Tagged: ConsumerAffairs

CALENDRIER du 13 avril au 19 avril 2015

(Susceptible de modifications en cours de semaine)

Déplacements et visites

Lundi 13 avril

President Jean-Claude Juncker meets with Mr Vítor Caldeira, President of the European Court of Auditors and with Mr Henri Grethen, European Court of Auditors’ Member Luxembourg.

Mr Frans Timmermans reçoit M. Jean-Louis Nadal, Président de la Haute Autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique.

Mr Frans Timmermans receives Mr Peter Faross, Secretary General of The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME).

Ms Federica Mogherini and Mr Johannes Hahn attend the Informal Ministerial Meeting with Southern Partners on the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Barcelona, Spain.

Mr Andrus Ansip receives Mr Thierry Breton, Chairman and CEO of Atos.

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis makes a European Semester country visit to Rome; meets Mr Pier Carlo Padoan, Minister of Economy and Finance; Mr Giuliano Poletti, Minister of Labour, Mr Ignazio Visco, Governor of the Bank of Italy, and social partners.

Mr Maroš Šefčovič gives an opening speech at the Renewable Energy Economy Forum 2015 organised by the German Association for Renewables (BEE); Hannover.

Mr Maroš Šefčovič attends the Hannover Messe in Germany.

Mr Jyrki Katainen receives social partners about the Investment Plan.

Mr Jyrki Katainen receives the Confederation of European Paper Industries.

Mr Jyrki Katainen participates in EP Committee on International Trade (INTA).

Mr Jyrki Katainen delivers keynote speech at inaugural conference of EP intergroup.

Mr Günther Oettinger participates in Hannover Messe in Germany: speaks at the policy reception of the German Engineering Association (Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau, VDMA) and Deutsche Messe on “Digital production – is Europe missing its opportunity?”.

Mr Neven Mimica attends the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu and Gyeongbuk in the Republic of Korea.

Mr Miguel Arias Cañete receives Mr Julio Rodriguez, Executive Vice President of Global Operations of Schneider Electric.

Mr Karmenu Vella in Riga (13-15/04). (13/04) visits the company Brivais Vilnis; meets representatives of local NGOs and Fisheries Advisory Council. (14/04) delivers speech at the Informal Environment Council. (15/04) attends the Informal Environment Council (joint meeting of the Environment and Energy ministers); delivers opening statement at the Green Bridge Forum.

M. Pierre Moscovici à Paris: rencontre M. Wilfried Guerrand, membre du Conseil d’administration du groupe Hermès et M. Jean-Noël Tronc, Directeur Général de la SACEM.

Mr Jonathan Hill delivers a speech at an event with the CEOs of SMEs organised by Eurochambres in Brussels.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives the representatives from the European Construction Industry Federation.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives Sir Graham Watson.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives Members of the Slovenian National Parliament.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska attends Hannover Messe in Germany:delivers a keynote speech at the Forum “Global Business and Markets”, meets with Mrs Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and with Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India.

Ms Vĕra Jourová in Berlin, Germany: meets with Mr. Heiko Maas, Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Ms. Maria Böhmer, Minister of State and with Dr. Thomas de Maizière, Minister of Interior.

Ms Margrethe Vestager delivers a keynote speech “In Varietate Concordia” at Syddansk Universitet on nation states and nationalism in Odense, Denmark.

Mr Carlos Moedas in Jordan: participates in the conference “Addressing shared challenges through Science Diplomacy: the case of the EU – Middle East regional cooperation”.

 

Mardi 14 avril

Informal Environment Council (14-15/04)

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Ms Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Minister-President of the Saarland and members of the Saarland regional government.

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Mr Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister of Montenegro

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Mr Jean-Claude Trichet, former President of the European Central Bank.

Mr Frans Timmermans receives Mr Ton Heerts, Chairman of the Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (FNV) and Ms Catelene Passchier, Vice-Chair of the FNV.

Mr Frans Timmermans receives representatives of the Forum of Jewish Organisations of Flanders (FJO – Forum der Joodse Organisaties).

Ms Federica Mogherini in Lübeck, Germany: visits Willy Brandt House with Mr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Minister for Foreign Affairs and Mr Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development; attends discussion with students; attends G7 Ministerial meeting.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva attends the official opening of the exhibition “The Saga of the Thracian Kings – Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria” in the Louvre, Paris.

Mr Andrus Ansip speaks at a policy dialogue on transforming traditional businesses and creating jobs at the European Policy Centre.

Mr Andrus Ansip participates in the meeting of the Working Group of the European Parliament Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee on the Digital Single Market in Brussels.

Mr Andrus Ansip receives Mr Edgar Berger, Chairman and CEO, International Sony Music Entertainment, Mr Stu Bergen President, International Warner Recorded Music, Mr Richard Constant General Counsel, Universal Music Group International, Ms Frances Moore CEO, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), Ms Olivia Regnier, Director European Office and European Regional Counsel, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Mr Jyrki Katainen at the Investment Plan roadshow in the Netherlands: meets with Mr Bert Koenders, Foreign Minister; Mr Mark Rutte, Prime-Minister and Mr Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Finance Minister as well as the provinces, business leaders, students and stakeholders.

Mr Günther Oettinger participates in Hannover Messe in Germany: speaks at the event “Industry 4.0 – Made in Germany”  along with Mr. Sigmar Gabriel, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, and Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and representatives of the industry; delivers a keynote speech ‘Europe’s Future is Digital’; meets with representatives of the industry, start-ups and research: Dr. Andreas Gruchow, Member of the Management Board of Deutsche Messe; Prof. Dr. Peter Gutzmer, Vice-President and CEO of Schaeffler; Mr. Thies Hofmann, Vice President of Business Development at Konux; Mr. Hermann Lertes, owner and CEO of H. Lertes GmbH & Co; Mr. Bernd Leukert, Member of the Executive Board of SAP; Mr. Daniel Siegel, founder of EliSE; Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wahlster, Director and CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI); Lucas Wintjes, Senior Vice PresidentSales and Industry Sector Management Factory Automation at Bosch Rexroth.During the day, Mr Oettinger also visits different stands, notably of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, H2FC European Infrastructure Project, OWL Clustermanagement, Microsoft, T-Systems, Siemens, Weidmüller, Endress+Hauser, ABB.   

Mr Johannes Hahn attends breakfast meeting hosted by CIDOB in Barcelona.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Members of the Slovenian Parliament.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Mr José Manuel González-Páramo, EU chairman of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD).

Mr Neven Mimica attends the 7th World Water Forum in Daegu and Gyeongbuk in the Republic of Korea.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Branko Grčić, vice-Premier Ministre Croate, Ministre du Développement Régional et des Fonds Européens et M. Boris Lalovac, Ministre des finances croate.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit une délégation du groupe parlementaire SPD du Bundestag.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Patrick Kron, président-directeur général du groupe Alstom.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Anton Hofreiter, co-président du groupe parlementaire des Verts au Bundestag.

M. Pierre Moscovici reçoit M. Jean-Dominique Senard, Président du groupe Michelin.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Mihály Varga, Hungarian Finance Minister.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives the representatives from the European Association with tolled motorways, bridges and tunnels.

Ms Violeta Bulc receives Mr James Hogan, CEO of Etihad.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska meets with Mr Krzysztof Kurzydłowski, Professor at the Warsaw University of Technology.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska receives Mr Patrcik Kron, CEO of Alstom.

Ms Vĕra Jourová in Berlin: meets with the Consumer Federation, with the Federation of German Industries, with Ms. Manuela Schwesig, the Minister for Family, Elderly, Women and Youth and with Dr. Meyer-Landrut, the Head of the European Policy Division in the German Chancellery

Mr Tibor Navracsics announces the winners of EU Prize for Literature 2015 at London Book Fair, London.

 

Mercredi 15 avril

College meeting

European Parliament plenary session (Brussels)

Informal Energy Council (15-16/04)

President Jean-Claude Juncker and the College receive the Spanish King Felipe VI.

Ms Federica Mogherini attends G7 Ministerial meeting in Lübeck, Germany.

Mr Andrus Ansip receives the Board of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis attends the Governing Council of European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany.

Mr Jyrki Katainen participates in a Committee of the Regions conference on the Investment Plan.

Mr Jyrki Katainen receives CEOs from German Insurance companies.

Mr Johannes Hahn receives Mr Milo Đukanović, Prime Minister of Montenegro.

Ms Cecilia Malmström in Paris: meets the Prime Minister of France, Mr Manuel Valls; participates in the citizen dialogue “Parlons d’Europe” (Centre d’études européennes de Sciences Po); meets theChief of Staff of President of France, Mr Jean-Pierre Jouyet; visits the Assemblée Nationale; meets the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Mr Laurent Fabius; visits an SME.

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Christos Stylianides meets with Mr Nicos Anastasiadis, President of the Republic of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Patrick Odier, President of the Swiss Bankers’ Association.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Alexander Erdland, President of the German insurers’ association (GDV).

Mr Jonathan Hill gives a keynote speech at the British Bankers’ Association Reception, Brussels.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska receivesrepresentatives of the Flemish Government.

Mr Tibor Navracsics gives a speech and hands over the European Heritage Label Award with Ms Silvia COSTA, Chair of Committee on Culture and Education of the EP, at the Ceremony, Brussels Solvay Library.

Ms Corina Creţu in Romania: visits EU-funded projects and meets with Mr Ioan Rus, Romanian Minister of Transport.

Mr Carlos Moedas receivesProf. Wolfgang Schuerer, Chairman of the Foundation Lindau Nobel Laureate.

Mr Carlos Moedas receives Mr Paulo Moniz, Vice-Rector of the Universidade da Beira Interior (UBI).

 

Jeudi 16 avril

President Jean-Claude Juncker receives Honorary Senator award in the European Senate, Düsseldorf-Neuss.

Ms Federica Mogherini attends Global Conference on CyberSpace 2015, The Hague.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva meets the winners of this year’s Juvenes Translatores award at a Special Award ceremony in Brussels, Belgium.

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis visits Washington and Boston, USA (16-20/04): attends the IMF and World Bank Spring meeting, gives a speech at the Atlantic Council and participate in G7 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting; has bilateral meetings with M5s Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, Mrs Janet L. Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, and Mrs Natalie Jaresko, Ukrainian Finance Minister and Mr Ivaras Abromavichus, Ukraine’s Minister of Economic Development and Trade. (20/04) gives a lecture at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies.

Mr Jyrki Katainen at the Investment Plan roadshow in Bulgaria: meets Mr Boyko Borissov, Prime Minister; Mr Rosen Plevneliev, President; Mr Tomislav Donchev, Deputy Prime Minister; Mr Bojidar Lukarski, Minister of Economy and as well as business leaders, investors, MPs and students.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Ms Mari Kiviniemi, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD.

Ms Cecilia Malmström receives Ms Monica Mæland, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry.

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Karmenu Vella delivers keynote speech at the Ocean Energy Forum (Hotel Crown Plaza, Brussels).

Mr Karmenu Vella attends the conference “The Atlantic our Shared Resource – Making the Vision Reality” (Palais d’Egmont, Brussels).

Mr Karmenu Vella receives members of the German Parliament.

Mr Pierre Moscovici in Washington (16-19/04): participates in a Public roundtable organised by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) on the theme ‘The recovery in Europe – the way forward’, delivers a speech at the World Bank / EIB conference on Climate Finance and has bilateral meetings.

Mr Christos Stylianides in Belgrade, Serbia: meets Mr Aleksandar Vucic, Prime Minister; Mr Nebojša Stefanović, Minister of Internal Affairs; Mrs Jadranka Joksimović, Minister and Mr Relief Marko Blagojević, Director of the Office for Reconstruction and Flood.

Mr Christos Stylianides Belgrade, Serbia: visits the Emergency Centre and attends the ceremony for Serbia’s entry into the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr John Rishton, CEO of Rolls Royce.

Mr Jonathan Hill receives Mr Michael Meehan, CEO of Global Reporting Initiative.

Mr Jonathan Hill delivers a speech at the event organised by the Centre for European Reform, London.

Ms Violeta Bulcin Madrid, Spain: meets with Ms Ana Pastor, Minister for Public Works, visits with Mrs Inés Ayala Sender, MEP; Mr Luis De Grandes; Mr Izaskun Bilbao, MEP and Mrs Tania Gonzáles Peñas, MEP; and with Mr Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, Secretary of State for European Affairs.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska receivesMrs Monica Mæland, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry.

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska meets with representatives of THALES: Mr Serge Adrian, Senior Vice-President; Mr Pawel Piotrowski, Country Director Thales Poland and Mr Marc Cathelineau, Senior Vice-President EU-NATO-UN.

Mr Andrus Ansip and Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska co-chair a roundtable discussion on cross-border parcel delivery with chief executives of national postal operators.

Ms Vĕra Jourová receives Mr Selakovic, Serbian Minister of Justice

Mr Tibor Navracsics gives a lecture as guest lecturer about the European Commission at Corvinus University, Budapest.

Ms Margrethe Vestager in Washington DC, USA (16-17/04): participates in the American Bar Association Antitrust Section’s 2015 Spring Meeting; meets with Ms Edith Ramirez, Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission; meets with Mr J. Baer, Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice William; meets with Mr Michael Lee, Senator and Chairman of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee; delivers speech on “Competition policy in the EU: Outlook and recent developments in antitrust” at the Peterson Institute for International Economics; meets with Ms Amy Klobuchar, Senator and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

Mr Carlos Moedas delivers an opening speech at the conference “The Atlantic – a Shared Resource: making the vision reality”, Palais d’Egmont, Brussels.

Mr Carlos Moedas delivers the keynote speech at the European University Association’s conference, Antwerp.

 

Vendredi 17 avril

Ms Kristalina Georgieva receives MsNathalie Loiseau, director of France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration.

Ms Kristalina Georgieva receives Mr Jean-Pierre Bourguinon, President of the European Research Council.

Mr Andrus Ansip participates in the Global Conference on CyberSpace 2015 in The Hague, Netherlands.

Mr Jyrki Katainen at the Investment Plan roadshow in Hungary: meets Mr Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister and members of the Hungarian National Assembly’s Committee on European Affairs and the Committee on Economics, as well as SMEs, investors, NGOs, research institutes and students.

Mr Günther Oettinger speaks on the occasion on ‘Energy meets Digital’ ofthe Europa Forum Lech in Austria.

Ms Cecilia Malmström in Maastricht, the Netherlands: delivers speech “EU Trade Policy: Why should European Citizens care?” at the Jean Monnet Lecture, organised by the Maastricht University (Crowne Plaza Hotel)

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and with Mr Pierre Moscovici participate in International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Karmenu Vella receives the representatives from the environmental NGOs Green 10.

Mr Christos Stylianides in Zagreb, Croatia: visits the Parliament of Croatia, meets with, Mrs Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, President of Croatia and Mrs Vesna Pusić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs

Mr Christos Stylianides in Gunja, Croatia: visits a site of the 2014 floods to see recovery and rehabilitation projects.

Mr Phil Hogan and Mr Carlos Moedas in Ireland: take part in the round table discussion in Glanbia, visit the Teagasc Food & Research Centre, Moorepark and the O’Brien Centre for Science, University College Dublin (UCD), Belfield.

Mr Jonathan Hill delivers a speech at a Reuters Newsmaker Event, London.

Mr Jonathan Hill meets Mr Terry Scuoler, CEO of the Manufacturers’ Organisation (EEF).

Ms Violeta Bulc in Madrid, Spain: participates at the “Forum Nueva Economía”, meets with the representatives of the of the Joint Committee for the EU and Committee for Public Works of the Spanish Parliament and the Spanish Senate; meets with representatives of enterprises in different transport sectors, CEOE transport council

Ms Elżbieta Bieńkowska participates at the conference: “I have a right – citizen on the EU internal market” in Wrocław, Poland.

Mr Tibor Navracsics and MrJyrki Katainen at the Investment plan Road-Show, Budapest, Hungary.

Ms Margrethe Vestager in Washington DC, USA (16-17/04): participates in the American Bar Association Enforcers Roundtable on enforcement priorities from leading antitrust authorities in the world; participates in Roundtable on banking reform at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

 

Samedi 18 avril

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and with Mr Pierre Moscovici participate in International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Ms Violeta Bulc attends the Global Show for General Aviation in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

 

Dimanche 19 avril

Mr Neven Mimica attends the World Bank and International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

Mr Miguel Arias Cañete participates at the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on Energy and Climate, Washington DC.

Ms Margrethe Vestager delivers keynote speech on transition from Minister to Commissioner at the Danish Seamen’s Church in New York, USA.

Prévisions du mois d’avril:

20/04 Foreign Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

20/04 Agrifish Council (Luxembourg)

20-22/04 Informal Epsco Council

21/04 General Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

24-25/04 Informal Ecofin Council

27-30/04 European Parliament Plenary Session (Strasbourg)

 

Prévisions du mois de mai:

07/05 Foreign Affairs (Trade) Council

08/05 Foreign Affairs (Defence) Council

11/05 Eurogroup

12/05 Ecofin Council

18/05 Foreign Affairs Council

18/05 EYCS (Education and Youth) Council

18/05 EYCS (Culture and Sport) Council

18-21/05 European Parliament Plenary Session (Strasbourg)

21-22/05 Eastern Partnership Summit

26/05 Foreign Affairs (Development) Council

27/05 European Parliament plenary session (Brussels)

28-29/05 Competitiveness Council

31/05 Informal Agrifish Council

 

Prévisions du mois de juin:

01-02/06 Informal Agrifish Council

08/06 TTE (Energy) Council (Luxembourg)

08-11/06 European Parliament Plenary Session (Strasbourg)

09-10/06 Informal Cohesion Council

10-11/06 EU-CELAC Summit

11/06 TTE (Transport) Council (Luxembourg)

12/06 TTE (Telecommunications) (Luxembourg)

15-16/06 JHA Council (Luxembourg)

15/06 Environment Council (Luxembourg)

16/06 Agrifish Council (Luxembourg)

18/06 Epsco (Employment) Council (Luxembourg)

18/06 Eurogroup

19/06 Ecofin Council (Luxembourg)

22/06 Foreign Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

23/06 General Affairs Council (Luxembourg)

24/06 European Parliament plenary session (Brussels)

25-26/06 European Council

Permanence DG COMM le WE du 11 au 12 avril:

Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, +32 (0)460 764 328

Permanence RAPID – GSM: +32 (0) 498 982 748

Service Audiovisuel, planning studio – tél. : +32 (0)2/295 21 23

The price of saving water

 Add to that an inefficient use of resources, weak regulation and lack of up-to-date information, and the water sector faces what may prove to be a dry season for investment.

 The United States and China have included water management in their stimulus packages. In the US, the Alliance for Water Efficiency estimates that every million dollars invested would generate between 15 and 22 jobs, add $2.5 to 2.8 million to economic output and raise GDP by $1.3 to 1.5 million. If investors are looking to clean up their soiled reputations, they could hardly make a better choice. If they hesitate, it is because the risks remain high. As the saying goes about “leading a horse to water”, governments will need to do a lot to reassure investors.

Their reluctance is understandable. Revenue from water and sanitation projects comes mostly from user fees and government subsidies. These revenues, being in local currency, put investors at a high foreign exchange risk if funding is in foreign currency. Water and sanitation are also managed at the local level, where poor co-ordination and local politicians, anxious over the support of their constituencies, may scupper plans to raise artificially low tariffs to sustainable levels.

This said, one message governments must do more to get across is that while there are financial risks for investors who may not enjoy a good rate of return, there are nevertheless major economic and social benefits from investing in water and sanitation. This makes it a good long-term deal. The WHO estimated that the economic rate of return was between 4-12 for every dollar invested for health benefits alone. The return would likely be higher if other benefits are taken into account, such as children (particularly girls) being able to go to school rather than fetching water, and higher productivity in industrial and other water-reliant sectors.

But there is another problem which this crisis has brought to the fore, and that is the philosophical and practical debate as to whether the private sector should be involved in water investment at all. Do investors have the wherewithal over the long term, and can they be relied on to provide the service in the public interest? Such questions reflect scarred reputations in finance, but also more than a few disappointments in the water sector too, with investors withdrawing or simply not showing enough interest in water investment.

Investment returns were not the main problem either. Difficulties experienced in the past by the private sector have not typically been related to specific projects but to poor risk management, lack of capacity in host countries, and an unhealthy environment for all kinds of investment, not just water. This is something governments should act upon. Whether the source of investment is public or private, it is ultimately the responsibility of governments to establish the institutional frameworks, allocate roles, demand accountability from providers, and guarantee the provision of a public good.

Clearly, the water stakes are so high that the policy focus of the debate must shift away from public versus private issues, to identifying the conditions under which water services can be provided safely, efficiently, affordably and sustainably. What matters is what works. The vast majority of water service providers are publicly owned and operated, but there is a significant number of private providers, and lessons can be learned from these and applied to all kinds of local situations. Moreover, whereas in the past, large international companies were the major players, there is a “new generation” of private providers, including a growing number of local and regional actors, and hybrid arrangements that are neither entirely public or private. Some are joint ventures and there are also cases of companies that are public in one country operating as private companies abroad.

But while the choice of operator– public or private–should be determined locally, how can that choice be made? The OECD has developed a check-list to help governments particularly in developing countries to address this question (see box). If the private option is being considered, the check-list can help ensure that the arrangement meets both long-term investment and public policy objectives.

Beyond the checklist, there is a simple condition: more investors would be drawn to water if prices were right. Many users, however, bristle at the idea of paying for water. In Mexico there is even a law exempting large swathes of the public sector from paying. In many countries, the view is, because water is essential and is a right, it should be free. Alas, the hard reality is that, whatever about the commodity itself, cleaning and distributing safe water is not cost-free. Persuading users that water and sanitation services would improve if private investment could be harnessed is no easy task, especially in the heat of a financial meltdown. Low prices are a comforting illusion but in reality, unless there is a major public sector investment to back them, they can be a trade-off for poor service, increased health hazards and higher sales of bottled water. The argument does not always wash with providers, whose creditworthiness would benefit as a result of adequate pricing. In Latin America, for example, banks do not accept revenue from water operators as collateral for loans and frequently require guarantees from the state should the operator default.  

Ensuring that tariff levels are adequate and fairly apportioned among the richest and poorest is crucial to their acceptance. People doubt governments’ ability to right a capsized economy and fear that, in the end, it is they who will have to pay. According to some, poorer households, especially those benefitting from artificially low tariffs, would resist any increase. However, this is not always true: poorer people are often paying much more than, say, the middle class for their water simply because they are not connected to water networks and have to pay more to vendors for what is often lower quality water. That said, no price increase will be politically popular unless it can be transmitted quickly in to improved services. At present in too many cases, the middle class benefit from keeping water prices artificially low, but the services are not expanded. Charging for water is fair, because it can enable providers to extend water services and access to poorer communities. In short, providers need to balance tariff levels against the allocation of costs to different consumers.

There are examples to follow. Take Portuguese families, for instance, who were alarmed over a proposed tariff reform which threatened to increase household bills by 10.5% over the national affordability threshold.  In fact, the majority of households experiencing the full increase were located in only 60 out of 309 municipalities. In the Portuguese case, the proposed tariff reform identified flexible solutions in different municipalities to address localised affordability problems, including support to local service providers This flexibility soothed customers, as well as regional authorities, who are better placed to determine what local populations can afford. Such approaches have lessons even for much poorer countries. 

Unfortunately, what is defined as “affordable”, at both the national and international levels (usually 3%-5% of household income), may be a fraction of what consumers actually pay; vendors selling to households not connected to the network may charge exorbitant fees. International criteria also ignore the willingness and ability of local populations to pay for improved services. For example, many communities in developing countries are willing to pay for upgraded sanitation facilities. In Mumbai, one of India’s better-off cities, one out of twenty people defecate in the open for lack of toilets.  People were willing to contribute to the capital costs of constructing 330 community toilet blocks and pay for their maintenance through a membership scheme and user fees. Some 400,000 people benefited from the Mumbai Slum Sanitation Project, which has become a model for similar initiatives under India’s National Urban Sanitation Policy. When the poorest cannot pay, there are better ways of ensuring they have access to water and sanitation than keeping prices low for all. Tariffs can be designed so that higher-income consumers cross-subsidise the most vulnerable. Poorer households can be provided with income support to cover part of their water bill. In Chile, the poor are provided with water vouchers to help pay their water bills. A better option in many developing countries is to subsidise access, not consumption. This approach has proved effective in countries where pipelines are few or outlets lie at a great distance from households. Connecting to the network is free or cheap; and consumers pay only for the water they use.

 But even with the adjustment of tariffs, investors may still be jittery. Rightly so, as most of their money is going into a dark hole.

The bulk of pipe networks are underground. Deteriorating infrastructure and leakage are major drains on revenue. Even in well-run water utilities in OECD countries, leakage accounts for 10%-30% of unaccounted water loss; in developing countries it often exceeds 40%, even reaching 70% on some occasions.

 In OECD countries, where most people have ample access to water and sanitation facilities, upkeep and conformity with health regulations means that countries such as the UK and France will have to increase the share of GDP in water spending by 20% just to maintain services; for Japan and Korea, the figure is 40%. In developing countries, the situation, though not dismal, falls well short of the targets set in the Millenium Development Goals. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that to extend existing water facilities in developing countries will cost up to $18 billion per year, roughly double the current amount, and this figure excludes the maintenance, rehabilitation or modernisation of existing systems. 

The victims of poor infrastructure are not only households; businesses are harmed as well. The World Bank Enterprise Surveys measure the number of days that businesses lack sufficient water for production. For OECD countries, the average is less than half a day, whereas in Kenya, Tanzania and Mauritania, firms grind along with insufficient water for about three months of the year, anywhere between 85 and 105 days.

Ensuring access to safe and affordable water and sanitation for all will not be easy, particularly in developing countries. The gates will only be raised to investment when governments establish sound regulatory frameworks, including provisions for sustainable cost recovery for the services provided. Investors, however, can reassure themselves at least in one respect. While not the heady ambrosia of previous years, water offers investors the refreshing alternative of stable returns–all in the name of the public good.  Rory J. Clarke

 

For more detail, contact Brendan.Gillespie@oecd.org and Celine.Kauffmann@oecd.org

 

References
See www.oecd.org/water and www.oecdobserver.org/water

OECD (2009) “Managing water for all: the OECD perspective on pricing and financing”, Paris. OECD (2009) Managing water for all:Key messages for policy-makers”, available at www.oecd.org/water

OECD (2009), Private Sector Participation in Water Infrastructure: OECD Checklist for Public Action, OECD, Paris, www.oecd.org/daf/investment/water

OECD (2009), “Strategic Financial Planning for Water Supply and Sanitation”, OECD internal document, www.oecd.org/water

OECD (2009), “Pricing Water Resources and Water and Sanitation Services”, OECD internal document, www.oecd.org/water

OECD (2009), “Alternative Ways of Providing Water and Sanitation: Emerging Options and their Policy Implications”, OECD internal document, www.oecd.org/water

OECD/WWC (2008), Creditor Reporting System: Aid Activities in Support of Water Supply and Sanitation – 2001-2006, OECD, Paris.

 

©OECD Observer No. 270/271, December 2008-January 2009

 

 

 

 

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End of milk quotas: cities and regions are concerned about the implications and are calling for steps to safeguard the incomes of all producers

Meeting yesterday in Brussels, the members of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) of the European Committee of the Regions raised concerns about the impact of the abolition of milk quotas in the EU, particularly in disadvantaged and sensitive regions. In a draft opinion drawn up by René Souchon (FR/PES), President of the Auvergne region, they call on the European authorities to take urgent measures to safeguard the incomes of all milk producers.

In the positions it has previously taken on abolishing milk quotas, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) expressed its concerns about the plan to end quotas on 31 March 2015, and was highly critical of a measure likely to have an adverse impact on the EU’s environmental and territorial cohesion objectives. The CoR is concerned that this will accelerate the concentration of production in the most intensively farmed areas, harming sensitive or disadvantaged regions, including mountain regions but also so-called “intermediate” crop-growing and cattle-breeding regions. These fears are largely confirmed by the Commission’s latest report (published in June 2014) on the development of the market situation in the milk sector. “In light of the milk surplus and low prices recorded since summer 2014, the outlook is extremely worrying because in many Member States and regions, milk production is an essential pillar of the regional economy and of agricultural added value”, emphasised the rapporteur René Souchon, before adding, “It is essential to ensure a steady income for milk producers throughout the EU in order to maintain agriculture and preserve rural communities in all regions, in the interests of meeting the EU’s territorial cohesion objective”.  

In the draft own-initiative opinion adopted yesterday, NAT members call on the European authorities to take steps to safeguard the income of all milk producers, as is the case in most other major milk-producing countries, such as India, China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States, which have maintained or even strengthened their support and protection for the dairy sector.

The draft opinion calls for the following in the short term:

  • to quantify how many jobs, how much added value and how many public goods would be lost in “intermediate” and disadvantaged zones if milk production was abandoned;
  • to make contracting more effective by expanding the mechanism to the whole industry, including in particular large-scale retailers – contracting seeks to formalise a long-term commercial relationship between a producer and their client with the aim of ensuring adequate production in an outlet;
  • to improve the operation of the European Milk Market Observatory, and put in place the necessary resources for it to become a genuine steering mechanism, and not just a tool for post hoc observation;
  • to immediately enhance the safety net for a limited period in order to cope with the looming crisis, pending the introduction of another mechanism;
  • to take urgent steps to safeguard the income of all milk producers, and to examine in particular the European Milk Board proposal.

In the medium term:

  • to harmonise the compensation payments for natural handicaps , financed 100% by the EU budget, to restore milk collection aid, to support the promotion and development of the “Mountain produce” label for dairy products, subject to an adequate level of food self-sufficiency;
  • to encourage the preservation of dairy production , particularly using more mixed and hardy breeds which make use of the grasslands, rather than production from very specialised herds which consume ever increasing amounts of cereals and soya;
  • to draw up a major rural development plan for all countries which have small herds and where dairy farms are in the majority. It seems like their future may be at risk following the abolition of quotas, even though these farms remain the foundation of rural communities.

The NAT commission

The Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) coordinates the work of the Committee of the Regions in the areas of rural development and the common agricultural policy, fisheries and maritime policy, food production, public health, consumer protection, civil protection and tourism. It brings together 112 regional and local elected representatives from the 28 EU Member States. The commission’s chair is José Luís Carneiro (PT/PES), mayor of Bilbao.

Speeches: Combatting Terrorism: Looking Over the Horizon

Thank you, Ruth. It is great to be here at SAIS – a place that has always emphasized an interdisciplinary approach to international affairs and a place well suited for this discussion about the need to address underlying causes of violent extremism in order to support current efforts to defeat terrorist networks.

From Copenhagen to Cairo, from Paris to Peshawar, in Nigeria, Libya, and China, violent extremists have perpetrated bombings, kidnappings, and shootings this year. Violent extremism is spreading geographically and numerically, and every corner of the globe is at risk. No country or community is immune. Intelligence officials argue that terrorism trend lines are worse than at any other time in modern history; despite the tactical successes of our intelligence gathering, military force, and law enforcement efforts, terror networks are spreading and new threats are emerging around the world. Accordingly, the United States and its allies in the fight against terrorism must strengthen our comprehensive strategy to address the underlying drivers that fuel the appeal and spread of violent extremism. That is precisely why President Obama recently hosted the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. Joining with leaders of foreign governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society, President Obama and Secretary Kerry launched a global effort to address the enablers of violent extremism in order to prevent the emergence of new terror threats.

It is worth putting this pivotal moment in historical context.

As we look back on the terrorist challenge of past decades, several broad phases are discernible. We saw terrorism in the 1970s, 80s, and even 90s largely in the context of political movements, nationalists and separatists, regarding terror as a tactic used most often for political gains. Our national and international organizations dedicated to addressing these movements were modest, and our response paired political, criminal justice and law enforcement efforts.

In the 1990s, however, terror attacks against U.S. targets at home against the World Trade Center and abroad against the U.S. Embassies started to shift our thinking about and approach toward terrorism. It was no longer seen only as a foreign political challenge. Of course, after the 9/11 attacks against the United States, the U.S. mobilized anew, developing extraordinary military and intelligence capabilities focused on better understanding, tracking, and where necessary, attacking terrorists and terror networks. Working closely with a small number of partners, we also developed intelligence networks and refined military operations to detect terrorists and foil their plots, and we enhanced border security, law enforcement, and other tools to protect the homeland. With the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011 and of countless other terror leaders, al-Qa’ida’s core was beaten back.

Yet despite the world’s devotion of enormous military and intelligence resources – as well as human treasure – the threat of violent extremism persists. Over the past 13 years, violent extremist movements have diffused and proliferated. Increasingly, they have sprung from within conflicts worldwide. And they have exploited grievances and divided societies in order to further their own aims. Weak, illegitimate, and repressive governments inadvertently created opportunities for terrorists to capitalize on popular resentment of governments make common cause with local insurgents, the discontented, and criminal networks, and operate in poorly governed territory. Additionally, terrorist methods and goals have diversified. They now control large territories in several regions of the world.

Let me offer specific illustrations of these dynamics: Tehrik-e-Taliban has long exploited local grievances in the tribal belt along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in order to sustain itself. Members of Al-Qa’ida’s network in East Africa blended with militants from the Council of Islamic Courts to create al-Shabaab. In the loosely governed expanses of the Sahel, extremists including AQIM associated with disenfranchised Tuareg tribes to expand its power base. In Libya, Ansar al-Sharia exploited post-Gaddafi factional violence to cement itself in the Libyan landscape. And the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Daesh today, dramatically expanded its reach and power by capitalizing on Sunni political disenfranchisement in Iraq. The rise of Daesh is on all of our minds, but it is only one manifestation of a trend that we have witnessed over the last decade. Violent extremist groups have been expanding their control and resonance in South Asia, the Sahel, the Maghreb, Nigeria, Somalia, and in the Arabian Peninsula.

Of course, the U.S. approach and that of our partners in the fight against violent extremism has been adapting as well. We continued to pursue military force to go after terrorist leaders plotting to attack the U.S. or its interests and continued to refine our intelligence capabilities. We proved adept at taking key terrorists off of the battlefield. We also adopted more comprehensive approaches toward terrorism and violent extremism, adapting to the evolving threats we faced. For example, we placed greater emphasis on building the capacity – including military, intelligence, and civilian – of our partners to address threats within their own borders and region, as well as expanding efforts to reduce the radicalization that was leading individuals to join terrorist groups. We strengthened the international counterterrorism architecture by working with our Western allies and Muslim-majority partners to launch the Global Counterterrorism Forum in 2011. This platform allows experts from around the world to share good practices and devise innovative civilian-focused approaches to addressing the terrorist and violent extremist threats freed from the politics and process of traditional multilateral bodies. That same year, the U.S. inter-agency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication was created to more effectively counter the violent extremist narrative. And the U.S. sought to place greater emphasis on the role of law enforcement and the wider criminal justice system in preventing terrorism and bringing terrorists to justice within a rule of law framework, thereby strengthening the international cooperation that is so essential to addressing the threat. More broadly, from his first day in office, President Obama has made clear that to be successful, all of our efforts to counter terrorism and root out the violent ideology that underpins it, must be done consistent with American values and be rooted in respect for human rights.

Still, the threat of violent extremism continues to metastasize in different dimensions. A new variant of terrorist threat is foremost on our minds today. Some of the most violent extremist groups, such as Daesh or Boko Haram, differ from Al Qaeda, because they are not similarly devoted to dogmatic treatise, militant hierarchy, or simply destroying existing state authority. Many of these new actors they seize land, resources, and population to consolidate geographic control and advance their apocalyptic visions. They violate human rights in the most egregious ways imaginable, exacerbate communal differences, and lure foreign fighters to incite violence around the world. These groups destabilize entire regions and inspire, if not actively plot, attacks on the US homeland and against our allies. They violate and undermine every aspect of the progressive norms and order that the international community painstakingly built from the ruins of World War II. They pose very real threats to U.S. interests and to international stability as they propagate and violently pursue their nihilistic goals.

The international community has responded accordingly. ISIL’s sudden and dramatic rise has animated a robust military coalition to defeat it, which the coalition will most certainly do. But physically dislodging terrorist safe havens requires a comprehensive and costly military effort, and removing violent extremists from the political landscape of failed states or failing communities is a long-term process. The most effective and useful way to address the metastasizing threat of violent extremism is to prevent its spread through less costly and destabilizing methods, to better enable the success of the our military efforts to defeat terrorism where it already has rooted. The long game lies in building an international coalition to prevent the rise of the next ISIL.

This requires a clear-eyed view of why these groups have been successful. It is not solely because of their extremist ideology, as important as it is to counteract the vitriolic incitement. These groups are more opportunistic and cynical. For example, Boko Haram exploits unrelated local grievances and decades of neglect of the Muslim north. Daesh, a successor to the former al-Qa’ida in Iraq, emerged from the inferno of Syria’s civil war and capitalized on Iraq’s political difficulties. Al Shabaab drew its strength from Somalia’s state failure, rampant corruption, and inter-clan rivalry for resources, and these conditions allow the group to continue governing rural parts of Somalia. As the group was militarily dislodged from city centers, it began seeking common cause with aggrieved minorities along Kenya’s coast, using attacks to stoke ethnic and religious tensions.

The adaptation of terror organizations highlights the need for us to continue adapting our approach to violent extremism. These realities demand thinking about violent extremism not simply in terms of individual radicalization but also in the context of dynamics that make entire communities vulnerable to radicalization, co-optation, or exploitation.

How can we most effectively do this? We know there are many forces that drive individuals to violence. Current research, including interviews with former violent extremists or rehabilitated terrorists consistently reveals that there is no single driver of violent extremism. Rather, there are a number of common ones including: boredom, intergenerational tensions, the search for greater meaning in life, perceived adventure, attempts to impress the local community, a desire for increased credibility, to belong or gain peer acceptance, and revenge.

Similarly, there is no one driver of community-wide radicalization. Participants in last month’s White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism cited social rejection, political disenfranchisement, and economic exclusion as underlying conditions conducive to the spread of violent extremism. Yet the phenomenon of political, economic, and social marginalization as a driver of violent extremism is not new, nor is it synonymous with any one region, religious tradition, or culture. Marginalization is a strong “push factor” for many individuals and groups, and it creates a vulnerability to ideological and charismatic “pull factors.” Extremist narratives therefore become more intellectually and emotionally attractive to these marginalized communities.

Support for violent extremism does not take hold only under illiberal, authoritarian regimes; it festers anywhere liberty is denied. Even in societies with legal frameworks that guarantee respect for human rights, extremists have found resonance by exploiting real or perceived social and economic discrimination. While we may not know the precise reasons why the Charlie Hebdo attackers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi resorted to terrorism, we can see how violent extremists seek to exploit discontentment. In the low-income housing projects outside of Paris where the brothers grew up, the youth unemployment rate stands at more than 25 percent, and residents often complain of unresponsive law enforcement in the face of soaring crime and blatant hiring discrimination.

Although not the sole driver of violent extremism, marginalized and alienated groups provide “seams of vulnerability” for terrorists to exploit in their efforts to recruit and seek support. Simply put, people who think that they have nothing to lose and that playing by the rules of the system provides no avenue to opportunity or success become more susceptible to being drawn to violent radical actions to upend the status quo. We must therefore anticipate and monitor, if not ideally stitch up, these seams of vulnerability. This is the concept of preventing the rise of violent extremism before it becomes a terrorist threat. To execute this prevention strategy wisely, we need to refine how we think about policies and programming to enhance our understanding of what makes communities vulnerable to radicalization, co-optation, or exploitation by violent extremists, and we need a strategy to prioritize the allocation and alignment of resources to address first those seams most vulnerable to terrorist exploitation.

This preventive approach requires policymakers and experts to expand their focus beyond today’s dangerous threats. They must look to include communities that have not yet become terror safe havens or active conflict zones but that show susceptibility either to ideological radicalization or simply to making common cause with foreign terrorist organizations. Effective prevention requires us to work not in violent extremism “hot spots,” safe havens, or in active conflict but at the periphery – the places that terror networks will seek to penetrate as they expand their spheres of influence or as they are displaced from their current safe havens.

Prevention through addressing vulnerabilities on the periphery of terror networks broadens available interventions to include diplomatic, political, and economic tools. These approaches are possible in non-crisis environments, where bilateral cooperation is stable, development professionals have access to target populations, civil society organizations exist, youth can attend school, and adults devote their energies to economic activity, not fighting – all necessary conditions for development assistance and related interventions to take root and lead to improvements in governance and long-term economic growth.

A focus on broader interventions to address underlying factors on the periphery creates new opportunities for success in the struggle against violent extremism. Not every potential partner can participate in a military coalition, and many states are committed to international assistance programs that can be tailored to this particular challenge. A prevention approach further enlarges the coalition of effective interveners to include civil society and the private sector, who find it challenging to work in crisis zones. Civil society organizations, especially local voices, actors, and networks are essential, since they have intimate knowledge and authentic credibility to mediate disputes and misunderstandings, among communities or with state actors. Civil society organizations are especially well-suited to partner with women and youth, two groups critical for successful community resilience. For example, during last month’s White House Summit, a civil society leader from a West African country described the long, difficult process she undertook to earn the trust of a group of local imams in order to start a book club program to teach critical thinking and reasoning skills at several madrassas. Only a local actor could have won the imams’ trust, underscoring why one of non-state actors are so critical for prevention work.

The private sector can also play a role on the periphery. Building alliances with the private sector strengthens community resilience, by providing more economic opportunity to citizens and showcasing new innovation, growth, and connectivity. More private sector growth can offer another way to dampen the appeal of extremism and stabilize communities.

President Obama hosted the Summit to draw more attention to the importance of addressing the broad enablers of this extremism and to highlight the role of local communities and civil society in this effort. The President defined the Summit goal as “preventing [violent extremist] groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place,” and he challenged the international community, to come up with a positive, affirmative antidote to the nihilism that terrorists peddle: “If we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism,” he said, “then the international community has to offer something better.” The event may well prove to be a pivotal moment in the global struggle against violent extremism, opening the way to a more comprehensive, affirmative, and far-reaching effort to prevent the spread of terrorist networks.

The meeting convened an unprecedented diversity of stakeholders from more than 65 governments, civil society leaders from more than 50 countries, and two dozen private sector institutions, who engaged in an honest, straight-forward discussion about the broader enablers of violent extremism and its effects on their communities. “We know that poisonous ideologies do not emerge from thin air,” United Nations Security General Ban Ki-moon declared, as he pointed to “oppression, corruption, and injustice” as drivers of violent extremism. He cautioned that “all too often counterterrorism strategies lack basic elements of due process and respect for the rule of law.” Dr. Peter Neumann of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization cited evidence that social and political marginalization render people receptive to violent extremism. Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh addressed the role of Islam and called for an interfaith unity. “Religious authorities representing all religions on the face of this earth,” he said, “must unite on a narrative that discredits extremist ideology, dispels its foundations, and preaches moderation and interfaith harmony.”

The delegates outlined an ambitious, affirmative action agenda to address violent extremism. Governments, civil society, the private sector, and multilateral bodies committed to take action, both collectively and independently, in eight broad areas:

  • Encouraging local research and information-sharing;
  • Expanding the role of civil society, especially the role women and youth;
  • Strengthening community-police and community-security force relations;
  • Promoting the counter-narrative and weakening the legitimacy of violent extremist messaging;
  • Employing educational approaches and amplifying mainstream religious voices to build resilience;
  • Preventing radicalization in prisons and rehabilitating and reintegrating violent extremists;
  • Identifying political and economic opportunities for communities vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment;
  • Providing development assistance and stabilization efforts.

Several delegations have already pledged commitments in support of this comprehensive agenda. The United Nations will convene a special event this year to bring faith leaders from around the world together to promote mutual understanding and reconciliation. Japan announced a $15.5 million contribution to build capacity in the Middle East and North Africa to counter terrorism and violent extremism, including by strengthening community resilience. The European Union will create a Round of Eminent Persons from Europe and the Islamic world to encourage intellectual exchanges and promote dialogue on the cost and ramification of terrorism in our societies and to launch additional programs on how to link education and countering violent extremism. Norway will significantly expand its support for education training programs targeting populations at risk of radicalization and contribute $600,000 to the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, and the Republic of Korea will engage IT companies to develop new initiatives to counter violent extremism.

Several delegations pledged support for counter-messaging initiatives. With European Union support, Belgium is establishing the Syria Strategic Communications Advisory Team to develop a communications strategy to provide subtle counter-narratives. The African Union has pledged to work through the Network of African Journalists for Peace to launch a continent-wide, counter-violent extremism messaging campaign, and through its Against Violent Extremism Network, Google Ideas is challenging the terrorist narrative, by leveraging and trumpeting the testimonials of more than 500 rehabilitated former extremists from 40 countries.

In addition, many countries and organizations, including Albania, Algeria, the African Union, Australia, Denmark, Djibouti, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Norway, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, are already planning to host follow-on regional or thematic summits in an effort to involve more countries, civil society organizations, and companies in this process.

The Summit’s commitment to preventing violent extremism widens the aperture on the problem and invites deployment of development and broader foreign assistance programs to those communities particularly vulnerable to radicalization to violence.

The United States’ is committed to this multilateral action agenda. The U.S. is already working through the Global Counterterrorism Forum to support community-oriented policing in South Asia, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and elsewhere; nurturing entrepreneurship and strengthening innovation in emerging markets through our Global Entrepreneurship Summits and the Global Innovation through Science and Technology program; and rallying our partners across a broad array of sectors—including heads of the entertainment and technology industries, philanthropists, and policy makers—to expand economic opportunities for vulnerable and marginalized communities. In addition to the $188 million in programs that the State Department and USAID are already dedicating to implementation, President Obama has requested nearly $400 million in additional resources in the 2016 budget for the State Department to support a wider range of counterterrorism partnerships, including programs to address violent extremism.

Stay tuned for progress on this effort. President Obama invited Summit participants to reconvene at a leaders’ summit on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September, when heads of governments, organizations, and corporations will announce the programs and policies they have undertaken to address the drivers of violent extremism and implement the action agenda. The Summit agenda ultimately promises to identify areas of greatest risk to violent extremism and help prioritize the deployment of resources and expertise to prevent terrorism from taking hold.

Several Summit participants called the meeting a milestone in the global effort against violent extremism and a turning point for the U.S. in moving toward a holistic approach that embraces Muslim and marginalized communities, as well as the role of civil society and the private sector. The challenge now is to build on this momentum so that it produces practical and tangible outcomes. It is an opportunity to supplement, expand, and innovate for the next generation. We can complement a counterterrorism strategy that has had success in addressing immediate threats with a more comprehensive approach to prevent the emergence of new threats. This preventive approach is affirmative: by employing a broad range of tools, including diplomatic, political, development, and communications levers, it seeks to empower individuals and their communities to resist extremism without the risk of further alienating them. This approach may also prove more sustainable in employing a wider array of actors and interventions to prevent terrorist threats from expanding or emerging in the first place.

Although preventing violent extremism entails harnessing a broader toolkit than intelligence gathering, military force, and law enforcement has built to date, it does not mean that development assistance or strategic communications will replace security interventions in countering terrorism. The United States government will continue to defend the American people and its interests abroad by targeting and eliminating current terrorist threats. The President’s commitment to comprehensively preventing violent extremism will advance new tools to complement and enhance, not replace, current counterterrorism efforts.

The White House Summit already has spurred new investments and innovative programs to address the underlying drivers of violent extremism. Yet realizing this approach will not happen overnight, even here in the United States. It is, by definition, a generational effort. But the United States and our partners have embraced the need to look over the horizon, to get ahead of the next violent extremism challenge.

At the Summit, Secretary Kerry announced: “We can send a clear signal to the next generation that its future will not be defined by the agenda of the terrorists and the violent ideology that sustains them; we will not cower, and we will prevail by working together….Our collective security depends on our collective response.” When world leaders reconvene on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this September, they will have a historic opportunity to consolidate this more comprehensive approach to counterterrorism.

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 05, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  Hope you’re feeling as rested and recharged as many of us here at the White House.  I know that I am. 

Some of you are — although I don’t see too many tan faces in the audiences, just on the side.  So —

Q    Happy New Year.

MR. EARNEST:  Happy New Year to you, Goyal.  So I don’t have anything to start, Julie, so let’s go straight to your questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Happy New Year.  Congress comes back tomorrow with Republicans in charge, and I’m wondering if the President has spoken to Mitch McConnell or the Republican leaders either while he was in Hawaii or since he’s been back, and if he has any plans to meet with them this week.

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, I don’t know of any presidential calls that occurred while the President was in Hawaii.  I believe that both the President and the incoming Senate Majority Leader were spending some downtime with families over the holidays.  But I would anticipate that the President will have an opportunity to sit down with congressional leaders in the first couple of weeks that they’re back here.  I don’t have a specific date at this point, but I would anticipate that that’s something that will happen if not this week, then the week or two after that.

Q    He’s occasionally spoken to Republicans at their retreat; that’s in Pennsylvania this year.  Do you know if he has plans to travel to that?  Has he been invited?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not he’s been invited.  I am aware that those are their plans, but I don’t know yet whether or not the President will attend.

Q    Okay.  One of the first things that McConnell has said that he plans to bring up is the Keystone pipeline.  There’s going to be a hearing on it on Wednesday.  The House plans to vote relatively soon.  The President was pretty non-committal in his end-of-the-year press conference.  When he was asked about a veto, he said we’ll take that up in the new year.  We’re now in the new year, we know that this is coming up.  If Congress sends him a bill forcing him to move forward on the Keystone pipeline, will he veto it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m going to reserve judgment on a specific piece of legislation until we actually see what language is included in that specific piece of legislation.  I will say, as you noted, Julie, he did discuss this at his end-of-the-year news conference a couple of weeks ago, and he did note that the pipeline would have I think what he described as a nominal impact on gas prices in this country.  But he was concerned about the impact that it could have on carbon pollution and the contribution it could make to carbon pollution, the negative impact that that has on the public health of people all across the country, and the impact that that has on our ability to build communities across the country.  As we see weather disasters worsen, as we see in the form of wildfires or more severe hurricanes, that only adds to costs.  So the President does harbor those concerns.

The other concern, frankly, that we have is that this is a — that pipeline projects like this in the past had been resolved in a fairly straightforward administrative way; that there is a process that is conducted by the State Department to evaluate a project and determine whether or not it’s in the national interest of the United States.  That’s how previous pipelines like this have been considered, and we believe this one should be considered in that same way too.

The last thing I’ll say about this is there also is an outstanding ruling that we’re waiting on from a judge in the state of Nebraska to determine what the route of the pipeline would be if it’s built through the state of Nebraska, which means there’s actually not a finalized plan on the table yet for final sign-off.  So we don’t want to put the cart before the horse here, and that is why in the past we’ve taken a rather dim view of legislative attempts to circumvent this well-established process.

So all that said, I’m not prepared at this point to issue a veto threat related to that specific piece of legislation, but we will take a careful look at it with all those things in mind.

Q    Is it fair to say that the President would be urging Democrats to vote against the legislation approving the pipeline?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll see what the legislation actually includes before we start urging people to vote one way or the other.

Q    Okay.  And if I can just ask on one other topic, just on something that came up while the President was in Hawaii.  Representative Steve Scalise apologized for speaking to a white supremacist group 12 years ago.  Does the President believe that Scalise should stay in leadership?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, it is the responsibility of members of the House Republican conference to choose their leaders.  And I’m confident that in previous situations we’ve seen members of the conference actually make the case that who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are, what their values are, and what the priorities of the conference should be.  Now, we’ve also heard a lot from Republicans, particularly over the last few years, including the Chairman of the Republican Party, about how Republicans need to broaden their appeal to young people and to women, to gays and to minorities; that the success of their party will depend on their ability to broaden that outreach.

So it ultimately will be up to individual Republicans in Congress to decide whether or not elevating Mr. Scalise into leadership will effectively reinforce that strategy.

Q    So far, Republican leadership seems to be standing by Scalise.  Does the President feel that’s appropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, he believes that it’s ultimately their decision to make.  But there is no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.  I mean, ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage.  So it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.
Jeff.

Q    Josh, the Afghan President said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States should consider reexamining its timetable for taking U.S. coalition troops out of Afghanistan.  Is that something that the White House has discussed with him?  And is it something that the U.S. would consider at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, what the President has been really clear about is what our strategy in Afghanistan is; that after the end of the year, we are now in a situation where the combat mission in Afghanistan for U.S. military personnel has ended.  The Afghans are now solely responsible for the security of their country.

There is an enduring U.S. military presence and NATO coalition military presence in Afghanistan to carry out two other missions.  The first is a counterterrorism mission.  We continue to see remnants of al Qaeda that do have designs on destabilizing the region and U.S. interests.  We also continue to see a need for U.S. military personnel to play an important role in training and equipping Afghan security forces to continue to take the fight to those terrorist elements and to preserve the security situation in the country of Afghanistan.

There are a lot of hard-won gains that have been made in Afghanistan as a result of the bravery of U.S. military personnel and our coalition partners.  Much of that work — many of those accomplishments are due to the effective coordination between United States military and Afghan security forces, and we want to see that kind of coordination continue, even as Republicans take on — Republicans — even as Afghans take sole responsibility for their security situation.

Q    Freudian slip?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  We’re all sort of working out the cobwebs from the layoff. 

Q    What was your reaction then, or the White House’s reaction, to his comments in that interview?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, and I guess this is the other part of the answer that’s also important is the fact that we continue to have military personnel in Afghanistan to carry out these two missions.  The counterterrorism mission and the training mission, the training of Afghan security forces, is indicative of the ongoing commitment that the United States has to the government of Afghanistan; that we built a strong working relationship with the unified government there and the United States and countries around the world who have invested so much in Afghan security continue to be invested in the success, both political and economic, of the Afghan people.

And the United States is prepared to continue that partnership.  But as it relates to the strategy associated with our military footprint, we’ve been pretty clear about what that strategy is.  More importantly, the Commander-in-Chief has been clear about what that strategy is.

Q    On a separate topic, oil prices continue to fall with some resulting falls in the stock market today.  Is the White House concerned about this trend?  And are you watching it?  What is your reaction to it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple of things about that.  The first is, I’m always very hesitant to draw any conclusions or offer any analysis about movements in the stock market.  I know that there are some who have observed — this is a little of a chicken-and-the-egg thing — that some of the fall in energy prices is a direct response to a weakening economy and a fall in the stock market.  So it may not be that one is causing the other; there could sort of be a reinforcing effect there.

What I will say more broadly is that we’ve talked before about why we believe that falling gas prices are, as a general matter, pretty good for the economy and it certainly is good for middle-class families that are being pinched.  And when they go to the pump and they see that the prices at the pump are up to a dollar cheaper than they were last year, that certainly means more money in the pocket of middle-class families.  That’s good for those middle-class families that the President believes are so critical to the success of our economy.

It also is a testament to the success that the U.S. has had over the last several years, in part because of the policies put forward by this administration, to increase production of domestic oil and gas.  It also is a testament to some of the policies this administration put in place five years ago to raise fuel-efficiency standards.

Q    But, Josh, I understand all these things that you want to list, but is the White House concerned about the economic implications of these falling oil prices?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that we’re always monitoring.  I believe we talked about this a little bit at the end of last year.  But we’re always monitoring the impact that any sort of policy area would have on the economy, so it’s certainly something that we’re watching.  I think that as a general matter, speaking broadly, the impact of falling energy prices has been good for the U.S. economy.

Michelle.

Q    Any response to these recent statements by North Korea?  And are you surprised by the nature of some of them — that they’re coming from a state, even though that state is North Korea?

MR. EARNEST:  They’re not particularly surprising.  We’ve seen comments from the North Koreans in the past.  As it relates to the subject that’s received so much attention in the last few weeks, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the administration spoke pretty clearly at the end of last week by putting in place a new economic sanctions regime against three North Korean entities and 10 individuals as part of our proportional response to that specific hacking incident.

Q    And the speculation that’s been out there from some analysts that it actually might have come from somewhere else besides North Korea, does the administration see no merit to some of those sort of statements out there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is an investigation that’s being conducted by the FBI.  They’ve obviously devoted significant resources to this.  They have their own area of expertise when it comes to these matters, and they have come to the conclusion, based on the evidence, that North Korea was responsible for this.  And I don’t see any reason to disagree with the conclusions that they’ve arrived at.  If you have questions about why they’ve arrived at that conclusion, you can direct it to them.

Q    And the President called this incident an act of “cyber vandalism.”  But we know that there is a review going on as to whether North Korea should be on the list of state sponsors of terror.  So does that mean that there’s a possibility the President is going to reconsider what he called this hack?  Or is that review of North Korea possibly being on the list based on purely other activities by North Korea? 

MR. EARNEST:  It does not mean that the President is reconsidering the way that he talks about this, but what is prudent is that our national security team is always reviewing the actions, particularly of nations like North Korea, to determine the proper policy response, and in some cases, whether or not that includes including them on the state sponsor of terrorism list.

Now, there are — I will say that there is a very specific technical definition for how states, or why individual countries, should be added to that list.  And so we will work very carefully to determine whether or not the actions that have been taken by North Korea meet that very specific technical definition.

Q    And I mean, the fact that North Korea is not on that list, Cuba is, both are under review — that doesn’t say a lot about that list and its weight.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually think that it might actually say quite a bit about the weight of that list.  The fact that we take so seriously those nations that do sponsor acts of terrorism, that they are in a very small club.  But that is a list that you don’t want to be on, and it’s a list that we take very seriously as we formulate a foreign policy that protects the national security interest of the United States. 

And the fact that we make a very — take a very deliberative approach to determining whether or not a country should be added to the list or removed from the list I think is an indication of just how serious a matter a state sponsor of terrorism is.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Move around a little bit.  Justin.

Q    I want to go back to Mitch McConnell.  He, in an interview this morning — from the Washington Post, said that the single best thing that the Republican Congress can do is not mess up the playing field for 2016, the Republican presidential nominee.  So I’m kind of interested in the inverse of that question, which is, is that President Obama’s kind of number-one priority headed in for the last two years?  Or to what extent is preparing the Democratic Party for the 2016 elections and the leader that would presumably continue his vision a priority or something that’s on your guys’ agenda?  And conversely, to what extent are you guys trying to foil Mitch McConnell’s plan to sort of — he wanted the Republicans to seem less crazy, I guess —

MR. EARNEST:  Scary, I think is the —

Q    Scary, yes.

MR. EARNEST:  Typically, the beginning of the year is a time for optimism, where we set our sights high, where we really pursue our grandest ambitions, we make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves about how much we’re going to read more books or go to the gym more often.  And suggesting that they’re going to be less scary is not exactly the highest ceiling I can imagine for their legislative accomplishments this year, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless.

What I will say is that the President does have, in the vein of ambition, a lot that he wants to try to get done this year.  And over the course of this week even, you’ll hear the President talk quite a bit about steps that he can take to strengthen our economy, particularly to benefit middle-class families.  The President believes our economy is strongest when we’re growing from the middle out.  And I do think you can hear the President — expect to hear the President talking in detailed fashion about some of the executive actions that he can pursue and some of the legislative proposals that he’ll put forward that he believes deserve bipartisan support.

And this is something — this is a little different than what we’ve done in the past — this is an opportunity for him to talk about the State of the Union address as we get closer to the date where he’ll actually give the speech.  So a little bit more of a preview than we’ve seen in previous years. 

And I do think it is indicative of the kind of energy that the President is feeling, and, frankly, even optimism that the President is feeling; that we can build on the kind of momentum that we’re seeing in our economy right now to put in place policies that will be good for middle-class families and be good for the broader U.S. economy.

Are Democrats and Republicans going to agree on every aspect of the President’s strategy?  Probably not.  But are there some things where we feel like we can work together to get things done that will be consistent with the ambitions of both parties, and consistent with a strategy that will be in the best interests of the country and middle-class families in the country?  Yes, I think we can.  And whether it’s — I also noted in that same interview, Senator McConnell talked about finding new ways to invest in infrastructure.  He talked about policies we can put in place to open up markets for U.S. businesses.  And he talked about tax reform. 

So these are all areas where there does stand the potential for bipartisan agreement, and the President is certainly going to pursue them.  The President is also going to pursue some other things that Republicans may not like that he can do on his own.

Q    So I mean, I recognize I kind of teed you up there to talk about the next week, but I am actually interested in the sort of 2016 question, the extent to which this is starting to enter your guys’ kind of calculations.  Politically, obviously the President’s time in office is waning, but his legacy and — will be extended and especially influenced by his successor.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, as you may have heard from some of my colleagues after the last midterm election, that the way — the President sees it a little bit differently; that essentially, today marks the beginning of the fourth quarter of his presidency.  And as the President, an avid basketball fan, has observed, a lot of really important things happen in the fourth quarter.  And I think the President believes that’s true not just in an NBA basketball game, it’s also true of a presidency.  And he wants to make it true of his presidency.

And that I do think is why you will see the President pretty energized when he appears later this week, that he’s going to have a pretty ambitious list of priorities that he wants to achieve.  We’re going to look for opportunities to work with Republicans to make progress on those priorities.  And where Republicans don’t agree, you’re going to see the President take decisive action to make progress on his own where he can.

And that is, I recognize, not a significant departure from the strategy that we have employed in the last couple of years, but I do think that you’re going to see the President be even more energized and even more determined to make progress on behalf of middle-class families.  That’s, after all, the reason the President ran for this office in the first place.  And the President is going to spend a lot of time focused on that here in the fourth quarter of his presidency.

And I guess — so I guess the last part of that is — and all that is to say, that means that the presidential election in 2016 is quite a ways off still.  And the President believes that we should be focused on the kinds of policy priorities that are going to benefit middle-class families.  There will be plenty of time for politics.

Q    And then just on Steve Scalise, I know that you talked a little bit about it with Julie, but I’m wondering, did the President have a reaction to hearing that he had attended these rallies or the statement that you attributed to him?  Have you had a conversation with him about it?  Or does he think Steve Scalise should resign over this?  Are there those sorts of kind of feelings or sentiments coming from —

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to him directly about this specific issue.  I can tell you that — but I do feel confident in relaying to you that the President does believe that ultimately it’s the responsibility of individual members of the House Republican conference to decide who they want to elect as their — as the leader of their conference.  And certainly, who those elected leaders are says a lot about who the conference is and what their priorities and values are.  And they’re going to have to answer for themselves whether or not elevating somebody who described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” sort of reinforces the kind of message that the House Republican conference wants to project.

Cheryl.

Q    Yes, thanks.  Just on the legislative agenda, do you see the omnibus as sort of the model where you’re going to start seeing legislation that may have some things that you really don’t like but you’re going to sign it anyway because it’s probably the best compromise you’re going to get?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I would anticipate that anything — that the most substantial pieces of legislation that we hope to get done will necessarily be compromises.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that those pieces of legislation will include things that we strenuously oppose, it just may be that there are pieces of legislation that we feel like don’t go quite far enough but are certainly a positive step in the right direction.

But I think either of those scenarios fits what would be an acceptable definition of a compromise.  And I would anticipate that when we’re operating in an environment where we have Republicans in charge of the Congress and a Democrat in charge of the White House, that compromise is going to be the name of the game. 

And I certainly will hope, and the President certainly hopes, that Republicans are in — will pursue our work together in that spirit.

Olivier.

Q    Josh, the country’s largest police union today said the national hate crime statute should be expanded to include attacks on police officers.  Does the President agree?

MR. EARNEST:  I hadn’t seen that statement.  I think that’s something that we’ll have to consider.  Obviously, we certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms any sort of violence against police officers.  And just a couple of weeks ago in New York we saw a brazen act of violence that really shook that community in New York.  And even here a couple weeks later, the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House, including the President and First Lady, continue to be with the families of those two officers who were killed in that terrible attack.

So I think the question, though, is ultimately, what are the kinds of things that we can do to make it safer for police officers to do their important work.  And this will be among the things that will be considered by the taskforce that the President appointed at the end of last year.  They’re going to be holding their first public meeting next week.  They’ll hear from the representatives of law enforcement organizations.  Because the President does believe that building stronger bonds of trust between the community and the law enforcement officers who are sworn to serve and protect that community is in the best interest, both of the police officers and the citizens of those communities. 

So trying to find that common ground and putting in place policies and looking for best practices where other communities have been able to identify that common ground is going to be part of the very important work of this taskforce and the President is looking forward to their findings.

Jon.

Q    Back to North Korea.  Given that there have been some doubts raised about — private-sector analysts looking at this and raising doubts about whether or not North Korea was actually responsible for the hack, is there some consideration to declassifying the evidence that shows that, in fact, North Korea has done this to give some confidence in the finding of the FBI on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were a couple of private-sector organizations that have endorsed the findings of the FBI.  So there are some people who have looked at the evidence and come down on a couple different sides of this.  Obviously what they’re dealing with here is something that’s pretty sensitive.  The evidence that they have reviewed and obtained by making it public does give a pretty strong indication to the North Koreans and, frankly, to other bad actors about the techniques that we use to investigate and to attribute these kinds of attacks. 

So it’s a tricky business here.  I wouldn’t rule out in the future that the FBI may be able to be more transparent about their findings.  But I’d refer you to them in terms of what they feel like they can comfortably release without undermining some of the strategies that they use, both to protect our infrastructure but also to investigate intrusions.

Q    And by using the phrase or the word cyber vandalism to describe this, is the President downplaying the significance of it?  Cyber vandalism, or the word “vandalism” sounds a lot less serious than the word terrorism, as some others have suggested.

MR. EARNEST:  I think it sounds less serious, but the President certainly believes — takes this incident, this attack, as something serious.  It had a serious financial impact on this American company.  It obviously had a serious impact on some of the values that we hold dear in this country about freedom of expression and freedom of speech. 

So it was not the President’s intent to downplay this at all.  I think the President was looking for a way that most accurately described exactly what had occurred.

Q    Okay.  Two other topics.  One, the news over the weekend that Boko Haram has taken over a Nigerian base on the border with Chad.  How much confidence does the White House have in the ability of the Nigerian government to deal with this threat?  How significant do you think the threat of Boko Haram is, and what’s the United States — is there any role for the United States to do anything about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple things about this, Jon.  The first is, there obviously is a counterterrorism cooperation relationship between the United States and a number of countries in Africa, including Nigeria.  And that kind of cooperation has been valuable in the past in trying to help central governments in Africa and other places in the world, frankly, combat some of these extremist elements in their countries. 

So that counterterrorism relationship is ongoing.  The clearest manifestation of that cooperation is the deployment of some military personnel that are on the ground in Nigeria to try to help recover those girls who were kidnapped from that school relatively early last year.  So that work is ongoing, but this is very difficult work and we’re going to continue to cooperate with the Nigerians as they try to do a better job of securing their country.

Q    But isn’t this an indication that that cooperation is not working at all?  I mean, first of all, the girls haven’t been rescued.  That’s on one side.  The other side, Boko Haram seems to be on the march.  I mean, they’ve actually overtaken a military base that was set up, in large part, to fight Boko Haram.  I mean, doesn’t this show that whatever cooperation we have with the Nigerians just isn’t working?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it shows that there is — that they face a very serious threat in Nigeria.  And the United States, it does have this relationship with Nigeria that we value, it’s a military-to-military relationship.  We also share some other intelligence assets that have been deployed to fight Boko Haram.  But this is certainly something that we’re concerned about.

Q    And just one last question on the Cuba deal.  Part of it was the Cuban government agreeing to release 53 political prisoners.  Do you have an update for us on how many of the 53 have been released?  Have they all been released, and who they are?

MR. EARNEST:  For a specific update — I’m going to have to take the question and we’ll get back to you — it’s my understanding that not all of them have been released at this point.  But as part of the agreement that was brokered that this prisoner release that the Cuban government decided to undertake on their own in the context of these discussions would take place in stages.

Q    so you’re confident they’re going to follow through on this?  I mean, there’s also been reports that the Cubans have arrested some additional political prisoners.

MR. EARNEST:  What I would say is, at this point, there is no reason to think that they are walking back any part of the agreement.  But we’ll see if we can get you some more details.

J.C.

Q    How concerned is this administration and how closely has this administration been and how closely has this administration been monitoring what is going on in Wall Street right now where the Dow has gone below 300, and the Euro has reached its lowest mark in nine years?  The concerns are the instability of the Greek government and new elections there; that Greece will, in fact, abandon the Euro.  What is the situation?  How does the White House look at this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, I can tell you that we’re always monitoring movements in the financial markets.  But in terms of sort of ascribing what may be driving those fluctuations in the market, I wouldn’t speculate on that.  But obviously this administration has been working very closely with our partners in Europe as they’ve worked to deal with some of the financial challenges that they faced over the last several years, both as it relates to some members of the EU, but also as it relates to the broader economic trends over in Europe.
You’ll recall that the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, spoke at this podium a couple of weeks ago, and he discussed some concerns about headwinds from Europe, that their weakening economy is certainly in the best interest of the U.S. economy.  But at the same time, the strength of the U.S. economy is due at least in part to some of the very important and difficult policy decisions that the President made early on in his presidency.
Mark.
Q    Gas taxes, Josh.  For the new year and of course the plunging oil prices and plunging price of the gallon has renewed the talk of raising gas taxes to help pay for infrastructure.  In the past, you guys have said that’s not on the table.  Is it on the table now?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s not something that we have proposed, and that’s been our policy.  We have put forward our own very specific proposal for how we believe we can make the investment that’s needed in infrastructure in this country.  That’s typically what the gas tax revenue is dedicated to, is investing in infrastructure.  And we have put forward our own specific plan for closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations, and using the revenue from closing those loopholes to investing in badly needed infrastructure upgrades.
There are some in Congress that have different ideas, including raising the gas tax.  That’s certainly something that we’ll take a look at it, but it’s not something that we have considered from here.
Q    Okay.  I ask because, among those proposals, Bob Corker and Chris Murphy have wanted to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over two years, I guess it is; you say there are others.  Two questions:  Are you, A, ruling a gas tax increase out?  And, B, is the President going to say something specific on infrastructure and gas taxes in the State of the Union speech?
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything to preview at this point about — from the State of the Union on this specific topic.  But we may have more in advance of the speech, so stay tuned.
As it relates to specific proposals from Congress, we’ll certainly consider proposals that are put forward, particularly bipartisan proposals like that one that you mentioned.  But we’ve been really clear about what we think is the best way to get this done, and that is simply to close loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and well-connected corporations, and use that revenue to make badly needed investments in infrastructure that everybody benefits from.  I recognize that there are some other ideas out there, and we’ll consider those too, but we’ve been really clear about what we support.
Mara.
Q    Just to follow up on that — the gas tax is a kind of permanent, ongoing way to fund infrastructure.  What you’re talking about is a one-time-only closing of loopholes to get some money for infrastructure investments.  Do you think, as others have suggested, that the gas tax as a funding mechanism for infrastructure is broken and should be replaced by another mechanism?
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not saying that, although some have pointed out that the fact that we have — that our vehicles that are on the road are becoming more fuel efficient, which means they’re using less gas, which means that there’s likely to be less revenue from a gas tax.  But what we have said is that we believe there is a very specific way that we can close some loopholes that will generate revenue that will allow us to make some badly needed investments in infrastructure.
Q    But that’s not a permanent funding stream for infrastructure.  That’s just a one-time-only —
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it could be, because we’re talking about permanently closing the loopholes. 
Q    And that amount of money —
MR. EARNEST:  That would be a change in the tax policy.  It could be.
Q    I know.  But do you envision it as something that funds infrastructure over time?  I don’t really understand how that becomes a permanent infrastructure funding source.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re not suggesting that we abolish the gas tax, right?  But there is revenue that could be gleaned from reforming the tax code, and generating revenue that could be used to invest in infrastructure.  And so that’s what our strategy is. 
I recognize that there are other people that have other ideas, and we’ll certainly consider those ideas as they put them forward.
Major.
Q    Is there reluctance to talk about the gas tax because you believe gas prices trending downward are likely to reverse in the not-too-distant future and you don’t want to mess with anything in the price market or taxes for fuel?
MR. EARNEST:  I think the reluctance that you’re perceiving from me is that we believe, frankly, that we have a better idea for how to do this, which is that by closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations we can actually invest in the kind of infrastructure that will create jobs, stimulate economic growth and put in place modern infrastructure that we can all benefit from.  So we’re open to these other ideas that others have put forward, but we believe our idea is better.  But I’m not willing to —
Q    But no matter what the price of gas is?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, this is a position that we’ve had for some time, right?
Q    I know.  And there are a lot of energy economists who have said, well, look, this is a different — this is a time for a different conversation, because the prices are down and there is more room within what people used to budget, and the infrastructure needs of the country haven’t gotten any better, they’ve become more pronounced, if anything; and it’s time for a fresh look at this.  And I hear from you, you’re not inclined to give it a fresh look, and I’m just trying to figure out why.
MR. EARNEST:  I think what I’m trying to say is that we continue to remain open to giving it a look if somebody wants to put forward their own proposal.  Again, this sort of goes to Cheryl’s question, in some ways, about compromise.  We don’t believe that the best way to fund modernizing our infrastructure is to raise the gas tax, but some people do.  And we’re willing to consider those proposals.  We believe that the best way to do that is to close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected corporations.
Q    And interpreting your comments earlier that you may or may not have a meeting — the President may or may not have a meeting with congressional leaders on the Republican side this week, it sounds like he probably won’t, looking at the schedule.  Is it fair to say that that is a lesser priority than getting out on the road and sort of previewing the State of the Union and displaying the President’s energetic pursuit of his own agenda, and not treating the new congressional Republican majority as a secondary item, but not as important as his own rhetorical flourishes for this week?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we’re less focused on rhetorical flourishes and more interested in substantive policy ideas that will get our economy moving and benefit middle-class families.  That’s what we’re going to be focused on on the road, and that’s what we’re going to be focused on in our conversations with Democrats and Republicans who are in leadership positions in Congress. 
Look, the President met with congressional leaders a couple of times during the lame duck session, and I’m confident that he’ll do it again early this year.
Q    Right, but it’s just a different crew and a different power structure than during the lame duck.  I mean, I know this is many of the same participants, but they’re — 
MR. EARNEST:  Pretty much all of the same participants, isn’t it?
Q    Right, but they have different levels of power, and their proximity to them is completely different. 
MR. EARNEST:  But even in the context of those meetings that they had in the lame duck, they were talking about this — everybody knew what was going to happen after the first of year, right?  Everybody knew that the President wasn’t just meeting with the Senate Minority Leader, he was also meeting with the incoming Senate Majority Leader.
So I don’t think that that will substantively change the kinds of conversations that they’ll have early this year, which the President believes is important and he’ll do, but certainly there’s no reason we can’t do both, right?  What the President wants to do is he wants to make progress by debating and putting in place where possible substantive economic policy ideas that will benefit the middle class.  Some of those he can do on his own and he is going to do it.  Some of those he is going to require cooperation with Republicans in Congress to get it done and he is eager to do that, too.

Q    Right.  I know you don’t want to preview the State of the Union but the last time the President gave an address like that there was no war against ISIS.  There was no ongoing airstrike and a coalition to confront in two different countries.  Now there is.  So two questions.  To what degree will the President use the State of the Union to give the country an assessment of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done?  And how does the ongoing conflict influence the Defense budget that’s being put together and the ongoing discretionary cap limits that have one more year to go in a full budget cycle after this?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the State of the Union hasn’t been written yet, so I wouldn’t want to speculate —

Q    Yes, but Cody has been working on it, as you and I both know.

MR. EARNEST:  He is — he has been — but ultimately he’s not the author of it, even he has been working on it.

Q    No, I know, but it’s not like there’s a bunch of blank pieces of paper hanging around.

MR. EARNEST:  No, but it’s not as if the final words that are on the page are going to be the ones that will be read by the President of the United States on January 20th.

Q    But you know these things get blocked out.  What I’m just trying to figure out is how much does the President feel it’s necessary or worthwhile to assess what is a not-insignificant national —

MR. EARNEST:  You’re asking a very legitimate question.  I’m just trying to make it clear that those are — we’re still having those kinds of discussions about what actually is going to be included in there and to what extent it will be included.  But I am confident, as a general matter, that the President will use the opportunity of that national address to talk about the threat that we face from ISIL and what the United States continues to do by leading this broader international coalition of more than 60 countries to degrade and ultimately destroy them.  This is a multi-front strategy that includes airstrikes that were taken in support of troops on the ground; it involves combatting foreign fighters; it involves counter-finance, which you’ve heard David Cohen from the Treasury Department talk about from here.  It talks about important work that needs to be done on the humanitarian front.  And it continues — it also includes the efforts that we have undertaken, working closely with our allies, to counter ISIL’s message in the Muslim world.  So this is a multifaceted effort and I am confident that you’ll hear the President talk about this a little bit at least.

As it relates to the second question about the Defense Department budget, there obviously are — there is an impact on the Defense Department budget as a result of these ongoing efforts.  It’s one of the reasons that our priorities for the lame duck was getting some increased funding so we could ensure that we had the necessary resources to carry out this strategy.  And one of the other things that we talked about in the context of the omnibus was how disappointed we were that Congress didn’t act on the kinds of budgetary reforms that both the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon said were desperately needed.

And so I would anticipate that all of that — maybe not discussed in that much detail in the State of the Union, but it certainly will be a priority as we talk to Congress about the FY16 budget.

Q    And during the holiday break, several more detainees were repatriated from Guantanamo.  And the indication is that that’s going to be something that will be rather common in the next three or four months.  Would you be willing to say that this is something that this administration intends to accelerate in the early part of 2015 — to move as many detainees as are moveable out of Guantanamo in the early part of this year?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have, frankly, a lot of insight into what the short-term plans are in terms of who is — and sort of what sort of agreements are being contemplated and what troops are up for transfer in the short term.  I can tell you that it continues to be an important priority of this administration to ultimately transfer all of the detainees out of Guantanamo.

Q    But the President has conceded publicly that’s not possible.  That some of them are too dangerous, it can’t be tried.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, which is why we need Congress to take some action to remove some of the obstacles that are preventing the President from doing something that he believes is clearly in the national interest, which is closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Q    One last thing.  David Cameron said over the weekend that the President calls him “bro.”  Is that true?  And is there any other pet names he has for world leaders?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to paraphrase a local baseball player here in Washington, D.C., that’s a clown question, bro.  (Laughter.)  I’m just teasing.

Q    You don’t mean that.

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t.  Mostly because I just wanted to use “bro” in my own response.  (Laughter.)  I am not able to give much more insight about the private communications between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom other than to —

Q    Having been revealed publicly, do you have any reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s assertion?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t because, as you know, they have a special relationship.  (Laughter.)

Peter.

Q    Given Mitch McConnell’s unusual admonition to the Republican majority that they should not be scary, I want to get a sense from you right now.  Does the President think the American people should be scared of a Republican governing majority?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s an interesting question.  (Laughter.)  I think the President has been pretty clear that there is a pretty stark difference of opinion about which policies are actually in the best interest of the country, about which — what kinds of policies are going to be in the best interest of middle-class families.  That is, after all, the President’s priority.  And I think by some of the policy choices we’ve seen some of the Republicans make, they don’t share that priority.  And that certainly is a strong difference of opinion. 

But, ultimately, I guess we’ll have to sort of see whether or not members of Congress choose to abide by the admonition of the new Senate Majority Leader.

One example I guess I can think of is the prospect of defaulting on the debt for the first time in our nation’s history is a scary prospect.  Hopefully it’s not going to come to that.  But we’ll have to see.

I guess I would say it this way.  The President does believe that there are some areas where we can cooperate.  So setting aside whether or not they’re scary or not, we do believe that there may be an opportunity for us to find some areas of common ground where Democrats and Republicans can come together to open up overseas markets for American businesses or to reform the tax code in a way that would actually make it more simple and more fair, and close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and the well-connected.  So there may be some things that we can do to cooperate and actually make some progress for the American people.

Q    We know mayor — back to law enforcement and New York City Police Department but police departments nationwide, some of which have indicated the rank and file, they feel betrayed by the President, by Attorney General Eric Holder.  Earlier you indicated that the President basically feels — certainly feels a sympathy for the loss experienced by the families in New York, but does the President feel a sympathy with those police — members of police departments right now who feel targeted?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what the President believes is that it’s clearly in the best interests of people who are living in communities that have legitimate concerns and clearly in the best interests of law enforcement officers that have legitimate concerns to come together and try to strengthen the bond of trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And that is a pursuit that is important and would benefit communities all across the country.  And it certainly would stand to benefit law enforcement officers who do the heroic work every day of getting up and putting on a blue uniform, and putting their lives on the line to protect the community that they work in.

And that is a calling that the President believes is worthy of our honor and respect.  And if there are things that we can do to make it safer for them to do that important work while at the same time inspiring greater trust in the communities that they are sworn to serve and protect, that that’s a good thing, that that is a laudable goal and ultimately it will have the effect of fighting crime in communities all across the country.

Q    Mayor Bill de Blasio is going to speak in a matter of moments — when we leave this briefing, we’ll hear some of his remarks given the latest that’s been taking place up there.  Recently, Police Commissioner Bratton has called it very inappropriate that the officers turned their back to the mayor during the eulogy for officer Ramos.  Does the President agree with Bratton?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about it.  I do think that Commissioner Bratton did have I think an important view that he expressed on this.  He described — this is a letter that he sent to police precincts all across the city of New York.  And he said, “It was not all officers, and it was not disrespect directed at Detective Ramos.  But all the officers were painted by it, and it stole the valor, honor and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos’s life and service.  That was not the intent, I know.  But it was the result.” 

Q    So I guess, simply, even if — broadly speaking, does the White House think that action is inappropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I will say is that the part of Commissioner Bratton’s letter I think that resonates most strongly here at the White House is that those who are attending those funerals are there to pay their respect for the service and sacrifice of the two officers who were being laid to rest.  And certainly the President has — believes that their service and their sacrifice is worthy of celebration and respect, and should be afforded all of the outward symbols of honor that they’ve been given.  And I think that’s what the vast majority of the people who attended those funerals, including police officers who attended those funerals, actually gave.

Q    Digressing very briefly, we just learned a short time ago that two aspiring U.S. ski team members were killed in an avalanche in Austria.  That information is just coming to us, I don’t know whether you guys have been made aware or if the President was aware or had any thoughts, given that tragedy to U.S. aspiring Olympic athletes.

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, I was not aware of that report.  Obviously, the President has on a number of occasions had the opportunity to welcome Olympic athletes to the White House, both as they’re preparing for competition and after they have competed.  And, obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with those who were apparently lost in this specific incident.

These are young men and women who make our country proud, and certainly they dedicate their lives to their pursuit and their calling and their passion, which is the performance in their sport.  And so I am not aware of this specific report but certainly if it’s true it is a tragedy.

Q    Josh, another update over the holidays would be these recommendations to reform the Secret Service.  And I wonder, has the President actually been given some sort of a report or a briefing?  And where is the White House specifically on this increased speculation that we might see the security fence outside raised?  That was one of the recommendations.  So where specifically is the President, White House staff on that?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question, Ed.  I don’t know whether or not the President has received this specific briefing but we’ll follow up with you on this.  And as you’ll recall, the President did have interest in reviewing this report.

Q    Right.  I just wanted to get it on the record.

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll follow up with you.

Q    Specifically working with Congress, following up on both Julie and Major on the meeting — not just the meeting itself, but why not meet with Republican leaders this week.  But you and others are giving this impression the President is ready to work with Republican leaders but no meeting this week probably.  Instead, he is going out on the road on his own and he did this interview with NPR over the holidays where he said, I’m ready to start vetoing a lot more stuff and there’s going to be a lot more executive action.  So aren’t you saying he’s going to work with Republicans, but his actions are actually speaking louder than those words?

MR. EARNEST:  Well Ed, I think the President’s action to invite Congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans to the White House just a couple of days after the midterm elections, and talk about where that common ground is, I do think that speaks to the President’s — the priority that the President places in working with Republicans to make progress for the American people.  But you’re also right that the fact that the President is going to start the new year by announcing some new executive actions and some new policy proposals that will benefit middle-class families indicates that he’s most focused on results.  He’s mostly focused on substantive policy ideas that will benefit middle-class families.

Q    But they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re already talking about, he’s moving forward on executive action.    He’s going out on the road to go directly to the American people — he’s free to do that but they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re saying he’s getting ready to do more executive action.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, he is.  And the President is determined to make progress where he can on his own.  As the President has said many times, particularly in the aftermath of the midterm elections, we can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others.  So, I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are going to be critical of policy proposals that the President pursues on his own to benefit middle-class families.  That may be an area where an honest disagreement exists. 

What we’re mostly focused on when we have conversations with Republicans, though, is figuring out, where is there common ground?  Where do we agree?  And the disagreements may be more plentiful, but that’s all the more reason we should spend a lot of time looking for that area of common ground and the President will do that.  He did that at the end of last year, he’ll do it as this year gets underway as well.

Q    Last thing.  Republicans talking again as they have many times before about trying to change the President health care law.  And I want to ask you specifically, not about that, but about this new book from Steven Brill, because this was not a quick drive-by.  He spent I believe 19 months interviewing a lot of people around here and from what I’ve seen of it so far, he points out the good of getting millions more people insurance, but both in the book and some of his early television interviews he’s indicating that he believes — this is after studying it very closely — it’s a raw deal for taxpayers; that a lot more people are getting insurance but the taxpayers are picking up that tab.  And that the health care costs are not coming down because of the law itself, despite what was promised.

MR. EARNEST:  Well let me say a couple things about that, Ed.  The first thing is it’s important for people to remember the Affordable Care Act substantially reduced the deficit, which is good for the economic health and the fiscal health of the country, and also good for taxpayers.  And we have seen that the growth in health care costs has been lower than at any other time in recorded history — in almost 50 years since they’ve been measuring that specific statistic.

We’ve also seen the average premium for employer-based health care coverage — these are individuals who are essentially not really affected by the Affordable Care Act and certainly aren’t getting health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act — they saw that their premiums only went up 3 percent, even though in previous years it had been going up by double digits every year.

So one of the goals, as Mr. Brill points out in this book, has been to limit the growth in health care costs and the numbers indicate that very early on, that there has been very important success associated with the Affordable Care Act in doing exactly that.  And that’s something that we’re going to continue to do in addition to expanding coverage and getting more people covered with health care; in addition to putting in place the kind of patient protections that the President has long advocated — everything from ensuring that men and women can get the kind of preventative health care maintenance, annual checkups and things;  that those can be covered free of charge; that you can’t be discriminated against because you have a preexisting condition.  We can put in place all of those things and we can actually limit the growth in health care costs, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act has done.

Q    And he also has this conclusion that from talking to the President own advisors, that people in the West Wing believe that the real chief of staff is Valerie Jarrett, and that when the author pressed the President himself in an interview, he just wouldn’t comment on that.  Why wouldn’t the President knock that down, why wouldn’t he say Valerie Jarrett is not my chief of staff?

MR. EARNEST:  I think because everybody already knows that.  And I think that Ms. Jarrett obviously plays a very important role here in the West Wing and in advising the President of the United States, but I think even she would tell you that she’s not the chief of staff and doesn’t want to be.

Alexis.

Q    Josh, can I follow up?  I have two quick questions.  One is a personnel question.  You had anticipated that the President’s Counselor, and maybe his senior advisor — I’m talking about Podesta and Pfeiffer — might leave in a few weeks.  Can you update us on whether they’re going to be departing the White House soon?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates on any personnel matters at this point.

Q    You can’t say whether John Podesta will indeed be leaving?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can say — I mean, we said that when he started last year that he would essentially be serving through the end of the calendar year.  He’s going to stay on at the beginning of this year to help with the State of the Union.  I don’t have an exact date for his departure though.

Q    But maybe February?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any guidance on that, but we’ll keep you posted.

Q    Ok.  And you don’t want to say anything about Dan?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’d say lots of things about Dan.  (Laughter.)  But in terms of any personnel announcements associated with Dan I’m not aware of any.

Q    The second question is, at the end of the year, the percentage of people who said that they approved of the job that the President was doing went up.  And lots of people have analyzed the polling numbers and why that is, and I was just wondering if the White House could share its own interpretation of why that percentage went up at the end of the year.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, like financial markets, it’s always a tricky, risky business to try to analyze what’s actually driving fluctuations in poll numbers.  I can tell you that — I think what I’d rather do is sort of convey to you why so many people in this building felt really optimistic heading into the holidays at the end of last year, and that is because we did feel like over the course of the last six weeks or so of last year that we had been able to make a lot of progress on a variety of important policy priorities that the President ha

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

December 19, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year. 

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people. 

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off. 

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come. 

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.   

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
 
In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.
 
And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage. 

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.
 
So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list. 

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations. 

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement. 

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way. 
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair. 

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed. 

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important. 

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind. 

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.
 
And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people. 

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change. 

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not. 

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important. 

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.) 

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had. 

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.) 

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress. 

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree. 

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done. 

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills. 

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.
 
All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.
 
Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world. 

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.
 
Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.
 
And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that. 

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision. 

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead. 

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion. 

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions. 

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed. 

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped. 

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

END
2:45 P.M. EST

STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY LT. GEN. SERETSE KHAMA IAN KHAMA,

STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY LT. GEN. SERET…

13/11/14

1. Madam Speaker, before we begin may I request that we observe a moment of silence for those of our citizens who have departed from us during the past year. Thank you. 2. Honourable Members, it is my pleasure to once more present an updated assessment of how Government intends to move Botswana forward by seizing opportunities to secure our future. 3. As this is the first session of the 11th Parliament, let me preface my remarks by welcoming the newly elected members of this Assembly. Let me further congratulate you Madam Speaker on your own election.

STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY LT. GEN. SERETSE KHAMA IAN KHAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BOTSWANA, TO THE FIRST SESSION OF THE ELEVENTH PARLIAMENT – “MOVING BOTSWANA FORWARD”

 

INTRODUCTION

 

1. Madam Speaker, before we begin may I request that we observe a moment of silence for those of our citizens who have departed from us during the past year. Thank you.

 

2. Honourable Members, it is my pleasure to once more present an updated assessment of how Government intends to move Botswana forward by seizing opportunities to secure our future.

 

3. As this is the first session of the 11th Parliament, let me preface my remarks by welcoming the newly elected members of this Assembly.  Let me further congratulate you Madam Speaker on your own election.

 

4. Today’s gathering is an outcome of our 11th consecutive general election. As is our tradition, the ballot was conducted in a peaceful, free and fair manner. For this we can once more thank Batswana in general, as well as the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and other individuals and organisations that helped to ensure the poll’s success.

 

5. In any democracy elections are the means to the greater end of forming a Government capable of translating the popular will into public service delivery. We who have the honour of sitting in this House are accountable to the hundreds of thousands who entrusted us with their votes. Although divided in their choices, the voters were united by a shared desire for a better future. It is, therefore, our responsibility to ensure that together we deliver that future by at all times putting the national interest before our own.

 

6. Last month my party, the Botswana Democratic Party, was re‐elected on the basis of a detailed manifesto that promised to secure our common future by building on our past achievements. Today, before this House I reaffirm our commitment to honour that pledge.

 

7. In as much as we recognise that a government of and by the people is not an event but a process; this administration shall continue to engage Batswana across the country about their concerns through various fora and media, from the venerable realm of dikgotla to the digital world of interactive online communication. It was as a result of wide-ranging consultation that our manifesto was predicated on what we understood to be our citizens’ core aspirations. These include achieving:

 

• Job creation for sustainable livelihoods and income generation;

• Food security through continued agricultural renewal;

• Expanded access to land and housing ownership;

• Access to world-class quality education that caters to current and future needs;

• Citizen, including youth, economic empowerment;

• Dignity for all through the eradication of poverty;

• Zero tolerance for corruption in all of its manifestations;

• Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and

• Government reform that leverages on the application of new technologies. 

 

8. Each of these commitments is based on realistic analysis of where our country is and needs to go in order to meet the reasonable expectations of its people, while improving our global standing in an ever more competitive world. Taken together they are consistent with our broader vision of achieving inclusive sustainable development that upholds the dignity of all.

 

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

 

9. Madam Speaker, owing to the prudent economic and financial management by my Government, the country was able to survive the 2008/09 global financial crisis and economic recession with minimum impact on the domestic economy. We were able to save jobs in both the public service and private sector, as well as continued to provide essential public services to our people.

 

10. Having successfully weathered the storm of the economic downturn, we can look forward to better days ahead, with economic growth buttressed by reduced inflation. These positive trends should allow us to revive some of our postponed projects, along with outstanding issues affecting the conditions of service among public employees. Our optimism is in part based on forecasts of continued, albeit still fragile, global economic recovery, with worldwide output projected to grow by 3.3% in 2014 and 3.8% in 2015.

 

11. Turning to the domestic economy, the gross domestic product (GDP) at current prices stood at P124 billion in 2013 and it is projected to expand to P136.5 billion in 2014. In real terms, the GDP grew by 5.8% in 2013, and is projected to grow by 5.2% in the current year, driven by both the mining and non-mining sectors.   Within the non-mining sector, retail and hospitality industries, as well as agriculture are experiencing growth.

 

12. Average national inflation continued to decline from 8.5% in 2011 to 7.5% in 2012 to 5.9% in 2013 and further to 4.5% in September 2014, which is well within the Bank of Botswana objective range of 3 to 6%. This positive trend gives us confidence in our ability to maintain a low inflation environment, which is necessary for domestic enterprises to compete in the global market.

 

13. In terms of our fiscal management, Government succeeded in restoring a balanced budget during 2012/13 financial year, after four years of budget deficits. For the 2013/14 financial year we were able to collect P 48.9 billion, up from the P 41.7 billion received in 2012/13, while total expenditures and net lending for 2013/14 amounted to P 41.73 billion. This resulted in a budget surplus of P7.2 billion, largely due to the good performance of the mineral sector. For 2014/15 a budget surplus of P1.3 billion is currently projected. These savings will allow us to reduce our debt burden and rebuild our financial reserves.

 

14. To sustain a positive balance sheet will, however, require expanded revenues. Here I can report that we were able to collect P48.9 billion in the 2013-14 financial year, up from the P41.7 billion received in 2012-13. The 2013/14 outturn for expenditure and net lending was P41.7 billion.

 

EMPLOYMENT

 

15.  Madam Speaker, to be meaningful to Batswana, economic growth has to be accompanied by expanded employment, which is why our manifesto listed job creation at the top of our aspirations. To reiterate what I said in my own message to the voters, of all our campaign promises tackling unemployment is the most important one. While there has been some progress in recent years, current estimates put unemployment among those 18 and above at just over 17%. Although this reflects a modest reduction since 2007, it has been insufficient to absorb all those seeking employment, especially among our talented youth. We can and shall do more.

 

16. Our Economic Diversification Drive (EDD) is a key instrument for job creation. Since its 2010 inception, EDD has been facilitating employment generating business opportunities by promoting the consumption of local products. While our immediate focus has been leveraging public procurement in support of domestic industries, as we move forward our emphasis will shift to developing greater internal capacity for export-led growth, while continuing to value local goods and services.

 

17.  So far a total of P13.3 billion worth of goods and services were recorded since the inception of the initiative. Out of this figure, the value of local manufacturers and service providers (EDD purchases) amounted to P590.5 million for 2010/2011, P1.8 billion for 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 and P2.3 billion for 2013/2014. Over one thousand enterprises have so far been registered under the EDD Programme, which has contributed to the employment of 28,000 Batswana.

 

18. We have already begun implementing our EDD Medium to Long Term Strategy, to develop sustainable sectors for economic growth and diversification. A leading example is the Leather Sub-sector Strategy, which is focused on the establishment of a Leather Park in Lobatse at a total cost of about P225 million. Government has agreed to finance the park’s primary infrastructure, a Common Effluent Treatment Plant, estimated to cost P102 million, while other components of the project will be financed through private sector investment.

 

19. Government had also budgeted over P20 million to provide temporary assistance for over 12 months to support 34 textile companies, employing 2,912 workers.

 

20. While the nurturing of SMMEs, support for existing industries and value addition remain critical in our achievement of job creation, we further anticipate that over the next few years local formal sector employment will be generated with the emergence of new economic opportunities through the synergies generated by the development growth nodes or clusters across the country.

 

21. In the Chobe region, for example, we anticipate an expansion of opportunities in tourism, construction, transport services and agriculture resulting from the construction of the road and rail bridge at Kazangula and phase one of the water pipeline to Pandamatenga, along with associated infrastructure. It is estimated that when completed these two mega-projects will create over 9000 permanent jobs.

 

22. Additional emerging labour intensive opportunities are already being generated in our urban areas, as reflected in Selebi-Phikwe’s development as a metallurgical hub, the continued growth of Gaborone as a global diamond as well as regional technical services centre, and Francistown’s growth as a nexus for trade and transport. We further anticipate additional jobs through synergies generated by new mining activities, the continued expansion of commercial agriculture and the development of Trans-Kgalagadi road and potential rail corridor.

 

COMPETITIVENESS    

 

23. A key to unlocking these job creation opportunities will be increasing our global competitiveness. To improve our competitiveness ranking in the area of goods market efficiency we have tightened our market monitoring for greater efficiency in the provision of goods and services, while the Competition Authority is reviewing mergers and potential cartel activity involving both local and foreign companies.

 

24. Madam Speaker, job creation is inevitably linked to investment. In this respect the latest FDI Intelligence report indicates that Global Greenfield FDI showed signs of recovery, increasing by an estimated 11% from 2012 to 2013. The increase in local investment has been even greater, with UNCTAD’s 2014 World Investment report showing Botswana having grown by 27% in 2013.

 

25.  The Botswana International Trade Centre (BITC) continues to promote our country as a competitive location for investment, making business contacts and generating leads. During the 2013-2014 financial year, BITC helped realise a total combined investment capital of just over 1 billion pula, of which P 642 million was from foreign direct investment (FDI) and P449 million came from new domestic investments. In 2012/13, BITC further recorded P1.9 billion worth of goods and services exported into the region and beyond, of which P738 million was attributable to financial and international business services by the financial services cluster.

 

26. Botswana was ranked number one in the 2014 Baseline Profitability Index, surpassing Hong Kong as a location for medium to long term returns on investment. In essence the Index suggests that investors can expect to do well here once they have established themselves in our market.

 

27. Government is, furthermore, working to limit the number of licenses and permits, while allowing mixed land use zoning, adopting risk based approach for Environmental Impact Assessments and Management Plans, and decentralising the management of electricity connections.

 

28.  Government has also embarked on a National Work Ethic programme to promote productivity. So far, 254 facilitators have been assessed to implement the programme, which commenced in May 2014.

 

29. The drafting of a Bill which will provide the legal framework for the establishment of Special Economic Zones and the Special Economic Zone Authority is being finalized.

 

30. The Rural Development Council (RDC) has been upgraded as the national consultative body to promote and coordinate the implementation of rural development policies and programmes. As a result community based projects such as the Zutshwa Salt Project and the Mogobane Irrigation Scheme, to mention some, have been resuscitated.

 

CITIZEN EMPOWERMENT

 

31. Madam Speaker, it is pleasing to note that to date, CEDA has funded 5,462 enterprises with a total value of nearly P8.55 billion, in the process creating over 48,935 thousand jobs.  During the 2013/14 financial year, CEDA assisted 151 new enterprises with a total monetary value of P152 million, collectively generating 1042 new jobs.

 

32. Since its inception, LEA has also facilitated the creation of 4995 new jobs, including 568 in the ongoing financial year. The Authority has further trained a total of 9,317 entrepreneurs. In an effort to inculcate an entrepreneurial culture, LEA embarked upon the Entrepreneurship Awareness Workshops among secondary school leavers, vocational trainees and prison inmates; over 26,000 of whom have been trained.

 

33. Madam Speaker, through the Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS), we have encouraged our small and medium enterprises to implement quality assurance activities within their businesses. Progress has been made in certification of goods especially in the building and construction industry. To further ensure that prescribed goods entering our borders comply with domestic standards, a BOBS office has been opened at the Tlokweng Border.

 

RULE OF LAW

 

34. Madam Speaker, adherence to the rule of law remains a cornerstone to our national development. It is thus encouraging that independent comparative surveys, as well as domestic polling, consistently place us among the best in the world as well as first in Africa in terms of our upholding the rule of law while ensuring the safety and security of all our citizens. These surveys include:

 

• 2014 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, where we ranked first in the category of safety and security;

• World Justice Project’s 2014 Rule of Law Index, where we were ranked 25th in the world as well as first in Africa;

• 2014 Global Peace Index where we were at 36th place, ranking above half of European countries surveyed;

• 2014 Legatum Index for Governance and Rule of Law, where we were ranked 28th in the world; and

• 2013 Global Democracy Index, where besides ranking 35 out of 167 countries we achieved a near perfect score in the area of civil liberties.

 

35.  In light of such reputable findings it is unfortunate to say the least that some individuals, working through foreign as well as domestic media, including rumour mongering on social media, have attempted to instil the perception of Batswana living in fear. This is in an apparent effort to undermine this country’s longstanding and shared record of peace, order and good Government.

 

36. While the mass circulation of false and malicious reports intended to incite undue alarm may be aimed at promoting the political agenda of some, it is at the collective cost of tarnishing the image of the country as a whole. It is also a threat to the economy we all must depend upon for our livelihoods. Such disinformation should therefore be rejected with contempt by all peace-loving Batswana. All citizens, residents and potential visitors to Botswana can be confident that this Government will continue to both abide and uphold the rule of law without fear or favour.

 

37. Let me, nonetheless, also observe that we have not, and shall not, allow past achievements or international accolades to breed complacency as we recognise that, here as elsewhere, criminal activity is constantly evolving and increasingly sophisticated. We therefore remain determined to pursue a zero tolerance approach to all forms of criminal activity, including corruption.

 

38. To counter emerging domestic and trans-national challenges the Police Service has deployed integrated law enforcement strategies to combat all forms of criminality and anti-social behaviour. This has involved an ongoing redirection of resources to deal with violent and intrusive, cross border and cyber based criminal activities.

 

39. Whilst total recorded crime excluding road traffic violations rose by 4.7% during the year 2013, significant reductions were, however, registered in respect of violent and intrusive crimes.  Offences in this category, which included burglary, store breaking, robbery, house breaking, threats to kill, murder, rape, motor vehicle and stock theft, declined by 15.4%.

 

40. Road traffic management poses an additional policing challenge. Analysis of road accidents shows a youth bias, expressed in reckless driving, often aggravated by the influence of alcohol. As a result of the increase in the intensity of road policing initiatives, the number of detected road traffic offences rose by 32.4%, while there was a corresponding decrease in the number of fatal road accidents by 2.6%.

 

41. Madam Speaker, the Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation continues to improve security in the prisons and rehabilitation of offenders. While overcrowding has been a problem in some of the Prison institutions, there has been substantial reduction in congestion since 2008. In June 2014 there were 3824 offenders held in prisons, which was 13% below the authorised holding capacity.

 

42. Madam Speaker, the internal and external challenges of today’s constantly changing security landscape, call for a structurally aligned, strategically focused and adequately resourced, as well as highly trained and motivated, defence force. The BDF will thus continue to evolve its structures and strategies to defend the nation, while continuing to provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies in combating crime, including poaching.

 

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

 

43. Madam Speaker, as was most recently demonstrated in the Judgments of the High Court and the Court of Appeal upholding the constitutionality of the Standing Orders of this very House, our Judiciary continues to independently and effectively deliver on its constitutional mandate of settling disputes, both large and small, without fear or favour.  This Government will, as always, respect decisions of the Courts and expects all citizens to do the same.  Equally, we must all display tolerance and recognize everyone’s right to approach the Courts for the resolution of any legal issue no matter how strongly we may disagree.

 

44. To improve everyday access to justice several special court projects like the stock theft, maintenance, traffic, small claims and most recently corruption court have been put in place so as to speed up and improve the case disposal rates, while promoting greater access to justice by simplifying court rules and processes to make them more user friendly.  In addition a Court Annexed Mediation will be in place by the end of the current financial year.  This f

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation

11:00 A.M. EDT

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MR. WANG: Thank you, and thanks for the moon cake. Just kidding. Anyway, I just came back, as you know, from SOM3 in Beijing where we spent a total of actually almost two weeks, including a lot of sort of working group level meetings. And then – so after SOM3 we, as you know, will have a whole series of ministerials leading up to the leaders meeting in November. And so in fact right now in Xiamen they’re doing the oceans ministerial. So it’s a meeting at the ministerial level on oceans issues, and then there will be about six or seven ministerials. I’ll be going back to China in – this weekend. So I’m not sure where I am actually right now. But I’ll be going back to Beijing, and then there’s a human resource development ministerial in Hanoi, in Vietnam. So I go there to that ministerial, and then to the Philippines.

As you know, the Philippines is the host next year for APEC. So they’re very, very eager to begin to prepare for next year’s agenda and how we can follow through from this year. So I’ll be going to the Philippines and meeting with my counterparts there. And then after that I’m going to go to Hong Kong and have some meetings there, and then go to Macao for the tourism ministerial. So that’s September 13th – and then come back. So I’ll be on the road for about two weeks.

And following that, I’ll probably stay in Washington as much as I can, because we start preparing for the actual leaders meeting, and so there will be a lot of demands in terms of – obviously, President Obama is definitely going. That’s what I understand. And we probably will have not just President Obama, but of course, Secretary Kerry, as well as USTR Mike Froman. But this year we may even have, I understand, possibly – well, clearly – Commerce Secretary Pritzker, possibly Agricultural Secretary Vilsack, as well, and maybe one or two other secretaries. So it’ll be a fairly big delegation from the United States going to Beijing in November. So a lot of preparation.

But in the run-up to that we also have a finance ministerial, we’ll have an agricultural ministerial – I think both in Beijing – and then I’m not sure if you know the actual leaders schedule, but it begins in Beijing on the fifth and the sixth, which is the senior officials (SOM) meeting – the fifth and the sixth. And then Secretary Kerry and Mike Froman will do their ministerials – APEC ministerials – on the seventh and the eighth, and then the President and other leaders will arrive on the 10th – and basically it’s the 10th and 11th in Beijing.

And then I think, as you all know, I think President Obama will be staying behind in Beijing for a day on the 12th, after which he heads out to Burma for the EAS – the East Asia Summit – and then he heads to Brisbane in Australia for the G20 – the 15th and the 16th.

So that’s the general schedule of the coming couple months. Of course, I’m involved primarily in APEC, not in the EAS or the G20. Now let me just make a couple of comments about the substance of APEC as we’re moving towards the leaders week. And then I’ll try to leave a lot of time for questions that you all have.

Now on the substance, I think at my last briefing we talked about essentially the agenda for the APEC year from the Chinese perspective, and you have basically three pillars. The one – the first pillar is the trade and investment pillar, and then the second one is what the Chinese call the innovation, reform, and growth pillar. But in general, those are the set of issues that are related to how we sustain economic growth in the region. So issues of the environment, issues of food security, heath security, women empowerment, internet, urbanization, all of those issues that are important in sustaining growth – so not just growing but sustaining it in a way that would allow it to grow, obviously, in a healthy fashion. And the third pillar, as you all know, is the connectivity pillar. Essentially, there we have a whole set of issues related to trying to increase the flow of people and goods throughout the APEC economy, so including cross-border education, physical infrastructure, regulatory convergence, things of that nature. So that’s the third pillar.

And I’m happy to say that SOM3 is usually the most important SOM meeting, the senior official meeting, because it’s the last one before the leaders actually meet. So we really have to get everything together to make sure that we don’t have a lot of problems during the leaders week. We don’t want to spend a lot of time arguing over things, debating things at the last meeting. So this meeting is very important. And the U.S. had about 200 delegation members go to the SOM3, and when I say delegation I mean it fairly loosely. We had about a hundred from the private sector going, and then a hundred from the different agencies within the U.S. Government going. So as you know, it’s not just the State Department. We have people from Homeland Security; people from Agriculture; people from Commerce, of course; USTR, Transportation; et cetera. So a lot of – Department of Justice, because this year we focused a lot on anti-corruption, so we had people from there attend as well. And so a very big meeting.

And I’m happy to say that this year I can honestly say we really made good progress at the SOM3 meeting with the Chinese host. Very well organized. We made progress across the three pillars that I just talked about.

On the first pillar, let me just say that, as you all know already, the Chinese are very focused on the – on, of course, the large FTAAP, the free trade area of the Asia-Pacific. And so we had good discussions on that, and hopefully by the time our leaders get together, we should be able to actually launch the roadmap for FTAAP for the free trade area. We will have, essentially, the roadmap that would include a lot of events that we’ll be doing – activities we’ll be doing that would include information-sharing, it would include capacity-building, it would include, finally, an analytical study of how we’re going to move towards a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific, what we call FTAAP for short.

So that’s something, of course, the Chinese are very much focused on launching this year in Beijing. And again, we had good discussions, and I think we will have a good launch in November. And we did a few – quite a few other things in this trade investment area, including beginning to look at services, access to services market in the region within APEC – for example, manufacturing-related services that the Japanese and Australians both proposed and we cosponsored.

So we’re essentially – the point is that we’re moving away from – not away from, but from sort of focusing on goods, the liberalizations on tariffs and so on, to the services market. And that’s what we call a global supply chain. And we’re also looking at moving into the environmental services area – trying to open access to environmental services in each of these markets where we can actually expand the flow of services in this area.

And so in that area – again, there’s a long list – as most of you know, APEC is a very broad, broad sort of body of issues that we deal with. So apart from that, in the sustainable growth area, I think I spoke to a number of local press people in Beijing. And I actually arrived fairly early in Beijing because there was a very high level workshop on anticorruption. And the U.S. and China are working very closely together in this area. And also, there was the first meeting of the anticorruption and transparency network, and the ambassador, Ambassador Baucus attended that one. The minister for supervision, by the way, attended the first one – the high level workshop on anticorruption. Huang Shuxian, the minister of supervision, opened the meeting itself, and it was a very good meeting.

Again, I learned a lot personally from that meeting, where a lot of private sector companies, people – law enforcement officials from different economies spoke. And at the first meeting of the ACT network – this is a network of law enforcement officials, essentially – first meeting of this group. And Ambassador Baucus, our ambassador in Beijing, delivered opening remarks at that, as well as a number of others. And the Vice Minister for Supervision Fu Kui was there as well throughout the meeting.

So it was a very useful meeting because the whole purpose of this ACT-NET is to get all of the law enforcement officials who are involved in anti-bribery in the APEC region together to try to begin a process of information sharing among the different economies on bribery cases that essentially cross the border within APEC, and to also share best practices on how we do things, so that we can tackle this issue more seriously and more effectively, and also, essentially, to bring them together to also find out what the various regulations are within each economy. For example, the U.S. has a different set of laws and regulations regarding bribery cases, and also asset recovery regulations. So this would be a good chance for law enforcement officials to know about the particular regulations and rules in different economies. So this is the first step towards that, and so we hope that this will bring in greater cooperation.

But beyond this issue, we also touched on a whole range of issues, as I mentioned earlier. The U.S., for example, is still very much – from the year we hosted in 2011 – very much focused on trying to increase women-empowerment in the economy. In other words, how do we provide greater opportunities for women to access finance markets and to also be more involved in the higher levels of management within different companies in different countries?

This was, of course, also not just a U.S. initiative, but also very much led by Japan because, as you know, Abe and women-omics, is very, very concerned about sort of the aging Japanese society and how you have to utilize more the talents that you have within Japan, within your society, and how to essentially elevate and expand the role of women, which means you have to deal with sort of family friendly practices within companies. So the Japanese, for example, have a proposal where they will – they’ve asked all of different APEC economies to nominate five companies from each economy that have best practices in terms of how they promote and facilitate the role of women in their companies by producing family friendly policies on health, on healthcare, and so on.

So we focused on that as well in SOM3. Again, we also had, essentially, health security issues that we focused on. China, as a host, sponsored two particular sessions that I attended as well, that all the senior officials attended, and the internet economy was one of them. So the idea now is all of our societies are changing so quickly and the role of the internet is clearly very, very significant, so we invited people from Alibaba, Baidu. From the U.S. we invited Uber. Do you know what Uber is? Yeah, it’s sort of taxi cabs – not quite taxi cab, but it’s a service. And I actually never knew what Uber is until this summer. But the Uber person came, and they actually have now Uber service in China. So if you have a problem in China, you can go onto this – I guess whatever you have, an app that you have for Uber, but they’re expanding quite a bit.

And so the point there is that they were trying to show how internet can be used to really – as an innovation – to actually do a lot of things. For example, a lot of small businesses that cannot afford big buildings and cannot compete with the CEOs from big companies, can actually use the internet to really quickly link, organize, do business. And so it could also be used to service a lot of the vulnerable groups within societies that they have access to the internet. So a very, very, very useful seminar workshop with discussion afterwards.

And the Chinese also hosted another one on urbanization in this area. China, as you know, and a lot of other countries continue to urbanize. And so we had presentations from Korea, from Japan, from China on different ways of urbanizing in an environmentally friendly fashion, and how important it is to conserve energy, to design – plan the city in a way that would be efficient and healthy for urbanized growth. On the U.S. part, I spoke a little bit about how in the U.S., we already are fairly urban, but how, for example, in New York City, when you go now to New York City, you can find that even the older cities, there are different ways that businesses have started and communities and neighborhoods have started to make it more vibrant by essentially doing pedestrians’ walks and then urging businesses to get together to sort of make more vibrant different neighborhoods within an old city. And so there are many ways of dealing with urbanization, but it’s now a very major issue for a lot of countries. And so we’re trying to share best practices, trying to find out how we can work together to help urbanization proceed in a healthy fashion there. So those are some areas and if you have questions about this area, we can talk about it more later on.

In the last pillar, on connectivity, we talked, of course, about a number of issues in terms of infrastructure, physical infrastructure development, the need for investment in physical infrastructure. But mostly we spent almost a few hours on what we called a connectivity blueprint. So the senior officials earlier in the year asked the APEC secretariat to produce a blueprint on connectivity. In other words, how do we plan to move ahead to connect the APEC economies more closely together in all of these different areas? And underneath the connectivity blueprint, we have another three pillars.

And the three pillars are: physical; and the second one’s regulatory convergence – we’re trying to get regulations more uniform and more coordinated; and then people-to-people, so cross-border education, tourism, travel, the ABTC card, the APEC business travel card, and so on. So we discussed the blueprint at length and we set targets wherein, let’s say by 2025 – we haven’t decided on the actual date yet, but we set targets where we are trying to, let’s say, double the number of people-flow among the APEC economies, or tourism, cross-border education, trying to increase the number of cross-border students studying in different economies. And so we hopefully will be able to complete the blueprint and as a way of moving forward in terms of connectivity and produce this for the leaders week in November.

And let me just add one last thing. One of our major initiatives – one of the United States, supported by eight other economies – is to actually create what we call an APEC scholarship and internship initiative. And by this what we mean is that we’re getting a number of economies to cosponsor scholarships for students; for example, students from the developing APEC economies to be able to study in another economy on a scholarship if they can’t afford it. So I think we had a very good response. This proposal was made earlier and at SOM2 we had a very good response. For example, Chinese Taipei, I believe, will come up with some 20, 25 or so scholarships, where they will provide scholarships for people to go to Taiwan to study. And I know that China also will have quite a number of scholarships that they will be proposing at the end of the year in November.

Australia – very, very positive. They not only are trying to invite people to go to Australia to study on scholarships, but they’re also trying to encourage Australians, young Australians to go abroad to other parts of Asia, to learn more of the culture, learn the educational system, and so on. And in the U.S. we’re proposing to have a number of companies offer internships that will allow and help students from various APEC economies to come to the United States or to go to some of the companies in the region to intern in, let’s say for example in our case, the APEC members – Caterpillar, Eli Lilly, Qualcomm – will be offering sort of internships or scholarships to encourage, again, more cross-border education.

So I think I’ve gone on enough. Is it 10-15 minutes or so already?

MODERATOR: Yeah, it’s about 20.

MR. WANG: Yeah. So what I’ll do now is just turn to you for questions, and I’ll be glad to answer – and she’ll – she said she’ll select who – I don’t get to pick. Thanks. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: So just remember, again, wait for the microphones and say who you are and your outlet, please. We’ll start with you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Dr. Wang. Yun Zou with China Central TV, CCTV. Well, my question is that during the senior official meeting, both China and United States has expressed your willingness to work together in fighting the corruption, but we all know that by no means that will be an easy task, because, as you just said, that different countries has their own different interpretation of corruption and also has their own legal system. So I’m just curious that under this agreement, what kind of rules will all the countries abide by and who will mainly chair this agreement? Thank you.

MR. WANG: Okay. Well, first of all, in terms of the actual organization itself, it’s not so much trying to arrive at one rule, because we all know that we have very different political, legal systems. It’s really more to try to understand what each country’s rules and regulations are, so by understanding that – for example, if you – let’s say you had somebody cross a border. If somebody, let’s say, left China or left U.S. to go somewhere else with illegal funds, whatnot, then what you’d need to know – for example, the Chinese officials need to know is if you want to get somebody back to China or their illegally-obtained funds, you need to know what U.S. regulations are, what kind of evidence is needed to be able to actually get that person back or to recover the funds.

So it’s not an attempt to make everybody have one rule or law, because that’s going to be impossible. But it’s more to understand what the requirements are. So in fact, from this meeting that we had of the ACT Net, we produced, to begin with, a directory of all of the offices and the people in charge of the offices in the different economies. So, for example, if you have – if someone went to Malaysia and you have a case in Malaysia, then you can open up the book, essentially, and you know who the responsible offices are and the people are, then you can contact them to begin with. And then we also are producing a guidebook on the asset recovery process. So then this guidebook will have in it, for example, the process or procedures in the United States for recovering assets that are essentially stolen from another country and in the United States. So that’s the purpose of the ACT Network, and it’s not to really come up with one rule.

The other thing, of course, is to exchange best practices. So one of the major goals is to really have cross-border cooperation on assets or people that go cross-border, but also it’s really to learn about how you do it within your own country as well. So in our own country, how we deal with bribery and how you deal with it in other systems. So one of the important things we hope – again, it’s not done yet, but by the end of the year – we hope to have our leaders endorse a set of – and this is more like what you were saying – actually endorse a set of principles on anti-bribery that is very similar, for example, to the ones in OECD. So OECD has anti-bribery principles in terms of making sure that there’s a way of detecting and responding to sort of bribery cases.

So hopefully by the end of the year we will actually have – the U.S. actually drafted a sort of APEC principles on anti-bribery and enforcement of anti-bribery laws. And so we’re hoping that that will then be adopted by the different economies, and this will be one set that APEC economies will then be able to subscribe to and agree to. So you’re welcome.

MODERATOR: Yes, right up here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Dr. Wang, for holding this press conference. Ching-Yi Chang, Shanghai Media Group. I’d like to know, does President Obama expect to sign bilateral investment agreement with China during his trip to Beijing? And also, is there any change of the view of the United States on China’s market economy status, especially after China establishes its free trade zone? Thank you.

MR. WANG: Sure. I honestly don’t really follow that very closely, the BIT. Actually, it’s not a BIA, it’s a BIT – Bilateral Investment Treaty – if it’s between China and the United States. I do know that they’re having about three or four meetings a year, either in Beijing or in the U.S., on the Bilateral Investment Treaty. But I don’t know at what state it is at this point. But my guess is – just in terms of my interaction with my China desk counterparts and all that, and USTR – is that it won’t be at APEC. It’s still a couple years down the line, is my guess, so it won’t be that fast.

But again, I may be wrong. But I don’t expect that we are coming anywhere close this year to actually completing it. We’re exchanging negative lists, for example. There’s a list that the Chinese have that I know is very long from the U.S. perspective, and so we’re still negotiating that. And so it’ll take a while.

Now on the question of market status, again, I know of that more from my job when I was a deputy chief of mission in Beijing. And so I’ve been following that negotiation as well as the BIT. And that one, I believe, we’re still a long way off. But again, I would defer to perhaps others who are more current on this. But I think at this point, if it continues, I think the target date is 2016. So obviously, what China does in terms of its Shanghai pilot zone and so on would help, but I think we’re still a long way off from actually coming up with a change in the sort of market status for China.

MODERATOR: Okay. Yeah, right up here.

MR. WANG: You should give a badge to the people in the back as well.

MODERATOR: I will. (Laughter.)

MR. WANG: We’ve got three people in front.

MODERATOR: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you very – thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Wang. My name is Atsushi Okudera from Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese newspaper. I’d like to ask about U.S.-China bilateral relationship. This is not a direct – the APEC meeting, but are you planning to have a bilateral meeting, summit meeting, between President Xi Jinping and President Obama before or after the APEC meeting? And if you have, what kind of style? As you know, Chinese Councilor Yang Jiechi last year announced United States and China has agreed next time they going to have a same time of – same style of —

MR. WANG: Sunnyland.

QUESTION: Freestyle – like Sunnyland. So this time are you going to have same kind of – same style of summit meeting in Beijing or other cities? And if you have, what is the point of this time’s summit meeting, particularly in terms of new model of major power relations? They – both country talking about lots of times, but we still don’t understand. It is not very clear. I know this is for avoiding conflict —

MR. WANG: Right.

QUESTION: — or talking very freely, frankly. But actually, there is lots of differences on South China Sea and East China Sea and cyber problem. So what is the point this time? Thanks.

MR. WANG: Okay. Yeah, as I mentioned at the very beginning, after the leaders meeting is finished, the 10th and 11th, President Obama will stay behind in Beijing on the 12th, and so that’s where the bilateral meetings will be held between China and the United States. Some of the questions you’ve asked actually are probably best answered by the Chinese. We don’t know exactly what the Chinese have planned for the 12th in terms of how they want to do the bilateral at this stage, so I think that’s still in the process of discussion.

But obviously, I’ve heard a lot of comments about how effective it is to actually have smaller meetings where you can actually talk about issues in a more personal way, and I think knowing President Obama’s style and, of course, from the U.S. point of view, we did Sunnyland, and so we think that that’s an effective way of doing things. But – and of course, the Chinese seem to be receptive to that, but exactly what they have planned, we don’t really know at this stage whether it’ll be Beijing, whether it’ll be outside somewhere else. But that’s something I think that the Chinese are discussing with us, but not yet decided, I believe.

And in terms of the actual – the goal and the great – the major power relationship, again – actually, that’s a term that the Chinese came up with, not the U.S. So I’m not sure whether we subscribe completely to the exact interpretation of that. It’s something that Xi Jinping had sort of discussed several times, announced several times. That’s what he wants. But to me, it really – I’m not sure what new style model we have, but to me, it’s really simple.

And essentially, between any two countries – not just China and the United States – is first of all, you have to expand the areas of cooperation as much as you can, whether it’s on trade or whether it’s people-to-people, cultural, whatever it is. So you expand as much as you can the positive side of the relationship. That’s one thing. And the second point is then you manage the differences, because you will have differences, and some more than others, but between China and the United States, we certainly have differences that – some of the things you cited on cyber, on a number of other issues. But – so I would say you try to manage them in a way that would not make it uncontrollable or unmanageable, I guess. So that’s the bottom line.

So we have quite a number of issues between U.S. and China, and so far I think we’ve been able to manage them. So I think the relationship between U.S. and China will essentially be one in which we continue to – on human rights, on cyber or whatever else – we continue to have differences. We need to manage those. And then on the other side, within APEC for example but beyond APEC, we have a lot of, like, CPE, the sort of people-to-people exchange. We’ll continue to expand it as much as possible, and hopefully, the positive side will, in the long term, win out. So that’s what I see as the power relationship that we have.

MODERATOR: The gentleman right here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Dr. Wang. Wait, hello? Yeah. Thank you, Dr. Wang. Xiaoyang Xia, reporter from Wen Hui daily, Shanghai, China. You mentioned that China as a host has set out three pillars for this year’s APEC. The question is: Does the U.S. quite agree with those pillars or themes? And do you have any differences? And what are U.S. priorities for this APEC which you want mostly to achieve?

And secondly, you mentioned under the third pillar the main – one of the main focus is the infrastructure building, and what’s your opinion or what’s U.S. position on the Chinese proposal for the establishment of a Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank? Thank you.

MR. WANG: Yeah. We have no problems at all with the three pillars that the Chinese have proposed because they’re fairly broad, so how can you disagree with trade and investment, or how can you disagree with sustainable growth and how can you disagree with connectivity?

The question, then, of course, underneath them will be working on all of these different issues that are sort of different priorities – some for the Chinese, some for the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, et cetera, and ours. So no disagreement; we’ve been working very well under those three pillars. In terms of U.S. priorities, I mentioned already at some length the question of anticorruption, and I think that’s a joint priority for the U.S. and for China because – and not only that, actually. This priority is actually quite broad, because if you look around the APEC region, whether it’s Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, corruption is a big problem. It’s a pervasive problem in all these economies.

And so the question is: How do you continue to sustain growth without dealing with this issue? Because it essentially produces unfair sort of disparity of wealth and no rule of law, so in the long term, you really have to deal with it. That’s why it’s a very high priority for the United States, and I think also for China, clearly, and for the other economies. So that’s a very high priority.

We’re also very concerned – I think especially Secretary Kerry and President Obama – about the environment. And I think China, Vietnam, Indonesia, others are also because, for example, rapid growth in China over the last 20 or 30 years has produced an environment which is really quite hazardous to your health in terms of air, in terms of water, food security – food safety, I should say, not so much food security but food safety. So we all know that you can grow very quickly, but to sustain it and to actually make it healthy for your own people, you have to really focus on the environmental impact of what you’re doing.

So for example, right now, as mentioned earlier, oceans – we’re having an oceans ministerial right now in Xiamen in China. And so beyond air and beyond water and so on, we’re going into the oceans, where so much of the ocean now has marine debris. So people throw things overboard when they’re in ships, they throw them from the land, they dump it out there, and it’s destroying a lot of the oceans that we have. And again, for the moment, we don’t know that, but in the long term, we’re going to rely on the ocean – the big Pacific Ocean and others. So we hope that we’ll be able to get countries within APEC at this point to begin to work on protected marine areas to begin with, and then sustainable fisheries – not to overfish, not to do illegal fishing or unregulated fishing, because if you were to do over-excessive fishing, then essentially you’re going to be drying out the resources that you need in the future. So the environmental issues are very important, and one of our major U.S. initiatives apart from the oceans – as you know, we did an Oceans Conference here, Kerry did one, inviting global members here. So we’re trying to use some of that – the action plan – we table it at – in SOM3, this action plan from the Oceans Conference. And we’re hoping to use some of that now in the oceans ministerial in Xiamen to try to get APEC to support these various principles.

And beyond the environment, I mentioned already that women is a very high priority for us, because again, we think it’s not only the right thing to do to include women in inclusive growth, but it’s also good for the economy, for your development to be able to utilize all the talent that you have within your society. And so that’s a very high priority for us. So in concrete terms, what the U.S. has done in this area is we tabled, for example, a study that we have done on trying to come up with indicators for women participation in the economy as a whole. So in other words, for example, how many women – what percentage of women are in management positions, what percentage of women have access to finance, what percent of women essentially have access to markets.

So we’re trying to come up with an indicator – we already have done the study; we have come up with 26 indicators. And what we’re trying to do now is get the economies next year to begin to measure exactly where women are in terms of participation in the economy. And once you have that measure as a baseline, then we’ll begin to set targets and see where we’re failing – in other words, why are women so – have no access to finance in certain countries, let’s say, and try to work on improving that. And we’ll set targets and to move ahead.

So we’ve done this study, we hope that this will endorsed – the indicators will be endorsed by the leaders, and then we will then hopefully have the leaders encourage all the economies to begin measuring, and then from there move on to targets in the coming years. And —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. WANG: Yeah. The last one, on infrastructure – there a lot more priorities. I have about a list of ten priorities more. But let me just go directly to the infrastructure issue. I think most of you are aware of the Chinese proposal on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. And we have been in touch with China and met with Chinese leaders – Jin Liqun will be, of course, the head of that bank, we understand. We’ve had discussions on that. And there we’ve been very clear about what our concerns are. And our concerns are just that this proposal for this AIIB, that they’re able to meet the various standards of other multilateral development banks – meaning essentially, to begin with, the projects should take into consideration safeguards on the environment.

So when you start an infrastructure project, you have to make sure that you look at the environmental impact of that project, or labor, and what kind of labor you use, what conditions under which they work. That’s one thing. Governance, transparency – meaning that if you’re in construction you’re talking about large sums of money. How should it be dealt with in terms of transparency, governance so there’s no corruption? We go back to the issue of corruption. So our main concerns are that, and we’ve conveyed these concerns to China, and we hope that they can be addressed.

QUESTION: Thank you. Kunihiko Yasue from Yomiuri Shimbun.

MR. WANG: Yeah. Just a little softer, but yeah.

QUESTION: As for FTAAP, Trans-Pacific Partnership is a part of FTAAP. And as to Trans-Pacific Partnership —

MR. WANG: TPP.

QUESTION: — President Obama in July said he hopes to get something which is public and the Congress can look at by the time he visit Asia in November. So are there any possibility or a plan that the latest meeting for TPP negotiation will be held in the sideline of APEC latest meeting like last year?

MR. WANG: Okay. Let me first correct you on one thing. I don’t think that APEC – I don’t think that there were TPP negotiations per se on the sidelines of APEC. There were meetings, but there were not negotiations. In other words, APEC, heads of APEC in Bali when I was there last year, for example, the TPP leaders got together for sort of a short discussion, but it was not a negotiation. So that’s a very different thing. On the TPP issue, obviously the key player in the United States is USTR. So we’re not actually negotiating within APEC or involving negotiations on TPP within APEC, as you know.

And so I don’t really know exactly what status it’s in right now. Obviously, last year in Bali we were hoping it could be completed by around that time. And obviously, we’re working very hard this year and understand good progress has been made, especially after the various meetings in Japan on market access. But again, on the specifics of the negotiations, I’m not really privy to it so I don’t know how far along it is. All I know is that every time I turn around to talk to Wendy and others they’re off somewhere – or Mike Froman – they’re off somewhere negotiating it or talking somewhere.

So all I can say is I think we’re making progress, but I don’t know what will happen by the end of the year.

MODERATOR: I’d like to offer an opportunity to New York. New York, can you hear me?

QUESTION: Yeah. This is Shen with China Business Network and from New York. And it is good morning, Dr. Wang.

MR. WANG: Good morning.

QUESTION: And you said President Obama and President Xi Jinping will hold a meeting during APEC like one last year. And what will be the possible topics that interest to leaders? And will the issues about the South China Sea and the Ukraine (ph) will be brought to the meeting? Thank you.

MR. WANG: Okay. I’m not sure if I understood everything you said clearly. Well, President Obama did not go to Bali last year, so I don’t know. They didn’t meet in Bali. I’m not sure if that’s what you said earlier, but in any case that’s not important.

I think within APEC, as far as I know, in the APEC context we will not be dealing with some of the political issues you talked about. At the bilateral I think these topics will probably come up. So on the 12th, I guess whatever differences we have or issues we have between China and the United States probably will come up, it’s my guess, at the bilateral on the 12th. But within APEC it’s not certainly part of the topic.

I’m not sure if I got your question entirely. I wanted to give you another chance to say something. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. I just want to say whether this topic whether the issue is about South China Sea and Ukraine (ph) would be brought to a meeting, and what would be the possible topics that interest to leaders?

MR. WANG: Possible targets that are interested to leaders?

QUESTION: Topics.

MR. WANG: Topics. Well, again, you want to separate APEC from the bilateral, and on the bilateral between China and the United States I think we – I can’t say exactly what they will say because it’s something that they will have to determine later on, but my guess is – all of us can guess what the topics would be. I mean, obviously, all of the differences between China and the United States on various issues will be raised, all of the sort of cooperative areas will also be raised.

So I would not be surprised certainly, and I can’t speak for the President, but I would not be surprised if South China Sea came up in a discussion because it is clearly an issue that both countries are concerned about managing, and I think it’s an important issue not just for China and the United States, but it’s an important issue for a lot of other countries in the region. And as for the other topics, again, it’s a wide range of topics. I think we all are aware of some of the range of topics that could be discussed. Human rights could be an issue as well. Trade issues would be important as well. You know we have a lot of trade issues. Cyber could be part of the topic. So I think you probably know better than I do the list of all of the issues that clearly both countries are concerned about today.

MODERATOR: Okay, start here.

QUESTION: Good morning, Dr. Wang. I’m from China, China News Service. I want to go back to the anti-corruption issue. And just now you mentioned that the APEC economies are doing guidebooks, some kind of guidebook to the anti-corruption. And are they going to publish this year, or it will take some year to discuss about the final version of that?

MR. WANG: Right.

QUESTION: Yeah. It will take —

MR. WANG: Yeah.

QUESTION: And besides that, besides the trying to understand each other’s legal system, and what kind of cooperation are they going to do during this anti-corruption issue action, that you call it? Okay, thank you, sir.

MR. WANG: Well, I think on the issue of the publication, actually the United States already has the publication, so we have a template for it. We already have our offices and also we have our asset recovery guidebook. So what we’re trying to do, probably next year, is to have all the APEC economies do the same thing. So clearly, it will not be done by November, but it will be something that will be essentially directed by the leaders for us to do in the coming year. So that’s the agenda for – I think for next year.

And I forgot the second part.

QUESTION: What else are you going to –

MR. WANG: Oh, yes. Yeah, apart from – okay. Beyond that, I think the whole point is I remember very clearly from one of the presentations at the high-level workshop that I attended and how people were talking about sort of cooperation between the law enforcement officials of one country with another, and one of the most important elements of this cooperation is trust. So in other words, you have to have some trust between the law enforcement officials of one country and another when they begin to exchange information or when they begin to try to get cooperation on specific cases. If there is no trust – and of course, trust is based partially on personal sort of relationships in terms of respect for the other person’s knowledge and respect for the other person’s integrity, but also for the system.

So I think one of the most important things we hope to come out of this network is that you begin to then have people meet more frequently – not just on specific cases, but let’s say on training courses so they’ll have a training course. China will be setting up a – what it calls a secretariat for this ACT network. It’s a small group for 2014-2015 and then maybe it’ll move on to other areas. But the idea is to set up a secretariat that would be able to organize training workshops where all of the law enforcement officials will come together and maybe in some area in some country and work together on learning best practices, how you do things, how I do things, and in that process also develop personal relationships among the different law enforcement officials to begin to understand each other. And in that sense, I think that will help facilitate actual progress on cases that actually occur.

MODERATOR: Hiroaki, and then I’ll go to you. These are probably the last two questions, guys. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Wang, for doing this. My name is Wada. I’m with Japan’s Mainichi – I’m with Mainichi newspaper.

DR. WANG: Mainichi. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And my question is about maritime territorial disputes in the bilateral meeting between the United States and China. What is the willingness of the Obama Administration to take up this particular issue? And you also talk about managing differences between the United States and China.

MR. WANG: Between who?

QUESTION: But after what happened off Hainan Island the other day, the interception by the Chinese of the U.S. Navy aircraft, what is the sense inside the Administration about the difficulty of managing the difference? Is that sense of difficulty is increasing, or is there any change? Thank you. These are my questions.

MR. WANG: Okay. Well, I think, again, let me just start by saying that this is not in my area, it’s not in my zone, so I’m not really dealing with that. So I want to make that very, very clear so nobody will think that I am actually speaking with authority on this issue. But all I’ll say is that I expect that all of the issues you raise will probably be discussed simply because they’re important issues. The more important the issues are, the more challenging they are, the more likely they’ll be discussed between our leaders, because they’re the ones who have to deal with these very serious problems. So all I’ll say on that then is that with the recent incident over the intercepts, whatever different versions of it – Chinese and American – I think, clearly, it’s something that we need to discuss. So my guess is that it’s already being discussed and that it will continue to be discussed if – at some point by our leaders.

So is it increasingly more difficult? Yeah, and that’s why you need to discuss it.

MODERATOR: Okay. Weihua.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Chen Weihua, China Daily. Yeah, I want to go – continue on that ACT network. Will that lead to deterrence for those Chinese – corrupt Chinese officials to seek safe haven in the U.S., Canada, or Australia, or will that lead to extradition and repatriation of those corruption – corrupt officials already here? So thank you.

MR. WANG: Right. Well, I think the goal, certainly, is to – on both sides, not just China and the United States but on all sides, the goal, of course, is to increase the possibility or the probability that illegally obtained funds or criminals who go across the border will be returned and will be treated according to the rule of law in whichever country they come from. So the goal of the entire thing is to increase that probability, and to increase that probability then the presumption is that each side has to understand what the requirements are for doing this.

And so by starting on this first step to try to understand laws and regulations of different sides, the kinds of evidence that’s needed that’s considered to be relevant information or relevant evidence that could be useful in court, that that first step will increase the probability that in the future people who escape to another country with illegal funds will be returned eventually to their country. So that’s the goal of it. Now, how fast that happens, when that happens, is another issue, but that is the goal. And obviously, if the Chinese were to better understand what kinds of evidence is needed, and if they can provide that to us or to any other country, then obviously, the chances that they will be repatriated or be brought back would be higher.

MODERATOR: All right. Do you want to take one more?

MR. WANG: Sure, I’ll take one, yeah.

QUESTION: Matt Field with —

MODERATOR: Wait just one second.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Matt Field with NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Just on the corruption efforts, can you just clarify how many countries were involved in these corruption meetings you attended? Were there bilateral meetings just between the U.S. and China? And so can you imagine a day when the U.S. would be helping China track down corrupt officials here in the U.S. and sending them back to China? Thank you very much.

MR. WANG: Sure. No, it wasn’t bilateral. I didn’t count exactly who was there, but I would imagine almost all 21 economies were involved. It was open, certainly, to all 21 economies. And again, the first day was a workshop, a high-level – well, there are three – actually, three days of meetings. The first day was a working group meeting of the anti-corruption and transparency working group. That’s one day.

The second day that I mentioned Minister Huang Shuxian went is the high-level workshop on anti-bribery. And not only were there 21 economies all invited – and many did go, because I was there – they were also on the panel people from Indonesia, people from Malaysia, other people who were speaking on that panel. And also there was private sector, so companies like Siemens and so on actually made presentations. And from the United States, the SEC, Securities and Exchange Commission, had people there. Department of Justice had people there. And so it was a 21-member APEC discussion on anti-corruption.

And – oh, whether or not I can see a day when the United States will actually work with China to bring Chinese criminals back to China, I’ll say that we already do. Again, I worked in China for many years, and we already have a lot of cases where – whether it’s from China, from Americans sent back to the United States or Chinese sent back to China in some cases – fewer of those, probably. But we’ve – not just in the criminal cases, but other cases – we have cooperated. There were some cases where we have actually sent people back to China when I was deputy chief of mission in Beijing.

The question then is: How many of them? Of course, the Chinese would like more, obviously, so we are cooperating already. The question is: How much more cooperation can we have? And there we require, again, a better understanding of what kind of evidence we need for this to happen. And if it’s provided to us, then we’ll continue to cooperate. We have something called the JLG, the Joint Liaison Group, that meets several times a year. And that’s where we are already bilaterally exchanging information about each other’s practices as well as information on specific cases. And we also have what we call ILEA program, where we actually bring a lot of law enforcement officials to Bangkok where we have a training center, and that has included some Chinese in the past for the last 10-20 years. So we are working together already on this issue.

MODERATOR: All right. Well —

MR. WANG: One last one?

MODERATOR: All right.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Hello, okay? My name is Inoue from Kyodo News of Japan. I’m just wondering whether you had any chance to discuss about cyber issue with your Chinese counterparts, because Chinese Government has denied the U.S. allegation about the cyber theft and they refuse to have working group on cyber issue during the S&ED. So I’m just wondering where you are on this issue.

MR. WANG: Okay, good. The simple answer is that within APEC we did not discuss this. It was not an APEC topic. But as you know, they had an S&ED recently and that’s where they were discussed. Now, obviously, I understand that at the Strategic Security Dialogue that it wasn’t an official topic but the two sides discussed it, how can we deal with this issue. But I was not involved in the S&ED so I don’t know to what extent they discussed it, but I know the topic was certainly raised in that context.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. WANG: Yes, we have not discussed this issue through APEC. It’s a bilateral issue so it’s not an issue with Indonesia-U.S., Papua New Guinea. They’re not interested in this issue. So yeah, but that’s a bilateral issue.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, everyone. We’ll call this briefing concluded.

MR. WANG: And thank you very much for coming. Appreciate it.

# # #

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: August 21, 2014

2:22 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Good afternoon, everyone, and I’m very sorry for the delay. I hate to do that, but thank you for your flexibility and bearing with us today. Just one item at the top, and then, Deb, I will turn it over to you.

One year ago today, the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad launched a deadly chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus, where more than 1,000 people were killed. The Assad regime’s unconscionable and indiscriminate attack on August 21st, 2013 used cruel weaponry that has long been internationally condemned, further exposing the regime’s total disregard for human life.

Though we removed and have now destroyed the most dangerous chemicals in the regime’s declared stockpiles, a number of critical issues remain unresolved, including discrepancies and omissions related to Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to OPCW. These and our other concerns must be fully resolved.

The haunting images of unspeakable human suffering on that day and throughout every other day of this tragic conflict remind the international community that Assad long ago forfeited his legitimacy to lead the Syrian people, of the need to hold the Assad regime accountable for this and other atrocities against the Syrian people perpetrated during this conflict, and of the urgency of addressing all dimensions of the Syrian crisis. The United States remains steadfast in our resolve to continue working with key allies and partners to do so.

Deb.

QUESTION: Hi.

MS. HARF: Hello.

QUESTION: I’d like to start with Foley, if I could.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The United States has always said that it’s never going to negotiate with terrorists, and I was just wondering that in light of this particular case, what kind of discussion is going on now within the Administration about negotiating with terrorists or paying ransoms or —

MS. HARF: None, none. We do not make concessions to terrorists. That includes – we do not pay ransoms. One of the main ways ISIL has been funded throughout this conflict has been from ransom payments that others have paid. We believe just in 2014 that that’s in the millions of dollars. So we believe that paying ransoms or making concessions would both put our – all Americans overseas at greater risk for kidnapping and in harm’s way, but that ransoms would also fund and finance exactly the groups we are trying to degrade their capabilities.

QUESTION: What about a family, if they particularly wanted to negotiate?

MS. HARF: That’s the U.S. Government’s position. I can only speak for us. I don’t want to speak for any family that would ever be in this kind of situation and what decisions they would make.

QUESTION: Would that be, like, illegal though? It would be illegal?

MS. HARF: Would it be illegal?

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: I don’t know the answer.

QUESTION: What do you know about this confirmation that they asked this – for a ransom of $132.5 million?

MS. HARF: For those kind of details that I know the family has spoken to and others, we’re not going to be confirming or talking about those details in any way of those conversations.

QUESTION: Did the government get any kind of a forewarning that they were – or did they threaten that they would kill him? Did the U.S. Government get any kind of advance —

MS. HARF: Well, we did not. The U.S. Government did not —

QUESTION: — notice of this?

MS. HARF: — have contact with ISIL, so let’s set that aside. We’re not going to get into the details of any possible communications between the captors and families or anyone else. I think it’s not really our place to do that. What we do know, and what I will say, is that every day Jim Foley and these other Americans are in the captivity of ISIL, their lives are at risk, and we know that. But for more specifics, I’m just not going to get into those.

QUESTION: Okay, I have some more but we’ll go around.

MS. HARF: Okay, let’s go down the first row.

QUESTION: Do you know —

MS. HARF: Lesley, and then —

QUESTION: Do you know if – how does it impact the U.S. when European countries pay for the ransom of their – of citizens that are held captive? How does that affect how – perhaps, treatment of U.S. hostages?

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen any comparison of how it affects other hostages. What I have – do know and what I just said is that we believe – the United States Government believes very strongly that paying ransom to terrorists gives them a tool in the term – in the form of financing that helps them propagate what they’re doing. And so we believe very strongly that we don’t do that for that reason. And as I said, in 2014 alone, I think ISIL’s gotten in the millions of dollars from kidnapping of Western citizens, and obviously we believe very strongly that we need to cut off their funding and cut off their ability to operate, and don’t want to put other American citizens in harm’s way.

QUESTION: Do you have a figure, an updated figure – I think somebody asked yesterday, but you didn’t have it – was how many – what is the U.S. estimate as far as hostages that ISIS has in its —

MS. HARF: Overall?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: We’re not going to get into the specific numbers. We don’t want to put too many specifics out there, obviously, while they’re still being held. I – we talked to – we can talk a little bit about the operation, if you want, that we talked about last night, but there are – that operation was intended to rescue Mr. Foley and a small number of other Americans. We’re not going to go into more specifics than that for their security reasons.

QUESTION: Was it just one operation?

MS. HARF: There was, yes. The one they spoke about last night? Yes.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: That was one. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And there’s been no other operations before that, or even attempts?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t confirm one way or the other reports or any other specifics about special operations undertakings. We did not have the preference to in this case either, but when it became clear that several press outlets had the story and were going to be publishing it, we were forced to acknowledge it.

QUESTION: Could you tell us when that operation took place?

MS. HARF: It was earlier this summer. Won’t give more specific details than that.

QUESTION: July?

MS. HARF: Earlier this summer.

Yes.

QUESTION: Again on the ransom policy. Is there the beginning of a debate within the Administration on the ransom policy when you compare, as my colleague pointed out, when you compare what European countries are doing and when you see that, for example, the two French journalists who were held with James Foley are free and alive?

MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that there’s a debate inside the U.S. Government. We have had this policy in place for a very long time. It’s in place to protect our citizens overseas and also to not provide terrorists with the funding they need to continue to carry out their heinous acts. So this is a longstanding policy, one that I think we believe in is the best way to keep people safe overseas and not give more incentive for other Americans to be kidnapped.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: Marie, which countries have – which countries does the U.S. believe have actually paid ransoms?

MS. HARF: I know there are a variety of reports out there. I don’t have details to confirm for you on that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. talking with its allies, in the EU in particular, about strengthening the existing sanctions against al-Baghdadi and others in IS in order to basically underscore the need to starve them of funding, if you believe that this is critical to defeating this organization?

MS. HARF: We are. And just a couple of things I got a funding. There were a lot of questions about this yesterday, so I got some facts on this. We did – the State Department did designate al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, in October 2011, as well as the spokesman for ISIL just recently. They’re designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under an executive order. So obviously, this prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with these officials. And one of them, Said, was the person you asked about who had been arrested in Kuwait. We had seen reports of his release after being arrested. We’re seeking more information on those; can’t confirm those one way or the other. But he’s one of those that the Treasury Department had designated. They designated five additional people as well.

ISIL’s funding comes from many sources. It comes from criminal activity in Iraq and Syria; bank heists, as we saw in Mosul; extortion; robberies; smuggling; and kidnapping for ransom, as well as raiding villages and towns. It also controls some petroleum facilities in eastern Syria. It does also receive some money from outside donors, which I think is something folks in here asked about yesterday.

Just two quick points, and then you can follow up. We don’t have information that governments have supported them. Private fundraising networks increasingly rely upon social media to solicit donations and communicate with donors and recipient opposition groups or terrorist organizations. It also enables fundraisers to solicit donations from supporters in countries where otherwise it would be banned, such as Saudi Arabia.

And then finally, fundraisers collect money through events held at private residences, wire transfers, informal financial transfer systems at mosques. We’ve seen some of this in the past. These tactics aren’t new, but that’s also one of the ways ISIL raises money.

QUESTION: But again —

MS. HARF: Go ahead, Roz. Wait. Roz, a follow-up.

QUESTION: Yeah. But again, going back to the point about your suggestion that other governments have indeed given money to IS in order to get the safe return of their citizens, what is the U.S. Government doing to try to impress upon these other governments that doing so undercuts the very legitimacy of the sanctions regime and possibly creates more of a security risk to the U.S., to other countries than just the short-term and very —

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: — understandable desire to get people home?

MS. HARF: Right. We’re having the conversation. We’ve had it for some time. I don’t have more specifics on that for you. I’m happy to check and see if there are.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any figure on the actual amount of money that ISIS has? I mean, there were figures today —

MS. HARF: Let me see.

QUESTION: — that talks about something like $3 billion. Are you aware of that?

MS. HARF: I could check on that, Said. I think my colleagues at the Treasury Department might have some more on that. I don’t know if I have an overall number here. They do have quite a bit of money —

QUESTION: Okay. And you’re saying —

MS. HARF: — quite a bit.

QUESTION: Yeah, I’m sorry. And you’re saying that most of that money is – or these revenues come from kidnappings and ransoms and so on?

MS. HARF: And criminal activities like attacking banks —

QUESTION: Maybe drugs?

MS. HARF: — raiding towns, things —

QUESTION: Dealing in drugs or doing something like this —

MS. HARF: Things like that.

QUESTION: — or dealing in arms?

MS. HARF: I haven’t heard that, but you know.

QUESTION: Okay. Now can you tell us – I think the GlobalPost said that they received a message that ISIL was intending to kill Mr. Foley. Have you heard about that?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to confirm those specifics one way or the other. They can speak to those specifics. I know they have.

QUESTION: Okay. Now on the operation itself – the operation, the failed operation, whatever – now it’s similar in many ways to Eagle Claw, which was done in 1980, maybe. Was there any assets left behind in this case?

MS. HARF: No, not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Were there any military – U.S. military assets or —

MS. HARF: Check with the Defense Department, but not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: But to the best of your knowledge, they didn’t leave any equipment or —

MS. HARF: Correct. And as folks have said – and again, the Defense Department can speak to this better – the intelligence picture dictated the timing of the operation. They unfortunately were not present. There were a number of fatalities on the other side, none on the U.S. side. And once it was determined the hostages were not present, the U.S. forces left.

QUESTION: Well, obviously, to conduct the operation, there must have been quite solid intelligence in this case.

MS. HARF: Correct. And the President believed —

QUESTION: So what could possibly have gone wrong?

MS. HARF: Well, the President believed there was sufficient intelligence to launch this operation. Look, this – the intelligence picture is a very difficult one. And as we all know, and having come from that world, you can develop an intelligence picture, and the President felt it was sufficient enough to act on, particularly given the danger we believe the hostages are in. And sometimes, unfortunately, these things happen.

But I will say, setting aside this one operation, every single day before and after that operation and today, we have many, many resources, every tool at our disposal, to try and find these people and bring them home. That work is ongoing.

QUESTION: And my last question on this: I remember some – a couple years ago or maybe a year and a half ago, former Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that it was a wrong policy not to have engagement with Syria, not to have a mission in Damascus, because that does compromise your ability to sort of source out intelligence and so on. In retrospect, is it – was it a wrong policy not to have any kind of contact with Syria?

MS. HARF: Not – well, we make decisions on our embassy based on security reasons and other considerations, and that decision was made a long time ago. But I will say that we have enormous intelligence resources dedicated not just to finding and bringing these hostages home, but also to the overall picture in Syria as well. And in terms of the intelligence, the President and his advisors believe the information that we possess, which is collected through various sources over a period of time, combined, obviously, with the very real threat, warranted the action we took. Everybody involved in the operation performed exactly as they were supposed to. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the outcome that we all would have hoped for.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on this?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Number one, do you know of any instances where Mr. Foley tried to escape?

MS. HARF: I don’t have those details.

QUESTION: Number two, do you believe that Mr. Sotloff is still alive?

MS. HARF: Again, not going to get into any of those details or questions.

QUESTION: To investigate Foley, Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Comey have said they want to use sort of traditional law enforcement to do this. Has there been any outreach to the powers in the area to facilitate U.S. personnel, or will there be to conduct —

MS. HARF: From a law enforcement perspective?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: I can check with our law enforcement colleagues. Obviously, there will be a criminal investigation, as there always is when there is an American citizen death overseas, as the FBI and DOJ can speak to. There’s also an ongoing intelligence community focus on this to determine who may have been responsible, ongoing intelligence capabilities being put forward to see possibly how those people could be held accountable as well.

QUESTION: And if I can —

MS. HARF: They work in concert with each other, though.

QUESTION: And if I can follow up on that, in just the past 10 minutes or so, Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has asked for an investigation as to how the leak came out. A moment ago, you sort of gave an explanation saying, well, there was a number of news organizations that had this and so we felt it was compelled —

MS. HARF: Absolutely. We had no intention of ever making this public, period – I want to be very clear about that – for the operational security both of the special operators and also of the remaining hostages. It became clear to us when a number of news outlets, including some represented in this room, came to the U.S. Government recently with very detailed information that had been provided to them. I have no idea who provided it. We were forced at that point to acknowledge it, given they were – many of these outlets, if not all of them, were going to run stories one way or the other.

QUESTION: But that said, then is Chairman McKeon’s call for a probe wrongheaded?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen the call specifically, so I don’t want to comment on it. But as I think I made clear from the Administration perspective, we did not have an intention of making this public.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. frustrated that the attempted raid was leaked to several in the media?

MS. HARF: We know how this all works, and I understand there is a huge interest in what we might do as the United States Government to bring our people home. I fully recognize that. We had briefed the families on it. Congress was notified, of course, in a classified way at the time. So I don’t want to be overly critical of it; I was just explaining how it eventually did come out. We were not planning to put it out, but once it did we were forced to acknowledge.

QUESTION: How does this hurt future U.S. efforts to try to get the remaining hostages back?

MS. HARF: Well, I’d refer to my colleagues at the Defense Department for a tactical assessment of that. Obviously, we want every tool in the toolbox available to us. If in the future we were to undertake similar operations, we would obviously want those available to us, which is why a lot of the operational details we are still not releasing or talking about or confirming on the operational side for that reason so we can preserve that ability to use that in the future.

QUESTION: And you might have gotten into this yesterday, but can you describe at this point what kind of support the U.S. Government is providing to the Foley family, especially given that trying to repatriate his remains is pretty well nigh impossible?

MS. HARF: We have – since we learned of his capture, the State Department, the FBI, officials from the intelligence community and the White House and others have been in touch with the Foley family and the Sotloff family. We have remained in close contact with them. The State Department and the FBI reached out when we got notified, unfortunately, of what had happened, and we are providing assistance to the family in any way we can. There is the question of repatriation. As you mentioned, it is a difficult one. We believe it’s an important one. We will help in any way we can, but it will be difficult.

QUESTION: Change of topics?

MS. HARF: Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: The same topic.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: First one is related to there are some reports about that the Twitter accounts of ISIL are stopped or banned or whatever. I don’t know their exact – is this all the accounts or part of the accounts or what —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: — how these —

MS. HARF: — so I’d let Twitter speak more broadly to this, but the State Department and the Defense Department did reach out to social media sites like Twitter and YouTube, particularly the night the video and the photos were released, to highlight for them accounts that may be violating their own usage policies. And so they – and Twitter, I think, has talked about this on the record – will take action when there are things that violate those policy, like these kind of videos or photos. So broadly speaking, I think Twitter can speak to their own policies, but that’s the communications we’ve had.

QUESTION: Talking about ISIL, it’s like yesterday you described all these confrontation may take place more and more, and the question is now in the area is like and all the people are asking is make a difference now in the type and the scope and the tactics of confrontation with ISIL than it was like 10 days ago or a week ago?

MS. HARF: Well, let’s – two points on that. As I said yesterday, we don’t rule anything out in terms of protecting our people or bringing those to justice who have hurt our people wherever country that’s in. And I’m not indicating decisions made in any way, shape, or form, but I just want to be very clear that we maintain the ability and retain the capability to go after people who harm our citizens wherever they are. So let’s do Point A there.

Point B is we’re still very focused, and let’s not lose sight of what we’re doing in Iraq that’s been going after ISIL, both obviously setting aside the humanitarian situation but outside – around Mount Sinjar, helping break the siege there by hitting ISIL targets, protecting Erbil, helping the Iraqis take back the Mosul Dam from ISIL. We are very focused on going after ISIL strategically when it impacts the goals the President laid out in Iraq, and we’re looking long-term at how we can do that more going forward. But we are engaged very heavily right now in fighting them and in helping to build capability of the Iraqis to do that.

QUESTION: The reason I am asking you this question because you are mentioning Mount Sinjar and Erbil and all these things, but the real issue now is becoming different. I mean, even they are announcing ISIL people in their message, whatever the recorded messages and other messages, that now we are in a war with America.

MS. HARF: This is not about ISIL versus the United States. I think I made that clear yesterday. They are killing anyone who gets in their way – Sunni, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, Iraqis, Syrians – anyone who gets in their way, and now an American. So this is not about what the United States is or isn’t doing. This is about ISIL’s stated commitment to murder, rape, enslave people who don’t agree with their ideology and who get in their way. And I think the more we can say that – because it’s true – it’s important for people to remember that as they look at the overall picture.

QUESTION: The reason that I’m asking this question because it’s – it – I mean, I – in realities and in politics is matter how they look to us or how they look to United States. It’s not how they – we look to them or we are seeing it. It’s like – but they are announcing that it’s a war against America. Right or wrong, that’s what they are saying.

MS. HARF: Well, they can say whatever they’d like. But what I am making clear is that’s not what ISIL represents, and they don’t represent any religion. They are at war with everybody they come into contact with. And that’s why we are very focused, when we outline goals, on attacking their targets when they threaten those goals; on helping the Iraqis gain in capability to fight this threat on their own; and, to be very clear, holding people accountable when they hurt our people. That’s something we’re very focused on and that’s certainly what will be a guiding principle of our action going forward.

QUESTION: The other concern which is usually raised to those who have some kind of memory, which is like 30 years ago, 40 years ago, whenever these kind of confrontations were happening – like in the case of Beirut, the Marines barrack and others – the next step of United States was to withdraw from the confrontation.

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think that’s been universally true. Look at Afghanistan. When we were attacked, we took the fight to them.

QUESTION: I’m just trying to – I mean —

MS. HARF: I know. I’m just bringing a different historical comparison forward, that I think this Administration particularly has shown – very willing to, no matter how long it takes, find people who have killed Americans, who have harmed Americans, and bring them to justice. We have a history of that. There’s – that’s something we’re certainly very, very committed to here.

QUESTION: You think, Madam —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: We’re all going to do one at a time here.

QUESTION: One more.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: Let’s start here on this and go across and then go to Roz.

QUESTION: You think, Madam, this is going to be major discussion of issue at the United Nations upcoming General Assembly meetings, and because who is funding them and who’s arming them and how to stop this new – many people call new face of terrorism or al-Qaida?

MS. HARF: I think it will be. And as we’ve talked about a little bit, the President will be chairing a Security Council session on foreign fighters, particularly Syria and Iraq. I think it will be an incredibly important decision – or discussion, excuse me – around the General Assembly. When you have this many world leaders in one place, I don’t know, quite frankly, how it couldn’t be.

QUESTION: And you think you need major powers with you like China and Russia?

MS. HARF: We need everyone who will join us in this fight against ISIL.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Yes, Elliot. I’m —

QUESTION: — can you stay on that – on the same —

MS. HARF: Yeah, but I’m going to go across. I’m going to go across, as I said I was going to. I will get to all of you.

Yes, Elliot.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. I wanted to follow up on something you just said on your outreach to Twitter and other social media. You said you let them know of content that violated their own —

MS. HARF: That may – yeah, so they – their usage policies. So there are certain things that violate those policies. Obviously, the kind of videos we’ve seen do, and we would ask for them to be taken down in accordance with their usage policies.

QUESTION: Right. So – but you guys wanted the video down, but —

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — you didn’t make the argument to them that it was terrorist propaganda? It was on the —

MS. HARF: I can look at what their – I don’t know what, exactly, their usage policy says in terms of what is okay and what’s not. But in terms of that specifically in the video, it was because of the graphic nature of it.

QUESTION: Okay. And is there any —

MS. HARF: But – there may be more details in their policy.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Well, according to the Guardian – sorry. According to the Guardian, the person who killed James Foley is a British jihadist, and he’s the leader of a British group – a group of fighters in Syria. Is the information correct? Have you confirmed his identity?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re working on that right now, working very closely with the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Cameron came out yesterday and said it’s looking increasingly likely that it was a British citizen, so we are working with them on that. We are concerned about the fact that a number of Westerners, including a small number of Americans, have joined this fight. So that is something we’re working very, very closely with them on right now.

QUESTION: Do you know – according to the Guardian, the – Britain’s security services said there are increasing numbers of homegrown terrorists leaving the country to fight in Syria and Iraq. So you said you’re – you have those kind of concerns you will have a similar trend in the U.S., right?

MS. HARF: I think it’s a much smaller number, but we are concerned about foreign fighters going there. It will be a key topic of conversation at the General Assembly.

QUESTION: Are you going to take any actions to deal with the situation?

MS. HARF: We’ve been taking a number of actions, I think, to deal with the situation. Look, we have tried to work with countries in the region to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters from anywhere. I think there are fighters from over 50 countries now that we assess have joined the fight on the side of ISIL. So we’re very focused on dealing with this and working with other countries in the region to really crack down on the places and ways they can get in. But once they’re in Syria, the Syria-to-Iraq pipeline, unfortunately, has become quite porous, and there’s been a lot of fighters going back and forth over that border.

QUESTION: As we know, there is a second hostage in ISIL, and are you going to call on ISIL to release him?

MS. HARF: Yes, I did yesterday.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes, yes. On —

QUESTION: Yeah, just —

MS. HARF: — ISIL?

QUESTION: Yeah. Back for a second to that UNGA summit thing.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is it an invitation thing only – invitation only or —

MS. HARF: It’s a Security Council session, so I’m assuming all the members of the Security Council will be present. I don’t know beyond that what participation will look like.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s not like you’re sending – invitations already went out and —

MS. HARF: I think – oh, no, no.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I don’t think any invitations have gone out. I think we’re still working through those details.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Marie —

MS. HARF: Yes, on this. Staying on ISIL?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: On the general broader fight against ISIL, while President Obama, the British prime minister, and also the French president and foreign minister, they all spoke about this – that they need to get moving, the French foreign minister also suggested – well, the president suggested an international conference on the subject and that there should be a universal strategy. Apparently, the foreign minister has said that they would invite regional countries, including Iran, to that conference. Iran’s foreign minister today has said that Tehran —

MS. HARF: I think there was a little garble here. Do you want me to – about Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments?

QUESTION: Tehran is in touch with a number of countries. Number one, is the U.S. one of those countries discussing this? And they have conditioned their cooperation in fighting ISIL upon the relief of all nuclear sanctions.

MS. HARF: So let’s just talk about this for a little bit. There were – there was a story that Foreign Minister Zarif had linked its help with ISIS in Iraq to a lifting of Western sanctions. We have seen the story. We do not believe that the report is accurate.

We understand that the Iranian foreign minister – and you’re never going to believe this – quoted in the story as referring to Iraq the country was actually referring to Arak, the Iranian nuclear facility. We’ve looked at the language a couple of times, actually, and think he was not linking in that specific quote fighting ISIS in Iraq to lifting of Western sanctions. He was talking about making progress on Arak, the nuclear facility, to lifting of Western sanctions.

Right, I know. It’s almost unbelievable.

QUESTION: But this was a Farsi report.

MS. HARF: Yeah, and our —

QUESTION: And they can’t – the spelling is totally different.

MS. HARF: I know, and our – but we think there was a mistranslation. Our Farsi speakers have taken a bunch of looks at it and think that he was referring to that. I’ll let him speak for himself, and if he wants to clarify and disagree with me – I am not a Farsi speaker – I’m sure he would have or his people would have further clarification. But on that particular AFP report, I just wanted to —

QUESTION: Actually, I cited a Farsi report on that.

MS. HARF: Yeah, but it came from a translation of the Farsi, and we think that was not accurate. I know it’s very —

QUESTION: Then what about his comment about – that Tehran is in touch with a number of countries on possible cooperation and participation in a conference?

MS. HARF: Again, I don’t have more details on that article, but on that specific point I just wanted to be clear on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I know. It’s very odd, actually.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: What’s your assessment of Iran’s role? Are they helping in fighting ISIS in Iraq, or they are just watching?

MS. HARF: I don’t have an assessment of that. I am happy to check. We think any country in the region should play a role if they can, a positive role in helping fight ISIL, and a huge part of that is through promoting and helping the Government of Iraq as it gets up on its feet and is inclusive. So I think that, obviously, if there’s a positive role Iran can play, they should play a positive role.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can we change topics?

MS. HARF: Anything else on this?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Yeah, and I’ll go to you in the back. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Just a couple more.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I just wondered if you had any comment on – there’s some analysts who are looking at this on the flip side and saying that ISIL knows that the U.S. is not going to pay ransoms, okay? And so they – that gives them an incentive to kill Americans that they captured because then they can get more money out of the Europeans when they are asking for ransoms there.

MS. HARF: But on the —

QUESTION: Do you think there’s anything going on with that?

MS. HARF: I don’t, Deb. And on the flip side of that, if they knew we paid ransoms, they would kidnap more Americans because they would think they would get more money, and we don’t want to fund terrorism.

QUESTION: Okay. A couple more things.

MS. HARF: We feel very strongly about that.

QUESTION: You mentioned all the different places that they’re getting their money. Do you have any idea of, like – not what percentage, but do they get a small amount from ransoms or just a large amount or —

MS. HARF: Let me see if I have —

QUESTION: Is there any kind of —

MS. HARF: I don’t know if I have percentages of that. Let me see what I have here.

QUESTION: I mean, should we think it’s a big amount?

MS. HARF: Yeah, most of it is from criminal and terrorist activities. That’s – a small portion is from outside donors.

QUESTION: Okay. And on the outside donors, do you know which countries we’re talking about?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s private citizens. It’s not —

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand. No governments.

MS. HARF: It’s not any governments. We’ve worked very hard with a number of particularly Gulf countries, whether it’s Kuwait or Qatar, obviously other countries as well on this.

QUESTION: Okay, and then just one more. I know you can’t talk about the operation, but can you tell us if there were any other non-kinetic type approaches to getting him back?

MS. HARF: Non – I mean, we’re putting a lot of intelligence resources towards this.

QUESTION: Were there any other ideas that were being pursued?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to outline specifics, particularly because we still have hostages there. So we’re looking at a wide range of options, every tool at our disposal, to try and get – find them, locate them, and then return them home. But I’m not going to outline specifics so we have the ability to use them if we want to.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Different subject.

MS. HARF: Well, Said’s taking us to a different subject.

QUESTION: Can we go to Gaza?

MS. HARF: We can.

QUESTION: Marie, are there any efforts ongoing by the Administration, by the Secretary of State in particular, to broker some sort of a cease-fire? Because there were statements yesterday by the Israelis that this can go on for a very long time, and the humanitarian situation is really getting —

MS. HARF: Well, we do remain concerned about the developments. The Secretary has been engaged with a number of relevant parties. We also condemn Hamas’s targeted attack on Ben Gurion Airport and Hamas’s threat against civilian aviation. So that’s something that is unacceptable. The rocket fire needs to stop. And we do want them to return to cease-fire talks, so that is something we are certainly still pressing with relevant parties.

QUESTION: Okay. But to the best of your knowledge, there are no actually ongoing activities —

MS. HARF: Our —

QUESTION: — to broker a cease-fire by the Secretary of State?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve never been playing the brokering role.

QUESTION: I mean – okay, trying to mediate or get the —

MS. HARF: Well, he’s been playing the role he’s been playing throughout the cease-fire talks, which is discussing and helping where we can with the different parties.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, I asked you yesterday about Israel and about the commission, and you said that you trust Israel investigating itself.

MS. HARF: We call on them to.

QUESTION: You call on them. So do you trust their past efforts that they have done or future efforts to investigate themselves? I mean —

MS. HARF: Well, it’s not about trust. It’s about seeing if their investigation’s done, and we keep pushing that with them.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, should they investigate each case on its own, case by case? For instance, the reason I ask this, apparently a Palestinian boy, a teenager, was taken at gunpoint by the Israeli army as a human shield for five days. I mean, he describes and details what happened and so on. So should these incidents, if they happen – first of all, do you condemn these incidents?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t have any idea what incident you’re talking about, and I’m sorry about that.

QUESTION: Okay. Well —

MS. HARF: We think they should investigate any allegation of wrongdoing or of civilian deaths that arise. Yes, we do.

QUESTION: Would you raise with them the abduction of a 16-year-old, Ahmad Abu Raida, on the 23rd of July, and they haven’t —

MS. HARF: I can check into that case.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I can check.

QUESTION: Now let me also ask you – another development just occurred. Apparently, the holdup on the missiles to Israel was just lifted. Is that likely to —

MS. HARF: Really?

QUESTION: Well, or apparently until then – on the way of being resolved —

MS. HARF: There was never —

QUESTION: I don’t know. I mean, could you tell us whether —

MS. HARF: There was —

QUESTION: Was there any new – any change in the status?

MS. HARF: Let me check. Let me check on the status. The – there was not a hold. The process was moving forward, as I said.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: We had just put some additional steps into place. So let me see if it’s progressed further. I can check on that. I hadn’t heard that, but it very well may have.

QUESTION: Okay. But are you concerned that this would add to the – sort of the explosive power that Israel has been sort of deploying limitlessly almost, using bunker busters and so on, killing large number of civilians and so on? Wouldn’t that exacerbate the situation?

MS. HARF: Well, Said, we’ve always said we will continue to support Israel militarily. They are facing a very serious threat. We’ve also said throughout this conflict that they need to do more to protect civilian casualties, and we believe we can do both.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. My last question on this. There’s also a fear that there is likely the spread of some sort of germ and microbes and diseases among civilian population in Gaza, which could conceivably also be communicated in the neighboring areas and so on. Are you discussing with the Israelis the likelihood of the breakout of disease?

MS. HARF: I haven’t seen that specifically, but we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, particularly the large number of internally displaced peoples and all the things that go along with that, whether it’s needing food or water or medical care. So we are concerned and discussing it.

I’m going to go to the back here. I promised you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

QUESTION: On Gaza.

QUESTION: I have one on the same subject.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie.

MS. HARF: Just wait one second.

Yeah, okay.

QUESTION:  On South Korea. I just learned the secretary of U.S. Treasury Department Cohen visit to South Korea right now. Can you tell us what is the purpose of his visit to South Korea?

MS. HARF: Let me check. I knew he was there. Let me check with my colleagues at Treasury, and we’ll get you something – or they should have some information about his visit.

QUESTION: Do you think the United States will have a new individual sanctions against North Korea?

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t tend to preview sanctions before we announce them, but it’s been an ongoing conversation that David Cohen and others have had with the South Koreans. I’m sure he’s there, though, talking about a range of Treasury-related issues.

Elliot, did you have one on Gaza?

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you know – what can you say about – apparently, this week EU diplomats in the UN have been pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to end the conflict in Gaza and restart peace talks. Do you know anything about that, or can you —

MS. HARF: I don’t have any specifics on that and hadn’t seen those reports. We’re obviously looking at a range of ways to get a cease-fire in place here, and if that could involve some UN action, I’m sure we would have that conversation. But nothing to preview or announce.

QUESTION: But broadly speaking, the U.S. would support a UN Security Council resolution?

MS. HARF: I think it depends on what it looks like. Depends what it looks like.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Syria, just one minute?

MS. HARF: You can, yes.

QUESTION: You mentioned that there are a small number of American jihadist fighters in Syria. So do you have an accurate number?

MS. HARF: Let me see if I – I’m not sure I have a number. Just give me one second on this. No, just a small number. We think that there are approximately 12,000 fighters from at least 50 countries in Syria – foreign fighters – including a small number of Americans that may have traveled to Syria since the beginning of the conflict. They may all not still be there.

QUESTION: But it could be dozens, it could be hundreds or —

MS. HARF: Small number. I’ll check and see if there’s more clarity.

QUESTION: And do you know if some of these people have already returned to the United States?

MS. HARF: Obviously, that’s something we’re very concerned about. I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Marie, on this very issue, a lot of these fighters have come from Europe and go to Syria. Apparently, they cross the border with Turkey. Are you talking to Turkey to perhaps tighten up control over their border?

MS. HARF: We’re talking to all of the bordering countries to help cut off foreign fighters from going into Syria.

QUESTION: Because as it seems, people with European passports can travel easily in to Turkey and out and —

MS. HARF: It’s a huge concern. Yeah, it’s a huge concern.

Yes.

QUESTION: A couple of points on the Ukraine. Russians are pushing for the Security Council supporting a cease-fire in western Ukraine while the humanitarian assistance from Russia is being delivered. I was wondering if the United States is in support of this initiative.

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that initiative. What we would support is the parties on the – we know there has to be a cessation of hostilities during any sort of humanitarian delivery. There’s ongoing discussions right now about inspections and what that will look like. But we’ve called on Russia to use its influence with these separatists to get them to hold their fire. The Ukrainians have said they’ve committed to do that, but the separatists keep firing and keep the hostilities going. So in terms of Security Council, I don’t have anything on that. But we think that the separatists – they could do this on their own without the Security Council.

QUESTION: Okay. And there is another thing I wanted to ask you. There is this group here in the United States which calls itself Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. They —

MS. HARF: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity?

QUESTION: For sanity, yes.

MS. HARF: How am I not a member of that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t know. I don’t know.

MS. HARF: That’s interesting. I have never heard of this. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: They wrote either two or three memoranda on the Malaysian airliner crash in Ukraine, in which they criticized the Administration for both what it said and how it said about this tragedy. I was wondering if the U.S. Government still stands by its conclusions that it made public —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — earlier about that.

MS. HARF: One hundred percent, we still stand by them. I am not aware of that report. I would say it probably is the opposite of its name, but I don’t have any further comment on something I haven’t seen.

QUESTION: And the other thing is —

MS. HARF: I got a little laugh there.

QUESTION: — do you think it might – those conclusions of yours might get updated or —

MS. HARF: We always update our analysis as we get new information, but the information we have from the MH17 crash with – which happened a number of weeks ago, was very strong and very much led to the conclusion that we said at the time, that this was shot down from Russian separatist-controlled territory by a surface-to-air missile that the separatists have. And so look, we’ll continue – the investigation’s ongoing in The Hague in terms of looking at the black

box. I understand some of the remains will be returned to Malaysia today. That’s ongoing, but the evidence shows what happened here very clearly.

QUESTION: Marie, I know that you touched upon the crash site itself and what happened to it earlier this week. Do you have any more information? What is going on? Who controls the crash site? What happened to the remains?

MS. HARF: It’s my understanding the separatists do. In terms of remains, just give me a second, Said. Let me pull up what I have here. I think I have something. Yes, the first group of remains of Malaysian victims of the shoot-down will arrive tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur. Again, would take this opportunity to express our condolences for the families of those killed in this horrific plane crash. Obviously, we’re very focused on investigating and holding people responsible.

As I said earlier, their initial report of the investigation into the cause is expected by the end of August. We have contributed to the investigation both information and expertise through the Department of Justice, the NTSB, and FBI. That was a question I took from Matt the other day.

QUESTION: And the ESAT that you deployed to the Embassy in Kyiv, are they still there?

MS. HARF: The NTSB people?

QUESTION: No, no, no.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry, who are —

QUESTION: ESAT team. It was the – it was the —

MS. HARF: Oh. That’s a good question. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I believe they may – let me check on that for you. It’s a good question.

What else?

QUESTION: On Russia?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: There’s a report that there’s going to be an expert-level meeting next month on INF consultations. Do you have any confirmation of that?

MS. HARF: So just – we have made clear to Russia that we want to talk about this. We’ve notified them of our determination to do so in a senior level bilateral dialogue immediately, with the aim of assuring the U.S. that Russia will come back into compliance. We don’t have a date set for that yet. I think we’re still working out details.

QUESTION: So you say senior – so your preference would be for a senior level, not an expert level?

MS. HARF: Senior level bilateral dialogue.

QUESTION: Okay, so – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, but —

QUESTION: Yeah, no problem.

QUESTION: — it’s a follow-up to that.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The Russians actually said today that it’s going to take place in September, expert level talks in September. Do you have anything on that?

MS. HARF: Okay. Let me check with our team. I know this is what —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: — we had notified them that we wanted to do, so let me check on those conversations for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been nominated for governing AK Party – to lead the governing AK Party – and then being a prime minister succeeding President-elect Erdogan. What would be your assessment on this?

MS. HARF: Well, I understand this is a nomination. There’s a process that has to play out now. We look forward to working with whoever is the next prime minister. And I think we’ll refrain on further comment until that process is over.

QUESTION: And Mr. Davutoglu is someone that the Secretary works very well with, yes?

MS. HARF: The Secretary has worked very closely with Foreign Minister Davutoglu – has spoken to him a number of times this week – very closely on Gaza, on other issues as well.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION:   Pakistan. Madam, first of all I want to set the record straight. Yesterday, my question on Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, comparing with the Iraqi prime minister, those were not my views, but those were the views from Mr. Qadri and Mr. – the cricket player —

MS. HARF: Imran Khan.

QUESTION: — Imran Khan.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: And they have repeated again yesterday the same comment, but they also included (inaudible) and also Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. My question is today: Do you really take these huge demonstrations and the leaders behind them seriously?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re monitoring the demonstrations. Obviously, we think there should be a space in Pakistan for peaceful expression of views. So it’s something we’re looking at. We are in no way involved in the process or the discussion between the parties. Any suggestion to the contrary is completely false. So we’re watching it, but we do think that there needs to be peaceful dialogue and no attempts to change Pakistan’s government through extra-constitutional attempts. So Nawaz Sharif is prime minister; that’s who we will keep working with, as we will with a number of people in Pakistan as well.

QUESTION: And finally, if there were any contacts between Islamabad and Washington about this current situation?

MS. HARF: Ambassador Olson meets quite frequently with a range of officials, and I believe that’s where the contact has occurred.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

MS. HARF: And thank you for clarifying on yesterday.

QUESTION: Thank you, madam.

MS. HARF: Yes. Elliot.

QUESTION:  Thailand?

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: The —

MS. HARF: Skipping around the world today.

QUESTION: Yeah. The legislative assembly has selected the former army – well, the soon-to- be former army chief as prime minister. Do you have any response to that?

MS. HARF: Yes. We hope that the selection of an interim prime minister is a step in a process that leads to the establishment of inclusive democratic institutions and a freely and fairly elected civilian government. We have urged the interim government, once formed, to institute an inclusive reform process that reflects the diversity of views within Thailand, and do remain concerned about the limits on space for freedom of speech and assembly.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything from your colleagues in Thailand about how long he will be interim prime minister?

MS. HARF: We have not. We have not. I know they had talked about some dates for elections, but I haven’t heard more details on that.

QUESTION: Well, if I’m not mistaken, the last time they said was October 2015.

MS. HARF: That’s what I had heard last as well.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: I don’t have any more updates for you.

QUESTION: Okay. And I think the last time we heard about the review of U.S. aid to Thailand was maybe a couple months ago.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are there any updates?

MS. HARF: There’s not. By law, we cannot resume our legally restricted assistance to Thailand until a democratically elected government takes office.

QUESTION: But in terms of the specific elements that are being withheld, are there any others from the last time we heard?

MS. HARF: Nothing new. Nothing new on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: What else?

Yes, in the back.

QUESTION:  Central African Republic.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Earlier this week there were reports of renewed clashes involving international peacekeepers and militants in Bangui. In light of this ongoing unrest in spite of the presence of the international peacekeepers, is the U.S. considering any additional engagement in the CAR to help stem some of this unrest?

MS. HARF: Well, we have been very engaged on this issue and know that the violence there has to stop. We’ve urged all parties to fully abide by and implement the July 2014 cessation of hostilities agreement. We have initiated efforts and are supporting the regional mediation efforts of others to reconcile the parties in the conflict. Just a few points on that.

We’ve committed up to $100 million for equipment, airlift, and training for African and French peacekeeping troops in the CAR. It includes 37 trucks given to the AU mission, an additional 200 vehicles that will start arriving as MISCA transitions to the UN peacekeeping operation in mid-September.

We also remain committed to holding individuals accountable. We’ve implemented UN Security Council and U.S. targeted sanctions against five individuals; believe these are important steps that we’ve taken. I don’t have any additional steps to preview, but we have been engaged in both supporting the peacekeeping and holding people accountable.

Yes. Yes, here, and then to Ali.

QUESTION:  A very light one, offbeat one.

MS. HARF: Can I guess what it is? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yes. Is it correct that the State Department sent a cable to its ambassadors to ban them from participating —

MS. HARF: Not – it wasn’t – it’s not limited. It’s not just about ambassadors. Federal government ethics rules prevent us from using our public offices, such as – high public offices such as ambassadors for private gain, no matter how worthy the cause is. And this is, of course, a wor

Press Releases: Press Availability in Beijing, China

SECRETARY KERRY: Good evening, everybody. Thank you for being patient. We’re delighted to be here. Let me begin by thanking our Chinese hosts for their very warm welcome and for the depth and breadth of the discussions that we had in this year’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

During our meetings with President Xi and Prime Minister Li, Secretary Lew and I discussed a number of important bilateral, regional, and global issues. And we have addressed those issues in great depth with our counterparts over the course of the last two days.

The United States and China are committed to a new model of relations based on practical cooperation but also constructive management of differences. And we recognize the need to avoid falling into the trap of a zero-sum competition, and that recognition is now driving our partnership on issues from climate change to wildlife trafficking to Afghanistan to peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.

This week’s Strategic and Economic Dialogue was an opportunity to take stock of our relationship, and frankly, to be able to build on the progress we’ve made in these last years and move past some of the differences which have accented the relationship in the most recent months, and frankly, to push for practical action, joint action that will make a difference, and that in the end defines the relationship.

During our joint session on climate change, I spoke with our Chinese counterparts on how we can work together to address one of the defining threats of our time, and one where the United States and China have a unique role to play together. We agreed to adopt stronger fuel efficiency standards for heavy and light-duty vehicles, and for greenhouse gas emissions standards that will have enormous impact on reducing emissions and improving air quality. We launched four carbon capture utilization and storage demonstration projects and four smart grid demonstration projects that will help to provide for the foundation of a clean energy future which we believe is within reach – which we both believe, I might add, is within reach.

We also took the important step of launching a new initiative on climate change and forests. Secretary Lew and I held in-depth discussions with our Chinese counterparts on key economic issues. And together, we made progress on ensuring that American workers and businesses compete on a level playing field, driving each other to even greater innovation and problem solving. And we explored practical ways to encourage greater Chinese integration into the rules-based international economic and trading system that has helped both of our countries to prosper.

Close U.S.-China cooperation is essential for meeting common regional challenges, and we held in-depth discussions on our military-to-military cooperation, particularly on early warning and communications structures. And we will continue that strategic mil-to-mil relationship, including with additional exercises, additional visits, additional communication in the near term.

The United States and China agreed on the importance and urgency of achieving a denuclearized, stable, and prosperous Korean Peninsula. China shares the same strategic goal, and we discussed the importance of enforcing UN Security Council resolutions that impose sanctions on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and its ballistic missile program. We talked about specific ways in which we intend to work together in order to further our ability to achieve this goal and try and change the dynamic that has existed for the last several years.

China has also strengthened its own sanctions enforcement, but there’s more that each of us can do, and we agreed that there is more that we can do in order to bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations. And obviously, we believe that China has a unique role in this regard.

As part of the S&ED, the United States and China released a joint outcomes document that highlights the breadth and depth of our countries’ cooperation. In recognition of our shared interest in regional and global security, we agreed to form a working group on the shared challenges posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We also took steps to make it easier for millions of Chinese and Americans – tourists, students, business leaders – to be able to travel between our two countries.

The United States and China demonstrated over the course of these two days our serious commitment to addressing challenges facing the international community. We committed to work together on a detailed study of ways to reduce the CO2 emissions of industrial boilers by transitioning from coal-burning boilers to natural gas boilers. And our two countries also issued a strong statement to support humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees and an opposition to the proliferation of and use of chemical weapons.

I also had a productive session with Vice Premier Liu in the Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. We discussed our shared commitment to develop additional exchanges as a foundation for our bilateral relationship going forward. And we were particularly pleased today to hear about China’s commitment to grant 1,000 scholarships to students from historically black colleges and universities.

I also took part in a signing ceremony for six new eco-partnerships that will harness the ingenuity and innovation of the private sector in order to promote economic growth, energy security, and environmental sustainability. And this year’s new EcoPartnerships, we are convinced, will drive change in bio-fuels, battery storage, and other clean technologies.

Even as we sought common ground with China building on areas of common interest, we also had frank discussions about those areas where we have differences.

We continued our conversation on cyber security and cyber theft. And the loss of intellectual property through cyber means has a very chilling effect on innovation and investment. I emphasize that incidents of cyber theft have harmed our businesses and threatened our nation’s competitiveness. And we believe it is essential to continue the discussions in this area.

I also reaffirmed that the United States will continue to stand up for our values and promote universal human rights and freedoms that all people should enjoy. These rights and freedoms are vital to stability and prosperity. And I raised our concerns about some of the recent detentions and arrests of journalists, lawyers, and activists.

We also discussed with our Chinese counterparts the rise of tensions between China and many of its neighbors over maritime disputes. Chinese actions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea have generated concerns. And while the United States does not take sides on the sovereignty questions underlying these territorial disputes, we do believe that claimants should exercise restraint – all claimants – and adhere to peaceful and diplomatic ways of dealing with their disagreements. Throughout our meetings, we emphasized the critical importance of maintaining a rules-based international order, including such principles as freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce, and respect for international law.

So as you can see, we had an enormous agenda. We spent a great deal of time, perhaps more on some than others, but all of these subjects and more were covered. And from our dialogue on trade and investment to intellectual property to maritime security to human rights, we are committed to working through the difficult issues, including through important mechanisms like the S&ED.

So meetings such as these, I think we all came away reinforced in the value of them, in the importance of the dialogue that took place. And I think everybody here left with a sense that this was really constructive. I want to thank our hosts. The Chinese clearly put great effort into this. Their welcome was generous. Their focus was disciplined and comprehensive. And from my position, it was one of the better international meetings of its kind that I have attended. It had a seriousness of purpose and intent, and I think all of us were pleased with the outcome.

So we’d be happy to take a few questions after Secretary Lew has made his statement.

SECRETARY LEW: Thank you very much, and thank you all for being here and for – we apologize for the delay, but the benefit of having good and productive meetings is that they sometimes also run a little bit long, and that’s why we were a little delayed.

Our discussions with our Chinese counterparts over the past two days were focused on key issues of interest to both of our countries and to the global economy, including ways to boost sustainable growth and create jobs through increased trade and investment and by leveling the playing field. Through our engagement in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue this year, we secured key commitments from China that will further implement China’s reforms. These commitments will create new opportunities and deliver concrete benefits to both of our citizens – both our citizens and level the playing field for American workers and firms.

We held discussions on a wide-ranging set of issues and made a number of commitments that help further create a more open and fair economic relationship. I want to briefly highlight a few key areas and the concrete progress that we’ve made that will deliver results for American workers and firms.

Today, China committed to reduce market intervention as conditions permit. It is making preparations to provide greater transparency, including on foreign exchange. This commitment will help accelerate the move to a more market-determined exchange rate and is central to creating a level playing field. This also reflects the increasing role and responsibility China has in promoting balance and strong growth in the global economy.

As the fastest-growing major economy, China offers substantial opportunities for U.S. businesses and workers. Addressing practices that distort trade and impede investment will help the United States further access growing markets and create jobs at home. To this end, China committed to further open up to foreign investment in the services sector, including the financial sector, and will accelerate the revision of its foreign investment catalog.

Building on last year’s announcement, we also agreed this week to intensify negotiations toward a high-standard bilateral investment treaty and begin the process of negotiating China’s negative list in early 2015. China also made new commitments to further reform its state-owned enterprises, which will help provide a level playing field for the U.S. companies that compete here, including significantly increasing the amount of dividend payments that go to the government budget to support social welfare, taking measures to improve their corporate governance structures and providing greater transparency.

We also took steps together to open energy markets to enhance energy security and promote a clean energy future for both our nations and the world. The United States and China reached an agreement on the parameters for their fossil fuel subsidies peer reviews and to provide an update to the G20 in November. The United States and China also signed a memorandum of understanding to increase cooperation in exchanges on transparency, data quality, and policies of China’s strategic petroleum reserve. This commitment will help manage uncertainty in global energy markets, respond to future supply disruptions, and reduce oil price volatility.

We also worked together on expanding opportunities for U.S. firms through promoting a more open and market-oriented financial system by expanding opportunities for U.S. financial service providers and investors, strengthening financial regulatory cooperation, and continuing the development of China’s financial markets.

We also discussed the importance of strengthening the protection and enforcement of intellectual property, which is critical to promoting innovation and fair competition and addressing trade secret theft. China committed to vigorously investigate and prosecute trade secret theft cases, to publish civil and criminal judgments, and to protect trade secrets submitted in regulatory, administrative, and other proceedings.

We welcome the important commitments China made during the dialogue. While these commitments represent real progress for the United States, for China, and the global economy, we still have a lot more work to do. These discussions will continue over the next few months and for many years to come as we continue to strengthen the relationship between our two economic powers. And I join Secretary Kerry in thanking our Chinese colleagues, Vice Premier Wang and Councilor Yang, for the efforts that they and their team put in and for the efforts of our team working together to make the progress that we’re reporting to you tonight.

And with that, we will be happy to take your questions.

MR. RATHKE: The first question tonight goes to Brad Klapper of AP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretaries. Secretary Kerry, in the two days you’ve been here, a lot’s happened in the world. I’ll only ask you about a couple of places. In Afghanistan, which you mentioned, there still seems no clear resolution in sight for the post-election – for the election results. Presidential candidate Abdullah mentioned today that he expects you in the Afghan capital tomorrow. Are you going, and what would you hope to accomplish there?

And then secondly, on the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip, are you worried that the situation is getting so out of hand so quickly that it’s going to be hard for both sides to pull back from the violence? Talking about a few dozen dead now in Gaza, and attacks continuing on Israel, including missiles even aimed at an Israeli nuclear reactor the other day. I mean, is this getting out of hand and does there have to be a resolution quickly? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Brad. With respect to Afghanistan, we are working very closely with all of the stakeholders in Afghanistan with enormous concern, obviously, for the restoration of credibility to the process, the election, either through the Independent Election Commission’s efforts to conduct an audit and to further verify the balloting, or through the joint efforts of the candidates themselves to take steps in order to provide for future leadership in the country. And I’ve been in touch several times with both candidates as well as with President Karzai.

We would encourage both of them to not raise expectations with their supporters, to publicly demonstrate respect for the audit process and the accountability process, and also to show critical statesmanship and leadership at a time when Afghanistan obviously needs it. This is a critical moment for the transition, which is essential to the future governance of the country and the capacity of the ISAF 50-nation-plus support group to be able to continue to be supportive and to be able to carry out the mission which so many have sacrificed so much to achieve.

So it’s our hope very much that over the course of these next days, very soon a way forward can be found that will provide the foundation for Afghanistan to grab a hold of the future that so many millions of voters came out to express their will about just a short time ago. So we’re very hopeful about that and we’ll see what happens over the course of the next days.

QUESTION: And on Gaza and (inaudible)?

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, I’m sorry. Well, the situation on the ground in Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza is obviously not only tense, but it’s very, very dangerous for Israelis and for Palestinians in the aftermath of the deaths of the Israeli and Palestinian youth. And no country, no country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support completely Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.

But de-escalation ultimately is in the interests of all parties – in the interest of the region, in the interests of Israel and the Palestinians.

And I’ve been in touch with both Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, and with others in the region in order to try and see whether or not there is some capacity to be able to restore the status-quo ante with respect to a ceasefire. But clearly that is complicated because the residents of southern Israel who have been forced to live under this rocket fire have been subjected to this conflict because of Hamas’s decision.

Hamas has refused against all movement and trends in the region, against all urging of the Arab community in the region, against all indicators of the Arab Peace Initiative, against all efforts of peace, stubbornly refused to even accept the Quartet principles and to disavow violence as a means of finding a negotiated way forward. A negotiated way forward is the only way, ultimately, to resolve the problems and actually establish a Palestinian state and put in place the security measures and other things necessary.

At this moment, that obviously is not the topic of conversation. At this moment, it is one of saving lives, protecting Israel, exercising the right of self-defense, and trying to de-escalate in a way that accomplishes all of those goals of protecting Israel while at the same time not seeing innocent people brought into the line of fire.

So it’s a dangerous moment, and we will do everything in our power. I’ve made it clear that the United States of America is available to do everything possible, and we are already engaged in trying to see if it is possible to bring an end to the violence and find a different way forward.

MODERATOR: We’ll take another question. Ian Katz, Bloomberg. Right here, thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you. For either Secretary Lew or Secretary Kerry: There is a report out in the last day about Chinese hackers getting into files of the Office of Personnel Management and getting some information of people applying for high-security government jobs. Did either of you discuss that with your Chinese counterparts, and if so, in what form and what was their response?

And I also just have a separate question for Secretary Lew on the Chinese pledges to reduce currency intervention. Can you explain a little bit about what it is they pledged to do, and is there a timetable? What specifically are they going to do, and how does it compare with what you would like to see them do?

And lastly, on the currency. You’ve been pushing for a stronger yuan. Does that imply or mean that you’d like to see a weaker dollar?

SECRETARY KERRY: I’ll just take the cyber thing quickly and then turn it over to Secretary Lew. We were both notified about this alleged incident only minutes, literally, before we came out here. So we did not raise it in the specific term; we raised the subject, obviously. But what we have learned is that apparently this story relates to an attempted intrusion that is still being investigated by the appropriate U.S. authorities. And at this point in time, it does not appear to have compromised any sensitive material. And I’m not going to get into any of the specifics of that ongoing investigation, but we’ve been very clear for some time with our counterparts here that this is in larger terms an issue of concern.

SECRETARY LEW: Ian, on the question of the exchange rate, I think it’s important to go back to the first principles: Why do we raise the issue and make it such an important one? It’s fundamentally about the fairness of the trading system and the opportunity of U.S. workers and firms to compete fairly and for Chinese consumers to have the purchasing power that goes with a fairly valued currency.

We have, I think, successfully gotten an agreement that reflects the decisions made by China’s government to move towards a market-determined exchange rate. By putting in the statement today the commitment to gradually reduce interventions and to limit interventions to what are really extraordinary circumstances, that’s a big change. By indicating publicly that the process of gaining greater transparency on interventions, that’s also a major change. I think that we still have a process ahead of us because the experience of the next few months will tell us a lot about what the real impact is, but it is a very important issue that there be clarity on and that there be an understanding that it is just a basic tenet of moving towards a more market-determined economy that the exchange rate has to move as well to a more market-determined level.

I think that when we think of this in U.S. terms, it is about having there be a level playing field and fair rules of engagement. Market conditions will determine whether rates go up or down, but if they’re increasingly driven by the market with less and less intervention, that’s a good thing. And I think the document today reflects that, and we will now move forward working on the issue and continuing to monitor closely what we see in the coming months.

MR. RATHKE: Next question is Chen Huihui from CCTV.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is for Secretary. Some American analysts believe that the new type of major power relationship that China proposes is a trap, and it means unilateral U.S. accommodation of China’s core interests and therefore the U.S. should not accept that idea. So what is your comment on such a kind of view? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, President Obama has made it clear that the United States of America welcomes the rise of a peaceful and prosperous and stable China, and one that plays a constructive role in the region and in the world, that works by a rules-based structure in concert with other partners. We plan to work together and the U.S. is not, as we have said many times, in a rivalry competition with China in terms of trying to contain it or otherwise.

So we don’t see a problem in defining a great power relationship in the 21st century that is a new model for countries, but it’s not going to be defined by talking about it. It’s not going to be defined by us carving up areas and suggesting there are spheres of influence. It’s going to be defined by our mutual embrace of standards of global behavior and activity that protect the values and the interests that we have long worked by – the norms of international behavior. And that means not engaging in unilateral actions to enforce a particular assertion of sovereignty or otherwise. It means working within the rules-based system.

We don’t take a position on those sovereignty issues, but we do take the position that they ought to be resolved through the legal structures that exist for a resolution of those kinds of disputes. And we certainly had a discussion about those kinds of things.

So we agreed – really, what I think is important about what took place here over the course of these last two days is that China and the United States were able to talk reasonably and cordially, respectfully, even as we differed about some of these kinds of issues.

At the same time, we found there was much more that we agree on and much more where there was a common interest – in having a denuclearized North Korea; in making sure that the region is free to navigation and open for respect for the rule of law; in finding that we share concerns about Afghanistan; that we are working together cooperatively in the P5+1, and China is an important partner in the nonproliferation activity and in the enforcement of the P5+1 efforts; that we agree on Middle East peace and the dangers of the region; that we agree on counterterrorism, and the need to work together in order to reduce threat to all of us. And I could find – I mean, there’s more where we have – on climate change – very serious agreement where we are making breakthrough choices, agreements that were articulated by Secretary Lew on the need to reform economic measures, access to markets, and other things.

So I think that, all in all, when you read the summary of outcomes, you will see that there’s a high level of cooperation, but a respect for the fact that we do differ on certain things, and we will. But managing those differences is a critical component of this new great power relationship.

MODERATOR: Great. We’ll take one last question. Ling Wang with Caixin.

QUESTION: Thank you. Well, I have questions for both tracks. For Secretary Lew, concerning the BIT negotiations, so far what are the difficulties and problems encountered in the first phase? And is China SOE the – your biggest concern in the next phase and —

SECRETARY LEW: Sorry, I couldn’t hear the last part.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. For the first question or the second question?

SECRETARY LEW: It was — the last thing you said.

QUESTION: Is Chinese SOE, state-owned enterprise, your biggest concern in next phase?

And for the strategic track, Secretary Kerry, if there is one thing that you would like to highlight for this year’s dialogue, what is it? And how do you see the economic track and the strategic track affected each other in the past two days’ dialogue? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Say the last part again? How did I see the —

QUESTION: How do you see the two tracks affected each other in the last two days?

SECRETARY KERRY: The economic?

QUESTION: Yeah.

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely. Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SECRETARY LEW: So let me begin with the question about the bilateral investment treaty. And let me take a step back, because I think the importance of the agreement we reached last year where China agreed to basically flip its presumption from its markets being closed to its markets being open was a very dramatic one, and it was one that reflected the mutual interest we had in promoting a strong U.S. and Chinese economy and to promoting more cooperation.

Just as Secretary Kerry was saying a moment ago on the strategic side, so too on the economic side there is – we have a vested interest in each other’s success, and there’s much that we agreed on. Now obviously the process that China’s going through is a very substantial one. The presumption is markets are open, unless there are specific items that are excepted from it. China’s now going through the process of coming up with its list of exceptions, and then, as we agreed to in the summary of outcomes, we will next year begin negotiating that list of exceptions between our two countries.

I think that the process of reaching an agreement on a bilateral investment treaty is always a difficult and complicated one. And I think the ground covered since last year has been substantial. A lot of progress has been made, and we’re now cued up in the beginning of next year to go into the next round of very serious negotiations.

Along the way to an agreement on a full BIT, there are a number of other issues that are very significant. The items reflected in the summary of areas where we were able to agree reflects opening of some financial markets. We continued to have very productive discussions about a technology agreement. I think even before there’s a BIT, we have things we can do along the way that will open markets, build confidence, and build a sense that the value of reaching a BIT is as great as it was when last year’s S&ED reached the point of commencing the process.

So I think it takes a little bit of patience because it is a long process, but there is real progress being made, and I think that the provisions that are reflected in today’s document show that even in this round we have some real points of progress to show. And we will look forward to engaging at the beginning of next year and going through the next phase of negotiation.

SECRETARY KERRY: You asked me to highlight the one thing that might stand out, and I think I did. But I’ll take advantage of the question, to bear down on one part of that. I said that the level of cooperation overall on major issues of global concern is significant. And the capacity that I think we saw to manage our disagreements about certain things but still remain focused on those areas of agreement is critical, and it’s very important.

But bearing down on that, let me just pick climate change as an example. I’ve been involved in the issue of climate change for more than 25 years – even longer. But in the Senate, for many years, it was incomprehensible that the United States and China would find cooperation on climate change. As recently as two years ago, no one would’ve thought that that was possible or expected it. And last year, when President Xi signed onto this idea that it was important to work with the United States and find ways forward, because China was increasingly finding certain challenges domestically with respect to air quality and pollution and other things, but also learning more about the challenge of the science, as the consensus began to grow that we needed to take action, we found some common ground.

And already this year with our eco-partnerships, with our mutual targets with respect to fuel and trucks and fuel changing and fuel switching, and the idea of working together to try to figure out what are appropriate targets going forward into next year’s global negotiation on this subject, this is important. Because together, China and the United States represent about 45 to 48 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. We are the world’s two largest economies. And therefore to come together in this way at this moment in time is very significant.

Now the true significance will be determined by what is agreed upon hopefully between the presidents, and we intend – and President Xi was very clear today that he looks forward to this work continuing, he looks forward to talking to President Obama and working up towards the APEC summit, and it’s our hope that this will actually be given greater meat on the bones than it has today. But at this point in time, this is an improbable act being played out, and we hope that ultimately it’s – it will be well received and be fruitful.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thanks everyone. Good night.

# # #

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/7/2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

July 07, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with an asterisk.

11:20 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see all of your smiling faces on this Monday morning.  I’m joined this morning by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  As you know, he’s preparing to have lunch with the President and a handful of teachers who are here at the White House in a few minutes, and so we thought we’d bring him to the briefing room while he was here to talk about some of the announcements that were made at the Department of Education today to make sure that we have a good, quality teacher in every classroom.

So with that, we’ll let Secretary Duncan make some opening remarks.  Then we’ll take your questions and then after that we’ll move on to our other business today.

So, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Thank you, Josh.

Good morning.  Over the past couple years I’ve had the opportunity to meet with literally hundreds and hundreds of fantastic educators across all 50 states.  As Josh said, in a few minutes the President and I will meet with a couple more to talk about their experiences. 

Helping all students reach their full potential is quite simply the life work of America’s great teachers and principals, and these educators absolutely know the enormous challenges that students growing up in poverty can face.  Right now, across the country, despite teachers’ and principals’ herculean efforts, students from low-income families and students of color often face daunting achievement gaps. 

On the 2014 NAEP Assessment, only 24 percent of students eligible for free lunch were proficient on the 4th grade math test, compared to almost 60 percent of other students.  And as everyone here knows, access to great teachers has far-reaching positive impacts — effects for students, including increased achievement levels, increased likelihood of college attendance, and higher wages over their lifetime. 

Other high-performing countries not only understand this profound truth, but more importantly, they act upon it.  In South Korea, for example, according to one study, students from low-income families are actually more likely than students from wealthier families to have access to high-quality teachers.

But we’ve struggled with that here in the United States, and today, race and family income too often still predict students’ access to excellent educators.  That is simply unacceptable and we must do better, and do better together.

For example, in Louisiana, the percentage of teachers rated effective is 50 percent higher in low-poverty, low-minority schools than in high-poverty, high-minority schools.  Similarly, in Tennessee, low-poverty, low-minority schools have almost 33 percent more teachers who are rated highly effective when compared to high-poverty, high-minority schools.  And in North Carolina, highly effective teachers are 50 percent more likely to leave a disadvantaged school than a school of more privilege.

By no means are these states alone.  Actually, far from it. And I applaud their courage in making this information public and transparent.  Change can only come when we deal openly and honestly with the facts, and we need more states and districts to challenge the status quo.

This problem exists because of systemic inequities that shortchange certain schools, communities and districts across the country.  Teachers and principals are not the problem, and they are absolutely essential elements of the solution.  They devote their lives to preparing our students for college and careers.  And we need to provide the support that they need to succeed and stay in high-need schools where their talent and their commitment is so desperately needed.

Today, in collaboration with our partners, we launched the Excellent Educators for All Initiative, a three-pronged strategic effort to help states and districts support great teachers and principals to come to and stay in high-need schools and communities.

First, we’re asking states to submit comprehensive plans to ensure progress towards educator equity based on data and input from teachers, districts and community groups, and to submit that to our department by April 2015.

Second, this fall we’ll use $4.2 million to launch the new Educator Equity Support Network to provide states and districts real-time support in developing and implementing their plans.
 
And third, this fall we’ll publish Educator Equity profiles to help states use data to identify gaps in access through expert teaching for low-income and minority students, as well as high-need schools that are consistently beating the odds and that can serve as examples for other schools across the nation.  We will update these profiles every two years, using our Civil Rights Data Collection Project, and monitor states’ progress towards their goals.  And we urge states to publicly report their progress on their own metrics each year, encouraging ongoing public dialogue, input and ideas, and revise their plans as necessary.

This announcement builds on months of outreach to crucial partners at every level, including an inspiring conversation hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers with state and civil rights leaders.  And I want to thank CCSSO for being a fantastic partner.  We’ll keep pushing each other to be bold, to act with urgency, and to meet these tough challenges with thoughtful, creative solutions. 

The simple truth is that all students deserve excellent educators, and all educators deserve our full support.  To reach these goals, there are no magic bullets or quick fixes, and the best ideas, quite frankly, won’t come from any of us here in Washington.  We want to help states and districts to be creative in recruiting, supporting and retaining the excellent educators in high-need schools, and we want to encourage them to involve and listen to the teachers and principals who are doing this hard work every single day.

This is one part of a larger educational equity conversation in which we’re working to promote fiscal equity, as well as equal access to high-quality preschool, rigorous college and career-ready coursework, social and emotional support, and fair and appropriate school discipline policies.
 
Our department won’t require any particular approach, but I can share some common themes that we have consistently heard from fantastic teachers and principals across the nation who are doing this work.

First, great teachers follow great principals, so we should all work to improve the quality and stability of leaders in high-need schools.  Second, great teachers want to work on a team with other great teachers and need time to collaborate, so we need to help provide flexibility to allow this to happen.  Third, great teachers need extra help and support, particularly early on in their careers, so we should provide high-quality coaching, mentorship and professional learning opportunities to teachers in high-need schools.  Fourth, great teachers want to grow and take on additional leadership responsibilities, so we need to create opportunities that don’t require them to leave the classroom to advance professionally and have greater impact.  Fifth, great teachers absolutely deserve to be well paid for these extra efforts and responsibilities, and for their effectiveness in keeping students on track to succeed in college and career.  And finally, great teachers and principals are in it for the long haul, and we must be as well. 

Meaningful reform will take tireless work and relentless commitment.  The good news here is that across the country, many people are taking real action, showing real courage and creativity in working to challenge the status quo.  In Boston, the district is partnering with Teach Plus to recruit and support and retain teams of effective, experienced teachers, and results for students have been pretty profound.

In Louisiana, the State Department of Education is implementing the TAP System for teacher and student advancement in 66 schools with a high concentration of minority and low-income students.  Teachers there get intense support and differential compensation, and the early results for those TAP schools are very promising.  In fact, the imbalance between highly effective and less effective teachers has basically closed in those schools.

And finally, in Ohio, the state has provided $15 million in a four-year grant to the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative to help 27 rural districts join together in addressing the unique challenges they face in ensuring their teachers have the support that they need. 

Now, together, let’s shape a conversation that is national in scope but local in its solutions.  Let’s find a way that supports students and educators, and let’s keep working together until we make these changes the reality for every single child in the country.

Thank you.  I’ll stop there and take any questions.

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, want to start us off?

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  The NEA seems to be pinning some of its frustration with the administration’s education policies on you directly.  They’ve voted over the last couple of days to call for your resignation.  And I’m wondering if you could respond both to that call and also their broader concerns about the administration’s policies.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Obviously, I try and stay out of local union politics; I think most teachers do, too.  And we’ve had a very good working relationship with the NEA in the past — meet every month for breakfast with them, have worked together on a national labor management summit, conference every single year.  They, as you know, elected a new president, and we wish her the best of luck and look forward to working very closely with them as we move forward.

MR. EARNEST:  Major.

Q    Mr. Secretary, you did not mention tenure in your points of emphasis in this initiative, and as you know and commented on, in California they had this sort of earthquake throughout the entire primary school system with removal of tenure.  And you were generally praiseworthy of that at the time and identified that some of the students who brought the suit were victimized by some of the things you’re trying to address here.  Can you talk to us about how tenure fits into that?  And when you said earlier that teachers and principals are not the problem, your complimentary reaction to the tenure decision in California suggested some teachers, in fact, are the problem.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  No.  Again, I’ll be very, very clear that I will always support due process rights.  That’s critically important.  I will always support the right to tenure.  We just want that to be a meaningful bar.  I think there in California, I think some folks were getting tenure after 18 months, and this should be something that’s earned by demonstrating effectiveness.

And we think across the country, folks can come together — they can either litigate this for the next 10 years all over the nation, or we can come together to think about how we absolutely support teachers and how we help make sure that students are supported as well.  And those interests should absolutely be linked, and we think there’s a common-sense way to do that and we hope folks will come together to work on that together.

Q    Mr. Secretary, I’m wondering how or if these education equity profiles will play into states waivers for No Child Left Behind going forward.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, we’ll look at this going forward.  And again, we just really want states to take this very, very seriously; that if we’re serious about closing achievement gaps, I keep saying we have to be serious about closing opportunity gaps.  And we know how critically important great teachers and great principals are to closing those gaps and giving disadvantaged children a chance to be successful.  So shining a spotlight on this, having courageous conversations we think is very, very important to going where we need to as a nation. 

Q    But will you link it explicitly to those waivers?  I know that’s something that the department had talked about before.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  We’ll look at this as a piece of many things we’re considering.  But again, having states focus on this and have public, transparent conversations about where they are, where they’re trying to go, and then publicly, what progress they’re making towards those goals, we think this is a very important exercise for the nation’s undertaking.

Q    Mr. Secretary, last month Governor Jindal of Louisiana became the fourth governor to want to pull out of Common Core.  What do you think of that move on his part?  And how do these new reforms you’re talking about today relate to Common Core?  Are they on top of it, instead of it, in addition to, or what?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, obviously, great teachers are essential to everything we’re trying to do to help students.  So we think it’s essential to moving education forward as a nation.

Across the country, as we go into the fall, over 40 states are moving forward with higher standards.  We think that’s very  — we think that’s fantastic.  We think in Louisiana, the Governor is a little bit isolated there.  The state board, the business community, teachers are all moving forward.  Teachers need the support of their statehouses to raise the bar.  And again, having high standards, telling children the truth about where they are in terms of being truly college- and career-ready, we think that’s absolutely the right thing to do for the nation.

Q    You’re sticking with Common Core?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  I’ve always been for high standards.  High standards, that’s what we’re about — truly preparing students for college and career.

MR. EARNEST:  Anita.

Q    What you’re talking about today has no congressional component it sounds like.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  It does not. 

Q    Is this coming about because you asked Congress to do something they wouldn’t do?  This is more of a pen-and-phone thing that the President is looking at?  Or where does Congress fit in?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, again, we’d love to partner with Congress on any and everything we do.  We obviously would have loved Congress to fix No Child Left Behind, which is broken.  To tie back to the previous question, one of the unintended consequence of the No Child Left Behind law is about 20 states dummied down their standards to make politicians look good, and that was bad for children, it was bad for education, it was bad for the country. 

And we want to raise standards, and we want to take on this equity challenge, this equity agenda in a very serious way.  In a perfect world, we would be addressing this in a bipartisan way with Congress and fixing No Child Left Behind.  We stand ready to do that today, tomorrow, next week, next month.  But we just can’t continue to wait.  And our children have one chance to get a great education, so we’re going to move now.

MR. EARNEST:  Peter.

Q    The plans that you’re asking the state school chiefs to submit were really started under the 2006 law, right?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Correct, yes.

Q    So you are asking them to update?  Or are there just a lot of states that never sent them in in the first place?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Well, I think states submitted them before — again, that’s seven, eight years ago — so asking states to come look at — be transparent in their data, what’s working, what’s not.  Some places are doing a great job of taking this on.  Others aren’t taking it so seriously, but really giving them a chance to put their best foot forward, their best thinking forward.  And again, the state chief officers have been a fantastic partner here.  There’s a real level of courage and commitment, which makes me very hopeful about where we can go.  No one is trying to sweep this stuff under the rug, and we want them to submit their plans and then, on a forward basis, have clear metrics, measure themselves against those metrics, be transparent in that, and this be part of the business of what they’re doing as we move forward.

Q    You’re also saying in the documents that you released earlier today that inexperienced teachers often are in high-need schools.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Disproportionately, yes.

Q    Okay.  So where do you think inexperienced teachers should go?  Where should first-year, second-year teachers —

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  They should go everywhere, and again, we’ve had amazing, amazing first-year teachers, obviously.  But when you just have — like any team, you have a diversity of veterans and some younger players as well.  So when a school or a school district or a set of schools in a disadvantaged community has disproportionate numbers of inexperienced teachers, that’s not a good thing.  You want a balance on any team, and what we’re looking for is to increase effectiveness in disadvantaged communities.  As a nation, we’ve had far too few incentives and, frankly, lots of disincentives, for the hardest working, the most committed teachers and principals to go to the communities who need the most help.  And we have to, together, reverse that.

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, I’ll give you the last one.  The Secretary has got a lunch he’s got to get to you may have heard about.

Q    I didn’t hear a direct response to Julie’s question.  The NEA has directly called for your resignation, and the AFT have said they appreciate the sentiment behind that call — the two, obviously, largest teachers unions.  I didn’t hear a direct response to that.  And also, is it an indication that when it comes to the common reforms that you and others have been pushing over the years, whether it be on things like tenure or expanding charter schools, being able to remove ineffective teachers, are the teachers unions simply, then, obstacles to reform?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  No.  Again, the reality is much more complex than that.  For example, today in this announcement, Randi Weingarten, the head of the AFT, is standing with us.  And the NEA is just finishing up their convention; were they not at their convention, I think they probably would have stood with us on this.  And so we agree on many issues.  We disagree occasionally.  Again, I don’t get caught in union politics.  We continue to work very closely with both major unions, work very closely with state unions as well, and generally, we’ve had very good working relationships.

MR. EARNEST:  Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Thank you.

MR. EARNEST:  All right.  I don’t have anything at the top other than what the Secretary had to say, so, Julie, we’ll go straight to questions.

Q    Thanks.  I just wanted to ask about the reports about some possible U.S. spying in Germany, reports that a German intelligence employee spied for the U.S.  Are you in a position to be able to confirm whether that is accurate?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not in a position to do that, Julie.  We’ve seen those reports and we are aware that a German citizen was arrested over the weekend, alongside the claim that he was purportedly working with a U.S. intelligence agency.

The reason I can’t comment on this particular matter is it involves two things, and the first is a pending German law enforcement investigation.  I would not want to get ahead of that or interfere in that investigation.  And additionally, it obviously goes to a purportedly direct intelligence matter as it relates to the United States and that’s not something that I frequently comment on from the podium here.

What I can say more generally, though, is the relationship that the United States has with Germany is incredibly important. This is a very close partnership that we have on a range of security issues, including some intelligence issues.  That partnership is built on respect and it’s built on decades of cooperation and shared values.  All of those things are high priorities not just of this administration but of this country.

So we’re going to work with the Germans to resolve this situation appropriately.

Q    Chancellor Merkel said today that if these reports are true that it would be a “clear contradiction of trust between allies.” 

MR. EARNEST:  That’s obviously a big “if.”

Q    But if this were to be true, if this were to be the kind of spying and intelligence work that the U.S. does in a country like Germany, a close ally, is that something that the President would be comfortable with, given that his close ally, Angela Merkel, would see it as a clear contradiction of trust?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I understand the purpose of the question, but it is based on a hypothetical on a matter that I’m not prepared to discuss from this standpoint.  But suffice it to say that doesn’t change the fact that we highly value the close working relationship we have with the Germans on a wide range of issues, but particularly on security and intelligence matters.  That cooperation is very important to the national security of the United States and our allies.  We value that partnership.  Again, it’s built on a lot of shared trust.  It’s built on friendship.  And it’s built on shared values.  And we value that relationship and that’s why we’re going to work through this matter and ensure that it’s resolved appropriately with the Germans.

Q    Is this something that came up in the conversation that the President had with Chancellor Merkel on Thursday?  And if not, has he spoken with her since then or does he have any plans to speak with her?

MR. EARNEST:  It did not come up in the call.  The announcement of the arrest was made by German law enforcement officials on Friday.  The call between the President and the Chancellor occurred on Thursday. 

Q    Has he had a chance to speak with her?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I know of.

Mark.

Q    Thanks.  You said that the President would prepare a supplemental spending request with regard to the border situation.  Exactly how much money is he going to ask for?  Can you provide some more details about that spending request?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not prepared to offer more details about that right now.  I would anticipate that we’ll have an announcement about this tomorrow, and at that point we’ll have a lot of details about what exactly is included in that supplemental request.

As you know, it’s related to our efforts to add additional resources to the border in the form of immigration judges, ICE lawyers, asylum officials and others that can help us more rapidly and efficiently process the immigration cases that are currently backlogged as it relates to a surge that we’ve seen at the southwest border.

Q    And with regard to the plan to either move or hire more judges to handle those situations along the border, are there concerns that you will be displacing judges from necessary work elsewhere in the country and creating backlogs elsewhere?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has talked about this a little bit already, but he’s directed that some resources from the interior be devoted to the border region.  I know that it is a view that is shared among both Democrats and Republicans that there is work that we can do to continue to secure the border.  And processing these cases through the immigration system is a part of that.

It also is a part of our commitment, this administration’s commitment, to dealing with these cases in a humanitarian way; that there are due process rights that are afforded to these individuals.  The President believes it’s important for those due process rights to be respected; at the same time we should have a process that is efficient and that reflects the state of U.S. law.  This administration is committed to enforcing that law, and if we can deploy additional resources and ensure that this law is being enforced efficiently, then we’re interested in doing that. 

There is an element of that that the President can do on his own in terms of devoting resources that already exist from the interior and sending them to the border areas.  It also is why we’re seeking additional resources from Congress, again, to further supplement the resources that are being deployed to solve this problem.

Q    And just to confirm, you spoke about this last week, but the President still has no plans to visit the border specifically during his trip to that part of the country later this week.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct. 

Margaret.

Q    A couple of quick clean-ups on this.  So what Chancellor Merkel probably had asked for is a statement from the U.S. about this.  Is what you just gave going to serve as the statement?  Or should we expect in the coming days an additional statement that actually — I mean, I know why you can’t do it right now from the podium — but actually addresses some of the specific allegations?

MR. EARNEST:  As of right now, I’m not in a positon to comment any further on this particular matter.  You’re certainly welcome to ask in the days ahead and if there’s additional information that I can share, then I will.

Q    And on the announcement tomorrow about the border stuff, will that actually be the supplemental that’s being announced?  Just to clarify, is that what you’re saying, that it’s going to come tomorrow?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, yes.

Q    And so all the details about how much money, in which tranches, which subcommittees or whatever, that’s all going to be addressed then and you’re not able to talk about it now?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s a pretty detailed compilation.  I don’t know that it goes exactly down to that level, but we will endeavor to make officials available to answer those kinds of questions when we present the supplemental request tomorrow.

Q    A quick 2016 question.  There was a report over the weekend suggesting that President Obama is secretly really interested in having Elizabeth Warren as the nominee and not Hillary Clinton.  I’m just wondering whether you can address from the podium whether there’s anything accurate to that report, or whether he plans on getting involved in choosing sides in the Democratic primary.

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, it’s still in the middle of 2014.  I’m not aware of any particular positions or candidates or all that much thinking, to be honest with you, that the President has done as it relates to the next presidential election.  So I haven’t actually seen those reports.  But the President has got a very full plate in front of him right now in terms of trying to move this country forward and expanding economic opportunity for the middle class.  That’s what he’s focused on right now.  It’s what he will be focused on over the course of the next couple of years.  And if it gets to late 2016 and you guys want to talk presidential politics, maybe we can do that.

Let’s move around a little bit.  Christi.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Last week, the President also asked for more latitude for DHS and deportations of the kids at the border. Have you gotten any signals from Senate Democrats that there is something they might be interested in doing?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not in a position to talk about the specific conversations between Senate Democrats and the White House on this particular matter.  I would expect, however, based on the public comments we’ve seen from members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, that we should see some bipartisan support for this. 

There is concern about the urgent humanitarian situation that we see on the southwest border.  Giving the Secretary of Homeland Security additional authority and discretion that he can use to confront that situation more efficiently, making sure that we are acknowledging the humanitarian issues that are at stake while also enforcing the law is a priority.  It’s the priority of this administration, and if you listen to the public comments of Democrats and Republican, it sounds like it’s a bipartisan priority.

So we’re certainly hopeful that when we’re in a position to be more specific about what kind of discretion — or maybe I should say it this way — when we’re in a position to be more specific about what kind of authority we’re seeking for the Secretary of Homeland Security to be able to use to confront this situation, we’re hopeful that the response will be, if not unanimous, at least bipartisan in support for him getting that authority.

Q    However it is that you end up crafting that, how do you get around the fact that there are many Senate Dems who don’t want to do any little thing without also doing comprehensive immigration reform? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, first of all, there’s no reason that — well, there is one reason that comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t gotten done, and that’s simply because we’ve seen House Republicans block a compromise proposal that had already passed with bipartisan support in the Senate from coming to the floor of the House for a vote.  If that common-sense bipartisan proposal that passed the Senate had got a vote in the House of Representatives we’re confident it would pass. 

So we certainly are familiar and even share that sentiment that action on a comprehensive immigration reform proposal is necessary.  What’s also necessary, though, is that we deal with this urgent humanitarian situation that’s cropped up in the last few weeks in the form of a spike of illegal migration from Central American countries.  So what we’re seeking is additional authority that can be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to deal with the situation in a humanitarian way, in a way that’s in line with our laws, which means that those who seek to stay in this country go through the due process that supported them through the immigration courts.

At the same time, there is a commitment on the part of this administration to enforce the law and to make sure that everybody in this country and people in Central American countries understand that enforcing the law means that if you do not have a legal basis for remaining in this country that you’ll be returned to your home country.  And that is also the case and that’s also one of the reasons that we are seeking this greater authority that could be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

George, I’m going to call on you even though your Indians took two of three from the Royals this weekend.  (Laughter.)

Q    Should have taken three.

MR. EARNEST:  You still get the question. 

Q    Okay.  Following up on what you just said, you say there’s an urgent humanitarian situation.  Are you not at all concerned about the optics — the President can fly to Texas to raise political money but he can’t go see this urgent humanitarian situation?

MR. EARNEST:  We’re not worried about those optics, George, and that’s simply because the President is very aware of the situation that exists on the southwest border.  Senior administration officials from the Secretary of Homeland Security to the Secretary of HHS, top CBP officials, even some senior White House officials have traveled in the last several weeks to the southwest border. 

What they have seen is troubling.  We’ve seen this influx of illegal migration from Central America.  What they’ve also seen, however, though, are the efforts of FEMA, working closely with DHS and HHS and the Department of Defense to set up detention facilities, to ensure that while those who were apprehended are detained in a humanitarian way.  The law requires that.  And again, this is something the administration is committed to, is enforcing the law. 

So the President is well aware of what’s happening along the southwest border.  And that is why you’ve seen the wide range of steps from the authority the President already has to enforce the law.  You’ve also seen and we’ll get more details tomorrow on the request the President will make of the Congress to give the administration additional resources that can be used to address this problem.

It’s my view, and I don’t think that this is unreasonable, that those who share the President’s concern about this situation will be supportive of ensuring that the administration has the resources necessary to deal with this situation.  And those who are genuinely concerned about the border more broadly should also be strongly supportive of efforts to make an historic investment in border security, should be supportive of an effort to level the playing field for businesses who hire immigrants.  And those individuals who say that they’re concerned about the border should also be supportive of the kind of compromise, common-sense bipartisan proposal that would be good for the economy and would reduce the deficit.

So all of those things are contained in the common-sense proposal that passed through the Senate.  And those who are concerned about the President’s travel this week should also be concerned about their support for a piece of legislation that would address so many of the problems that they claim to be concerned about.

Viquiera.

Q    Sure.  So when you say you want to expand the authority of the DHS Secretary to deal with this problem, I’m assuming you mean expedite and streamline the process by which these folks can be processed.  Or do you —

MR. EARNEST:  To make the process more efficient.

Q    Okay.  But can you do anything about the bottom-line issues here, and that is these young people and their families, they come into the country, they cannot be turned back immediately; they essentially have to be dispersed either with family members who already live here throughout the country — they have to be dispersed throughout the country.  You can’t expedite the process — or can you — to the point where they never are introduced into American society and therefore — what, some 80, 90 percent of them never show up for their judicial hearing.

Q    Well, Mike, there is a — the law requires — this is a law — this is an anti-trafficking law that was passed by Congress in 2008 and signed into law by the previous administration.  So we should be clear about the law that this administration is enforcing.  That law mandates how children from non-contiguous countries are treated in the immigration system.

What we are seeking is for that process to be made more efficient.  And there are a variety of ways in which that process can be made more efficient — some of it by exercising authority that the administration already has, and some of it by exercising authority that the Secretary of Homeland Security seeks but doesn’t yet have.

The bottom line, though, is that the law will be enforced.  And what that means is it means that these children who have been apprehended will go through the immigration court process and if they are found to not have a legal basis for remaining in this country, they’ll be returned. 

I mean, it is fair to say that it’s unlikely that most of the kids who go through this process will not qualify — it’s unlikely that most of the kids who go through this process will qualify for humanitarian relief, which is to say that most of them will not have a legal basis — will not be found through that court process to have a legal basis to remain in this country.

Q    The real-world problem is, is that many of them don’t submit themselves to the process.  They’re never appear in court.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s one of the reasons that we’re seeking these detention facilities that actually can house — that can house more children in an humanitarian way, that we can deal with this backlog more efficiently.  That’s one of the reasons that we’re seeking additional judges and asylum officials and ICE lawyers so that the wait is not so long, so that this whole process can run more efficiently in a way that is consistent with our values about the way that human beings should be treated, but also in a way that’s consistent with what the immigration law requires.

We’re committed to fulfilling the tenets of that law, and that is likely to require some children to be sent back to their home countries.  That is why we have spoken in very clear and candid terms that parents who are considering putting their children in the hands of a criminal with only the promise that that child will be welcome with open arms in America should not do so.  The journey is dangerous and the promise is not one that can be fulfilled.  If those children do not have a legal basis for remaining in this country — and as I mentioned, it’s unlikely that those children will be found to have a — or unlikely to qualify for humanitarian relief — they’ll be sent home.

Chris.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I just want to clarify, and pardon for looking at it in a different way.  So you’re saying most of these children who have been in these desperate situations will be returned to their homes in Central America?  That’s your estimation?  Because that’s not what we heard, certainly not in that clear of a statement, from Secretary Johnson yesterday.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, a couple of things about this.  First of all, there is due process, so we’re going to respect that due process.  So I’m trying to be very careful about the way that I’m phrasing what I’m saying here.  Each case is specific and will be treated on a case-by-case basis.  That’s the way that — that’s what the immigration law requires.  That’s why again, we’re seeking additional judges and lawyers and asylum officials who can process these claims more quickly to make sure that each case is heard and given the requisite amount of attention.

However, based on what we know about these cases, it is unlikely that most of these kids will qualify for humanitarian relief.  And what that means is it means they will not have a legal basis for remaining in this country and will be returned.

Q    We also know that about 600 minors were ordered deported each year from non-border states over the last decade or so.  Ninety-five were deported last year, according to records, even as this flood from Central America — five times more than two years earlier — has been pouring across the southwest border.  So why do you think now that more children will be sent back when at least recent indications are that that has not been the case?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, because we’ll have additional resources that we can use in the court system — additional judges, additional lawyers, additional asylum officers.

Q    So it’s just the speed at which things will be moving?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we will do is we’ll be able to put in place a — we’ll be able to add capacity to the system that will allow these claims to be processed more efficiently.

Again, that is in the best interest of both those who are seeking to enforce the law like this administration is committed to doing.  It’s also in the best interest of the humanitarian concerns that many people have about the treatment of these children.  So additional resources will allow these cases to be processed more efficiently.

The thing that’s important for people to understand just from a policy matter is that the overall apprehensions along the border have only risen by a slight amount.  What we have seen, though, is we’ve seen a significant increase in apprehensions and processing of children and individuals from Central America, that there’s one certain segment here that accounts for this spike.

The overall levels are not that far above what we’ve seen over the last few years.  And what we’ve seen over the last few years is a historic low in terms of apprehensions at the border.

Q    You’re talking about outside of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m talking about — in terms of the broader border security situation, we remain near the historic lows that we’ve been at for the last several years.

There is, however, a spike in this specific population.  And we would like Congress to give the administration additional resources to deal with these cases more efficiently, while respecting the basic due process rights that each of these individuals has.

But in terms of enforcing the law against adults who are apprehended at the border, or even adults with children that are apprehended at the border, that hasn’t changed either.  And it’s important for people to understand that the efficiency of that enforcement process has also improved, and that the bottom line is this administration’s commitment to enforcing the law at the same time that we respect the basic humanitarian needs of those who are apprehended.

Let me move around a little bit.  Nadia.

Q    Josh, what do you make of the video over the weekend where the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, appeared to be speaking to his followers in Mosul, which is the second largest city in Iraq?  Is he challenging the U.S.?  And what does it say about your cooperation with the Iraqi government?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve seen the reports of that video, Nadia.  We have not at this point been able to determine the authenticity of that video.  So that is something that’s currently being reviewed by the intel community and by the State Department.  Since that video has not been authenticated, I’m not in a position to comment on it at this point.

Q    On another related matter, ISIL mounted an attack across the — in Yemen, across the Saudi border.  You have been cooperating with the Yemeni government over the years, especially with the drone attack.  What does it say now about this new attack since the President says that al Qaeda leaders are on the run?  Are you reviewing your assessment of their ability now, especially in Yemen?

MR. EARNEST:  I have not actually seen the reports of the situation that you’re talking about so we’re going to have to follow up with you on that matter.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  There are only a few legislative days left until next month, and the Highway Trust Fund is going to be running out of money.  Is there a proposal on Capitol Hill that you’ve seen to pay for that, to replenish that fund?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the proposal that I’ve seen that I like the best is the one that was put forward by this administration. It is a common-sense proposal that certainly deserves the kind of bipartisan support that unfortunately is all too rare in Washington these days.

The proposal put forward by the administration, as you know, Cheryl, involves closing loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well connected.  And closing those loopholes generates some revenue that could then be used to invest in the kind of infrastructure that benefits everybody — those at the top, and middle-class families all across the country.  It also would create a lot of jobs and would support a lot of jobs that are at risk if the trust fund itself is threatened.

So there are a lot of reasons that what we put forward is a common-sense proposal.  We’re certainly open to reviewing other proposals that others may put forward.  But in terms of how we think this important piece of business should get done, we’ve been pretty clear about what we think is the proper path forward.

Ed.

Q    Josh, one bit of housekeeping on the budget request on immigration.  Is it only going be immigration?  Or there’s talk on the Hill about dealing with wildfires.  The President has asked for money as well to battle terrorism overseas, these terrorism partnership funds, et cetera.  Is this only immigration?  Or —

MR. EARNEST:  No, it will include some of these other things, as well, I believe.  But we’ll have more details on that tomorrow.

Q    Okay.  You’ve repeatedly said this morning that the administration is committed to enforcing the law —

MR. EARNEST:  That’s right.

Q    — in the immigration situation.  If that’s the case, why couldn’t your Homeland Security Secretary say that?  When asked repeatedly on NBC yesterday, he could not say what you said.

MR. EARNEST:  What the Homeland Security Secretary was very clear about is our commitment to enforcing the law and making sure —

Q    He was asked that four times, and he kept talking about other options.

MR. EARNEST:  He was asked very directly about whether or not this administration is committed to enforcing the law, and that’s exactly what we are doing.

Q    David Gregory:  “Are they going to be deported or not? Will most of these children we see in this situation be returned to their homes?”  The Secretary:  “There is a deportation proceeding that has commenced against illegal migrants, including children.  We are looking at ways to create additional options for dealing with the children in particular.”  What are those additional options?  Is he enforcing the law or just looking for other options?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, Ed, what the 2008 law requires, it requires some very specific handling of children who are apprehended on the border, who originated in Central American countries.  And so when he’s talking about additional options, he’s talking about more efficiently processing them through the system.  And in some cases that means sending them back to their home country.

As I pointed out, that once they go through the immigration system, it is our view that it’s unlikely that most of those kids will qualify for humanitarian relief.  If they don’t qualify for that humanitarian relief and don’t have a legal basis for remaining in this country, they will be sent back.  Nobody should make any mistake about that.

Q    How do you react when a Democratic congressman, Henry Cuellar, from Texas said yesterday that he thinks the President, the White House has been one step behind and you should have known months ago that this crisis was developing, and basically suggested you hadn’t done anything?

MR. EARNEST:  This administration has been very proactive as we’ve dealt with this situation.  We have increased the amount of resources that are currently deployed to our immigration system to more efficiently process the cases by adding judges and lawyers and asylum officials.  We can more effectively and efficiently process these claims.  We’ve also opened up detention facilities to make sure that those adults who arrive in this country that are accompanied by children have a place where they can stay while their immigration process is playing out. 

And we have improved our efficiency when it comes to apprehending adults at the border, quickly processing their immigration claims, and in most cases sending them back to the country where they originated as well.

So this administration has been working proactively to deal with what I think everybody acknowledges is a very difficult situation with the idea in mind that it’s important to both respect the basic humanitarian needs of those who show up on our southwestern border, but also to enforce the law.

Q    On that question of proactivity, though, the Department of Homeland Security had a contract to bid out as early as January of this year looking for escorts to help unaccompanied minors.  If the administration back in January had a contract out there looking for escorts to help these kids, doesn’t that suggest the administration knew there was a wave coming and was not actually proactive if this contract was out there, but yet you still had the problem developing?

MR. EARNEST:  For questions about the contract, Ed, I’d check with DHS.  I’m not aware of it.

Q    Last one.  Senator Johnson from Wisconsin, as you know, has had this lawsuit out there pressing you on the health care law, suggesting that lawmakers of both parties and staffers should not have subsidies under the new health care law.  It’s getting a hearing in Wisconsin today.  In addition to that, you’ve had Speaker Boehner, the President has pushed back on him in terms of his separate lawsuit dealing with executive actions.  When you see this lawsuit potentially going forward on health care, how do you react to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that there are even some Republican members of Congress who articulated that they both don’t agree with the lawsuit that Senator Johnson has put forward, and they also don’t believe that Senator Johnson’s interpretation of the law is consistent with their interpretation of the law. 

So I know that there is some Republican disagreement about the wisdom of the lawsuit that Senator Johnson is pursuing.  What the President believes is that the whole goal of the Affordable Care Act in the first place was to lower health care costs, to expand access to quality, affordable health insurance for every American, including those who were employed by small businesses.

So we’ve been very clear about what those goals are.  And I recognize that there may be some like Senator Johnson who don’t share those goals.  That’s unfortunate.  But our efforts to enforce this law and to implement this law in a way that maximizes benefits for the American people and expands access to health care is something that we’re moving forward on.

Major.

Q    I know you’ve spoken repeatedly about due process, but it also sounds as if you’ve prejudged the due process outcome.  Could you address that?

MR. EARNEST:  It would be inaccurate to interpret the comments that I’ve made here as an effort to prejudge that process.  We are committed to the rule of law.  And as I mentioned I think to Chris, it is important that each of these cases is adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, evaluating the specific claims of individuals who have been apprehended. 

That said, our general knowledge about those children from Central America that have appeared at the border in rising numbers over the law few weeks — that our knowledge, again, as a general matter of those cases, indicates that it’s unlikely that the majority of those children will qualify for humanitarian relief. 

So that is just our effort to convey to you as much information as we have about this situation.  It is in no way an effort to prejudge the due process that each of these individuals is entitled to.

Q    You don’t think there will be a practical or even indirect effect on those who are heading to the border to carry out these due process procedures to hear from the podium that — before they even heard most of them won’t qualify for humanitarian relief?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t.  I think that the people that are being sent to deal with this problem are highly trained professionals that have a lot of experience in this case law, and that they will look very carefully at the specific claims of each of these individuals and they will carry out those proceedings in accordance with the law.

That is the instruction that they’ve received from the President and from the Secretary of Homeland Security, and that’s what we have the high expectation that they will do.

Q    Setting aside whether the President goes to the border, is he prepared to say what you have said this morning and let those who might be considering this as an option in Central America know, don’t come because you’re likely to be sent back and I’m going to enforce the law?  I mean, as directly as you’ve said it here this morning?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President was pretty direct when he was asked about this 10 days or so ago in an interview with Mr. Karl’s network. 

Q    He said he would enforce the law.  You said something different.  You said that most of these cases won’t qualify.

MR. EARNEST:  I think that what he said was he said, don’t send your children here, and then he went on to explain why that was the case.  And that explanation is in line with our laws.  And that is — I mean, the other thing that the President highlighted — and this is important as well — the President highlighted that what we’re talking about is a very dangerous journey.  In many cases, this is a journey that is being led by criminal networks that are seeking only to prey upon those who live in increasingly desperate situations.

That is deplorable.  It’s one of the reasons that the administration is also seeking greater authority to crack down on some of those criminal networks.  Hopefully, Congress will give us the ability to enforce the law against those criminal networks as well by handing out even stiffer punishments for those who are caught preying on those in a particularly vulnerable state.

But our commitment here to enforcing the law and the candid message that is being delivered to families throughout Central America is that they should not entrust their children in the hands of a criminal on the promise they’ll be welcomed in the United States of America.

Q    When Julie was asking you about Chancellor Merkel saying if these allegations are true, you volunteered and said, that’s a big “if.”  To my ears, that sounded like a qualified denial.  Why don’t you just deny or say what you —

MR. EARNEST:  No, that’s not what it was.  That’s not what it was.  All I’m saying is —

Q    Okay, what was it then?

MR. EARNEST:  It was an observation about her question, which is that it was predicated entirely on a hypothetical.  Not that it was an unreasonable question, but just that it was predicated on a hypothetical.

Q    No, what she was quoting you was the Chancellor of Germany saying, if this is true, it would constitute a breach and of her understanding of a relationship with this country’s government.  That’s not a hypothetical, that’s a statement from the German Chancellor.  And then you said that’s a big “if.”  And so I’m just wondering what’s the context of the big “if.”  Because it sounded like what you were saying is these allegations are unlikely to be proven true.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s not at all what I’m saying.  That is an assumption based on my effort to be as candid as possible with Julie.  I’m not in a position to comment on this matter at all for the reasons that I cited earlier.  This is an intelligence matter and this is a matter that is under investigation by German law enforcement authorities.  So I’m not in a position to comment on it from here.

As it relates to our relationship with Germany, it is a relationship that is highly valued by this country and this administration for a whole variety of reasons, including the solid cooperation and partnership that we have when it comes to our nation’s national security and our intelligence network.  So we value that strong working relationship, and that is why we’re committed to making sure that we resolve this issue with the Germans appropriately.

Scott.

Q    Josh, we had an immigration judge on last week who said that in some cases the deportation hearing for these unsupported minors can take years because of the backlog.  And presumably, word of that is also making its way back to Central America.  Isn’t that undermining the President and the Vice President when they try to tell parents, don’t put your kids on this dangerous journey?  I mean, even if it’s two, three years they are, in fact, being welcomed to the United States.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that is not the — let me say a couple of things about that.  That is one of the reasons, again, that the President has directed that additional judges, asylum officials and ICE attorneys be dedicated to dealing with the backlog of cases that we’re seeing at the border.  The other thing that’s important for people to understand is that we’re prioritizing recent apprehensions, and that means that people who are planning to show up in the next few weeks are likely to have their cases processed pretty efficiently through the system.  Again, due process will be respected.  Basic humanitarian responsibilities that are dictated by the law but also are part of our national values will also be respected.  That means that these children, when they arrive, they’ll be housed in a facility that’s maintained by HHS. 

But this administration is committed to enforcing the law and making sure that the immigration claims of these individuals is processed quickly through the immigration court system.  And that’s why we’re seeking additional judges and lawyers to make that process operate as efficiently as we can.

Q    So you’re going to do sort of “last in, first out” and they’ll never leave?  That potentially — trying to deal with the backlog?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s a little bit more complicated than can be described in my introduction to accounting class.  But people should understand that those cases will move efficiently through the system, and that’s why we’re seeking additional resources, so we can both whittle down that backlog but also address the basic due process claims of those who have recently arrived at the border.

Q    Well, and are you also trying to avoid the situation where the minors are released to family members?

MR. EARNEST:  Right, when those — it’s my understanding that when those releases take place it’s because of the backlog, and so we’re trying to both trim the backlog but also to prioritize the handling of those more recent arrivals. 

Jon.

Q    Josh, have you been able to get an answer for me yet as to how many of those that are released with the promise of returning to a court date are actually showing up for their hearing?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a specific number in front of me, Jon.  There are a couple of things —

Q    I’ve been asking this for a couple weeks. 

MR. EARNEST:  I know.

Q    Is there a reason why you can’t —

MR. EARNEST:  But there are a couple of things that are important for you to understand.  The first is, is that if I did have that number here, it would not necessarily give you an accurate picture of what’s actually happening.  Because what we’re seeing is that we’ve seen this recent surge just in the last few weeks of recent arrivals.  Sometimes, because the backlog is rather lengthy, the notice to appear is, in some cases, a rather lengthy period of time.  So that would not — those who are given a notice to appear but did not appear for their court date, that might not necessarily give you a very accurate picture of what exactly is happening.

Q    But it’s a pretty small number, right?  I mean, not many are showing up for their hearings, right?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have the number in front of me, Jon, but what we have —

Q    Can you characterize it?  Or is it closer to 10 percent than 100 percent?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what the number would illustrate, if I had it in front of me, it would illustrate that the court system is not operating as efficiently as we would like it to, particularly in light of the recent surge at the southwest border.  And that’s why we’re seeking additional resources to whittle down that backlog to more efficiently deal with those who have been recently apprehended, and making sure that we are enforcing the law.

Q    So the L.A. Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request and got some of the numbers for previous years, and it showed that back in 2008 there were more than 8,000 minors who were sent back, who were deported.  And last year, that number had fallen to less than 2,000.  I mean, it was almost a fifth of what it had been.  Doesn’t that show that what you were saying is disinformation when the smugglers promise that they’ll be able to stay?  I mean, effectively, this administration has not really been deporting minors in any significant numbers.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no, Jon, what’s important is the difference between 2008 and the more recent statistics that you’re citing is the passage of that law by Congress in 2008 that was signed into law by the previous President.  And what that law mandated was a difference in the way that children who arrive in this country from non-contiguous countries are treated in the immigration system. 

Speech: Thriving in a global economy

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Karel De Gucht

European Commissioner for Trade

Thriving in a global economy

Launch: “Spirits: A European Power House for Trade”

Brussels, 25 June 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

The international success of the European spirits industry is based on tradition.

Consumers around the world look to European products because of our strong sense of the past. Time itself is a key ingredient in many of them.

But for all the importance of heritage, your industry is also an excellent example of how European companies can prosper today and adapt for the future; and in doing so create jobs and business opportunities for the people of the European Union.

The report we are launching today shows the lessons you can teach others about how to thrive in a global economy.

First, your target market is the world. We all know the advantages that come with the European Single Market. Having such a home is invaluable for any company. But it’s not enough.

Over the next twenty years 90% of the world’s growth is going to happen outside of the European Union’s borders.

So the more European companies are ready to meet that demand, the better off will be the 500 million citizens of the European Union.

Second, the report shows how you can compete on quality – and indeed how quality is becoming ever more important to your export success.

That shows us that European companies cannot rest on their laurels. A tradition only has value if it continues to produce high quality results. If not, it’s just a tourist attraction.

Producing high-value added goods is essential for a developed economy like ours – because high-value goods – incorporating skill and experience – allow for well-paying jobs for people with those skills and that experience. This is relevant across the board for the European economy.

Finally, the report shows the importance of intellectual property. We have to protect both your individual company trademarks and the more than 300 geographical indications linked to spirits – not just Scotch and Irish whiskies or Cognac but also Polish vodka, Orujo de Galicia and many others.

Why? Because intellectual property is how we monetise quality. It’s essential for the model of a European economy that specialises in the high value tasks of global value chains.

So the model of your industry is encouraging. It can show the way for others who are struggling to find their place.

And that is how Europe will gradually adapt to this changed world – company by company – understanding and preparing for the future.

But there is, I believe, an important role for government in all of this.

I see the role of government – and of the European Union’s trade policy in particular – as facilitating the connections that bring prosperity back to Europe.

That means making sure Europe has an open economy, so that companies that are part of global value chains can gain access to the best quality goods and services from around the world, at the best prices.

Even for an industry such as yours, for whom local production and local ingredients are so important, access to internationally traded goods and services does play a role, whether those are capital goods, transport, logistics or finance.

This access is essential for Europe’s broader competitiveness.

But as your report highlights, in an economy like ours it’s not just political decisions made in Europe that count.

Governments around the world make decisions that affect your ability to do business every day – like levying a discriminatory excise duty or using unfair methods to value goods at the border. And by getting in the way of your exports, they undermine your ability to bring growth back home to Europe.

The underlying goal of the European Union’s trade policy is to make sure that those decisions are made in a fair and balanced way.

How should we do it?

Our first priority must remain the World Trade Organisation.

The multilateral system has been through a difficult decade, and the issues at the core of the Doha Round are still not resolved.

But a system that allows us to deal with so many partners at the same time – that establishes uniform rules for almost the entire world economy and that is backed up by the world’s best international dispute settlement system must be preserved and expanded.

Last December in Bali, WTO Members showed they understand this. The deal on trade facilitation reached there will directly benefit the spirits industry – simplifying customs and border procedures across the world.

We now need to make sure that deal is implemented, and get to work on what remains to be done.

The second major task for EU trade policy is to complete our unprecedented agenda of bilateral free trade agreements.

The virtue of these negotiations is two-fold. On the one hand, they allow us to move ahead with opening markets with those countries who are willing, rather than be held back by those who are more reluctant.

This has allowed us to put in place deals with Korea, Columbia, Peru and Latin America. It is what has brought us close to achieving final deals with Canada and Singapore. And it is why we are engaged in major initiatives with the United States, Japan, India, Mercosur and several ASEAN countries.

The second reason free trade agreements are important is because they allow us to go deeper, tackling more of the issues that affect businesses.

Of course that includes India’s 150% tariff on spirits. But it also allows us to promote the enforcement of intellectual property rights in Latin America and tackle discriminatory technical labelling regulations all around the world.

The final pillar of our work is enforcement. And it is necessary because negotiations have no value if the agreements reached are not put into practice.

As your report highlights, our case against the Philippines’ discriminatory excise duties is one example of how the WTO’s dispute settlement system can be very effective. We are committed to using that system whenever it is necessary – just as we are committed to using our trade defence measures when those are required.

These legal tools are complemented by our Market Access Strategy, which uses all channels of trade diplomacy to help us focus governments’ minds on problems that need to be solved. This approach has allowed us to resolve issues around distribution in Vietnam and push for progress where difficulties have arisen in China and Russia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All in all this is a comprehensive strategy to make sure Europe is well placed for another century of prosperity as the world changes around us.

We will be able to put this strategy into practice for as long as the European people understand that our economy as a whole benefits from being part of an open global system.

Most people do see that the rise of vast new economic powerhouses is also the rise of vast new markets for European goods and services.

But many of them also see that globalisation presents challenges for Europe, most of all the need to adapt to rapid changes and deal with new competitors.

As the European elections have confirmed, some – a minority but a significant one – wish to react to these challenges by shutting our doors. I do not believe that would be anything other than a disaster for the European Union. And I’m confident you agree with me.

That means it is very important that people understand how open markets help industries such as yours to be successful.

People need to know that shoppers in China and the United States are buying high-quality goods from all across Europe. And they need to know what that means for their local economies.

It is certainly the role of politicians to tell that story. I do it wherever I go.

But you as companies have the specific examples of how international trade helps real people at home.

And now more than ever, it’s essential for that story to be heard.

Thank you very much for your attention.