White House Press Gaggle by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, March 22, 2011

En Route San Salvador, El Salvador–(ENEWSPF)–March 22, 2011 – 7:07 A.M. CDT.

MR. CARNEY: So, good morning. As I mentioned to some of you, we’ll do a — I have Ben Rhodes here, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. He will give you a sort of a breakdown of the President and what he was informed and when with regards to the incident involving the fighter jet. He can also read out a call between the President and a foreign leader, Erdogan of Turkey. And we’ll just leave — as I mentioned, we’ll have a lot more later. So let’s just focus on that and we’ll come back later in the flight.

Here’s Ben.

MR. RHODES: Thanks. I’m going to do three things. First, yesterday evening the President spoke with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey to continue their consultations on the situation in Libya. The President expressed appreciation for Turkey’s ongoing humanitarian efforts in Libya, including the very important assistance it provided in facilitating the release and safe passage to Tunisia of four New York Times journalists who had been detained in Libyan custody.

The President and Prime Minister reaffirmed their full support for the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 in order to protect the Libyan people. They agreed that this will require a broad-based international effort, including Arab participation, to implement and enforce the U.N. resolutions, based on both national contributions and enabled by NATO’s unique multinational command and control capabilities.

They underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the people of Libya the opportunity to transform their country by installing a system of government that is democratic and responsive to the will of the people.

Second thing I’ll do is just walk through the President’s notification related to the situation with our two pilots. I do want to be very clear that any detail about — further detail is going to have to come from the Pentagon as they’re the ones who of course have been tracking this situation.

But last night at 7:30 p.m. our time here — or in Chile — Admiral Mullen spoke to Tom Donilon to notify him of the situation that a U.S. plane was down. Tom Donilon then notified the President at 7:45 p.m. yesterday evening in his hotel suite. He further updated him when the President was en route to the dinner to discuss the fact that a recovery effort was underway and that we, again, were in touch with the pilots on the ground. Again, further details will come from the Pentagon in terms of the specifics.

Then, at dinner, we had a secure line to Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who was at the dinner. Tom Donilon skipped the dinner and stayed back at the hotel. Tom provided two updates to Bill Daley during dinner that Bill Daley then relayed to the President about the ongoing recovery effort.

Then last night at midnight, when the President was back at the hotel, he had a secure call with Admiral Mullen in which Admiral Mullen relayed to him DOD’s assessment that both of the pilots were safe.

So that was, again, the review of the President’s engagements on that issue last night.

Then one more thing. This morning, on Air Force One, the President called the Amir of Qatar. He thanked Qatar for its very important contribution to the international coalition. This is enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973. The President underscored that Qatar’s contribution reflects its real leadership role in the region in support of the Libyan people. And again, the two leaders underscored the importance of the enforcement of the resolution and the protection of the Libyan people and our ongoing efforts, again, to ensure that the coalition is broad-based and is effective in the enforcement of the resolution.

The President also told the Amir of Qatar that he looks forward to continued close consultations on these and other regional security issues.

Q Can you give us anything more on the Turkey call? Was there any indication of additional support from the Turks?

MR. RHODES: Again, I’d just — I think what they — what we are looking at is both, as I said, the unique capabilities and assistance individual countries could provide, including Turkey, as a country that’s supportive of the Security Council resolution, but also how to set up an effective command structure. Turkey, of course, as a member of NATO is uniquely aware of the command and control capabilities that exist within NATO. So they were talking about both those elements. But again, any announcements about Turkey’s participation in terms of the humanitarian assistance or other assistance they may provide should come from the Turks.

Q Any operational assistance from Qatar that was more specific?

MR. RHODES: Qatar has indicated that they are prepared to provide military aircraft associated with the enforcement of the resolution.

Q Ben, did your statement about Turkey indicate that NATO would take over command and control? What’s the status of NATO’s activity?

MR. RHODES: We’ve always — we continue to believe that NATO will have an important role to play in terms of its unique capabilities in command and control. Clearly we have a coalition that is going to include nations other than NATO allies and that not every single NATO ally is going to be participating in the enforcement of the no-fly zone. So I think what we’re working through is how to leverage the capabilities within NATO as a part of a command structure that is internationalized when the U.S. shifts.

Q Could you say why Turkey was excluded from the Paris talks on Saturday?

MR. RHODES: I’d have to check on that. I couldn’t say offhand.

We do believe, and it’s important, that the President made the call to underscore that Turkey is fully supportive of the U.N. Security Council resolution and our efforts to protect Libyan civilians.

And also, I’d just underscore, again, the other purpose of the call, which is Turkey really played an important role in getting the four New York Times journalists out of Libya. Our diplomats worked it very hard. And then Turkey — Turkish — very active Turkish participation was really essential in getting those four journalists out of Turkey [sic].

Q Are there any calls to Arab states that he’ll be making on this flight?

MR. RHODES: Again, we’ll get you further readouts. I anticipate he’ll be making some more calls over the course of the flight, both with his own national security team and potentially with foreign leaders. But we’ll let you know.

Q Ben, what was the President’s reaction when he was told a U.S. plane had gone down?

MR. RHODES: All I have is the information here. I wasn’t in the room. So I’d have to check that.

MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys.

Q Could you sort of describe — are you able to describe what is on board in terms — is there anything special that isn’t normally here given that there’s a war going on?

MR. RHODES: On the plane?

Q Yes.

MR. RHODES: No, I mean, we have a secure communications capability, and that’s the most important thing here so that we can build secure conference calls and can have multiple members participating — Gates, Clinton, Mullen, Ham have been the people who have generally been on these calls. But we already have a secure communications capability, and that’s the main thing.

Q So there’s nothing different?

MR. RHODES: No, there’s nothing different.

Q Thanks.

7:15 A.M. CDT