Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 13, 2014 – 1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. Appreciate the full house. Let’s see, I have nothing at the top, so let’s just go to questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. So far, the President has taken steps to make it possible for the U.S. to levy sanctions against Ukraine should he decide to do that, but hasn’t actually carried out those sanctions. As we’re looking ahead to this planned referendum, is it the right way for us to be thinking about this that if the referendum does go ahead, at that point we would move forward with sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a very good question. The right way to look at this is that Russia has already incurred costs because of the actions Russia has already taken. Russia will incur additional costs because of the actions Russia has already taken. Should Russia continue down the path that it is currently on and move forward with an attempt to annex Crimea or to in other ways continue to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, there will no doubt be additional costs.
When it comes to the utilization of the authority provided in the executive order, work is being done to identify targets of potential sanctions — both in the context of what has been done, the transgressions that have already occurred, and of course, potentially, should Russia not avail itself of resolving this in abidance with international law and through diplomatic channels, further costs.
Q Secretary Kerry says that there will be a response in and of itself to the referendum occurring. What will that response be?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to predict what might happen should the referendum take place and should it be acknowledged by Russia as having any legitimacy, which of course it won’t under the Ukrainian constitution, and it won’t in the view of many nations around the world, including the United States.
So what I can say is echo what Secretary Kerry suggested, which is that there will be additional costs if Russia chooses not to work with the international community to resolve these issues in a manner that’s consistent with international law and that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
There are ways for Russia to protect its interests, legitimate interests that it has in Ukraine, working with the international community, working with the Ukrainian government. What is not legitimate is to intervene militarily in violation of Russia’s own international obligations, including its obligations in the Budapest Memorandum and other negotiations with Russia — or with Ukraine. That’s never going to be recognized as legitimate.
So we are hopeful that there remains the opportunity to resolve this diplomatically. We have left the door open for a diplomatic resolution. Secretary Kerry will visit with Foreign Minister Lavrov again to review the proposals that we have put on the table, we being the United States and our partners, for moving forward in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Q But if you can’t articulate what specific actions the U.S. would take in response to specific steps in Crimea, then how can Russia —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think Russia has any doubt that we have the tools available and the authority available to heighten the cost to Russia for the transgressions that have occurred. And it’s not just the United States; in fact, it is our European partners and other nations that have taken steps and have indicated they will take additional steps if necessary.
The fact is there have been costs already — both through the actions that this government has taken and other governments have taken, through visa bans that we have enacted, and efforts that have been undertaken in Europe.
Additionally, there have been costs to the Russian economy. The Russian stock market has paid a significant price for the destabilization caused by Russia’s violation of international law. The Russian currency has suffered as a result of those violations. Moreover, confidence that international investors might have in investing in Russia in the future has been undermined by the illegality of the actions that Russia has taken in the face of international concern and condemnation.
So the costs are real, and they will increase if Russia doesn’t avail itself of a very real opportunity here to address its concerns through normal, peaceful channels in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Q And on the missing Malaysian plane, there had been some reporting that U.S. investigators have received some type of indication that the plane may have flew for another four hours or so after it was last — sent a signal about where it was. There now seems to be some questions about the veracity of those reports. Can you provide any clarity about what U.S. investigators have been able to determine about that?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that the investigation is ongoing and it is being led by the Malaysian government. U.S. air safety officials are in Kuala Lumpur working closely with the Malaysian government on the investigation.
There are a number of possible scenarios that are being investigated as to what happened to the flight, and we are not in a position at this time to make conclusions about what happened, unfortunately. But we’re actively participating in the search. And, again, we, in an investigation led by the Malaysian government — an investigation that involves many nations with many assets — are following leads where we find them. And it’s my understanding that based on some new information that’s not necessarily conclusive, but new information, an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean, and we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy.
But I don’t have anything more on that at this time. It’s obviously an ongoing investigation, and one that has not produced conclusive results. And it’s frustrating for everyone, but agonizing for the families of those passengers on the flight. And our thoughts and prayers go out to them especially because this is truly agonizing for them.
Q Just to follow on one thing you said. You said there may be a new area over the Indian Ocean?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’re looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government. And it is my understanding that one possible piece of information or collection of pieces of information has led to the possibility that a new area, a search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean. But I don’t have any more details on that; Department of Defense might, and certainly the Malaysian government might.
Q Thank you. You said that Russia has already paid — On the Ukraine situation, you said Russia has already paid costs, would pay additional costs if the situation escalated. However, Russia seems to not be backing down in the face of statements like that, or the international community’s. They are apparently staging military exercises on the border with Ukraine, deploying troops, firing weapons. What message should the international community take from that, both specifically with regard to the warnings of sanctions as well as that situation specifically?
MR. CARNEY: Russia has already paid a price, as you said, for the military intervention that it has engaged in in Crimea. We’re obviously monitoring the overall situation very closely, and I think it is clear to Russia that additional costs will have to be paid if they further violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
So there are discussions that we’re having with the Russians that we seek to continue in pursuit of a possible diplomatic resolution here. But the option is clear. There’s no doubt in our mind that officials in Moscow understand both what the price has been thus far for their actions, and the fact that continuing down this path would incur further costs to the Russian economy and would result in further isolation of the Russian government on the international stage.
Meanwhile, as you saw yesterday when the President met with the Ukrainian Prime Minister, we are working closely with Congress and with our allies and partners to make clear that we strongly support the new Ukrainian government, we strongly support the Ukrainian people, and we strongly endorse the fundamental principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty. So we’re going to work on two paths, essentially — pursuing a diplomatic resolution and assisting Ukraine as it tries to navigate through this very difficult situation.
Q Can you comment specifically, though, on the Russian military exercises?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific comment on reported or announced military exercises. Our concern, obviously, is focused on the need to deescalate. And any escalation would result in additional costs.
Q Also, could you comment on — Chancellor Merkel has apparently expressed rising concern, talking about a potential catastrophe if events continue along the path that they’re on. Does that raise worries that she’s worried?
MR. CARNEY: Well, she and the President obviously have spoken on this matter, and both the President and the Chancellor have spoken with other partners about our concerns, shared concerns that the incursion into Crimea and the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity represents. It’s very destabilizing. It’s anti-democratic. It’s in violation of the United Nations Charter. It’s in violation of a series of agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum.
There’s no question that further escalation would result in more problems for Russia and clearly for Ukraine, and that would not be good for the region or the world. We’re working very hard — Secretary Kerry, in particular — on an effort to make clear to the Russians that we understand they have concerns and interests in Ukraine, and making clear that there is a way for those concerns and interests to be addressed and protected through the utilization of international monitors and through dialogue with the Ukrainian government. But there’s no question that, as has been the case now for some time, that the situation there is of concern.
Q And one of the things that the Ukrainian — Prime Minister? Is he Prime Minister, President? — asked was that the international community honor the Budapest Memorandum, which, as I understand it, stipulates that in exchange for giving their nuclear weapons, the West would protect them militarily. Did the President make any assurances to —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe that the Budapest Memorandum is the document that governs the disposition of what were Ukrainian nuclear stockpiles that were left over from the Soviet arsenal.
What I can tell you is that we certainly believe that the actions Russia has taken violate its commitments under the Budapest Memorandum and under the United Nations Charter, and under a series of other international agreements.
I don’t have a further analysis of the Budapest Memorandum, but I can tell you that we’re working in concert with our European partners and allies to support Ukraine through this difficult period, and also to try to persuade Russia to take a different path.
Q Would the administration argue the perception that, in the next few days, the Kerry-Lavrov talks and the referendum sort of represent a last chance for Russia to avoid extra sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Meaning that the threat of sanctions will go on permanent forever but never be actually —
MR. CARNEY: No, that’s not what I mean at all. I don’t think that’s what Stephen said. What we have said is that choosing not to avail itself of a path that would provide for diplomatic and international legal resolution of this conflict would result in further cost for Russia, including utilization — further utilization of the authorities granted under the executive order the President signed. And the cost would not just be limited to sanctions, but other effects that would happen if Russia were to continue down this path, including impacts on the Russian markets and the Russian currency.
So the answer — it was a one-word answer, but it was a simple way of saying that the further down this road Russia travels, the more costs it will incur.
Q Would you agree that the costs that you believe have been imposed on Russia have been incapable of persuading them to change their course?
MR. CARNEY: I would agree that Russia has not changed its course.
Q Right. And so the costs so far have been absorbable for whatever their interests are and whatever their goals are.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you would have to ask the leadership of Russia —
Q But they’re not changing their behavior.
MR. CARNEY: — about whether the approbation of the international community and the impact of their actions on their own economy and their own markets and their own currency are acceptable. They’re real, and they will get worse.
Q But they have not changed behavior.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think —
Q Right, obviously.
MR. CARNEY: — you’re asking me something that’s self-evident.
Q Well, but the point is if you constantly say we will threaten to do something more, but the something more never comes, at what point do you believe they’re going to change their behavior?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think there is any doubt in Moscow about the seriousness with which we take this matter and our seriousness about taking further action if the situation demands it.
And let me be clear that the executive order which creates a flexible and broad tool for implementing sanctions was signed in order to allow the United States to avail itself of actions it can take to respond to what Russia has already done. So I don’t want there to be any confusion about the executive order and the sanctions that are allowed under it.
I don’t want anybody to misunderstand that implementation of that would be limited only to further action. There have been and there will be consequences for the action taken already when it comes to individuals and entities who under the descriptions outlined in the executive order have been responsible for the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Q Is that your way of saying that only Russia can escalate this crisis? That actions taken under these authorities by the U.S. — if they are — isn’t something that escalates the matter? Because that’s what Merkel is afraid of. She doesn’t want this situation to get more intense. And I’m just asking from your perspective, does anything that we do not escalate the situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we have — we and our partners, including our European allies have demonstrated our sincere interest in working with Russia and the Ukrainian government to try to resolve this in a way that deescalates the tension and adheres to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. I don’t think anybody has any question about that. The fact that we’ve also taken actions that would allow for the imposition of sanctions reflects how serious and grave the transgressions have been and potentially would be if further action is taken.
Q You said yesterday some very critical comments about the House Republican actions on immigration. When asked what his priorities were for the remainder of this legislative year, Speaker Boehner did not mention immigration. Do you think that sort of seals the fate of that conceptual idea?
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t follow it closely except on Twitter, but I think he was then asked about immigration and made clear that it was something that at least he believes merits action by the House, by the Congress.
So we remain hopeful that the House will follow the bipartisan action by the Senate and address the comprehensive challenge posed by our broken immigration system through passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that meets the priorities set by the President, meets the standards and priorities established in the bill that passed the Senate, and addresses the areas that are so in need of fixing when it comes to dealing with our broad immigration challenges.
I was struck, and I mentioned it yesterday, that even though there has been some expressed interest in the leadership level, at least in the House, and moving forward on this problem and I think real acknowledgment among Republicans broadly that this is a challenge that they need to address that Democrats alone should not address, that this is something that should be done in a bipartisan way that, in the meantime, the passage of bills in the House that go right at the actions that this administration has taken to help so-called DREAMers deal with the burden that is imposed by our broken immigration system, so that those individuals in this country, through no fault of their own, who were brought here as children, who have grown up as Americans, who consider themselves Americans in every way except for the lack of documentation, are not punished while we try together — Democrats and Republicans — to address this challenge through comprehensive immigration reform.
The fact that they would pass legislation that would undermine that so-called prosecutorial discretion and deferred action undermines the broader assertion being made by Republican leaders that they have an interest in fixing this problem.
So we hope that what the leaders have said, and what others have said is what will prevail in the obviously difficult debate that has been ongoing now for decades in the Republican Party when it comes to immigration.
Q One last political question. Minority Leader Pelosi said she was disappointed about the results in Florida 13, but called it a two-step process — get close in the special, win it in November. Will there be a reassessment here at the White House and working with the DCCC about using the President in that race specifically, or looking at the process differently than you did before that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a process for you in terms of —
Q But you share that disappointment, clearly.
MR. CARNEY: We certainly would have liked to have seen a different result. We, as I did yesterday, note that it was a very close race in a district that had been Republican for nearly 60 years, a district where the previous Republican incumbent won by 30 points on average in recent cycles, and that the Democratic candidate came very close in a special election, which experts like yourself would acknowledge does not present an electorate that’s particularly favorable to the Democratic Party.
So I’ll leave the more detailed electorate analysis and election analysis and predictive analysis about what actions might be taken in the future to others, except to say that I think a number of people, including Republicans, have noted that there are not too many broad lessons to learn, especially with regards to the Affordable Care Act from yesterday’s result.
Q Thank you. The President next Monday meets with Abbas on the Mideast peace framework. How much has Ukraine and Russia been a distraction to that? And, second, what is the President going to be asking of Mr. Abbas? And, finally, is there — can it be worked out? Can Mr. Kerry announce a framework by the end of April?
MR. CARNEY: Secretary Kerry I believe was on the Hill today, and may still be up there testifying, and he I know took some questions on this and addressed it pretty fully, so I would point to — remarks in general about the process moving forward, the need to reach a framework for negotiations so that both sides can move forward towards resolving the so-called final status issues.
There’s no question this is an ongoing challenge. This has been one of the most difficult problems in the world for decades now. And if it were not such a challenging issue, it would have been resolved already in the past.
But Secretary Kerry, President Obama and others are committed to working with both parties, both sides — the Palestinians and the Israelis — to try to overcome the substantial distrust that has built up and exists to move forward towards establishing a framework for negotiations, and then obviously towards continued negotiations towards a peace settlement that would allow for, in our view, two states — a sovereign Palestinian state and a Jewish, democratic state of Israel that feels secure.
And these are difficult issues. Both leaders have already made some tough decisions in an effort to move this process forward. More tough decisions await both sides and both leaders in order to move forward.
Q Are there specific things that he’ll be asking Abbas next month?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to preview those discussions.
Q Okay, and one other thing. Was Austria’s arrest today on a U.S. warrant of Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash part of the effort to put pressure on President Putin and his allies?
MR. CARNEY: I noted those reports, but I would refer you to the Department of Justice about them. Obviously, the United States is firm in its efforts as a general matter to fight corruption and transnational crime. I think the Department of Justice can address that more fully.
Q Jay, you’ve talked about this a little bit, but I want to make sure I get it very clear. You’ve communicated that the U.S. has the tools and the authority to heighten the cost for Russia based on what they have already done, and that there will be more costs after they continue with these types of actions.
MR. CARNEY: If.
Q I just want to get — if they continue. And I want to get a better understanding, though — if we have these tools and we have this authority, why aren’t we using it to do more now before the referendum? Why not already using them, beyond what we’ve done?
MR. CARNEY: Secretary Kerry has offered to further explore a diplomatic solution to this crisis with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We are attempting to ascertain whether or not Russia is interested in deescalating, taking steps — including returning its military personnel back to bases — to reduce the tensions and address their concerns in a way that’s consistent with international law and its obligations through various agreements and treaties.
Thus far, Russia has not chosen to avail itself of pursuing that path, but we are continuing to press the Russians to make that choice. We’re not alone. Obviously, our partners in Europe, including Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande and others, are fully engaged in this process. We are working very closely with the Ukrainian government on this matter.
And you’re correct in assessing that we have taken some actions; we have the authorities to take more action. Costs have already been incurred by the Russian government, the Russian state, the Russian economy. I don’t think there’s any question that there would be further costs to Russia should it choose not to deescalate and pursue a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to this challenge.
Q Secretary Kerry just moments ago said that the President asked to meet with him before he leaves to talk with Foreign Minister Lavrov overseas, I believe, in London. I just want to get a sense of what the President’s message is to John Kerry, why he wants to meet with him specifically before departure.
MR. CARNEY: The President and the Secretary of State have been speaking and meeting on this subject quite frequently of late. All of the principals of the President’s national security team have been participants in that ongoing discussion about this very serious matter. So this is part of the regular consultations that occur between the President and his Secretary of State.
Again, looking where we are in the situation in Crimea, looking at the effort that Secretary Kerry is making and the offer that he has extended to his counterpart, this is an opportunity, hopefully, for Russia to choose to deescalate, and to do so in a way that allows Russia to see that the world acknowledges that Russia does have legitimate interests and concerns in Ukraine; does have a naval base that is there through an agreement with the Ukrainian government; that the two countries have deep cultural and historical ties; that Ukraine does have among its citizens many ethnic Russians.
And we are fully prepared, together with our international partners, to support a robust mission to place monitors in Ukraine to ensure that the rights of all Ukrainian citizens are respected and that Russia’s interests are acknowledged. That is the avenue that is far preferable to the one that Russia has taken thus far in violation of international law and its obligations to various commitments and treaties that it has signed.
Q Given the Russian Defense Minister’s announcement of new military operations near the Ukrainian border, and NATO announcing deployments of fighter jets and exercises in Western countries on the other side of Ukraine, is it the White House’s assessment — I know its desires — the White House’s assessment that the situation is presently being deescalated or that, in fact, it is presently being escalated?
MR. CARNEY: It’s certainly not deescalating.
Q So it’s getting worse?
MR. CARNEY: I think, by definition, the longer it stays at an escalated state, it’s not getting better. That is why we are seeking to persuade Russia to avail itself of the option that we’ve just discussed. There are, as I mentioned before, costs and consequences to Russia continuing down this path in violation of international law and in violation of a sovereign state’s territorial integrity.
Q Jay, in regards to Ukraine, there’s a great old expression that I’m fond of: “It’s useless for the sheep to make resolutions of vegetarianism when the wolves are of a different opinion.” At what point in Putin’s quest for a greater Russia — if this were to expand beyond the Crimea into the Ukraine, into other former Soviet republics — would the United States consider some sort of a military show of force to a greater extent? And why have you so scrupulously avoided the mention of military force throughout these weeks of the crisis?
MR. CARNEY: We have been pursuing a diplomatic resolution to this crisis, as have our partners. We believe that there is an opportunity here to resolve this diplomatically. Russia has intervened in Crimea militarily; fortunately, it has not resulted in a broader kinetic conflict. And we are very admiring of the Ukrainian government’s approach to this conflict and the tremendous restraint that has been shown by the authorities in Kyiv.
So I would make a couple of observations about your question, which is the Russian government has seen in recent months the citizens of one of the largest former Soviet republics, the independent nation of Ukraine, publicly and clearly demand that their preference for further integration with Europe be heeded by their elected government. I don’t think that’s a sign of anything except the desire by the Ukrainian people to choose their own future and their own fate.
I don’t think it suggests, and we, as a matter of policy, do not believe it suggests that Ukraine would, in integrating further with the West, diminish or sever its ties with — that are cultural and historical with Russia to the East. It is not necessary. They’re not contradictory.
But I think it is — when it comes to questions about Russia vis-à-vis the old Soviet Union, it’s important to remember that the circumstances are what they are today in 2014 and aren’t what they were in 1979 or ’81 or ’68.
Q One more quick question.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q As you know, the House last night passed the Gowdy Bill, which allows either the Senate or the House as a body to sue the executive branch if they feel that there has been a case of executive overreach. Your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I addressed that yesterday. Again, this demonstrates the effort underway in the House to — even as they talk about trying to take steps forward with addressing immigration reform, for example — to undermine an action taken by this President, in full compliance with his executive authority by the administration through DHS, to allow DHS to exercise prosecutorial discretion so that so-called DREAMers do not, at least for a temporary period, live under the fear that they had lived under.
And let’s remind ourselves that Republicans blocked immigration reform in 2006, they blocked it again in the first two years of this administration. They blocked passage of the DREAM Act. And the message should be clear on this matter.
So if you’re asking me — I think we put out a statement of administration policy on this, and clearly the President would veto it if it were to get to his desk.
Q So many other components to it — not just the various tweaks to the Affordable Care Act, the failure to enforce immigration laws that are already on the books, various state laws regarding the Defense of Marriage Act. It goes on and on.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t — the fact is it’s not going to get to the President’s desk. It I think reflects, specifically when it comes to immigration but on some of these issues too, an approach that tries to undercut progress that’s been made, and won’t succeed.
Q Jay, does the U.S. government have confidence in the investigation being done by the Malaysian government into the missing plane?
MR. CARNEY: We are working with the Malaysian government. The Malaysian government obviously has the lead, given that it was a Malaysia Airlines flight. And we are making available to Malaysia substantial assets to assist in the search for that flight so that we can ascertain what happened to it for the sake of the families who are suffering even now, this many days after the flight disappeared. But it’s not a question of having confidence.
We’re working in concert with the Malaysian government and with a lot of other international partners in this effort, and are taking some of the steps I just noted in order to further the search.
Q What do you mean it’s not a question of confidence? Do you have confidence in their investigation or not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t — what I can tell you is that we’re working with the Malaysian government to try to find the plane, find out what happened to it for the sake of the families and obviously for the sake of knowing what caused the plane to disappear. And I just don’t have an evaluation to make. Obviously, the plane — we still do not know and are not able to conclude what happened to it, and that is of concern. But I can’t evaluate this process until it comes to an end.
Q The fact that we may be opening up a new search area in the Indian Ocean based on this new information that you pointed out may or may not be accurate, if it is accurate, does that increase the likelihood that there was some kind of a hijacking that was going on here, given that that would had to have meant that the plane was flying for a considerable amount of time after its communications went out?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I think all we can say at this point is that we don’t have enough information, conclusive information to say what happened, so we’re not ruling matters out. There was the issue of — that has been looked into when it came to the fraudulent passports. But as a general matter of what happened to that plane, we have not been able to draw conclusions yet.
So we’re working with the Malaysian government. We have made available to it experts from several U.S. federal agencies in this effort, and as well as assets to help with the search for the plane. But at this point, we can’t say what happened, and I don’t think anybody involved in the investigation is able to say yet what happened to the plane.
Q But it’s safe to say that among that help is U.S. counterterrorism officials looking into the possibility that this was a terrorist attack or a hijacking or something along those lines?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the — we have folks on the ground from the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as Federal Aviation Administration representatives. And we have Kuala Lumpur-based law enforcement officials cooperating closely with their counterparts. But I think that we’re looking at all possibilities because we do not have information that’s conclusive enough to make a determination about what happened and what caused the flight to disappear.
Q And just a clarification on your comments on Ukraine; I’m trying to understand the sanctions here. Will sanctions — will economic sanctions be imposed on Russia? Just a yes or no. I know you’ve — I mean, you’ve laid the groundwork, but as you go through and you do all the analysis that needs to be done, picking and choosing who would hold responsibility, is it a given right now that unless Russia changes course, economic sanctions will be in place?
MR. CARNEY: It is fair to say that if Russia continues down the path that it is currently on, that there will be additional costs, and that the costs that we can impose — some of them, anyway — are authorized under the executive order, and that includes sanctions. So I don’t want to limit the actions we may take, but certainly sanctions would be part of the action that we would take.
Q So sanctions would be part of the action we will take if Russia doesn’t —
MR. CARNEY: I would expect, yes.
Q Just to clarify, you said earlier that there may be an additional search area that could be opening up in the Indian Ocean. Is that a possibility, or it is opening? There is a new search area in the Indian Ocean?
MR. CARNEY: This is not, obviously, an effort that’s being run out of the White House. My understanding is that there may be an additional search area being opened up in the Indian Ocean and that we are in consultation with others involved in the effort about reallocating some assets towards that search area.
Q May or may not be —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just check with NTSB and DOD and others.
Q Getting back to what Secretary Kerry said up today on the Hill, he said that “something short of full annexation of Crimea might be achievable.” What did he mean by that? Can you clarify that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d have to see the context of his remarks. I was not able to see his full testimony.
What we have made clear is that the referendum that has been scheduled for Sunday is not valid under the Ukrainian constitution, and therefore we would not recognize it — almost nobody in the world would recognize it, the results of it. Under the Ukrainian constitution, as we understand it, that kind of decision about, or change to, Ukraine’s territory would have to be done under an all-Ukraine referendum, or as the result of an all-Ukraine referendum. So it would not be legitimate.
Again, I don’t want to — I have to separate it from comments that Secretary Kerry may have made because I don’t know the context. I think as a general matter, the status of any region of Ukraine has to be decided by the Ukrainian people through the provisions laid out in the constitution of Ukraine, and through Ukrainian law. So I wouldn’t rule out or rule in anything like that. Our view would only be that it would have to be done in a way that didn’t violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity, did not violate Ukraine’s sovereignty; was done according to the Ukrainian constitution, and with the full cooperation of the Ukrainian government and the people’s representatives in the Ukrainian parliament.
But that’s a lot of hypotheticals to get from where we are to any one of an array of possibilities that might occur in the future. What we know is that annexation of Crimea in the way being discussed and envisioned through this process would be illegal under international law and illegal under the Ukrainian constitution.
Q And it’s not acceptable? It’s not —
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q And yesterday, the Prime Minister, after meeting with the President — well, actually, when he was meeting with the President he said “we will never surrender.” And then after he met with the President, he talked about the potential for bloodshed, and if Vladimir Putin were to take Crimea, what would happen next — he could take other parts of Ukraine. Is the White House concerned that after Sunday, this could escalate into some sort of open conflict between the Ukrainians and Russia?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t want to speculate about that terrible scenario that you —
Q Did the Prime Minister convey that concern with the President?
MR. CARNEY: Justifiably, the Prime Minister and the government of Ukraine and the parliament of Ukraine are very concerned about Russian actions and the violations that we’ve seen already of Ukraine’s sovereignty. We’re concerned about it; so are our partners and allies. But I wouldn’t want to engage in speculation about how much worse the situation could get.
We want to focus on the obvious way by which Russia could deescalate the situation, ensure that it does not lead to a violent conflict, all while, in an internationally sanctioned way, Russia’s interests are acknowledged and protected, and these rights of Russian ethnic citizens of Ukraine are protected through the use of international monitors and observers.
So that’s the way — that’s the path we hope to see Russia take.
Q And why not call that military buildup along Ukraine’s border, why not just call that a provocation or an escalation?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have enough information about what I understand, based on reports, the Russian government has called a military exercise. We’re concerned in general about any steps that would escalate the conflict, increase tensions, and we are focused on the need for steps in the opposite direction to be taken by Russia. So we’re obviously concerned about any indication that this conflict could escalate.
Q Jay, can you explain why the President opted to withhold some CIA documents that were sought by the Senate Intelligence Committee without asserting executive privilege? And could you also explain if the President and his representatives consulted with the Bush administration’s legal representatives before making that decision?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you, Alexis, is that from the start of the committee’s investigation in 2009, all components of the executive branch have cooperated with the committee to ensure access to the information necessary to review the CIA’s former program from the years prior to this administration.
Throughout this process, the administration has facilitated unprecedented access to more than 6 million pages of records. As we have discussed with the committee, during the course of the review, a small percentage, a very small percentage of the total number of documents have been set aside because they raise executive branch confidentiality interests. I think it’s very important, because you noted that we have not — this is part of a discussion that we’ve been having with the committee. This is about precedent and the need institutionally to protect some of the prerogatives of the executive branch and the office of the presidency.
All of these documents pertain to and come from a previous administration. They have nothing to do with this administration, but these are matters that need to be reviewed in light of long recognized executive prerogatives and confidentiality interests. So those discussions continue.
What I can say is that it is very much our view that this very small percentage of documents from the 6 million-plus pages that have been provided would not, or should not delay the completion of the committee’s report. And as the President said yesterday, he wants that report concluded. He wants the committee to submit the report through a request for declassification so that its findings and summaries can be declassified in a way that’s appropriate so that the public can avail itself of the information provided within it.
And we also support — it’s been reported that there are divisions between the parties on the committee — we would support a submission for declassification of a minority report, if you will, and we would support a submission of the views of the CIA, the agency in question here, as part of that declassification process. Because in our view and the President’s view, it’s very important — as he has made clear all along throughout this process — that the public get as much information as possible about it so it can see and learn what happened, and through the expansion of knowledge about what happened we can ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again — that other administrations don’t make that mistake. Because as you know, Barack Obama as a candidate for office made very clear that he thought the practices that were part of the rendition, detention and interrogation program under the Bush administration were not consistent with our values as a nation. He promised that he would end them upon taking office and he did so in the first couple of days that he was President.
So, again, these are documents that are from the previous administration. The setting aside of those documents for further review has to do with executive branch confidentiality issues that pertain in a variety of areas and have been recognized by the courts and through the administrations of both parties.
Q Let me just follow up on two things. You’re saying that the President does not believe that the documents that the committee requested are relevant enough to the investigation they’re conducting to hold up the completion of the report, yes?
MR. CARNEY: We certainly — what I said, which I think is consistent with what you said, but I’ll just say it again — we do not believe that these documents, that the fact that these documents, again, a tiny percentage — I haven’t done the math but it’s really small — of the more than 6 million pages that have been provided should delay the completion of the Select Committee’s report, which they’ve been working on for five years now and they’ve been working on with substantial cooperation from the administration at the direction of the President.
Q Second follow-up. You indicate that the President is trying to, in this particular context, to be protective of the executive advice that not he, but his predecessor, was given, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not able to describe the documents. What I can say is that they have been set aside because they raise issues of executive branch confidentiality. The documents from the previous administration obviously don’t have anything to do with this administration.
Q That’s why I asked you the question about whether the White House in this administration had consulted with the Bush —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the answer to that.
Q You don’t know the answer to that. Can you get the answer to that, possibly?
MR. CARNEY: I can see if I can get the answer to that question. But, again, this is an issue not of the substance of the documents; it is an issue of the nature of the documents and the need for past administrations and future administrations of both parties to retain executive branch confidentiality.
Q That leads into my next question, which is that, as we know, customarily, if a President feels on behalf of himself or his previous administration strongly enough about that, he exerts executive privilege. And so my question is, if the President feels that strongly and will withhold them, and believes that the committee does not need them, why doesn’t he exert executive —
MR. CARNEY: Because we haven’t had to. Here’s the thing. There’s a lot — we’ve been here for five-plus years, and there’s often a sort of frisson in the air when Republicans start saying, oh, they’re asserting executive privilege or whoever says that. Do you know how many times this administration has actually asserted executive privilege? Once. Once.
What has happened in every other occasion where this has been a discussion is that the administration has been able to work with the oversight committees and authorities and work through the issues related to the recognized need by the courts and administrations of both parties to maintain executive branch confidentiality and reach an agreement to move forward without the need to assert that privilege. So we’re in the process of trying to do that now.
Q So can you clarify the President’s understanding is that has been reached with the Senate —
MR. CARNEY: There are ongoing discussions.
Q Okay. And then last question. Kathryn Ruemmler is expected to depart the White House this spring, is that right?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any update or change on what’s been said in the past about that.
Q But that was announced.
Q That’s what you said in the past.
MR. CARNEY: Right, but I don’t have an update on that. I haven’t checked in on her.
Q That’s true —
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t checked in on her actual departure date.
Q April — is that correct still? April?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t asked her lately when she plans to leave, but I assume that that hasn’t changed.
Q General Dunford is in town, and yesterday and today he testified on the Hill. And what he has been saying that if there’s no U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the situation in Afghanistan is going to further worsen — Taliban and al Qaeda (inaudible.) Is this what the President is — conveying this message to the Hill? Do you still believe that the best option —
MR. CARNEY: We have made clear what our preferred policy approach was and is, which is a mission that would be focused on counterterrorism and the continued training and support of Afghan security forces with a significantly reduced American troop presence as part of a NATO operation. That is not possible without a bilateral security agreement signed by the Afghan government.
So I think our views on this reflect what General Dunford said and what you just cited to me, which is that in order to maintain what we think would be the best policy option — a limited troop presence there to focus on counterterrorism and training and support of the Afghan forces — we need a bilateral security agreement. We negotiated one with the Afghan government and had as a target date for its signing the end of last year in keeping with what the Afghan government had identified as the timeframe. And we have made clear, as the days and weeks have passed in 2014, that the further we move into this year, the more our ability to — even if we were to sign a BSA later in the year, it would — the later we sign it, the more constrained our presence and mission would be beyond 2014.
But we are still open to signing a BSA for the reasons that I just mentioned and that General Dunford discussed.
Q The Malaysian plane — when you said additional information, new information, Josh was asking about the report of the engines being on for some time afterward. Is that what you’re talking about?
MR. CARNEY: I’m the wrong guy to ask about —
Q But is that what you were referring to, or is it something else?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the NTSB, to the DOD and to the people on our side who are working with the Malaysian government about the sort of hourly developments in the investigation and the search. I only know that, because of new information, we may be part of an effort to open a new search area in the Indian Ocean.
Q You don’t want to talk about natural gas?
MR. CARNEY: I have so many times in the last several days.
Q But this is different.
MR. CARNEY: It must be, because you’re asking.
Q You know the Republicans in the energy industry are using Ukraine as an excuse to agitate for more exports. Can we actually export more natural gas without undermining the President’s Climate Action Plan, and without diminishing the U.S. attractiveness as a base for manufacturing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is when it comes to LNG exports, there’s a process in place that the Department of Energy undertakes in terms of permitting, and that any new permits would not result in the export of additional natural gas before 2015, as I understand it. I can check specifically through my notes. And that’s a process that is under evaluation at DOE.
What we can do now for Ukraine is provide the assistance that Congress is working on, ensure that the IMF is able to provide as much assistance as possible to Ukraine. I have noted in the past that when it comes to energy supplies in Europe, there is at least a short-term supply situation that would mitigate against any actions —
Q But this is a different question.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t studied that question, so I don’t —
Q The President has a Climate Action Plan and natural gas is an important component. It’s a bridge fuel; in a sense, you don’t got to use it in vehicles, et cetera. If we start exporting more around the globe —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I just haven’t seen analysis on that. What I can tell you is we’re obviously producing an enormous amount of natural gas in this country. That is part of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy. It is an advantageous fuel because it burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, but in terms of the balance of exports versus domestic use, I just don’t have an analysis for you.
Thanks very much.
2:17 P.M. EDT