Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 19, 2016 – 1:08 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all. I do not have any statements at the top, so we can go straight to your questions. Josh, would you like to start?
Q Sure. Thanks, Josh. Ahead of this trip to Saudi Arabia, I wanted to start with this 9/11 legislation that’s brought so much attention. You described yesterday the White House’s opposition, or at least strong concerns about this and the context of this, the whole notion of sovereign immunity being at stake. But the backers of this bill say that that is really narrowly tailored to situations where there’s a terrorist attack that kills an American on American soil. So isn’t it a strawman to say that by supporting this legislation you’re risking the whole system of immunity for governments?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, what you just described is a scenario where Congress would open up a loophole that would allow individual Americans, no matter how justified they are in having sustained harm, being given an opportunity to sue another country. And it certainly is plausible, Josh, that other countries, when they’re implementing these laws, would not tailor them so specifically.
And that does open up the United States to a unique degree of risk. And putting our country, our taxpayers, our servicemembers and our diplomats in legal jeopardy in that way is contrary to our interests. It’s unwise, particularly when there is an alternative mechanism for us to resolve these kinds of issues with other countries. That’s the essence of diplomacy.
And I spent a little time talking yesterday about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is a relationship that is characterized by extensive counterterrorism cooperation. That cooperation enhances our national security and makes the American people safer. The Saudi government happens to think that it enhances the national security of their country as well and makes the Saudi people safer as well. That’s why we’re able to cooperate.
It does not mean that there are not differences between our two countries. There are substantial differences between our two countries. And the President does not hesitate to raise his concerns about those differences as well. I’m confident he’ll do that in the context of the meetings that he’s preparing for later this week. I think that is the point. That is the essence of our concern and that is the essence of our proposal for how these kinds of situations can be resolved moving forward.
I was gratified to have someone tell me shortly before I walked out here that Speaker Ryan indicated that he at least had some more concerns with the way that this bill is structured because of the consequences it could have for the U.S. relationship not just with Saudi Arabia but with countries around the world.
Q But the consequence that you’re concerned about as you describe is that other countries could pass legislation that’s even broader than this bill in allowing these kinds of suits. Couldn’t another country do that anyway regardless of what we pass here in the U.S.? How does the U.S. passing this narrowly tailored law open the floodgates to that kind of thing happening overseas?
MR. EARNEST: Because, Josh, people follow the United States because of the example that we set. And that example that we set applies in a variety of contexts. It certainly applies when it relates to our values. People follow our example when it comes to the economic decisions that we make because we have such a strong economy that has yielded great benefits for our people. Other countries also follow our example when it comes to setting up legal structures.
So, again, I think this is the point — that taking a step like this would significantly enhance the risk to the United States not in the context of our relationship with Saudi Arabia necessarily, but the concern that we have is much broader than that. Our concern is with our ability to do business in countries around the world. And sometimes it’s not just related to economic business, but actually to the business of our national security, to the business of the functioning of the state — whether that relates to national security operations, or in some cases, even humanitarian operations.
Q You said that we don’t need to create this mechanism because we already have a mechanism to deal with this, mainly diplomacy. There’s a group of 9/11 widows and widowers who support this legislation. They’re very concerned. They’ve written to the White House asking to meet with the President. Do you think that those families of victims who have been waiting for a resolution to this for more than 15 years should feel that that diplomatic track that you described has served them well, has allowed them to pursue these claims the way that they should? And will the President agree to that request to meet with them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have any presidential meetings to announce at this point. If a meeting like that occurs, we’ll let you know.
Let me just say, as I did yesterday, that there is no minimizing the profound pain that those Americans who lost loved ones on 9/11 have endured. And that’s why this administration has been so committed to fighting for them, both when it comes to compensation for their loss, but also when it comes to fighting for health care benefits for those who risk their lives to try to rescue people who were victims of the 9/11 attacks or were engaged in the years-long effort to rebuild in the aftermath of those attacks. The Obama administration has been a leader in both of those efforts to advocate for those who lost so much on 9/11 and those who have been responsible for either rescuing people on 9/11 or leading the rebuilding process.
I think what is also true, Josh — and this is the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission, the outside blue ribbon panel that was tasked with taking an unvarnished look at exactly what happened on 9/11 — their report indicates — this is a report that was made public years ago — their report indicates that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government has an institution or that senior Saudi government officials knowingly supported the 9/11 plotters. That’s just a fact.
But, presumably — and I think we’ve heard a lot from the 9/11 families about what their significant policy concerns are — certainly at the top of their list is our national security and protecting the American homeland and preventing the great tragedy that they have endured from afflicting other families. And this President has worked aggressively to enhance our national security, to make our homeland safer. And part of that has been through ramped-up cooperation with the Saudi government. That’s the essence of diplomacy in terms of looking for ways to work with other countries to find common ground to advance our shared interests. And when it comes to the national security of the United States and the safety of our homeland, the President has been able to work effectively with countries around the globe, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in pursuit of that goal.
Q And the Vice President, in his speech to J Street last night, had some pretty harsh rebuke of the Israeli government, and he said sometimes we’re outrageously frustrated by the Israeli government’s policies leading Israel in the wrong direction. Does the President agree with those comments that the Vice President made?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the way that I would describe the situation is consistent with what the Vice President said, which is that the nation of Israel is the strongest ally that the United States has in the Middle East and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them when it comes to the national security interests of our two countries. The United States provides tremendous assistance to the nation of Israel to ensure their security. And our commitment to that level of cooperation and that level of assistance has not wavered at all, despite what have been some obvious policy differences between our two governments.
That has been the President’s approach to this critically important relationship. And I would just note that that is a longstanding tradition in American politics — that Democratic and Republican Presidents alike have worked to ensure that the relationship between our two countries does not get mired in partisan politics. It’s not a relationship that is somehow dependent on the political affiliation or political ideology of the leaders in either country, that the importance of our alliance transcends those narrower concerns. And President Obama hasn’t just subscribed to that theory, he has put it into practice. And I think this is something that even Prime Minister Netanyahu — again, despite some of our differences — has, himself, acknowledged when he said that security cooperation between the United States and Israel under President Obama’s leadership is unprecedented.
Q Josh, what does the White House believe are the prospects of restarting diplomatic talks over the Syria crisis? And with those talks now having broken down, what are other options? Did the United States put all of its eggs in the diplomacy basket, as it were?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, obviously our approach to countering ISIL has included a multifaceted strategy that has included the not insignificant use of military force. But we have acknowledged all along that if our efforts were focused solely on military action that we would not be effectively pursuing our interests or achieving our goals anytime soon.
What continues to be true is that the terrible situation that we see right now inside of Syria is a result of the failed leadership of President Bashar al-Assad. And that’s why this administration has asserted for years that President Assad must go. And the kind of political transition that we’d like to see inside of Syria is long overdue, and we’re going to continue to push both sides to engage constructively in a U.N.-led process to bring about that political transition. In fact, President Obama had a protracted conversation with President Putin yesterday about this precise topic. There’s an opportunity for the Russians to use the influence that they have with the Assad regime to compel them to live up to the commitments that they’ve made in the context of the Cessation of Hostilities and continue to constructively participate in the U.N.-led political talks.
So this is something that the President is very focused on. The U.N. would point out it has not described the situation as breaking down. They have acknowledged that the talks have been postponed. But there still is a framework in place, and I believe that there are still technical discussions that are taking place in Geneva even as we speak.
So there still is a path forward here. And it’s understandable that there is a frustration, to put it mildly, on the part of the opposition about the ongoing talks when we see repeated violations of the Cessation of Hostilities by the regime and supporting forces. We also see a continued tendency on the part of the regime to deprive some Syrians of badly needed humanitarian assistance.
Part of the goal of the Cessation of Hostilities was to create space for humanitarian aid organizations to provide food, water and medicine to communities inside of Syria that have been deprived of those basic supplies for a long time. And we’ve seen the regime in too many instances either block those shipments or, in some cases, even prevent all of the material, all of the needed supplies from getting through.
So certainly the position of the opposition groups is understandable, given the refusal of the Assad regime to steadfastly live up to the commitments that they made in the context of Cessation of Hostilities. And that’s why we’re going to continue to make the case to the opposition that they should participate in the talks, that that is the path that will resolve the core of this issue. We’re also going to continue to make the case to the Russians that they should use the influence they have with the Assad regime to compel them to live up to the commitments that they made in the context of the cessation of hostilities and get back to the negotiating table in a constructive way.
Q I think the opposition would dispute the characterization the U.N. apparently is making that there is still a path forward through diplomacy. If you are unsuccessful in encouraging them to get back to the table, what is the other option?
MR. EARNEST: Well, right now, this is the option that we are pursuing because this is the option that addresses the core of the problem. It is —
Q But if the talks don’t continue? If they don’t come back?
MR. EARNEST: This is why we’re going to continue to make the case that they should. And there are ongoing technical discussions that are underway even as we speak in Geneva, led by the U.N., by many of the parties. But there’s more work that needs to be done. I’m not papering over the fact that there needs to be a recommitment to this process, but it certainly is understandable that the opposition would like to see a recommitment on the part of the Assad regime to the cessation of hostilities to pave the way for successful negotiations to continue.
Q And where — aside from encouraging the rebels, what is the U.S. role at this point going forward?
MR. EARNEST: Our role will continue to be to encourage all parties to live up to the cessation of hostilities. Unfortunately, we have seen just in recent days that that situation has frayed more rapidly. And that’s a source of ongoing concern, particularly because it interferes with our ability to make progress in the political talks.
We’ll continue to engage the Russians, we’ll continue to engage all parties to use whatever influence they have, either with the regime or the opposition, to encourage both sides to come together and to participate in these U.N.-led conversations.
But there are other things that we can do, too. We can continue to work with the international community to apply even more pressure to ISIL. And Secretary Carter talked about some ideas the President had recently approved to step up that pressure inside of Iraq and certainly wouldn’t rule out additional steps to ramp up the pressure against ISIL inside of Syria. As I mentioned, the President is always looking for suggestions from his national security team to increase the pressure on ISIL and the President is always looking for those ideas. And the President convened a meeting at the CIA just last week to discuss different elements of our proposal, and that is something that is happening on an ongoing basis.
Jim. Nice to see you today.
Q Thank you, Josh. Good to be here. Couple questions on the immigration hearing yesterday before the Supreme Court. It seems as though both the justices and even the state of Texas conceded that, to your point of view, the White House point of view, that there’s not enough money for the White House to deport all 11 million immigrants who are here, undocumented immigrants. But where it seemed to break down was that since they’re already low priority, the ones among the 4 million that would be covered by the President’s executive actions — since they’re already low priority for deportation, why do they need a special legal status, was — seemed to be the question both from the bench and from Texans. Why are you pushing for that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the argument that we have made is actually one that many of our political opponents should actually be warm to. The argument that we have made is essentially that these individuals who are individuals that already have deep ties to this country — in most cases, we’re talking about individuals that are the parents of American citizens or are legal permanent residents to the United States, so these are people with deep ties and with deep family connections to the United States. That’s why they’re low priority. They’re also individuals that have been here for several years already.
But the case that the Obama administration has made is we should bring them out of the shadows. The benefits of doing that are we can submit them to a background check, make sure that they’re not dangerous criminals. If they are, then we can expedite them for deportation. We also can put them in a situation in which they’re paying taxes. That also is good for our economy. It’s good for reducing the deficit.
When we talk about bringing much-needed accountability to our broken immigration system, right now you have individuals who are low-priority candidates for deportation. In many cases, they haven’t been subject to a background check. In many cases, they’re not paying taxes right now. So let’s add some accountability to the system. Let’s bring them out of the shadows. Let’s make them pay taxes. Let’s make them subject — let’s subject them to a background check. That will enhance the security of our country. It will improve our economy. It will improve our fiscal situation.
It also will give them the peace of mind to come out of the shadows. That also will send a clear signal to our law enforcement that we need to be focusing our efforts not just — not on families, but on felons. And that is the rationale that we have put together, and that’s why the proposal that we have put forward makes so much policy sense. It’s good for our security; it’s good for our economy; and it’s good for having a system that’s in mind with our values, both in terms of following the law, but also acknowledging that our heritage in this country is as a nation of immigrants. All of this policy is structured in that direction.
It’s why, frankly, the critics of this law have a really tough case to make. And it’s why even people like Senator Rubio have described the current system that we have in place that doesn’t require undocumented immigrants to pay taxes, it doesn’t require them to submit to a background check. That’s why Senator Rubio described the current system as the closest thing that we have to amnesty.
And that’s the argument that we’ve made, and that’s why as a policy matter we believe this argument is quite potent. I understand that a different kind of argument is being made before the Court. It’s one that’s rooted in the President’s legal authority to order this action. We feel we can have that argument on quite strong grounds as well.
Q Is what the President wants to do, though, an unfair burden on states like Texas and, apparently, the other 25 who are complaining, in that — in the case of Texas, what they’re saying is that they’ll have 400,000 people that they’re going to have to give driver’s licenses to, and that that’s going to cost them more money, they’re going to have to bring in more people. Isn’t that something that the federal government should be considering?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say — I’ll say two things about that. The first is the chief law enforcement officials in the state of Texas don’t agree with the Attorney General of Texas. They happen to take the same position that the Obama administration does. These are law enforcement officials in the largest counties in the state — Dallas County, Austin, Texas, which is in Travis County, Dallas County — all agree that this actually — that the policies that the President has put forward would make their communities safer. They are strongly supportive of the system that would bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and submit them to a background check.
These law enforcement officials who are responsible for the safety of their communities understand that would make their communities safer. That’s a good thing.
The other thing is I also happen to know about Texas — Texas is a state that relies on income taxes and on sales taxes for its — let me take it back, not on income taxes, but on sales taxes and on business taxes for their revenue base. Their revenue base would be enhanced if you had undocumented immigrants as a part of the system and paying taxes. It certainly would be good for the federal government, but there would be cascading benefits for states as well.
And that’s the argument that we have made, particularly when it comes to these questions about public safety — leading public safety professionals, law enforcement officials in the state of Texas do not agree with the Texas Attorney General. They do agree with the Secretary of Homeland Security and President Obama, who believe that these undocumented immigrants should be subjected to a background check.
Q Just one more on a different subject, and that is on this trip that the President is on. It was announced yesterday that he would visit not only the head of state of Britain, the Queen, which seems like that’s justifiable, but that the President and Mrs. Obama would also have a lunch with Prince William and his wife. What’s the justification for that? Is that something American taxpayers should be paying for? Is this just a celebrity get-together?
MR. EARNEST: Look, the President is traveling to London and will spend a couple of days in the United Kingdom doing some important work, meeting with one of our closest allies, a country with whom we have a special relationship, to advance our national security interests. And in the President’s extensive conversations with Prime Minister Cameron, they’ll be focused on a range of issues related to the global economy, related to climate change, and certainly related to counterterrorism and homeland security that are critical to our national interests.
President Obama has found Prime Minister Cameron to be an effective interlocutor and an effective partner in accomplishing goals that have been prioritized by both our countries. So this is an important trip. What’s also important was the President also spend some time meeting with other leaders in the United Kingdom. And the President is looking forward to the opportunity that he’ll have to have lunch with the Queen, but also to have a nice dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It certainly is an important part of public diplomacy, but I think it will be one of the more pleasant aspects of the trip that the President is certainly looking forward to.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll come back to you.
Q Thanks, Josh. Yesterday, you talked about the 28 pages and the fact that the President has basically said that it’s in the hands of DNI Clapper right now. But after the briefing yesterday, Charlie Rose interviewed the President and he asked him if had read the 28 pages and he said, “I have a sense of what’s in there.” I think it’s safe to assume that means he hasn’t read them yet. And if I said why hasn’t he read them, I’m sure you would tell me, because it’s in the hands of Clapper. But will he eventually read these 28 pages? And there’s a sense coming out of just in some of the chatter around Washington and online, there’s a sense that the White House is downplaying these 28 pages — number one, by the President saying, “I have a sense of what’s in there” — and also the President said to Charlie Rose, “I try not to personally get engaged in each and every decision that’s being made on classification.” Well, this isn’t just each and every decision. As we discussed yesterday, this is a pretty important declassification decision. Is the White House downplaying it? Is he going to read them eventually? And will this be his decision in the end, or will he simply follow Clapper’s advice?
MR. EARNEST: I think what the President was referring to in his conversation with Charlie Rose is the fact that he’s been briefed about the contents of those 28 pages, and the President noted, as I did yesterday, that there’s a well-established process for the intelligence community to do a careful review to determine which, if any, of those pages can be released to the public without damaging our national security. There’s a well-established process for considering what I would acknowledge are important questions.
I don’t think there’s been an attempt by anybody at the White House to downplay this effort. In fact, I think there’s been a concerted attempt by everybody at the White House to make sure that this follows the standard process. I think that is what the American people would expect when we’re talking about something as significant as information related to the terror attacks of 9/11.
So I think the President is reiterating the position that I tried to articulate yesterday, which is that there’s a well-established process for considering these questions, and that’s the process that we’re following. At this point, I think it’s too early to say whether or not the President would weigh in on that process. I think he told Charlie that he was reluctant to because there is such a well-established process for considering these questions. Our intelligence community understands what’s necessary to protect the American public. They also understand that there is a legitimate public interest in more of this information being made public if it can be. And that’s the question that they’re working through right now as it relates to these materials.
I’ll just reiterate that there is already extensive public material that has been made public by the 9/11 Commission — that is a separate body but an outside, blue ribbon entity — that took a close look at what happened in the run-up to 9/11, laid out a whole series of reforms that should be implemented to ensure that something like that never happens again. And that report was quite clear about the evidence that they found and didn’t find about what led to the terror attacks of 9/11.
And what they concluded I think merits repeating, which is that they found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or that senior Saudi government officials knowingly supported the 9/11 plotters. That is an important fact. And there certainly is public interest in understanding that fact. That report has been available for years now.
Q Just one more follow-up from that interview. The President at one point said, “The single most important question I’m asked these days from other world leaders is ‘What’s going on with your elections?’” Have you been present when the President has explained what’s going on with our elections to other leaders? Or do you know from talking to others — what is the President’s answer to that question when he’s talking to foreign leaders?
MR. EARNEST: The kind of question that the President gives in those settings is the same kind of answer that he’s given publicly when asked that question. Look, it’s not just — and I think the President makes this point in the interview as well — the President doesn’t just get this question from people overseas. This is the kind of question that’s on the mind of Americans across the country right now as well. And I don’t think there are any easy answers to it.
The reason that the President raised it in the context of this interview is he was asked, given all of the built-in advantages that we have as a country — we’ve got an economy that’s the envy of the world, we’ve got a military that is stronger than any other military in the history of the planet, we have a society and a culture that other countries and other cultures and other populations find remarkably attractive — that gives us a lot of influence around the world. All those are good things. And the question is, where is the source of our potential downfall?
And the argument that the President has made on a number of occasions, publicly and privately, both at home and overseas, is that our greatest risk — or the significant risk here, given that dynamic, lies within the dysfunction of our politics. We need to continue to demonstrate an ability to manage all those advantages and preserve that edge.
Q Does that apply to both parties?
MR. EARNEST: The President acknowledged that that was the case. I think the best example of this is — there is a tendency, particularly when the United States has so many built-in advantages over other countries, which is to turn inward and to suggest that we should try to keep people out, or that we should build walls, or that we should not seek to engage countries around the world. That is exactly the wrong response — that if we want to continue to cultivate all of the advantages that we have, we need to look for opportunities to more deeply engage around the world. That will enhance our national security. That will make our economy even more vibrant and filled with opportunity than it already is.
There is no doubt that there’s a strain of that argument that’s being advanced by politicians in both the Democratic and Republican Party. And the President has advocated a different approach, and at least in the context of our elections, the President will have numerous opportunities, I expect, to make an argument to the voters about the path that he has chosen to pursue, which is to more deeply engage the world and continue to build the kind of multilateral relationships that are critical to the continued strength of our economy and that are surely critical to our ongoing efforts to advance our interests around the world, to protect our national security and to protect our homeland.
Q Thank you. Lisa Monaco gave a speech last month in which she promised more transparency on civilian casualties for U.S. airstrikes. Can you give us an update on where that is? She said it would be coming in upcoming weeks, but that was six weeks ago.
MR. EARNEST: This is something that the administration is still working on. And it has been a few weeks since she’s given her speech, but I don’t have an update for you in terms of the time frame, when something like that might be released. But we’ll certainly keep you posted.
Q Pentagon officials are telling us that there have been some rules — changes in the rules of engagement against the Islamic State that give the authorization for airstrikes to commanders closer to the field, and that there’s now sort of a sliding scale on how many civilian casualties are acceptable — up to 10, depending on the value of the target, the imminent threat posed by that target, et cetera. Did the President authorize these changes to the rules of engagement? And how do you square those with his attempts to sort of balance prosecution of the war against the Islamic State with upholding the American values he talks about?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have a detailed assessment of the rules of engagement to share with you right now. The Department of Defense can most effectively talk about that. What I can tell you is that there has been a principle that our country has long subscribed to that the President believes is a priority, which is that a blunt assessment of both moral questions and strategic questions lead to the conclusion that the Department of Defense of the United States of America goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.
Again, I think the moral questions that are inherent there are obvious and important. But what’s also true is that the United States military undertaking operations in the Middle East that result in the death of innocent civilians only makes it harder to accomplish our goals. And that’s why you’ve seen our national security officials be justifiably proud of the great lengths that we’ve gone to to avoid those civilian casualties, certainly to greater lengths than our adversaries in this conflict. And it’s why the administration continues to look for ways to be more transparent about those efforts.
There is a regular process, Gregory, that I know you’ve taken note of, where the Department of Defense makes regular public declarations about the results of specific operations. And those results include an accounting of potential impacts on noncombatants. And this kind of accountability and transparency is something that the President believes is consistent with our values and is important. It’s something the Department of Defense continues to do, and something that the President is seeking to expand upon. And it’s an important part, as I was mentioning to Chip, of why the United States and our values continue to give us important credibility around the world.
And when we undertake operations or engage in tactics that undermine our values, that undermines our national security. That’s exactly why the President, for example, outlawed the use of torture during his first week in office, because of the impact that has on both moral questions, but also on broader national security considerations about living up to the high values that we’ve established for ourselves.
Q I want to go back to the Vice President’s comments yesterday in criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister there. He said, “the present course Israel is on is not one that is likely to secure its existence as a Jewish democratic state. We have to make sure that happens.” And then he goes on to say that it is — he expresses overwhelming frustration. You talked about the unshakeable bond between the U.S. and Israel, but can you talk about whether or not the President shares the Vice President’s sentiments, the feelings of overwhelming frustration on the Israeli part of the government that has not promoted this peace accord?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Suzanne, I think what is true is that this administration, particularly Secretary Kerry and Vice President Biden and President Obama, have all expended significant time and energy and resources to facilitating conversations between the Israelis and Palestinians to find a two-state solution. That is a policy that American Presidents in both parties have pursued, and none have pursued it more aggressively than this administration.
You’ll recall a couple of years ago that — as my colleague, Jen Psaki, can attest, when she worked with the State Department — that Secretary Kerry was a frequent visitor to that region in trying to bring all sides, particularly the Israelis and Palestinians, to the negotiating table in a constructive fashion that could yield a constructive result. Unfortunately, that progress didn’t materialize. And that is a source of significant frustration.
There certainly is frustration with both sides that we have encountered. But we’ve also been clear that — and this is what Vice President Biden I think is ultimately talking about here — the United States has long supported the idea of a two-state solution because it has a potential to resolve one of the most combustible flashpoints in an already volatile region of the world. But it also happens to be in the clear strategic interest of our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.
So resolving this question is not just a wished-for legacy item of the administration. It is a position that we take and advocate for because of our sincere concern for the national security of our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel. That’s what we’re focused on. And the inability to make that progress is frustrating. And that’s what Vice President Biden was giving voice to yesterday.
Q In light of that frustration, is the President resigned that a two-state solution or peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will not happen under his administration?
MR. EARNEST: It is, and that’s something that we’ve expressed in the past, that this is not something that’s likely to happen while President Obama remains in office. The extent of the differences between the two sides are significant enough that it’s not something that’s going to get resolved in the next nine months.
Q And on the legislation, the 9/11 legislation, both Democratic candidates who are fighting for the presidency, the nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, support the legislation that would allow those victims of 9/11 to sue foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia if they were, in fact, involved in those attacks. In light of the fact that you said the President and the administration feel that that’s a dangerous precedent, is the President concerned at all that they — if they were in office would go ahead and support that legislation that you say is so dangerous to the administration and its relationship with other foreign countries?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll let the individual candidates explain the position that they have on this legislation. Obviously, we’ve had an opportunity in here, for better or worse, to discuss our position on this legislation extensively. As I noted, I was gratified to see Speaker Ryan indicate his shared concern about the potential unintended consequences of this bill.
So we’re going to continue to make our case to members of Congress and help people understand that what some might view as a way to offer support and well-deserved assistance to those families who lost so much on 9/11, there are significant, serious, unintended consequences that would endanger principles that the United States significantly benefits from.
Q So why would there be daylight between the President and his former Secretary of State regarding something that’s so critical to the United States’ relationships with other foreign leaders on this issue?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think I’ve gone to great lengths to try to help you understand exactly what our position is. I would encourage you to check with Secretary Clinton’s team for an explanation of why she’s taken the position that she has.
Q It’s different than the administration. Is there any concern from the President that if you had a Democratic President following him, that something as important and potentially damaging to U.S. relations, as you say, with other leaders would move forward?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think that’s a hypothetical. This is something that’s still being debated in Congress, and the presidential election is still something that’s the subject of intense debate on the campaign trail as well.
What we’re focused on right now is continuing to make the case to the public and to Congress what our concerns with this legislation are.
Q Thanks, Josh. In addition to Speaker Ryan’s concerns about the bill, Senator Graham has blocked the legislation in the Senate by placing a hold on it. Is the White House encouraged that there maybe seems to be some momentum behind blocking this bill in Congress? And what is the White House doing to try to cultivate some more support to try to stop the bill from happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not aware of any presidential-level conversations about this legislation that have come up with members of Congress, but I know that there have been senior members of the administration, including White House officials, who have been in touch with senior officials on Capitol Hill about our concerns. We certainly are interested in a dialogue on this issue.
And, look, in the current political climate, bipartisan support is rare. But I think in this instance, it’s an indication of just how significant these questions are. And we’re obviously gratified that there are other Republicans who have taken a close look at this legislation and recognized the serious, unintended consequences that could result from its passage.
Q Thank you, Josh. As the President and First Lady lunch with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday at Windsor Castle, it is the day after the Queen’s 90th birthday, now the longest-reigning monarch in British history. What special birthday wish might the President be giving the Queen from the American people as a special tribute to this very historic day?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President will have an opportunity to speak to all of you during his visit to London. He’ll do a news conference with Prime Minister Cameron at the conclusion of their meeting, and I suspect the President will be given an opportunity to offer his public birthday wishes in the context of that news conference.
So I don’t want to speak for him too extensively, but the President has had an opportunity to spend time with Queen Elizabeth on a variety of occasions, and each time the President has come away with an even deeper personal affection for her. She is an important symbol of a country with whom the United States has a special relationship. But she also is a human being whose charisma and a sense of nobility and honor that is something that I think people around the world are attracted to. And that is something that she conveys not just on the broad public stage but it’s also something that is evident in the President’s personal interactions with her.
And I think that’s an important part of why the President has enjoyed every opportunity that he has had to spend some time with her in private, and it’s certainly why he’s looking forward to his Friday afternoon lunch.
Q Certainly a lot to learn from someone who’s been around for so long and through so much.
MR. EARNEST: She certainly has seen as much human history from a rather unique perspective as anyone else.
Q Another question about the Vice President’s remarks about J Street last night, very critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu. What good does it do anybody for the Vice President to make Israel, our ally, into a villain?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would vigorously disagree with that description of what Vice President Biden said. I think Vice President Biden himself, just having completed a trip to Israel just within the last four or six weeks here, is somebody who understands the importance of the relationship between our two countries. In fact, it was on a trip that Vice President Biden took to Israel in the first term that Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel under President Obama’s leadership was unprecedented.
So I think what is also true is that when you have a strong relationship with your allies, you can also comfortably disagree in public. And there are areas of disagreement as a matter of policy between our two countries. And we certainly have gone to great lengths to try to resolve those differences. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has not hesitated to make his own differences with the Obama administration public on, in some ways, the largest stage imaginable, which is by addressing a joint session of Congress.
So I think that’s an indication of the fact that our two nations and even the leaders of our nations can disagree on some critically important policy issues in a way that doesn’t undermine the fundamentals of our alliance and the importance of our security cooperation.
Q What about the timing, though? Because the Vice President’s criticism came just a couple hours after a bus bombing in Israel, two dozen people were injured. How would the White House like it if just hours after a terrorist attack here, Israeli officials came out and had some not so nice things to say about you guys?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this particular incident — by “you guys,” I assume you mean all Americans —
Q White House officials.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the point here is that Vice President Biden is somebody who has dedicated his career to strengthening the alliance between our two countries. And he certainly has succeeded in doing that. He did that in his visit to that country just a month or so ago. And our policy differences do not in any way overshadow our ongoing commitment to an unbreakable alliance and a security relationship that is unwavering.
Q And last question. On Friday, the Paris climate agreement is going to be signed. What should American citizens expect to see different on Saturday after this thing has been signed? Is there going to be a tangible benefit to everyday Americans that they’re going to see? Or is this more just a step toward making us look good in front of the rest of the world?
MR. EARNEST: I think what this is is this is another example of American leadership; that there will be a substantial number of countries, including some with large economies, joining the United States in making a serious international commitment to fighting climate change and to fighting carbon pollution.
And this has long-term benefits for future generations of Americans. It also has shorter-term benefits for significant economic policy decisions that have been made in this country. This is going to open up a global market for the kind of renewable energy technology that is — that U.S. companies are at the cutting edge of. This will open up a market for energy efficiency innovation that U.S. companies have pioneered. And no longer will they be in a position of essentially being a small sliver of the energy market. We know that now countries around the world, because of the policy commitments that they have made, are going to be looking to invest in that kind of technology.
And that’s why it has significant growth potential for our economy back here at home. It has the potential to create jobs in a brand new industry. And it certainly is something that the President is quite enthusiastic about, both in terms of its long-term impact on our planet, but also its more medium-term impact on our economy.
Q I’d like to go back to the President’s decision to deploy — or approval to deploy the 217 Special Operations Forces there in Iraq in an attempt to accelerate the offensive against ISIS there. For the first time, these U.S. Special Forces will be permitted to embed at the battalion level, which means they will not be behind the fences and the defenses of an encampment somewhere, but they will be much closer to the front lines. And yesterday, in his interview with Charlie Rose, the President even said that those U.S. Special Operations Forces would be backing up the Iraqi forces. And it’s somewhat unrealistic to believe that when the shooting starts, the Special Operations Forces are just going to retreat and watch it happen.
And one of the real concerning issues about this is the American people would not even know that the U.S. Special Operations Forces would be engaged in combat unless they’re wounded or killed, because the military is not going to announce that. Is this a little bit of fudging? The U.S. military is not going to be involved in combat? Because all the earmarks and recent experiences indicate that they will likely be.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, we’ve gone to — I think we have been pretty blunt about the significant risks that our servicemen and women in Iraq are taking to protect our national security. And there’s not been an attempt at any point to downplay the significant of the operations that they’re undertaking.
That’s true if you’re talking about our military pilots who are flying combat operations. There are some 10,000 or 11,000 airstrikes that have now been taken against ISIL targets in Iraq and in Syria. This is true of Special Operators who have been formed and stationed throughout Iraq to carry out raids when an opportunity presents itself to try to take out a senior ISIL figure or to capitalize on a treasure trove of intelligence that may be there for the taking.
This is also true when you talk about our military servicemembers who are engaged in training efforts. In some cases, particularly earlier in our efforts, you have U.S. military members who were in dangerous parts of Iraq who were working to try to train fellow Iraqis to make them more effective on the battlefield against ISIL.
We have not at all tried to downplay the significance of those operations, or the risks that those individual members are taking, or of the bravery that they are displaying when carrying out their mission. What is true is that when these kinds of operations are undertaken, the decisions to commence the operations are made by the Iraqi government and leaders in the Iraqi military, that the operations are focused on being carried out by Iraqi forces. Those forces, though, are supported by the United States military. In some cases, that is supported by U.S. military pilots that are conducting airstrikes in support of their operations. In other cases, that is Special Operators who are in proximity who can offer advice about specific tactics that can be employed on the battlefield to make the completion of their operation more likely to be successful.
So there is an important role for U.S. servicemembers to carry out, and it is a role that requires bravery. It is a role that requires a willingness to assume some risk. But it is different than the kind of combat mission that previous U.S. military servicemembers were asked to undertake in the invasion of Iraq back in 2003.
Q But you would acknowledge then that it’s likely or very possible that those forces could indeed be involved in ground combat even though that’s not their primary mission?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the way that we have described the situation is that they are engaged in missions that can be described as offering advice, assistance, and in some cases, training to Iraqi forces. That is different from a mission that is exclusively focused on combat. But we have never — and I certainly am not going to start from here — seek to downplay how dangerous and how much bravery is required to carry out the kind of advice and assistance missions that our servicemembers are undertaking on a daily basis in Iraq right now.
Q Also, in his interview with Charlie Rose, his remarks are being widely interpreted that the President meant to say that, given this acceleration of U.S. participation in assisting the Iraqi forces, that Mosul would fall by the end of the year. Did the President mean to say that? And does he believe that?
MR. EARNEST: I looked at this portion of the transcript, too. I think what the President was trying to make the case for is to set expectations that we’re hopeful that the conditions could be created where Mosul could fall this year.
But what the Iraqi forces have been engaged in for some time now is essentially undertaking operations in the area around Mosul to sort of lay the groundwork for a more significant operation. And those kinds of shaping missions have been underway for quite some time. They are at work trying to create the conditions where Mosul could fall. And that work to create those conditions is work that continues.
Obviously this is significant because Mosul is one of the two areas where ISIL has concentrated their fighters and concentrated a bunch of their organization in a way that allows them to project some power and violence that poses a longer-term threat and a broader threat to the United States and our interests around the globe.
Q Thanks, Josh. Could I just clarify something? You said at least three times that I’ve heard, quoting from the 9/11 Commission Report, the line about how there’s no evidence that the Saudi government or high-level officials supported al Qaeda. And Senator Bob Kerry, who was on that commission, said flatly, “We did not exonerate the Saudis.” When you quote that line are you saying that the White House believes that the Saudis were exonerated?
MR. EARNEST: No, Pam, what I’m merely doing is — let’s back up. The reason I have quoted that line frequently is because the suggestion has been raised that by refusing to release 28 pages of classified material that your network has been talking about is somehow a secret attempt to cover up verified, damaging information about the complicity of the Saudi government in the 9/11 attacks.
And what I have been trying to do is to point you to the conclusion that was reached by this independent, blue ribbon panel that took an unvarnished look at what happened in the lead-up to 9/11 and what steps should be implemented in the aftermath of 9/11 to make sure that it would never happen again. And so pointing to their conclusion that was made public years ago and continues to be available for public review I think is relevant to a discussion about whether or not there’s an ulterior motive to this question about the 28 pages.
Q But what do you think that phrase means? What does that mean to you?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think people can take a look at the report and draw their own conclusions, based on people who looked at reams of evidence. The 9/11 Commission was given extensive access to information and materials that were relevant to their investigation. These were individuals that had expertise in national security and intelligence matters. They were in a position to evaluate the evidence. They were in a position to examine the evidence. They were in a position to consider where they should look to find evidence. And they wrote a report that was made public so that everybody could see it and draw their own conclusions. And so what I have done is tried to point you to their conclusions because I think they’re relevant to the question about whether or not these 28 pages are going to be declassified.
But I obviously haven’t done the kind of investigation that they did, so I think what I would encourage people to do is if you have questions about whether or not the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials in the Saudi government were complicit in knowingly assisting the 9/11 plotters, one piece of evidence that they should know is that the blue ribbon panel that took a close look at this did not find any evidence to indicate that that was the case. And that’s their conclusion. They certainly have the standing to make that conclusion. If there are people that want to ask different questions or seek additional evidence, they certainly are entitled to do that, but the conclusion of this particular commission I think is relevant to the questions.
Q As far as the suggestion that there’s some damaging information in the 28 pages, former Senator Bob Graham was asked, what do you believe — who in Saudi Arabia is responsible, government, charities, wealthy Saudis? And he said, “All of the above.” So he clearly believes that there was some involvement by the Saudi government and that the 28 pages points to that.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I haven’t read the 28 pages, so — and even if I had I wouldn’t be in a position to talk about them because they’re currently classified. But we don’t have to go over this territory again. I think what is relevant is that there was this blue ribbon commission, the 9/11 Commission, that did take a look at it and they’ve made public their conclusions. So people can certainly evaluate those opinions and those conclusions and draw their own conclusions accordingly.
Let me just say something else that also happens to be true. It’s undeniable that since 9/11 we have seen the Saudi government focus more intently on combating and countering those who propagate extremist ideology. If it wasn’t clear to them before, it is certainly clear to them in the aftermath of 9/11 how dangerous that is. And we certainly have welcomed the efforts of the Saudi government to counter the propagation of that ideology.
And that is just one sign of the improved security cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia since 9/11. It certainly does not eliminate all of the disagreements that we have between our two countries, but it is an indication that since 9/11, because of important work that was done both by the Bush administration and by national security professionals in this administration, that the relationship between our two countries has been enhanced in a way that has had important benefits for our national security.
Q And if the 9/11 families cannot sue the Saudi government, what other recourse do they have? Is diplomacy — can that do something to satisfy what they would like to see happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned, Pam, I’ll let the 9/11 families speak for themselves. Obviously they can set their own priorities in terms of what they would like to see. I know that just reading the public comments of many of those individuals, they’re quite concerned about American national security, about protecting the U.S. homeland and making sure that a tragedy on the scale of 9/11 never happens again.
And what is true is that by using diplomacy — not just with Saudi Arabia but with countries around the world — the United States is safer than we were on 9/11; that we have made progress. Osama bin Laden no longer threatens the American people. Core al Qaeda has been decimated. We have made progress in applying significant pressure to al Qaeda affiliates around the globe. We have deepened our security cooperation and our counterterrorism cooperation with countries around the globe — not just in the Middle East, but also in places like Africa and Southeast Asia.
I’m not seeking to downplay the risks. It’s precisely because these risks exist that the administration has been so vigorous in countering them. And I think that is a policy priority and a set of policy accomplishments that anybody who is concerned about U.S. national security would be pleased about.
Q Thanks, Josh. Secretary Carter is in the UAE today in advance to the President’s trip to that region. I’m wondering if we should expect any announcements at the GCC summit about future, further commitments by GCC countries in the counter-ISIS efforts.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know whether or not Secretary Carter is prepared to make any announcements today. Obviously the leaders of those countries and President Obama will have an opportunity to meet in Riyadh, starting tomorrow. And that will be — actually, starting on Thursday. My days — this overnight flight thing has really got me confused. President Obama will arrive in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. On Thursday, he will convene a series of meetings with GCC leaders, including the leader of Saudi Arabia, to talk about a range of important national security priorities. And you all will have an opportunity to hear from President Obama at the conclusion of those meetings, and he’ll be in a position to talk to you about any progress that we’ve made in the context of those negotiations.
Q I wanted to ask about Afghanistan. There was a car bomb that killed several dozens of people and injured hundreds in Kabul. And the Taliban has said that that’s a sign of a new fighting season where there will be more and more of these attacks. I’m wondering, first, what the response is from the White House? And whether or not that factored into the President’s decision on whether to draw down the troops at the same time schedule that he put out last year by going down to 5,500 by the end of this year.
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that the United States strongly condemns the cowardly attack on Afghan forces and civilians in Kabul this morning that killed dozens and wounded hundreds. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and their loved ones.
At the outset of this year’s fighting season, we remain committed to support the Afghan people and their government. We also call on the Taliban to pursue a pathway of peace instead of continuing a military campaign responsible for the senseless deaths of Afghan civilians. We remain steadfast partners with Afghan security forces as we work to promote peace and stability in the region and as we counter the threat of terrorism that affects all of us.
I don’t have an updated assessment in terms of what if any impact this attack would have on our military posture going forward. Obviously the President had an opportunity to talk about this at the end of last year. And this will be among the important policy decisions that the incoming President, President Obama’s successor, will have to make.
When President Obama took office, you’ll recall, in 2009, he did so vowing to follow through on a campaign promise to ensure that we were — that the United States and the international community was focused on the terror threat that was emanating from this region of the world. And the sense was — not just the sense of President Obama, but also the sense of the American people — was that our attention had drifted from Afghanistan and been diverted to the situation in Iraq. President Obama vowed to recalibrate that situation and to ensure that we were reinforcing our efforts in Afghanistan and in that region of the world where we know the al Qaeda leadership, under the protection of the Taliban, had carried out the 9/11 attacks against the United States.
President Obama has executed a military and diplomatic strategy that has decimated core al Qaeda, that took Osama bin Laden off the battlefield, and that has supported an Afghan government that is committed to the kind of security approach that we’re supporting.
So there’s no denying that tremendous progress that we have made in Afghanistan, it has made America safer. But there is — there are years of work, decades of work that still needs to be done in that region of the world to continue to advance our national security interests.
Q One more quickly on the $10 bill. I’m wondering — there are reports that the Treasury Secretary will be making an announcement, and I’m wondering has the White House, has the President been briefed? Have you seen a mock-up of what the new bill might look like? Should we be expecting an announcement on that soon?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is a policy decision that’s made by the Treasury Department. It, of course, is not at all uncommon for the Treasury Department to consult with the White House where appropriate when making important policy decisions. But I don’t have any news to make on Treasury’s behalf, at least not today.
Q Thanks, Josh. New York voters head to the polls today. You’ve said in the past the debate happening within the Democratic Party, about the direction and the future of the party is a healthy one, but it’s now April 19th; Senator Sanders trails pretty badly in the delegate count, and you’ve seen the tone of the last debate and some of the rhetoric on the campaign trail get heated. Does the President still feel that this is a constructive campaign and conversation that’s happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, there’s no denying that when you compare the campaign that’s been waged by the Democratic candidates, that it has been much healthier and more productive than the campaign that we’ve seen be waged by the other side. And the President has obviously been pleased to see Democratic candidates who are giving voice and prioritizing the kinds of values that he’s spent his career fighting for. That’s been a good thing, and the President has obviously been pleased by that.
But, ultimately, the individual candidates are going to have to decide for themselves how this campaign will play out here in the remaining weeks of the Democratic contest. In 2008 — I’ve talked about this a couple of times — in 2008, there was a vigorous contest between then-Senator Clinton and then-Senator Obama that dragged on longer than people expected — I think longer than anybody expected. But with some departures, it was primarily focused on policy and articulating a vision for the country. And that longer-than-expected Democratic primary had positive benefits for the party as a whole, and it certainly improved the performance of the Democratic nominee in the general election, and it certainly resulted in a Democratic campaign organization being stronger in states that Democrats had not recently competed in.
I often cite the example of Indiana, a state that had a primary in May, that had rarely not been — that had rarely been contested by Democratic presidential candidates. But there was a vigorous contest in May of 2008 between then-Senator Clinton and then-Senator Obama in Indiana. And there were some who concluded that that would be a bad thing for the Democratic Party.
Instead, what resulted was a Democratic Party infrastructure being built in Indiana to support both candidates, each individual candidate, that then went on to greatly contribute to the Democratic candidate’s success in the general election. And that led to President Obama winning the state of Indiana in the general election in 2008, something a Democratic presidential candidate hadn’t done in decades.
So that’s just one illustration of how a longer-than-expected primary contest can yield some positive results for the party and for the party’s nominee. Is that going to happen this time around? I think it’s too early to tell. Hopefully it will. But we’ll see.
Q We’ve asked you sort of piecemeal about whether the President has watched individual debates or election night returns. But broadly speaking, how closely is the President following campaign news and the campaign trail? Is he watching sort of live election returns some nights? Is he reading about this online and in the newspaper? How does he sort of follow the campaign?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s fair to say the President is following the election pretty closely. He obviously has a stake in who will succeed him in office. I do not believe that the President has spent much if any time watching live election returns. I know that he has not spent much time watching the debates. But he certainly is following the course of the broader debate that’s taking place on both sides, frankly. And at some point, the President will have an opportunity to be a much more active participant in that debate. But that will be when we shift to the general election.
Q Does he miss it?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think that — I don’t think he does. Gardiner, I’m going to give you the last one and then I’m going to get ready for my overnight flight here.
Q Okay. Do you have any sense about if the Saudis follow through on their threat to sell $750 billion in U.S. assets, what kind of damage that would do to the U.S. economy and to the United States generally?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Gardiner, at the New York Times, you certainly have access to more sophisticated analysts of global financial markets than me, thank goodness. That is welcome news to the readers of your business pages, I’m sure.
What I’ll just say in general is our concern is that a hypothetical transaction or series of transactions like this would destabilize the global financial markets. And that kind of instability and that kind of volatility is not in the interest of any of the advanced economies around the world. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia would be in the category of advanced economies that would not benefit from a situation like that.
That’s the observation that I have made. I know that the suggestion was raised in a story in your newspaper that that could be a potential response, and I don’t know — as I recall, that wasn’t an on-the-record statement from a Saudi official. So I think it’s hard to assess exactly how seriously something like that is being considered there.
Given our shared interest in protecting the stability of the global financial system, I suspect it’s not something that would be considered for long.
Q I think there’s increasing concern on the Saudi side that Washington has become far less hospitable a place for them sort of from a policy and also from a diplomatic perspective. They see the Obama administration has far less warm to them as the previous administration had been. They see this legislation on Capitol Hill as arising from what they worry is a sort of a growing anti-Saudi sentiment. Do they have reason to feel worried about this? This is President Obama’s third trip to Saudi Arabia, this week, but the Saudis themselves and even some GCC members generally feel that they have seen their place in Washington decline substantially over the last several years. Is that — are those worries justified?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I would encourage people who harbor that concern to do is to take a close look at President Obama’s record. Just last year, the President convened the first-ever GCC-U.S. Summit at Camp David. That is a location that many world leaders are not invited to enjoy, but it is an indication of how important the President considers the relationship between the United States and our partners in that region of the world. The fact that he is following through with a second summit less than a year later I think is an indication that he’s committed to following through on the discussions that were convened at Camp David last year.
The President has talked about the impact of the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Part of the case that we made to our partners in the region who were initially skeptical of the wisdom of this diplomatic approach is that it would yield important national security benefits for them. And that’s proved to be true.
The national security position of Saudi Arabia is strengthened if they know that one of their chief rivals in the region is verifiably not in pursuit of a nuclear weapon. That’s a good thing for Saudi Arabia. That enhances their security. And that advancement would not have been possible without the United States leading the diplomatic effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Let me give you another example. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been justifiably concerned about the security situation in Yemen. They share a long border with Yemen. The United States has offered them the kind of logistical support that has been critical to their ability to apply military pressure to rebels and extremists in Yemen. The United States and Saudi Arabia have worked together to apply pressure to al Qaeda plotters in Yemen. These are dangerous extremists that have designs not just on carrying out attacks against shared U.S.-Saudi interests in the region, they have designs on carrying out attacks against U.S. interests around the world. We’re mindful of that threat, and we have worked effectively with the Saudis to counter it.
We have also worked effectively with Saudi Arabia and other GCC partners to add important resources to our counter-ISIL campaign. That includes not just important military contributions both in the form of military actions, but also in the form of military assistance to fighting forces on the ground, we’ve also obtained important Saudi assistance in countering ISIL’s efforts to radicalize people online.
We have worked closely with the Saudis and the Emiratis and other GCC partners to shut down ISIL’s efforts to finance their operations. We’re talking — some of the countries that the President will be meeting with have capitals who are a regional financial center, and by blocking or at least countering ISIL’s ability to access the services available in those capitals is important to our longer-term success. And we have made progress in that effort because of their cooperation with the United States and because of their support for our coalition.
So there are a variety of ways in which the partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been enhanced under President Obama’s leadership in a way that is good for the United States, that is good for our national security, and that’s good for our homeland security. And that’s always what the President is focused on when he’s making these kinds of decisions and when he’s engaged in this kind of diplomacy. And this is a good example of the President focused on the right goal in pursuit of the kind of common ground that benefits the citizens of both the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you next week.
2:27 P.M. EDT
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