thanks, guys.

     Q    Should we gather from the change of touring today that tomorrow’s schedule is going to change or be --

     MR. CARNEY:  I mean, in the sense that we’re doing the visit to the tomb today, that's obviously happening today and not tomorrow.  I don't have any updates beyond that for tomorrow.  But we’ll get them to you when we have them.

     Q    Do you know how the TV interviews will be made available, by any chance? 

     MR. CARNEY:  My understanding -- I’ll check when we get on the ground -- that we don't make them available.  CNN Espanol is likely to air it fairly soon after it is given.  And that may be also true for Univision, but we’ll see.  And I’ll ask -- and I’ll get further update on that.

     Q    Thanks.

     MR. CARNEY:  Thanks.

12:18 P.M. CST