Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, 5/17/12
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 17, 2012
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, 5/17/12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. I know that I alone did not draw this substantial crowd, which is why I will immediately introduce and turn over the briefing to Tom Donilon, the President's National Security Advisor.
As you know, the United States is hosting the G8 and NATO summits this year -- the G8 at Camp David, NATO in Chicago. And Tom is here to give you a preview of those summits. As we've done in the past with visitors to the briefing, he'll make some comments to open, he'll take your questions on related subjects, and then Tom will depart and I'll remain to take questions on other matters.
With that, I give you Tom Donilon.
MR. DONILON: Thank you, Jay. Appreciate the opportunity to come by. I wanted to take a few minutes today -- and I'll just give a couple of comments at the top, and then take a few minutes to give you a perspective on the upcoming summits -- the G8 summit at Camp David and the NATO summit in Chicago -- and then I'll be glad to take questions. As I said, it's good to see you all this afternoon. Thanks for coming out.
The first thing I wanted to say is that I've been reflecting on where we've come the last three and a half years, and the initial summits that the President attended in 2009 saw the global economy in free fall, the momentum in Afghanistan had shifted to the Taliban, al Qaeda was entrenched in a safe haven, and America's alliances had frayed.
Today, I think it's fair to say -- and we can discuss this in any detail that you want -- that we've made significant progress on each of these issues. The U.S. economy is growing, al Qaeda's leadership has been devastated, and we've put in place a responsible plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan. And meanwhile -- and this has been a top priority for this administration from the outset -- our alliances have never been stronger. And I'll talk about that again in a second.
Over the next several days, the aim is to build on this progress, and we'll do so at Camp David and in Chicago. And the two summits really do underscore and are an embodiment of American leadership on a range of global challenges: in advancing several overarching U.S. interests, making the international architecture work effectively in a transformational world; second, revitalizing, as I've said, our core alliances; and three, really advancing our strategy to end the war in Afghanistan in a responsible fashion. And as a result of our engagement in bilateral, multilateral levels over the course of the administration, we're leading in both these forums, and I think we'll see during the course of this weekend real progress made on the goals I just talked about.
So let me talk about what we're going to be doing. The first meeting will be the G8 meeting, beginning Friday evening at Camp David. As a lot of you know, I like to think historically about these things, and I did a little research on Camp David. It's always risky to do this with the presidential historian, Mark Knoller, in the room, but I'll do this anyway -- (laughter) -- at the risk of being corrected immediately.
First, I want to talk about why the President chose Camp David for this meeting. First, the G8 meeting will be the largest gathering of leaders ever to stay at Camp David. In fact, this is the first time that there will be more than two heads of state at Camp David. Camp David has hosted over 50 different heads of state in its 70-year history, as well as various retreats and critical meetings.
But, again, there's only been two summits held at Camp David: the Camp David Accords in 1978, where President Carter hosted Prime Minister Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and the Middle East Peace Summit in 2000 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, hosted by President Clinton.
The summit is intended to be small and intimate, and the President made a conscious decision to host the G8 meeting at Camp David for this reason. Each head of state or government will have his or her own cabin and they'll have the opportunity, obviously, to meet informally on the margins of the meetings and to take full advantage of the grounds at Camp David.
The leader meetings themselves will occur around the dining room table of the Laurel Cabin. And again, I think this is consistent with the history and purpose of the G8 meetings. It really is a back-to-basics approach, if you will. As you know, the meetings had their origins in the 1970s when the United States hosted informal meetings with financial officials from the major developed economies. In 1975, President Giscard d'Estaing invited heads of state and government from these countries to Rambouillet, France, for a summit to discuss the oil crisis and economic recovery.
Since then, they've become rather large gatherings, with infrastructure and all kinds of support staff, and long communiqués. And the President wanted to pull away from that and really get back to basics, really get back to the intent, which is to have the leaders of the developed economies in the world being able to talk about, face-to-face, in intimate session, the issues facing us.
So that's what undergirds the President's decision to have this at Camp David, and I wanted to give you a little flavor of what it will be like up there.
Let me then talk about the meeting itself and the objectives for the G8 meeting. Obviously the -- and I'll go through -- maybe the best way to do this would be to just go through the agenda and how it will unfold during the course of the meetings.
On Friday evening, there will be a leaders dinner at Camp David. Prior to that, by the way, I should mention that President Hollande will have his first meeting with President Obama here at the White House Friday morning. I think it's around 11:00 a.m. Friday morning. The President looks forward to meeting with President Hollande and his team.
That meeting with the President will be followed by a lunch over at Blair House that Secretary Clinton is hosting for President Hollande and his delegation, again, to begin our relationship with him and continue our work with an important ally, France. I can talk about that meeting again in some detail if you'd like to do that.
As I said, the schedule begins on Friday evening with a working dinner for the leaders only. The topic for this dinner will be regional and political issues. I expect the following issues to come up -- and, again, leaders will raise other issues during the course of it. There will clearly be a discussion about Iran. And we expect to be advancing the international consensus around the P5-plus-1 approach to addressing the Iran nuclear issue. And the theme I think will be international unity, which has been a hallmark of this project, as well as previewing our expectations for the May 23 second round of meetings with the Iranians -- I mean, between the Iranians and the P5-plus-1 in Baghdad, Iraq. And that will be a point of discussion on Friday evening.
This has been a top priority for this administration. As you all know, we've had a multivariable intensive approach from the first days that we came into office. This approach began with offers for engagement. Those offers for engagement were not met with a response from the Iranians. We proceeded then to, again, a multiple-variant pressure campaign, frankly, that included a lot of elements, including sanctions. The unprecedented international sanctions campaign that we've put in place I think has resulted in the Iranians coming to the table.
Each member of the G8 is a core member of this sanctions effort. Each member has been absolutely essential to really putting in place what has been an extraordinarily effective and, I think most people would say, surprisingly effective sanctions effort.
They'll also be pressing the Iranians to take advantage of the diplomatic efforts that we're putting forward. And really, the pressure will be on the Iranians to demonstrate continued good faith coming out of Istanbul, but also the willingness to engage in concrete ways with the P5-plus-1 on addressing the Iranian nuclear program. The message will be that the Iranians should seize this opportunity. And while this goes on, in parallel, the sanctions and pressure effort will continue, led by the United States and the others who will be at the table on Friday evening.
We also expect that they will -- that the leaders will discuss North Korea, discuss Burma. And you saw the announcement today by Secretary Clinton with respect to our easing of investment sanctions in Burma. There's been remarkable progress in Burma, and the leaders will want to engage on this I think on Friday evening. Burma is at the start of a long but promising path towards democracy. And you should know the President's made this a top priority. Again, we can talk about this in any detail that you want.
And I think you'll also see a discussion on Syria at the meeting on Friday evening. And, again, leaders can bring up whatever other issues that they want. But that’s the focus. The focus will be the security issues on Friday evening.
The next morning, the focus will turn to the economy, and of course the global economy, especially the economic situation in the eurozone, are going to be at the top of the agenda. This is the first opportunity for the leaders of the major developed economies to meet face to face since President Hollande's election in France and the political events in Greece. This, of course, also will be the first G8 meeting for Prime Minister Monti of Italy, and Prime Minister Noda of Japan. And obviously, this comes at a very delicate time with respect to the European economy, the eurozone economy.
Let me just say a couple of things about this. One, the United States welcomes the evolving discussion and debate in Europe about the imperative for jobs and growth. Two, the United States has an extraordinarily significant stake in the outcome of the economic discussions in Europe and the steps that are taken in Europe. The European Union as a whole, of course, is the largest trading partner of the United States. And three, the President looks forward to leading a discussion among the leaders about the imperative -- having a comprehensive approach to manage the crisis and get on a sustainable path toward recovery in Europe. And this obviously will be a key part of the discussions up at Camp David.
The other areas -- and I won't go into as much detail on these others, I'll just list them for you and you can obviously ask questions about them -- after the discussion during the course of the morning on the global economy, focusing, again, on Europe, there will be separate sequential sessions, if you will, devoted to the following topics: energy and climate, food security -- and, as you know, the President will tomorrow deliver a very important speech on a critical initiative that he's had in place here that will make a real difference in the lives of the people in Africa. And there will be at Camp David a working lunch on food security attended by four African heads of state from Benin, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia.
So energy and climate, food security. The Afghan economic transition will have its own session. This is obviously important as we put together the non-security aspects of the follow-up in Afghanistan post-2014 -- that is, how is Afghanistan going to come out of its war economy into a stable, economic situation, and what are the needs that it’s going to have from the international community? This leads up to a Donors Conference in Tokyo in July.
And the last scheduled session at Camp David would be on Middle East and North Africa transition, following up on the Deauville initiative and discussions at the last G8 meeting.
That’s essentially the outline for the G8 meeting.
NATO -- the NATO summit. The President will leave Saturday evening and go to Chicago to host 62 nations and several international organizations for the NATO summit. This is only the third time since NATO’s founding in 1949 that the United States will host a NATO summit, and it’s only the first time it’s been hosted in a city other than Washington. The other two times that the United States has hosted NATO summits were in 1978 and 1999, which, of course, was the 50th anniversary during President Clinton’s term.
As I said, 61 countries, as well as the EU, the United Nations and the World Bank, will be in attendance. There will be different groupings, if you will, of countries during the course of the day. As I said, the President will fly to Chicago on Saturday evening. The first meeting that he will have on Sunday will be with President Karzai of Afghanistan -- obviously an important meeting because a central focus of the NATO summit will be on Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s future. So the first meeting of the day, appropriately, is going to be with President Karzai of Afghanistan.
The President will then move into various -- a series of NATO meetings. There will be an initial meeting with just the NATO allies at 28. That evening, on Sunday evening, the NATO allies will meet at Soldier Field for a working dinner, and that will be just leaders plus one advisor.
On Monday morning, the summit will continue at McCormick Place with discussions on Afghanistan. And this will be a broader meeting; this will be the NATO countries plus the 22 non-NATO troop-contributing countries in Afghanistan. And the second formal meeting on Monday will be a session with the key partners that we had in various projects around the world with NATO.
I want to talk about NATO and alliances for just a second, and then I want to talk about Afghanistan, and then I’ll take your questions.
The United States and NATO -- NATO is a cornerstone alliance for the United States in terms of its ability to advance its international interests. When we came into office almost four years ago -- now three and half years ago -- we asked ourselves where we were -- where we needed investment, where we needed work that needed to be done. And our analysis was that, in fact, alliances needed a tremendous amount of attention by the President, that the alliances were frayed -- it had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009. And the President set about reinvigorating -- indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during this transition at the beginning of the administration was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances.
Why is that? There’s a lot of talk among foreign policy commentators on the issue of decline in U.S. assets and liabilities. And I don’t often see this, but we really should see it -- when you put together a list of unique American assets -- unique American assets going into the future, things that are going to provide for the future of the United States, you talk about its innovative economy, the size of its economy, its energy future, its demographic future, which are all unique American assets and really do promise a bright future for the United States. You should also put in that list alliances. No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does. No other nation in the world -- and this is built on bipartisan work since World War II -- has a series of countries that it can go to around the world and work with these countries.
And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationship than coalitions of the willing. Alliances are valued highly by each of the members. You have habits of cooperation. You have shared threat assessments. You have operational capabilities that you practice and work on, and can call on in a moment’s notice. The Libya operation was a good example of that on NATO.
So from the outside of this administration, this has been a strategic priority for the United States, a strategic priority to reinvigorate, undergird our security through revitalizing and reinvigorating our alliances. And this effort at NATO is part of that.
Now, I’ll just talk about Afghanistan for a minute and I’ll take your questions. A focus of the NATO summit will be Afghanistan. And as you all remember, at the NATO summit in Lisbon in 2010, the United States, our allies and our partners, really set forth the core strategy and the way forward in Afghanistan, and that is that we would begin transitioning in 2011, that the lead for Afghanistan having full responsibility for security across the country would end at the end of 2014 -- would be at the end of 2014, and that the ISAF military mission would end at that point. And it was under the rubric of "in together, out together."
And again, I think that the Lisbon summit was a really essential moment in our effort here. Afghanistan, of course, had been quite a hot issue between the United States and Europe and partners around the world. There had been a lot of disputes. There had been questions about whether or not the group of countries in Afghanistan could see this project through. And I think with the President’s leadership and the hard work of our allies and partners, we put in place a multi-year effort to responsibly address the goals that we had -- defeating al Qaeda and ensuring that Afghanistan would not be, in the future, a safe haven for al Qaeda or associated groups that would strike the United States, and to do so together to have the time to do it responsibly. And we’re on a path to do that.
What this summit is about is the next step, if you will, on that transition project -- that transition until the end of 2014 and then beyond. And there are really three elements that I’ll mention and then I’ll take your questions.
The first is, with respect to the next steps and transition, the next steps toward 2014, is that the alliance will decide that in 2013 the mission will shift for its forces -- that is that the mission will shift from the ISAF forces, the United States forces as part of ISAF being in the combat lead, to stepping back and getting into principally a train and advise mode with the Afghans going into the combat lead all over the country.
And that’s essential if you think about how you get to the end of 2014 with full Afghan responsibility for their security. You need to start that process. You need to get the Afghans out front with the United States and its allies and partners supporting them moving forward. That’s the first element of what will be talked about and decided at Chicago.
The second will be a discussion of and an agreement on the structure and sustainability of the Afghan national forces as you go past 2014. That is, what should their size be? What should the mission be? And how will it be paid for? Sustainment, of course, is a euphemism for how will this be paid for going after 2014. And we’ve made very good progress on this.
As you know, I think currently we’re at about 330,000 Afghan forces. That will surge up to 352,000 Afghan forces. We will then, at some point after 2014, start to go down to a sustainable level -- and we’re working through the modeling on that -- of Afghan forces that will be the level that will be required, as assessed by our military in conjunction with the Afghans going forward.
Sustainment. The cost of this will be around -- in our judgment, around $4 billion a year. And what the United States has been doing, again, working with our ISAF partners -- and we've work with about 30 countries now to work through commitments -- and this is two and a half years now -- work through multi-year commitments to pay for that force. And we’ve made enormous progress on this. This is not a pledging conference, this is not the end of that project, but I can tell you at this point that, again, we’ve had over 30 countries make commitments.
Some of them will be -- have announced them and you’ve seen leadership announcements coming from the United Kingdom with $110 million a year; Australia at $100 million a year; Germany at $195 million a year. These are leading countries. There are many others. Some of them will make announcements during the course of the summit, again, but this won’t be the end of the work. But we have made really substantial progress towards burden-sharing, towards continuing support for Afghan security, but with the United States not having to bear the whole load.
The third thing that will be discussed at Chicago will be the nature of the presence in Afghanistan after 2014 -- after the ISAF combat mission ends, what are the plans for the NATO? And there will be a discussion about essentially focusing on a much smaller-sized NATO training and assisting and advising mission in Afghanistan.
So Chicago is a critical milestone in the next step towards a responsible ending of this war, towards our achieving, very importantly, our goals in this effort in Afghanistan, and really kind of the executing of the strategy that the President laid out in his speech at Bagram.
So with that, Jay -- I’m glad to go on for another three or four hours or I can take your questions. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Why don’t we start with Ben and we’ll have Tom answer a few questions and then let him get back to work.
MR. DONILON: Good afternoon, Ben.
Q Thanks, Tom. NATO question, G8 question. On NATO, is President Obama planning to meet with President Zardari either individually or with Karzai? And anything you can tell us about the state of that supply route?
MR. DONILON: Sure. The question was on President Zardari’s attendance at the NATO summit. As you know, President Zardari was invited by NATO to attend the summit. President Zardari was invited to attend the summit and he’ll do so. He’s coming with his foreign minister and his foreign secretary, and he’ll participate in the meetings on Sunday -- first point.
The second is, we have made real progress, I think, towards resolving the issue around opening up the ground supply lines, which have been closed since the November cross-border incident where 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. The key government groups in Islamabad have instructed their negotiators to move to conclude these negotiations. We have our negotiators out there as well, and we're making progress towards that.
Whether that will be done in the next few days or not I can't judge at this point, but it's been a decision on both sides to reach a conclusion of this going forward. And that’s important, obviously, for us.
At this point, as I said, there are 61 countries going to be present there, and the President is not going to have bilaterals with all of them. There's not a plan at this point to have a separate bilateral meeting with President Zardari, but he will see him, obviously -- the President will see him during the course of the sessions that we have in Chicago.
Q And the G8 question, you mentioned that Syria will be one of the topics on Friday night. Can you just give us a sense of, given the players that are going to be involved, what expectations you have, if any, for any steps on what happens if the Annan plan doesn’t work? Will there be any expectations for progress?
MR. DONILON: I think this -- I think all the countries present at the G8 summit have real concerns, and need to have real concerns, about the violence level in Syria. I think that the death toll right now is approaching maybe 8,000, and the Assad regime has undertaken a brutal response against its own people who are trying to express their views. I think that there's a -- and there will be a general disapproval of that, obviously -- number one.
Number two is that each of the members who will be present at the G8 meeting all support the Annan plan -- Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, who is the lead U.N. person trying to advance a ceasefire in the political transition effort in Syria.
Number three, I think that there will be a focus at the G8 discussion on the need, yes, to bring down the violence; yes, to see the monitors who are -- there's about 240 I think in Syria at this point -- see the monitors have access, and to try to bring down the violence through their efforts, but also to begin a political discussion about a transition in Syria. I think that will be the basic outlines of the discussion.
MR. CARNEY: Helene, and then Jeff.
MR. DONILON: Hi, Helene.
Q Hi. Two questions. One, you mentioned that NATO would be very much about turning the country -- Afghanistan -- over to Afghan lead. Can you -- given that, can you give me a broad definition of what sort of Afghanistan you hope to leave behind in 2014? And then, separately on Iran, Nicolas Sarkozy was long -- has long been considered to be one of the toughest voices for the Western sanctions policy on Iran. Are you concerned at all that, with the change in government in France, that you may lose sort of the strong support you've been having from France on Iran sanctions regime?
MR. DONILON: Okay, I'd be glad to take those questions, but I need to write down the second one or I'll forget what it is.
Q I can repeat it. (Laughter.)
MR. DONILON: With respect to Afghanistan, Helene, the goal is to have an Afghanistan, again, that has a degree of stability such that forces like al Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world, number one; number two, an Afghanistan that has a set of security assets that allow it to provide for that modicum of stability and to be able to protect itself against groups like that, and an Afghan National Force of sufficient size and sustainability that these goals can be achieved. And that will be a real focus of the discussion in Chicago.
But as I said, it's also important for the United States, its partners, and its allies around the world to also focus on the non-security aspects of this -- that is, when you have a drop in security expenditures, which will happen when ISAF finishes its mission at the end of 2014, the goal is to have a sustainable economy going forward. And that’s an important focus for us the next two-and-a-half years.
A couple things on this. We have a comprehensive approach, and we are working on this now, as evidenced by this discussion years in advance to try to put in place the building blocks that can achieve the goals that I laid out. By the way, we also want to have a solid political transition in Afghanistan. There will be elections for President in the middle of 2014, and it's important, obviously, that the Afghans put in place a sustainable political process as well, going forward.
We also, region-wide, we also want to get to a place where we achieve our core goal, and our core goal is the strategic defeat of al Qaeda -- the defeat of al Qaeda such that it no longer presents a threat to the United States, our allies, or our other interests. And as you know, this has been a central part of the foreign policy of the United States, especially I think in terms of its focus since we came into office. And again, this is a daily effort that we pursue relentlessly against al Qaeda.
With respect to Iran -- we fully expect France to be a good ally going forward. Again, the government in France has only been in place for a day or so, so we haven't had the kind of detailed discussions that we will have with them, beginning tomorrow, although we did have some of our team go over at the end of last week and begin discussions. I expect that we'll have good support from France on the Iran issue. I expect that we'll have good support from France on the P5-plus-1 issues going forward, as well as on a range of other issues.
Now, we'll have to work through other issues. The stances that President Hollande took during the course of his campaign obviously he intends to keep as President. But I, at this point, frankly, see a good relationship building between us already.
MR. CARNEY: Jeff.
Q Tom, two questions.
MR. DONILON: Hi.
Q Hi. Two questions on the G8. First of all, do you expect the President to bring up the issue of oil reserves and releasing oil reserves, and will that be reflected in the G8 communiqué? And my second question is about the EU leaders. Does the United States have an interest in exploiting the difference between Mr. Hollande and Mrs. Merkel on the austerity versus growth debate?
MR. DONILON: The first question, with respect to oil, as I said, one of the designated sessions during the course of the G8 will be on energy and climate, and there will be a broad discussion there, again, with the President discussing his all-of-the-above strategy for energy development. And there will be discussions on improving energy efficiency, energy security, while also addressing climate change, as you would imagine.
With respect to the oil situation, I don’t have any announcement for you on that. The leaders will certainly discuss that situation. The leaders -- and we have been engaged in an ongoing way and monitoring the global oil situation, particularly in light of the respective sanctions that we've had on Iran and its effect on oil markets. We'll continue that monitoring. I'm sure that the leaders will discuss the range of options that they might have before them. So at this point, what I can tell you is I don’t have any announcements here, but it will be, I'm certain, a topic of discussion.
MR. DONILON: Well, the oil markets, generally. I don’t want to say anything specific about what options might be discussed and not discussed. I think it is fair to say that during the course of the energy and climate discussion that there will be a discussion about oil markets, including continuing to monitor the state of those markets, particularly in light of the Iranian sanctions effort.
Now, with respect to your question about exploiting differences -- that’s not the intention of the President or the United States here. And you saw that President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel had their initial meeting a day ago. This will be a discussion, as I said, about addressing the issue of -- in a comprehensive way -- of the current crisis, and the ongoing need for growth and jobs. And I think that that is in the interest of each of the European leaders and in the interest of all the global leaders.
There will be a discussion, I believe, about specific steps that might be taken to move forward. But I don’t think that the nature of these conversations are going to be anything like taking one side or the other, trying to exploit. The nature of these conversations will be about a coherent and common goal of having the crisis in Europe -- current crisis managed well, and getting on a path towards sustainable recovery.
Q There are some very clear differences between the leaders who will be sitting at that table.
MR. DONILON: Well, let's let the leaders speak for themselves at the table. But I do think, actually, Jeff, it is important that the President will lead a discussion here, and as the host, I think the participants expect him to lead a discussion about how best to address these issues. Now, this is not the first discussion that President Obama has had with European leaders about economic issues, and they have been constructive, and I expect these will as well.
MR. CARNEY: Margaret.
Q Thanks. I'll try not to be too repetitive.
MR. DONILON: Hi, Margaret.
Q Hi, Tom.
MR. DONILON: How are you?
Q I’m great, thank you. I want to revisit both of Jeff's questions, though, slightly. On the SPR, without previewing anything specific, can you tell us whether the U.S. has benchmarks for any coordinated release of strategic petroleum stocks? Will you sort of start with something there? And then I'll tell you my second question.
MR. DONILON: I don’t think it's useful for me to comment any further on a potential SPR release, because I don’t have anything to -- I don’t have any announcement to make on that.
Q And on the question of Holland versus Merkel, I'm wondering do you see him, at this point, as more in line with the President's instincts on how Europe should approach this? Do you see that he could be your new go-to person, or serve kind of an even role with Merkel as your go-to person in Europe? I mean, I'm not trying to make --
MR. DONILON: I understand. Let me say two things in response. And the first, really, I think it's important to say the United States has had a very good relationship with President Sarkozy, and indeed President Sarkozy was a very strong supporter of the U.S.-France relationship, and it was an incredibly productive and construction relationship -- number one. Number two, we will build the same kind of relationship with President Hollande.
The first meeting between President Hollande and President Obama will be tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. So it would be premature for me to kind of speculate on the positions that he'll be putting forward. But based on what we understand the discussions were between President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, and based on what I can tell you about the President's approach to these issues, I think you can look forward to an open discussion and a discussion where it's important for them to agree on the common goal, which has to be -- it has to be to preserve the foundations of the eurozone, to address the current crisis facing Europe, particularly as a result of the political events in Greece.
And then, third -- and you now see this discussed I think more broadly in Europe, which is why I said at the outset that we welcomed the evolution of the discussion in Europe towards growth and jobs -- but you see that now being discussed much more broadly in Europe. And I think that will be on the table for discussion during the course of the weekend.
MR. CARNEY: Jake.
MR. DONILON: Hi, Jake. How are you?
Q Thanks for doing this. I appreciate it. Two questions. One, given, according to Mr. Brennan, President Obama's desire for there to be more transparency when it comes to the drone program, I was wondering if you could tell us what your concerns are given the lawsuit in Pakistan about the drone program -- specifically the members of the Loya Jirga that were killed in 2011 -- if you're afraid that that is going to have an effect not only on the drone program but on diplomatic relations with Pakistan. And my second question having to do with -- if you need a reminder of the second question --
MR. DONILON: Go ahead.
Q The second question dealing with the handover to Afghan security forces -- how concerned is the administration at this point, when it comes to the green-on-blue incidents, which seem to be keep -- which seem to keep happening? Are you still convinced -- is the administration still convinced, as it was weeks ago, that there's no correlation between these incidents? And the fact that they keep happening -- I don't know the percentage right now, but I think it might be roughly a third of U.S. casualties this year are from green-on-blue incidents. What does that say about the condition of the Afghan forces when we hand over the country?
MR. DONILON: On the first question, I really can't comment on either a lawsuit or specific efforts. I can speak generally, though, about it. We have undertaken, as I said earlier, from the outset of this administration a determined effort to -- and a targeted effort, which was really critical against al Qaeda and associated forces who intend to do harm to the United States. And that effort has been successful.
And that effort has a lot of elements to it. That effort is carefully overseen by the White House, by the President, and by senior members of the administration, and carried out consistent with, as John's speech laid out at the Wilson Center, really consistent with international law, domestic law, ethics, rules of war. And those are the instructions we have from the President, and that's what we do every day with respect to these programs. So I really can't go any further than that, Jake.
With respect to transition and the so-called green-on-blue issues, I guess I'd say the following things about that: Number one is, we have built with the Afghans and our partners a very large Afghan national army -- Afghan national force. It's now, as I've said -- I think, and Caitlin and others can check the numbers -- I think it's around -- it's over a 330,000 force at this point, heading to 352,000. That's the first point.
The second is, so the number of instances that you raise are quite small, when you -- against the backdrop of building a very large force for the ultimate security of Afghanistan. Third, the performance of the Afghan national forces in some quite important instances, as you know, including the attacks in Kabul recently and elsewhere, have been very good and I think reflects, with respect to the training of those specific forces and I think more generally, progress has been made.
Number four, with respect to the quality of the force going forward, as I've said, we are two-and-a-half years out from an ultimate turnover to full Afghan lead. although, we will decide in Chicago, I believe -- the leaders will decide in Chicago that that transition should begin in the course of 2013 -- that transition, meaning the transition from the United States and ISAF forces being in the lead to having us step back into an advise-and-assist role and the Afghans being in the lead.
Number five, there are stresses and strains in a war zone and there are lots of reasons for these instances, and we have to address them seriously, come up with systems for addressing what could be really kind of very complex situations -- and we're doing that -- General John Allen is very focused on this -- and again, putting in place the kinds of systems, the kinds of screening that you want to have in place to ensure that you minimize these kinds of instances.
But the overall point I would make is that when taken against the backdrop of the scale of the forces being built by the United States and ISAF, this is not a large number of instances. That said, it has to be taken very seriously, because, as you're saying, Jake, you have to ask yourself, why; you have to ask yourself, if this is a trend, why is that trend ongoing. You have to ask yourself then, what can we do about that in order to ensure that we do our very best to protect our forces, our men and women who are serving in Afghanistan, and our allies and partners.
Q If I could do a quick follow-on just because you didn’t really answer --
Q I have a substitute question -- (laughter) -- which is, given the transparency that President Obama has called for, can we -- do we pay innocent civilians when they're killed by -- I know that we do so, for instance, if there's an accident in Afghanistan.
MR. DONILON: If there's a civilian casualty in Afghanistan, we obviously will investigate it and put forth compensation, obviously, for the loss of loved ones.
Q Well, what if it's not in Afghanistan? What if it's in a different country in which we're operating different techniques of military operation, and innocent civilians are killed -- does the United States do anything to compensate the families?
MR. DONILON: Well, there are a lot of possibilities in that question, including instances like occurred in the cross-border incident at the end of November in Pakistan, where it would be, I think, appropriate to talk about compensation issues. I don't know if compensation was ultimately paid in that case. That was Pakistani soldiers who were killed.
With respect to other examples, Jake, I'm just not going to go there.
MR. CARNEY: Let's do two more -- Jessica.
Q So in response to a question Helene asked, you said that you were confident that President Hollande will keep his campaign commitments. Does this mean that you -- or how confident are you that the President will be able to persuade him to give up his campaign pledge to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by year's end?
MR. DONILON: I'll tell you a couple things about that, and I said that directly. Helene's question was about Iran, and I think that we look forward to having France as a strong ally in Iran. But we look forward to having France as a strong ally generally.
Now, to go to your question with respect to Afghanistan, what President Hollande said during the course of his campaign was that he would withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. He'll have to make his national decision with respect to that. What we would look to a country to do as they make national decisions -- and indeed, we made national decisions with respect to our withdrawal pace as well. We decided that we would draw down our surge troops, the full 33,000 of the surge, by the end of September of this year, and that's what we're doing. But we would look to an ally to make those decisions in the context of the overall Lisbon framework.
And that framework allows for different kinds of contributions to be made by countries. Contributions can include combat troops. I would point out that the province with the French that's most prominent right now is the province that's scheduled to transition during the course of this year. But we would look to allies to make their national decisions in the context of the overall alliance approach, which has us in as ISAF until the end of 2014.
You can make all kinds of contributions. You can make combat troop contributions. You can make train-and-assist kinds of contributions. You can make other kinds of contributions. And we'll have a discussion with the French about where they want to go on this. But the key concept here, though, is, again, despite the specific nature of the contribution, and despite the national decision you might make about pace of withdrawal or timing of withdrawal, that you are a member of the alliance, an all-in, kind in together and out together as an alliance in a general fashion.
Q So we should look for something along the lines of what the U.S. has already done, or the U.S. is -- maybe they might withdraw their combat troops, but leave in training missions?
MR. DONILON: Can't speak for him, Jessica. But I'd say that I think those would be the kinds of discussions that we look forward to having. I'm being very direct with you -- the kind of discussions that we would look forward to having is what exactly will be the French contribution going forward, taking into account the President Hollande ran for President of France, he ran on a platform, I'm sure that he intends to keep his campaign commitments, but also France is a member of the alliance, is a member of ISAF, it's an ally of the United States. So I think it's fully appropriate for us to have a discussion about this.
Q And can I just ask another Afghanistan question? Are the U.S. pledges to Afghanistan unconditional, regardless of who wins the presidential election in 2014?
MR. DONILON: I don't --
Q Financial pledges --
MR. DONILON: The Strategic Partnership Agreement -- yes --that President Obama and President Karzai signed? A couple things about that. First of all, that is an agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, not an agreement between individuals. It's a national agreement that was entered into because it was in the interests of the United States and the interests of Afghanistan. That's the first thing.
The second thing is that it has obligations on both sides, which we would seek to being implemented. There's obligations on the U.S. side; there's obligations on the Afghan side.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, Stephen and then we'll let Tom go.
Q On NATO, how concerned is the U.S. that the continuing wave of budget cuts and austerity in Europe could hamper NATO's capacity to act in the future on an operation like Libya? And as the conversation moves towards talk about growth in Europe, do you expect any actions that could impact the economy -- the European economy in the short term, and obviously with its knock-on effect on the U.S. economy?
MR. DONILON: Actions in what context?
Q Actual actions on growth, rather than simply talking about how growth is an important factor.
MR. DONILON: With respect to NATO and a way forward, there -- one of the sessions, indeed the first alliance session, will be devoted to NATO capabilities. And they have -- the NATO allies have undertaken a study over the last two years focused on those capabilities that it believes are essential into the future. And parts of that, of course, are missile defense. And by the way, we'll hit a milestone at this meeting where we'll declare that the NATO missile defense system has achieved a level of interim capability. And that means that the United States at this point feels comfortable making real contributions of assets, including the radars in Turkey -- surveillance where NATO has agreed to put together an alliance ground surveillance system.
But that's the first point. The first point is, you need to decide what capabilities you need, and I think NATO has done that. And that will be approved at Chicago. This allows, by the way, for efficiencies. It allows for force multipliers. That was the case in Libya. I do think, though, it's a fair point to consider, though, that even if you do get efficiencies, even if you do have force multipliers through alliance work, even if you do have a focus on those things you need to do and some of the things you're not going to continue to do, it does take a level of funding going forward.
And Secretary Gates gave a speech -- it was a valedictory speech to NATO -- focused on this, and I think he made fair points. And that is a discussion we have on an ongoing basis with respect to NATO. I think it's a fair point going forward, and one that needs a consistent focus.
With respect to actions that could be taken, I don't want to comment on -- I think this will be a discussion among the leaders. The leaders I think will focus on specifics and specific concepts and ideas for growth and jobs. But I would also point out that the ultimate decisions on that would be decisions taken in the eurozone. And in fact there's a European summit meeting following almost immediately after the G8 summit and the NATO summit, on May 23rd in Europe.
MR. CARNEY: I want to thank Tom. I think it is appropriate, though, since he mentioned Professor Knoller at the start, that perhaps he get the last question.
MR. DONILON: Well, now, first of all, taking the last question, one more question, of course -- someone who started here 35 years ago should really know that, not to take one last question. And secondly --
Q So much pressure on me -- (laughter.) What can you tell us about the -- setting up Camp David to accommodate eight heads of state? Not all the cabins are equal there. Have you decided who gets what cabins? (Laughter.) What are you doing with all of the aides and assistants and security details? There's not room for them up there. How will you put this together?
MR. DONILON: Well, there are a couple of points on that. The allocation system, of course, is classified -- (laughter) -- I really can't go into that. But there are a couple of things to say. One is, is that it's a complex of buildings, Mark, as you know, and there is adequate -- and during the planning, before we made the decision, a team led by Alyssa Mastromonaco here and George Mulligan in the White House Military Office went through this in great detail. And there are adequate facilities there for each delegation, each head of state to have his or her cabin, as I said, and for each to be accompanied by a key staff person and in some cases two or three staff people.
Additionally, of course, there are setups there for communications and some of my team and others up there. But it's adequate. It's a pretty extensive facility. And maybe we could get -- Ben -- a deeper briefing on that -- seriously -- on this stuff. (Laughter.) I'm as interested in it as you are.
Q Isn't it kind of rustic for heads of state?
MR. DONILON: Is it rustic for heads of state?
Q Yes, isn't it kind of rustic up there for heads of state?
MR. DONILON: I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. I never had a lawn bigger than three feet in front of my house, so -- (laughter.) I'm not really the one to comment on rustic. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Tom, very much.
MR. DONILON: Thank you, all. Good to see you, guys. Thank you.
Q When is that briefing, Ben? (Laughter.)
MR. RHODES: I'll describe the press surroundings at Camp David -- (laughter) -- luxurious.
Q Do you know the bilats, by the way -- I don't know if you have a schedule. Are there other bilats for this meeting?
MR. RHODES: Not right now, but we'll let you know.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, we'll have more details as they become available.
You all may have had your fill of briefing. That would be fine with me, but if you have -- Bill has, for sure -- if you have any other questions, I can take them for a few minutes.
Q On Iran, I just -- since Mr. Donilon was repeating the general policy of the administration, which is to have international unity, what's your reaction -- I didn't hear him react to Senate Republicans blocking Senator Reid from moving forward on new sanctions against Iran -- since I assume you wanted those -- you wanted that action to take place before Camp David so you could show some unity.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, Ed, we have worked with Congress as we've built the most significant sanctions regime against Iran, and we will continue to consult with Congress on Iran sanctions, and we will welcome additional tools if Congress makes them available to pressure the regime.
I think, broadly speaking, it can be said that we share Congress's view on a range of Iran-related matters, and that was reflected in the President's announcement of an executive order targeting entities that use technology to help the Iranian and Syrian regimes commit grave human rights abuses.
So I don't have a specific reaction to today's action on the Hill, but we have viewed this in a way that I think demonstrates that we share concern about Iran with Congress, and we have worked with Congress to, together, build the kind of sanctions regime that has, as you know, put unprecedented pressure on the regime, isolated that regime to a degree that it has never been isolated before, and we believe successfully led to a point where now we are in P5-plus-1 negotiations that hopefully will move forward.
Q Quick one on the Euro debt crisis. Obviously, Tom was asked about possible tensions between Germany and France. The British Prime Minister put out a three-point plan today, elements of that that Angela Merkel does not support. My question is, given those divisions, how does the President approach this? What is his goal to try to bring the parties together? I mean, there's all these different plans floating around. We've heard for months they're going to turn the corner. What do you hope to get out of this, especially since the U.S. has its own debt problems? And how could that complicate the President's hand when he's got this fight going on with Boehner?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say a couple of things. First of all, I'd point you to some of the comments that Tom Donilon just made here, the National Security Advisor. He spoke clearly about the fact that we do have a stake in Europe's economic future, and that fact is reflected in the manner with which we've engaged with our European counterparts both at the level of the President and at the level of Secretary Geithner and others in the Cabinet. And we continue to do that.
In the meeting at the G8 we'll -- present an opportunity for President Obama to meet with eurozone heads of state who are members of the G8, too, to further those discussions. And as Tom said, the President has long made clear, and he certainly made clear at the G20 in Cannes, that he believes that an approach that takes into account the need for further growth and job creation, a balanced approach that includes not just austerity but growth and job creation, is the right approach.
And it's something that we can, when we discuss this with our European allies, we can point to some of our own experiences. I think that, as you know, the last several years of positive GDP growth here in the United States, the last 26 months of positive private sector job creation point to the efficacy of taking measures that help stimulate growth and create jobs. And the President's commitment, as demonstrated by the laws he's signed that have already resulted in locking in $2 trillion of spending cuts and his commitment to do more through his budget proposal, demonstrates that you need to have that balanced approach -- that facilitating growth and job creation in the near term can be joined with efforts to deal with medium- and long-term fiscal issues in a way that I think serves the overall interests very well. And that's the approach the President has taken. That's I think the view that he'll take into his meetings this weekend.
Q Jay, President Putin doesn't plan to attend the G8 or NATO summits this weekend. Does President Obama see this as a step back in the so-called "reset" with Russia?
MR. CARNEY: No. We addressed this at the time when President Putin made clear that because he was in the process of building out his government that he was not going to be able to attend. He'll send Prime Minister Medvedev, as I understand it. And President Obama will meet with President Putin very soon at the G20 in Mexico. So they've had conversations by phone.
And our approach to our relationship with Russia is today as it has been, which is we have engaged with Russia, we have worked with the Russian government on shared interests and goals in a cooperative fashion that have produced I think beneficial results for both countries. And we've been clear about issues that we disagree on. But the overall mindset has been, I think both here in Washington and in Moscow, that we should not let the fact that we disagree on some issues prevent us from making progress on others. Because we can continue to work on those areas of disagreement -- for example, with regards to European missile defense -- and try to resolve our disagreements. And even as we do, continue to make progress in other areas.
So the President looks forward to meeting with President Putin in about a month.
Jake and then Andrei.
Q Jay, you joined the Obama team long after President Obama had cut off his ties with Reverend Wright, but his name has reemerged in the news lately. First of all, there was this proposal for a super PAC that The New York Times broke to run an ad campaign that generally talked a lot about the influence of Reverend Wright on President Obama, and then also Reverend Wright himself gave some interviews to a conservative author in which he talked about his conversation with then-Senator Obama and made some other allegations. I was wondering what you thought about, first of all, the idea that this was reemerging now, and second of all, if the administration had any response to the things Reverend Wright has been saying in his interviews.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me, on the first issue -- I certainly did see the article and I would point you to I think a statement that the campaign put out about this issue. I mean, I'll echo that and say that to launch a multimillion-dollar, divisive attack campaign is not what the American people want. And I think there are moments when you have to stand up and say that that's not the right way to go. And I would point to numerous comments that echo that, not just from Democrats and political observers, but by Republicans today.
Secondly, the book that is the foundation for the other element of your question is not one that I would read because I know that the author lacks --
Q I didn't bring up the book.
MR. CARNEY: But it is what's given rise to this -- lacks a certain amount of credibility. And I haven't listened to the interviews that you talk about. I'm not a regular viewer of Sean Hannity or reader of Ed Klein. But I think what I can say is simply that we -- some of these issues were featured, as you mentioned, in the 2008 campaign, much discussed. The President gave, as a candidate, a very memorable detailed speech about his views, in Philadelphia at the Constitution Center. And I think that was a memorable moment. And right now, in 2012, we're focused on what the American people are focused on -- jobs, the economy, issues of national security that Tom Donilon just spoke about.
I did promise Andrei. And then April.
Q I just wanted to follow up on the Russian question. The Russian press reports that there will be a meeting between the President and the Russian Prime Minister and it will be slightly abridged. So my question is, will there be anything -- is it true that you are saving some subjects, including missile defense, for the later meeting with Putin?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I think Ben Rhodes said as he was on his way out, we don't have any announcements to make about other bilateral meetings that may or may not take place at this time, but we may have more information for you between now and the beginning of the G8 and the NATO summit. And I don't have a schedule for the agenda in Mexico. We're focused on the upcoming meetings.
Q Jay, I want to piggyback off of what Jake had asked you. Since this President came to the Oval Office he has worked hard to deal with policy -- as well as his administration -- versus looking at issues of race. The issue of race is rearing its head again with some of the words -- "metrosexual," "black Abe Lincoln." How does this White House thwart those type of attacks as you try not to bring race into the issue?
MR. CARNEY: I think I would just repeat what I said to Jake. The campaign put out a statement with regards to that specific story and that would-be campaign --
Q -- you guys have tried to walk away from that dealing with policy. Now it's coming back.
MR. CARNEY: I think some of these issues were very clearly discussed and addressed back in 2008, and the President gave what became a highly regarded speech in Philadelphia during that campaign that talked about some of these issues. His focus is not on that issue or those issues. His focus is on the work he needs to do to help this economy grow. And I’m not just saying that because that’s the preferred answer, I’m saying it because I know it for a fact. I know that that’s the issue -- that the economy and jobs are the issue that he spends the vast majority of this time on, and that’s what he’s going to be talking about going forward.
Our views on this ad campaign are reflected in the statement by the campaign, which I echoed. These kinds of divisive, unfortunate approaches are not what I think the American people want to see. And I think in a manner that’s, at least in this early stage in the aftermath of that article, somewhat reassuring, I think you’ve seen a broad array of people criticize or condemn that approach. I don’t really have anything to add to that because that’s not what we’re spending our time worrying about here at the White House.
Q Jay --
MR. CARNEY: You guys, we’ve been doing this for more than an hour. I’m going to leave it at that. Thanks a lot. Take care.
3:20 P.M. EDT
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|