Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 9, 2015 – 12:51 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. Let me do a couple of —
Q He says, happy Monday. (Laughter.)
Q Something we don’t know about?
MR. EARNEST: Let me do two things at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions. The first is, as you heard the President on Friday, he will be attending the climate talks in Paris to meet with world leaders about a global agreement to address this serious issue. The President will be attending on Monday, November 30th and Tuesday, December 1st.
In Paris, the United States will be pushing for an agreement that does three things. The first is that we’re looking for an agreement that reflects the ambitious climate targets from all of the countries who are participating. Second, we’re looking for an agreement that puts in place a long-term framework that incentivizes countries to ratchet down their emissions over time in a transparent manner, with high standards of accountability, and with the goal of achieving a low-carbon transformation by the end of the century. And third, we’re looking for an agreement that mobilizes ongoing financial and technical support for low-carbon development and climate adaptation, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable countries. We know that some of the poorest countries are the ones who are most vulnerable to the most tangible climate impacts that are already being felt around the globe.
Scientists and experts firmly agree that we’re already feeling the effects of climate change both here in the United States and around the globe. And without action, these impacts pose a clear threat to our economic and national security.
I’ll note that — to help explain why the President is committed to acting on climate change and what’s at stake both for the Paris talks and beyond, the President earlier today released a video on his brand-new Facebook page. And if you haven’t taken a look at it, I’d encourage you check it out.
The second thing, we had elections over the weekend in Burma, and I just wanted to do a quick statement on that.
The United States congratulates the people of Burma on the election, and commend all of the people and institutions in the country who work together to hold a peaceful and historic election. We’re seeing initial reports of results, but we encourage everyone to wait for the Union Election Commission’s official results, and the final reports from domestic and international observer missions before making assessments.
But what is clear is that, for the first time ever, millions of people in Burma voted in a meaningful, competitive election. And despite some structural and systemic flaws, we believe that Sunday’s vote represents an important step in Burma’s democratic reform process. The U.S. Embassy team was impressed by the enthusiasm of the people of Burma, which was indicated by the long lines, apparent high-voter turnout, and a diversity of voices coming to the polls. Young people, women, and members of ethnic groups were all represented, and they were keen to have their voices heard.
We’re also encouraged by public statements from President Thein Sein and the Commander-in-Chief, saying they would accept the results, as well Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy’s remarks encouraging calm and acceptance of the results. It’s important for all political leaders who work together to form a new government, and for stakeholders to help to ensure calm and pursue national reconciliation.
So with that out of the way, Josh, we can go to your questions.
Q Thanks, Josh. Why don’t we just stay right there for a moment. The early results in this election seem to be showing a pretty overwhelming victory, if things continue to go the way they are, for Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. The President has obviously invested a lot in Myanmar’s emergence from military rule. She can’t become the President, but she’s basically said if her party wins an overwhelming victory, she will act as the leader of the country anyway. Given the emphasis that the U.S. has placed on a vigorous democratic process in Myanmar, do you see it possible for her to have a role as the country’s leader, even if she’s not actually elected under their constitution?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple things about that, Josh. I think most directly I would say that it’s already clear that Aung San Suu Kyi has had a powerful voice in bringing about some much-needed reform and change to the political system inside of Burma. But, ultimately, what set of official responsibilities she has will be the responsibility of the Burmese people and the Burmese government to determine.
The second thing is, we’ve acknowledged that there were some flaws in the political system there, and I would include in that category that law that specifically targets her, by suggesting that because she has a — I believe the law is that because she has a spouse that lives in another country that she cannot serve as President. So this is an indication that additional reforms are needed and additional work needs to be done to bring about the kind of effective democracy — representative democracy we’d like to see. Another one of those rules is that, right now, 25 percent of the parliamentary seats are guaranteed to the military.
So there are some imperfections, to put it mildly. But there’s also no denying the rather dramatic change that we’ve seen inside of Burma. And the United States has played an important role in trying to nurture that change and give the Burmese people more of a voice in the governing of their country. And the Burmese people can continue to count on the United States being a partner and strongly supporting their efforts to realize the kind of government that they’d like to have for their country.
Q Returning to the attack in Jordan that the President referenced this morning, there’s been some various reporting and different details emerging from that, possibly up to six or more that have passed away as a result of that. Do you have any update — I know the President said two or three — of exactly what fatalities and circumstances were?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, the latest update that I have is that there were two U.S. trainers who were killed and two others who were wounded in a shooting incident today at the Jordan International Police Training Center southeast of Amman. I understand that in addition to the Americans who were involved that there was a South African trainer and a Jordanian trainer who were killed. I also know that there were other Jordanian and Lebanese individuals who were wounded. And as the President said, our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of all of those who were affected by this terrible incident.
The brave individuals who were killed and injured were training Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian security forces. And a cowardly act like this one only reinforces the determination of the United States and our partners around the world to stand up with those countries that are trying to build the kind of police force and law enforcement that’s critical to preserving security and order inside their countries.
So we strongly condemn this incident. And we deeply appreciate the cooperation and support that we’ve already received from our Jordanian partners.
Q On the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, the President mentioned, short of a two-state deal that the administration sees as unlikely during the rest of the President’s term, he’d like to see discussed with Netanyahu ways to lower tensions, get Israelis and Palestinians back on a path toward peace. Did he get any kind of a road map from Netanyahu? Did he have any specific asks for the Prime Minister? And any details from Netanyahu about what he might be willing to do in that regard?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, as I walked out here, the meeting between the President and Prime Minister was still ongoing, so that’s going to limit my ability to provide a particularly detailed readout of their conversation. The expectation — well, let me say it this way. This item was on the agenda. And I think you heard both leaders refer to it in the comments that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama made to all of you before their meeting began. And the reason that this is on the agenda is it obviously goes to something that is a top priority of both leaders, which is the safety and security of the nation of Israel.
And President Obama believes that the security interests of the people of Israel are best served and even advanced through reaching a two-state solution to try to resolve that conflict. And that long-simmering conflict has continued to create the kind of instability that allows violence to take root. And President Obama, and obviously Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Clinton before him, invested a lot of time and effort in trying to bring both sides to the negotiating table to facilitate an outcome here along the lines of a two-state solution that the United States has long advocated.
And ultimately, what is clear is that the political leaders on both sides are going to have to make some difficult decisions, including some decisions that in the short term may be politically unpopular with their people, but over the long term are going to be critical to the success and advancement of people on both sides of that issue. So the President continues to stay ready to facilitate those kinds of conversations. But obviously we’ve got a long way to go before something like that is likely to occur.
Q And just on one other topic, does the President agree with the anti-doping commission’s suggestion, recommendation that Russian track and field athletes be banned from the Olympics as a result of what they’re calling the Russian government’s complicity in some of this doping activity?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, I’ve seen those reports today. Obviously this anti-doping commission is an international organization that’s independent of any specific government body, certainly independent of the United States government. And those kinds of decisions will ultimately have to be made by the international authorities that govern these athletic competitions. So we certainly made note of those reports, but ultimately Russia’s involvement and the degree to which their track and field team is involved in the next Olympics will be something that those anti-doping authorities and Olympic authorities will ultimately have to determine.
Q Josh, back to Burma. Does this election have any further implications for sanctions, business links, or trade?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I don’t have any changes to announce with that regard. Obviously this is something that the Treasury Department closely monitors, so I’d refer you to them for any changes they may be planning. But I’m not aware of any right now.
Q And if the military accepts the results of this election, would the United States reconsider military-to-military ties with Myanmar?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, it’s too early to suggest exactly what changes in U.S. policy would be brought about by the outcome of this election and the way that it’s received by all sides. During the President’s two visits to Burma now, you have seen not just a willingness but a desire to deepen the ties between our two countries and to deepen the relationship between the United States and Burma. But at this point, I don’t have any possible policy changes to announce.
Q On the meeting with the Prime Minister — and I recognize that it’s still ongoing — but are you able to say whether or not Prime Minister Netanyahu remarks to Congress earlier this year came up or will come up during their one-on-one?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address will be discussed. I know that the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was an item that was on the agenda. As the President alluded to in his remarks before the meeting, while there may be a disagreement between our two countries about this particular diplomatic agreement, there is no disagreement and no daylight between the United States and Israel when it comes to our commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and our desire to cooperate to prevent or at least mitigate the destabilizing activities that Iran often engages in in that region of the world.
Q Lastly, you opened up your remarks today by talking about the Paris conference. Does the United States come with anything in hand to that conference? Obviously the President has already announced the U.S.’s commitment on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What else does he bring this time as a bargaining chip to help push leaders in the direction that he wants them to go?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, at this point, I think that you have seen the United States make a substantial contribution and substantial commitment to handling business in our own country when it comes to reducing carbon pollution. And we saw that that firm commitment on the part of the United States elicited a similarly strong commitment from the Chinese government in terms of capping their carbon emissions and making investments in renewable energy and other technologies that will allow their economy to continue to grow, but while making decisions that are clearly in the best interest of the public health of the citizens of that country, but also the public health of citizens across the planet.
And that obviously was an important step. We talked about this a little bit on Friday, that many skeptics of climate policy in the United States suggested that it was foolish for the United States to begin to take important steps to cut carbon pollution because those steps wouldn’t have nearly the intended impact if we couldn’t get China and other of the world’s largest economies to go along.
So I think what’s notable about that announcement is it directly takes on the chief criticism of our political opponents, and it does demonstrate that by using our influence around the globe and by making progress on this bold policy agenda of the President’s, that we can do something important for the planet. We can do something important for the health and well-being of our kids here, who are obviously the first affected by poor air quality, but we can also do something good for our economy.
One of the things that’s notable about the commitment that China made to cap their carbon emissions is that it was going to require investment in new technology to generate power in that country. And one source of that power generation is nuclear power plants, and those are nuclear power plants that will be constructed at least in part by U.S. companies. So this is economic growth and jobs that are being created here in the United States because of this global commitment to doing something about climate change.
Q My question is, is that what the President brings, basically a discussion of everything that he has done? Or is there anything else in the bag or in his hand that he will bring as an incentive to get other countries to move along?
MR. EARNEST: I certainly wouldn’t rule out necessarily any future commitments. But the kinds of commitments that the United States has already made are significant and have elicited significant commitments from other countries already. And I think they make clear that President Obama is determined to show American leadership on this issue, and that based on the U.S. commitment to this issue, other countries can feel confident in following through on their commitments, knowing that they’re going to have the desired effect, knowing that we’re going to be able to confront the significant challenge of climate in this country and on this planet.
Q Josh, there’s a new story that’s getting a lot of momentum, particularly after this weekend, out of the University of Missouri, the race issues. The Governor of Missouri, Governor Nixon, and Senator Claire McCaskill, an alum of the school, chimed in. Is the President saying anything about this? And what does the White House say?
MR. EARNEST: April, I haven’t spoken to the President about this new story, but I did read quite a bit about it over the weekend myself. Missouri is my home state. I didn’t attend the University of Missouri, but it’s obviously a campus that I visited many times and I have many friends who attended there. The people of Missouri are justifiably proud of that institution of higher learning and the people of Missouri take great pride in the institution that is the University of Missouri.
And I think what is notable about many of the events that we saw over the weekend is the way that that campus has really rallied together in support of the idea that every student that is admitted to the University of Missouri has a place on that campus and in that community. And that commitment to unity and equality and justice is one that I think the people of Missouri and certainly the Mizzou community can be proud of.
But you don’t get that result — the result of every student on campus feeling like they have a place — by just hoping that it will happen. It requires work. It required painstaking effort. And I think what we’ve seen is a commitment on the part of so many different members of that community to pursue that goal. And that’s a really important thing.
I think this also illustrates something that the President talked a lot about in the context of — in his campaign, that a few people speaking up and speaking out can have a profound impact on the communities where we live and work. This was a small group of students who stood up to make their voices heard and their views clear and their concerns public. And this had an impact on people all across that campus, including members of the football team, who obviously speak with quite a loud voice. But they were able to count on the support of their coaches, other members of the faculty. I read in some of the news reports that the highest-ranking administration official on campus in Columbia actually spent time yesterday bringing food to the students who were camped out in protest, and spending time talking to those student leaders. And that’s the kind of dialogue and work and unity that the Mizzou community is going to need to make progress on this issue.
Q So you say it was a small group of people, and I understand that. But this small group of people made a very loud noise with racial slurs, anti-Semitic graffiti, Swastikas drawn in feces. I mean — and I hate to be that graphic, but this is real. Does this require the Justice Department to possibly take a look at what’s happening there? I mean, you have four campuses in that system, and you have had to have the football team force the president of the university to step down. So do you think it’s time for the Justice Department to come and take a look? I mean, I heard you talk about the conversation, but this is a little bit deeper than a conversation. And you also had a Confederate flag — and you’re allowed to show who you support, freedom of expression — but a Confederate flag driving around that university at this time where tensions are still hot.
MR. EARNEST: Well, just to be clear about my first answer, April, when I was referring to a small group of people, I was talking to the small group of students at the University of Missouri who decided to work together to make their voices heard, to raise these concerns, and to make sure the concerns of minority students on campus at the University of Missouri were getting the attention that they’ve deserved. And that did inspire a broader movement and a broader statement from what started out as a group of some of the members of the football team and grew into the support of the entire team and the coaching staff.
And again, I think that’s a testament to the unity of purpose that exists on that campus. But that unity of purpose is not going to be enough. As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be hard work to eventually achieve this goal of making sure that it’s clear that every member of that community has a rightful place there, to be a contributor to that community, and to feel at home there. And there’s work that needs to be done. And I think I take great satisfaction, particularly when talking about my home state, in seeing so many people come together determined to make progress on a very difficult question that is laced with some difficult history in that state.
Q I don’t agree with you there. But do you think at this point that there was a violation — it was a hate crime or hate crimes, as well as civil rights violations that occurred on those four campuses?
MR. EARNEST: That’s obviously something that law enforcement officials would have to consider and the Justice Department will have to consider that on their own. And I wouldn’t want to say anything here that would be perceived as in any way influencing any decisions that they may or may not have to make.
Q Given your familiarity with Missouri and the University of Missouri, are you surprised about the kinds of acts that April just detailed — the anti-Semitic and racist behavior on that campus?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there are a couple different ways to answer that question. I think any state institution is a product of the state and that state’s history, and it’s a very painful history, and it’s not ancient history in the state of Missouri. And again, I think it is a testament to the courage of the people on campus at the University of Missouri who are speaking out that they are standing up to confront those issues.
I think the other thing that’s important, Chip — and I think it’s important that we don’t lose this in the debate either — this debate has been going on — this debate is not just occurring at the University of Missouri. There are discussions about some of these issues that are taking place in campuses all across the country. And I was just reading in the newspaper today that there’s been some concerns about the environment at Yale right now. It’s obviously a very different situation — it’s a private institution; the University of Missouri is a public institution. The scale of — the source of their concern is a little bit different, but it does go to this sort of fundamental issue about these college campuses, ensuring that there’s a home for everybody.
Now, we expect college campuses are going to be places where people’s views are challenged and that there is a vibrant debate on campus. And that’s something that we want to preserve. That’s what the best institutions of higher learning in this country have. But we also need to make sure that everybody who’s on that campus feels like they have a home.
Q Is this a teachable moment that the President might weigh in on?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t speculate at this point whether or not he would make a public statement on it. But presumably, the next opportunity that one of you has to talk to him, maybe you’ll ask him about it.
Q Can I follow that? But why not, though? I mean, we’ve seen and we have heard some of this —
MR. EARNEST: I’m not ruling it out, April. I’m just saying that I don’t know.
Q Okay, so it’s a possibility that he could?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I suppose you can say that.
Q Now, let me ask you this, though. Some are trying to inference that this situation that’s happening at the University of Missouri is an outgrowth of Ferguson, possibly, because of many of the protests. This nation right now is still dealing with issues of race, be it the police in the black community issue or some other issues. You were hearing a lot of the tension from some of the candidates when it comes to other communities. This White House, and any White House, is the moral setter for the climate. And going back to Bill Clinton, he tried to talk about the heart issue, not just the legislative issue of race. Do you think that it could be time for this President, who is African American, to talk about the heart issue of race as this nation is a nation that is brown?
MR. EARNEST: And I think that he’s done that many, many times, and I would anticipate that —
Q No, but I’m saying more than just in a press conference, maybe have a dialogue, a town hall? I’m just asking.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything like that right now.
Q Is there anything further on the downing of the Russian plane that you can point to as an indication it was terrorism?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, Jon, I don’t have an updated intelligence assessment. We continue to work hard to collect as much information as we can to try to learn what exactly happened with that tragic incident. Again, based on the information that we’ve already learned, we, at this point, can’t rule out the possibility of terrorist involvement.
But as we collect information we do a couple of things with it. The first is we make sure that we’re using that information to adjust appropriately the security posture at airports around the world. And there have been some steps that have been taken by the Department of Homeland Security to beef up security at a handful of airports in the region. We’re also using that information to share it with investigators. Obviously the Egyptians and the Russians are leading this investigation, and when we have information that we can share with them, we’re doing that.
Q Do you agree with Congressman Adam Schiff, who said that if this bomb was truly planted by ISIS that ISIS has now fully eclipsed al Qaeda as the gravest terror threat in the world?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think at this point, it is important to understand that the United States, and certainly in recent months, has been keenly aware of the extremist threat that’s emanating from the Sinai Peninsula, and that there have been travel warnings and notice to aircraft operating in the skies over Sinai Peninsula about precautions that they should take given the significant extremist threat there.
At this point, as it relates to that question, I think there’s a need on the part of the administration to take the threats both from ISIS and al Qaeda quite seriously. And they’re not dissimilar, but they are threats that are worthy of our attention, and it’s attention that it’s received for quite some time.
Q Yes, but I — because obviously the President in the past has suggested that core al Qaeda was the preeminent threat. And now you have this — Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, saying that we may see a situation here if this was, in fact, ISIS, that ISIS is now the preeminent threat in the world today. And the President, in the past, has, quite frankly, kind of — I don’t want to say downplayed — but in the comparison with al Qaeda, he has portrayed ISIS as the JV team, in the famous phrase in the New Yorker interview. But are we now at a point where ISIS is the preeminent threat?
MR. EARNEST: I think that given the significant resources that have been committed to our counter-ISIL campaign and the fact that we’ve been able to build the support of 65 countries to carry out a range of elements of our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL I think is an indication —
Q The reason I say you’ve done it, you’ve made the case that it’s a regional threat. Schiff is saying something more. He’s saying this has now fully eclipsed al Qaeda as the gravest terror threat in the world, which would suggest it’s far more than a regional problem.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we’ve been mindful of the risk that ISIL poses even outside the region. I think what we’ve said is that most of their aspirations are focused on that region. But we’ve noted the fact that they have attempted to radicalize people all around the globe, using social media, including to carry out acts of violence in places outside of the region. So we’ve been mindful of the broader threat that ISIL poses. And at this point, I think what the President is focused on is making sure that all of the threats as they emerge are appropriately mitigated and that we’re using the wide range of our military capability and our intelligence capability to try to protect the American people, whether that threat emanates from al Qaeda or from ISIL.
Q Okay. And there’s one other — you probably saw some of the controversy questions raised about Ben Carson and what he’s saying about his personal — I don’t want you to comment on any of that. But he did say something about — (laughter) — if you’d like to comment. (Laughter.) He did say that he does not remember this level of scrutiny for one President Obama in 2008. I’m assuming he means Senator Obama. But then-candidate Obama. He suggested that Barack Obama had nothing of this kind of scrutiny when he was running for President. Do you agree with that — that Ben Carson has been subject to more scrutiny than Barack Obama?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t agree with that statement.
Q You don’t? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I think many of you who have covered both the 2008 campaign and this campaign I think can obviously draw your own conclusions, based on the work that all of you have done. I think the important thing, Jon, is for people to remember — and this is sort of one thing that I have frequently said about the ongoing presidential race that I, at that time, was reluctant to weigh in on — is that this process is good for our democracy. It’s not easy to run for President. It shouldn’t be. And people, when they make public comments, are going to have their claims scrutinized even if they are claims about their own biography. And that’s part of the process.
And it was difficult when those questions were raised about Senator Obama. It was particularly difficult when some of those claims were — questions were — I guess in 2008, I recall a situation in which it was less the claims of President Obama that we’re being questioned and more that the claims about him were difficult to disprove, at least to the satisfaction of our harshest critics.
Q When he was running for President.
MR. EARNEST: When he was running for President. But what’s true now is a situation where you have Dr. Carson’s own claims that he has long been making and written about that are being subjected to scrutiny. And that’s an important part of the process. It ensures that whoever emerges from this difficult process is somebody that’s capable of leading the country, but most importantly, it gives voters the opportunity to carefully consider the candidates’ views and their claims in depth before they have to go to the voting booth or show up at a caucus location.
Senator Obama — a staple of his stump speech used to be that he would travel to Iowa and he spent so much time going to town hall meetings and talking to people in coffee shops because people liked to lift the hood and kick the tires. And it’s good to know that that tradition is alive and well because it’s important to the success of our democracy.
Q These are appropriate questions that Ben Carson is facing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s not really — I happen to think that they are. But ultimately, that’s for the American people to judge.
Q It was pretty striking today to hear Prime Minister Netanyahu express so emphatically his commitment to a two-state solution, which is a lot different than what we heard from him just a couple of months ago. So to what extent does the President believe that he is truly committed to that? And what does the White House expect to see in terms of that commitment coming from Israel right now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, those kinds of comments are obviously encouraging, but what’s most important will not be the comments but the follow-through. And the more important judge of that follow-through than the United States will be the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, and the leaders of the Palestinian people — that ultimately, for this kind of two-state solution to take root, or for at least us to advance the process in that direction, both sides are going to need to take some steps to build confidence in one another. And it means that we’re going to need to see a reduction if not an end to the violence. We certainly are going to need to see an end to the incitement. And we’re going to need to see a willingness on the part of both sides to engage constructively.
And to be fair about it, one thing that we have said is that continued Israeli settlement construction is counterproductive to that process. There’s some work that both sides need to do, but the United States will continue to strongly support that process. We certainly believe it’s in the best interests of the leaders of the people on both sides for the process to move in that direction. And the United States will continue to be helpful as they do, but the United States will also stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in Israel when it comes to their security.
And that’s an important part of the conversation taking place today as well about how the United States can take the historically strong connections between our military and our intelligence communities and further deepen those connections and further intensify that coordination to provide for the security of the nation of Israel, but also to augment the security architecture of the United States.
Q Do you believe what Netanyahu says about wanting that two-state solution and wanting peace when we all know that that settlement activity only continues no matter how many times the White House expresses its displeasure at that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Michelle, I think the way to judge the priorities of any government is to take a look at what they’re doing and to examine the follow-through. And this is certainly an opportunity for Prime Minister Netanyahu to try to put forward some ideas to move this process in the direction of a two-state solution.
I think we’ve been quite candid about the fact that given the dynamic on both sides, that it’s unlikely that that two-state solution will be reached in the next 14 months. It’s even unlikely that talks in pursuit of that two-state solution will begin in the next 14 months. But if there’s anything we can do to try to move the process in that direction, then we certainly want to be supportive of the efforts on both sides to do that.
Q Can we be virtually assured then that President Obama will bring up the settlement activity? And is there ever going to be a situation where you arrive at something that the next MOU would be affected by that, or if that doesn’t stop, then it’s going to affect the amount of assistance that Israel gets? Or would you say that those things are completely separate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, for whether or not it came up in the meeting, I can’t speak to that because, as I mentioned, it was still ongoing when I walked out here.
Q Would you expect it to?
MR. EARNEST: I think what I would expect is that there would be a discussion about trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and steps that Israel could take to move that process in the direction of a two-state solution. But as it relates to settlement building, I don’t know if it will come up in the context of their talks, but it certainly is not a position that we have been reluctant to state either publicly or privately.
When it comes to the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security, that commitment is unshakeable — and for a variety of reasons. The first is that Israel is the strongest ally of the United States in that region of the world, and improving and strengthening Israel’s security is good for the national security of the United States, to say nothing of the important ties between the U.S. and Israeli people and the values that we share that both countries and citizens of both countries hold dear.
So there are a variety of reasons about why those bonds are so strong. And those bonds are unshakeable. And we may have our disagreements about how to pursue our shared objectives, as we saw on display as we completed the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We even have some differences of opinion when it comes to the peace process. But that has not affected the commitment of this administration or this country to Israel’s security.
Q Okay. And also, we’ve heard from now the Israeli Defense Minister that it was likely that a bomb brought down that Russian plane. The British Prime Minister said it was likely to be a bomb. We’ve heard from intelligence officials, members of Congress saying that this is likely terrorism, that the intelligence is pointing that way. So why has the White House been so reluctant to say that the evidence that the U.S. has is at the very least pointing strongly in that direction?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Michelle, I just don’t have an updated intelligence assessment to share. I think at least with all due respect to those members of Congress, they have a little more latitude to make those kinds of pronouncements than I do or other individuals who represent the U.S. government are able to.
So we’re going to continue to learn as much as we can about what exactly occurred, and if and when we have an updated intelligence assessment to share with all of you, then we’ll do that.
Q Thanks, Josh. Earlier you noted to April that the next time you get to talk to the President perhaps you can ask about Missouri and some of these other issues — which brings me to the point that I brought up to you when you gave the week ahead last Friday, which was that there was not a joint news conference today between the President and the Prime Minister. And looking back through the history of every time the Prime Minister has been at the White House, there doesn’t appear to have ever been a joint news conference between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama at this White House. And I wanted to ask you about that. You couldn’t say before why there wasn’t going to be one today, but I wanted to know if you could explain that now.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think primarily, Francesca, the goal was to spend most of their time talking to each other and a little less time talking to the press. And I hope you all don’t take personal offense at that. You shouldn’t. I think it just reflects —
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I should have predicted. I think it just reflects the way that the schedule came together and their desire to cover what I think is a quite wide-ranging agenda. Both men, however, do feel a responsibility to make sure that the citizens of the United States and Israel are aware of their conversations. And so that’s why both men spoke to representatives of the press in the Oval Office today. And it’s why I’m out here trying to answer your questions the best I can about what they discussed. And I assume that someone — a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s traveling party is doing something similar.
And that’s fine. I do remember that when President Obama traveled to Israel for an important meeting that Prime Minister Netanyahu hosted that they did have a news conference there. And I didn’t do the same homework that you did, but I wouldn’t be surprised that in at least one of the previous pool sprays that the two leaders hosted in the Oval Office if the leaders didn’t take a shouted question occasionally.
But the fact is this is an important meeting and we certainly have an interest in making sure that they can have a robust private conversation, but also an interest in making sure that all of you and the American people understand exactly what was on the agenda and what progress we were able to make.
Q And if I may, I did do a little bit more homework on that, and they have taken questions in the past during the pool sprays. At first I thought maybe it was because the pool spray came at the top of the meeting, but in my research I also found that at times in the past they had taken questions even when the pool spray came at the top of the meeting. But that also brings me to another point, though, as to why the pool spray wasn’t at the bottom of the meeting to where questions about what was discussed could have been asked so that we don’t have to keep badgering you about what happened in a meeting that ended after you came into this room.
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, I don’t mind. (Laughter.)
Q Well, that’s good to know.
MR. EARNEST: I’m not offended. But, look, I think what they wanted to do was try to give both the American people and the Israeli people a sense of what was on the agenda for their meeting. And I do think they also wanted to protect their ability to have private conversations that, with regard to a couple of the items on the agenda, they’re a work in progress. And that would certainly include the effort to move forward on a memorandum of understanding when it comes to military assistance that the United States provides to Israel.
So I’m confident that we’ll have future opportunities to talk about the importance of this relationship and the importance of the conversation that took place this morning and may even still be underway in the Oval Office as we speak.
Q Thank you, Mr. Earnest. In keeping with Israel relations, in March, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s backing away from a two-state solution on the eve of the elections, and some other comments he had made as the elections were nearing, you said — I believe it was you said we’re going reevaluate our thinking about the relationship, particularly as it pertains to the U.S. stance at the United Nations. What is the status of that reevaluation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mike, what I talked about at that point was a reassessment of our position toward the two-state solution. Our commitment to Israel’s security and our alliance with Israel is something that is unshakeable and has not been called into question, despite the spirited disagreement that we had over the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, for example.
But there was a reassessment that was conducted about our policy toward a two-state solution, and whether or not that’s something that was viable moving forward given the public comments of Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this year. And essentially, part of the outgrowth of that reassessment was the observation that was made at the end of last week by White House officials that a two-state solution was not going to happen while President Obama was still in office, and that even the possibility of talks about a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians was unlikely over the course of the next 14 or 15 months.
However, if there is an opportunity for us to try to move the process in that direction, short of talks, that’s something that the United States remains committed to primarily because we believe that ultimately resolving this conflict would be in the best interest of American national security, but resolving this conflict in the context of a two-state solution would also be in the best interest of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.
So this is a goal that we still believe in. It’s a goal that we believe the Israelis and Palestinians should pursue. But it’s our view that it’s not a goal that’s going to be reached in the remainder of the President’s term in office.
Q Different subject, please. Guantanamo. Does the President have the constitutional authority to close Guantanamo notwithstanding the will of Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there was a high-profile argument made over the weekend —
Q And all your comments here —
MR. EARNEST: Sure, sure. And I guess my point is that the argument about the President’s authority is certainly something that Mr. Craig is well positioned to make. But the focus of our efforts right now is on Congress. And there are members of Congress who share this goal and who have indicated at least an openness to trying to working with the administration to achieve this goal. And so that’s the focus of our efforts right now. I’m not aware of any ongoing effort to devise a strategy using only the President’s executive authority to accomplish this goal, but I certainly wouldn’t, as I mentioned last week, take that option off the table.
Q Is there a consideration — there’s no thinking of an ongoing option, or however you just phrased it, but there’s obviously a consideration of a legal standing and legal opinion and legal abilities, constitutional authority. What is the status of that thinking?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are a wide range of thorny, legal questions that are raised by this ongoing effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And I wouldn’t sort of speculate on those right now. These are obviously — in some cases, because of the unique nature of this facility, in some cases we’re in uncharted legal waters here. But the President made clear from his first week in office that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is a national security priority, and this is a conclusion that was share by former President George W. Bush. It’s a conclusion that is shared by Secretaries of State that have served Presidents dating all the way back to Nixon. I know that the three most recent Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Admiral Mullen, General Dempsey, and obviously General Dunford — all share this view.
So the brightest and most influential foreign policy thinkers in America who are most focused on national security are convinced that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is an important thing to do because it’s good for the country and good for our security. We just got to get Congress to go along.
Q I know you don’t want to give away the game, but I’m not asking you to speculate. I’m just wondering if the White House has an opinion as to the legality or the constitutional power the President has to close it without the will of Congress.
MR. EARNEST: And I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t — presumably somebody, somewhere, has done some kind of analysis on this. I’m not aware of what that analysis was or what the conclusion was. All I’m suggesting is that our top priority is to work with Congress to get this done. And I’m certainly not going to take off the table any fallback options that may or may not be available to the President.
Q When will either see the plan or know the plan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that we’ve obviously been working on for quite some time, and there’s some legwork that the Department of Defense has engage in in terms of making site visits and doing some other planning so that they can present a thoughtful, carefully considered plan to Congress. And our hope right now is that Congress won’t just reflexively play politics with that plan, but they’ll actually devote a similar level of thought and consideration to this proposal.
Q The meeting with the Prime Minister, how did this come about? Did Prime Minister Netanyahu request the meeting? Why did the President invite him at this time now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, I have to admit I don’t recall sort of who invited whom here. But I do know that there was a desire on the part of both leaders to sit down and renew their engagement. It’s been more than a year since they’ve had an opportunity to meet in person. They’ve obviously spoken on the phone a number of times in that period. But this is an opportunity for them to sit down and talk about all the things we have in common. Our shared values and our shared national security priorities are far more numerous than even some of the significant disagreements that we’ve had in the past.
Q I ask because obviously there’s been a lot said about the personal dynamic between them, which is why I’m trying to get a sense of — if you can say — who made the — who reached out their hand first, if you will.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I just don’t have that in front of me. I don’t remember what the answer to that question is. But I guess I would suggest that that’s probably not the most effective way to draw a conclusion about their interpersonal relationship. I think both of them would be the first to tell you that they have an effective, professional relationship that allows them to advance the interests of their two countries, and to, most importantly, advance our shared interests. That’s what you expect the leaders of allied nations to do, and that’s what President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have successfully done for seven years now.
Q And when you came out, I think the meeting had been going on for more than two hours, roughly. Did you have a sense of how it was going?
MR. EARNEST: I did. There were a couple different sort of configurations of the meeting with a number of staff in the room, and so I did talk to one staff member who was in the room for a good chunk of the meeting this morning. And he observed that this was an important opportunity for the two sides to get together and discuss something that had been discussed among other members of their respected national security teams.
Obviously, Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, had an opportunity to visit with her counterpart. You’ll recall that the Defense Minister for Israel, Mr. Ya’alon, was in the United States a couple of weeks ago meeting with his counterparts here in the United States. General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was in Israel a couple of weeks ago to meet with some of his counterparts. So there’s been a lot of work done in preparation for this meeting, and this was an opportunity for them to follow up on that preparatory work.
Q And based on your conversation with that aide, can you give us any sense of how the beginning of this meeting unfolded? What issues came up first? Where did they go?
MR. EARNEST: The part of the meeting that he talked about was some of the work that both sides, I think, are interested in doing to advance our military cooperation. And this was part of — this is the work that will go into what hopefully will be the signing of a memorandum of understanding to plan for the continued military cooperation between our two countries, and the military assistance that the United States will provide to ensure that Israel has the capacity to defend herself.
The discussion centered on the need to conduct a careful assessment of the broader security situation in the Middle East to assess what sort of threats and risk Israel faces, and then also to conduct an assessment of the capabilities and technology and equipment that Israel already has, and assess how those current capabilities match up with the current assessment of the threats, and then determine what sort of assistance the United States can provide to try to bridge that — to sort of bridge that gap.
And I describe that to you to make clear that I don’t anticipate, even though I walked out here before the meeting ended — I do not anticipate that there will be a commitment on the memorandum of understanding today. But there was a discussion about the work that can be done cooperatively among the national security teams to advance this process. And the process will look like what I just described to you.
Q You mentioned the reassessment of the two-state solution policy. Those statements were very definitive, that the United States — the President doesn’t see this happening on his watch. Why was that made so public just before the Prime Minister came? And was that communicated to him before he came? He had to be aware of it, obviously.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t get the impression that officials in the Israeli government were particularly surprised by those comments. For that matter, I don’t think there are many officials in the U.S. government that were surprised by that assessment. Given the nature of the situation there right now, and given the pretty stark divide between the Israeli leaders and Palestinian leaders right now, there’s a lot of work that is going to need to be done to try to bridge those gaps and even get them back into a place where they can sit down at the negotiating table and have a trusted conversation. And I’m not even sure that that work to get them back to the table will be completed in the next 14 months. In fact, I think it’s unlikely that it will.
Q And given that assessment — I hate to be blunt, but doesn’t the Prime Minister’s assurances that they’re committed to peace sound very hollow?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no. They don’t to me, at least. And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has a solemn responsibility when he’s leading the nation of Israel. He was elected by the people of that country to protect that country, and particularly mindful of the grave risks that that country faces given the dangerous neighborhood in which they live.
And so I think the best way, however, for people to assess how genuine those claims are is to see the degree to which his administration is willing to follow through on those comments. And I’m confident that that’s what the — that’s certainly what the Obama administration will be doing, and I’d anticipate that other governments around the world will be doing the same thing.
Q So you think it is possible that the Prime Minister could return home and initiate some policies that could reverse your perception of — the administration’s perception that the two-state solution is dead?
MR. EARNEST: I think it is possible that Prime Minister Netanyahu could make some commitments and send some quite clear signals that they’re recommitted to trying to advance a peace process and a process toward a two-state solution. I’ll just point out, though, that’s certainly not going to be enough. We’re going to see a commitment on the part of the Palestinian leaders too, to ending violence and ending incitement, and demonstrating their commitment to negotiating in good faith.
And those shows of good faith aren’t the kinds of things that materialize over time, and they don’t inspire faith. Let me say that again. They aren’t the kinds of things that materialize immediately, and they aren’t the kinds of things that demonstrate faith or inspire faith immediately. These are the kinds of things that can be — these are the kinds of policy changes that can be instituted over time. And over time, they will build sufficient confidence and sufficient faith to bring both sides back to the negotiating table and try to advance toward a goal that serves the interests both sides. In some ways, that’s what continues to be tragic about the situation — that I think there is pretty widespread agreement about what is in the best interest of people on both sides of this conflict, but yet, despite that recognition, the two sides haven’t been able to reach it.
Q And lastly, is the President going to press the Prime Minister, or do you think he did, on this particular issue of the two-state solution? And is there going to be any follow-up post this meeting with the Palestinian side by any level of the administration? Or do you think that this is really just something that’s going to, well, not fall by the wayside, but fall by the wayside unless you see something clear and bold by the Israelis?
MR. EARNEST: I’m confident that there will be — that at some level there will be some follow-up with the Palestinians. As you know, Secretary Kerry, while he obviously frequently talks to Prime Minister Netanyahu, it’s certainly not unusual for him to have conversations with President Abbas either. And I’m not suggesting that that will take place at that level, but I just do that to illustrate the kind of open line of communication that exists between the United States and the Palestinian Authority.
Q So you shouldn’t expect much?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that there are some important things that we can advance. And I think there is an opportunity for us to lay out a path to eventually completing a memorandum of understanding. This is the kind of security assistance that is clearly in the best interest of the United States and our national security, but is also critical to making sure that Israel has the capacity to defend itself when necessary. And that’s critically important work.
There continue to be, as the President alluded to at the top of the meeting, a conversation about the work that can be done to verify Iran’s ongoing compliance with the agreement, and our work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region that pose a threat to the United States and our interests but also pose a pretty direct threat to Israel as well. So there’s important work that needs to be done, but I don’t think all of the biggest problems are going to be solved just in the context of this meeting.
Q Thanks, Josh. I want to ask you about a different topic. Senator Reid and Leader Pelosi have been pushing to repeal with the Cadillac tax as part of Obamacare. And I’m wondering if the White House is willing to negotiate on that pay-for.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jordan, we’ve been quite clear about that specific policy. And the reason that this is important is, the first is that it’s important for the Affordable Care Act to be a fiscally responsible plan. And this is part of ensuring that we can make progress on the fiscal scale. And one of the important benefits of the Affordable Care Act is it actually reduces the deficit. And that fiscally responsible approach to this challenge is an important part of that.
I think the other thing that this policy does is it gives employers with high-cost plans an incentive to make those plans more efficient. And there is academic research to indicate that as those plans become more efficient, the money that had previously gone into those benefits actually go back into paychecks, go back into direct compensation to employees. So as long as we’re having a conversation about the fact that there is more work that can be done to raise wages in this country, this would actually be an important thing that we could do in a way that certainly still allows employees to enjoy the benefits of a high-quality health care plan, but also getting some greater compensation here. And raising paychecks and raising wages continues to be a top policy priority.
I think the other thing that’s important, Jordan, for people to understand is that this law does not take effect until 2018. So we’ll be able to evaluate exactly how it would go into effect. And if in that intervening time there are ideas that are put forward that will strengthen the law, then we’re open to a conversation about that. But it’s important that people not overlook the benefits of this policy.
Q So you would be open to tweaks if, let’s say, Democrats were to offer a different pay-for to make up for the deficit hole that getting rid of the Cadillac tax would?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not going to — I’m certainly not going to negotiate it from here. And that wouldn’t address all of the benefits that I raised here about it being important, particularly when it comes to the consequences or the impact of this policy proposal having a positive impact on wages.
So look, this is a policy that goes into effect in 2018. We are always in a position to have conversations with people that have an authentic interest in strengthening the Affordable Care Act. The President has never taken the position that there aren’t creative ways to further improve upon and strengthen the Affordable Care Act. And if people have ideas for doing that, then we’re open to that conversation.
Unfortunately, so much of what has come out of Congress has been an effort to undermine and even repeal the law. And we’ve spent so much time talking about that we haven’t talked about some of the things that could be done to strengthen the law.
And I would note — and we can follow up with you on the details on this — but in the last six or eight weeks, the President has signed a couple of pieces of legislation that have slightly reformed the law in a way that strengthens it. And so we can follow up with the details on that.
Q Two unrelated questions. First, on the ISIL-Russia thing, does President Obama plan to meet with President Putin at the G20 meeting or otherwise on this trip? And would you expect that they would discuss the downing of the Russian plane?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any planned meetings with Mr. Putin. But we’ll have some more details about the President’s schedule both for the G20 meeting but also for the rest of the President’s trip in the next couple of days. But I certainly wouldn’t rule out the kinds of discussions that we’ve seen in the past where they’re either in the hallway together or in some other place where they have an informal opportunity to talk. But my point is that I do not know at this point of any sort of planned formal bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
Q — some conversation about the downing of the plane?
MR. EARNEST: If something like that occurs, we’ll definitely let you know.
Q And the other question — Volkswagen today offered to give a $500 rebate to all the people who owned the cars that have been implicated in the cheating emissions scandal and I guess the dealership credit as well. Some of the Democratic members of Congress I think, including Senators Blumenthal and Markey, said this was an insulting offer. What’s the White House view?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wouldn’t weigh in on this. Obviously Volkswagen is dealing with a pretty significant challenge and I’m not going to evaluate their crisis communications effort from here. Maybe at a future stage in my career I’ll do that, but not in the current stage. (Laughter.)
Q They’re not evaluating the crisis communications, they’re evaluating the substance of what they’re doing. Would you evaluate that?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t.
Q Josh, quick question. As you know, General Campbell has promised an initial findings report on the Afghan hospital bombing within a month, and that month passed. And there’s been interest on Capitol Hill where that initial report is. Can you say whether you know the progress that’s being made there and whether the President has seen an initial report or a part of it yet?
MR. EARNEST: I know that this is something that the Department of Defense has been working on and I know that they’ve made progress on the report. But where it currently stands I’m not able to comment on. What the President has said is that he expects a thorough, objective and full accounting of what exactly occurred and he expects the Department of Defense to be as transparent as possible about those findings. And so I would anticipate that once a final report has been completed that the President will take a look at it closely, but that as much of it as possible will be released to the public because that’s the expectation the President has about the importance of being transparent with this accounting.
Q And just to clarify, to your knowledge, he has not received anything yet, or you’d know that?
MR. EARNEST: To my knowledge, he has not seen a draft report or an interim report, or anything like that. I can’t speak to what degree he has gotten verbal updates or even updates that may be in a written form but not reflective of the final report. But I know the President is eager for that full accounting, but also wants to make sure that the review that’s done is one that is thorough and objective and eventually transparent.
Q A follow-up on Guantanamo Bay. If the President is successful in taking the current number of detainees and prisoners shipped somewhere else and shutting the prison, does he mean shutting the prison and then removing all the prisoners who are there, or would he actually like to close the prison and dismantle it if he could under his presidency?
MR. EARNEST: You mean like the physical structure?
Q Does he envision the prison continuing to exist there without any population of detainees there? Or would he actually like symbolically to dismantle it?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not sure what plans the Department of Defense would have for something like that. I don’t know if they would — certainly the President would not envision leaving the building there or the facilities there in case the need arises to detain additional people there. The President does not envision that scenario. The goal of closing the prison is to ensure that we’re living up to our values when it comes to dealing with these individuals. But I don’t know what eventual plans the Department of Defense may have for the facilities there.
Q Thanks, Josh. Has the gap interpersonally from a communications perspective between the President and the Prime Minister been overestimated? And if not, does a meeting like today’s bridge such a gap?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, I think as the President said when he sat down with Prime Minister Netanyahu today, there’s no world leader with whom he’s had the opportunity to meet more often than Prime Minister Netanyahu. I think that’s a testament to the bonds between our two countries. It’s also a testament to the effectiveness of the working relationship between the two men.
It doesn’t mean that they have agreed on every issue, and it doesn’t mean that they are the best of friends. But it does mean that they’re able to work effectively together to advance the interests of the citizens of their countries, but also to advance the shared interest of our alliance.
Q Will you be making an announcement on an aid package any time in the days ahead?
MR. EARNEST: I certainly wouldn’t anticipate an announcement on a memorandum of understanding in the near term. There’s some important work that needs to be done to conduct an analysis of the broader threats in the region, to conduct a review of the capabilities that Israel currently possesses, and then to do an analysis of how the United States could assist in meeting those unmet needs.
And I wouldn’t anticipate that that process will take a really long time, but it’s not something that you can do quickly. The President wants to be thoughtful and strategic about this because this is essentially going to chart the course of our important military-to-military relationship over the next decade.
Q On the shooting, was this an infiltration? Was this a friendly fire circumstance?
MR. EARNEST: Are you talking about the situation in Jordan?
Q I am.
MR. EARNEST: This is a situation that is still under investigation, and determining what the motive was of this individual, whether or not this person had some sort of affiliation that’s unknown, at this point there’s an ongoing investigation. We are pleased with won’t cooperation that we’ve gotten from the Jordanians thus far in trying to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.
Q Is it fair to say this person was not among the trainees?
MR. EARNEST: The role that this person had on the complex is something that is also part of the investigation.
Q On climate, you mentioned the importance of getting major economies in particular around the world involved in Paris. And I’m curious about the burgeoning economy in India. Is there also a push to get the Indian government to make strategic steps to be a part of a larger global push to cut down on particulates into the atmosphere?
MR. EARNEST: We certainly would expect that India would contribute to this broader global effort. And this is something that is economically challenging for India, as the Indian government would be the first to tell you. But at the same time, we have seen India take important steps in the past, and there was earlier in the President’s administration a commitment that was made by the Indians to limit hydrofluoric carbons. And these are pollutants that have a much more significant impact on bringing about climate change than just the burning of oil and gas.
So there’s been a willingness on the part of the Indians in the past to make important commitments that contribute to this broader effort, but we certainly would like to see a country with an economy as large as India step up and make an important contribution to this effort.
Q Will they be a part of the events in Paris?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know what their plans are for Paris, but you can check with them.
Q Lastly, I want to ask you about — as a fellow native Missourian — about what happened in Columbia today. What would you say to the people who feel like if a small group can effectively usher out the leadership of a major university like that, rather than work with the leadership through the grievance process, what does that say?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, I think what’s notable about this particular situation is that you had a small group on campus mobilize other voices on campus that all spoke out together. And I don’t think that this started — I think the point is this did start with a small group of people, but you quickly saw them build support all across campus, even among the non-black student population. And I think that is, again, a testament to the shared values of that community and a commitment to fighting hate and intolerance, and promoting an atmosphere where all the students who were admitted to that university can find a home there.
And this is a significant challenge that doesn’t just stand before the University of Missouri. This stands before colleges and universities all across the country. And I would anticipate that while the University of Missouri is apparently the first one to have such a high-profile debate about some of these issues, I’m confident it’s not the last.
Q But I’m just wondering about the process. Rather than working with leadership to sort of usher out a university president in the wake of admittedly terrible situations on around the campus, I’m hearing from lots of people in Missouri — even family members — who suggest to me that seems an extreme way to go about figuring out the best way forward for our community. Can you understand that perspective?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess — I think I would disagree simply because we saw leaders on the Mizzou campus also speak up and raise concerns in this regard. We saw — Coach Pinkel is one of the most influential voices on that campus, if not the most influential. Certainly the highest paid. And he made his voice heard in this process. And as I mentioned earlier, I think it was Dr. Bowen — who is the leading administrator with responsibility for the Columbia campus — visit the students who were camping out in protest. And he brought them food, and spent some time talking to them yesterday.
And again, I think that is an indication that you saw people trying to bridge divides inside that community. And I think their willingness to come together to confront some of these issues and to confront head-on the concerns that had been raised by some of the black students at Missouri I think is an encouraging development. And these are concerns that initially fell on deaf ears. And because of the courage of those students to speak up, and their effectiveness in enlisting others in support of their cause, and the commitment on the part of the entire community to come together, even across racial lines, to stand up for the concerns that are expressed by one part of that community — I think that’s — I certainly can’t speak to the legalities of the process, but as somebody is not steeped in those details, I think that’s a pretty good way for the process to work. And it certainly reflects the kind of — I think it does reflect the way that we want our young people in this country to advocate for themselves and for their society.
So this is a really interesting thing that’s happening at the University of Missouri. And it’s certainly — to delve back into crisis communications — these are probably not the kind of headlines that the University of Missouri would like to be making across the country, but I think there’s a reason today for a lot of people affiliated with the University of Missouri to be quite proud of their institution today. And I hope that they are.
Q I wanted to follow on the Gitmo plan. Is the plan for the President to send it to the Hill this week? Is that what you said?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t put at timeframe on it. This is something that obviously we’ve been working on for quite some time, and I know we talked about this even over the summer. So there’s a lot of work that’s gone into this. And as I mentioned, the Department of Defense personnel have visited locations in Kansas and in South Carolina and Colorado, so there’s been some legwork on this project that’s been visible; there’s also been some other work that’s been done that hasn’t been visible yet. But when we put a plan forward, which hopefully will be relatively soon, we won’t just make it public to members of Congress, we’ll make it public so that all of you will have an opportunity to take a look at it as well.
Q Is there any concern that it’s too late because the NDAA has advanced already?
MR. EARNEST: No, there’s not concern that it’s too late. I think the sense is, is that we’re going to need some cooperation from Congress in order to advance this priority. And that would be true whether or not the NDAA had passed or not. So no, it’s not too late.
Q But is the goal to influence the NDAA that sets policy for 2016? Because that’s the one that’s already passed in the House and is going to be taken up to the Senate.
MR. EARNEST: If it has that effect, then we’ll take it. But it’s not necessary at this point.
Q So will the President be open to having the outlines of his plan set for policy in 2017, meaning that — would he be satisfied with Guantanamo being on the track to close once he leaves office? Or his goal to have it completely closed?
MR. EARNEST: His goal is to have it closed on his watch as he promised. That’s been our goal since I think the President’s second full day in office. It continues to be our goal today. The truth is, this is a goal we would have accomplished some time ago had Congress not gotten in the way. And the President is determined to make as much progress on this as he can, and his goal continues to be to close it before he leaves office.
Q And on the Netanyahu meeting, last week the President said that the goal was to have at the end of the meeting each leader give direction to their respective teams on how to move forward at the end of year. Can you talk about what direction is being given to the respective teams and what the next step would be in that process?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is part of what was under discussion, based on the readout that I received from the meeting this morning. And both leaders basically demonstrated a commitment to their teams working together in pursuit of a process that I laid out just little bit earlier — conducting an analysis of threats in the region, particularly as they relate to Israel; conducting an analysis of the capabilities that Israel has to meet those threats; and conducting a review to determine what sort of assistance the United States could provide to try to bridge those gaps and —
Q What I’m asking is did the Israelis come with a specific list of things that they would want, and did the United States have a list of things that they were willing to do? Was it that kind of detail or —
MR. EARNEST: I can’t speak to what list the Israelis may have brought along. But as it relates to our posture on this, the President’s view is this is something — that we should sort of conduct this analysis first, and then we can start reviewing what sort of capabilities and equipment and technology could be used to bridge those gaps. And that’s the most effective way for the President — in the President’s mind, to pursue this.
Jared, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks, Josh. One of the big reasons that Israel says it needs a significantly larger commitment from the United States annually is because it says the world is much more dangerous because of the Iran nuclear deal. Obviously you’re not going to confirm what’s in a future memorandum of understanding, but would a significant increase especially of the military aid given annually be a tacit concession that the world is more dangerous because of the Iranian deal?
MR. EARNEST: It would not, primarily because the President has made clear that our expectation that even after the completion of the agreement doesn’t change — is not likely to change Iran’s behavior. Our expectation is that Iran will continue to carry out the kinds of destabilizing activities that do pose a pretty direct threat to Israel, but also pose a threat to our interests in the region. We’re mindful of that threat. The United States and Israel work together regularly to counter that threat. If there’s additional assistance that we can provide to the Israelis to further mitigate that threat, then we’ll do that. But that’s something we would have done whether or not we had succeeded in completing a deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon or not.
Q What does it say about the United States’ ability to influence the positive or negative effects in the region when Israel says that it’s more dangerous in the region now? Are we able — or is this failure of the administration’s policies in the Mideast beyond Iran that Israel believes that it’s in much bigger danger?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jared, I think I would just observe that the Middle East would be much more dangerous if Iran had a nuclear weapon. And we’ve taken verifiable steps in the context of this agreement to prevent that from happening.
Q But beyond — I’m talking about Syria and other parts of the region.
MR. EARNEST: Well, one of the reasons that Syria is such a dangerous place is because Iran and their proxies have been heavily involved in trying to shore up the Assad regime. So I do think that is, while a different country, is a similar dynamic that the United States and Israel must confront together because it has risks for our two countries.
Q — a future potential increase for the annual military aid given to Israel?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I’d encourage you not to read anything into it, but rather to allow this analysis to move forward. And at some point in the months ahead, I’d anticipate we’ll have another discussion about this.
Okay. Thanks a lot, everybody.
2:14 P.M. EST