Tuesday, January 10, 2012

White House Press Briefing January 10, 2012 (Full Transcript and Video)

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release (Full Transcript)
January 10, 2012
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 1/10/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:28 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY: I apologize for that -- scheduling is a complicated business, and a lot of moving parts here in the West Wing of the White House.

Q Tell us about them.

Q Any personnel --

MR. CARNEY: I will, I’ll be telling --

Q What do you got?

MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s -- let me begin, if I may. I wanted to mention this yesterday and forgot, and I just wanted to offer my condolences to Tony Blankley’s family. I knew him reasonably well -- we spent a lot of time in green rooms together -- a very decent gentleman and smart man who served both the Reagan administration and then Speaker Newt Gingrich well. And we will miss him -- I will, personally.

I would also like to say a few things about the united -- the American automobile industry. Yesterday the North American International Auto Show kicked off in Detroit, Michigan, with companies unveiling their new vehicles and folks eager to get their first peak.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was on hand for the opening events, and Commerce Secretary John Bryson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and the Labor Department’s Director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers Jay Williams are all taking part in auto show activities this week.

And the auto show is a reminder to me -- and I’m sure to you -- of the fact that in the face of stiff opposition, the President made a tough choice to help provide the auto industry with the temporary support it needed to rebuild their companies and get moving again.

This was a difficult decision, and it came with significant risk. But the President was not willing to walk away from those workers, and to allow the great American automobile industry disappear.

Today, that industry is coming back, creating jobs and moving cars off the line. Last month the automotive industry added nearly -- rather 11,000 positions, bringing the total number of jobs added in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 36,000. The industry added 100,000 jobs over the course of 2011. In December, we saw auto sales climb for the seventh consecutive month, and the Big Three -- Ford, GM and Chrysler -- all saw sale increases for December and the year as a whole. Since Chrysler and GM emerged from bankruptcy in June of 2009, the auto industry has added back more than 170,000 jobs -- the best period of job growth for that industry in more than a decade.

I would also note that, as many of you know, that one of the positive signs we’ve seen of late, among other positive signs for the economy, is the growth in manufacturing. And while the automotive industry makes up 5 percent of manufacturing in this country, it is responsible for 25 percent of that rebound in manufacturing.

So another reminder of why it was so important to make the decision the President made to rescue the American automobile industry a few years ago.

With that, I will go to The Associated Press. Jim.

Associated Press: Thank you, Jay. I wanted to go back to yesterday’s surprise personnel announcement. Mr. Daley had earlier indicated he would stay through January of next year, and he was supposed to build relations with Republicans, build relations with the business community. What prompted his sudden decision to leave? And did he get to accomplish that? You don’t seem to have the strong relations that maybe he intended to build as he came in?

MR. CARNEY: First of all, Jim, I appreciate the question, and I think this is a case where it’s important and accurate to take at face value what Bill said, Bill Daley said in his letter of resignation to the President, and what the President said yesterday in announcing this transition.

2011 has been -- was an extraordinary year in a rather extraordinary three years of this President’s first term. Even before he had officially taken the job, the day after he was announced, if I recall correctly, he was here in the White House doing some paperwork associated with taking over as Chief of Staff when the news came that there had been a shooting in Tucson, Arizona. He found himself in the Situation Room with the President as that terrible news unfolded.

And from that day on, Bill Daley proceeded to help the President navigate an extremely event-filled and difficult year for Washington and for the country -- a year that included the Arab Spring, events in Egypt and Libya and the rest of the Middle East; the tsunami and -- earthquake and tsunami in Japan; a near-government shutdown; a extraordinarily impressive and important mission to remove Osama bin Laden from the face of the Earth; the very tough negotiations with Congress over the debt ceiling increase and deficit reduction that resulted, despite not achieving the grand bargain that the President and Bill Daley sought so aggressively -- nevertheless, locked in $2.2 trillion in deficit reduction.

In the fall, he helped oversee the President’s American Jobs Act proposal, which, by the end of the year, resulted in several provisions passing, including, most importantly, the extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.

These jobs are difficult. People talk about how a year in the White House, and the West Wing in particular, you can measure it in dog years. This one was particularly jam-packed. And as the President said in his announcement in the State Dining Room, but also to us in a staff meeting, in a senior staff meeting, he is extremely grateful for Bill’s leadership and for his friendship.

Q What does it mean about the White House’s outreach to the business community, though, and to Republicans? He seemed to be your best opportunity to do that. What does it mean going forward?

MR. CARNEY: Well, going forward with Jack Lew at the helm, we have someone who for decades has had excellent relations with both Democrats and Republicans, is broadly respected throughout Washington for his service in the House of Representatives for the former -- for then Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, for his service in the Clinton administration, as well as his service here at the State Department and as Director of OMB. I think if you ask any member of Congress -- Republican or Democrat -- who has dealt with Jack Lew, they will testify to the fact that he is a total straight shooter and knows how to work with members on both sides of the aisle.

And he also, to the point about business, has a lot of respect in the business community, so there is continuity in that respect. And the President, as I’ve said and he has said, is absolutely committed to working with Congress this year to get more accomplished for the American people. And we remain optimistic that opportunities will present themselves to do just that. There are ones that -- there are things that have to get done, like the extension of the payroll tax cut and extension of unemployment insurance for the full calendar year. There are other things that really should get done if members of Congress are listening to their constituents. Putting construction workers back to work rebuilding our infrastructure is a key component of the American Jobs Act that could really help our economy, help folks who are out of work now go back to work rebuilding our bridges and highways and schools and other things, and working on projects that help our economy grow well beyond the duration of the project they’re working on.

So Jack Lew will be intimately involved in that process. I think it is -- while it was, as the President said, a surprise that Bill decided that this was the right time for him to go back to Chicago, a town he loves dearly, as does the President -- if I could digress, I don’t think there’s another family like the Daleys more closely associated with a great American city, so the connection there is extremely strong.

And while this was a surprise for the President, the fact is it is because he has somebody like Jack Lew who can step right in and fulfill the Chief of Staff’s role that we will not miss a beat here in the West Wing.

Q You mentioned continuity. How quickly do you want to -- does the President want to get a new budget director? And how do you get over a confirmation hump given the toxic environment with Congress?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any announcements to make on Jack’s replacement at OMB. He will be staying there to finish the 2013 budget. In addition to Jack, there is a very talented team, senior team there at the OMB that will function as effectively as they have under his leadership after he’s gone. And once the President makes a decision about leadership at OMB, we’ll have an announcement for you.

Q But does he want to have somebody in shortly after the month --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have any --

Q -- before the payroll tax cut extension?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to go any further than I have. I don’t want to get ahead of any announcement the President might make.

Let me move around. Mike.

Q Thank you. There was a GAO report that came out the other day. And one of the conclusions that it found was that in the press releases the Treasury has put out regarding the TARP, it tended to highlight areas --

MR. CARNEY: Regarding to what, sorry?

Q In regarding press releases put out by the Treasury regarding TARP --


Q -- that they tended to highlight those areas where TARP was making a profit, if you will, bringing money into the government but not the areas where the TARP was losing money for the government. Do you have any response to that?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of the report, Mike. I think we’ve been very straightforward about how much TARP has cost, what the projected cost was versus what the actual cost has been and where money has been paid back. And that’s true also of the automobile industry. I’m not aware of any discrepancies with regard to that, but I’m not familiar with the report.

Yes, Matt.

Q Back on Jack Lew, does the President have a short list or is he -- do you have a time frame in which he will come up with a short list for a successor for Jack Lew?

MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements on that and no estimation of the length of the list for you. I’m sure there’s a list.

Q Will the President consider a recess appointment, using a recess appointment in light of the likely Republican opposition?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speculate on that.

Q And one last -- the reports that the President plans to create a government task force to monitor China for trade and other business violations and that he plans to announce this around the time of the State of The Union address -- can you confirm that?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any announcements today on any new administration task forces or efforts on that issue. What I can tell you is that we will continue to work to take the steps necessary to level the playing field for American workers and businesses. You’ve heard the President speak about this repeatedly, and he did so on his trip to the Asia Pacific region not that long ago, where he made it clear that he will continue to stand up for American workers and businesses.

As you know, Secretary Geithner is in Beijing today, and that is part of our constant discussions with China as well as our friends and partners in the region about the importance of the Asia Pacific region and the importance of our economic relations with that region.

Yes, sir.

Q The Iranians apparently have confirmed to the Swiss, who are our protecting power, that they’ve sentenced the American captive to death. Has the administration heard anything, have you responded and how, to the Iranians through the Swiss? What’s new?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have anything new for you in terms of communications through the Swiss from us. But we -- our position is what it was yesterday, which is that the charges, the allegations against Mr. Hekmati are false. This is not the first time, though we could only hope it would be the last, that the Iranians have falsely accused people of being spies. We urge his immediate release, and are working towards that end and hope that it happens soon.

Q Now that you know he’s been officially sentenced to death, what’s the response?

MR. CARNEY: Well, that is the response. It’s absolutely -- the allegations are false, the sentence is absurd and wrong, and we urge his release.


Q Jay, next week King Abdullah comes to the White House, and it won’t be his first visit. They’ll be talking about the efforts to jumpstart the Middle East peace process, we presume. Again, not the first time they’ve talked about that. Will there be any new approaches this time? What will they try this time that they’ve not tried before?

MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President has already thanked King Abdullah for hosting the resumption of talks. They will obviously discuss that issue. They will discuss the King’s efforts at reform in Jordan. And they will discuss the host of issues affecting the region. So it won’t be limited simply to the Middle East peace process, although that will certainly be part of it.

I don’t have anything new to report about our approach to that very difficult issue. Our commitment to doing everything we can, working with our partners, to urge both sides to come together and negotiate a peace remains very strong. And we will continue to work with Jordan and other nations toward that end.

Q Are you satisfied with the King’s commitment to working to try to get things solved in a more peaceful way in Syria?

MR. CARNEY: Well, you know our position on Syria. We’ve been working with a variety of and a long list of nations, friends, partners and allies around the region and the globe to put pressure on the Syrians, to put pressure on President Assad, whose legitimacy has long since been lost because of the wretched violence he’s perpetrated upon his own people, and our position on that certainly hasn’t changed.

Yes, Brianna, and then Christi.

Q Jay, Democratic Senator Robert Menendez is blocking the President’s nomination of Judith Shwartz to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and some suspect it’s because her long-time partner is the head of that corruption unit that investigated him. Is the President concerned there’s any sort of revenge going on here?

MR. CARNEY: You know, Brianna, I honestly don’t -- I don’t have anything on that. We obviously want to see all of the President’s nominees considered in a timely manner, and we would like this nominee also to be considered in a timely manner. But I don’t have anything specific on this particular nomination or those stories.

Q But isn’t it strange it’s a Democrat that’s getting in the way this time?

MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t have any particular comment on this. Whatever obstacles are presented by members of the Senate to nominees, we are always disheartened by those. The President has put forward very qualified nominees, including the woman you’re referring to right now, and they ought to be considered on the merits.

Q Has the Senator -- he said he has substantive concerns. Has he voiced those to the White House?

MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, but I haven’t had a lot of in-depth discussions about that here.


Q There is planning to pay in Indian rupees under a new financial mechanism with Iran, and Pakistan is going ahead with building the Pakistan-Iran pipeline. So is the White House worried about these leaks in enforcing the sanctions on Iran?

MR. CARNEY: Well, we are working with our partners and allies around the country to enforce the sanctions and to take a multilateral approach, an approach that we hope will maximize the impact of the sanctions without creating any unintended consequences, any negative impacts on the oil markets or on our allies. And we are engaged in that effort right now.


Q Jay, can you say what Bill Daley’s role with the campaign will be and when it will begin?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific announcement on that. I know that he will be -- I mean, I would expect the campaign would have that. But I’m sure he will be very involved. He was involved last time. And I’m sure it will be a suitably high-profile role.

He is very committed to this President and to his reelection, to the policies that the President has put into place last year with Bill’s help and to ensuring that all the work that has been done to pull this country out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, to put it on a path towards growth and job creation and greater security for the middle class continues. And I know that Bill will be very involved in the reelection campaign.

Q Is he traveling with the President tomorrow to Chicago? Do you know?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t know for sure, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he were.


Q Jay, I wanted to ask on Jack Lew and Bill Daley, when Bill Daley was named a year ago, the President made a point of saying, as a business guy, as you were talking with Jim about, he had created jobs. He was the CEO of several companies. Why, then -- since you also told Jim that Jack Lew has good ties to the business community -- why didn’t the President mention yesterday Jack Lew’s private sector experience being a hedge fund executive at Citigroup?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that there’s an answer to why. Jack’s resume is quite long. It is most notable for the fact that he was budget director twice and in his first stint is, as the President mentioned, the only budget director in history to oversee three years of surpluses, surpluses that were quickly squandered in the years that the next administration was in power, and that his tenure here both at the State Department and here in the White House as director of OMB for the second time has been stellar. But it is also true that he has private sector experience as a manager at a private firm. And I think that is part of a very broad resume.

Q When he was a manager at that private firm, The Huffington Post, which is not usually very critical of the administration, said that he ran Citigroup’s alternative investments division, which made billions of dollars by “betting that U.S. homeowners would not be able to make their mortgage payments.” How does that --

MR. CARNEY: Well, Jack was a management executive. He was not an investment advisor at Citigroup.

Q He was the chief operating officer, I believe, was the title of the alternative investment --

MR. CARNEY: But again, he was not an investment advisor. He didn’t make investment advice.

Q But how does that, running a business like that or helping to run a business like that, how does that square with what the President has been talking about with Richard Cordray and the administration is going to be really tough on the big banks when the White House -- new White House Chief of Staff is somebody who used to be at one of those big banks?

MR. CARNEY: Ed, I would suggest to you that you’re tilling very fallow ground here, but I appreciate the effort. We believe very strongly in the fact that the American financial industry needs to be successful and robust. It’s an important part of the American economy. It also needs to follow the same rules as Wall Street -- I mean as Main Street. Wall Street needs to go by the same rules as Main Street.

That’s why the President pushed so hard to pass and sign into law Wall Street reform. That’s why he pushed so hard, since you raised it, to get Richard Cordray nominated -- I mean to get Richard Cordray confirmed. And when Senate Republicans despite his obvious qualifications refused to allow an up or down vote on Richard Cordray, the President felt he had no other alternative but to make a recess appointment -- one of the relatively few recess appointments he has made as President compared to his predecessors -- because this country needs, the middle class here in this country, folks who engage with non-bank financial institutions like payday lenders and non-bank mortgage brokers and things, they need somebody here in town watching out for them, looking out for their interests. So the President is absolutely committed to the mission that CFPB has and to the mission that Richard Cordray specifically has.


Q Thanks, Jay. How will Jack Lew and Pete Rouse split up their duties?

MR. CARNEY: I think we will wait until Jack takes over as Chief of Staff, which will not be before the end of the month. He has some loose ends to tie up as OMB Director, and he will obviously make some decisions about how his office is structured going forward. But Pete is an invaluable senior advisor to the President. His role under Bill Daley was highly effective in terms of helping the operations of the West Wing run smoothly, and I am very confident that Pete will continue to be one of the most valuable players here in the West Wing.

Q Has -- and I know that the transition is still taking place -- but has it been determined who the point person for Congress will be at this point?

MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, for what?

Q For Congress. Who will be the lead person? Who will we see sort of leading when we revisit the payroll tax cut debate, for example? Who will take the lead on that?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, we have a variety of folks who engage in that, but we do have -- our head of Legislative Affairs is Rob Nabors, who -- speaking of most valuable players -- might be my top vote getter. So he will, as he has, take the lead in that effort.

Q But I mean, Jack Lew as the Chief of Staff will obviously have a large role as well?

MR. CARNEY: Well, no question. No question. And it’s important to remember, in terms of Jack’s legacy at OMB, is that he was intimately involved in that process last fall and in December to bringing that agreement finally to fruition with Congress that allowed for the extension of the payroll tax cut to make sure that 160 million Americans didn’t see a tax hike as a New Year’s Day present. And he will be intimately involved in the effort to ensure that Congress does the right thing without drama and extends it for the full year.

Q One political insider described the timing of this as switching places in a canoe in rough waters. How does the administration see the timing of this, given that you are headed into a tough reelection year?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would disagree with that description because of what I think I told Jim, which is that Bill’s leadership has been exceptional through a very challenging year. Jack has been there. He has I think it’s important to remember been a participant in the 7:30 a.m. meeting, as you know, the meeting of the most senior staff in the Chief of Staff’s office every morning. Jack has been there every morning.

He will, I think, as much as anyone possibly could, slide pretty effortlessly and seamlessly into that role. He’s widely respected here inside the West Wing and the broader White House, just as he is up on Capitol Hill.

And for those of you who know him, he is just about as decent and smart an individual as you will ever encounter here in Washington.

Yes, Cecilia.

Q The Supreme Court today is hearing arguments on indecency in broadcasting. As you know, this administration supports those stricter standards. But would you at all agree with critics who say you can log onto the Internet at any time during the day, you can turn on cable television at any time and see and hear these images that are being questioned right now? And in any way would you concede with these critics who say there’s no need for the government to take stricter controls over broadcasting in this day?

MR. CARNEY: I confess that I have not looked into this issue, so I don’t want to venture an opinion except to say that as a parent you always have to weigh concerns about exposing kids to things as a parent you’d otherwise -- you’d rather not have them exposed to.

But I’ll have to take your question in terms of the broader issue because I wasn’t aware of it.


Q Jay, I know you addressed this yesterday, the insourcing forum, but can you tell us more about I guess what the President wants to learn out of that? Is this -- I know it seems like an idea session, but is he trying to come up with ways -- is this the groundwork for in the future possibly ideas to spur more insourcing or foreign --

MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. He wants to hear from the executives who will be part of this forum, participating in it, and who are examples of major American companies that have brought jobs back to the United States, why they did that, what were the incentives to doing that. And he’s very interested in ideas that go to just your question, which is what can we do to further develop this trend, which has American companies that are international and global companies, that do have factories and installations abroad and employ a lot of people abroad, what kind of incentives can be created to bring those jobs back to the United States that keep companies highly competitive, keep them making the best products in the world -- with American labor when that’s possible and when that makes sense.

So, absolutely, this will be a two-way session where ideas are exchanged, as well as the fact of insourcing and reinvesting in America is noted and celebrated.

Q Is he going to bring or I guess announce any ideas related to that, or just kind of talk to them, talk to the --

MR. CARNEY: I’ll let him make whatever announcements he might want to make tomorrow. But I think it will be an important event, and it goes to what I’ve been talking about and he’s been talking about for a long time now, which is that he is committed to doing whatever he can, working with the private sector, using his executive authority, working with Congress, to further grow the economy, to get the economy creating more jobs as we dig ourselves out of this terrible recession.

And this is an important aspect of this. I noted at the top the decision he made about the automobile industry, to rescue it, and why that has paid dividends and why it was the right thing to do. And there are a variety of decisions and levers that a President can pull -- decisions he can make and levers he can pull to help that cause. And this President is committed to exercising all his options with regard to growing the economy and creating jobs.


Q The President recently went to CFPB and was a booster for the employees there. He’s doing the same thing at EPA this afternoon, something similar, celebrating the employees there. Is he going to continue to do that around the executive branch? It seems like he’s sort of rediscovered that he has these career people who are keeping the government operating.

MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he’s keenly aware of the high level of -- the high quality of people working out in the agencies, doing exemplary work for the American people. And I don’t want to preview or predict other visits he might make, but he is noting important work that people are doing. And his visit today, I’m sure, is about that and -- EPA played an integral role in the automobile efficiency standards -– fuel efficiency standards that were announced by the President as he was surrounded by close to a dozen automobile executives, automobile company executives. EPA was integral on that. EPA was -- obviously played a lead role in the mercury standards that were released after more than a decade, maybe two decades of work on that. Mercury, as you know, is a very dangerous neurotoxin and those standards are very important to the health and welfare of American children and American citizens across the country. So he will thank them for their hard work and thank them for the work to come.

Q Is he at all -- just to follow up, is he at all concerned that some of his decisions seem to -- recently seem to have gone against EPA’s direction? And does he feel like he’s trying to maybe boost the morale about his support for their work?

MR. CARNEY: Look, I think you were more on target in the first part of your question about taking note of the often unheralded work that really talented Americans do at some of these agencies and the work they do on behalf of the American people. And then with regard to the EPA, which is often under siege but is responsible for ensuring that the air we breathe, that our children breathe when they run out on the soccer field is clean and that the water they drink is clean and not harmful, do really important work.

And this is an agency that was created under President Nixon -- people forget -- and has been responsible for ensuring the health and safety, in many cases, of millions of Americans. So I think he’ll note that.

Roger Runningen.

Roger Runningen. Thank you. You mentioned Mr. Geithner being in China a few minutes ago. One of the things that he’s doing is asking China to reduce imports of oil from Iran. Are there some indications that China might do that? Or what arguments is the administration making to convince them?

MR. CARNEY: I would just refer you to the answer I gave about sanctions on Iran generally and our efforts multilaterally to work with our friends and allies around the globe in that effort to ensure that they are implemented in a way that has maximum effect, maximum designed effect, and the fewest number of unintended consequences. So we’ll be having that discussion with leaders of numerous countries, allies and partners around the world as regard that effort with Iran.

Q But you don’t have any indications that they might proceed to --

MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to get ahead of either Secretary Geithner’s conversations or other conversations we may or may not be having with the Chinese. The Secretary’s portfolio in his dealings with China is certainly broader than that.

Q A real quick question. The debt ceiling increase, does that need to go to the Hill this week?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific announcement for you. I’m confident it will be executed in a matter of days, not weeks.

Mark, did you have something?

Q That was it.

MR. CARNEY: Mr. Landler, did you have something?

Q I do. Speaking of Mr. Geithner, when the Treasury Secretary indicated to the President that he wanted to go home to New York, the President leaned on him exceptionally hard to stay on the job. I’m wondering why that case is different than the case of the Chief of Staff. I understand he asked him to sleep on it, but that’s a very different order of pressure than he brought to bear on the Treasury Secretary. Why is it easier to let this happen than it was to let that happen?

MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think you’re talking about -- I’ll simply address the Daley decision -- Daley without the “I.” I mean, Bill, for those of you who know him, I think made up his mind, believed it was the right time. And yes, the President did ask him to reconsider, to sleep on it, to think about it, and they would talk again the next day. But Bill had made his decision, and the President respected that. And he understood, in particular perhaps because of their shared love of Chicago and as their mutual hometown, and understanding Bill’s connection to it, why he would want to return to Chicago.

And let’s point out here that Bill will continue to be a very important part of the team in the broader effort here in terms of the President’s reelection and will be available to give advice to the President, and I’m sure, as the President noted, he will be calling Bill for advice going forward. But I think that Bill was very clear about what his decision was.

Q It would have been the President’s clear preference for him to stay through this year?

MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve established that the President was surprised and -- but completely understood Bill’s decision and was gratified by the fact that both he and Bill had the same thought, which is that Jack Lew would be an excellent successor to Bill as Chief of Staff, and gratified by the fact that Jack Lew was, if you will, standing by and ready to be able to take on those responsibilities and to do so seamlessly.

Q Just one last question on this. Did the President make sort of a persuasive, impassioned case to Mr. Daley? This is why -- “We’ve got so much left to do together, please think about staying on. I know you may not love it, but” -- anything like that?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a further readout of that private conversation or conversations because there was -- there were more than -- there was more than one. I think we’ve unveiled the tick-tock with a fair amount of detail, but I don’t have any more for you.

Ann, yes.

Q Is the President concerned that any other senior members of the administration might choose to leave during this year? Has he done what some of his predecessors have done, asking senior staff, senior Cabinet-level people to stick with it for an election year to bring continuity to the -- keep continuity for the administration?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t think the President is concerned about staff turnover. He knows that everybody here is committed to this enterprise, to helping the American people -- helping him help the American people; helping him do what he can do as President to grow the economy and create jobs and keep Americans safe both here and abroad.

Transitions are an inherent part of -- as you know, Ann, you’ve covered several White Houses. You know that transitions are a part of it. These are demanding jobs. I mean, think about what flows through the corridors and offices here. Every -- decisions of enormous global impact are made every day, and the pressure is significant. The privilege is profound. But these are not jobs that people occupy for long periods of time. That’s always been the case, and especially in this White House where the Chiefs of Staff in all cases have been and will be empowered and have significant portfolios and responsibilities. These are tough jobs, and the President appreciates Bill’s service just as he greatly appreciated Rahm Emanuel’s service.

Q Isn’t that exactly the point, that because of the sensitivity and the import of these jobs, if the top person in a presidential campaign leaves, it’s interpreted as a problem with the campaign or a disruption? Is that not applicable to the White House?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t think it is, Ann, because of the kind of team that this President has assembled that allows for this transition, which I accept is a big one -- it’s the Chief of Staff -- but allows for it to be as smooth as it will be because of the exceptional qualifications and temperament that Jack Lew brings to this job.

So I don’t -- I think this will be exceptionally smooth and seamless. And I think that’s because of the way that Bill has effectively been Chief of Staff, and the way that the President has dictated to his senior staffers how they ought to conduct their business, and because of the kinds of men and women the President has surrounded himself with.

I just ended a sentence with a preposition. (Laughter.)

Q That’s all right, we’ll forgive you if I could ask one two-part question. (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY: NPR. (Laughter.)

Q Speaking of vacancies, what can you tell us about the Domestic Policy Council?

MR. CARNEY: I can tell that the President has asked -- and she has accepted -- Cecilia Muñoz to be the next White House Director of Domestic Policy. Cecilia, as you know, has served as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she has overseen the Obama administration’s relationships with state and local governments.

As IGA director, under Valerie Jarrett, Ms. Muñoz leads a partnership between federal, state, local and tribal governments that Governing Magazine described as “more prominent and responsive than it ever was” -- citing praise from local and state elected officials from across the political spectrum.

Cecilia has enormous experience and brings a great deal of policy knowledge and intellect to this position, and the President is greatly appreciative of the fact that she’s willing to take on this important job.

Anybody else?

Q Just a follow-up.

MR. CARNEY: You again? Go ahead.

Q Three in one day. Do you think this will help I guess outreach to the Hispanic community, considering her prior role?

MR. CARNEY: I think Cecilia is the best person for the job. And she has done great work at IGA. She’s -- for those of you who know her and know how -- what an effective advocate she is for the President’s policies and how knowledgeable she is about the whole set of domestic policy issues that any White House confronts and that this President has been dealing with for the past three years.


Q Thank you.

MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, I’m sorry. Hold on.

Q Oh, I see.

MR. CARNEY: I want to keep it clean, Lester, so I’m going here.

Q You want to keep it clean? Oh, my.

Q Following the latest action by Iran, and now Syria’s Assad saying -- coming out against I guess pressure against his regime -- has the White House has conversations with their allies about increasing the pressure that they’re putting on the two governments, and maybe being --

MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, on Iran and --

Q On Iran and Syria both. And maybe stepping it up and being a little more aggressive in the pressure that they’re putting?

MR. CARNEY: Well, the answer is absolutely we have been working quite aggressively with the international community, with our partners and allies around the world, to put pressure on Syria and put pressure -- and isolate Iran. And in both cases -- and obviously with regards to Iran, this is an ongoing effort. We have effectively isolated Iran to a degree that has never before been the case. And the impact of the sanctions and the efforts that we’ve implemented is profound as every report out there has recognized. And we will continue to work with our allies to do that, to get Iran to behave, to live up to its international obligations.

And in the case of Syria, to pressure President Assad to cease the violence against his own people, and to step aside so that the Syrian people can have the democratic transition that they demand and deserve.

Q Do these talks include military action?

MR. CARNEY: I have said with regards broadly to these questions that the President, of course, takes no option off the table, but that we are focused in both cases on diplomatic, economic and other non-military actions that we can take to bring about the results that we and many, many countries around the world -- our international partners and allies -- are demanding.

Q My last question is, a lot of people in the region are wondering what more it can take from these regimes to do to I guess see a military or strong response from the U.S. and its allies.

MR. CARNEY: I think that -- again, we take no option off the table. It is not -- well, I would just say that. We take no option off the table. We are pursuing at this point diplomatic, economic and other means to bring about the results that we and so many other nations are demanding with regards to Iranian and Syrian behavior.

Sorry, behind Chris. Tell me --

Q Nadia.

MR. CARNEY: Nadia, of course.

Q Jay, can you confirm that President Saleh of Yemen is no longer requesting to come to the U.S., and when was the last time that you’ve been in touch with him?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t think I have an update on that. Let me see. As of -- let me just double-check and see if it’s changed. I just don’t have an update on his application status for you. To my understanding it hasn’t changed. But if it has, I can -- I’ll take that for you.

Q Can you please?


Q Because there is news that he is going to Saudi Arabia now instead of coming to the U.S.

MR. CARNEY: I’ll check on that. But that -- what his decisions might be about where he might be going may not necessarily be related to his application status for a visa here.


Q Just one? Just one?

MR. CARNEY: Chris.

Q Yes. Yesterday Rick Santorum said that he and the President have the same view on same-sex marriage. What’s the President’s response to candidates using his position on marriage equality to say that?

MR. CARNEY: I think, Chris, you know very well what the President’s views are on LGBT issues and civil rights, and the President is very proud of this administration’s record on those issues.

Q That’s not the question. The question is about marriage.

MR. CARNEY: The question is -- but I have no updates for you on the President’s position on same-sex marriage. I think that you know and others here know and understand that his position broadly on LGBT issues is quite significantly different from that particular candidate’s views.

Q Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY: Neal, last one.

Q Thanks, Jay. I have just two quick questions. First one, Mitt Romney told supporters at an event that he knows what it’s like to worry about getting pink-slipped, and the comment is getting a lot of attention. I’m wondering if the President had any reaction to that, and if he’s ever had to worry about -- had that sort of anxiety himself? Do you know of a time when that happened?

MR. CARNEY: I would point you to his memoir. I’m not -- I haven’t had that discussion with him, and I have not discussed those remarks with the President.

Q And to follow on Chris’s question. Over the weekend, Sarah Palin tweeted out something similar, but the language that she used was very specific. She said, “The President position on the definition of marriage is the same as Santorum’s, Gingrich’s and Romney’s.”

MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just point you to the answer I just gave.

Q Would that be a true statement?

MR. CARNEY: I will just point you to what the President has said and his record --

Q But the President -- he said before that he believed that marriage was between one man and one woman, years ago. And now he says his position is evolving. Would it be fair to say that that definition no longer exclusively --

MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have anything -- I don’t have anything new to give you on this. I appreciate the question, but the President has spoken to it. I’m sure he’ll be asked again about it. But as of now, I have no --nothing new for you on it.

Thank you all very much.

US Department of State Press Briefing January 10, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing
(Index Links Lead to Content Areas on the US State Department Website)

    • Deputy Secretary Burns' Meetings in Turkey / Travel to Egypt
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Secretary of Defense Panetta and National Security Advisor Donilon
    • President Assad's Speech
    • Arab League Monitoring Mission
    • UN Security Council Session
    • Ambassador Ford's Demarches / Physical Security of U.S. Embassy
    • Sesame Street / Funding Cuts
    • Bombing in Jamrud
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting Today with Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal
    • Reported Travel of Former President Saleh
  • IRAQ
    • Secretary Clinton's Call to U.S. Mission Iraq, Afghanistan
    • Transition
    • Nuclear Program
  • IRAN
    • U.S. Coast Guard Rescue of Iranians in Distress at Sea
    • Amir Hekmati Sentenced to Death
    • Nationwide Strikes
    • Boko Haram

12:46 p.m. EST
MS. NULAND: Afternoon, everybody. I have a brief statement at the top with regard to Deputy Secretary Burns’s trip to Turkey and Egypt, and then we’ll go to your questions. Deputy Secretary Burns wrapped up a visit to Ankara today, where he met with Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu. He also met with Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs Sinirlioglu. They discussed a number of issues of shared interest, including developments in Iraq, the importance of international solidarity on Iran, our shared concerns about the situation in Syria, and ways that we can coordinate to support Egypt’s democratic transition. Deputy Secretary Burns obviously affirmed our continuing support for Turkey’s own struggle to combat internal terrorism, and inclusive and transparent constitutional reform, and reiterated our desire to strengthen U.S.-Turkish economic ties.
Ambassador – Deputy Secretary Burns has now landed in Cairo. He has meetings there tomorrow. He’ll meet with senior Egyptian Government officials. He’ll also meet with political leaders and members of civil society and the business community. His discussions in Cairo will focus on U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relations; our strong support for Egypt’s democratic political transition, including an active and independent civil society; and the current economic challenges facing Egypt; and, obviously, regional issues of shared concern.
Let’s go to what’s on your minds.
QUESTION: Can we ask on Burns first?
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Is he going to be meeting with members of political parties, or is he going to follow Feltman’s rule that he won’t meet with them?
MS. NULAND: He is going to meet with some political party leaders. I think we’ll wait until he has those meetings and then we’ll give you a sense of them tomorrow.
QUESTION: You can’t say that he’s going to meet the Muslim Brotherhood, then?
MS. NULAND: I, frankly, don’t have the list of who’s going to be included in those meetings. I think it’s a roundtable, but let me read it out for you tomorrow, Lach, after he does it.
QUESTION: It would be expected, though, that the biggest parties now in the country would be included in that roundtable, I’m guessing.
MS. NULAND: Well, let’s let him do it. But we will have more for you tomorrow after he does it.
Please, Michel. Still on this one?
MS. NULAND: On Syria?
QUESTION: Have you read the Syrian president speech today, and what’s your reaction to it?
MS. NULAND: Well, obviously, we’ve seen the reporting on the president’s speech. It’s interesting, throughout the course of this speech, Assad manages to blame a foreign conspiracy that’s so vast with regard to the situation in Syria that it now includes the Arab League, most of the Syrian opposition, the entire international community. He throws responsibility on everybody but back on himself. And with regard to his own responsibility for the violence in Syria, he seems to aggressively deny any responsibility or any hand in the role of his own security forces.
So again, he’s doing everything but what he needs to do, which is to meet the commitments that Syria made to the Arab League to end the violence, to pull tanks and heavy weapons out of cities, to allow journalists in, to release political prisoners, and to allow a real space for political dialogue to take place. So that’s what we’re looking to see in Syria, and obviously, this was an effort to deflect the attention of his own people from the real problems.
QUESTION: Does that worry you that he hasn’t changed his tone at all?
MS. NULAND: I think it just confirms us in our view that it’s time for him to step aside, that he’s not the guy who can lead Syria in the direction that it needs to go.
QUESTION: Does it worry you that he’s kind of setting – he seems to be setting up sort of this scenario of it’s an us against the rest of the world? You could almost see what he was trying to achieve there, sort of rallying support because the whole world is out to get us. Does that concern you?
MS. NULAND: Well, sadly, Cami, this is not new from him. He’s been doing this all along. In March, when all of this started, he had an opportunity to do what some other leaders have done and start a dialogue and really address his people’s concerns. And even from that moment and escalating ever since, it’s all been about the enemies of Syria rather than truly understanding that this is an internal movement. It’s coming from the Syrian people who want change, who are sick of corruption, sick of a government that doesn’t represent all the needs of all the people, and a government that is for him and his cronies, not for the Syrian people.
So – and the fact that not only is he blaming everybody else, but he’s taken up arms against his own people. He’s responsible for this violence. So from our perspective it’s not new, and it’s also, obviously, not new that he is refusing to take any responsibility for the actions of his own security forces who are the instigators of the violence.
QUESTION: So to follow up on Cami there, I mean, you – she asked if you were concerned about what he said. I mean, the opposition has seized on the fact that he’s vowed to crush their terrorism with an iron fist. Does that worry you that the crackdown is going to be as strong as ever, or what kind of intentions do you see there?
MS. NULAND: It’s worried us all along, the kinds of violence he is perpetrating against his own people. This is a guy who’s overseeing a security apparatus that has tanks in every town and village, that is using those tanks on innocent civilians, that has security forces that are rampaging in towns, that is arresting and torturing members of the political opposition, that has thousands of political prisoners. So it’s already an iron fist. The question is: Is he going to meet any of these commitments that he’s made? The Arab League is doing its best to try to provide space for this opposition, but clearly he’s defiant.
QUESTION: Can we just – building on what Cami said, you mentioned that this tone dates back to March. So that’s just almost 10 months of political inaction and violent repression. Are we at an end point now for diplomatic efforts with this guy?
MS. NULAND: Well, the United States has been saying for some months, I think dating back – I can’t remember exactly, I think it was August or September – that we had given him an opportunity to be the guy to lead change; that rather than doing that, he has used violence against his own people. And so we believe that it’s time – well overdue – for him to step aside.
That’s a different matter than whether this Arab League initiative is worth giving a try to see whether they could bring the Assad regime to implement the promises that it made. And we see a very, very, very incomplete picture there, as we’ve talked about all week.
QUESTION: So are you --
QUESTION: Okay, but just one second.
QUESTION: Just – would you be supportive of further diplomatic efforts? It just seems that time and time again, he’s used each outreach effort as a stalling tactic, as a strategy to kind of keep the international community at bay while he continues with the crackdown and continues to fail to deliver on any meaningful political reform. So how would you approach continued efforts to – would you lend support to continued efforts in this vein?
MS. NULAND: We’ve made clear we think the man needs to step aside. We’ve made clear that we want – we will continue to work with allies and partners around the world, particularly those in the region, trying to open space for political change, getting the violence to end, that we need to increase the pressure on the regime, the economic and political pressure. That’s what we have been leading with our own sanctions, with our efforts to encourage others to step up their sanctions, as we’ve seen.
QUESTION: But what has been --
MS. NULAND: We did support this Arab League initiative because they made promises – he made promises to them. We wanted to see if they could be implemented. We’re seeing this incomplete picture. They are going to make their own evaluation on the weekend, and we have made clear that we will continue to work with the Arab League and other partners on the way ahead, including what more the international community can do to try to increase the pressure to end the violence and to allow space for change in Syria.
QUESTION: But just finally --
QUESTION: Victoria --
QUESTION: -- what has been the sum total then of these 10 months of diplomatic efforts? What have they actually accomplished?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think his regime is feeling the squeeze. I mean, many countries have stopped trading with him --
QUESTION: I’m not talking about the sanctions. I’m talking about outreach, whether it was Turkey, whether it was the Arab League, whether it was some of his Gulf neighbors. What have they done? If you take all of them together since March, have they accomplished anything for the people in Syria?
MS. NULAND: Well, clearly we have not had success. I think that’s obvious from the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Yes. Victoria, I mean, he had very harsh words toward the Arab League. So obviously he is – they are – the regime is not going to cooperate with the mission, the monitoring mission by the Arab League. So why do you continue to have confidence in their ability and whatever report they’re coming up on the 19th of this month?
MS. NULAND: Said, we have said that we thought that they took on quite a lot of responsibility to do what they could to try to open space, to try to bear witness to what was going on, to do an honest reporting of what’s going on. We want to give them the opportunity to make that report, to make their own evaluation, to share their conclusions with all of the rest of us. And frankly, that will strengthen all of us going forward in our resolve to continue to increase the pressure and do what we can.
So it is a matter of letting the Arab League complete this mission, as it plans to do on Friday and Saturday, to make its own evaluation. And then all of us can take stock based on what we’ve seen.
QUESTION: But the integrity of the – if I’m --
QUESTION: Toria, why is it --
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Why is it an incomplete picture? You could say, “Whose fault is it that it’s an incomplete picture?”
MS. NULAND: No, the point I meant there, Jill, was, as we’ve been saying all week, we’ve seen some sporadic incidents in Syria where the presence of the monitors over the last couple of weeks have allowed the Syrian opposition to feel comfortable enough to come into the streets and make its views known. We saw big demonstrations about 10 days ago, a week ago, but those have been few and far between. And at the same time, we’ve seen Syrians continue to die at the hands of the security regime. We’ve seen the security situation not improve. We’ve seen the heavy weaponry, et cetera, that is emplaced all over Syria, not pulled back, as they promised. Journalists have not been allowed in. And we still have a thousand-plus political prisoners in Syrian jails, including some very prominent ones, with reports of torture.
So the point is that the Assad regime promised that it would meet four commitments to the Arab League. It has not met any of them, which is to say – but which is not to say that the monitors, where they have been able to be present, where they have been able to operate, haven’t already begun to prove the point that when they feel safe, the Syrian people will go out into the streets and make their views known. And it is Assad who is denying them that right through his violence.
QUESTION: But particularly as the observers are under attack yesterday, a group of Arab League observers were attacked – or was attacked by unknown protestors in Syria. Who is responsible, do you think, for these attacks?
MS. NULAND: I think we’re not in a position, obviously, to say who attacked the monitors. But this is the issue: The violence has not ended; the violence continues; and the Arab League presumably will draw its – draw conclusions from that when it makes its report at the end of the week.
QUESTION: On the UN Security Council, what do you expect from their discussions on Syria, especially since the last time you didn’t get the hoped-for targeted measures with the support of China and Russia?
MS. NULAND: Well, the Security Council is having another session on Syria this morning. I would guess that Ambassador Rice will have something to say in New York after that session concludes. I think you know where we are, Lach, that we continue to believe that it is overdue for the Security Council to make a strong statement in support of peace and security and in support of the moves that we can all take together to help the people of Syria.
We have a weak Russian draft on the table. We have consultations going on about how to strengthen it. So let us see if those lead anywhere today in New York and let them report from New York.
QUESTION: Any reason for optimism?
MS. NULAND: I think our sense is that we’re going to need to see the conclusion of this Arab League mission. We’re going to need to see their report. We’re going to need to have that report influence the views of the international community going forward.
QUESTION: Yeah. Ambassador Ford has expressed concern regarding security and safety of the Embassy and the staff in Damascus, and we were told that he conveyed this concern to the Syrian officials. How far the Syrians were responsive to his concern?
MS. NULAND: Well, my understanding is that Ambassador Ford made renewed demarches in the last couple of days about the physical security of the Embassy. I don’t know that the Syrian Government has responded to those demarches yet. My understanding is that they had not yet. But we, like a number of other embassies in Damascus, are concerned about whether or not the environment around our missions is well-enough protected.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to doubt the Syrians’ resolve to protect the American Embassy or any other diplomatic missions in Damascus?
MS. NULAND: Based on history, Said, we --
QUESTION: Based on history, yes.
MS. NULAND: As you know, we had a bad incident in the fall. We’ve worked with the Syrians since. We’re now asking for more support, and we’ll see if the Syrian Government is forthcoming.
QUESTION: But – I’m not saying that they shouldn’t provide it, but given the fact that you’ve called this regime illegitimate and said it should step down, how can you then ask to it to be legitimate in the sense that it should provide security? I mean, you’ve already said this is an illegitimate regime, so where does it get its legitimacy to provide support to anybody? I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be doing it, but --
MS. NULAND: Clearly, they have the security forces available. Use less of them on their own people and more of them to protect diplomatic missions, including in conformity with the Vienna Convention. We protect their mission and their people here, and we expect the same for our mission and our people there.
QUESTION: I just actually – for some clarification on this legitimate/illegitimate discussion, a minute ago you said we’ve made clear that we think the man needs to step aside. I don’t – Bashar Assad is not going to step aside. So I guess what I’m wondering is: Is the United States calling for his ouster?
MS. NULAND: We have been clear about this. The President said it in August. We think that this is not the guy to lead this country in a democratic transition. We have made clear that we think it is time for a dialogue that does not include him. We are not dictating how this needs to go forward, but we’re simply saying that in terms of our confidence that he can lead his country in a better direction, that’s over.
QUESTION: Change topic?
QUESTION: Yes. Palestinian issue. The Palestinian television had to cancel Sesame Street because of the funds and the $200 million worth were cut and the – part of that money, 2 million, were going to the – was going to the Sesame Street fund. My question to you is that the State Department subsidized the Israeli version of Sesame Street to the tune of $750,000. Would the State Department do the same thing to restore Sesame Street and Elmo and the other characters?
MS. NULAND: This is a complicated picture here, and I had asked our friend Kermit the Frog to join us to explain this, but I’m going to have to do it without him because he’s busy promoting The Muppet Movie.
The U.S., as you know, as you said, Said, did provide some support for the airing of Sesame Street to Palestinian kids. Unfortunately, with the cut in Economic Support Funds, we had to make some hard tradeoffs, and that was one of the things that we’ve not been able to do.
We have also always supported television for young kids, kindergarten age kids, that is broadcast by Israeli TV to kids in both Israel and in the Palestinian territories, which supports the goal of kids understanding that they share citizenship, that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews need to live together, that they are neighbors with the Palestinians. This is programming in Israel designed to promote common sense of citizenship between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Palestinians, but also between all Israelis and folks in the Palestinian territories. We think it’s an important program for kids. And the science indicates that if you get to children at the young level, before they’re even in school, that’s the best way to influence them. So yes, that does continue, and it comes out of a different pot of money.
QUESTION: What I’m saying is could you provide the Palestinians with the same thing for the program that airs from Ramallah in Arabic?
MS. NULAND: Well, again, we had to make some difficult decisions because our funding that comes – that supports the purely Palestinian programs, as opposed to these pan-regional programs, comes out of the economic support funds, and the economic support funds have been cut. And so our priority has been funding those programs that support – and the institutions of the – Palestinian institutions, their ability to provide basic services to their people. And unfortunately, Kermit is not able to be supported at the moment.
QUESTION: So what was the message of this now-cancelled Palestinian version of Sesame Street? Was it a peaceful message that’s been lost, or was it one that didn’t support the institutions?
MS. NULAND: My understanding is it’s regular Sesame Street programming that is – but perhaps Said knows better. I haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: It’s like all the others, it’s just coordinated with --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- New York. And part of it comes --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- from here, and part of it comes from there --
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: -- the programming, and it’s a very unfortunate thing.
MS. NULAND: Right.
QUESTION: Even the Israeli program, saying they are cutting funds actually is a disservice to peace because it teaches children how to live together and overcome all social and national barriers and so on.
MS. NULAND: Well, this speaks to the larger issue that we had pushed hard in the Congress and will continue to push hard for the – for full funding of the ESF account. At this point, we only have partial funding.
Please, in the back.
QUESTION: Pakistan today, there was a huge bombing (inaudible). What is your reaction? Do you know who might be behind this bombing? And what is – how – what is the status of – where do the U.S. and Pakistan and Afghanistan stand in terms of combating this challenge of militancy? Because there have been bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan both in recent days.
MS. NULAND: Well, let me say first that the United States strongly condemns today’s bombing at a marketplace in Jamrud, in the Khyber Agency. By callously targeting innocent people, the extremists who planned and perpetrated this attack are just showing their contempt for the value of human life. We offer our condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and we remain deeply committed to working with Pakistan to address these kinds of terrorist threats and the results of violent extremism. We’ve seen the reports, some claiming that there are al-Qaida hands behind this. Frankly, we’re not in a position to confirm one way or the other.
Please, Michel.
QUESTION: The meeting this afternoon between Secretary Clinton and the Saudi foreign minister, what are the topics that they will discuss? And is there any emergency for this meeting, especially that Assistant Secretary Feltman was in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and Sunday and Wendy Sherman was there last month, too?
MS. NULAND: Well, as you know, we – as you know, whenever we meet with representatives from the kingdom, it’s a very, very broad array of issues. From the Secretary’s side, I’m – I think she’s expecting that they’ll talk about virtually all of the regional issues – situation in Iran, situation in Iraq, promoting the democratic transition in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, you name it. But let us let the meeting go forward. Obviously, we – they have a close relationship. We always see the foreign minister when he’s in town.
QUESTION: But is there any emergency, especially that Assistant Secretary Feltman was there and he just came back?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the timing of the foreign minister’s visit except to say that we always have a heavy agenda. And as I just made clear, we have a very heavy agenda today again.
QUESTION: This meeting today with Saud Al-Faisal – I think tomorrow is – Hamad bin Jassim is coming?
MS. NULAND: That’s right.
QUESTION: Okay. And now on the 17th, we have the Jordanian monarch coming in. Does the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations factor in at all in these discussions?
MS. NULAND: In virtually all of these meetings, there is an exchange on where we are in our efforts to bring the parties to the table. I would guess that the – that issue will probably come up in all of these meetings.
QUESTION: Were you expecting the Saudi foreign minister to be here today before the visit that Assistant Secretary Feltman made?
MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to the exact sequencing of these issues. I don’t think that this was a surprise to us, if that’s what you’re asking.
QUESTION: Toria, did you find out if President Saleh of Yemen changed his mind to travel to Saudi Arabia instead of the U.S.?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have anything for you, Samir, on his travel plans. I would refer you to him. We don’t have anything new for you on that.
QUESTION: Because he withdrew his application for the visa to the U.S., Saleh.
MS. NULAND: Well, he took his passport back. What his travel plans are, I can’t speak to.
QUESTION: Any information on the other meeting the Secretary has at the White House with Defense Secretary Panetta and Mr. Donilon?
MS. NULAND: She – they meet regularly whenever they’re all home, and this is part of their regular consultation.
QUESTION: But there’s no specific topic that this is --
MS. NULAND: I’m sure there is, and I’m sure we’re not going to share it with you, Brad.
QUESTION: Toria, I forget, is it today that she’s speaking with the staff in Iraq?
MS. NULAND: Yes, she spoke to them this morning. She did.
QUESTION: Yeah. What did she say?
MS. NULAND: She had a phone call yesterday with our staff in Afghanistan and she had a phone call today with our staff in Iraq. These were New Year’s Day calls. Both of those staffs work extremely hard, seven days a week in most cases. They work under extreme conditions. And I think it was an opportunity to thank them for the work that they both did last year and to give them a pep talk going forward, because they’re both also shepherding important transitions in our relationships with both countries.
QUESTION: Right. And on the Iraq part, is there any early indication of how things are going now that the transition is happening?
MS. NULAND: In terms of the State Department picking up --
QUESTION: Troops out. Yeah. Right.
MS. NULAND: -- the lead, we’re working it through. As we’ve said from the beginning, this is – it’s a daunting effort, but we believe that we’re up to the task. I think you’ve seen that that Embassy’s been extremely busy, led by Ambassador Jeffrey, in its work with all of the Iraqi political parties to encourage them to talk to each other and encourage an Iraqi-owned process of national dialogue among the key leaders. So that continues, as do all of our civilian support opportunities and our training opportunities. So --
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MS. NULAND: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: North Korea announced that North Korea never ever give up their nuclear program. How is your response on that?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you can imagine that that is disappointing. I think we’ve been absolutely clear that we are looking for North Korea to take significant steps on the path towards denuclearization to work with us to meet its obligations. So we’ve been clear in what we hope to see. Our Six-Party Talks partners have been clear as well.
QUESTION: What would be the response of the United States if North Korea insist to be formally recognized as a nuclear power to come to Six-Party table?
MS. NULAND: You mean as a precondition for coming to the Six-Party Talks?
MS. NULAND: I think you know the answer to that question. It’s not acceptable.
QUESTION: Right. Thanks.
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: Toria, do you have any comments on the second naval rescue operation in the Sea of Oman that happened today --
MS. NULAND: Yeah. This is --
QUESTION: -- within a week?
MS. NULAND: I have to tell you that I don’t have all the details. I think Brother Little and Brother Kirby at the Defense Department were going to speak to this earlier today. I don’t know if they got a chance to go out and do so, but they’ve got the details. Again, the – I think in this case, the U.S. Coast Guard appears to have rescued some Iranians at sea and in distress. I heard this morning that it had something to do with engine trouble. There was a fire. But I’m going to leave it to the brothers at the Pentagon to give you more detail.
QUESTION: Do you have --
QUESTION: The P-5+1 talks aren’t really getting anywhere. How about a ship-to-ship diplomacy? (Laughter.)
MS. NULAND: Yeah, it sounds like we’re kind of de facto doing it, aren’t we? Yeah. It’s interesting because, as you know, the State Department runs a Twitter feed in Farsi. We have our virtual embassy with Tehran where we try to push out lots of information about U.S. diplomacy, et cetera. Massive interest in this – in the previous incident, on both of those platforms in this from regular Iranians wanting to understand more and some fascinating comments as well.
QUESTION: Do you have an update on Mr. Hekmati?
MS. NULAND: I have not a lot new, unfortunately. Let’s see. As I think I mentioned yesterday that we hadn’t yet been able to confirm the verdict, the Swiss protecting power has now been able to confirm to us the verdict. So we strongly condemn the death sentence verdict given to Mr. Hekmati. We’ve conveyed our condemnation to the Iranian Government through the Swiss protecting power. We maintain, as we have from the beginning, that these charges against him are a fabrication. We call on the Iranian authorities to release him immediately. We’ve also called on them to allow him to have legal counsel. Defendants in Iran are allowed to appeal within 20 days. And we call on the Government of Iran to respect the right – the fact that he is a U.S. citizen and grant the Swiss protecting power access to him.
QUESTION: Now, when the Swiss were informed of the sentence against him, was a justification for the charges or the sentence provided, or just simply the facts, as it were?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have details on that, I’m afraid.
QUESTION: Toria --
MS. NULAND: Please.
QUESTION: -- legally speaking, because Iran does not recognize the dual citizenship aspect, does the --
QUESTION: He doesn’t have dual citizenship.
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: He doesn’t have dual citizenship.
QUESTION: He doesn’t – so he’s just an American citizen, okay. So --
QUESTION: That is accepted – sorry – but informally.
QUESTION: What is informally?
MS. NULAND: Well, we’ve talked about this before here, Said, and we have a specific warning in our travel notice with regard to Iran to Iranian Americans that we have this problem with Iran, that if you’re born in Iran, even if you’re an American citizen, the Iranians don’t always recognize it, and it’s caused difficulties in the past.
So, anything else?
QUESTION: Just one on Iran. You said that he should have legal counsel. Did he have some sort of counsel for his case, some sort of court-appointed lawyer or something like that?
MS. NULAND: I have to say to you that I’m not sure we know enough about the way he was handled to answer that question. But you’ve seen his family speak about trying to get counsel to him – independent counsel. So --
QUESTION: So the Swiss have not had any contacts with any legal representative, whether he was state-appointed or --
MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no. And they’ve not been allowed to see him.
QUESTION: Just a quick one on Nigeria.
QUESTION: Yesterday you talked a little bit about it, but the Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said he feared the risk of a civil war in Nigeria. And I just wanted to ask you what you think the stakes are, if indeed you share that view. It’s an oil country. There’s large Muslim and Christian populations.
MS. NULAND: Well, as we said yesterday, Lach, we have concerns about what Boko Haram is doing about efforts to create and exacerbate existing tensions between Christians and Muslims in the country, north/south. We are supporting the efforts of the Nigerian Government to try to get a handle on that. On top of that, as you’ve probably seen, we also have nationwide strikes now in Nigeria in response to lifting of fuel subsidies. So that’s adding another layer to the difficulties in Nigeria. In the context of the nationwide strikes on the fuel situation, our view on that is that the Nigerian people have the right to peaceful protest, we want to see them protest peacefully, and we’re also urging the Nigerian security services to respect the right of popular protest and conduct themselves professionally in dealing with the strikes.
Anything else?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. NULAND: Okay. Thank you all.