White House Press Briefing by Jay Carney, March 16, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 16, 2011 – 1:52 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I, again, apologize for the delay.  I am waiting for my first slow news day on this job.  It is not today.  It is a news day — that’s for sure.  I have a couple of things I’d like to say at the top here.

First, as many of you know, we had a briefing on the President’s Latin America trip earlier today, and I wanted to follow up on a question.  The State Department will be hosting a Spanish language briefing tomorrow on the President’s trip.  Some foreign press were asking about further updates and I wanted to provide that information.  They should look to the State Department for the details.

Secondly, I’d like to mention that today the President called both King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Hamad of Bahrain to discuss the situation in Bahrain.  The President expressed his deep concern over the violence in Bahrain and stressed the need for maximum restraint.  The President also stressed the importance of a political process as the only way to peacefully address the legitimate grievances of Bahrainis and to lead to a Bahrain that is stable, just, more unified and responsive to its people.  The President reiterated his support for the national dialogue initiative led by Bahraini Crown Prince Salman.

On a separate issue, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Greg Jaczko, came to the White House today to brief the President.  He gave the President an update on the deteriorating situation at the nuclear power plant in Japan.  Others in attendance at the briefing included National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, and John Holdren, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In the briefing Chairman Jaczko updated the President on the status of the reactors at the plant in Japan and on additional protective measures the United States is taking to ensure the safety of American citizens in that region of Japan.  He informed the President that it was his recommendation — and this recommendation has turned into the advice of the State Department — that American citizens in Japan evacuate — those American citizens who are within a 50-mile radius of the reactors evacuate from that area.  This is the same advice that the NRC would give if this incident were taking place in the United States, to evacuate beyond a 50-mile radius.

With that, I will take your questions.

Yes, Erica.

Q    Jay, can you talk about The New York Times journalists that are missing in Libya?  Is the President aware of that?  And what is the U.S. government doing to find them and secure their release?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I know we are aware of it, Erica, and we, as you know, strongly urge the governments in the entire region  — in this case, those in Libya — to protect journalists, allow them to do their work, do not harass or in any way detain or use violence against journalists.  We are — I will refer you to the State Department to efforts that may be undertaken with regard to specific journalists.  But our overall stand is very firm that journalists, American journalists, need to be allowed to do their work, not harassed, and not detained.

Q    And on Raymond Davis, could you clarify as to whether the U.S. did in fact make payments to those families to secure his release?

MR. CARNEY:  Erica, the United States welcomes the release of Mr. Davis.  He was released under — he was pardoned, as you understand it, by — as  we all know, by the families involved of the victims and in accordance with Pakistani law.  I don’t have any more information on that for you.

Q    Well, lawyers for the family members say that the U.S. government paid the family members, or that the Pakistani government paid them and the U.S. government will get a bill.  Is that accurate?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the State Department on that.  I don’t have any information that would corroborate that.

Q    Jay, is the White House satisfied with the quality and quantity of information coming from Japan about the situation?

MR. CARNEY:  Steve, yes.  The fact is that it is the information that our independent experts are getting in Japan that led to the recommendation by the NRC that American citizens be evacuated beyond a 50-mile radius.  It is obviously a very fluid situation and everybody is searching for the most — the best information available in a crisis situation.  Obviously, the Japanese who have the lead on this, as this is a crisis in their country, are working very hard to get the best information possible.  And we are working alongside them to get that information and then evaluate it independently to make the kind of recommendation that NRC Chairman Jaczko made and that the State Department is following.

Q    And are you satisfied with how they’re handling it?  Because it seems to be spiraling out of control.

MR. CARNEY:  It is a crisis situation, Steve.  I would remind you that the lead in dealing with the crisis is the Japanese government.  We are aiding and assisting in every way we can, and we have a team of people there with a variety of special capabilities.  We have offered equipment and we are working with the Japanese who have the lead on this very critical situation.

Q    And one more thing, that you said you’ve offered equipment, but have they accepted it?  Are they accepting all the U.S. offers for assistance?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I mentioned yesterday some of the equipment that they have accepted.  I’m not aware of any offers that have been — not taken up.  So I think that we are working as hard as we can, our experts in Japan, on this and helping the Japanese as best we can, and offering all the technical advice and equipment that we can to help them deal with this situation.


Q    Jay, why isn’t the United States doing what other big countries in Europe, especially, are doing with their citizens, which is urging that they evacuate Japan?  Why keep this incremental situation going?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Jill, I would point you to the fact that the NRC, the independent agency that monitors the safety and security of the nuclear reactors in this country, has evaluated the information that it has received and advises that American citizens should evacuate beyond a 50-mile radius.  That is the same advice they would give if an incident like this were occurring in the United States.

So we are treating it in that way.  The State Department — I mean, in terms of the kinds of advisories that go out, I refer you to the State Department on how that is handled.  But this is based on our independent analysis of the situation there.  And we are obviously very concerned about the safety and security of American citizens in Japan, and we urge American citizens in Japan to stay in regular contact with the embassy and consulates in Japan, to check the State Department website regularly, and those citizens who need assistance — let me just get this for you here — those citizens that need assistance in evacuating should — I do have some information here, let me just find it real quick — can send an email to the embassy to get assistance. The email address is [email protected].

And U.S. citizens in need of emergency assistance should send an email to that address with detailed information about their location and contact information, and monitor the U.S. Department of State website at for further information.

Q    So the United States would help its citizens to get ot of that area?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, the embassy and the consulates will do everything they can to assist Americans to evacuate that area.

Q    And just a point here.  Up to now the United States has been saying U.S. citizens should follow the instructions that are coming from the Japanese government.  Now it appears that you’re saying listen to the NRC.  Which way is it?  I mean, are they —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, this is new information.  When the situation was what it was the other day and yesterday, based on the data that the NRC was analyzing, their advice was in agreement with what the Japanese government was saying, and therefore, our advice was the same.  And therefore, we told American citizens to follow the instructions of the Japanese government.

We are now saying, based on our independent analysis of the deteriorating situation — we all have watched on television and read about the damage at the various reactors and the potential for emissions — based on that new information, the new data, the independent analysis, the NRC is now advising an evacuation beyond a 50-mile radius.

So because that — the advice is no longer in agreement, we are obviously advising American citizens that they listen to the NRC and the State Department.

Q    Jay, doesn’t that raise a big question?  I mean, do you still have confidence in what the Japanese government is saying, if you are saying their advice doesn’t go far enough?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure of the nature of your question.  We — the Japanese government — this is an incident that’s happened in Japan.  The Japanese government is evaluating the data; we are evaluating it as well, and we are making an independent recommendation for American citizens.  It’s not a question of — again, to make it clear, this crisis is happening in Japan.  So obviously the Japanese government has the lead here with regards to dealing with the crisis and advising its people. We have a lot of Americans in Japan, and when the data that we receive is analyzed independently, we’re going to give advice based on our analysis.  And that’s what we’re doing today.

Q    But that raises the question again —

MR. CARNEY:  But I don’t understand the question, Jill.

Q    Well, just to make sure then, does the advice from the United States go beyond what the Japanese are suggesting?


Q    Okay.  So if it does, then that means there is a higher level of concern among the Americans about this than among —

MR. CARNEY:  It is — again, I will not from here judge the Japanese evaluation of the data.  I will simply say, based on our analysis and our expert analysis, this is what we would do if this incident were happening in the United States.  And because we have American citizens in Japan, this is the advice that we’re giving American citizens.  It’s not — it is simply a separate analysis based on American standards that the NRC has and then the advice they would give.

Q    But if I were a U.S. citizen in Japan right now, in that area, if I were listening to the Japanese government, I would be staying in certain places rather than leaving.  Isn’t that correct?

MR. CARNEY:  Which is why we are saying that it is our recommendation that American citizens evacuate beyond a 50-mile radius.  And so — precisely because we believe, based on our analysis, that that is the right course of action, we are issuing this advisory today.  The State Department issued it not long ago.

Q    Can I ask you a quick question on Libya?  President Sarkozy today said it’s a matter of days, if not hours, for the opposition, that forces of Qaddafi are moving swiftly.  You have Ban Ki-moon saying if they move against Benghazi there could be massively dangerous situations for the civilians, putting their lives at risk.

We asked you yesterday, doesn’t it appear that it’s over for the opposition, but now it’s not just the opposition.  It’s the citizens who are in Benghazi.  It’s the citizens who could be at risk.  Doesn’t that raise the flag to do more now than simply say the United Nations should act?  But nobody seems to be doing anything.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I disagree with that.  In fact, the United Nations is meeting today and crafting a resolution.  The Secretary of State just spoke about this to reporters in Cairo.  Ambassador Rice is working very hard with her counterparts at the United Nations on language that would — hopefully the terms of a resolution would include a range of actions that the international community could take.  And we are exploring that and hoping to move very quickly.  I will simply cite the Secretary of State who said that she believes — or rather she hopes, that we will see movement on that no later than tomorrow.
So the international community is moving very quickly.  We are, as we’ve noted before, very heartened by the strong statement from the Arab League.  We think it is vital for these kinds of actions to be international in nature, and in this region it is vital for the support of nations in the region in order to make it clear that this is not the West or the United States dictating an outcome in a country like Libya, but it is the international community that is making demands and taking action very much in concert with other Arab nations.

Yes, Jake.

Q    Just to be clear, those Americans in Japan who listen to the Japanese government and stay 20 kilometers outside the reactor, and don’t listen to the U.S. government and go 80 kilometers outside the reactor, they are taking risks with their lives that they should not?

MR. CARNEY:  We are advising — I think I’m being clear about this.  We are advising, based on new information in a deteriorating and fast-moving situation at a nuclear reactor site in Japan, that American citizens within a 50-mile radius of that plant should evacuate beyond the 50-mile mark.  And that is our advice to American citizens.

Q    That recommendation suggests that the information coming from the Japanese government is inadequate.

MR. CARNEY:  No, it is — that recommendation suggests that the advice the Japanese government is giving, based on the information it has, is different from the advice that we would be giving if this incident were happening in the United States of America.  It is not about the quality of information; it is about the standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here in the United States and the kind of advice it would be giving should this incident happen in the United States, or something similar to it.

So it is, again, not about the quality of information or the level of cooperation; it is about our analysis and our standards —

Q    Do we have higher standards?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s not about high or low, Jake.  I’m just simply saying that this is our advice based on the information that we have.

Q    The European Energy Commissioner said today about Japan, “There is talk of an apocalypse, and I think the word is particularly well chosen.  Practically everything is out of control.  I cannot exclude the worst in the hours and days to come.”

What is going on over there right now?  We have not heard the latest in information from the NRC or from the Japanese government.  Apparently there has been something that has happened in the last few hours.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it is clearly a crisis.  There is clearly —

Q    I know it’s deteriorating.  But what specifically is going on?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m standing here at the White House.  I think that you have reporters in Japan.  You have reporters, including ones here who could get the technical detailed information on what we know from the NRC, from the Department on Energy.

Q    We should rely on the media, not the government?

MR. CARNEY:  No, no.  I just referred to two government agencies who can provide technical information about what we know that’s happening.  But it’s obviously a fluid situation.  I’m not  — we make no bones about the fact that this is a very serious situation at this nuclear plant.  We are concerned enough that we have offered a great deal of assistance to the Japanese, and we have our own experts on the ground both assisting and evaluating information independently for that reason.  So I don’t think there’s a disagreement here about the severity of the situation at all.

Q    Is the U.S. prepared if Japan needs it for a widespread evacuation of the population — if it needs it?

MR. CARNEY:  Obviously, the U.S. is prepared to help and assist Japan in any way that it can in dealing with this crisis, with the aftermath of the earthquake, the tsunami, and the crisis unfolding at the reactor.  In terms of what that would entail, I can’t guess at this point, but we are prepared to help in any way we can.

Q    So that is a contingency that the U.S. is prepared to deal with?

MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t say that.  I said in any way that we can, because I don’t know — I mean, we prepare for contingencies of all kinds, all the time.  And we are assisting the government of Japan in any way that we can now, and we will continue to do so.

Yes, Chip.

Q    Jay, I think Jill and Jake were getting at a broader question here that I’m not sure you answered.  It’s not just the 50-mile issue; it’s issues generally.  If you’re telling the American citizens on the ground in Japan that they shouldn’t listen to Japan but should listen to the NRC and the United States on the issue of 50 miles, doesn’t that also suggest they should stop listening to Japan on everything else — on whether Tokyo is safe, and everything else, and pay attention to what the United States tells them to do?  Shouldn’t they stop listening to Japan officials and listen to the United States now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think I just said — I think I answered the question that the American citizens in Japan should stay in constant contact with the U.S. embassy, with consulates.  They should —

Q    And stop listening to Japan?  That’s the question.

MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t say that.

Q    I know, but that’s the question.  Should they stop listening to the Japanese government —


Q    — since in this case, that advice was inadequate?

MR. CARNEY:  Chip, what I’m saying is that our advice on this particular issue is different and therefore we are making this advice to the American citizens in Japan.

Q    It’s not just different.  You’re talking about people risking their lives by staying too close.

MR. CARNEY:  Exactly.  Exactly, Chip.  And the severity of the situation is such that we’re —

Q    And the Japanese advice is inadequate.

MR. CARNEY:  Their standards are different from ours based on the information we have about how far you should evacuate from the site of this nuclear power plant.  American citizens in Japan should closely monitor the Department of State website.  They should stay in touch with the embassy.  And we have said that for days by —

Q    And should stop following your earlier advice that they should listen to what the Japanese government tells them to do.

MR. CARNEY:  I think I made clear in answer to Jill’s question that this is a break from our early advice because —

Q    But not just on this issue, not just on this issue, but on every issue.

MR. CARNEY:  American citizens are living in Japan and obviously should listen to the government of Japan.  They should also listen to and follow the advice of the American State Department, U.S. Department of State, as provided on the website and at the embassy, and follow the recommendations that we make, including the one we’ve put out today.

Q    Our people on the ground, CBS people on the ground in Japan, say that there is — that anger is another thing that’s spiraling out of control toward the Japanese government; that they are becoming increasingly untrustful of what the Japanese government is telling them.  If they don’t believe the Japanese government —

MR. CARNEY:  Your reporters are?

Q    Yes — that’s what they’re hearing from people on the ground in Japan.  If the Japanese people are losing confidence in the Japanese government, why should we listen to them and why should U.S. citizens listen to them?

MR. CARNEY:  Chip, I have just made clear that we have put out an advisory today from the United States Department of State —

Q    Not only this issue, on everything.

MR. CARNEY:  — that it makes very clear that we have — when there is a situation when our advice on what to do in reaction to this incident to protect your physical safety differs from the advice the government of Japan is giving, we will give separate and additional advice to American citizens in Japan.  That is true today and it will be true tomorrow.  And some days, the advice, when it is in concert, will be the same; and when it is not it will be different.  And obviously we are very concerned about the health, safety and security of American citizens living in Japan.

Q    Could I just — Secretary Chu today said on Capitol Hill, when he was asked about unfolding events, he said, “There are conflicting reports and so we don’t really know in detail what’s happening.  Is that an accurate reflection of the President’s —

MR. CARNEY:  It’s a very fluid situation.  It is a crisis at a nuclear power plant with four reactors.  And you don’t need me to tell you that the situation has deteriorated in the days since the tsunami and that the situation has grown at times worse, with potential greater damage and fallout from the reactor.  And that is why there is new information based on a very fluid situation.

Q    And when he was asked if he’s satisfied with the Japanese government’s response, he said, “I can’t really say.”  Is that what you would say in response to that question?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I defer to the experts; Secretary Chu is one of them.  I defer to the NRC.  I know that, based on what I’ve been told, that we are getting cooperation and information from the Japanese.  The fact that our analysis may differ on some of what that data means and the actions that we would take does not mean that we have a problem with cooperation.

Q    Is the President concerned at what appears to be a tug-of-war between the Saudis and Iran over Bahrain?

MR. CARNEY:  The President, as I think I made clear in my readout of his phone calls today to the King of Saudi Arabia and the King of Bahrain, is concerned about the situation in Bahrain, and expressed that concern directly to the King of Bahrain and called on the government there to follow the national dialogue initiative that was — is being led by the Bahraini Crown Prince.

He believes — as we’ve said many times, and he expressed this to those two leaders, as he has to others in the region — that there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain.  There is no means of violence that will solve the unrest in the region, in any country; and that the future of those countries will be immeasurably brighter if the governments there engage in a political dialogue with the people, allow for a democratic transition, precisely in order to answer the legitimate aspirations and grievances of their people so that those countries can thrive politically and economically in the future.

Q    But does he believe that the Saudis and Iran are butting heads over Bahrain?  And with the strategic interests the U.S. has in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is he concerned about the conflict between those two?

MR. CARNEY:  I think his concern about Bahrain is what’s happening in Bahrain.  And he believes that the government of Bahrain needs to show restraint in its dealing with the people there, and that all sides need to show restraint, to refrain from violence, and to engage in a dialogue.  And he believes that that is the right course for the government of Bahrain and it’s the right course for the governments in the region.

Q    And if I can ask you about the transparency award the President is receiving today.  The AP has a report that indicates FOIA requests were up last year but action was taken in fewer cases and agencies took longer, in fact, to give out records.  So, if I could, how has the President earned a transparency award?

MR. CARNEY:  Wendell, as you know — and I assume you’ve got your tongue stuck firmly in your cheek when you ask that question — this President has demonstrated a commitment to transparency and openness that is greater than any administration has shown in the past, and he’s been committed to that since he ran for President and he’s taken a significant number of measures to demonstrate that.  And this is not an award that he is — that we are giving to him or he is giving to himself.  This is an award from an outside organization that has recognized the achievements this administration has made.

I mean, I can provide you the details.  On the issue of FOIA requests, the fact is, is that we have — federal agencies in this administration, under President Obama’s leadership and directives, have disclosed more information and withheld less information in response to FOIA requests, precisely because of the directives that this President has made.  And we believe, the President believes, that greater openness and transparency strengthens our democracy, promotes efficiency and effectiveness in government, and he will continue to pursue the initiatives that he believes very much are in the interests in the American people.

Q    It’s not just the AP.  George Washington University also released a study this week and the conclusion was that federal agencies are about halfway to where the President asked them to be, and the author of the study said maybe they’ll get there by the end of the President’s first term.

MR. CARNEY:  The President set — again, we can, separately, if you’d like, go through all the data that covers FOIA requests. That the President set a very high standard for openness and transparency, I will concede, and that he has asked his government to pursue and achieve that standard, I will also concede.  What I will not concede is that his record on this issue is anything but exemplary.  And it is because of his commitment to the issues of openness and transparency that he is receiving this award.  And he’ll continue to be committed to it.

Yes, Mike.

Q    Given that Secretary Chu described the situation in Japan as a partial meltdown today and that there are conflicting reports, says Secretary Chu, that several reactors are now at risk, and given the updated advisories about the evacuations that you’ve outlined here, is there thought being given here to postponing the Latin America trip?

MR. CARNEY:  We still very much plan to take the trip.  I just want to emphasize with all —

Q    When?

MR. CARNEY:  We are leaving on schedule on Friday.  It bears repeating that this is a crisis — there is no question about it. And it is a crisis in Japan.  It is not a crisis in the United States.  We are very concerned about our allies and friends, the Japanese.  We are doing everything we can to help and assist them.  We are very concerned about the safety and security of American citizens in Japan, and we are doing everything we can to ensure their safety.  But it is — we have no plans to change the trip.

Q    Is it under consideration, a postponement?

MR. CARNEY:  No.  I mean, somebody asked me yesterday, could an event occur that would cause you to postpone a trip?  That’s like asking could an asteroid fall from the sky.

Q    Let me ask you this.  The discrepancy —

Q    Jay, can an asteroid fall from the sky?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  That was classified.  (Laughter.)

Q    The discrepancy between a 20-mile evacuation zone that the Japanese government has recommended and the 50-mile evacuation zone that the American government is now recommending for its own citizens.  Was there thought, any concern that that might incite a panic among Japanese citizens who live between 50 and 20 miles?

MR. CARNEY:  We consulted with the Japanese government.  They were fully aware that we would be making this recommendation and sending out this advisory.  Our concern obviously is with, first and foremost, the safety and security of American citizens and we issued the advisory accordingly.

Q    Is the discrepancy due to perhaps logistic challenges in evacuating millions or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Japanese and just a handful of Americans?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, you should ask the Japanese government those questions.  The issue here is our decision based on our analysis of the data we have.

Q    And final question:  Is it entirely appropriate for the President to be addressing a crisis of this gravity as he’s standing before a white board talking about a basketball tournament?

MR. CARNEY:  There are crises all the time and for every President.  And again, this one is happening halfway around the world, and it is severe and it is important and it is the focus of a great deal of the President’s attention — as are the events in the Middle East; as are the agenda items that he is pursuing to grow the economy and increase jobs in America, make sure we out-innovate, out-build and out-educate the competition in the 21st century.  It’s a hard job that requires a lot.

It is also important — one of the things I would note that the President did in that very brief interview on ESPN and ESPN2 was ask Americans, as they were filling out their own brackets, take the time to go to and make donations to a variety of charitable organizations that are organizing donations to help the Japanese in this very serious situation that they find themselves in.  And so, yes, I do think it was appropriate.


Q    Two questions.  What should the Japanese citizens within — or between the 20 and 50 miles, what should they think of the U.S. recommendation?

MR. CARNEY:  I just answered that question.  That’s obviously for the Japanese government.  They have the lead.  This is a crisis in their country.  Our advisory they were putting out today is based on our independent analysis of the data and our concern for American citizens.  It is the advice that we would give to Americans living within a 50-mile radius of a nuclear power plant that was experiencing a similar series of problems that this power plant is experiencing, and that is why we issued the advisory.

Q    Today, Elizabeth Warren is up on the Hill, and some Republican lawmakers are, I guess, grumbling at the amount of power that she has at the Consumer Protection Bureau and wondering where is a permanent director.  Where is the President’s search for a permanent director?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to give you an update on personnel search —

Q    Is he actively considering it?  Or he is still looking for a director?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, yes, he is, obviously.  I think we’ve discussed that and — so he fully intends to find a permanent director.  Elizabeth Warren is —

Q    Anytime soon?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure what we said about that, but it is in the relatively near future.  But I don’t have an announcement on when that will be.

On the issue you raised in the beginning, the President signed into law a Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a law that puts rules of the road in place to help prevent another financial crisis — a crisis, by the way, that cost millions of American jobs — and this act includes the strongest consumer protections in American history.  He feels that this is vitally important that we have an independent watchdog.

And you should know that Elizabeth Warren has met with all stakeholders, from consumer advocates to CEOs of large financial institutions, to members of Congress, and has had an open comment process on the bureau’s website so every American can contribute his or her ideas to this process.  But he is committed to this because he thinks consumers deserve protection in the wake of what was an historic financial crisis that led to the greatest recession this country has seen since the Great Depression and cost millions of Americans their jobs.

Q    And Republicans are saying that the bureau needs more oversight, particularly congressional oversight.  Does the White House agree with that?

MR. CARNEY:  The law contains within it a great deal of oversight.  The whole point of the creation of the bureau was to consolidate authorities scattered across government to create real accountability.  And if you look closely, I think you’ll see that there are actually — there will be more oversight and accountability of the CFPB than there is of any other federal banking regulator.  So, yes, we are confident that there is substantial and sufficient oversight.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Secretary Clinton spoke today, and you did as well, about a range of actions at the U.N., including a no-fly zone on Libya.  But a no-fly zone on Bosnia was ineffective in stopping the mass murders of Srebrenica, mass rape or ethnic cleanings.  A no-drive zone is not going to be effective because the tanks in Libya are already so widely dispersed.  It would have had to have been done a month ago.  And arming the rebels with money would take another few months before — and they’ve got days at this point.  So when you guys talk about a range of options, what exactly are you talking about that could conceivably or realistically stop Qaddafi at this point?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the outcome of the consultations at the Security Council today and that will help shape the packages that Secretary Clinton referred to.  But it is precisely because there needs to be a range of options and a range of actions that the international community can take that these consultations are dealing with more than just the no-fly zone.  It is one of the options on the table, as I’ve said repeatedly and others have, but there are other options that need to be considered so that we can be sure that the actions we are taking with our international partners will do the most possible to put pressure on Qaddafi and to ultimately get him to leave power.

Q    A follow-up on that?


Q    Is it the belief of the White House that a no-fly zone could still make a military difference on the ground at this point?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll leave the military analysis to the experts.  As I said, no-fly zone option remains actively considered.  It is certainly being considered as part of a package of actions that might be taken in a resolution that emerges from the Security Council.  We believe that, as part of any actions taken, that strong Arab League support and participation is vital, as the Secretary of State and others have made clear.  But I’m not going to assess the effectiveness of each individual option that is being considered.  I have said from here before, as others have said, that it is important that the options we take, that we understand what their effectiveness can be and what their limitations will be.

Q    Why do we need more support than the Arab League?  The Arab League has already invited us to do this.

MR. CARNEY:  Right, and that happened — that was over the weekend, right?

Q    Well, that was two days ago —

MR. CARNEY:  And today is Wednesday and we’re expecting some sort of action on this no later than tomorrow.

Q    But this is a — it’s a fast-moving war.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, if a resolution —

Q    How could he be accused of being imperialist if the region is inviting us in to help out?

MR. CARNEY:  Well said.  (Laughter.)  And I will add that the expectation that the Secretary of State expressed moments ago in Cairo that we might have action on this no later than tomorrow again demonstrates the remarkable sense of urgency that this administration has been guided by and our national partners have been guided by.

Q    One more final thing.  You frequently talk about what we’ve done and the rapidity of the things that we have done.  How have any of those actions that we’ve taken affected military matters in a positive way for the rebels on the ground?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’re asking me to prove a negative, Keith, right?  I mean, the fact that the actions we’ve taken have —

Q    No, it’s not.  Do we feel that they have done anything to —

MR. CARNEY:  There’s an arms embargo.  There’s an asset freeze.  There are efforts undertaken to prevent mercenaries from traveling into Libya.  There are a host of actions, including humanitarian assistance, that have had an impact on the event there.  I understand — the events there.  I understand that it is still — we are still not in a place where we are happy with what’s happening.  The violence is abhorrent.  It is unacceptable.  And the international community has spoken very clearly about that.  But the actions that have been taken have been significant, they have been highly coordinated, and they are not the last actions that we or our international partners will take.

Q    And they’ve actually helped the rebels, those actions?

MR. CARNEY:  You should ask them.


Q    Thank you, Jay.  Do you know whether during the NRC chairman meeting that it was raised at all that at some point the American embassy may ask Americans to — or suggest Americans leave Japan, or reduce the embassy staff size in Tokyo?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know that anything like that was discussed.  Again, this is a fluid situation.  As information comes, I would point you to the State Department on any advisories it might have.  The advisory that I spoke about at the top of this briefing is — the ink is still not dry on it.  So that is our current advice to American citizens in Japan.

Q    I ask it because some of our colleagues are in the airports there in Tokyo and it’s impossible to get out.  I mean, the flights are not — there are fewer flights coming to take people out to places.  It looks like a campground, they say, with the people camped out trying to get flights out of the country.  And if you were to ask Americans or recommend that Americans might consider leaving, it would take more than just a moment’s notice to get them out.

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t want to quibble with that, but I’m not going to speculate about what may or may not happen if we were to take some other action that we haven’t taken.


Q    Jay, could you tell us how similar are the nuclear plants in Japan versus the nuclear plants here in America?

MR. CARNEY:  I do not know enough to responsibly reply to that.  I urge you to discuss — to raise that question with the NRC and the Department of Energy, and there are a lot of independent experts out there who could probably answer that question better than I can.

Q    Isn’t the President getting that kind of information?


Q    Okay, so —

MR. CARNEY:  But the experts, one of whom I had here the other day, are much better suited to answer that.  I wouldn’t want to give you bad information from here.

Q    Okay.  And also, with contradiction in information from the Japanese government and the United States government, is it time for common sense just to set in to say we need to leave this area, and not worry about what the governments are saying — it’s about self-preservation at this time?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I will point you to the advisory that the State Department has just issued to American citizens in Japan.  That is the advice of the United States government to American citizens.  I’m not going to go beyond that.  I will simply point you to it.

Q    But don’t you agree self-preservation goes beyond what our government —

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I will point you to —

Q    — two governments are fighting over?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to go beyond what the — first of all, I don’t know what you just said about fighting over — we’re not fighting over anything.

Q    Not fighting, but there are two contradictory reports about how far people should leave.

MR. CARNEY:  There is the advice that we are giving to American citizens, based on data that we have analyzed independently.  Beyond the advisory given by the State Department I will not go.


Q    Thank you.  I’ve got two questions.  I know this seems passé, but the CR, you know — (laughter.)

Q    Oh, that.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’m wondering whether President Obama is going to personally engage on this right now, or whether the three weeks buy him a little bit of time personally to take a break until he’s back from Brazil?  Vice President Biden I know was talking (inaudible) today.  So I’m wondering if you can kind of be as specific as possible about what will happen over the next three weeks and with whom?

And I’ll quickly toss out my second question.  The First Amendment advocates who will present the President with this award are not — they’re not entirely happy with everyone you’ve done.  I think one of their big concerns in continuation of the state secret (inaudible.)  Will there be a time when he sits down and talks with them — not on award day — about some of their concerns?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, Margaret, I addressed our position on the overall actions that the President has taken towards openness and transparency.

On your first question on the CR, I mean, we obviously support the passage of the three-week CR, precisely because we need the time to negotiate a final CR for fiscal year 2011.  And I think what will happen during this period is what has already happened, which are serious high-level consultations and discussions and negotiations about what that package would look like, and how it must contain within it serious spending cuts, which everybody agrees are necessary, but which almost maintains the investments in those areas that are so vital to our future economic growth, which the President has specified — education, infrastructure and innovation.

Q    Do you think this is probably the last CR?  Some Republicans have suggested —

MR. CARNEY:  We have made clear, Margaret, that we do not think it is healthy for the American economy, and therefore it is not good for the American people to treat this situation like a tollbooth, where every two or three weeks you pay your money and you get to pass through the toll.  That’s not the way we should be running a government; it’s not the way the American citizens expect us to.

And we believe that there is common ground here and we’re confident that we can work together on a funding for the fiscal year in a package that we can all live with, where everybody gives, everybody moves off their starting position, and then we can get that done and move on to address the other issues that are very important that are on — and I will point to you that among those is fiscal year 2012, where the President of the United States remains the only player to have put forward a detailed budget that cuts spending and reduces the deficit.

Q    Jay, can I follow that?


Q    I just wonder — which one?

Q    Yes, which one?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Guy in the blue shirt.  Oh — (Laughter.)

Q    No, I just wanted to follow.  On the budget negotiations — which we’re seeing revolts within the House Republican Party — does the White House view Speaker Boehner as somebody who can deliver on whatever he promises at the negotiating table?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we believe that Speaker Boehner is Speaker of the House and he’s the leader of the Republican Party in the House.  And we are negotiating with him.  We are negotiating with Senator McConnell, with Senator Reid, and Leader Pelosi, as well as others — appropriators on the CR and others that are involved in this process.  And I think what I said applies to everyone in this debate, everybody involved in these negotiations, and in some ways that includes every member of Congress — to get a resolution for the American people, to get the work done that they want done, everybody needs to move off their starting position.  Everybody needs to accept — to give a little, in order to achieve the kind of spending reductions that we all believe are necessary and the kind of investments that we all believe are vital to the economic growth that this country needs to compete and win the future in the 21st century.

So the fact that at the end of this process, no one will get 100 percent of what they want.  I will stipulate that right here. And that is true of the President and it will be true of every — probably every member of Congress.  But that’s what negotiating and finding common ground is all about.

Sam number two.  (Laughter.)

Q    Two-part question.  First on the CR —

Q    I like that.

Q    I’m number one.  (Laughter.)  On the CR, in this three-week stopgap measure there is, as I understand it, $99 million cut on NOAA funding, which the National Weather Services warn would affect tsunami detection capabilities.  Is the White House comfortable signing a bill at this juncture that could potentially affect how we detect tsunami warnings?  And I have a follow-up after that.

MR. CARNEY:  You have a follow-up?

Q    Yes, on a different question.

MR. CARNEY:  Sam, I think we have generally stipulated that the spending cuts in the measure are ones that we can live with. On the specifics that you are asking about I’ll have to — I can take that question.

Q    All right, I’ll wait for you to get back.  The second one has to do with the hearings that General Petraeus has had on Afghanistan.  He’s talked a lot about the upward trajectory there, but that the gains we’ve made are fragile and reversible, is the quote he gave.  Yesterday we saw another prominent Republican official, Haley Barbour, come out with his skepticism of Afghanistan.  We see public polls showing an increased skepticism in Afghanistan.  Is the administration at all worried that the gains that they’re making, as fragile and reversible as they are, won’t outlast the public’s willingness to support this war?

MR. CARNEY:  Sam, as you know the President went through a very deliberative process to arrive at the policy decision he made that we are executing now in Afghanistan and about which General Petraeus has been testifying on the Hill this week.  He believes it is important to our national security interests to execute on that policy.  He also believes that a major element of this policy is the beginning of the withdrawal of U.S. forces in July of 2011, as I think General Petraeus also discussed in his testimony — which will lead to a process that by the end of 2014 will mean that the United States forces will have turned security lead over to Afghan security forces.

And we understand that this is a long war, and the policy of the President devised with his advisors and commanders is aimed at achieving the success that we need and drawing down our forces once those successes have been achieved and as we transition authority to Afghan security forces.

Q    But are you worried about the waning popularity in the country for continued deployment even to 2014?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think we understand the environment.  We understand how long this war has gone on.  We understand, as the President said, that this war was neglected for a number of years in the middle of the last decade.  And the President — this was all part of the President’s review that led him to the policy decision he made.

Let me go all the way back to Cheryl.

Q    Thanks.  I’m wondering if the President is yet interviewing for Commerce Secretary?  And what do you have to say to Senator McConnell who’s vowed to hold that nomination until the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements come up?

MR. CARNEY:  Cheryl, I’m just going to guess that — and I know I’m relatively new to this job — that my predecessor — not just my immediate predecessor but none of my predecessors — ever discussed interviews the President might have been doing about personnel.  So I don’t have anything for you on that.

What I will tell you is that we strongly believe that the American people do not expect the kind of political games that holding up important appointments represents when this President’s commitment to trade deals, fair trade deals has been demonstrated by his approach with the deal with South Korea, where because he did not feel it was strong enough for American workers and American businesses, he left South Korea without a deal, went back to the negotiating table and produced a deal that now has the support of labor and business and is good for the American economy.

That is the approach he’s taking with Panama and Colombia. And as Ambassador Kirk has said publicly, we are focused very aggressively on finishing those deals, but we do not believe it is good for the economy.  We do not believe the American people expect those kind of political games around something so important as the approval of a trade deal that has wide support and will lead to job creating in the United States.

Let me take one more.  Yes.

Q    Jay, two.  One on Japan and one on the CR, please.  On Japan, the European Union and several East Asian countries have said that there’s going to be extra scrutiny for food imports from Japan.  Is the United States prepared to do anything on food imports or other imports to check for radiation or other levels?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you should know that the agencies that check food imports do that every day, and of course are aware of what has happened in Japan and will be checking food accordingly. So the agency that ensures the safety of food imports will continue its work.  It’s similar to what I said about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Prior to the events in Japan, the safety and security of American reactors was the primary mission of the NRC.  It is that today and it will be that next week and into the future.


Q    On the CR, Jay, the Democratic leaders, including the Majority Leader yesterday in the Senate, Harry Reid, said that the Tea Party is — basically looking to the Tea Party as forming a wedge here on the CR negotiations.  Is the President meeting separately with any Tea Party leaders in the House caucus or the Senate caucus on the continuing resolution hoping to get one through the end of the fiscal year?

MR. CARNEY:  I would just say the President has had conversations and meetings that we’ve talked about.  In terms of internal party politics and the Republican Party, I’m not going to analyze that from here.

Thanks very much.


2:44 P.M. EDT