Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–June 6, 2011 – 1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. It is Monday, June 6, 2011.
Before we get started I just want to give you —
MR. CARNEY: It is D-Day, a magnificent day in our history and the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime.
Let me give you a brief readout of the President’s monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, if I may. The President led his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team this morning. The session lasted nearly two hours.
During this session, the President received briefings on progress in implementing our strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan following the death of Osama bin Laden.
By video, Secretary Gates briefed the President on his recent trip to Afghanistan in preparation for the President’s upcoming videoconference with President Karzai, which will take place on Wednesday, June 8.
The group also discussed our strategic partnership with Afghanistan and the progress being made to build and sustain the Afghan national security forces. The President also received an update on our efforts to ensure effective cooperation with Pakistan against al Qaeda and other violent extremists.
Among the participants, of course, were the Vice President; Secretary Clinton; Secretary Gates, as mentioned, via SVTC; Chief of Staff Daley; National Security Advisor Donilon; John Brennan; a variety of others — Admiral Mullen, Leon Panetta, et cetera, et cetera.
We’ll put that out on paper for you as well. And with —
Q Can you make a still available?
MR. CARNEY: We will make a still available. I believe that’s what we’ll do. Standard practice. And with that, I’ll take some questions. Darlene.
Q Hi. A couple of questions on Afghanistan. Did they — did the President not discuss drawing down U.S. troops during the AfPak meeting?
MR. CARNEY: As you know —
Q Was that not a topic of discussion?
MR. CARNEY: It was not a topic of discussion. It was not on the agenda. The President has not received yet a recommendation from his commanders or the Secretary of Defense for a troop drawdown figure. That will obviously be a decision he makes relatively soon in keeping with the commitment he made when he announced his AfPak strategy back in December of 2009, that a drawdown would begin in July of 2011. But this was not a subject of today’s meeting.
Q Should we expect his announcement this month, or in July, the troop —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an update on scheduling. Obviously the operative date here is July 2011 in terms of the beginning of the drawdown, but I don’t have a date for you.
Q The President said in April that — in an interview with AP, that the drawdown was going to be significant, and then Gates recently said it was going to be modest. So can you sort of — is it going to be significant?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, as I said, Darlene, the President has yet to make a decision on the numbers. We have always said that it would be real. There were skeptics who suggested at the time when the President announced his policy that the July 201 date for the beginning of a drawdown was not real. It will, in fact, begin then. The President is going to make his decision, as he has said all along, based on conditions on the ground, not whether or not there will be a drawdown, or the beginning of a drawdown, but the size and scope and pace of the drawdown.
So, again, he hasn’t made the decision, but it is — he will make it fairly soon. In an interview earlier today he talked about the fact that this will be a summer of transition and has talked about some of the progress we have made in the mission, including obviously the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the fact that we have taken the fight to al Qaeda effectively, and have al Qaeda back on its heels; there has been some stabilization in Afghanistan, some real progress, that our mission there has achieved; and that it’s part of a process that is underway of transferring security lead to the Afghan national security forces. And that process obviously will reach its culmination, as promised in Portugal, at Lisbon, at the NATO conference, will reach its culmination in 2014.
Q Will there be a speech to the nation for this?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a forum or a format or a venue yet for you. Obviously he will make a decision and then inform the public of his decision. But I wouldn’t — speculation not withstanding, I would not put too much credence in that at this point, because he has not yet made a decision.
Q Jay, the President gave an interview to a German newspaper over the weekend ahead of Chancellor Merkel’s visit tomorrow. He said that the two sides agree on some things and disagree on others. Can you talk about some of the things that they disagree on?
MR. CARNEY: I think I’d need something a little specific than that.
Q How about the IMF, and specifically funding for Greece, which is looking for further — possibly further bailout money? Does the United States, and will the President specifically, encourage Germany to provide that funding in Europe, or would the United States support IMF money going into that again?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we’ve said and what we continue to say, Jeff, is that our European — we’re in constant communication with our European counterparts about Europe’s fiscal — financial situation, rather. They said — they have said that they will do whatever is necessary to tackle this problem, and we believe it is completely within their capacity to do that.
I don’t have any more specifics about it, but that is our position.
Q Well, can — somebody might hear that and say in “their capacity” means the U.S. does not want IMF funds, which would, by nature of the IMF, be using U.S. funding as well to go towards Greece.
MR. CARNEY: Well, without getting more specific, I think that by saying that it is within their capacity to do that, we believe that they are capable of handling this challenge successfully.
Q And in addition to that issue, can you give us kind of a feel for what else will be discussed between the two leaders tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s a vital relationship, obviously. Germany is an important partner of ours globally, not just in Europe. And the President very much looks forward to meeting with the Chancellor again. I don’t have the number of meetings they’ve had, but they’ve been numerous. And he looks forward to her visit and to the meetings that they’ll have, because it is a very important partnership.
Q Would the President like to see Germany more involved in foreign policy issues such as Libya and Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure they will discuss the range of foreign policy issues that are out there that are of common interest to both countries. I think, again, the relationship is important, the cooperation is excellent, and I’m sure they will talk about those issues as well as many others.
Q Last question on that. Is this a state visit or an official visit?
MR. CARNEY: Now, my understanding, there is a nomenclature here that has to do with whether the visitor is a head of state or a head of government, and my understanding here is that because she is head of government, that this is an official visit.
Q Wasn’t it announced as a state visit?
MR. CARNEY: I’d have to check. I don’t know. Again, this is a semantic technicality.
Q It’s official.
Q But it’s a state dinner tomorrow, right?
MR. CARNEY: It is a state dinner tomorrow. We can get you some of the details of the distinctions, but —
Q Mark must have gotten the invite. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: We’re just awfully glad that she’s coming as head of government of the —
Q May I help out with this?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, please. What can you tell us?
Q Officially it’s an official visit, with a state dinner. And the distinction is as you mentioned.
MR. CARNEY: I was right, is what he’s saying. I always like it when — (laughter.) Anybody else have something similar to say about my — (laughter.)
Q It will be — it will be (inaudible) personal meeting, according to the President in the interview, Jay. Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Excellent. Thank you, thank you. (Laughter.)
Q In the same way that the President asked General Cartwright to give him an alternative plan when he was coming up with the — when they were coming up with AfPak plan back in 2009, is he soliciting proposals from any other generals or any other individuals in government as an alternative to the recommendation from the commanders that he’s waiting for?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, not that I’m aware of and I don’t think that is the case. What needs to be understood here is that the debate and discussion about the President’s AfPak policy took place, as you know, in the fall of 2009 and resulted in the President’s decision of the policy that we have been implementing as an administration ever since, both militarily and through our civilian agencies. This decision about the size of the initial drawdown is one in keeping with the decision the President made back in December of 2009. There is not enormous debate about this, despite some reporting to the contrary. In fact, the context for this decision is fairly narrow, which is what — the President is, as he has all along, moving to the next stage of implementing a policy that he thought long and hard about in making a decision that he made in the fall — or rather late 2009.
So he looks forward to the recommendation that he gets from his commanders through Secretary Gates. I believe if there are options contained within that recommendation I’m sure those options will be reviewed and discussed. The way this process normally works, it’s rare that there is simply one alternative put on the table. But I do not expect a — this is not a reopening of a process that was completed in December of 2009.
Q But Gates has said he expects the drawdown to be modest. Do you expect that the recommendation coming from Gates —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that depends on —
Q — is going to be anything other than a range of modest drawdowns?
MR. CARNEY: Again, it depends on how you define what “modest” is or “significant” is. The President — it will be a real drawdown, but it will depend on the conditions on the ground, which he relies on his commanders to inform him about.
Now, there will be, I’m sure, some discussion about how you implement that decision, but the policy decision has been made. This is a step along the way of implementing that policy.
Q Thursday night, the House — or Thursday, rather, the House passed a resolution saying that the President has roughly two weeks to provide a whole bunch of information and answer a whole bunch of questions about the Libya military operation with the not-so-veiled threat that the Defense bill is coming up and that funds for that operation could be withheld if answers are not forthcoming. Does the administration intend to answer all of the demands from the House for information? And has the administration sought at all the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel at Department of Justice, as to how closely or whether or not the White House is in compliance with the War Powers Act?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Jake, we believe that we are acting consistent with the War Powers resolution on the issue —
Q But did you seek OLC’s guidance on that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of any special seeking of guidance that we asked for. We believe we are acting consistent with the War Powers resolution.
On the question of congressional consultations and the answering of questions, there have been numerous briefings, both classified and unclassified briefings, on the U.S. participation in the NATO mission as well as in — on our other actions with regard to Libya. And those consultations will continue. And to the extent that those consultations — within those consultations there are questions asked that we can answer, we will answer them without question.
But we feel confident that, A, the President is executing a policy decision that he made in exactly the manner that he said he would; that our consultations have been consistent, and that we’re acting consistently with the War Powers resolution; and finally that we would welcome and support a resolution similar to or exactly like the Kerry-McCain resolution in the Senate.
Q So you’re not going to provide any paper? It’s just if —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know. I mean, if they ask for paper, we may provide paper, but only as part of the general consultations that we’ve been having. It is simply incorrect to suggest that we haven’t been informing or consulting with Congress regularly on this important matter, because we have, and we believe it is important to consult with Congress on things like this.
Q I’m not suggesting that Congress —
MR. CARNEY: No, I know, I’m not suggesting that you’re suggesting that. I’m simply —
Q The House is suggesting it very, very clearly.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would say that in response to that, we have consulted regularly and we will continue to. And we will answer questions regularly, as we have.
Q It doesn’t sound — correct me if this interpretation is wrong — it doesn’t sound like you take this House resolution very seriously.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have said it was unhelpful, and we think it’s very important, as we continue to act with our partners, to implement United Nations Security Council 1973 and implement the actions that we’ve taken, the non-lethal actions we’ve taken unilaterally and multilaterally — that we continue to do that.
We’ve made enormous progress. We think the progress will continue. We’ve been encouraged by the steps taken by the opposition in Libya. We’ve been encouraged by some of the declarations that they’ve made about their support for democratic reform. And we are encouraged by the regular indications that those around Muammar Qaddafi are beginning to realize that the future of that regime is very bleak and that the Libyan people need to be the ones who will decide who will lead them into the future.
Q Last question, I’m sorry, but it’s just the House has passed this resolution fairly handily, clearly indicating they don’t feel like they’ve been consulted enough, demanding a list of information about this operation. You’re saying it’s not helpful — you’re suggesting that you’re not going to provide the information —
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t say that at all.
Q — in written form unless they specifically request it. You might supply some of it; you might not supply other parts of this information. They have the legal authority to cut off funding for the Libya operation, and the defense bill is coming up in a couple weeks. You’re not concerned about this at all?
MR. CARNEY: We obviously take seriously our obligation to consult with Congress, and to the extent that there are questions that need to be answered, we will of course endeavor to answer them. And we take seriously concern expressed by members about questions they have about our mission here. We do believe we have acted consistent with the War Powers resolution and we do think it would be — we would welcome the support of Congress in the form of a resolution similar to the one put forward by senators — the bipartisan resolution put forward by Senators McCain and Kerry and others.
Beyond that, again, it will depend on the consultations we have with Congress, the questions we can answer as we go forward, but we want to continue to keep the pressure on the Qaddafi regime and continue our support for the NATO mission, which is protecting Libyan civilians from Qaddafi’s forces.
Q What is Congress has some questions –?
MR. CARNEY: Let me — you know how this works. I’ll get to you. Go ahead.
Q Jay, on Afghanistan, can you give us a sense of the President’s process in coming to a decision? I mean, once he surveys his advisors, he sees where they are, what’s next? Is he consulting with outside advisors? How often is he consulting with advisors?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he consults regularly with his team of national security advisors — small “nsa”, not just his single National Security Advisor — but members of his national security team on this issue. He has his regular Afghan-Pakistan meeting that he had today. And I’m sure he will have additional meetings as he begins to consider the recommendations that he receives from Secretary Gates and General Petraeus, and then will evaluate the options before him and make a decision consistent with the original decision that he made in December of 2009 to begin the drawdown in July of 2011.
Q Is he consulting with outside advisors at all?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t — in general, the President sometimes seeks input from others who don’t work within the administration. I don’t know that he is doing that in this case. Again, this is not a debate here about a policy. This is the implementation of a policy that has already been decided on. And so I don’t anticipate the seeking of opinion in some broad circle beyond a team of national security advisors that he has a great deal of confidence in.
Q But it sounds like he’s getting some — there will be some differing opinions. It sounds like —
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s why he’s President. I mean, he has to make the final decision on these many issues. I would say that everyone understands what the policy decision is — the policy decision he made in December of 2009; the fact that the beginning of the drawdown will begin in 2011 and will end with the full — or rather, the process that begins with the drawdown or has begun already but which the drawdown is a part of, which is a transfer of security responsibility to an Afghan lead across the country, will be complete in 2014, as spelled out in Lisbon.
And so this is a moment along the way — it’s an important one because it is the implementation of a key element of the policy decision he made in December of 2009, but it is a part of a policy decision; it is not a new thing.
Q And on the golf outing with the Speaker, what is he hoping to achieve with that?
MR. CARNEY: Just resolve all their differences, 18 holes. (Laughter.)
Q They’ll have three and a half hours. I mean, really, what are they — what is he —
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think, as the President has said, he likes and gets along with the Speaker of the House. They have obviously spent a fair amount of time together earlier in this year and late last year working on a number of important agreements that were reached, both the tax cut deal in December, and the continuing resolution which secured funding for the government, and spending cuts for the rest of 2011. And obviously they have a lot to talk about.
But I think it’s — this is more of a social outing. This is not — they will not, despite what I just said, they will not resolve the budget negotiations on the back nine. At least I don’t expect that.
Q Any tears?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry?
Q Any tears?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don’t think so. (Laughter.) But he’s looking forward to it.
Q Will they share a cart?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think they’ve worked out the — you know how these things are — they haven’t worked out the fine details yet. But they — look, they get along very well, I think.
Who’s next? Yes, sir.
Q Jay, is there — is President Obama giving any thought to personally attending the next round of deficit-reduction talks later in the week?
MR. CARNEY: No. The President had asked his Vice President, Joe Biden, to lead these negotiations. And I would simply say I think that the fact that he did that demonstrated the significance that the President places on these talks.
As many of you wrote about or spoke about on air, the Vice President has been a key player in some major negotiations, including those that led to the agreement last December. And it’s a fitting role for him to play given his strong relationships on Capitol Hill in both parties.
So that process is important. It’s very high-level. It involves members of the Senate and the House, in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, appointed by their leaders, so we certainly hope that the leaders have faith in those they appointed to negotiate on their behalf.
Obviously, as we get to — closer to an endpoint in these negotiations, there will no doubt be direct presidential involvement, engagement in some form — whether that’s phone calls or meetings or — he is the President, and as with the decision he makes on troop drawdowns, that this will be — when there is a deal, and we’re confident there will be a deal, this will be decision that he makes for the administration. But he has a great deal of confidence in the progress the negotiations being led by the Vice President has made.
Q And is there any frustration at the White House about the congressional schedule? One week Senate’s here, the next week House is here. Does that make it more difficult?
MR. CARNEY: We obviously think it’s important that the talks continue, and that’s why we have a meeting that the Vice President will lead on Thursday, despite the fact that one of the houses is out. But we understand how this works, and that when you’re bringing together members from both houses with members of the administration, that you have to work through scheduling conflicts, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Q On Iraq. What’s the status of discussions with Iraq on possibly keeping U.S. forces there beyond the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing new for you on that. First of all, I’d like to say that we obviously are aware of the fact that we lost U.S. servicemen today, and we express condolences to their families once notifications have been made. And it’s a stark reminder that those who serve in Iraq do so in a way that continues to place them at risk, despite the enormous progress that has been made there.
And then on your question, I have nothing new to announce. The process, as you know, is simply that we are abiding by the status of forces agreement that will have us withdrawing the remainder of our troops by the end of this year. I and others have said that we will entertain requests by the Iraqi government if — that we will entertain, in terms of discuss, possible requests for some sort of new status of forces agreement that would be obviously quite different from the one we have now.
But as of now, we fully intend to fulfill our obligation under that SOFA and withdraw all our remaining forces. As you know, since the President has come into office, we’ve withdrawn 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq, and, again, according to the SOFA, we will draw down to zero by the end of the year.
Q Admiral Mullen said in April that without an agreement within weeks, soon, we would have to start making irreversible decisions, he said. Presumably that means start bringing some troops home.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have been bringing troops home consistently, and I think, obviously, there are 52 weeks in a year. And we are moving along according to the existing agreements we have, but obviously we have different means of discussing with the Iraqi government whatever ideas they may have about any other kind of agreement we might reach. But for now, we will keep the commitments that we’ve made.
Q And there have been no talks on a new SOFA since the — since Admiral Mullen —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean — I have nothing to announce on that. I have no specific negotiations that are underway. Obviously we are in consultation with the Iraqi government on a regular basis through our ambassador, through our military commander there, and through others, but no talks in that sense.
Q On the President’s AfPak decision, is cost in any way a factor of how many troops are brought home next month? Or the initial drawdown —
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q — does cost impact that at all?
MR. CARNEY: No, as I said before in response to a question regarding a story about this, obviously, as enormously powerful and wealthy we are as a country, we have limited resources, and we have to make decisions — the President has to make decisions about priorities. Having said that, his policy decision that he made in December of 2009 had as its objectives not — had disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda, and stabilize Afghanistan so it would not become a haven for terrorists as it had been in the past, terrorists who have designs on the United States and its allies. Those are the objectives, and the decisions he will make going forward regarding withdrawal and troop drawdowns will be based on the success of fulfilling those objectives and the conditions on the ground as he makes those decisions.
Q And not cost?
MR. CARNEY: Well, certainly within the broader sense of we have limited resources, we have to make decisions about our priorities, obviously every decision is made with a mind towards cost, but this is about U.S. national security interests, primarily.
Q I just want to close the loop on something you responded to earlier on Afghanistan. There’s no — the policy decision has been made. That’s not changing. That’s not what’s up to review.
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q This is simply about the number of troops that come home, period.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q Okay, this is — fair enough. On Libya, the — you said it was unhelpful. Do you plan on responding to what the resolution called for, which is an explanation in 14 days?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new for you on that beyond my answer to the question about this earlier. Again, we believe we’re acting consistent with the War Powers resolution.
Q You don’t believe you owe them any more explanation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we owe them in a sense that we owe — and we have said repeatedly, both prior to and throughout this period when there’s been a mission in Libya, that we feel obligated to consult regularly with Congress. And we have.
Q Why do they disagree?
MR. CARNEY: There are always disagreements in Washington about different things. I think the overall thing that we agree on is that we need to make sure that the NATO mission succeeds. We need to make sure through the non-lethal measures that we have embarked upon that we continue to keep the pressure on Qaddafi, and ensure that Libya in the future has — its people have the opportunity to choose their future. And I think that we enjoy broad support within Congress for those goals.
Q But the Senate has yet to pass this resolution — you brought up Kerry-McCain —
MR. CARNEY: Well, we don’t obviously control — we don’t control the congressional calendar, regrettably. But the — our position on that hasn’t changed. We believe that there is bipartisan support for the actions that we’re taking, and we would welcome an expression of it.
Q And I know John Brennan is in the region right now — Yemen — has anybody in the administration been in touch with President Saleh in Saudi Arabia?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of with President Saleh. As you know, John Brennan has been in touch with the Vice President, the acting President in President Saleh’s absence.
Q Has he asked him to —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get into the detail —
Q Is it the same message to him as it was to Saleh? Agree to this transition of power? Could you expound upon what did he say —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, the — our position is that we support the agreement that President Saleh had talked about signing several times and didn’t, which would lead to a transfer of power. And we also have supported and we made calls for cessation of violence, and we mean that on both sides.
And we want a peaceful and orderly transition, and that’s consistent with the Yemenis’ constitutional process; and we — our position hasn’t changed, and we believe that an immediate transition is in the best interests of the people and the best interests of maintaining stability in obviously a very unstable situation.
Q Has Saudi Arabia been helpful to us on this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Saudi Arabia is an important ally of ours, and obviously John Brennan —
Q Have they helped the situation?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s fair to say they have been helpful, and as our — as have others in the region who have worked with us and others to try to bring about a transition there that is best — is in the best interest of the people of Yemen, and from our perspective in the best interest of the national security interest of the United States.
Q The Fed nominee is withdrawing his nomination. Does the White House or the administration already have other people queued up, considering Congress has blocked at least three or four nominees —
MR. CARNEY: What I can say on that is that we will move quickly, we’ll move forward as soon as possible with a replacement nominee. I’ll take this opportunity to, again, as I did on paper, express our disappointment with the partisan obstructionism that led to Mr. Diamond to withdraw his nomination. I mean, this is an enormously qualified candidate, and you know the process is broken when a Nobel laureate in economics is denied a post in the Federal Reserve. And that’s a problem. And we regret that very much. And we certainly echo the sentiment that Peter Diamond expressed in his op-ed this morning.
Q And what is the impact — I guess it may be hard to assess for him in particular for the Fed board — but the impact of nominees not getting into their positions more broadly —
MR. CARNEY: Well, more broadly, look, we have obviously a situation, when we talk about economic appointments, where this is a top priority of the President, it is the top priority supposedly of Congress, both parties, both Houses, and it is vital that we have people in positions, whether it’s at the Fed or elsewhere, who are capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of the jobs that they’ve been nominated for in the name of improving the economic situation in this country.
And again, when you have highly qualified, highly regarded nominees for posts like this, they should be — the Senate should act accordingly and allow that nomination to go forward. And this is somebody, in the case of Peter Diamond, who had benefited from bipartisan support on several occasions through committee votes. So it’s very regrettable.
Q And just one more question on Libya. I know you were already asked this already, but if the administration has consistently consulted Congress, why do they continue to have so many questions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, it is their prerogative to have questions, and it is our obligation to answer those questions. I think that’s partly how the process works. So we don’t have a problem with the fact that they have additional questions. And we will endeavor to answer those questions, as we have throughout this process.
Q Was the White House surprised by Peter Diamond’s op-ed?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q And was there more that the White House or the President could have done to get his nomination through?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe so.
Q And for Merkel’s meeting tomorrow, the President in his radio address cited the European debt crisis as one of the headwinds that’s leading to a struggling recovery now. Is that something that he will stress with the German Chancellor tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure it will be part of their conversation. Obviously the economy writ large is an issue that is of interest to both leaders and it is an issue that both are addressing in different ways. So absolutely, as the President noted in his address and has noted elsewhere, we’ve been hit with obviously the fallout from the tsunami and earthquake in Japan, high energy prices, and the continuing drag presented by the European — euro zone economic issue.
So I’m sure that in many ways all three of those will be topics of conversation between the Chancellor and the President.
Q And will the selection process for the next IMF head be part of the agenda?
MR. CARNEY: It’s certainly possible. Again, I think the President has made clear what his view is, which is we support the timetable laid out by the IMF and we support the selection of the most qualified nominee.
Q Do you expect them to talk about Christine Lagarde’s candidacy, specifically?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of that they would speak about a specific candidacy, but I don’t want to rule out what could be brought up.
Q About a third of the troops in Afghanistan are not American. Is there a sense that the decision the President makes on a troop withdrawal will influence what allies do? And is there a fear that a precipitous withdrawal will take them out as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, there’s not going to be anything — there’s not going to be a precipitous withdrawal — precipitous being an adjective that suggests haste that’s not thought through, perhaps. And I think that the point has always been that this will be driven by a process that reviews the conditions on the ground, reviews the options presented by commanders on the ground through the Secretary of Defense, and will be very — as reflected in the decision originally to — with the policy decision he made in December of 2009 will be very deliberate and thought through.
So I think we — it is an international coalition. We work — we coordinate with our allies and we will obviously inform our allies of our decision once it’s made. But I think that the kind of cooperation we’ve had there will continue.
Q And given that the last combat troops are scheduled to leave in 2014, in the context of a decade-long war, this isn’t a huge window. So talk about why this first July drawdown is so significant, given that tens of thousands of troops will be out by 2014 regardless.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s the beginning of a process. It’s important to remember that when the President came into office, there were a certain number of troops and he has increased them significantly because of his focus on the need to disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately defeat al Qaeda where al Qaeda central was located, in the AfPak region. That is where the attacks on 9/11 emanated from and obviously, as we discovered not that long ago, the region where Osama bin Laden himself was hiding.
So he followed through on his commitment that he made in his campaign to refocus our attention on the original fight here, the fight that was so important, and we now have, because of the surge, so-called surge, reached a troop level that is allowing us — has allowed us to make important progress in terms of stabilizing Afghanistan and beginning the process of transferring security lead over to the Afghan security forces.
We are now at a point, as envisioned by the President’s policy, where we can begin the drawdown. And the pace and slope will depend on conditions on the ground, but it will begin. And I take your point, but obviously how that’s spaced out between now and 2014 will — there’s some room to decide what that slope looks like. And that’s — this is the first of those decisions.
Q On that slope, the recommendation that the President gets, does he expect it to be more than just a July number? How much of the glide slope will be outlined in this recommendation? And if it’s not fairly specific, do you revisit this every month in the monthly updates on how many troops we could bring back and when?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without anticipating or boxing in Secretary Gates or General Petraeus, I think that obviously this will be a proposal that looks at the situation we have now and envisions what the situation will be going forward. But as has always been the case, the process will be revisited according to what’s happening on the ground. I mean, I think it would be foolish to say that a certain portion will come out today and a certain portion on six months and three days from now.
I think that the answer is yes and no.
Q Is there middle ground, though, I wonder, in the sense that you — we know where you want to be in 2014. You might not be able to put exact numbers to exact dates, but will there be certain mileposts you set down between then and now that you can revisit based on —
MR. CARNEY: Not that I can announce from now. I’ll leave that to the President to announce what decision he makes when he makes it. Again, we’re still premature here because he has not even been given a formal recommendation by the Secretary of Defense on this. So to anticipate how that will look I think would be foolhardy on my part.
Q In thinking about how he will convey this to the American people, do you think he will speak — sort of review his policy and look forward over the next three years at all?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think we’re getting ahead of the process here. I’m sure he will convey it. Suggestions for how and the format are way ahead of where we are right now.
Q Thanks, Jay. Can I go back to Julianna’s question about Peter Diamond? You said you thought that the White House did everything possible to push this nomination forward. Can you just outline what all you did do? I mean, did the President pick up the phone and call Mr. Shelby? Did he —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a tick-tock on the different actions that different members of the administration took in support of this nomination. We strongly supported it. We thought he was highly qualified. We regret that it’s come to this and he’s withdrawn his nomination for understandable reasons. Again, he had — enjoys significant bipartisan support, as he should have, given his qualifications. And we think that the suggestion that he’s somehow not qualified is just ridiculous because he is so qualified for this job.
And more broadly, it’s just — it’s important for us to move forward in this process because these posts need to be filled precisely because we have such important issues before us in dealing with the economy. And so we look forward to working with Congress, working with the Senate, to get the nominee who replaces Mr. Diamond confirmed and other nominations that are still pending confirmed.
Q What kind of message, though, does this send to other potential nominees?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I hope it’s isolated. I hope that the process can move forward. And it’s not — I’m not suggesting that it’s uniform. We have had obviously some nominees move forward and we appreciate that and we’d like to see others move forward.
Q Yes, Jay, two questions on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Under the repeal law that President Obama signed in December, “don’t ask, don’t tell” won’t be off the books until 60 days pass following certification from the President, the Defense Secretary, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A lot of people who worked to pass the repeal legislation late last year are becoming worried if that certification doesn’t take place before the end of this month, after September 4th, Secretary Gates retires, that there could be additional delays as we wait for Leon Panetta to come into position. So does the President want to see certification for “don’t ask, don’t tell” this month?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I think the process is moving at the pace that we anticipated, and I also think that it’s the President’s policy and that it will be implemented regardless of who is Secretary of Defense.
Q But the President — the administration is surely concerned that if we wait until Leon Panetta comes in there could be additional delays —
MR. CARNEY: We don’t share that concern, no.
Q Jay, could you talk to us about the official relationship now with the United States government and the Taliban? Secretary Gates made some statements over the weekend, and if you could kind of flesh that out for us —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not — you’d have to be more specific about what kind of statements he made.
Q He was talking — at the Asian Security Conference, he was talking about how in time we could work together, and things of that nature; there will be a relationship with the United States government and the Taliban. Could you talk — give us any kind of information on that as the President is looking to draw down troops and bring everyone home by —
MR. CARNEY: I think what this refers to is our oft-stated support for the reconciliation process that President Karzai has begun. The important contingencies — or rather, the conditions of reconciliation — not contingencies but conditions — are renouncing violence, renouncing terrorism, laying down your arms, and abiding by the Afghan constitution.
So obviously there has to be a political settlement in Afghanistan, and obviously that would have to include elements of the Taliban. And we support that process.
Now, if at some future date when there is, we hope, relative peace in Afghanistan and there’s been a robust and successful reconciliation effort, the people who used to be members of the Taliban who are now reconciled into the Afghan government, and we have a relationship with the Afghan government, then obviously that would include elements of the Taliban from the past.
But again, the process for getting to reconciliation is not simply saying, I’d like to reconcile.
Q And going back to what you just said, elements of the Taliban from the past, there is a history there. And I mean, are we at this point able to trust, to trust whatever the Taliban says and does?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s an important thing to make sure is clear here, which is this is a process that’s being undertaken by President Karzai, who is President of the country and believes that reconciliation is essential for a long-term solution in Afghanistan. We support him in that and agree with him.
There obviously are irreconcilable elements, and we are taking the fight in Afghanistan to those elements, and have made progress and halted the Taliban’s momentum.
But going forward, reconciliation has to be a part of Afghanistan’s future, and we support that process.
Q When the President plays golf with the Speaker, will you ask them to let the pool see them tee off?
MR. CARNEY: I could ask. I don’t have anything for you on the press circumstances surrounding that event as of yet.
Q As you know, the President has not been completely —
MR. CARNEY: It’s way off in the future.
Q — transparent about his golf game or let the pool see him start or finish.
MR. CARNEY: I think the President enjoys playing golf on occasion in part because it’s a nice break. There aren’t that many opportunities that a President gets to get outside and be away from the trappings of office.
But in terms of the specific golf date that you mentioned, I don’t have anything for you yet on how we’re going to cover that.
Q Jay, first of all, is that your swing that you were showing us —
MR. CARNEY: I’m a terrible golfer, yes. (Laughter.)
Q I was hoping you could tell us a little bit — considering the national security challenges that are on the President’s plate right now — Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, et cetera, you know the list — and what we saw last week in terms of the economic recovery slowing down, could you talk to us a little bit in terms of how he’s balancing these two?
MR. CARNEY: You don’t really have much of a choice when you become President. These are the two priorities you’re handed, and for good reason: the national security of the United States, protecting the people of the United States at home and abroad, and the economic vitality, growth, and job creation of the nation. And these are the two priorities that the President focuses on every day.
And these are complicated times, and obviously when he took office, we were in economic freefall, and that was the focus, appropriately, of the media’s attention, of the country’s attention, and the President’s attention.
But it’s often lost — or we forget sometimes that he also when he came into office inherited two wars that he had to spend a lot of time thinking about in terms of fulfilling his promise to draw down and end — draw down troops and end the war in Iraq, a promise that he is keeping; and also the promises he made about how to successfully prosecute our effort in Afghanistan, another promise that he is keeping.
And these are — you can’t — you don’t have a choice. You have to do both, and that’s just a reality of the office. And it’s why it’s such an important one.
Q Just a quick follow-up. I feel like I missed this over the course of the last few months — I might have been on vacation or something — but when did the President stop doing the daily presidential economic daily briefing?
MR. CARNEY: I think it happens periodically —
Q But it used to be a daily thing with the PDB. I’m just curious when it stopped being a daily thing.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to go check. Again, it sort of happens occasionally, doesn’t happen all the time. And I think that was always the case, but I can check. I don’t have any scheduling changes to announce, but —
Q Last week an al Qaeda spokesperson released a video statement saying something to the extent of a good way to get access to firearms is through gun show loopholes in America. And I’m wondering how serious the White House is taking this statement, and also if they’ve directed the Justice Department to look into the matter. And how do gun control policies stand — I’m sorry, gun control policy talks stand with the administration? I know there was a task force that convened at the Justice Department a little while ago, but we haven’t heard an update since then.
MR. CARNEY: I honestly am not aware of the statement that you mentioned, Sam. And I would encourage you to go to the Justice Department on it. We’re very mindful of any threats emanating from al Qaeda and take them seriously, so I’m sure that the appropriate folks are aware of it and acting on it. But I’ll have to send you to Justice for that.
Yes, ma’am, in the green.
Q Thank you, Jay. The President is playing golf; do you have his — what is his handicap? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: What is his handicap?
MR. CARNEY: That’s classified. I can’t — (Laughter.)
Q Is Boehner giving him strokes?
MR. CARNEY: We haven’t — I don’t think any of that has been worked out. Again, I think this is just an opportunity for the two men to spend some time together. As the President has said, and I think the Speaker probably shares this opinion, that this is useful and valuable because they obviously both have a lot of responsibility for the kinds of decisions that need to be made in this country on behalf of the American people.
So the fact that they can spend a few hours together playing golf I think is absolutely a good thing. And how that game goes, we’ll just have to see.
Q Will it be a foursome?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on who else will be playing.
Q Thank you, Jay. On the debt ceiling, for the rest of the world, it is very difficult to understand what is going on in Washington because most of the country don’t have those system, and for the rest of the world, it seems to be another political battle in Washington. But this one is different in nature because this one put the entire international financial community in danger if the U.S. Treasury could default.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q So what’s your message for the international community? And are you confident that you can resolve the issue by August 2nd?
MR. CARNEY: We are confident that Congress will vote to raise the debt ceiling. We believe that members of Congress have heard about the imperative here not just from us but from a variety of places and that that message is getting through; and it’s one that’s been expressed by leaders of Congress of both parties.
And to your point, Toshi, it’s not just the international financial community that would be adversely affected by a default. Everyone in this country would be adversely affected by a default. The consequences for the economy would be very serious, very grave, and that would affect growth. It would affect jobs. It would affect retirement accounts. It would affect every single American. And to your point in terms of the global impact, it would affect people around the world. And that’s why it’s so important to take this vote.
It is a different circumstance than exists in a lot of countries. What people need to understand is that this vote, which is always one that the Congress is resistant to taking for understandable reasons, is to lift the debt ceiling in order to pay the obligations that the government has already made. This is not a decision to spend money. This is a decision to honor the obligations already made by the United States government, by the Congress, by administrations of both parties. And it has to be done because defaulting on our obligations, defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States government would be a terrible, terrible idea with unpredictable consequences.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, all.
END – 2:40 P.M. EDT