Whitehouse Press Articles
On Monday, May 13, President Obama will welcome Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the White House. The visit will highlight the fundamental importance of the U.S.-UK relationship -- a relationship through which together we address a broad range of shared global and regional security concerns. The President looks forward to discussing these issues with the Prime Minister, to include Syria, trade and economic cooperation, countering terrorism, and priorities for the upcoming G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister’s visit underscores the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom that has been crucial in advancing our shared security and prosperity, and the tremendous strategic importance we place on broadening and strengthening our collaboration on global challenges. The President looks forward to visiting Northern Ireland in June, where Prime Minister Cameron will host the G-8 Summit.
This afternoon, the President met with a group of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) national leaders to discuss his call for commonsense immigration reform that will strengthen the economy and grow the middle class. The President emphasized that commonsense immigration reform continues to be a top legislative priority and that he looks forward to working with the AAPI community to achieve that goal. The leaders expressed their support for the principles that the President and key Senators working on immigration reform have laid out and their strong desire for a bill that provides a pathway to earned citizenship and supports family unity. The leaders also expressed their commitment to working with Congress to strengthen the legislation that is being considered. The President and the leaders also discussed a number of issues of importance to Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, including efforts to provide affordable, accessible health care to AAPI communities. Finally, the President thanked participants for their leadership and commitment to ensuring that the American Dream remains attainable for all communities and families, as well as generations to come.
Participants in the meeting included:
• Jeffrey Caballero, Executive Director, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations
• Gregory Cendana, Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
• Kathy Ko Chin, President and CEO, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
• Robin Danner, President and CEO, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement
• Lisa Hasegawa, Executive Director, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development
• Tom Hayashi, Executive Director, OCA National Center
• Bill Imada, Chairman, Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship
• Deepa Iyer, Chair, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans & Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together
• Daphne Kwok, Chair, President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
• Floyd Mori, President and CEO, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies
• Mee Moua, President and Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center
• Priscilla Ouchida, Executive Director, Japanese American Citizens League
• Doua Thor, Executive Director, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
• Miriam Yeung, Executive Director, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum
• Dae Joong “DJ” Yoon, Executive Director, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individual to a key Administration post:
• Davita Vance-Cooks – Public Printer, Government Printing Office
The President also announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:
• Margaret W. Burcham – Commissioner, Mississippi River Commission
• Leonard Forsman – Member, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
President Obama said, “I am confident that these outstanding individuals will greatly serve the American people in their new roles and I look forward to working with them in the months and years to come.”
President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individual to a key Administration post:
Davita Vance-Cooks, Nominee for Public Printer, Government Printing Office
Davita Vance-Cooks is currently Deputy Public Printer of the Government Printing Office (GPO), a position she has held since December 2011. Ms. Vance-Cooks has served in a number of other roles at GPO since 2004, including Chief of Staff, Managing Director of the Publications and Information Sales Business Unit, and Deputy Managing Director of Customer Services. Prior to joining GPO, she was the General Manager at HTH Worldwide Insurance Services from 2001 to 2004. Previously, she served as the Vice President of Consumer Services at Digital Insurance from 2000 to 2001. From 1993 to 2000, Ms. Vance-Cooks served in several roles with NYLCare Health Plans of the Mid-Atlantic, which was purchased by Aetna during her tenure. Ms. Vance-Cooks received her B.S. from Tufts University and an M.B.A. from Columbia University.
President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:
Brigadier General Margaret W. Burcham, USA, Appointee for Commissioner, Mississippi River Commission
Brigadier General Margaret W. Burcham is Commanding General of the United States Army Engineer Division, Great Lakes and Ohio River, a post she has held since 2011. Previously, she served as Division Chief of the Joint Capabilities Division, J-8, Joint Staff in Washington D.C. In addition, she served as a District Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in the North District of the Gulf Region Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Brigadier General Burcham’s earlier tours include Chief of the Commanding General’s Initiatives Group and Commander of the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion in Germany. She was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star. Brigadier General Burcham received a B.S. from the United States Military Academy, an M.S. from Kansas State University, and an M.S. from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
Leonard Forsman, Appointee for Member, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
Leonard Forsman is Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, a position he has held since 2005. Previously, he was a research archaeologist for Larson Anthropological/Archaeological Services in Seattle, Washington from 1992 to 2003. From 1984 to 1990, he was Director of the Suquamish Museum in Suquamish, Washington, and has served on the Museum Board of Directors since 2010. He has been Vice President of the Washington Indian Gaming Association 2010 and has been a member of the Washington State Historical Society Board since 2007, the Suquamish Tribal Cultural Cooperative Committee since 2006, and the Tribal Leaders Congress on Education since 2005. Mr. Forsman received a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Washington and an M.A. in Historic Preservation from Goucher College.
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Joseph W. Nega and Michael B. Thornton as Judges to the United States Tax Court.
“These two individuals have demonstrated unwavering integrity and a firm commitment to public service throughout their careers,” said President Obama. “I am proud to nominate them to serve on the United States Tax Court.”
Joseph W. Nega, Nominee for Judge, United States Tax Court
Joseph W. Nega is a Senior Legislation Counsel to the Joint Committee on Taxation of the United States Congress, a position he has held since 2008. His primary areas of responsibility are the individual income tax, tax exemption requirements for state and local bonds, tax credit bonds, and employment taxes. Mr. Nega has served on the Joint Committee staff since 1985. Prior to his current position, Mr. Nega served as a Legislation Counsel from 1989 to 2008, and as a Legislation Attorney from 1985 to 1989. Mr. Nega received a B.S.C. in Accounting from DePaul University, a J.D. from DePaul University School of Law, and an M.L.T. (Taxation) from Georgetown University School of Law.
Judge Michael B. Thornton, Nominee for Judge, United States Tax Court
Judge Michael B. Thornton currently serves as a Judge of the United States Tax Court, a position held since March 1998. From June 2012 to March 2013 he served as Chief Judge of the Tax Court. Previously, Judge Thornton served in the U.S. Department of the Treasury as Deputy Tax Legislative Counsel in the Office of Tax Policy from 1995 to 1998, first joining the Department as an Attorney-Adviser in February 1995. He served with the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means as Chief Minority Tax Counsel in 1995, and as Tax Counsel from 1988 to 1994. Judge Thornton was an Associate Attorney with Miller and Chevalier from 1985 to 1988 and Sutherland, Asbill, and Brennan from 1982 to 1983. He was a Law Clerk to the Honorable Charles Clark, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1983 to 1984. Judge Thornton received a B.S. and M.S. from University of Southern Mississippi, an M.A. from University of Tennessee, and J.D. from Duke University School of Law.
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke by phone earlier today. The two leaders discussed regional security issues and Middle East peace. They agreed to continue the close coordination between the United States and Israel on a range of security issues.
President Obama will host President Sebastián Piñera of Chile at the White House on Tuesday, June 4. The President looks forward to discussing a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues during their Oval Office meeting, including our joint work in advancing negotiations toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The President also welcomes the opportunity to underscore the strong bonds of friendship between the United States and Chile and discuss our cooperation on energy, education, environmental conservation, and economic development in Latin America.
President Obama will host President Ollanta Humala of Peru at the White House on Tuesday, June 11. The President looks forward to following up on U.S. efforts to support the Humala Administration's agenda of social inclusion, broad based economic growth, and citizen security. The two presidents will also discuss our joint work to advance negotiations toward completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, as well as cooperation on education, energy and climate change, science and technology, and the bilateral trade relationship.
Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will travel to Brazil, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago during the week of May 26th, 2013. In each country, the Vice President will meet with key leaders to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues. In Brazil, he looks forward to the opportunity to meet with President Rousseff and Vice President Temer and discuss ways to deepen our economic and commercial partnership and further our engagement on the broad array of bilateral, regional, and global issues that connect our two countries. In Colombia, the Vice President will meet with President Santos to build on security relations and focus on ways to further the prosperity of our two countries. In Trinidad and Tobago, the Vice President looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar as well as leaders of other Caribbean countries, whom Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has graciously offered to invite. This trip will be an important chance to discuss our collective efforts to promote economic growth and development, access to energy and our ongoing collaboration on citizen security.
Additional details about the Vice President and Dr. Biden's trip will be released at a later date.
1:49 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thanks so much. Thank you, all. How is everyone? Good afternoon. Please, sit. Welcome to the White House. I love saying that. (Laughter.) I am thrilled that all of you could be here today as we honor these 10 outstanding libraries and museums.
I want to start, of course, by thanking Susan -- where did you go that quickly -- there you go -- (laughter) -- for that very kind introduction, but, more importantly, for her outstanding work on behalf of our country and our nation's museums and libraries. As Susan told me in the back room, these are her peeps. (Laughter.) So she's doing a phenomenal job.
And of course, I want to recognize our guests of honor today –- this year’s medal-winning libraries and museums. Thank you all for your outstanding contributions to communities and to our country. Every day, you all are pushing boundaries, defying expectations and redefining what it means to be a library and museum in this country.
You’re not just exposing our young people to science and the arts, you’re actually putting instruments and paintbrushes and computers into their hands and helping them blossom into musicians and artists and scientists themselves. You’re not just helping kids check out books, you’re actually teaching them to read those books.
You’re tutoring our kids who have fallen behind in a grade level. You're teaching English as a second language. You're developing the next generation of lifelong learners. And I also understand that there are some of you who are even members of our Let's Move Museums and Gardens initiative -- yes, indeed. (Applause.) And you know that I greatly appreciate that work, everything that you all are doing to make it fun and creative for kids to develop lifelong health habits. Thank you for that work.
So when I think about what you all do, I think it’s best summed up by a phrase in the 1920 annual report of one of today’s honorees, the Boston Children’s Museum. The report stated that the goal of this museum is to “make better citizens.” And more than anything else, that’s what all of you do –- you help create better citizens.
You help people across this country become more informed and engaged in our communities. You teach our young people about our history, and you inspire them to play a role in shaping our future. And I know this work isn’t easy -- not at all. I know that many of our libraries and museums are dealing with tight budgets and juggling more and more demands with fewer resources.
But instead of scaling back your missions, you all are expanding them. You’re reaching out to underserved populations, taking on issues like poverty and illiteracy. You’re partnering with schools and community organizations, finding new ways to share your resources as widely as possible.
Take the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, for example. They ran a summer lunch program, serving 6,700 meals to hungry children. And all of you are embracing the magnificent diversity of the communities that you serve -- making sure that everyone, no matter where they’re from or what language they speak, can enjoy all that you have to offer. And that is precisely what we try to do here at the White House.
As you know, this house, in many ways, is a museum. And we have worked so hard to open up this place to as many of our young people as possible, doing everything from hosting workshops on poetry to having modern dance. Yes, the Alvin Ailey dancers danced right here. And then the curators realized that some of those leaps were threatening the chandeliers. (Laughter.) I don't think they thought that through, so they were wincing as the leaps were happening. (Laughter.)
But we've also hosted jazz, classical and country music workshops here for young people, because like all of you, we want our young people to know about and be proud of this nation’s rich cultural heritage. And we want them so desperately to discover their own gifts, and to fulfill their own potential, and start thinking about their own contributions to our great American story. And your libraries and museums are such a crucial part of that vitally important work.
And Barack and I, we are truly proud of everything you do. And it is a real joy and an honor for us to host all of you here. We can't say thank you enough. But hopefully, today is one small way to remind you that the work that you do is so critical. It's important. It is valued. And we hope you all keep doing what you do every single day. As I tell all of our teachers and folks out there doing the hard work, please don't get tired. (Laughter.) We need you.
So congratulations again on this tremendous achievement. And now it's my pleasure to present the medals to today’s honorees. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
(The awards are presented.)
MRS. OBAMA: Let me just take the opportunity to have the triplets stand, since they are here. Let's give the triplets a hand. (Applause.) We’re proud of you guys too. (Laughter.) You can sit down. (Laughter.) You guys are such rule followers. I love it, I love it. (Laughter.)
Well, that concludes our awards. I hope we all leave here inspired and rededicated, because as we can see from the stories that we've heard that your work is really powerful, and it is impactful, and it can change lives. You do it quietly. You do it without much fanfare or you don't require a lot of attention.
So hopefully, today gives you that little bit of light you need to just keep going, because this country needs you. We need the work that you do. And it's just our hope that every community in this country can have the resources that you are providing to your communities. That should be our goal.
And with that, I think now it's time to have a little fun, as my husband always says. We've got a little reception over there. We have some nice food here at the White House. (Laughter.) They know how to throw a nice party. So I encourage you to enjoy, partake, walk around, eat -- have some cookies. (Laughter.) We'll put Let's Move on hold for just a couple of cookies. (Laughter and applause.)
So enjoy your time. You have earned it. We are grateful. Congratulations again. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
2:10 P.M. EDT
On behalf of the President and the people of the United States, we congratulate Prime Minister Najib on his coalition’s victory in Malaysia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday May 5. We also congratulate the people of Malaysia, who turned out in record numbers to cast their votes, as well as the parties of the opposition coalition on their campaigns, as a vibrant opposition is a foundation of democracy. We note concerns regarding reported irregularities in the conduct of the election, and believe it is important that Malaysian authorities address concerns that have been raised. We look forward to the outcome of their investigations. The United States looks forward to continuing its close cooperation with the government and the people of Malaysia to continue to strengthen democracy, peace, and prosperity in the region.
NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE:
Anthony Renard Foxx, of North Carolina, to be Secretary of Transportation, vice Ray LaHood.
Michael Froman, of New York, to be United States Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, vice Ronald Kirk, resigned.
Melvin L. Watt, of North Carolina, to be Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency for a term of five years. (New Position)
1:44 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.
Let me begin by saying it is a great pleasure to welcome President Park and our friends from the Republic of Korea. Madam President, we are greatly honored that you’ve chosen the United States as your first foreign visit. This, of course, reflects the deep friendship between our peoples and the great alliance between our nations, which is marking another milestone. I’m told that in Korea, a 60th birthday is a special celebration of life and longevity -- a hwangap. (Laughter.) Well, this year, we’re marking the 60th anniversary of the defense treaty between our nations.
Yesterday, President Park visited Arlington National Cemetery and our memorial to our Korean War veterans. Tonight, she’s hosting a dinner to pay tribute to the generation of American veterans who have served in the defense of South Korea. And tomorrow she’ll address a joint session of Congress -- an honor that is reserved for our closest of friends.
And in this sense, this visit also reflects South Korea’s extraordinary progress over these six decades. From the ashes of war, to one of the world’s largest economies; from a recipient of foreign aid to a donor that now helps other nations develop. And of course, around the world, people are being swept up by Korean culture -- the Korean Wave. And as I mentioned to President Park, my daughters have taught me a pretty good Gangnam Style. (Laughter.)
President Park, in your first months in office South Korea has faced threats and provocations that would test any nation. Yet you’ve displayed calm and steady resolve that has defined your life. Like people around the world, those of us in the United States have also been inspired by your example as the first female President of South Korea. And today I’ve come to appreciate the leadership qualities for which you are known -- your focus and discipline and straight-forwardness. And I very much thank you for the progress that we’ve already made together.
Today, we agreed to continue the implementation of our historic trade agreement, which is already yielding benefits for both our countries. On our side, we’re selling more exports to Korea -- more manufactured goods, more services, more agricultural products. Even as we have a long way to go, our automobile exports are up nearly 50 percent, and our Big Three -- Ford, Chrysler and GM -- are selling more cars in Korea. And as President Park and I agreed to make sure that we continue to fully implement this agreement, we believe that it’s going to make both of our economies more competitive. It will boost U.S. exports by some $10 billion and support tens of thousands of American jobs. And obviously it will be creating jobs in Korea as they are able to continue to do extraordinary work in expanding their economy and moving it further and further up the value chain.
We agreed to continue the clean energy partnerships that help us to enhance our energy security and address climate change. Given the importance of a peaceful nuclear energy industry to South Korea, we recently agreed to extend the existing civilian nuclear agreement between our two countries -- but we also emphasized in our discussions the need to continue to work diligently towards a new agreement. As I told the President, I believe that we can find a way to support South Korea’s energy and commercial needs even as we uphold our mutual commitments to prevent nuclear proliferation.
We agreed to continuing modernizing our security alliance. Guided by our joint vision, we’re investing in the shared capabilities and technologies and missile defenses that allow our forces to operate and succeed together. We are on track for South Korea to assume operational control for the alliance in 2015. And we’re determined to be fully prepared for any challenge or threat to our security. And obviously that includes the threat from North Korea.
If Pyongyang thought its recent threats would drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, or somehow garner the North international respect, today is further evidence that North Korea has failed again. President Park and South Koreans have stood firm, with confidence and resolve. The United States and the Republic of Korea are as united as ever. And faced with new international sanctions, North Korea is more isolated than ever. In short, the days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions -- those days are over.
Our two nations are prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically and, over time, build trust. But as always -- and as President Park has made clear -- the burden is on Pyongyang to take meaningful steps to abide by its commitments and obligations, particularly the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
And we discussed that Pyongyang should take notice of events in countries like Burma, which, as it reforms, is seeing more trade and investment and diplomatic ties with the world, including the United States and South Korea.
For our part, we’ll continue to coordinate closely with South Korea and with Japan. And I want to make clear the United States is fully prepared and capable of defending ourselves and our allies with the full range of capabilities available, including the deterrence provided by our conventional and nuclear forces. As I said in Seoul last year, the commitment of the United States to the security of the Republic of Korea will never waver.
More broadly, we agreed to continue expanding our cooperation globally. In Afghanistan -- where our troops serve together and where South Korea is a major donor of development assistance -- we’re on track to complete the transition to Afghan-led operations by the end of next year. We discussed Syria, where both our nations are working to strengthen the opposition and plan for a Syria without Bashar Assad. And I’m pleased that our two nations -- and our Peace Corps -- have agreed to expand our efforts to promote development around the world.
Finally, we’re expanding the already strong ties between our young people. As an engineer by training, President Park knows the importance of education. Madam President, you’ve said -- and I'm quoting you -- “We live in an age where a single individual can raise the value of an entire nation.” I could not agree more. So I’m pleased that we’re renewing exchange programs that bring our students together. And as we pursue common-sense immigration reform here in the United States, we want to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs and foreign graduate students from countries like Korea to stay and contribute to our country, just as so many Korean Americans already do.
So, again, thank you, President Park, for making the United States your first foreign trip. In your inaugural address you celebrated the “can do” spirit of the Korean people. That is a spirit that we share. And after our meeting today, I’m confident that if our two nations continue to stand together, there’s nothing we cannot do together.
So, Madam President, welcome to the United States.
PRESIDENT PARK: (As interpreted.) Let me start by thanking President Obama for his invitation and his gracious hospitality.
During my meeting with the President today, I was able to have a heart-to-heart talk with him on a wide range of common interests. I found that the two us of have a broad common view about the vision and roles that should guide the Korea-U.S. alliance as it moves forward, and I was delighted to see this.
First of all, the President and I shared the view that the Korea-U.S. alliance has been faithfully carrying out its role as a bulwark of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and that the alliance should continue to serve as a linchpin for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Asia. In this regard, I believe it is significant that the joint declaration on the 60th anniversary of our alliance we adopted spells out the direction that our comprehensive strategic alliance should take.
Next, the President and I reaffirmed that we will by no means tolerate North Korea’s threats and provocations, which have recently been escalating further, and that such actions would only deepen North Korea’s isolation. The President and I noted that it is important that we continue to strengthen our deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and conventional weapons threat, and shared the view that in this respect, the transition of wartime operational control should also proceed in a way that strengthens our combined defense capabilities and preparations being made toward that way as well.
We also shared the view that realizing President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons should start on the Korean Peninsula and we stated that we would continue to strongly urge North Korea, in close concert with the other members of the Six-Party talks and the international community, to faithfully abide by its international obligations under the September 19th Joint Statement and the relevant Security Council resolutions.
Korea and the U.S. will work jointly to induce North Korea to make the right choice through multifaceted efforts, including the implementation of the Korean Peninsula trust-building process that I had spelled out.
I take this opportunity to once again send a clear message: North Korea will not be able to survive if it only clings to developing its nuclear weapons at the expense of its people’s happiness. Concurrently pursuing nuclear arsenals and economic development can by no means succeed.
This is the shared view of the view of the other members of the Six-Party talks and the international community. However, should North Korea choose the path to becoming a responsible member of the community of nations, we are willing to provide assistance, together with the international community.
We also had meaningful discussions on the economy and ways to engage in substantive cooperation. The President and I welcome the fact that the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect one year ago, is contributing to our shared prosperity. We also said we will make efforts to enable our people to better feel the benefits of our free trade agreement for them.
I highlighted the importance of securing high-skilled U.S. work visas for Korean citizens, and asked for executive branch support to the extent possible to see to it that the relevant legislation is passed in the U.S. Congress.
Moreover, we arrived at the view that the Korea-U.S. Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement should be revised into an advanced and mutually beneficial successor agreement. We said we would do our best to conclude our negotiations as soon as possible.
The President and I also had in-depth discussions on ways to enhance our global partnership. First, we noted together that Northeast Asia needs to move beyond conflict and divisions and open a new era of peace and cooperation, and that there would be synergy between President's Obama's policy of rebalancing to Asia and my initiative for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia as we pursue peace and development in the region. We shared the view about playing the role of co-architects to flesh out this vision.
Furthermore, we decided that the Korea-U.S. alliance should deal not just with challenges relating to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, but confronting the broader international community.
I am very delighted that I was able to build personal trust with President Obama through our summit meeting today, and to have laid a framework for cooperation.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, we've got a couple of questions from each side, so we'll start with Stephen Collinson of AFP.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Does the United States have a core national security interest in stopping the slaughter in Syria, or merely a strong moral desire to see the violence end? And at what point does the cost of not intervening in a more direct way than you have done so far outweigh the cost of doing so?
And if I may ask, President Park, President Obama's critics have warned that failing to act on perceived violations of U.S. red lines in Syria could embolden U.S. enemies elsewhere, including in North Korea. Are you convinced that Kim Jong-un has taken the U.S. and South Korean warnings seriously, and do you see the withdrawal of two missiles from a test site as a sign that he's willing to deescalate the situation?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Stephen, I think that we have both a moral obligation and a national security interest in, A, ending the slaughter in Syria, but, B, also ensuring that we've got a stable Syria that is representative of all the Syrian people, and is not creating chaos for its neighbors. And that’s why for the last two years we have been active in trying to ensure that Bashar Assad exits the stage, and that we can begin a political transition process.
That’s the reason why we’ve invested so much in humanitarian aid. That’s the reason why we are so invested in helping the opposition; why we've mobilized the international community to isolate Syria. That’s why we are now providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and that’s why we're going to continue to do the work that we need to do.
And in terms of the costs and the benefits, I think there would be severe costs in doing nothing. That’s why we're not doing nothing. That’s why we are actively invested in the process. If what you're asking is, are there continuing reevaluations about what we do, what actions we take in conjunction with other international partners to optimize the day when -- or to hasten the day when we can see a better situation in Syria -- we've been doing that all along and we'll continue to do that.
I think that, understandably, there is a desire for easy answers. That's not the situation there. And my job is to constantly measure our very real and legitimate humanitarian and national security interests in Syria, but measuring those against my bottom line, which is what's in the best interest of America's security and making sure that I'm making decisions not based on a hope and a prayer, but on hard-headed analysis in terms of what will actually make us safer and stabilize the region.
I would note -- not to answer the question that you lobbed over to President Park -- that you suggested even in your question a perceived crossing of a red line. The operative word there, I guess, Stephen, is “perceived.” And what I've said is that we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but I don't make decisions based on “perceived.” And I can't organize international coalitions around “perceived.” We've tried that in the past, by the way, and it didn't work out well.
So we want to make sure that we have the best analysis possible. We want to make sure that we are acting deliberately. But I would just point out that there have been several instances during the course of my presidency where I said I was going to do something and it ended up getting done. And there were times when there were folks on the sidelines wondering why hasn't it happened yet and what's going on and why didn't it go on tomorrow? But in the end, whether it's bin Laden or Qaddafi, if we say we're taking a position, I would think at this point the international community has a pretty good sense that we typically follow through on our commitments.
PRESIDENT PARK: With regard to actions toward Syria, what kind of message would that communicate to North Korea? -- that was the question. And recently North Korea seems to be deescalating its threats and provocations -- what seems to be behind that? You asked these two questions. In fact, North Korea is isolated at the moment, so it's hard to find anyone that could really accurately fathom the situation in North Korea. Its actions are all so very unpredictable. Hence, whether the Syrian situation would have an impact is hard to say for sure.
Why is North Korea appearing to deescalate its threats and provocations? There's no knowing for sure. But what is clear and what I believe for sure is that the international community with regard to North Korea's bad behavior, its provocations, must speak with one voice -- a firm message, and consistently send a firm message that they will not stand, and that North Korea's actions in breach of international norms will be met with so-and-so sanctions and measures by the international community. At the same time, if it goes along the right way, there will be so-and-so rewards. So if we consistently send that message to North Korea, I feel that North Korea will be left with no choice but to change.
And instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must also consistently send that message with one voice to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change, and to shape an environment where they are left with no choice but to make the strategic decision to change. And I think that's the effective and important way.
Q My question goes to President Park. You just mentioned that North Korea -- in order to induce North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, what is most important is the concerted actions of the international community. With regard to this, during your meeting with President Obama today, I would like to ask what was said and the views that you shared. And with regard to this, what Russia and China -- the role that they're playing in terms of inducing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, how do you feel about that?
My next question is to President Obama. Regarding the young leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, I would appreciate your views about the leader of North Korea. And if you were to send a message to him today, what kind of message would you send to him?
PRESIDENT PARK: With regard to the North Korea issue, Korea and the United States, as well as the international community -- the ultimate objective that all of us should be adopting is for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and to induce it to become a responsible member of the international community. This serves the interest of peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world, and it also serves the interest of North Korea's own development as well. That is my view.
And so, in order to encourage North Korea to walk that path and change its perceptions, we have to work in concert. And in this regard, China's role, China's influence can be extensive, so China taking part in these endeavors is important. And we shared views on that.
With regard to China and Russia’s stance, I believe that China and Russia -- not to mention the international community, of course -- share the need for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and are cooperating closely to induce North Korea to take the right path. In the case of China, with regard to North Korea’s missile fire and nuclear testing, China has taken an active part in adopting U.N. Security Council resolutions and is faithfully implementing those resolutions.
And with regard to Russia, Russia is also firmly committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And with regard to the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea, it has been very active in supporting them. And they’ve also worked very hard to include a stern message to North Korea in the joint statement of the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting. Such constructive efforts on the part of China and Russia are vital to sending a unified message to North Korea that their nuclear weapons will not stand, and encouraging and urging North Korea to make the right decision.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Obviously, I don’t know Kim Jong-un personally. I haven’t had a conversation with him, can’t really give you an opinion about his personal characteristics. What we do know is the actions that he’s taken have been provocative and seem to pursue a dead end.
And I want to emphasize, President Park and myself very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability; that we’re not going to reward provocative behavior. But we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community, and seeing a gradual progression in which both security and prosperity for the people of North Korea can be achieved.
If what North Korea has been doing has not resulted in a strong, prosperous nation, then now is a good time for
Kim Jong-un to evaluate that history and take a different path. And I think that, should he choose to take a different path, not only President Park and myself would welcome it, but the international community as a whole would welcome it.
And I think that China and Russia and Japan and other key players that have been participants in Six-Party talks have made that clear. But there’s going to have to be changes in behavior. We have an expression in English: Don’t worry about what I say; watch what I do. And so far at least, we haven’t seen actions on the part of the North Koreans that would indicate they’re prepared to move in a different direction.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. The Pentagon said today that there may be as many as 70 sexual assaults a day in the military -- up by 35 percent during your term in office -- and also that many sexual assaults may not be reported, in fact. Given what we know about an Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual assault recently being charged with sexual assault, and also the recent cases of a couple of Air Force generals who’ve set aside convictions of instances of sexual assault, can you speak to the culture in the U.S. military that may be at play here and talk about your response to that and what you can do going forward to improve things?
And if I may, President Park, I would ask you -- yesterday you said that if North Korea does not change its behavior, we will make them pay. I wondered if you could elaborate on that comment a little bit. Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let’s start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage; it is a crime. That’s true for society at large. And if it’s happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they’re wearing. And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior that’s not patriotic -- it’s a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is create a structure in which we’re starting to get accurate reporting. And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely.
And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward. But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today and indicating to him that we're going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game, to go at this thing hard.
And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.
And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.
So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the Secretary of Defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.
So I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable.
PRESIDENT PARK: Regarding North Korea's provocations and bad behavior, we will make them pay -- with regard to that, for instance, what I meant was that if they engage in military provocations and harm the lives of our people and the safety of our people, then naturally, as a President who gives the top priority to ensuring the safety of our people, it is something that we can't just pass over.
So if North Korea engages in provocations, I will fully trust the judgment of our military. So if our military makes a judgment which they feel is the right thing, then they should act accordingly. And this is the instruction that I had made.
And North Korea has to pay a price when it comes not only with regard to provocations, but also with regard to the recent Kaesong industrial complex issue, where, based on agreements between the two sides, companies had believed in the agreement that was made and actually went to invest in the Kaesong industrial complex, but they suddenly completely dismissed and disregarded this agreement overnight, and denied various medical supplies and food supplies to Korean citizens left in that industrial complex, refusing to accept our request to allow in those supplies, which is what prompted us to withdraw all of our citizens from that park. This situation unfolded in the full view of the international community.
So who would invest, not to mention Korean companies, but also companies of other countries, who would invest in North Korea in a place that shows such flagrant disregard for agreements, and how could they, under those circumstances, actually pull off economic achievement? So I think in this regard, they're actually paying the price for their own misdeeds.
Q My question goes to President Obama. President Park has been talking about the Korean Peninsula trust-building process as a way to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. I wonder what you feel about this trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as I indicated before, President Park's approach is very compatible with my approach and the approach that we have been taking together for several years now. And I understand it, the key is that we will be prepared for a deterrence; that we will respond to aggression; that we will not reward provocative actions; but that we will maintain an openness to an engagement process when we see North Korea taking steps that would indicate that it is following a different path. And that’s exactly the right approach.
All of us would benefit from a North Korea that transformed itself. Certainly, the people of North Korea would benefit. South Korea would be even stronger in a less tense environment on the peninsula. All the surrounding neighbors would welcome such a transition, such a transformation. But I don’t think either President Park or I are naïve about the difficulties of that taking place. And we've got to see action before we can have confidence that that, in fact, is the path that North Korea intends to take.
But the one thing I want to emphasize, just based on the excellent meetings and consultation that we had today, as well as watching President Park over the last several months dealing with the provocative escalations that have been taking place in North Korea, what I'm very confident about is President Park is tough. I think she has a very clear, realistic view of the situation, but she also has the wisdom to believe that conflict is not inevitable and is not preferable. And that's true on the Korean Peninsula. That's true around the world.
And we very much appreciate her visit and look forward to excellent cooperation not only on this issue, but on the more positive issues of economic and commercial ties between our two countries, educational exchanges, work on energy, climate change, helping other countries develop.
I've had a wonderful time every time I've visited the Republic of Korea. And what is clear is that the Republic of Korea is one of the great success stories of our lifetime. And the Republic of Korea's leadership around the globe will be increasingly important. And what underpins that in part has been the extraordinary history of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea. And we want to make sure that that remains a strong foundation for progress in the future.
So, thank you so much, Madam President. (Applause.)
2:20 P.M. EDT
Notice -- Continuation of the National Emergency with respect to the Actions of the Government of Syria
NOTICE - - - - - - - CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO THE ACTIONS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF SYRIA On May 11, 2004, pursuant to his authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701- 1706, and the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Public Law 108-175, the President issued Executive Order 13338, in which he declared a national emergency with respect to the actions of the Government of Syria. To deal with this national emergency, Executive Order 13338 authorized the blocking of property of certain persons and prohibited the exportation or re-exportation of certain goods to Syria. The national emergency was modified in scope and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13399 of April 25, 2006, Executive Order 13460 of February 13, 2008, Executive Order 13572 of April 29, 2011, Executive Order 13573 of May 18, 2011, Executive Order 13582 of August 17, 2011, Executive Order 13606 of April 22, 2012, and Executive Order 13608 of May 1, 2012. The President took these actions to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions of the Government of Syria in supporting terrorism, maintaining its then-existing occupation of Lebanon, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts with respect to the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. While the Syrian regime has reduced the number of foreign fighters bound for Iraq, the regime's brutal war on the Syrian people, who have been calling for freedom and a representative government, endangers not only the Syrian people themselves, but could yield greater instability throughout the region. The Syrian regime's actions and policies, including pursuing chemical and biological weapons, supporting terrorist organizations, and obstructing the Lebanese government's ability to function effectively, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. As a result, the national emergency declared on May 11, 2004, and the measures to deal with that emergency adopted on that date in Executive Order 13338; on April 25, 2006, in Executive Order 13399; on February 13, 2008, in Executive Order 13460; on April 29, 2011, in Executive Order 13572; on May 18, 2011, in Executive Order 13573; on August 17, 2011, in Executive Order 13582; on April 22, 2012, in Executive Order 13606; and on May 1, 2012, in Executive Order 13608; must continue in effect beyond May 11, 2013. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared with respect to the actions of the Government of Syria. In addition, the United States condemns the Asad regime's use of brutal violence and human rights abuses and calls on the Asad regime to stop its violent war and step aside to allow a political transition in Syria that will forge a credible path to a future of greater freedom, democracy, opportunity, and justice. The United States will consider changes in the composition, policies, and actions of the Government of Syria in determining whether to continue or terminate this national emergency in the future. This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress. BARACK OBAMA THE WHITE HOUSE, May 7, 2013.
Message -- Continuation of the National Emergency with respect to the Actions of the Government of Syria
TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES: Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency, unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency with respect to the actions of the Government of Syria declared in Executive Order 13338 of May 11, 2004 -- as modified in scope and relied upon for additional steps taken in Executive Order 13399 of April 25, 2006, Executive Order 13460 of February 13, 2008, Executive Order 13572 of April 29, 2011, Executive Order 13573 of May 18, 2011, Executive Order 13582 of August 17, 2011, Executive Order 13606 of April 22, 2012, and Executive Order 13608 of May 1, 2012 -- is to continue in effect beyond May 11, 2013. While the Syrian regime has reduced the number of foreign fighters bound for Iraq, the regime's brutal war on the Syrian people, who have been calling for freedom and a representative government, endangers not only the Syrian people themselves, but could yield greater instability throughout the region. The Syrian regime's actions and policies, including pursuing chemical and biological weapons, supporting terrorist organizations, and obstructing the Lebanese government's ability to function effectively, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions to address this national emergency. In addition, the United States condemns the Asad regime's use of brutal violence and human rights abuses and calls on the Asad regime to stop its violent war and step aside to allow a political transition in Syria that will forge a credible path to a future of greater freedom, democracy, opportunity, and justice. The United States will consider changes in the composition, policies, and actions of the Government of Syria in determining whether to continue or terminate this national emergency in the future. BARACK OBAMA THE WHITE HOUSE, May 7, 2013.
Joint Declaration in Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States of America
For six decades, the U.S.-ROK Alliance has served as an anchor for stability, security, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, in the Asia-Pacific region, and increasingly around the world. President Barack Obama of the United States of America and President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea, meeting in Washington, D.C. on May 7, 2013, present this Joint Declaration in celebration of sixty years of bilateral partnership and shared prosperity. The two leaders affirm that the Alliance is well-placed to address the opportunities and challenges of the future.
The U.S.-ROK Alliance, forged in the Korean War and founded on the 1953 United States-Republic of Korea Mutual Defense Treaty, has evolved into a comprehensive strategic alliance with deep cooperation extending beyond security to also encompass the political, economic, cultural, and people-to-people realms. The freedom, friendship, and shared prosperity we enjoy today rest upon our shared values of liberty, democracy, and a market economy.
Building on the past sixty years of stability on the Korean Peninsula, we continue to strengthen and adapt our Alliance to serve as a linchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific and to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. The United States remains firmly committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, including through extended deterrence and the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both conventional and nuclear.
This year also marks another milestone for our two nations - the first anniversary of the entry into force of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). This agreement embodies the positive evolution of our partnership and demonstrates how deeply the United States and the Republic of Korea are committed to a shared future of growth and prosperity. We are pleased to note the positive results of the KORUS FTA, including increased trade and investment between our two countries, and recognize its potential for expanding bilateral cooperation and business opportunities, including in the energy sector. Our two countries will fully implement the KORUS FTA to ensure that the agreement serves as an economic growth engine in both our countries.
We are pleased with the significant progress made in realizing the 2009 Joint Vision for the Alliance of the United States of America and the Republic of Korea, which lays out a blueprint for the future development of our strategic Alliance. We pledge to continue to build a better and more secure future for all Korean people, working on the basis of the Joint Vision to foster enduring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and its peaceful reunification based on the principles of denuclearization, democracy and a free market economy. In this context, the United States and the Republic of Korea will continue to work through the Alliance to bring North Korea in to compliance with its international obligations and promote peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, including through the trust-building process initiated by President Park.
We share the deep concern that North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missiles programs and its repeated provocations pose grave threats to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. Both the United States and the Republic of Korea are determined to achieve the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea and are working with other Six-Party Talks partners and the international community to insist that North Korea adheres to its international obligations and commitments. While we invite North Korea to take the path that leads out of isolation and to join the community of nations as a responsible member, we are resolved to continue to defend our citizens against North Korea’s provocations by strengthening our comprehensive, interoperable, and combined defense capabilities, to include shared efforts to counter the missile threat posed by North Korea and integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems. Because both the United States and the Republic of Korea share a deep concern for the well-being of the North Korean people, we encourage North Korea to invest in, and improve, the conditions for its citizens and to respect their basic human rights.
The peace and prosperity of both our nations are inextricably linked to regional and global security and economic growth. Based on the solid U.S.-ROK Alliance, we are prepared to address our common challenges and seek ways to build an era of peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia. The U.S.-ROK Alliance is an increasingly global partnership, and the United States welcomes the Republic of Korea’s leadership and active engagement on the world stage, including in international fora. We will strengthen our efforts to address global challenges such as climate change and to promote clean energy, energy security, human rights, humanitarian assistance, development assistance cooperation, counter-terrorism, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, nuclear safety, non-proliferation, cybersecurity, and counter-piracy.
Our sixty years of partnership and shared prosperity have demonstrated that the strength of our Alliance stems from the close relationships between our peoples. The large Korean-American community in the United States not only serves as a significant link between our two countries, but also makes countless contributions to the strength and vitality of American society. We pledge to continue programs and efforts to build even closer ties between our societies, including cooperation among business, civic, academic, and other institutions.
As allies and Asia-Pacific nations, we look forward to shaping together the future of Asia for generations to come.
Politics and Prose Bookstore
11:16 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Thank you. Thank you for coming out on this really wet Tuesday. Not so good for standing outside, but really good for gardeners, this rain.
I am very excited. This is my third book signing -- maybe it’s only my second. It’s my second book signing. Because if you recall, when the book came out we were in the middle of this campaign, or something or other. So we were a little busy. But I am very excited to be with you all today.
As many of you know, this is my very first book. Never done a book before. But this is an -- is that -- oh, thank you. (Laughter and applause.) But what a great first book to be able to tell the tale of the White House garden. And I hope you guys enjoy it.
I want to thank our hosts, Lissa and Bradley, who are the owners of this wonderful bookstore -- a real staple of this community. The first time I’ve been able to be here. (Applause.) Thank you for hosting us.
I want to recognize the Dwiggins family, who are highlighted in the book. They work on a community garden in North Carolina, which is one of the many community gardens that are highlighted in the book. It’s great to meet you in person. Thank you for allowing us to share your story in “American Grown.”
But that’s also part of what this book is. It’s not just the story of the White House Kitchen Garden; it’s the story of community gardens all across this country, because the truth is the idea of the White House garden is not unique. Community gardens are a mainstay in so many communities across this country, from rural America to my neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. There’s a community garden in one of the parks that I grew up using as part of the camp project. Rainbow Beach day camp has one of the first-ever community gardens. And I didn’t even realize that until I started writing this book and doing the research.
But community gardens are a significant part of the history of this country, which is why we thought it was important to incorporate these stories in the telling of the White House garden story.
But my goal in this book is to share the story of the creation of the garden, because while it is semi-open to the public -- because if you visit the White House along the South Lawn, you can see the garden from outside of the White House. But millions of people don’t get a chance to come to Washington. They hear about the garden; they don’t get an opportunity to see it. So we wanted to use this as an opportunity to tell people about how we started it and how we thought about it, who all is involved, what kind of role Bo plays -- he’s a very significant part of the book.
And we also wanted to talk about -- to use it as a way to talk about one of the issues that is important to me and has been something that I’ve talked about a lot as First Lady, is ending the epidemic of childhood obesity. Because the garden was really a way to begin this conversation about how do we educate our children about the food they eat and how it impacts their body and how all of that affects their health, and encourage our children to eat healthy and eat more vegetables and to get more exercise, which is the whole goal of Let’s Move.
So all of that is a part of this book, and it’s trying to do a little bit of everything. It’s a beautiful picture book. There are beautiful pictures that let you on the inside of what happens behind the scenes. But there are great stories. There are wonderful recipes in there shared by the White House chefs. So it’s doing a lot.
And I found that my girls really enjoy just thumbing through and looking at the pictures, but slowly but surely they started to actually read what was in there. (Laughter.) And that’s really the hope -- that the pictures draw people of all ages in and then they start to read it and maybe start thinking about how to start a garden on their own, because there are many ways to do it. You don’t have to have many acres. You don’t have to have a staff. You can have a few containers. There are schools that are starting gardens and they’re using it as part of the curriculum, and we talk about that in the book as well. So hopefully there are some useful tips for gardeners and would-be gardeners and non-gardeners.
So I hope you all enjoy the book. Another important thing about this book is that all the proceeds -- 100 percent of them -- go to the National Park Foundation, which is really critical because it’s going to help support the -- yes, indeed. (Applause.) Those funds are going to help support the White House Kitchen Garden and other community gardens across this country.
So buy away. It’s Mother’s Day. (Laughter.) It’s coming up. I would say that I was going to give this as a gift to my mother, but she already has, like, 10 copies. (Laughter.) But I might buy her another one just for the heck of it. But it’s a great gift, and hopefully you share it with your family and friends.
And with that, I’m going to meet you guys, sign books and -- (laughter) -- thank you. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you!
MRS. OBAMA: I love you, too. Love you, too. You all have just been tremendous supporters and we’re just -- I am just proud to be the First Lady of this country. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)
11:21 A.M. EDT
The full text of the op-ed by President Obama is printed below. The piece was published yesterday in the Miami Herald and can be found HERE.
Improving our Partnership with Latin America
By Barack Obama
Last week, I was proud to visit Mexico for the fourth time as president and to meet with Central American leaders in Costa Rica. It was a chance for me to reaffirm our friendship with a region to which tens of millions of immigrants and Americans trace their roots.
It was also an opportunity to highlight the impressive progress being made across Latin America, one of the world’s most dynamic regions, and forge new partnerships that will help improve the lives of all our citizens.
I went because this is a moment of great promise for our hemisphere. Today, almost all the people of the Americas live in democracies. Latin America has some of the world’s fastest growing economies. And across the region, tens of millions of people have escaped poverty and entered the middle class.
This represents an incredible opportunity for all our countries, especially when it comes to my top priority: creating good, middle-class jobs here in America. Because, as I saw in my visit to the port of Miami in March, one of the best ways to do that is by expanding trade that allows us to sell more products around the world.
Right now, over 40 percent of our exports go to Mexico, Central and South America, and those exports are growing faster than our trade with the rest of the world. That’s creating more jobs here in the United States, but it’s also benefitting people across the entire hemisphere. The United States is the largest source of foreign investment in the Americas. And the trade agreements I’ve signed with Colombia and Panama are creating new markets for businesses in our countries.
One of our largest, most dynamic relationships is with Mexico. The United States is Mexico’s largest customer, buying most of Mexico’s exports, and Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. exports, buying more than $200 billion worth of products Made in America each year. Our companies and workers assemble products together. All this supports millions more jobs in both countries.
I believe that there’s even more that the people of the United States and Mexico can build together. That’s why President Peña Nieto and I committed to expanding trade and investment and creating even more jobs for our people.
I conveyed a similar message to President Chinchilla of Costa Rica and other Central American leaders. Over the last six years, U.S. exports to Central American nations have increased by over 94 percent, and imports from those countries have risen by nearly 87 percent. Broad-based economic growth is reinforcing the hard-won political and social gains of the last two decades. And that’s why I reaffirmed the United States’ strong support and commitment to building a more prosperous Central America.
That’s important, because broad-based economic growth doesn’t just create more jobs and opportunity in these countries — it also reduces illegal immigration to the United States. Commonsense immigration reform is one of my top priorities. The bill introduced in the Senate doesn’t include everything I want, but it’s largely consistent with the principles I’ve laid out: better border security, a path to citizenship, and a legal immigration system that unites families and attracts highly-skilled workers. And I’m hopeful that we can make comprehensive immigration reform a reality this year.
Today, tens of millions of Americans trace their origins back to Mexico and Central America. Millions of workers are earning a living from good jobs made possible by the trade between our nations. The United States is a more prosperous and more diverse country thanks to our partnerships with our southern neighbors. And I’m confident that we can build on our common heritage, our economic relationship and our shared values to enrich the lives of all our people.
Barack Obama is the President of the United States.
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Please see below for corrections (marked with asterisks).
12:58 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Thanks for being here. I hope those of you who traveled with us to Mexico and Costa Rica had a little time off yesterday. I spent it at Six Flags for my daughter’s 8th birthday. I don't recommend some of the rides -- I'm still recovering from the crick in my neck. (Laughter.) But it was a lot of fun.
I don't have any other announcements. I think you saw that the President is being joined as we speak by three senators in a round of golf, which he, I know, was looking forward to. And that is happening as we gather here now.
The Associated Press -- Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to talk to you about Syria and events over the weekend. The Syrian government, the foreign minister on CNN said that the air strikes delivered over Friday and Saturday amounted to a declaration of war. I wondered if the President has any concerns that this might be expanding to a regional conflict all too quickly. And has the President been in touch with any leaders in the region to discuss these latest developments?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I would refer you to the Israeli government for any action they may or may not have taken. What I can say is that Israel certainly has the right to be concerned about the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah. And that has been a concern of Israel’s for a long time. The transfer of sophisticated weapons to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah is certainly a concern and a threat to Israel and they have a right to act in their own sovereign interest in response to those concerns.
The fact of the matter is the terrible situation in Syria is the fault and responsibility of Bashar al-Assad. He has murdered tens of thousands of his own people. He has acted with impunity like a tyrant to hold on to power. And it is the rightful demand of the Syrian people that they be rid of this tyrant and that they have a say in their future. And we have worked with international partners as well as the Syrian opposition to help bring about that opportunity for the Syrian people.
Q Was the administration forewarned that these strikes were going to take place? Did you guys know that --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to comment on any actions the Israelis may have taken. I can tell you --
Q I wouldn't even say Israel. I would just say did you guys know that something was going to happen?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that we are in close coordination as a matter of course with the Israelis, and continue to be. But I'm not going to comment specifically on actions that the Israelis may or may not have taken. I would certainly refer those questions to the Israeli government.
Q Some discussion today at the U.N. -- an interview given to the Italian TV or radio by one member of a commission looking into what happened in Syria on chemical weapons, suggesting that perhaps chemical weapons was conducted by rebels. The commission then distanced itself on that. Do you guys have any view on where that stands right now?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. While, as you said, the commission itself -- the independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has put out a statement clarifying that the commission has not reached any conclusive findings regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria or who used them if they were used.
The fact of the matter is, as we have said and I have said many times, we are highly skeptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons. We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime, and that remains our position.
Q And the last -- Secretary Kerry is going to Russia to meet with Putin. Is the administration, is the President optimistic that something might emerge from that, that Putin might be moving in the some direction regarding his view of the Assad regime?
MR. CARNEY: We have seen over the course of these weeks and months an escalation by Assad of the brutality that he is perpetrating on his own people. And we have consistently in our conversations with the Russians and others pointed clearly to Assad’s behavior as proof that further support for that regime is not in the interest of the Syrian people or in the interest of the countries that have in the past supported Assad. And we make that case repeatedly with the Russian government and others, and I’m sure we will continue to do that.
Now, we’re working with the Russians and consulting with them about Syria, as we are other nations, because we believe it’s in the interest of the Syrian people, in the interest of the future of the region, in the interest of all nations with a stake in the region to disassociate from Assad and to support a political transition in Syria. And that is a conversation that is ongoing with the Russians and the Chinese and others. We have been clear in the past about our disappointment with Russia over their opposition to resolutions at the Security Council with regards to this matter, but this is an ongoing conversation.
Q Jay, regardless of who’s at fault or who started this, is there a concern about a wider war developing in the Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: We have made clear from the beginning that one of the reasons why we need to bring about the political transition in Syria that is necessary, the reason that Assad has to go is that the threat that the unrest there, the violence and the war there cause to stability in the broader region remains and continues to increase. This is the case that we’ve made to our international partners, a case that we’ve made to members of the Security Council, that it is in everyone’s interest to bring about a transition there because of the threat that further violence and a broader civil war causes to everyone in every country there.
Q You mentioned the Assad regime has murdered tens of thousands of people, in your words. Does this rise to the level of genocide?
MR. CARNEY: It is a level of violence by a regime against its own people that is worthy of contempt and condemnation. What the terminology that may be used by courts or the United Nations or others I will leave to them. But it is heinous and despicable. It is the kind of action that long ago rendered Assad incapable of continuing in power with any kind of legitimacy.
Q With the current state in that region, in Syria and Israel, when can we expect the administration to announce next steps, what it plans to do next?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you heard the President address this several times last week. It is essential that we continue to gather evidence, that we work with our partners as well as the opposition in the accumulation of evidence about the use of chemical weapons. We are continuing to work with our partners as well as the opposition in our efforts to provide assistance to the opposition. We have stepped up significantly our assistance to the opposition and we, as you know and the President said, are the single largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.
So we are continuing to coordinate. But what I can’t do is put a timeline on the end of an investigation. We obviously have made clear that we support a United Nations investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria. We call on the Assad regime to back its own call for such an investigation to allow that investigation to take place. But we are not waiting for United Nations action alone. We are working through other means to try to build on the evidence that we already have of chemical weapons use, to assert in a concrete and firm way the chain of custody, when chemical weapons were used, by whom, and the full consequences of that use. But that does, of course, take some time.
Q Now, internally, here at the White House, among the President’s top advisors, is there pressure for greater involvement in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: I think you have seen this administration engage in this terrible problem from the beginning and we have not waited for developments before acting. We have acted in stepping up our aid, in pressuring Assad through sanctions and other means, isolating him and his regime, working with the Syrian opposition to help prop it up, as well as -- or stand it up, to help it get organized -- as well as supply it nonlethal assistance. That assistance is flowing as we speak to the opposition. But I would point you to what the President said in the last several days about this problem and about the actions that were taken.
Q In light of what you just said, over the weekend, Senator John McCain, in talking about the attack on Syria, said, “Unlike the President of the United States, they” -- referring to Israel -- “saw a red line, and they acted. Unfortunately, this President, President Obama, will not act, and that's a tragedy.” And then he went on to say that President Obama has avoided involvement in Syria much to the “shame and disgrace of the U.S.” So is this an accurate or inaccurate portrayal of how the President has been handling the situation in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: We strongly disagree with those comments. The fact of the matter is jumping to conclusions and acting before you have all the facts is not a good recipe for weighty policy decision-making. We have seen in the not-too-recent -- not-too-distant past the consequences of acting before we had all the facts. And that's why this President insists that we get all the facts.
The intelligence assessments we have are extremely valuable and significant, which is why we publicly released that information in a letter of response to some senators. But it is not sufficient to make the kind of determinations that the President will make if and when we can state clearly that a red line has been crossed, that chemical weapons have been used, that the Assad regime has deployed them against the Syrian people.
And in terms of the actions we’ve taken -- again, the largest single donor of humanitarian aid, the most significant donor of nonlethal assistance to the opposition, active engagement with the Friends of Syria and other partners in assisting the opposition organize itself, and taking the steps we have to recognize the opposition coalition as we have -- and we have continued to step up our engagement with the opposition as they have become more organized and more capable of representing both the Syrian people and the effort against Assad.
Q One quick thing on one other subject, on guns. What’s the strategy in moving forward and, realistically, what can get done?
MR. CARNEY: The President made clear when he spoke in the Rose Garden about the absolute necessity of the vast majority of the American people who agree with the need to take common-sense steps to reduce gun violence of insisting that their voices be heard; that when the Senate made the unfortunate choice -- a minority in the Senate -- of siding with the 10 percent over the 90 percent when it came to expanding background checks, the 90 percent needed to be heard. They needed to let their representatives know how disappointed they were in their failure to represent their own constituents.
We remain optimistic, the President does, that when it comes to background checks that this will happen. We can’t say precisely when that legislation will pass, but we and the President remain convinced that it will, because the American people have stated so clearly that it is a sensible thing to do. A background checks system exists. It works. To the extent that it covers the transactions in the country, it has prevented a significant number of people who should not have weapons because of their criminal backgrounds from obtaining them.
The expansion of this system was simply to close the loopholes that existed in a system that works and that gun shop owners across the country participate in and that would-be gun buyers, law-abiding citizens who want to buy weapons encounter every time they purchase weapons at a gun store. And it is extremely fast and efficient. And that system ought to apply more broadly.
These loopholes need to be closed so that we can reduce the number of cases where a violent criminal who has no right by law to obtain a weapon can get one by going through -- by using these loopholes. And that’s something that Americans in red states, blue states, purple states all support. It’s something that NRA members, rank-and-file members support. And it will happen.
And we are working with Congress to explore ways of pursuing more legislative action. We are continuing in the implementation of the executive actions that the President laid out when he put forward his broad proposal. And we are looking for other ways to take action to reduce gun violence in a common-sense way that respects Second Amendment rights, which every proposal the President put forward does.
Q Jay, can I follow up on that? How exactly is he working? Is he working with Senator Reid and some others to tweak the bill in some way that will bring on board some of the senators who voted against the bill the first time and get them to switch their votes? And how soon might we expect this to show some fruit?
MR. CARNEY: When it comes to the next steps legislatively, I would suggest you ask those senators who are engaged in the process. We’re working with them. We’re talking to them. We’re talking to other stakeholders. From the President on down -- I mean, the conversations he’s been having with lawmakers of both parties, in particular in the Senate, have obviously had as a number-one topic frequently the economy and our budget challenges and the need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way. But they have included extensive conversations about immigration reform and actions to reduce gun violence. And those conversations continue both at the presidential level, the vice presidential level, and the staff level.
We’ll work with Congress on next steps in terms of attempting to pass some of the legislation that, unfortunately, did not pass recently. But I don’t have a timetable for you. That would be for the Senate to decide.
Q Going back to Syria and the investigator’s comments about suspicions that chemical weapons may have been used by the rebels, you’ve mentioned several times that this is obviously an ongoing investigation, but if there’s any chance or suspicions that the rebels may have used sarin gas and chemical weapons, is the administration at all concerned about ramping up aid to the rebels?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just say two things. One, it is very important that we establish conclusively the evidence about chemical weapons use in Syria, and that includes who used it and under what circumstances and where. Having said that, it is also our position -- and that’s why that investigation needs to continue. That’s why we’re working both through the United Nations and through other means to gather evidence.
Separate from that -- or related to that is the fact that we are highly skeptical of any suggestions or accusations that the opposition used chemical weapons. We find it highly likely that chemical weapons, if they were, in fact, used in Syria -- and there is certainly evidence that they were -- that the Assad regime was responsible.
But to the point of your question about why we need to be thorough and gather facts that can be corroborated and reviewed and presented, we have to be sure about the case that we’re making. And the President has made clear from here and from his statements and the answers he gave in press conferences abroad that’s that what he intends.
Q When the President made his comment about the red line for the first time in an August news conference almost a year ago, did he go further than he had intended? Further than he and the staff had discussed?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s use of the term red line was deliberate and was based on U.S. policy. The world knew that the Syrian government possessed chemical weapons, and we had a concern that as the regime was increasingly beleaguered, it might use chemical weapons against the Syrian people in desperation.
The message that the President delivered that day was the same message that he was delivering in private. It was one that he and others in the administration have reinforced on multiple occasions ever since. And, as I said, it was consistent with what we were saying both to the Assad regime and to others privately.
Q Was there no concern that he had hemmed U.S. policy in?
MR. CARNEY: It is, by definition, a game-changer when chemical weapons are used. There are international conventions that prohibit the use of chemical weapons, and there are international norms that are violated when chemical weapons are used. It is, by definition, a game-changer. When the President talked as he did the other day about the fact that use of chemical weapons enhances the prospect or increases the prospect of proliferation, of those weapons getting into the hands of terrorists or other non-state actors, and that by extension then, that creates further threats to the United States and our allies, that is why it is such a significant event, and that is why it is a red line that the President made clear when he said that from here and that he reiterated on numerous occasions thereafter.
Q So you’re doubling down on the red line comment. Is there no concern that by doing this you’re raising expectations for some kind of action? Because you’re now being criticized for not acting.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the President made clear is that it was a red line and that it was unacceptable and that it would change his calculus as he viewed the situation in Syria because the use of chemical weapons represents the kind of escalation and threat that I just described. What he never did -- and it is simplistic to do so -- is to say that if X happens, Y will happen. He has never said what reaction he would take at a policy level to the proved crossing of the red line in Syria, simply that he would consider it a red line that had been crossed and that he would take appropriate action.
And he has -- as the investigation continues and as we have said all along, he is looking at a range of options and he is not removing any option from the table, if you will. And he will take action that he thinks is in the interest of the United States and our national security as well as in the interest of the Syrian people.
Q So you’re saying that he will take action if and when -- but he will take action.
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve heard the President make clear that he considers it a serious transgression, and that is why we need to assemble all of the evidence to ensure that we have a case that it has been used -- that chemical weapons have been used -- and that he will look at an array of options that are available to him in response to that use.
Q And in the meantime, does a story like the one in yesterday’s New York Times help to take some of the burden off by raising all of these things and suggesting the need to have all the evidence before he acts?
MR. CARNEY: The fact is -- and I think as I mentioned earlier -- there’s a recent enough example of why we need to make sure we have our facts in matters like these and the dangers inherent of not having all those facts and corroborated evidence. So we don't need stories like this one to make that case.
The President I think is very clear about how serious he considers the use of chemical weapons, and very clear about the fact that we need to make sure we have all the evidence before we make policy decisions based on the use of chemical weapons.
Q But how is it a red line if it’s crossed, this so-called red line, and then there’s nothing specific tied to it?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think we’ve had this discussion several times already, and both --
Q Right, but you're saying there’s a range of options. So you tell someone, you cross the red line, you’re in trouble -- there’s supposed to be something at the end of it. What is that?
MR. CARNEY: I think we made very clear and we made clear that we were concerned and our international partners were concerned that Assad, as he became more and more beleaguered, would resort to the use of chemical weapons. It was essential that we made clear both in private communications to the Assad regime, as well as in public, as the President did, how seriously we would view the use of chemical weapons. And that is what the President did.
And we are now in the process of gathering the facts -- not rushing to conclusions, not acting precipitously based on an incomplete case, but gathering the facts -- in order to make a judgment about what policy actions the President might take in reaction to the crossing of the red line.
And I think that is entirely the right way to go and certainly what the American people would support, rather than, say, precipitous action based on strong but limited evidence, which is what we have at this time.
Q Israel acted too quickly then over -- in the last few days?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re conflating two issues here. As I said --
Q -- they took military action --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to comment on the actions that Israel may or may not have taken. But it is --
Q Are you really saying they may not have taken action? I mean, the world --
MR. CARNEY: But I think you need to look at -- again, just the news reports -- I’m not going to comment on the actions. And what I have said here is that Israel has for a long time been, justifiably, concerned about the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah. This is not just chemical weapons, but sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah. And it is certainly within their right to take action to protect themselves and to prevent that kind of weaponry from getting into the hands of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.
So again without -- I would refer you to the Israelis for any confirmation or denial of actions that have been associated with them. But I would tell you that as a general matter this is a concern that they have had, and it is certainly within their right to take action to prevent the transfer of those kind of -- that kind of weaponry to organizations like Hezbollah.
Q A couple quick questions on Benghazi. Last week you said from this podium that the Departments of State and Defense had told you and had told Congressman Issa that they were not aware of anyone else at either department who wanted to come forward and say anything about this. Now that there are -- it looks like at least two or three witnesses who are going to be speaking to Darrell Issa -- speaking publicly at his hearing on Wednesday, do you think they told you the whole story last week, the State Department?
MR. CARNEY: I don't understand. These witnesses are going to talk to Congress and we have said that we are not aware of anyone who has been blocked from speaking to Congress if they so choose to or want to speak to Congress.
Q So they were not blocked over the last eight months?
MR. CARNEY: We are unaware of anyone being blocked from talking to Congress that chose to or wanted to speak to Congress.
And I would point you to the fact that there was an Accountability Review Board chaired by two of the most distinguished experts in our national security establishment, nonpartisan experts -- Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering -- who oversaw this review. And it was unsparing. It was critical. And it held people accountable. And it made a series of recommendations for action that could be taken to improve security to reduce the potential for these kinds of events from happening in the future. And every single one of those recommendations has been or is being implemented by the State Department.
Q If that report was unsparing, way is Greg Hicks, who was the number two to Ambassador Stevens, now going to tell Congress and tell the American people that there were U.S. Special Forces who were in Tripoli getting ready to board a plane, come to Benghazi to help these Americans, and they were told to stand down?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the Department of Defense has addressed this. I don't have access to the interviews that I think have been referred to in some of the news reports, but in terms of that issue, the response that the Department of Defense took and the actions that the Department of Defense took in response to what was happening in Benghazi, I would refer you to the Department of Defense. They have addressed this very issue.
And I would refer you to the content of the ARB. Again, Admiral Mullen, Ambassador Pickering -- former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, one of the most respected diplomats, living diplomats in our country, served under Presidents of both parties -- oversaw a very rigorous investigation that reached a number of conclusions, including the fact that action was taken immediately and appropriately and that that action saved American lives.
Q I know what they said, but Greg Hicks is --
MR. CARNEY: Again, you’re citing an interview that I haven’t had access to --
Q Okay, but he’s challenging the credibility of the White House. You don't care about what he’s saying? Do you think he’s lying?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ed, you're citing an interview that I don't have.
Q He’s saying people could have been helped.
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying --
Q He’s the number two at the compound. It’s not --
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that there was an Accountability Review Board led by two men of unimpeachable expertise and credibility who oversaw a process that was rigorous and unsparing, that was highly critical in some areas, and that produced a series of recommendations that have all been acted on by the State Department, as the President insisted be the case. What he made clear from the very onset in the wake of Benghazi was that he wanted action taken to ensure that we found out who was responsible and that they were brought to justice, and that action be taken to ensure that we implement the steps necessary to improve the security of our diplomats and diplomatic facilities around the country world* so that this kind of thing can't happen again.
Q Last thing is there’s another gentleman from the State Department, Mark Thompson, who is going to testify at this hearing that former Secretary Clinton tried to cut the counterterror unit at the State Department out of the initial hours after that attacks. Does the White House -- have you checked on that? Do you think that's accurate? Do you have any concerns about that, why they would have been cut out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have heard of that charge, and I would refer you to a statement put out today by the former head of the bureau, the Counterterrorism Bureau, Daniel Benjamin, and he says, “It has been alleged that the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau was cut out of the discussion and decision-making in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. I ran the bureau then and I can say now with certainty as the former coordinator for counterterrorism, that this charge is simply untrue. At no time did I feel that the bureau was in way being left out of deliberations that it should have been part of.”
So I’d refer you to that statement.
Q Following up very briefly on the issue of Libya, how has the power vacuum that followed in Libya affected the White House’s calculus, it’s decision-making process vis-à-vis Syria right now? What are the lessons --
MR. CARNEY: I think we have said -- it’s an excellent question, and I think we have said that with regards to all the countries that have been affected by the Arab Spring and the turmoil and upheaval that we have seen across the region, that we look at them each distinctly and take actions according to and make policy decisions according to the distinctions that we see.
Not every country is the same, as you know. Their make-ups are different. The circumstances are different in terms of the kind of unrest that we’ve seen in the Arab Spring. So I think that it’s impossible to draw too many parallels between, in this case, Libya, and Syria.
As we made clear I think early on with regards to Syria when some of these parallels were drawn that the circumstance that confronted the President in Libya was one where he had the opportunity to take action with our international partners to prevent the imminent attack on a city that would have led to countless deaths at the hands of the Qaddafi regime, and he took that action because the policy options were available to him that, while not without risk, he believed could be successful. And he took that action.
The circumstances in Libya [sic] Syria* present a different array of challenges, including when it comes to the international community and nations in the region and how they view the situation and the action that they believe should be taken.
So we are working accordingly very specifically with the challenges that Syria presents to us with our international partners, with the Syrian opposition, using all the tools that we have available to us to sanction and isolate Assad, to press for action at the Security Council, and when that has been blocked, to take action elsewhere. And we'll continue that effort.
Q Given the fact that the standard of evidence that the President and this White House has set for the use of chemical weapons, that it may be impossible to meet -- not because it doesn’t exist but because it’s simply impossible to access it with Bashar al-Assad not allowing U.N. inspectors and others to go into that country, and the chain of custody, which is sort of Washington language for it’s unclear exactly who held this evidence when it got to the folks who are able to see it in neighboring countries like Turkey. If you aren't able to meet that standard of evidence does that mean that the red line won't have been crossed? Does nothing happen unless --
MR. CARNEY: The suggestion that nothing is happening is not actually accurate in terms of U.S. policy. And yet we have, even in the weeks and months preceding the revelations about chemical weapons use, been stepping up our assistance to the opposition and changing the nature of our assistance to the opposition. And that process had been underway and continues to be underway. And I think that you have seen a significant increase in our assistance and in our engagement.
And so I just want to challenge the premise there that this is -- when it comes to assisting the opposition or taking action to help bring about the end of the Assad era, that chemical weapons is the only deciding factor -- that the provable use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime is the only issue here when it comes to the action and actions that the United States can take.
Q So is the White House satisfied perhaps that even if they aren't able to meet that standard of evidence, that even if there’s a high likelihood that chemical weapons were used, that there would not be a game-changing element to do anything further?
MR. CARNEY: I think that's a hypothetical that I'm wary of engaging in. But I can say that it is absolutely the right thing to do and the smart thing to do, on behalf of the American people and our interests, to be sure that when these kinds of allegations are made and when an issue of such seriousness as the use of chemical weapons is on the table that we get our facts right. And I think the American people, justifiably, expect that when it comes to significant policy decisions that a President makes on their behalf, policy decisions that could potentially put Americans at risk -- I'm saying that only in the sense -- I'm not trying to telegraph anything -- only in the sense that all options remain available, as the President has made clear -- that we be absolutely sure we have our facts straight, that we be absolutely sure that the evidence can be corroborated and reviewed and that there is acknowledgement that what we have presented is solid and true.
Q One last question, digressing to the topic of guns very quickly -- there is now new evidence, video evidence that a young individual has proven that with 3-D printing he can manufacture a gun that can fire off six bullets, at least to this point -- the technology rapidly changing. Given the conversation, the White House’s strong position about background checks, now you don't need a background check, you can still do it in your own home and create these guns. I'm curious of the White House’s view of this and whatever concerns it causes in terms of new technologies adding itself to this mix.
MR. CARNEY: I haven't been part of any discussion about that report or development. I can simply say that the actions that the President proposed, including the executive actions that he’s acting on and the legislative actions that he urged Congress to act on and he hopes still Congress will pass -- even if all were implemented would not, of course, end the scourge of violence in America.
But the President believes and experts believe that they would result in a reduction of gun violence. They would save lives, that maybe -- that certainly there would be children in America who would be alive because of these actions, and that is alone well worth the effort.
Q Should we be allowed to make guns at home? Should people be able to make --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know enough about the report that you’re citing to make a comment on that. I simply make the point that the fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we should not act to prevent some.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about what’s on the agenda for the President’s meeting tomorrow with South Korea’s President? And will they be working to devise a new strategy to confront North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that the President looks very much forward to meeting with his new counterpart from South Korea here at the White House, and that as is always the case there’s a full range of topics that will be discussed in this very important bilateral relationship that we have. North Korea will, of course, be one of those topics, as will the United States’ overall strategy of engagement with Asia, our economic ties to both South Korea and the region.
So I don’t have anything more specific for you than that. I think we’ll know more and learn more and be able to talk to you about more tomorrow after the meeting. But it’s obviously -- as we’ve said both in our visits to the Republic of Korea and in visits by Korean leaders here, this is an enormously important relationship on a security level as well as economic and cultural. So the President looks forward to the visit.
Q Does he see it as an opportunity to reevaluate our posture toward North Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we work very closely with our allies in Seoul on the challenge presented by the behavior of the North Korean regime, the provocations that Pyongyang engages in periodically and has of late engaged in. And the coordination between our two nations in reaction to that has always been strong and will continue to be.
I mean that just to suggest that this is not -- that this will not present a sudden, new strain of conversation here. This is a conversation that’s ongoing at the leader level as well as at the lower levels between foreign ministers and defense ministers and security and intelligence professionals.
Q Also I wanted to ask about sequestration. During this pay period -- non-commissioned officers of the White House have one furlough day. Could you talk a little bit about how you see that affecting operations here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you obviously it results, as is the case across the government when furloughs are implemented, in a reduction in staff, which limits what you can do. Everyone here works hard, and when we are a man or woman down in a certain department that affects what we can do. But we’re doing our best, obviously, as is the case across the government.
Q Jay, is there a political agenda for the golf game today?
MR. CARNEY: The President looks forward to discussing with -- and is probably discussing as I speak -- with these senators a range of topics. This is in keeping with his engagement with lawmakers of both parties, and in particular Republican senators, to see if he can find some common ground on some of the challenges that confront us.
When it comes to reducing our deficit in a balanced way, getting our fiscal house in order in a way that allows us to invest in our economy and protect the middle class and help it grow and expand, there’s a broad-based consensus in the country about how we should do that. There’s a broad consensus, a bipartisan consensus outside of Congress about how we should do that. There is even some consensus among -- at least at the high-altitude level -- among Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, or at least some consensus among some Republicans with Democrats in the Senate, about how we should do this.
So he has been engaging in these conversations to try to find out if there really is a willingness to move forward with a compromise on deficit reduction that allows us to reduce our deficit in a responsible and balanced way that doesn’t overly burden seniors or the middle class; allows for the investments in infrastructure and education that are essential to long-term economic growth; and would achieve the kind of deficit reduction that Republicans have long said they seek.
And it bears remembering that this President has signed into law over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. It bears remembering that we are now in the midst of the most precipitous decline in our deficit since demobilization after World War II. And it bears remembering that the goal of $4 trillion over 10 years in deficit reduction is achievable if there’s a willingness to compromise on Capitol Hill, if there’s a willingness to do what the President has done, which is put forward proposals that represent some difficult choices by everyone, and that includes Republicans.
And that means that revenue has to be part of the deal -- that revenue has to be part of the equation. Because otherwise you have to do deficit reduction on the backs of seniors, or on the backs of students, or middle-class families alone, and that is simply, in the President’s view, neither appropriate nor fair.
Q Does President Obama believe golf is conducive to this kind of discussion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’s willing to try anything. (Laughter.) And whether it’s a conversation on the phone, or a meeting in the Oval Office, or dinner at a restaurant, or dinner at the residence, he’s going to have the same kinds of conversations and test the theory that this kind of engagement can help produce the results that everybody in this country -- or at least the majority of the people in this country who care about and pay attention to these issues wants to see.
I get asked a lot about inside game, outside game. He has long engaged in both. He’s having one-on-one conversations, group conversations, meals, golf games, hard-headed negotiations with legislators, and he is going out to the country and talking to regular folks out there about the issues that matter to them and about the need for them to speak up and engage in a process to demand that Congress take action and do the most -- do the responsible thing to help the economy grow to help the middle class.
Q A follow-up on that. The trip to Austin later this week, what is the objective there? Are there specific things that he wants Congress to do related to that trip? Is he trying to call on them to pass certain measures, or is it more broadly speaking about the economy and the middle class?
MR. CARNEY: It is an effort to demonstrate that, in spite of some of the obstacles that we face here in Washington to doing the right thing and helping our economy grow, and some of the actions that Washington takes or inaction that Washington engages in that actually inflicts wounds on our economy, out in the country there are positive things happening, and that that only reinforces the need for Washington to do some very simple things to help facilitate economic growth and job creation, to help enhance the prospects of the middle class rising and thriving.
And we’re in a situation now where, on Friday, we had another month of positive private sector job creation. We had numbers that exceeded some expectations but by no means were what we need in the end to get where we want to go, which is what the President has always said -- as long as there is someone out there in the United States of America looking for a job who wants a job and can’t get one, he’s going to keep working to improve our economy and improve the lot of the middle class.
And that’s what this trip will be about. It will highlight the fact that we need to -- I mean, you remember the President talking in the State of the Union address about the need to ensure that good jobs for the middle class are available here in this country. And that includes the kinds of improvements we’ve seen in manufacturing and in industries in manufacturing that represent the future of the economy here and around the world. It means making sure that Americans have the skills to fill those jobs, and that reflects the education component, why we need to continue to invest in education to ensure that our people have the skills necessary to take these jobs that are available and will be available in the industries of the future.
And finally we need to make sure that those jobs, those middle-class jobs provide a decent living so that the American Dream can be achieved by Americans in the middle class.
And taken as a whole, the proposals the President has put forward in his budget, including the key investments in the future that he’s talked about, as well as the reasonable balanced deficit reduction that's a part of it, will help bring about a stronger and bigger middle class. And you’ll hear him talk about that on Thursday.
April, and then Christi.
Q Jay, I want to go back to Syria just a little bit. Now, when you were talking about the red line, are you saying basically from what I’m gleaning, the red line is for the use of chemical weapons against Syrians, not for the transport of sending weapons to rebel groups? Is that what you’re saying that's what the red line is for?
MR. CARNEY: No, no. I think that the President made clear when he first discussed this issue -- I just want to clarify, you’re absolutely right that the use of chemical weapons --
Q On the Syrian people by the Syrians.
MR. CARNEY: By whomever is a red line. The proliferation of, the transfer of chemical weapons is also a red line. One of the serious concerns that we have and our allies and partners around the world, and especially in the region have is that these kinds of weapons would get into the hands of terrorist organizations, other non-state actors who mean nothing but harm to the U.S. and our people and our allies.
So both are of a concern. So the rebel question I think you’re raising is the use by Assad the issue. What we have said is that we find incredible -- not credible that the opposition has used chemical weapons. Obviously, that's a matter that's under investigation. But we think that any use of chemical weapons in Syria is almost certain to have been done by the Assad regime. But any use would be a red line crossed.
Q Also with what’s happening this weekend in Syria, or with Israel and Syria, is there a thought in the White House if gas prices, oil prices are going up -- are you looking at that? Because when there is any kind of conflict in that region, there’s also a hike in gas prices. Are you looking at that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we monitor oil and gas prices regularly. There are a host of factors that go into the rise and fall of prices as you know. The instability in oil-producing regions is one of them. I don't have any specific comment about where prices are now, but we monitor them regularly. We are always concerned about oil prices.
I think that that general concern that we have and that every American has reflects the need -- or reinforces the need to take every action we can to improve our energy security, to make sure that we’re producing as much energy as we can here in the United States and taking every action that we can to reduce our dependence on foreign imports.
And as I think you’ve heard me say many times, we are at -- we have reduced our imports of foreign fuel significantly as we have hit new levels of production here in the United States. And as we have made significant inroads into the production of alternative energies here in the United States, which in turn helps create some of the industries that create the jobs of the future that I was talking about with Phil.
Q But, Jay, in the short term, you have Iran and Syria talking about they're going to retaliate. This is in that region. Again, gas prices, the possibility going up. We’re talking about the economy right now. Summer months going -- and there is a real possibility of gas prices, this affecting us here in our pocketbooks with gas prices.
MR. CARNEY: Well, there is no question that instability in this particular part of the world is always something that we watch, and that it has -- it certainly can have an impact on global oil prices. I just don't have a comment specifically on the current price or the level of impact that the situation in Syria is having on prices now.
Q Thanks, Jay. On the plant explosion in West, Texas, is the President still focused on this? And is he asking questions about whether federal regulators maybe did everything they were supposed to do to prevent this from happening?
MR. CARNEY: He is focused on it, and I think you saw him on a number of occasions -- because of everything else that was going on, in particular with the attacks in Boston -- make sure that he was speaking about the tragedy in West, Texas, that those families know that they were not and will not be forgotten.
And from what I understand, the issues involved in the -- of the industrial facility there are being investigated, so I don't have any insight to shed on that process or progress in the investigation. But when it comes to doing everything we can at the federal level to assist Texas and the town of West in dealing with this tragedy and rebuilding, the President is committed to that. He made that clear when he visited for the memorial and spoke with Governor Perry and other state and local officials as well as the families of the victims.
Q When he’s talking about industry in Texas this week, do you expect that he’ll talk about this in any way, about worker safety, about the responsibility of the federal government?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't have a preview of his remarks. He is -- broadly speaking, he’ll be talking about economic growth and development, but I don't have specifics for you.
Ann. I’m sorry, Jackie again, then Ann.
Q When he is in Austin, will he be talking at all -- that's the state of two senators who have opposed him on both guns and immigration. Will those two issues come up?
MR. CARNEY: Anything is possible. I think that the focus will be on economic matters. I think that he would encourage those senators and every senator to embrace the kind of common-sense deficit reduction -- balanced deficit reduction that allows for the investments in the economy that are so necessary that the President supports. I’m not sure they’d go along with that, but he would welcome it if they did.
Q But will he do that publicly while he’s there?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I wouldn’t want to preview the remarks entirely because then you might not actually pay attention to them, so -- (laughter.)
Q On a separate matter, has the President gotten any briefings or information from -- other than from the media -- on what’s happened in Bangladesh with the factory there that's killed four times as many people as the Triangle Shirtwaist Company --
MR. CARNEY: Terrible.
Q -- since there are so many U.S. retailers who get their goods from there?
MR. CARNEY: He has as part of his regular briefings been kept up to date about the tragic developments in Bangladesh and the tremendous loss of life. And I know that his thoughts and prayers go to the victims of that tragedy. I don't have specific information about some of the issues you raise that go into questions about how this happened, but he is absolutely being kept abreast of that development.
Q Jay, just so we don't misunderstand, did the President choose these three golfing partners because there were specific issues with Senator Corker that he wanted to discuss, like Senator Corker did not support the gun background check compromise, or Senator Udall because Golf Digest ranks him as the best golfer in Congress? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Does it? I didn't know that. Maybe he did. (Laughter.)
Look, I think that it is fair to say that there are a host of relevant issues, policy issues that the President could and would discuss with any one of the hundred members of the United States Senate. And he looks forward to these discussions that he’ll have today, and they’ll probably range across the set of issues that he and the Senate are dealing with.
And he will I’m sure make a pitch for his policy agenda, make a pitch for the kind of action that poll after poll show the American people support when it comes to our economic policies or reducing gun violence or comprehensive immigration reform, actions to enhance our energy independence. These are things that have broad support from the American people. They're very common sense, and he’s looking for partners anywhere he can find them, including on the eighth hole.
Mara, last one.
Q Just to follow up on this, the dinners and the golf game are really become objects of fascination in Washington, his outreach to Republican senators. I’m wondering if you could give us a sense of the frequency. I mean, other than the public-type events that we hear about, the restaurant or he has them over to the residence, does he talk to Republican senators on a daily basis, weekly? Like how intense is this effort other than the --
MR. CARNEY: It certainly -- I don't have a running list of every conversation he has, at least not one that I can provide to you. But he speaks frequently with lawmakers, senators.
Q Republican senators in particular?
MR. CARNEY: Including Republican senators, and I would say certainly -- I mean, frequently, certainly weekly. But more than that, the engagement that you have seen is only part of the picture. And that’s true of his involvement as well as the involvement of other senior officials in his administration -- the Vice President and others.
So he's looking to get things done. And he wants to talk to anyone who has that as his or her objective too, and is willing to accept that they may not get everything they want out of a compromise -- in fact, by definition, they will not -- and they can live with that. Partisan purists are not what he's looking for. He's looking for people who want to go about the business of building the economy, helping the middle class, responsibly reducing our deficit, reforming our immigration system in a way that will help our economy and the middle class, and taking action to reduce gun violence.
So if there is anybody who meets that standard, anybody who is willing to say, you know what, I accept that I'm not going to get my dream partisan agenda, I accept that I'm going to have to give a little bit, that I may have to compromise in order to achieve these objectives, then he wants to have that conversation.
Q So he -- at least once a week he talks to Republican senators?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
All right. Thanks very much, everybody.
1:55 P.M. EDT
The President today declared a major disaster exists in the State of Iowa and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe winter storm during the period of April 9-11, 2013.
Federal funding also is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storm in the counties of Dickinson, Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola, and Sioux.
Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Joe M. Girot as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.
FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.