Tagged: Environment

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

News in Brief 09 April 2015 (AM)

9 Apr 2015

Listen /

UNESCO logo

Bangladeshi authorities urged to bring killers of blogger to justice

Authorities in Bangladesh have been urged by the head of the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) to find and prosecute the killers of blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu.

Mr Rahman was reportedly hacked to death by two men with knives and meat cleavers as he left his home in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, to go to work on 30 March.

UNESCO Director General, Irina Bokova, condemned his murder and said that freedom of expression and free debate cannot thrive in a climate of fear and self-censorship.

US$174.4 million sought to assist Nigerian refugees

United Nations agencies and their partners have urgently appealed for US$174.4 million to help thousands of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

According to the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) brutal attacks by Boko Haram terrorists in north-eastern Nigeria have forced 192, 000 people to flee to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR says the funds are to provide life-saving assistance to at least 74, 000 Nigerian refugees in northern Cameroon, 18,000 in south-west Chad and 100,000 Nigerian refugees and returning Niger nationals in Niger.

Meeting in South Korea explores how to promote sustainable development

A three-day meeting opened in South Korea city of Incheon on Thursday to explore ideas of how to promote sustainable development.

Leaders representing governments, the private sector, academia and civil society are attending a UN forum held under the slogan “Development cooperation for people and planet: What will it take?”

One of the ideas they are exploring is how to mobilize significant financial resources for sustainable development.

Stephanie Coutrix, United Nations.

Duration: 1’50″

Filed under .

Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Statement at the Policy Symposium on “Financing Asia’s Future Growth”

06 Apr 2015

Ambassador Mr.  Abulkalam Abdul Momen (PR of Bangladesh to the UN),

Ambassador Mr. Mr. Durga Prasad Bhattarai (PR of Nepal to the UN),

Ambassador Mr. Desra Percaya (PR of Indonesia to the UN) (TBC),

Mr. Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, UN DESA

Mr. Shang-Jin Wei, Chief Economist, Asian Development Bank

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this seminar on “Financing Asia’s Future Growth”. This symposium is timely and important. Timely because the third International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July 2015 is a historic opportunity for the international community to agree on an ambitious framework for the post-MDG era. It is also important because of the ongoing inter-governmental discussions both on FfD and on post-2015 development agenda.

I bring you warm greetings from Haoliang Xu, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. Mr. Xu sends his sincere and heartfelt apologies for not being able to be with you today. I am grateful for his invitation to Chair this Symposium.

I am especially pleased that this event is being jointly hosted between UNDP and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This year’s Asian Development Outlook (ADO) will give us a reference to guide our discussions. The ADO is ADB’s flagship annual economic report, analyzing trends in and proposing forecasts for the Asia-Pacific region. ADO is smart and influential  also inside the UN’s development community and beyond.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year’s ADO has as its special theme “Financing Asia’s Future Growth.” The way in which the report approaches the challenge of financing is refreshing and extremely relevant for the broader discussion around finance for development.

In the MDG-era, financing was often conceived as tallying up the resources available from different sources (mobilized domestically as well as international private flows, ranging from FDI to remittances) available to developing countries to meet the MDGs, with the gap being filled with Official Development Assistance (ODA). Over the last 15 years, estimates abounded of the billions in ODA that would be required to meet the MDGs.

It is clear that this “gap-filling” approach is insufficient as we confront the implementation of the post-2015 agenda. The universality and broad breadth of the new agenda (from poverty eradication, to economics lifestyle changes towards sustainable patterns of production and consumption, to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies) imply that estimating gaps – which is only partially possible – will inevitable take us to amounts in the trillions of dollars. We need to think anew about how we approach the challenge of financing development. And we need to think big.

While doing so, I want to emphasize the continued importance – and value – of development aid. The Addis Ababa conference represents an opportunity for donor countries to reaffirm their longstanding commitment to allocate 0.7% of GNI to ODA as well as pledge to allocate at least 0.15-0.2% of GNI to the LDCs or more. The current draft of the Addis Ababa outcome document being considered even suggests that countries agree to meet these targets by 2020. But the post-2015 agenda cannot be achieved through aid alone. There is a need to consider other forms of international public finance for investments in communicable disease control, climate change adaptation and mitigation, science, innovation and new technologies. More public resources for climate finance are needed, but these should not come at the expense of ODA.

Even lumped together, all sources of public finance will not suffice. We need to find the right convergence between policy driven and profit led sources of development finance. Incentives are needed to ensure that private investment decisions move the world towards sustainable development aspirations. The progressive elimination of inefficient and ineffective subsidies could help to shift transportation and energy investments towards less fossil fuel intensive and more sustainable options, while releasing public resources for social and development purposes. The ADO argues that the current context of low world oil prices presents an opportunity in Asia for this type of fiscal reforms. In fact, the report shows that several countries in Asia are already seizing on this opportunity, either by reducing fossil fuel subsidies, increasing taxes on their use, or both. This is the type of policy action that sends the right incentives to people and businesses, while releasing public resources, that are important in the context of the new agenda.

Financing for development in the post-2015 era cannot be considered only in the context of ‘stable times’; there are fewer of them and we have to recognize that volatility is becoming the new normal. This is particularly relevant to Asia, a region especially vulnerable to extreme climate events. But there are many sources of risk beyond disasters, with the costs of shocks as diverse as conflict and disease outbreaks high and increasing.
And, of course, we continue to face recurrent economic crisis. Asia had a painful experience with a major financial crisis in 1997/1998. The ADO reminds us of the traumatic growth collapses that occurred in 1998: Indonesia’s economy contracted by 13 percent, the Republic of Korea’s by 6 percent, Malaysia’s by 7 percent, and Thailand by 11’s percent (from pre-crisis annual growth in excess of 7 percent in every country). The development setbacks were deep and long-lasting. But Asia also showed resilience and has put in place a range of policies to better protect countries from economic shocks. It has bounced back with energy. What we need to achieve sustainable development is for nations and communities to be resilient, not only to economic but to a wider set of shocks, so that they are able to anticipate, shape and adapt to the many shocks and challenges that can devour development gains. All development needs to be risk-informed.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this context, and without preempting the detailed presentation of the report and its special theme, I want to emphasize that the perspective taken in the ADO on how to finance Asia’s growth is particularly relevant. The challenge of financing is presented less as one of mobilizing resources (domestically or from abroad), and more as one of ensuring that the financial systems in Asia work to allocate savings to high-return and productive investments. This is the type of analysis that will enable us to think more broadly about financing, as a challenge of unlocking funding by pursuing policies that enable more efficient and effective resource allocation.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me, before I introduce our speakers, to elaborate briefly on the important of financing for the achievement of post 2015 as well as the importance of inclusive financial sector for the eradication of extreme poverty and reduction of inequality.

Today 2.5 billion adults – more than half of the world’s working adults – are excluded from formal financial services. This is most acute among low-income populations in developing countries, where approximately 80% of poor people do not have access. Access to well-functioning and efficient financial services can empower poor women and men. It is now well-established that giving low-income households access to formal financial services can help reduce poverty and inequality.

In the Pacific, financial inclusion is particularly challenging, where less than 10 percent of adults seem to have access to basic financial services. Challenging geography, poor infrastructure and the high costs associated with delivering services to sparse populations are barriers in this region. UNDP and UNCDF are therefore jointly implementing a Pacific-wide Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP), which helps low-income households to gain access to quality and affordable savings, insurance, credit and other financial services and financial education. The programme, with funding from the Australian Government, the European Union and the New Zealand Government, also disburses grants to financial service providers. The programme aims to add one million Pacific Islanders to the formal financial sector by 2019 by spearheading policy and regulatory initiatives, facilitating access to appropriate financial services and delivery channels and by strengthening financial competencies and consumer empowerment.

As we consider the importance of financial systems to help finance the post-2015 agenda and the need to ensure financial inclusion, UNDP’s programme in the Pacific is an illustration of the comprehensive and inclusive development approaches that we will need to pursue to finance development.

Let me take a moment to introduce our guests here.

We have with us today, Mr. Shang-Jin Wei, ADB’s Chief Economist. Mr. Wei is a key spokesperson for ADB and oversees the Economics and Research Department. Mr. Wei previously served as Professor of Finance and Economics at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. Before joining Columbia University, he held senior positions at the IMF, at the Brookings Institution, and at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Ambassador Mr. Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations, New York, has been serving in this role since August 2009. Prior to that, he served as Chairman of the Department of Economics and Business Administration, Framingham State College. He also worked earlier in senior positions in the government of Bangladesh.

Ambassador Mr. Desra Percaya, Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations, New York, has been serving in this role since Feb 2012. Prior to this, Dr. Percaya was Indonesia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. He has held a variety of posts related to multilateral diplomacy and international security since joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1986.

We have with us today Ambassador Mr. Durga Prasad Bhattarai, Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations, New York. Prior to this, he served as the Permanent Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A career diplomat, Mr. Bhattarai held senior posts in Nepal’s foreign service and government.

Finally, we have with us Mr. Lenni Montiel, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, at UN DESA. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Montiel was the Director for Economic and Social Affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, preceded by a distinguished career in development as a colleague of ours in UNDP.

Thank you.

Water quality and conservation

Water quality and conservation

Click to enlarge.

Although agriculture and industry are the thirstiest of all water consumers, household water use accounts for some 10-30% of total consumption in developed countries. As governments develop strategies to promote water conservation, an OECD survey of households conducted in 2008 offers insight into what really works. Based on some 10,000 responses across 10 countries, the answer is as clear as what comes out of the tap: having to pay for water encourages water-saving behaviour and investment in water-saving appliances, thus reducing consumption.

People’s perceptions of tap water quality is a good place to start. The survey finds that two thirds of the respondent households drink tap water regularly. Moreover, the greatest satisfaction with the quality of tap water is reported in the densely populated Netherlands, though Swedes and Norwegians also report being highly satisfied with the quality of their tap water, whereas Canadians report lower satisfaction (graph 1). Where satisfaction was low, in some countries, such as France, this largely reflected concerns about taste, whereas in Korea and Mexico potential health impacts were the main concern. How much the subjective opinions in the survey relate to objective criteria of water quality demands more research.

People who are dissatisfied with their tap water can either demand improvements in public water services and/or switch to bottled water for drinking. On the one hand, households were willing to pay an average of €14 more per year for further improvements to public tap water quality. On the other hand, people who choose to buy bottled water do so for health reasons, though also for reasons of taste and because they can afford it (graph 2). They are also more likely to own a car–the easiest way to bring the bottles back home. But concern about plastic waste puts people off bottled water, the survey suggests.

The survey finds that water charges affect consumption: households that are charged according to how much water they use consume an average of 25% less water than those households that either pay a flat fee or have free access to water services. People who pay by volume of water used also tend to be more likely to conserve water by turning off the tap while brushing their teeth, collecting rainwater or recycling wastewater. They are also more likely to have water-efficient devices, such as washing machines that use less water, dual-flush toilets or water-flow restrictors (see graph 3). Australians, who face severe water scarcity in their country, report particularly high levels of investment in such equipment.

More survey results are available at www.oecd.org/environment/households. For more information, contact Yse.Serret@oecd.org or Nick.Johnstone@oecd.org 

©OECD Observer No 278 March 2010

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Cornerstones of the new EU Energy Union

Vice-President Šefčovič speech at EUFORES 15th Inter-Parliamentary Meeting on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Vienna

Ladies and gentlemen,

Two weeks ago, the European Commission adopted the Energy Union Strategy. I then called it the most ambitious energy project since the European Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s, because what we want to achieve, is nothing less than a fundamental transition of our energy system. We want to set our economy on a new, sustainable trajectory. As one Member of the European Parliament summarized it in a single image: we want to move from a Community of Coal and Steel to a Union of Sun and Wind.

Such an overarching strategy can only succeed if we work together across institutions and stakeholders at all levels: European, regional, national and local. Just like we worked together within the Commission, across portfolios, bringing together 14 Commissioners and 16 DGs. I am therefore very grateful for the opportunity to discuss the Energy Union directly with you – parliamentarians from across Europe, civil society, and businesses. Your contribution will be crucial to achieve the goals of this forward-looking energy and climate change policy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Energy Union is a big step towards an energy market that is economically sustainable, environmentally friendly, and socially inclusive. An energy market that is integrated, interconnected, resilient and secure. It is a ‘triple win’ strategy, because it will benefit citizens, businesses, and the environment.

For that, we set out a series of concrete actions – both legislative and non-legislative – in the five dimensions that I presented to the European Parliament in my hearing and that, next week, the European Council will hopefully confirm:

  • First, securing our supply. Member States, and citizens, should know that they can rely on neighbouring countries when faced with possible energy supply disruptions. That is what the word ‘solidarity’ means in the energy field; that is how we can build more trust between Member States. We are therefore working on a series of measures to diversify our energy resources and supply routes. Next week, for instance, I will attend the groundbreaking ceremony of the Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP), in Kars, Turkey; a project that will bring gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field through Turkey, into Europe. It is this kind of projects we need. But security of supply means much more than only gas, however important gas will remain for years to come. Security of supply means – and I would even say: it means first and foremost – becoming more energy efficient, knowing that for every 1% improvement in energy efficiency, EU gas imports fall by 2.6%.
  • Energy security also means: building a single energy market will allow energy to flow freely across EU countries as a fifth European freedom. This internal market is the second dimension of the Energy Union Strategy.By removing technical and regulatory barriers of cross-border energy flows, consumers will enjoy the fruits of a increased competition – lower prices and better service!
  • The third, fourth and fifth dimensions go hand in hand with the first two and go to the core of today’s conference and the work you do at EUFORES, namely: increasing energy efficiency, decarbonising our economy and investing in innovative renewable sources of energy.

This covers a very broad range of issues, which will require the full involvement of many commissioners. Let me just mention three issues, amongst many other issues, that I intend to give a serious push in the weeks and months ahead.

First, to tap the full potential of energy efficiency of buildings. The figures clearly show why more action is needed in this field: currently, 75% of Europe’s building stock is not energy efficient; buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. About 35% of our buildings are over 50 years old. They eat energy! While older buildings consume about 25 litres of heating oil per square meter per year on average (some even up to 60 litres!), new buildings only need three to five litres on average. So we can – and should – do better.

Second, as the importance of the local level increases, we should pay more attention to initiatives at the local level, of course in full respect of the principle of subsidiarity. Smart Cities are an excellent example of how the municipal level can play a major role in the transformation of the energy market that we’re looking for. Last week I met an impressive delegation of mayors who shared several good examples of successful initiatives from all over Europe:

  • the German city of Heidelberg created an entire neighbourhood with only passive buildings, (in the city quarter of Bahnstadt. The neighbourhood is powered by district heating, primarily sourced from renewables with smart energy consumption meters, creating local jobs and a passive housing knowledge cluster for future projects.
  • Helsinki is a leader in heating and efficiency standards. 90% of the city is serviced by the district heating system with over 90% efficiency.
  • in the north of France, the city of Loos-en-Gohelle transformed its coal mine into a regional research centre of sustainable development. Visitors now face the surreal image of solar panels in front of the mine’s spoil tips.
  • and I could go on…

These examples showcase the various local initiatives which should be replicated across Europe, and I would add: with a particular emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe.

And third, we have to develop an energy and climate-related technology and innovation strategy to maintain Europe’s global leadership and competitiveness in low carbon technologies. Europe has all the necessary elements to become a global hub and a world leader in renewable technologies. It is in this field – in the field of low-carbon renewable energy sources, in the field of energy efficiency, in the field of smart appliances and smart grids – that Europe can regain its competitive edge! Smart grids are the European shale.

We must better focus our research and innovation policies, we must create synergies between energy and ICT (very appealing to young people), and between research and industry. New industries will emerge that will strengthen our economy and further support job creation across Europe.

It is in this context that I would also like to underline the importance of ecodesign and energy labelling. Not only because this framework will deliver by 2020 energy savings that are roughly the equivalent of annual primary energy consumption of Italy, not only because consumers can save several hundreds of euros per household per year, but also because there is a clear business case. If countries such as Brazil, China, Korea, South Africa and others adopt equipment energy labelling schemes similar to ours, it creates a market for our companies. Let us be the first mover and set the standards!

Ladies and gentlemen, the Strategy is written, the principles have been established, the real work starts now. We will start up a series of specific actions, such as:

  • developing a ‘Smart Financing for Smart Buildings’ initiative to facilitate access to existing funding instruments;
  • we will propose a strategy for heating and cooling; it’s an important hook, because as many of you told me: the energy crisis is first and foremost a heating crisis;
  • we will dedicate a significant share of the European Fund for Strategic Investments to energy efficiency and renewable energy;
  • we will review the Energy Efficiency Directive, as well as the Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings;
  • we should bring together potential investors and solid projects. There are investors willing to invest, and there is a need for smart investments, so let us connect the dots and remove obstacles
  • and we will develop, without delay, the robust governance framework that the Energy Union needs in order to deliver on its promises, including to make sure that we reach the targets set by the October European Council.

Through these and other measures, we will make sure that the principles we endorsed – such as the ‘energy efficiency first-principle – are transformed into reality and become operational.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The first reactions to the Energy Union Strategy have been positive and supportive, in the European Parliament, the Environment and Energy Council, amongst mayors, consumers, business associations, think tanks, and academia. Do not underestimate the importance of such reactions: they really help to create the positive dynamics needed to seize the current momentum and to implement what is on the table.

I therefore hope that throughout this process, I can continue to count on your support, whether you are a parliamentarian, entrepreneur, researcher, civil society activist or a citizen, and I am looking forward to your comments and ideas in today’s discussion and over the five years to come.

Thank you.

Speeches: Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations

(As Delivered)

Date: 03/12/2015 Description: Assistant Secretary Crocker at the Council on Foreign Relations. - State Dept Image

Thank you first and foremost to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting today’s conversation and to Stuart for guiding it, and for that kind introduction. Thanks also to all of you for coming this afternoon for a discussion of the status, purpose, and value of multilateral diplomacy.

I’m here today in the context of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, whose Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945. That Charter, and the lofty aspirations contained in it, remains very much at the center of today’s international system, a system that has evolved and expanded well beyond the vision of its earliest promoters. But a system that has endured – remarkably – and a Charter that retains relevance even some seven decades on.

My comments today are not intended to be retrospective, but rather a brief survey of the UN and the larger international system as it is today, and the qualities and capacities that I believe will be crucial for its continued relevance.

As I begin, I take the liberty of assuming your stipulation to some guiding realities:

First, that pressing transnational challenges are only growing in scope, scale, and variety. In this category, I might offer climate change, food security, pandemic health challenges such as Ebola, the threat of violent extremism, and more.

Second, that these varied challenges require often urgent and sometimes simultaneous multilateral action. This truth is perhaps most evident often in the case of humanitarian crises.

Third, that today’s remarkable connectivity accelerates the pace at which events become available to global audiences, and thus in turn accelerates the pace at which the international community is expected and called upon to respond.

And finally, that an international system unable to respond to these truths would quickly become irrelevant on the global stage.

Seventy years ago, the need for an international body to provide a convening authority and a constraint for disputing nations was obvious. And though it is true that since that day in San Francisco there have been few constants on the international stage, it is also true that a body that was conceived primarily as a means to prevent war among the great powers of the world has met that fundamental objective.

The original 50 signatories of the UN Charter have grown to 193. The modern international system comprises dozens of organizations and agencies, with responsibility for engaging on innumerable shared priorities, and – let’s be honest – more than a handful most of us have never heard of. Civil society networks have emerged as a powerful complement to multilateral tools, and globalization has fostered economic and cultural linkages that would have been unimaginable at the end of World War II.

And yet, across that timeline and in all those categories, American leadership within the international system has been steadfast and instrumental. Now, in making that statement, I acknowledge that from its earliest moments, the UN has been the source of discomfort in some segments of the U.S. political universe. That said, it is notable that for all of its seven decades, the UN and the evolving international system have enjoyed the strong support of U.S. administrations and the Congress.

But why? Why is the vitality and agility of the United Nations and other international organizations of such importance to the United States?

In its most simple expression, it comes to this – we ask the international system to do a great many things on our behalf, and on the whole it is genuinely and actively responsive in that regard.

Yes, there are failings in the system, frustrations inherent in its history and exploited by its membership. There are recurring instances of mismanagement and inefficiency. There is a deeply-rooted anti-Israel bias that rears its ugly head across the system. And there is a persistence of division, call it North vs. South, NAM vs. the West, or G77 vs. the likeminded, that seems almost unthinkable given how much has changed on the global stage since 1945.

But the challenges we face today require as never before the multiplier effect of an effective international system. And the reality is that with the UN, that means we must take the good with the bad – accept the shortcomings, because the benefits to the United States still far outweigh the stories that grab headlines.

So today I will briefly discuss the UN’s unique capability and capacity, where today’s international system succeeds, where it falls short, and why we must remain relentless in our efforts to push it toward improved effectiveness, efficiency, and innovation and expand our efforts to encourage UN member states to break through tired voting habits and stale thinking. Any discussion of where the international system works must be predicated on an acceptance that the system is messy. With 193 UN member states, division is not uncommon – but we also have to remember how much gets done by consensus, even in the unwieldy UN General Assembly.

And, frankly, if member states were all of one mind, the need for an international system would be far from obvious. No, clearly our differences illustrate the need, create opportunities for unanticipated partnerships, and can make multilateral accomplishments all the more resonant. They are, in fact, the source of the legitimacy that the UN bestows when it speaks to an issue of global concern.

So, where does one look for such accomplishments? I’ll offer a few examples in three broad categories. First, we find accomplishment where the international system effectively channels shared aspirations.

Take, for example, human rights and the UN Human Rights Council. This is a body that has been fairly criticized as providing solace and protection to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers while focusing with unrelenting, unhealthy attention on a single nation – Israel.

When the United States decided to seek election to the Council in 2009, it was with a determination to redirect the Council’s energies, refocus its purpose, and begin strengthening its reputation as the global focal-point for universal human rights.

In the succeeding years, we’ve achieved a great deal. In 2011, we led an effort to pass a groundbreaking resolution on the rights of LGBT persons – the first such resolution in the UN system. We supported the Latin Americans in taking the lead on the follow-on resolution this past September. We have worked with our partners to lift the veil of secrecy on the horrendous human rights abuses in North Korea at the hands of the regime and to get this issue on the agenda of the Security Council – a huge accomplishment.

We have also led a sustained effort to promote the investigation of and accountability for human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and in fact consistently promote the utility of focusing on country-specific situations to highlight some of the most distressing human rights situations around the world.

That effort has resulted in Commissions of Inquiry and Special Rapporteurs on the human rights situations in Iran, Syria, Belarus, Burma, and North Korea and independent experts on the situations in Sudan, Somalia, and Mali. We have also led efforts to pass important thematic actions to bolster freedoms of expression and association, the rights of women and girls, the protection of civil society, and much more.

And, I would note, that we have achieved this level of success in spite of the recurring presence on the Council of some of the world’s worst offender states.

It is also true that we have not succeeded in ending the ingrained bias against Israel, but we continue to advocate forcefully against that bias in the Human Rights Council and across the international system. In fact, as Secretary Kerry pointed out earlier this month, we have intervened on Israel’s behalf over the last two years a couple of hundred times in more than 75 different multilateral fora, both to defend it and to support its positive agenda.

This recent progress notwithstanding, the Human Rights Council will obviously never be flawless. But consider the outsized influence of this relatively small body of just 47 member states and the small Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We measure that influence not just in the allergic responses often displayed by offender nations, but more meaningfully in the feedback we receive from civil society in those nations, who remind us frequently that Council action has a powerful impact on the ground.

Today, shared aspirations are evident across the UN system, from the heightened focus on gender issues, to strengthened humanitarian coordination across UN agencies, to the elevation of climate change and other (inaudible) issues, and in the energy and ambition fueling negotiations toward a Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Obviously, shared aspirations do not immediately or even necessarily equate to agreed action, but they serve to shape many of the conversations defining today’s multilateral diplomacy.

We also find accomplishment in the international system where it acts to promote peace and security. The headline institution here is of course the UN Security Council, which has not always warranted or enjoyed universal admiration. At times, disagreement between permanent members has inhibited action on urgent crises and Syria is an obvious example here.

But it should come as no surprise that in situations closest to our core interests, the United States and other permanent members won’t always – or even often – agree. And indeed the Council was created to give us a mechanism to air our differences and try to foster solutions without resorting to open conflict.

And where the P5’s interests align, the Security Council plays an indispensable role. We have continued to work effectively with Russia and the rest of the Council on combatting the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, on substantive actions to counter terrorism, counter piracy, on robust nonproliferation regimes targeting Iran and North Korea, on authorizing peacekeeping missions, and much more.

To be sure, the Council’s failures on matters such as Syria are as inexcusable as they are unsurprising. And over time, failure to act time and again to address front-burner issues could undermine the body’s legitimacy. But as often as that has been predicted it has been disproved, as even when we and others have acted without Council authorization, we have generally returned to the Council to bestow legitimacy and to coordinate on additional actions.

UN peacekeeping is also a widely-known UN peace and security tool, and lends itself well as an example of multilateral burden-sharing. UN peacekeepers, in fact, are currently the largest deployed military force around the world, with 16 missions and over 130,000 personnel today. We’ve had UN peacekeeping missions nearly as long as we’ve had the UN itself, and like the parent body, they have not always measured up. In particular, we see the challenge when missions are mandated to take actions they don’t deliver on, such as the protection of civilians.

We learned from the experiences of Rwanda, of the Balkans, and elsewhere that missions needed strengthened mandates to make clear the authority to use force and protect civilians. Today, more than 95 percent of peacekeepers serve in missions with a responsibility to protect civilians. Today, the problems we see relate more to how to plan for such operations, how to get host nations to do their job, how to make sure troop contributing countries are able and willing to enforce robust mandates – and a lack of the political underpinning needed to ensure missions’ success.

We are committed to modernizing peacekeeping missions and pressing to fill critical gaps and as the nation contributing over 28 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget and with a seat on the Security Council, we obviously have strong views. We are engaging with and support the new Independent Panel chaired by former President Jose Ramos-Horta to review UN peace operations, and in fact held serious discussions with panel members at the State Department on Tuesday.

Also earlier this week, both Ambassador Power and Deputy Secretary Blinken spoke forcefully on the continued U.S. commitment to peacekeeping and the gaps we are focused on filling, and President Obama will host a Peacekeeping Summit in New York in September.

Finally, we find accomplishment where the international system provides unique specialized and technical expertise. Consider, for example, the ongoing negotiations related to Iran’s nuclear program. While I want in no way to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations, I do think they offer an important reminder of the need to invest in credible international organizations. In this instance, I’m referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which occupies an indispensable place on the global stage as an authoritative technical entity.

As the Iran negotiations continue through the P5+1 process, the IAEA has the proven capacity to undertake the monitoring and verification roles that would likely be required of it under any agreement and that have been required to verify compliance under the Joint Plan of Action. Imagine how much more difficult these already highly technical and complex negotiations would be without the existence of this international agency.

In a similar vein, I think it fair to speculate that the international community would have struggled mightily to deal with the Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles in the absence of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. I take little risk in suggesting that not all of knew about the OPCW before their services and capabilities were required in Syria, and the fact that those capabilities were employed effectively further endorses the sustained investment required to maintain the many and varied elements of our modern international system.

Now, these accomplishments are real, they are valuable, and in many cases they contribute directly to our national security. There are also, to be sure, areas in where the international system falls short, and while I have alluded to several already, they bear repeating.

First, there is one suite of issues that I believe represents one of the UN system’s biggest sustained failures. That is, of course, the treatment of Israel-Palestine issues.

There remains a persistent, corrosive bias against Israel in many UN fora, including the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and beyond. It is made manifest in resolutions and commissions of inquiry, and reinforced by incendiary language and bloc voting. This bias diminishes every international body in which it is allowed to persist, and does nothing to advance the vision of a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Recently, more assertive Palestinian action has compounded the challenge. They have sought to elevate their status in the General Assembly and elsewhere across the UN system. They sought and won member state status at UNESCO, which triggered a legislative requirement that the U.S. cease funding that organization. They signed the Rome Statute and are seeking to employ the ICC to adjudicate questions that should be left to negotiations to resolve.

This appropriation of the international system is more than a dangerous precedent. It poses a threat to the legitimacy and viability of institutions, and provides ready ammunition to those who would seek to diminish U.S. leadership across the international system.

In a similar vein, the UN system is frequently and justifiably criticized for providing open venues for rogue states and bad global actors. I’ll brace myself for the laugh track when I tell you that Venezuela is on the Security Council and China, Russia, and Cuba are members of the Human Rights Council. Bloc voting can result in counterintuitive outcomes, and bad actors are sometimes determined to employ multilateral venues to advance goals antithetical to the hosting organization.

I think we can all agree that these realities are unfortunate at best and all too often corrosive and damaging. And there are times when the system in which we’ve invested so much just doesn’t perform as well or as quickly as we’d want – for example WHO being so slow off the mark in responding to the Ebola crisis.

Finally, in the category of shortcomings we need to make special note of continued management, transparency, and accountability failings. Such failings have a profound impact on the international system – damaged credibility, diminished impact, and justifiable exposure to critics. In this category I would include a long history of poorly managed or mismanaged budgets, a sclerotic personnel system, an opaque response to crises such as sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers.

The United States is at the forefront of efforts across the UN system to promote the positive evolution in the management cultures of all organizations and agencies. Sometimes we feel a little lonely in that position, but our sustained focus on these issues is beginning to make a difference. There is more budget transparency and accountability in many organizations today. There are more robust investigation tools. There is momentum toward addressing the lack of uniform whistleblower protections.

These steps and others are important, but we must be unrelenting in our demand for continuous, thoughtful evolution of the UN’s psychology and physiology.

In order to see that evolution realized, member states must care, and many do, including of course the United States. We care because we’ve built this system to manage shared responses to global challenges. As many before me have said, if the United Nations didn’t exist, we would almost certainly have to invent it – and I’m not sure in today’s world, that we could.

The United Nations at 70 shows some of its age, to be sure. But the questions facing the global community today demand an invigorated international system, not an internment. And that system is trying to get a lot done this year – in its 70th year – from major negotiations on post-2015 and climate, to peacekeeping reform, to addressing the threats of (inaudible) by violent extremism, to negotiations around the UN budget, to major discussions on internet governance and cyber security and Security Council reform. And let’s not forget the geopolitical shifts that underlie all these questions – from a revanchinist Russia to an increasingly assertive India, China, and Brazil.

Indeed, in some ways this seems like a test year for the UN system: can it still deliver on the kinds of big-ticket multilateral agenda items it is trying to get done? Can it prove that it has evolved and is continuing to evolve to take on new challenges? Will we and other member states continue to see value in using this system – will it continue to deliver for us?

These important questions will all be tested as the year proceeds, and I hope I’ve given some flavor today of why it’s so important that the answers continue to be “yes.”

For now, I want to thank you very much for your attention this afternoon, and I look forward to our conversation.

Press Releases: Daily Press Briefing – March 10, 2015

1:19 p.m. EDT

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Two from the AP, Justin in the front row. It’s going to be a big day. (Laughter.) Michael Gordon’s son, Chris, is here who, as we all know, had an interview with Secretary Kerry, I think, before his dad, not to raise a sensitive issue but – (laughter) – just joking.

Okay. I don’t have anything new, so why don’t we start with what’s on your mind.

QUESTION: You have nothing new at all? All right.

MS. PSAKI: I have many things new. I don’t have anything to start off as a topper, I should have said.

QUESTION: All right. Since we all want to turn our attention, I think, to some press conference that might be happening a little later in New York, let’s try to get through this quickly.

MS. PSAKI: I’ve heard such a thing may be happening today —

QUESTION: Indeed. Can we —

MS. PSAKI: — from the media.

QUESTION: Can we start with Iran? The White House today went further than it did yesterday regarding the letter, calling it a flagrant partisan attempt to interfere in the negotiations, reckless, irresponsible and misguided. I assume that you would agree with those —

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: — those terms. The author of the letter was on a television show this morning talking about what his reasoning is behind – or the main author of the letter talking about what his reasoning is behind it. I’m a little bit confused because the reasons that he said for writing this letter appear to be exactly the same reasons – the same thing that the Administration is negotiating for. Can I just go through a couple of these?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: It said that Congress won’t accept a deal because we’re committed to stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Is that not the Administration’s point of view?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to go point by point through out-of-context points, Matt. I think the same —

QUESTION: Well, this is not —

MS. PSAKI: Let me make a point here. The same principal author of the letter made clear that their goal was to undermine these negotiations. That’s the issue we’re taking with the letter.

QUESTION: I understand. But is it not the Administration’s goal to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: Of course it is. But what’s —

QUESTION: Okay. That’s number one. Number two —

MS. PSAKI: What’s your contextual point here?

QUESTION: — Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress. Would such a deal be accepted by the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: If a path to – say that one more time.

QUESTION: If Iran’s leaders need to understand that any deal that gives them a path to a bomb today, tomorrow, 10 years, 15 years from now will not be accepted by the United States Congress.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, can we —

QUESTION: Will such a deal be accepted by the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: — can we get to the point of why you’re raising these points?

QUESTION: I want to —

MS. PSAKI: Because I think we were – we’ve been pretty clear about what issue we were taking with the letter signed by 47 senators.

QUESTION: Right. I’m asking you, though, based on what he said this morning, his goal and the goal of the signors of this letter appear to be exactly what the Administration has said its own goal is. Is that not correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as we outlined yesterday, we believe – and as my colleagues at the White House have spoken to extensively – and I – well, I’ll get to this point – this type of letter, which was signed by 47 members of the Senate, is harmful to American national security because it inserts these members into the middle of very sensitive negotiations, negotiations that have historically for not just decades, but centuries, taken place between the president, the executive branch, and foreign countries.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen historically – or not just seen historically, as we know historically – we believe that there should be continuity from president to president in terms of U.S. foreign policy. Of course, there are differences of agreement, but you can’t – representing that you’re going to change things or you’re going to change the policy is what we see as the issue here.

QUESTION: Right. I’m just – he was asked what would an acceptable deal look like to you, and his response was: “complete nuclear disarmament by Iran.” Is it your understanding that Iran currently has nuclear weapons?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken extensively to —

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: — our concerns about Iran’s —

QUESTION: Is it not, in fact, the case that what the Administration is negotiating for, the deal that it wants to see would result in Iran never – not being able to have a nuclear weapon and the dismantlement of what infrastructure it —

MS. PSAKI: Of course, Matt, but I’m not going to respond anymore to —

QUESTION: Okay. So —

MS. PSAKI: — an interview done by the author who already has done the damage of putting the letter out.

QUESTION: Okay. So the – my – I guess my question is: The goal that he outlines and the other signatories of the letter presumably outline is the same as the Administration’s goal, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Clearly, there’s a problem because they don’t believe you. Can you think of a reason why 47 members of the Senate would think that the Administration is bent on allowing Iran or giving Iran a pathway to develop a nuclear weapon?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak for what their thinking is. I think we’ve spoken to what our view is on the letter.

QUESTION: Is the Administration’s position – opponents of the emerging deal, or what looks like it’s going to be, have adopted the slogan, “No bomb for Iran.” Is it not the case that the Administration, given what it said, could adopt the same slogan?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not putting out new slogans here. Do you have a specific additional question?

QUESTION: I’m saying, is no bomb for Iran the goal of the Administration?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated our goal many times. Do we have —

QUESTION: Which is that, right?

MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: Do we have more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: I have one.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: Some argue that the letter amounts to treason, that it’s a violation of the 1799 Logan Act.

MS. PSAKI: It’s a big day for John Adams, isn’t it?

QUESTION: Yeah, right. So what’s your take on that? Do you think it is in violation of the law?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not aware of any conversations within the United States Government regarding whether Senator Cotton and the other signatories violated the Logan Act. This is a legal question, so I’d certainly defer to others on that.

QUESTION: Okay. So but do – but generally, you think it’s within their legal rights? You’re not —

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to do legal analysis.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve spoken to what our concerns are, Justin, which is a combination of the fact that we believe it’s harmful to America’s national security for anyone to insert themselves into the middle of a very sensitive negotiation, and the long history we have of working cooperatively with nations around the globe in seeking to advance our interests where we allow bipartisanship issues to stop at the water’s edge.

Go ahead, Michael.

QUESTION: Jen, if there is an Iran agreement, it could very well last for 15 years, which would be through the next presidency and beyond and several presidents could have to administer this agreement, then there could be actions required by the Congress in terms of removing sanctions. Why shouldn’t an agreement of that duration, which requires some congressional action at some point to remove sanctions, be submitted to the Congress in some form for approval or a vote of some kind?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we have envisioned – I will get to your question, but let me just reiterate: We have envisioned a role for Congress – there has been in the past, there is right now, and there will be in the future. Congress had a role in building the sanctions regime, to your point, and so at some point in the duration of this agreement, Congress will be heard on the sanctions relief and there will be a role for Congress to play in lifting sanctions down the line as part of the agreement.

Also to your point, that would be some time from now, because as we know, that’s not something that we’re discussing as an immediate part of this discussion. This is not – it wouldn’t be accurate, and I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call this – it’s not – I’m not – I know you’re not comparing it to a treaty, but it’s different from past – there are comparisons I think I could make to some historic examples, but this is a multilateral understanding between many countries, including the P5+1 and the Iranians. So there’s a role for Congress to play not just in consultations, which is something that’s ongoing, but obviously as part of the sanctions regime, which would be the implementation of it.

QUESTION: But the role that you envision Congress playing, just to be clear, and I know you addressed this before but just to make it as clear as possible —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — you do not envision presenting this multilateral agreement to Congress for any kind of vote as to whether they think it’s in the nation’s interest, even though it’s going to be an agreement of huge consequence and for a significant duration. Is that fair?

MS. PSAKI: And that’s one of the – correct, but that’s one of the reasons we have been consulting very closely with them. There have been a range of hearings, both public hearings, many, many private hearings to hear from them, to discuss with them the status of the agreement.

QUESTION: And so my last question is: Why do you not think it’s appropriate to ask the Congress to vote on it?

MS. PSAKI: We think Congress has an appropriate role, the one that I’ve outlined. We’re not considering a different role for Congress.

QUESTION: Jen, can you explain how —

QUESTION: (Off-mike) —

MS. PSAKI: Sure. Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: — well, why it’s not a treaty?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me – I think I talked about this a little bit yesterday, so let me see if I can go back to some of the points I made then. Let’s see. So a treaty – unlike a treaty or other types of international agreements in which parties are generally required to take similar actions themselves, this deal will primarily reflect the international community putting strong limits on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran making verifiable and enforceable commitments to adhere to those limits. So these are political understandings between a multi – several countries, as you know, through the P5+1.

QUESTION: So wait, hold on, hold on. Just – I mean, the fact that it’s several countries doesn’t preclude it from being a treaty. You have United Nations treaties, you’ve had the Potsdam Treaty or the Treaty of Versailles.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: So what is it that – is it the fact that the responsibilities are Iran’s and you don’t negotiate an international treaty on Iranian obligations? Is that —

MS. PSAKI: It’s not about Iran. It’s about what would be needed to be agreed to and committed to by all sides.

QUESTION: But why can’t that be —

QUESTION: Well, could it be —

QUESTION: Why isn’t that a treaty? I mean —

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the specifics of what compose or what requires a treaty legally, Brad.

QUESTION: But I guess the question is: Do you know, was there a decision made? It seems to me that an international agreement like this could be a treaty if all sides wanted it to be a treaty and that was agreed to. Do you know if it was ever discussed with —

MS. PSAKI: Discussed with whom?

QUESTION: Well, among – inside the Administration but also with the rest of the P5+1 and also with the Iranians if it – it’s just whether or not, hey, maybe instead of a political agreement here, we should make this a treaty that has to be ratified and adopted by all of the – all of the governments, however that works in each country.

MS. PSAKI: Our objective, Matt, has been obviously getting to a point of agreeing to the components that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: I guess —

MS. PSAKI: That’s been the focus.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to read out in terms of other discussions.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, it’ll be interesting to know if there was ever any consideration of should we make this a treaty and then there was a discussion about that.

MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: And then —

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, but you had —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: — just – sorry to —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Not to belabor this point, but you guys spent many months talking about the format for how you would create an agreement. And clearly, one of the things that had to have been discussed at some point was what are we actually going to agree to. Is it a treaty, an understanding, a memorandum, a handshake, a tea – a sharing of tea? I mean, you had to have figured out —

MS. PSAKI: A sharing of tea. I don’t think that was an option. But —

QUESTION: That is a contract in some places in the world.

MS. PSAKI: Fair enough.

QUESTION: You had to have a discussion on what you were actually going to agree to. How did that come about that you decided political framework or whatever?

MS. PSAKI: Not going to outline that further, and I wouldn’t assume that what you just outlined is correct in terms of discussions. Again, our focus has been on technical details and on trying to reach the content of political commitments – on what the political commitments would be by the participants. That’s been the focus of the discussions.

QUESTION: What would be the potential difference between – in terms of the role of Congress – a treaty versus a political agreement?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sure we can get you the historical —

QUESTION: Okay. Now —

MS. PSAKI: — documentation on that, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. The flip side of this argument: The Iranians, have they conveyed to you in any way that as a result of this letter, they may not have confidence in the United States of America and they may soon not – to sign an agreement? Have they?

MS. PSAKI: No. Let me also just speak to some historical examples, which may help you a little bit, Brad, under – or perhaps not. I don’t want to speak to what will help you or not. But historically, under many administrations, the United States has pursued important international security initiatives through nonbinding arrangements where that has been in our national interest. In the arms control and nonproliferation area alone, some representative examples include the U.S.-Russia deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria, the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Nuclear Supplier Group Guidelines, the Missile Technology Control Regime. There’s a lot of precedent for this being political commitments made by all sides.

QUESTION: In that statement you just described them as nonbinding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that’s a legal term, Matt.

QUESTION: I mean, presumably everyone who agrees to this – if there is something to agree to – is bound by it. Right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, yes. But there’s legal terminology —

QUESTION: All right. And —

MS. PSAKI: — so obviously there’s differences you use depending on what it is.

QUESTION: — in your answer just previously you said that no, the Iranians have not – has there been any contact between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif or —

MS. PSAKI: No, there has not.

QUESTION: — Under Secretary Sherman or —

MS. PSAKI: I can speak to the Secretary. I don’t believe there’s been other discussions —

QUESTION: Okay. The foreign minister – the Iranian foreign minister said today that this letter shows that the United States Government cannot be trusted. Would you agree with that assessment?

MS. PSAKI: As we’ve said, and I think you and I have discussed before, this has never been about trust. This has been about coming to a point where both sides agree to political commitments about what steps they’re willing to take.

QUESTION: All right. And is it your view that whatever damage you say that this letter has caused is done and is – in other words, you think that the damage is over, or is it going to bleed into the next round of negotiations? And can the damage that you say has been done be repaired?

MS. PSAKI: Well, this is, again, I mean, a negotiation, of course, between nations, not individuals, not between political parties. And so we certainly anticipate the negotiations will be able to proceed from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so if that is the case, what’s the big deal?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve stated what the big deal is. This is inserting – this is 47 members of Congress from one party inserting themselves into an international negotiation.

QUESTION: Right. Well, I understand that you’re – that people are – in the Administration are offended by this and think that it is – it shows a lack of respect. But if it really doesn’t affect the negotiations at all, from your point of view, why get so upset about it?

MS. PSAKI: Because it’s important to convey that when leaders of other countries are doing business with the United States, they’re doing business with all of the United States. And so this is a – was an effort to insert themselves into a sensitive negotiation. That’s the issue we raised with —

QUESTION: Jen, just to clarify Matt’s point —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah.

QUESTION: — when you were giving examples of agreements, national security agreements —

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: — that Congress didn’t vote on, you said that from a legal perspective, the examples you gave were nonbinding. So is it – are you saying that this Iran agreement, if it materializes, from a legal perspective is also nonbinding? It’s somehow binding politically, but from an international legal perspective it’s not binding?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I used the example of Syria, right, as an example. This framework was not legally binding and was not subject to congressional approval. It outlined steps for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and helped lay the groundwork for successful multilateral efforts to move forward. So I’m just conveying what we’re talking about as it relates to the political understandings and what we’re discussing with the parties.

QUESTION: I guess maybe this a question you could ask the lawyers, because I’m sure it’s not there. But I mean, if it was nonbinding, why did the Syrians comply with it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we – there was an agreement – there were discussions, and they agreed to certain terms.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: And then it went to the OPCW and then it went to the UN. So —

QUESTION: Actually, in the case of the security – the Syrian agreement, there was a Security Council vote, which I think made it binding.

MS. PSAKI: Well, that – I just said. And then it went to the UN to the Security Council vote.

QUESTION: Right. So could this —

QUESTION: But you’re not going to have that in this agreement.

QUESTION: Exactly. Could you go for —

MS. PSAKI: I’m just – I don’t have more to outline for you in terms of the implementation of a political understanding that doesn’t yet exist.

QUESTION: Wait. Just to clarify, is it legally binding or not, this Iran agreement? Will it be legally binding from an international legal perspective if you negotiate this agreement, or will it be something lesser than that, a political commitment?

MS. PSAKI: I understand your question, Michael. What I’m referring to is the political commitments in terms of what the next additional steps would be. I’m not sure how much farther or more information we would have. I’m certainly happy to check with our team and see if there’s more we can clarify.

QUESTION: The problem is is that you’ve stressed over and over again this is not about trusting, right? This is about verifying. But then you’re saying that these are political commitments but not necessarily binding. It would seem to me that if this wasn’t about trust, you would want them to be binding, not political commitments, which are your word. That’s what a political —

MS. PSAKI: Well, Brad, we’re talking about specifically how pieces —

QUESTION: Political commitment just means “I will do this.”

MS. PSAKI: It is not that. We’re talking about how specifically pieces would be agreed to between the parties. In terms of the implementation of it, I’m sure we will talk about that at the time we would have an agreement.

QUESTION: Since I don’t understand then what a political – as I understand a political commitment, it means a person or a political entity saying, “I will do this; I commit to doing this.” How is that not anything other than giving your word?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Brad, if we get to the point where we have a framework, where we have an agreement, I’m sure we will have a discussion about how things will be implemented.

QUESTION: I’m just asking for the concept of political commitment. What does that mean, beyond giving your word?

MS. PSAKI: I just gave you additional examples of how that has been implemented and how it has worked in the past.

QUESTION: The Iranians have talked about this, whatever it is, that if anything happens, that it being – the idea that the UN Security Council would at least endorse it if not enshrine it in some kind of a resolution. Is that something that you think would be useful?

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to get ahead of how this would be implemented at this point in time.

QUESTION: So —

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and then.

QUESTION: Okay. But then can you understand the – if you can’t talk about how it’s going to be implemented, can you understand the concern that people have when you tell them, “Trust us”?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re saying that, Matt.

QUESTION: No, “Trust us to deliver a good deal. If we can’t get a good deal, then there will be no deal.”

MS. PSAKI: The discussion about a good deal or a bad deal is about the content of the deal. We agree it’s about the content of the deal that we would have to discuss —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: — and defend and obviously have a discussion with Congress about.

QUESTION: And – but the content of the deal also includes its implementation, right?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And if you can’t get into how it would be implemented, then there are obviously open questions —

MS. PSAKI: There is not an agreement yet at this point in time, Matt.

QUESTION: I understand. But – so you can understand that the questions are open and that people would have concerns about them. Correct?

MS. PSAKI: We will certainly have a discussion about the content and every component of this if and when there is a framework and an agreement.

QUESTION: Do your experts believe that perhaps there is a lack of understanding of the United States Constitution on the part of the senators that signed this letter? I mean, there are legal —

MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question —

QUESTION: — there are constitutional experts that say —

MS. PSAKI: I would pose that question to them, Said.

Do we have any more on Iran before we continue?

QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more.

MS. PSAKI: I know we have a limited amount of time.

QUESTION: One more.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So you said that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif hadn’t spoken in the last couple of days. Was the last time that they’ve actually spoke the in-person meeting last week?

MS. PSAKI: I believe that’s correct, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the EU is hosting a meeting on Monday with the European foreign ministers in the P5+1.

MS. PSAKI: Yes. Which —

QUESTION: Is the Secretary going to be involved?

MS. PSAKI: — they just put out, I think, in the last hour.

QUESTION: Right. Will Secretary Kerry be involved in those?

MS. PSAKI: No, he wouldn’t be. It’s an EU meeting.

Any more on Iran?

QUESTION: Can I have one more on Iran? Iran.

MS. PSAKI: Iran? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Your objection to this letter is because the content or just because they have reached out to the Iranian Government directly?

MS. PSAKI: I think – just – I want to just make sure we get to as many issues as possible and I have talked about this extensively yesterday and today, as have my colleagues —

QUESTION: I’m asking —

MS. PSAKI: — so I’m going to point you to the transcript.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Look, I’m asking —

MS. PSAKI: Abigail, go ahead.

QUESTION: Because I have follow-up question on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m asking this because two years ago, around 20 senators from the U.S. wrote directly to Indian prime minister economic reforms idea.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Then again, more than 120 House of Representative members wrote a letter to the Indian prime minister.

MS. PSAKI: Do you remember the content of the letters?

QUESTION: Yeah. It was for the economic reforms in India. They had expressed concern and wanted Indian Government to —

MS. PSAKI: It’s an entirely different thing. We’re talking about inserting yourself into international negotiations that are ongoing —

QUESTION: So both are different.

MS. PSAKI: — that involve the executive branch.

Go ahead, Abigail.

QUESTION: Sorry —

QUESTION: And you have no objection to those letters, right?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have those letters in front of me. Go ahead. I don’t believe we have expressed any though.

QUESTION: One of the responses of Foreign Minister Zarif was he said that if the next administration revoked an agreement with the stroke of a pen, it would be a blatant violation of international law. Is that an accurate —

MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to speak to Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments.

QUESTION: One more Iran?

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: A quick question, madam. Many countries wants Iran to stop the nuclear program. And also, as far nuclear program and dissensions are concerned, are you going after those who are helping Iran as far as their nuclear program is concerned? And also, who is buying their oil under this international sanction?

MS. PSAKI: Who is buying their oil? We do reports on this every year, Goyal, so I would point you to that. There’s a lot of information available.

QUESTION: One last thing on the broader issue here.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that it’s important for the Iranians and the rest of the world, in fact, to know that this agreement is being negotiated by you and the other others – but on the United States side, by the entire United States. And wouldn’t it make more sense, if that’s the argument you want to put forth, to have congressional buy-in, to have the House and the – or the Senate, at least, in this case —

MS. PSAKI: Well, that would change centuries of historic precedent for how international negotiations work, so —

QUESTION: Right, but some of the most important treaties that the United States has signed – or international agreements, I should say, that the United States has signed, have been treaties. Not to say that there haven’t been one – important ones —

MS. PSAKI: There have been some, yes. There have been some that are not.

QUESTION: Right. But if your argument is that this letter undermines the U.S. position because it makes it look like the entire government, all branches of it, aren’t behind this agreement —

MS. PSAKI: Well, that wasn’t exactly what I was intending to say.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, we know members of Congress have their own views – Democrats and Republicans, members from both parties – and they’ve spoken out publicly about that for years now. We don’t expect nor would we attempt to change their right to freedom of speech.

QUESTION: And this will be my last one. Is it the suspicion of the Administration that the 47 senators who signed this letter are not – is it your suspicion that they are not interested in any deal?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to speak on their behalf. I think this type of step doesn’t show support for our efforts to achieve a deal.

QUESTION: Do you think they have been highly influenced by the speech made by the Israeli prime minister last week?

MS. PSAKI: I encourage you – it sounds like you need to get yourself to the Senate and ask them some questions.

QUESTION: But Madam, are you —

MS. PSAKI: I think we need to move on, because we have a limited amount of time here, I think, because of – for – to be responsive to the request. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any update on Ambassador Lippert?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Ambassador Lippert – you may have seen he gave a press conference when he came out of the hospital this morning. I can – I’m happy to touch on some of the points that he made during that. He obviously thanked the South Korean Government. He thanked the doctors. He has been – his heart has been warmed by the outpouring of support from the people of South Korea. That’s what he spoke to. He didn’t give an indication of when he’d return, but obviously, we’re pleased to see that he’s home with his family and will continue his recovery.

QUESTION: Jen —

QUESTION: Can you tell us about (inaudible)? Can you tell us about any additional security measures taken to protect the ambassador since the attack?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into specifics. I think we have said that we’ve been working with the South Korean Government to make sure he has the security that he needs.

QUESTION: And getting to the topic of the press conference that shortly will be held in New York —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — that is, to the emails. I’m wondering if you were able to get an answer to the question yesterday and from before about whether the servers had been checked to make sure that – no answer to that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any update on the server. I have a couple of other updates, but go ahead.

QUESTION: There was – okay. Well, there was a report this morning that this vetting or that this review of the emails that you all are going to have to do of this 55,000 pages is going to cost millions and millions of dollars. Is that accurate?

MS. PSAKI: It is not accurate. The cost and work of reviewing Secretary Clinton’s emails for release would’ve been roughly the same regardless of whether she had a state.gov email or a personal email and regardless of where her email was housed. The story said, of course, millions that’s – the cost and work would have had to be done regardless, because you’d have to review these documents as part of a FOIA process, so —

QUESTION: So, in fact, it will cost millions, it’s just not – it wouldn’t cost any more than what it would have had it been a state.gov —

MS. PSAKI: Millions – I don’t have a cost estimate for you. I don’t anticipate we would, but millions is far outstated regardless.

But I think the important point here – one other point – is that this is – has generally been a paper process, so the review paper-wise, which is one of the points made in the story, is generally how any FOIA process would be done.

QUESTION: So the – are you suggesting, then, that her office handing over the emails in large boxes of paper, aside from any environmental concerns this current Secretary might have about that, that is standard – that’s how this stuff is usually done?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, doesn’t that seem to be a waste of a lot of —

MS. PSAKI: Paper? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Paper and man/woman power, having to go through and sort – I mean, look, paper cuts – there are all sorts of risks here. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Paper cuts is a risk.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make more sense to have this stuff on an electronic database that’s easily searchable?

MS. PSAKI: Well, there is some long precedent here for how this is done. I’m not saying that this is how it will always be done. As you know, we are updating – the entire government is updating how they do many, many processes.

QUESTION: Well, right, but —

MS. PSAKI: But one – well, let me just make one point. There is some desire at times when people request FOIAs – and I’m sure there are some people in here who have submitted FOIA requests – to see the original documents and notes that may have been made and things along those lines, and so there is some history here in terms of why, but it’s traditionally been a paper process. Whether or not it should be, that’s a larger question.

QUESTION: Right. Well, maybe it would be both, which doesn’t exactly save the paper, but at least people can search and more quickly, presumably, take – would take much less time.

MS. PSAKI: Your point is a valid point.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: What I was trying to convey is that this is how it’s typically been done, so —

QUESTION: All right. And then last one from me on this: Democratic members of the House – the Select Committee on Benghazi have written – asked Secretary Kerry to expedite the release – or the review and the release of the 300 emails that were relevant to – that you turned over. And I’m just wondering if you have a response to that.

MS. PSAKI: So that is consistent with what we have been discussing internally. Let me just give you just a brief update on kind of where we are. We’ll review the entire 55,000-page set and release in one batch at the end of that review to ensure that standards are consistently applied throughout the entire 55,000 pages. We said we expect the review to take several months. Obviously, that hasn’t changed. The release will be posted on a publicly available website. I will have more information about that hopefully soon.

The only documents from that 55,000 pages that we will review for a separate earlier release are the approximately 300 emails already produced to the Select Committee. Those will be reviewed and released prior to completion of the entire set. Those will also, of course, be posted and made publicly available online.

QUESTION: So in other words, even if you haven’t filed a FOIA request, you’re going to be able to see these – you’re going to put them up publicly anyway so anyone can see them?

MS. PSAKI: The 300 page – all of them?

QUESTION: No – well, both.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah. They’ll be publicly available.

QUESTION: All – not just the Benghazi ones?

MS. PSAKI: We’re just using FOIA standards. Yes. We’re using FOIA standards, but they’ll be publicly available.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you have any idea – I realize that it might be hard for 55,000 pages for you to have an estimate of how much time it will take to go through them by hand, but on 300, it seems a little bit easier. I mean, are we talking weeks?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s 900 pages, which is the 300 emails. It is shorter than 55,000 technically —

QUESTION: By —

MS. PSAKI: — by mathematics. I don’t have —

QUESTION: Technically, but actually —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an estimate on that particular piece. I can check and see if there’s more specificity.

QUESTION: All right.

MS. PSAKI: Let me just add one more thing, and I think Brad asked this last week. Specific FOIA redaction criteria has included and would include, since we’re following the same standards, national security, personal privacy, privilege, and trade secrets among others. As per our regular process, we will identify the basis for any redactions. And that’s, I think, something that Brad asked about last week.

QUESTION: And just one last thing.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know, did anyone ask – given the amount, the volume of this, did you all ask for a electronic version of it as well as the paper?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so, Matt. I think this has been handled in a specific way for some time.

Go ahead, Justin.

QUESTION: And those were the announcement – you just read the updates that you mentioned, right?

MS. PSAKI: Those are, I believe, the updates —

QUESTION: You said you had updates.

MS. PSAKI: — that I have, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. One of the things we expect Secretary Clinton to say today was that Colin Powell did it too essentially, that he used a private email account. And in fact, his people have said that that account has been shut down for some time, and they suggested that they don’t really have access to it. So my question is: Are you satisfied with the records-keeping job that Secretary Powell has done and with the documents that he’s handed over to you, per your last request?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me give you a quick update – actually, this is another update on former secretaries. Also we intend to – I think some have asked about the letter sent to secretaries. We intend to release that as well, the text of that letter, so hopefully soon. Former Secretary Rice – I’m just going to go through all of them if that’s okay – responded to the Department’s letter and informed us that she did not use personal email for official business. Early in March of this year, General Powell advised – and I think he’s spoken to this publicly as well – that he used a personal email account during his tenure as Secretary of State. He did not take any hard copies of emails with him when he left office and has no record of the emails, with the account he used having been closed for a number of years. Former Secretary Albright advised that she did not use email as secretary and has no records in her possession.

I think we are all aware, broadly speaking, that email is an imperfect process, and obviously, we have taken and we will continue to undertake steps consistent with national standards to update what we’re doing in the federal government. And I have spoken to in the past what Secretary Kerry is doing and how we preserve and archive his emails and his documents, and that reflects our commitment to doing that. But clearly, there were more technological changes prior to our efforts to do this.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, The Washington Post reported this morning that a Foreign Affairs Manual update dated October 30th, 1995 mentions the emergence of something called “electronic mail,” and it noted that all employees must be —

MS. PSAKI: (Laughter.) That brings us all back, doesn’t it?

QUESTION: — yeah, it does; you’re right – and that all employees must be aware that these are important and, quote, “must be preserved.” So to say that it’s an imperfect thing and that he didn’t know what he was doing and they’re all gone now —

MS. PSAKI: Well, but —

QUESTION: — that doesn’t – I mean, they knew in 1995 that they had something here worth keeping.

MS. PSAKI: Well, Justin, with all due respect, I don’t have from 20 years ago the FAM —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — nor do I think that’s exactly a silver bullet. I think we’re talking about how former secretaries archived their emails and the challenge of doing so. Certainly —

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the way Powell archived his emails?

MS. PSAKI: Certainly we respect the fact that former Secretary Powell responded to our request and looked through what was possible, and we’re going to move forward.

QUESTION: What was it? A silver bullet? (Laughter.) Are you accusing one or several former secretaries of state of being werewolves or something? I mean, what is – what does that – (laughter) – I mean —

MS. PSAKI: I’m referring to Justin’s quote from The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Well, what you’re saying – what he —

QUESTION: Well, no. I think he was quoting the FAM. Weren’t you?

QUESTION: I was quoting the FAM.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: And essentially what you’re saying is ignorance of the law is justifiable. And —

MS. PSAKI: That’s not at all what I’m suggesting, Justin. I’m suggesting you’re referring to a line – I don’t have the FAM from 20 years ago in front of me – from one report. I don’t have the FAM in front of me. I can certainly check and see if there were certain policies, if there were regulations. The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations. So suggesting that a line saying that you should be cognizant of your email is indicative of somebody violating something I don’t think is a direct connection.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: But just following up on the question that I asked yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — about the FAM, and not necessarily —

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: — regarding emails, but about the whole thing, the whole voluminous FAM.

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: Everyone who works for this building, from the Secretary on down, is – every employee, including the Secretary, whoever that is, is – “bound” may be not the right – is supposed to follow the guidelines in that. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, you make an effort to follow the guidelines. Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, making an effort is not the same as following them. And I recognize that it’s not a law, but it is policy, and guidelines —

MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.

QUESTION: But everyone is expected to follow them.

MS. PSAKI: They’re guidelines for the entire Department.

QUESTION: And —

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, there’s – the FAM is a large document. So —

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: I just want to understand something here. So it is a guideline and not a law.

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: Does that – doesn’t that leave a great room of discretion or latitude for employees to do whatever they want?

MS. PSAKI: No, it doesn’t. It’s very specifically written. But I think it’s important to differentiate between a guideline and a law.

Go ahead, Lesley. New topic?

QUESTION: Change of – yeah, new topic.

QUESTION: One thing.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure, Elliot. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify on the 300 emails.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Are those going to be released publicly at the same time that they’re transferred to the Select Committee on —

MS. PSAKI: They’ve already been transferred to the Select Committee.

QUESTION: Oh, they have. Okay. Sorry.

MS. PSAKI: Yeah, a couple weeks ago. So this would be about publicly releasing them, which requires sort of a certain type of review.

QUESTION: Got it. Okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Jen, does the State Department have a comment on Myanmar’s violence?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on (inaudible) though?

MS. PSAKI: Sure. And then we’ll go to Lesley.

QUESTION: Yeah, I had a —

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: When Secretary Clinton needed to communicate classified information, how did she do it?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, I would let Secretary Clinton and her team speak to that. I think they have spoken to or we have spoken to the fact that this is an unclassified email that was used here. There are many ways to get classified information, and many secretaries get them through paper. So I don’t have any more of an update for you. I’d point you to Secretary Clinton.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a – in her book Hard Choices, Mrs. Clinton has said that she used – she fell in love with her iPad. When she was Secretary of State, do you know if she used her iPad for —

MS. PSAKI: I was not working here at the time, so I would certainly point you to Secretary Clinton and her team on whether she used an iPad and what she used it for.

QUESTION: Can I —

MS. PSAKI: Another email question, or —

QUESTION: No.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, well let’s go to Lesley, and then we’ll go to you.

QUESTION: So a Myanmar – do you have a comment on the violence? Myanmar police beat students, monks, journalists calling for academic freedom. Any comment on that? And where does the U.S. stand?

MS. PSAKI: The protests, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: We urge the Government of Burma to respect the right of protestors to assemble peacefully as a means of expressing their views. Freedom of assembly is an important component of any democratic society. We condemn the use of force taken against peaceful protestors. We are deeply concerned by reports of violence by police and other individuals against protestors and journalists in Letpadan. We are deeply concerned by the reports of arrests and will continue to closely monitor the situation.

To your second question, we are, of course, in regular contact with the Government of Burma. We’ve repeatedly called on all parties to exercise restraint at this point. We are speaking to all the relevant parties and our international partners to ascertain the specific cause of the clashes, and we’re also working to confirm the number of individuals arrested and injured.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MS. PSAKI: Nicolas, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, Egypt.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can we go to Sharm el-Sheikh?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Apart from meeting with President Sisi, you announced yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — are you aware of further additional meetings between Secretary Kerry and other leaders? Palestinian sources said this morning that you would be meeting with President Abbas.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I expect there will be, and we’re still finalizing those details. Let me see if there’s anything that we – is finalized that we can get around to you about additional meetings beyond the conference he’s going there for.

QUESTION: Related to the (inaudible) meeting with Abbas —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Today King Abdullah, one of your allies, spoke to the European parliament in Strasburg, and he said that putting off or deferring the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only adds fuel to the extremists and so on, all that rhetoric that he uses. Do you agree with him?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve said many times in the past that the lack of a peace agreement provides or allows for a vacuum that often is filled by other sources. So I think that’s consistent. I’d have to look at his comments, though, Said.

QUESTION: Yeah. He also said that the time has come (inaudible). I mean he’s sort of underscoring a line of urgency, so to speak.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, we all feel an urgency. We see an urgency, but as you know, there’s an election going on in Israel, and it’s up to the two parties to determine whether they’re willing to take the steps to move forward. Let’s go ahead.

QUESTION: On Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today – oh, sorry. Yesterday, Senators Corker and Menendez asked the Administration to submit a report to Congress on plans to provide in defense lethal assistance to the Ukraine.

MS. PSAKI: The Freedom Support Act report?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The deadline was February 15th, but it probably wasn’t submitted to Congress. So do you have any schedule for sending it to Congress?

MS. PSAKI: Well, the reports are currently undergoing an interagency review. We’re committed to delivering these reports to Congress as soon as possible. The situation – as you know, because we discuss this in here almost every day – is extremely fluid. We want to ensure that Congress has the most complete and up-to-date information, so we hope to submit that soon.

QUESTION: And could you clarify what agency is in charge of doing the report? Is it White House, State Department —

MS. PSAKI: Well, the – President Obama delegated to the State Department certain reporting requirements in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, but there are several agencies who weigh in on the content.

QUESTION: And another question. Yesterday, the president of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed – there was a publication when he called for creation of European army – European Union army.

MS. PSAKI: European Union arming Ukraine?

QUESTION: No, in Europe.

MS. PSAKI: Oh, arming —

QUESTION: As a —

QUESTION: No, an (inaudible) army –

QUESTION: — armed force of Europe.

QUESTION: — for the EU.

MS. PSAKI: An army for the European Union. Oh, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I was misunderstanding what you were saying. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: So (inaudible).

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on that?

MS. PSAKI: I would point you to the EU. No, I don’t —

QUESTION: I thought they have NATO.

QUESTION: No, but many of European Union countries are members of NATO, and the United States has legal obligations —

MS. PSAKI: I understand. I don’t think we’ve seen the EU countries speak to that, though.

QUESTION: Venezuela?

MS. PSAKI: Venezuela? Sure.

QUESTION: Yesterday, President Maduro had a three-hour speech in which he charged that the United States and President Obama particularly had mentioned the seven names and that was a clear signal that he wants to oust – to bring his government down, and as a response named the – one of the seven, the intelligence chief as minister of the interior, justice, and peace. Your reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say the sanctions that we announced yesterday are directed at individuals – human rights abusers and corrupt individuals, not the Venezuelan people or the economy. There are specific reasons why each of those individuals under the executive order were sanctioned. The United States remains an important trading partner, is actually Venezuela’s largest trading partner, and despite the statements to the contrary from Venezuelan officials, we are not promoting instability in Venezuela. Rather we believe respect for democratic norms and human rights is the best guarantee of Venezuela’s stability. Hence our executive order. So allegations that these actions are an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan Government are false. The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Government of Venezuela to change their behavior.

Let me touch on one thing, because I think somebody asked it yesterday. It came up on the background call, which is the specifics of the language used in the fact sheet that stated that this was a national emergency. I think it’s important for everybody to understand – I think Elliot asked this yesterday if I remember – that this is how we describe the process of naming sanctions, and there are 20 to 30 other sanctions programs we have. So if you look at similar fact sheets – I understand people look at the context of what’s happening on the ground, but it’s consistent with how we announce and how we describe putting sanctions and putting these executive orders in place.

QUESTION: There’s another angle here. President Maduro is using this action by the President as an excuse to ask today and probably will get special powers, like President Chavez did several years ago, to allow him to do anything he wants to. And he’ll probably get that today.

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen those announcements. I think our view, obviously, continues to be that he needs to spend more time listening to the views of the Venezuelan people. So that’s what we would recommend.

QUESTION: The – one more?

MS. PSAKI: Anymore on Venezuela before we continue?

QUESTION: The —

MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The charge d’affaires, Maximilian Arvelaez, was called today by the minister of the exterior, Delcy Rodriguez. Do you have any readout on the meeting, what they talked about?

MS. PSAKI: The recall of the charge back to Venezuela or another meeting are you referring to?

QUESTION: Another meeting, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any readout of that. We’ve been having ongoing discussions about their desire to have a dialogue about our presence in Venezuela. I don’t have any specific readouts, though.

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. PSAKI: Let’s go to —

QUESTION: I’ve got another one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: The Cuban state press is saying today that Fidel Castro penned a letter to President Maduro congratulating him for his, quote, “brilliant and valiant speech in the face of U.S. brutal plans.” First of all, do you have a reaction to that? And could this kind of rhetoric affect ongoing talks between the U.S. and Cubans?

MS. PSAKI: Discussions on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba will continue as planned, so no, we do not. On the first part, I think I would go back to what I stated about our intention here. It’s not promoting unrest in Venezuela, as was suggested in the speech, or undermining Venezuela’s economy or its government. It’s making clear and sending a strong message about how – about the fact that we don’t accept human rights abusers, corrupt officials – it’s the sanctioning of seven individuals and giving the President the authority to do more as needed.

QUESTION: So there’s no —

QUESTION: So you

Speeches: U.S. Economic Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

(As delivered)

Thank you very much. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Chairman Hasegawa, thank you so much for your generous introduction and for inviting me here today. It’s an honor to be with all of the membership of the Keizai Doyukai. I understand you’ve been early and strong supporters of the TPP – something I look forward to talking about in a little while.

I also want to recognize my colleagues from the United States administration, especially from the Embassy – our deputy chief of mission and also Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. Ambassador Kennedy, as I think all of you know, is a public servant cut from the same cloth as her father. His legacy of friendship with Japan lives on through her.

I have to tell you also it’s a pleasure to be back in Tokyo. I first came here – I believe it was in 1980 with my family, and I wanted to come here on my first trip as Deputy Secretary of State – and not just to have a drink at the Okura’s Orchid Bar before it’s too late. I wanted to come here to Japan because our alliance is the cornerstone of President Obama’s Asia-Pacific policy.

In fact, when I was moving from the White House to the State Department just a few weeks ago, and I was sitting with President Obama to ask him what he wanted me to focus on, he said Asia. And Secretary Kerry, when I got over to the State Department, I asked him the same question, and he gave me the same answer, and it’s simply a reflection of the importance that both the President and the Secretary attach to the region and to the Alliance with Japan.

There is a reason that President Obama made the strategic decision to rebalance America’s engagement and resources toward the region, and it’s very simple: Nowhere in the world are economic and strategic opportunities clearer or more compelling than in the Asia-Pacific. As Prime Minister Abe said last year, “Asia is a synonym for growth and another name for achievement.”

And that’s because of what the Asia-Pacific has done over the past 70 years, and what it has done is nothing short of a miracle, a miracle that stretches from the base of Mount Fuji to the emerald waters of the Coral Sea – millions out of poverty, some of the fastest growing economies on the planet, home to more than one-third of the world’s population, a growing percentage of whom are middle-class, and of course many dictatorships having given way to democracies.

That’s why the President has made seven visits to the Asia-Pacific including three separate visits to Japan. It’s why Secretary Kerry has traveled to the region nine times in just two years. It’s why Vice President Biden and almost every member of the President’s cabinet have traveled here as well – most of them more than once.

So what exactly is the United States doing to support and share in the growth, in the achievement, and the stability, prosperity, and peace that we see spreading throughout the Asia-Pacific?

We have this policy that we call the rebalance, and it has several pillars, each of which contributes in substantial ways to facilitating and supporting this region’s growth and economic dynamism. To start with, we’re redoubling our commitment to the region’s security, which is essential to its economic future. Because the plain fact is that conflict and trade do not mix. So we’ve enhanced and we’re modernizing our alliances, especially with Japan. Over the past few years, our two nations began revising our bilateral Defense Guidelines for the first time in more than two decades. This is part of a larger, transparent discussion about our collective self-defense. This review – along with Japan’s decision to relax some restrictions on defense equipment exports – will help make sure that the Alliance evolves to reflect both the shifting security environment and the growing capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

Elsewhere in the region, we strengthened our security alliances with South Korea, with the Philippines, with Australia, and we’ve reinforced partnerships with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and others. We’ve begun to conduct more joint training exercises – like the Keen Edge exercises we hold with Japan biannually. And we’ve sent more assets to the region, both diplomatic and military. And we’ve bolstered our trilateral cooperation with Japan and Australia, and with Japan and South Korea.

Strengthening our relationship with China is also part and parcel of the rebalance. We seek a relationship with China defined by practical and tangible cooperation on challenges that face both of our nations. The more we can work together, and be seen as working together, the more we can avoid the trap of inevitable rivalry.

I just came from Beijing where I met with a range of senior Chinese officials. And just in the last year – it’s been quite extraordinary – our cooperation has grown deeper and wider, from combating climate change, to facilitating travel between our people; from confidence-building measures between our militaries to working together to bring peace to South Sudan and to pursue a comprehensive agreement with Iran to ensure that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes.

This year, we intend to build on this momentum of last year through ongoing, day-to-day bilateral discussions, our Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and the state visit of President Xi that he will make to Washington coming up in September.

But even as we deepen cooperation, we also deal forthrightly with our differences – and we will continue to do so. For example, we are firm in our stance on maritime security. Free commerce requires free waterways for ships to pass. It requires that the needs of business take precedence over squabbles over rocks and shoals.

We have made clear that the U.S. military would not abide by China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, including over the Senkaku Islands. And President Obama has clearly stated that the Senkaku Islands fall under Japan’s administration and under the mutual defense treaty with Japan and the United States. We don’t take a position on the various territorial claims of others, but we do take a strong position on how those claims are pursued. Any disagreement must be dealt with in accordance with international law, peacefully, with restraint, and avoid actions that unilaterally change the status quo. We have urged China and ASEAN to reach a code of conduct that will reduce the potential for conflict in the years to come.

The true question at the heart of these conflicts is who controls access to Asia’s abundant energy resources. The region depends, as you know, on sustainable, affordable, and reliable access to diverse energy supplies – which in turn rely upon the safe and reliable transport of oil and gas in maritime channels. Almost a third of global crude oil and over half of global LNG passes through the South China Sea, making it one of the most important trade routes in the world.

Uncertainty fueled by competing South China Sea claims affects energy security; it affects trade and commerce; it creates a more unpredictable investment environment. If we can peacefully end ongoing conflicts over rocks and reefs, then the Asia-Pacific region will be better able to attract investment. Cooperation is needed to fully prove and develop the billions of barrels of oil and hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of LNG that are estimated to reside under the sea. Developing these resources will bring jobs; it will bring growth and a more secure energy future to the region.

So enhancing security is one pillar of the President’s rebalance. Supporting regional institutions is another.

We know that strong regional institutions are essential to helping to lower tariffs, encourage cooperation, maintain stability, and resolve disputes. So that’s why we’ve remained a very strong supporter of ASEAN and its mission to promote smart energy, trade, and investment. It’s why we’ve taken an active role in APEC, an organization working to promote trade and investment liberalization, cut global carbon emissions, and expand economic opportunities for women. And it’s why we’ve worked hard to elevate the East Asia Summit to the premier forum for dealing with political and security issues throughout region.

Today, though, it is my honor to have the attention of so many of Japan’s business leaders, and so I’d like to focus the balance of my time on the third pillar of our rebalance strategy, and that of course is the economic pillar.

U.S. businesses, workers, farmers, and consumers have been a dependable foundation for growth in the Asia-Pacific for decades. I see it everywhere I travel. Trade with the United States fills bank accounts, store shelves, and ocean freighters – from the Port of Yokohama, to the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong, to the markets of Kuala Lumpur. We remain the single largest source of foreign direct investment in the region – U.S. investment stock here reached $622 billion a couple of years ago in 2012. We are also the most important market for Asian goods, exchanging well over $1 trillion dollars in trade with the continent each year.

But we’re not the only driver of growth in the Asia – far from it. Japan is fueling billions of dollars in trade with Thailand, South Korea and Hong Kong. Australia, which signed free-trade agreements with China, South Korea and Japan last year, is importing from Singapore and Japan. And of course China is exporting to Malaysia and Vietnam. Overall, trade among APEC nations reached $1.4 trillion this year and is outpacing world trade growth by a 40 percent margin.

As we look forward and deeper into 2015, the single most important step we can take together for our economic relationships is completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The state-of-the-art Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – or as we call it, TPP – establishes high standards on labor, intellectual property, the environment, and it levels the playing field for businesses in all of our nations. It will unlock vast new markets. It will curb the role of state-owned enterprises as they compete with private companies. It will expand trade in a region that already represents one-third of all global exchange. And it will bring economic growth and jobs to all our shores. For example, economists predict it will add $100 billion to Japan’s GDP over the next decade.

Working together to create a rules-based regional trade architecture built on transparency and competition – this is an ambitious undertaking. But it is an achievable one. And it will change how we trade for decades to come.

This agreement is about more than the economic opportunities it unleashes, because the fact is, TPP is not just a technical trade agreement, it’s a strategic opportunity for the entire region.

The TPP serves both the United States and Japan’s strategic interests for three principal reasons:

First, it will cement the strong alliance framework and partnerships that ensure the Asia-Pacific’s security and prosperity. We’ve long had a security presence in the region, as I just discussed. The TPP is the vital next step. It will assure our allies and partners that our long-term commitment to the region reaches beyond security and into the economic realm. It will add another dimension to our strong and enduring presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Second, concluding the TPP, with over 40 percent of global GDP, will build a magnetic effect attracting non-members across the region to the benefits that it offers. It will spur them to make the necessary reforms like lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade and investment. And in the end, it will lead them to enter the fold as liberal and open economies. Indeed, what we’re seeing is that a number of non-TPP countries like South Korea are expressing strong interest in joining. Even China is showing interest. We welcome new members – so long as they can meet the high standards that will be front-and-center in this agreement.

And there is a very important point there that I want to emphasize, and I want to be very clear with all of you about it. The TPP is not an attempt to isolate or contain China. Any nation that is willing to rise to the occasion and meet the high standards we have set for ourselves is welcome – China included. In fact, the world would be a better place if China made the changes and embraced the reforms that would make it an eligible candidate for TPP.

Finally, concluding the TPP is about defining the values that we want to see prevail in the Asia-Pacific – values like fair labor standards, environmental protection, and laws updating intellectual property rights. The standards enshrined within this agreement reflect our values and interests as nations committed to dynamic, just, and rules-based economic practices. The TPP offers economic stability in a turbulent world.

Ultimately, this agreement establishes a framework that enables countries throughout the region to grow together – in a way that will benefit us for generations to come. It will ensure that we focus not just on whether our economies grow, but how they grow.

So where does TPP stand today? We made lots of progress during the most recent negotiations in New York, and I was just discussing that with the chairman before we came out here. The contours of a final agreement are coming into focus. But the closer you get to the end of something as complicated and meaningful as TPP, you get to the toughest issues and the hardest choices. So we need all stakeholders in all sectors – including those of you in this room – to help make those choices and push TPP over the finish line. We need you to make the calls, convene the meetings, and remind officials of the economic and strategic benefits that this agreement will bring. With your help, we can complete this agreement and continue to bend the arc of the region in the direction of progress and prosperity.

There are enormous opportunities in the years ahead – that you know better than most anyone – to make headway on trade. And we have to seize them. But TPP alone is not a cure all. It’s not the only answer. Broad-based economic growth requires a thriving society. It requires that people have access to training and education. It requires the free flow of ideas and information. It requires the rule of law, the protection of intellectual property. And it requires that governments protect the universal human rights of their citizens.

This too is a pillar of our policy in the region, and it helps to uphold all the others. Promoting these values serves some very practical goals. When all people in society are unshackled – when they are free to think and act creatively and for themselves to question and criticize, to challenge conventional wisdom – that’s how you get innovation. That’s how you get entrepreneurship and the building blocks of a growing, self-sustaining economy.

These values empower citizens to demand a cleaner environment and safer products, to ask for high labor standards, to make their governments more accountable and less corrupt – all of which makes trade more free and fair and helps our companies compete.

That’s why in Burma we’ve been working to keep the government accountable to its people as Burma opens to the world. It’s why in Vietnam – 20 years after normalizing relations – we continue to work encourage reforms that will strengthen the rule of law and freedom of expression. And it’s why in Cambodia, we are supporting civil society and pluralistic politics while strengthening our relationship at the same time.

In the United States, entrepreneurship is almost written into our DNA. But we believe that businesses and governments alike can’t just invest in profits; we have to invest in all the tools that create prosperity, especially our human resources.

Think about this: If you asked people 50 or 100 years ago to define the wealth of a nation, they might talk about the size of its population, the expanse of its land mass, the strength of its military, the abundance of its natural resources. And all of those things still matter. And in the United States, we’re blessed with all of them. But in the 21st century, the true wealth of a nation lies in its human resources and in the ability of countries to maximize their potential, to let them be free and creative and innovative. That is the true wealth of a nation.

On top of the list, then, are the investments we have to make in our young people – the men and women who will be making our economic decisions in 10, 15 or 20 years down the road. And that’s something I know that all of you are well aware of. We are grateful for your efforts to expand student exchange programs between Japan and the United States.

And programs like the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or YSEALI, are also leading the way in these efforts. As we encourage students to come to the U.S. to learn about open markets and entrepreneurship, we send Americans to Asia as students, as Fulbright Scholars, as Peace Corps volunteers.

These programs empower young people to be the business leaders of the future. In Manila, I heard one YSAELI alumnus launched a program to help modernize the Philippines’ agricultural economy. In Cambodia, another graduate wrote a handbook to help students choose the right career path. And in Singapore, we brought graduates of our program together with American firms to help open markets, but also open minds.

I was in South Korea just a few days ago at the beginning of this trip. I met with college students and alumni from our International Visitor Leadership Program, and a few of them told me a little bit about their careers. Some of them were journalists. Some of them spoke passionately about their studies to become businesspeople, to become lawyers, to become engineers.

And then yesterday I sat with three remarkable young entrepreneurs on a train from Tientsin to Beijing, and they told me about the challenges and opportunities of launching start-up ventures in China.

Across the board, these young people are thinking big. They don’t just want an education; they want to be able to vote for their leaders. They don’t just want a big paycheck; they want to make sure everyone has the right to speak freely and that that right is respected at the same time.

I’ve had inspiring conversations with young people throughout the region, and every time I walk away with confidence that – if we can make the right choices today and take advantage of the economic opportunities that are staring us literally in the face – then the region’s future will be bright, and it will be in very good hands.

America’s engagement with the Asia-Pacific – economic and otherwise – is a testament to a simple fact: America too is a Pacific nation. Our commitment to this region has stood the test of time, the test of conflict, the test of Mother Nature. And one of the clearest indicators of this commitment is our long history of partnership and alliance with Japan, a partnership based not on a temporary alignment of interests, but on a permanent foundation of shared values, a partnership and alliance we look forward to reaffirming when Prime Minister Abe makes a state visit to the United States in April, a partnership that sets a powerful example for the rest of the world.

Seventy years after the end of a bloody war, our countries have never been closer. Your cities host the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet and 50,000 American troops – including the U.S. Marines on Okinawa. And across the Pacific, more than 1.3 million Japanese-Americans populate and energize cities from San Francisco to New York.

But these statistics tell only part of the story. Behind the numbers are businesses creating new technology, volunteers distributing emergency food aid in the Philippines after the typhoon, government agencies working hand-in-glove to combat climate change, battle violent extremism, and the scourge of Ebola.

The next chapter in this historic friendship will be about how we shape the Asia-Pacific economy for the 21st century and beyond. We have weathered the storms of war and conflict. We’ve transcended the differences that divided us. Now it’s up to us to take the next step and unite behind a shared economic vision.

I believe Japan, the United States, and the other economies in the Asia-Pacific region will continue to grow and prosper together. But it depends on wise leadership. And it depends on all of you, the business community, continuing to make and strengthen your connections with businesses and people across the Pacific. And it depends on our governments, seeing past short-term concerns to long-term opportunities.

Change is never easy, but we know what our shared future should look like. The task before us is to turn that vision into reality, to the benefit of this time and the benefit of generations to come. Thank you so very much.

QUESTION: Thank you for your inspiring speech. We have been very much encouraged by your confidence in TPP, especially I’ve been chairman of promoting TPP for the last four years, so I am really glad that this is going to be the time that we can probably celebrate by summertime. The next action, though, for us after TPP is the Japan-China-Korea trilateral, then going to the Rsep, so we really hope that the TPP will set the stage for the fundamental agreement going forward with China and East Asian countries. Having said all this, we, who just came back from Davos, a lot of discussion being talked about geo-political risk in East Asia, and the first thing you mentioned out of the three is also the regional security. So if you could mention a little bit about the geo-political risk in East Asia after you have visited Korea, China, and Japan – what will be the take-away after you visit, and also on a long-term basis, what we can do to keep peace over here.

QUESTION: I’d like to take the privilege of master of ceremonies and add one question related to the TPP. You said that TPP is nothing about isolating or excluding China, but on the other hand, how much do you think China is serious or ready to join TPP discussions?

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you both and I want to thank you personally for your extraordinary leadership in working to advance TPP. It doesn’t happen without the kind of leadership that you, and indeed the members of this organization have made.

Let me start actually with the second question very quickly, because I just came from China. My sense is that there has been a real shift in China with regard to TPP from looking to reject and hoping in fact that it didn’t happen, to being quite curious and interested in it. And as I said a few minutes ago, we would welcome that. But like with any member, China would have to meet the high standards across the board that the TPP establishes. If that were to happen, it would be a very good thing for all of us, because those standards would continue to help China move in a positive and progressive direction. So ultimately, as with anything it’s going to be up to China more than anyone else. So we’ll see if it evolves in that direction, but once TPP gets done and you have 40 percent of the world’s GDP represented, I think that’s going to cause countries who are not in it to want to be in it. And then we have another agenda beyond TPP, and that of course is the so-called TTIP in Europe, and if you were to realize that and bring TPP and TTIP together, you would have about 75 percent of the world’s GDP represented, and again I think that will create a very powerful magnet for those countries not in either agreement to want to get in.

So geo-political risk: I’d actually start from the other way around. I see TPP as a fundamental way to lower geo-political risk, to create incentives for countries to trade together, to do business together, to work together, and to avoid conflict. That’s the power of it as a strategic proposition, not simply an economic one. But I also think that the work we’ve been doing in the region is designed precisely to lessen risk. Our presence in the region, our military presence in the region, has been a force for stability for decades. It’s allowed, I believe, some of the remarkable progress we’ve seen over the last 70 years. Similarly, the work we’re doing to try to build the institutions in the region – that too is a way to lower geo-political risk because it creates mechanisms and forums where countries can work through their differences and try and come to common solutions. That’s why we spend so much time on it.

And then the other element in this, of course, it the relationships between and among the different countries in the region, apart from the institutions, and there we’ve seen some positive developments in recent months. I think the progress that has been made in the relationship between Japan and China, including the meeting between Prime Minister Abe and President Xi at the end of last year, the commitment to work together on a number of issues – that’s encouraging. We’ve seen similarly a more positive relationship develop between South Korea and China. That’s also promising and important in terms of lowering risk. And as I said, our own relationship with China – we’re determined to build on the cooperation we’ve already established even as we address the differences. That too, I think, will lower geo-political risk.

So all of these things taken together, I think, can make a big difference. Now, there are clearly sources of significant instability. I believe the most significant source of instability in the region is North Korea and its reckless pursuit of a larger and larger nuclear program and the missiles to deliver those weapons around the world. And that’s why we’ve been trying to make common cause with Japan, with South Korea, with China, with Russia to convince North Korea that it needs to denuclearize. But I actually feel that the entire rebalance is starting to shift and lower geo-political risk, and that in turn is going to create an even more attractive place for investment and for trade.

QUESTION: My name is Hirano, MetLife Japan vice chairman. Can I ask one more TPP question? Or if it’s too much, I withdraw. OK. I heard lots of positive voices when I visited Washington last month, and I’m quite encouraged by your tone of speech – that’s quite encouraging. But we also know that there are many big impediments going forward. So my question is quite straightforward: What are the biggest remaining impediments for TPP to move forward? And to what extent can we be optimistic about the closing of negotiations? Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Well, since negotiations are ongoing at this very moment, the last thing I want to do is get in the middle of them. I trust our negotiators very much. In fact, when I first began in government 22 years ago in the Clinton administration, for about six months I shared an office with Ambassador Froman, our trade negotiator, so I’ve known him for a long time, and I know his dedication and commitment to getting this done. Let me just say this: In anything this complicated and this meaningful, the last mile or the last kilometer is the toughest. The hardest things remain at the end. But what I’m confident of is that with regard to the United States and Japan, both countries, both teams, are working through the remaining issues with determination, and I think in a very pragmatic way, and I’m convinced that there is a determination in particular from Prime Minister Abe and from President Obama to see this to conclusion in the coming weeks and months. So I never want to minimize the challenges of that last mile or last kilometer, but given the determination and good will on both sides, I’m feeling confident that we’ll get there.

QUESTION: (via interpreter) … About the Senkaku Islands and also about visiting Yasukuni Shrine where war criminals are enshrined.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, with regard to the Senkakus, I think President Obama has been very clear. They are under Japanese administration and part of and covered by the U.S.-Japan security treaty. It’s as clear and simple as that. The only thing I would say with regard to the second part of the question is, I think that in many areas in many countries it’s important to be sensitive to history and to the sensitivities created by history, but what strikes me when I think about the countries in this region, and for example Japan and South Korea, to cite just one example, whatever the sensitivities of history, so much more unites countries than divides them. And those common interests and those shared values today, in the year 2015, are what we should focus on, what our leaders should focus on, and they are the foundation for the future that we are trying to build together. Thank you.

QUESTION: At the Keizai Doyukai, I am the chairman of the project team for empowerment of “Japan Hands.” Japan Hands means friends of Japan and experts on Japan. In your speech you mentioned about youth exchange and investment in the youth, which means the next generation is quite important, and I totally agree. And you referred to the high school exchange, but I would like to know if, under the implementation of TPP, how we can encourage the next generation of professional level or high-level exchange between Japan and the United States. Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. To me, actually, nothing is more important than exchange – at every level. High school students, college students, professionals, science, technology, business – this is what knits our countries together more than anything else. This is the foundation that we are building the next generation of the relationship on. And I see this every day. As I mentioned, when I was in South Korea and then in China, I met with some of the people who had been involved in our exchange programs. And as an American, I have to tell you it’s profoundly powerful because young people will go to the United States on these programs and come back with a totally different picture of the United States, a totally different understanding than they had before. And usually it’s positive. And they share it with their families, with their friends. And this is how you build a relationship. And similarly, we have Americans coming to Japan, and they come home, and they’re able to explain Japan, to share it with their friends and with their families, and that builds the relationship. So I believe deeply in these programs, and even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have a choice because my wife is responsible for these programs at the State Department. She’s the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. She runs the Fulbright program. She runs all of the exchange programs. So even if I didn’t believe it, she’d make me. But as it happens, I think nothing is more important. Ambassador Kennedy is very focused on strengthening, expanding, building these programs, and I have to tell you, maybe the No. 1 supporter and cheerleader for these programs is President Obama. He himself benefitted from exchange programs in his youth. He knows the power that they bring. I applaud you for all that you are doing and your support for these programs. Thank you.

QUESTION: I am Tabata, former board member of the International Monetary Fund representing the Japanese government. My question is the relation between the military rebalancing that you mentioned a couple of times and the security of East Asia. A couple of day ago, President Obama asked the U.S. Congress to approve the use of ground forces for the war against terrorism and so on, which means that the former original part of the rebalancing of military forces left from the Middle East and to be concentrated on Asia and so forth. But actually, if military force will be used for the war against terrorism in the Middle East or the Islamic State, then some emptiness will happen in East Asia. But as you know, last year China’s military expenditures exceeded $100 billion U.S. dollars, which is 8 percent of the world’s military expenditures. So taking account of this situation, you mentioned about practical and precise situations are important for the security of East Asia. So my question is for instance to restore Subic Base in the Philippines – you were thinking about that – at the same time, how do you think about restoring and utilizing Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam? These are very practical strategies and so forth. I would like to ask your comment about this.

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Let me be very clear, because I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding, and the President has been extremely clear about this – we will not be sending tens of thousands of troops back to Iraq or to Syria or anyplace else in the region for that matter. The President, as you know – and if you look at the National Security Strategy that we just published last week – we’re focused on moving away from having tens of thousands of American troops in one place locked in for years or even more. What we’re trying to do is to build the capacity of others to deal with the challenges that they face, and so in Iraq, the small number of forces that we have there are trying to help the Iraqis, to train them, to advise them so that they can deal in the first instance with the problems posed and the challenges posed by ISIL. So we are not going to be sending tens of thousands of troops back to Iraq. What the President asked for the other day was really a matter that’s very important – to demonstrate that the executive branch, the White House, and Congress are united in the way we’re going to deal with the threat posed by ISIL. And so he wanted to have Congress on record in this authorization supporting what we’re doing together to deal with this threat. And that’s what that’s about. It is not to authorize tens of thousands of ground forces in Iraq – that is not going to happen. What we’re looking at is a small number of trainers, some advisers, and indeed that’s what we have on the ground in Iraq now. So I just want to be very clear about that.

And then again, with regard to this region, I think what you’re seeing across the board is countries working together to develop their capacity. For example, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and others are working with countries from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia for example to develop their maritime capacity. This is very beneficial in doing exactly what we discussed in response to the first question, which is lowering strategic risk, lowering tensions, creating an environment of stability. So we have a very active program working with countries throughout the region in those areas, and I think we’re already seeing the benefits of that. But the rebalance itself is balanced, with a security component, with an economic component, with an institutional component, with a bilateral component, and increasingly as well with people-to-people exchanges that are another foundation of what we’re doing. So you have to look at the balance within the rebalance to see its strength.

Thank you.

East Asia and the Pacific: Extraordinary Meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong

On February 2, Counselor Tom Shannon and Senior Advisor to the Secretary Ambassador David Thorne led a U.S. delegation to the Extraordinary Meeting of the Friends of the Lower Mekong in Pakse, Laos. The Friends of the Lower Mekong, a donor coordination group, came together with the countries of the Lower Mekong to discuss the connection between water resources, energy needs and food security. Accompanying Counselor Shannon and Ambassador Thorne were representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy.

The health of the Mekong River is essential to the economic growth and sustainable development of the region. In Cambodia, the Mekong supports the rich biodiversity of a watershed that provides more than 60% of the protein intake for the entire country. The river irrigates the “rice bowl” in Vietnam, where more than half of the nation’s rice production is concentrated in the provinces that make up the Mekong delta. In Laos, Thailand, and Burma, the Mekong is an important artery for transportation, a water source for aquaculture and agriculture, and a generator of electricity.

Meeting participants discussed the challenges of ensuring a future in which economic growth does not come at the expense of clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems. The meeting brought together senior officials from Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam alongside representatives from the United States, the Mekong River Commission, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union, and the governments of Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

At the meeting, the U.S. delegation announced several new initiatives, including the launch of USAID’s Sustainable Mekong Energy Initiative (SMEI). Through the SMEI, the United Stateswill promote the use of alternative energy and low-emission technologies. The delegation also announced that the Department of State will organize and send a Sustainable Energy Business Delegation to the region later this year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will provide technical assistance on hydropower management. In conjunction, Counselor Shannon and Ambassador Thorne announced that the State Department will contribute $500,000 in support of a Mekong River study on the impacts of hydropower on the community and environment.

The Friends of the Lower Mekong will also work together to strengthen the capacity of Lower Mekong countries to more effectively implement social and environmental safeguards such as environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental analyses. The U.S. government, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the Government of Australia plan to jointly develop a Regional Impact Assessment Training Center at the Asian Institute of Technology Center in Vietnam.

Under the auspices of the Lower Mekong Initiative the United States is continuing successful projects like Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) to provide technical assistance to the region on land and water use management, renewable energy, and infrastructure development. $1.5 million will be spent on SIM projects in the Mekong region this year.

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing – January 16, 2015

2:07 p.m. EST

MR. RATHKE: Good afternoon, everybody. I imagine many of you were also watching the press availability at the White House, so understand why we’re a little bit late today. I have a couple of things to mention at the top – three, actually, to be precise.

First, Ukraine. It is one year to the day since Ukraine’s former government passed the so-called Black Thursday laws, draconian laws that denied the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. Ukraine has come an enormous distance since then to meet its people’s aspirations. And the current government remains committed to advancing important reforms, despite ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine. These steps include last year’s free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections, the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, and a focus on anti-corruption efforts, including this week’s move by Ukraine’s parliament to increase the independence of the judiciary. These are critically important steps to help the country move forward, and we congratulate the people of Ukraine on how far they have come in such a short time, especially on this significant anniversary. And we continue to stand with them as they press forward on critical reforms.

Second item is Libya. We welcome yesterday’s announcement that the UN-led talks in Geneva will continue next week, and we applaud those Libyans who are participating. We reiterate our strong support for this UN effort and urge all parties invited by Special Representative Leon to engage in dialogue aimed at producing a unity government that the international community can support. The United States remains committed to working with the international community to help the Libyan people and the government build an inclusive system of governance to address core needs, to provide stability and security, and to address the ongoing threats.

And then the last item, the Secretary’s travels. As many of you have seen, Secretary Kerry was in Paris today where he met with Foreign Minister Fabius and President Hollande to offer condolences after last week’s attacks. He also laid wreaths at Hypercache Market and the Charlie Hebdo office with Foreign Minister Fabius. And the Secretary also laid a wreath at the site of the fallen policeman near the Charlie Hebdo office. He then met with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and they both gave remarks. So a very moving day expressing U.S. support and underscoring our deep ties and ongoing, intensive cooperation.

Before leaving Paris, the Secretary met with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif who was also in town for previous scheduled meetings, and they followed up on the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Geneva.

That’s what I have at the top. Brad.

QUESTION: Since you just brought it up, do you have a fuller readout of what the Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif spoke about?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have a further update on or details on the conversations. Of course, they’ve met a few times this week in Geneva, and then they followed up today. Of course, the focus is on the nuclear talks. I would also highlight, of course, that as we’ve said many times when asked if other topics come up in these conversations, we always mention our concern for American citizens in Iran. And so in that regard, nothing different to report.

QUESTION: So there were already reports from Iran that the Secretary and Mr. Zarif spoke specifically about the Washington Post reporter. Do you know what the Secretary said or what he – what sentiment he —

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have that level of granularity. But of course, we continue to call for his immediate release – that is Jason Rezaian – as well as the immediate release of detained U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, and for the Iranian Government to assist us in locating Robert Levinson so that all can be returned to their families as soon as possible.

Okay. Anything on that topic?

QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran?

MR. RATHKE: On that topic? Yeah..

QUESTION: You saw the President say today there’s a 50-50 chance of a diplomatic deal. Given the discussions over the – I mean, Paris was the second meeting this week. How would you describe those talks going?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of exactly what they discussed. Of course, the Secretary is focused on the Iran nuclear issue, and that’s why he went to Geneva for those to meet with Foreign Minister Zarif. There was an opportunity today because they both happened to be in Paris and so they held another meeting, but I’m not going to characterize further the nature of the discussions.

QUESTION: So this is a matter of taking advantage of —

QUESTION: Any plans —

MR. RATHKE: Just – yeah.

QUESTION: So it was simply a matter of taking advantage of the timing to keep talking? There wasn’t any sense that there was an urgency for this meeting? I mean, people can coincidentally be in the same place and not need to meet.

MR. RATHKE: Right. No, but they both happened to be in Paris. They took the opportunity to meet. I wouldn’t go further beyond that.

QUESTION: Do you know if they said they’d meet again or when they would meet again?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details like that. Of course, they’ve met a number of times in the past. But I don’t have anything to preview as far as when the next meeting might be.

QUESTION: Do you have more of a readout on the ongoing discussions in Geneva?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the discussions in Geneva are ongoing, as you say, Roz. There have been bilats over the last couple of days, not only bilateral meetings with Iran but since other P5+1 countries are there, there have been U.S. bilats with other countries that are involved in the process. I don’t have details to read out of those. And then Sunday is the day when there will be a meeting in the P5+1 format. So those are ongoing. I don’t have details to read out from them.

QUESTION: So you’re not able to say whether they’re focused on any particular technical issues or dealing with any reports of efforts to, for example, try to enhance the capability of Bushehr reactor?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any readout to give from the talks that are ongoing in Geneva.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Bushehr? Because I asked Wednesday, and I think Marie said at the time that she would look into it. Do you have a response to the talk about two additional reactors coming online at some point?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re aware that there was an announcement, and so we’re reviewing the details that surround it. I don’t have a specific comment on that. But in general, the construction of light-water reactors is not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, nor is it in contradiction to the JPOA. And we’ve been clear in saying throughout the negotiations that the purpose of these negotiations is to ensure that – to ensure verifiably that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for civilian and peaceful purposes. So the talks that are ongoing are focused on closing off the possible pathways to acquiring a nuclear bomb. That remains our focus. But I don’t have more specific reaction on that particular announcement.

QUESTION: I’m a little confused because – are you saying that a light-water reactor can have no effect on a potential military nuclear program? Because you’re saying that your goal is to close off all pathways, and then you say light-water reactors are essentially okay.

MR. RATHKE: No, I didn’t say that – I didn’t say that it’s okay. I said that it is —

QUESTION: You said it is not —

MR. RATHKE: — not prohibited, not prohibited by the UN Security Council resolutions, nor does it violate the JPOA. That’s —

QUESTION: So you’re not concerned by them increasing their – you’re not concerned by this activity?

MR. RATHKE: I didn’t say that we weren’t concerned. But I said —

QUESTION: Are you concerned by this activity?

MR. RATHKE: What I would say is that the whole purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for civilian and peaceful purposes, and that that is verifiable. So I’m not going to get into one part or another of the dialogue happening in the negotiations, but just to reiterate that our point is closing off the pathways to acquire a nuclear bomb. I’m not going to offer a technical —

QUESTION: Hasn’t part of that effort been to —

MR. RATHKE: — analysis of light-water reactors from the podium.

QUESTION: Hasn’t part of that effort been to lower Iran’s enrichment capacity that was seen as a major breakthrough of the JPOA?

MR. RATHKE: Again, I’m not going to get into details of the negotiations —

QUESTION: I haven’t even asked the question yet.

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, if you —

MR. RATHKE: I can see where you’re going, but go ahead.

QUESTION: If you want to deny that the JPOA was —

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, finish.

QUESTION: Okay. Doesn’t – I mean, if they’re building two new reactors, wouldn’t that imply that they need more enrichment to feed them?

MR. RATHKE: Well —

QUESTION: I don’t see how this is – you have such a neutral position on this, given that it seems to go against all your efforts.

MR. RATHKE: All I’ve simply outlined is the Security Council resolutions which have certain requirements and are – anyone can read, also the JPOA, that in our view the construction of light-water nuclear reactors is not prohibited by those two documents. That’s separate from saying whether it’s a matter of concern and whether it’s an issue of discussion. I’m not going to get into what’s being discussed in the room either in the bilateral talks with Iran or in the P5+1 talks.

QUESTION: I didn’t ask you that. I mean, I’m only talking about what’s been publicly spoken about by the Iranians, not what’s been conveyed in the room.

MR. RATHKE: Right. And what I’ve said is that we’re aware of the announcement and we’re reviewing the details. So we’re looking at this. I’m not offering a final position on what we think about that announcement. We’re aware of it and we’re reviewing it to understand it better.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. RATHKE: Anything else on Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: During this Vibrant Gujarat event where Secretary Kerry was in attendance, there was a delegation led by one of the top advisors of the Iranian president. What is the U.S. view on the cooperation and the business deals that India and Iran are going ahead with? Are they not coming under the sanctions, or we are just turning a blind eye to whatever is going on?

MR. RATHKE: I wouldn’t suggest we’re turning a blind eye to anything. But I’m not familiar with that report. And of course —

QUESTION: It’s not a report but a —

MR. RATHKE: Of course, Vibrant Gujarat was an event organized by the Indian side, so I would refer you to them for any – for any details about participation. But beyond that, I don’t have – I don’t have in front of me an analysis of Iran-India ties, so I don’t have feedback on that.

QUESTION: I’m not asking for the participation. The participation and the – Prime Minister Modi’s pictures with the Iranian guy are all over on his website, on Indian external affairs, everywhere, with the flag of Iran and India behind them. I’m asking that if the – whatever comes out of this meeting and there is a business cooperation that is – do these cooperations falls under the U.S. sanctions, or not?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t know the details of whatever discussions are that you were referring to, Tejinder. So I’m not in a position to analyze them from here. But of course, our – the existing sanctions, both the UN sanctions as well as U.S. sanctions and sanctions by many other partners, remain in effect. That’s part of the JPOA approach. But I’m not going to get into the – into analyzing agreements to which the U.S. Government might not be privy and certainly which I’m not familiar with.

Nicolas.

QUESTION: Can we talk about the aftermath of the attacks in Paris?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been very serious clashes in Pakistan, Karachi, outside the French consulate. Three people have been injured, including an AFP photographer. One, I’d like to have your reaction to that; two, does the U.S. share the concerns or the anger sometimes of some Muslim populations about these cartoons; and would you advise the French authorities and maybe the publisher of Charlie Hebdo to be super cautious for the circulation and distribution of this newspaper?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to Karachi, we’re aware of these reports. I don’t have any details that I can confirm from here, but we certainly urge all to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law. For further details, I would refer you to the Pakistani authorities and to the French Government for details of what precisely happened.

Now on the question of the cartoons, I think this is something we’ve spoken about, I know Marie addressed the last couple of days. And I think we stand by that point of view. First of all, no act of legitimate journalism, however offensive some might find it, justifies an act of violence. That’s, I think, an important starting point. Now there is content published around the world every day that people might take issue with, but that doesn’t mean that we question the right of media outlets to publish information. Our view is that media organizations and news outlets often publish information that’s meant to cause debate, to stir debate. And while we may not always agree with any particular judgment or every item of content, the right to publish that information is one that we – that is fundamental and that we see as universal. So I think that’s about as far as I would go in commenting on that.

QUESTION: Apparently there are more and more clashes. There have been clashes also in Niger. So do you fear that it could trigger more violence in the Muslim world?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t have an analysis to offer on that, I think, though our view on freedom of speech and freedom of the press is clear.

Anything on the same topic?

QUESTION: On the investigative side —

MR. RATHKE: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the raids in Belgium overnight, the ongoing reports of arrests of people who may be co-conspirators in the Paris attacks – what cooperation is the U.S. Government providing to the French and Belgian Governments as they try to run these cases down?

MR. RATHKE: Right. Well, of course we are aware of the reports from a number of countries about police operations. We’re monitoring the situation in Belgium very closely. Belgium certainly has our full support and solidarity in its counterterrorism efforts. Now, you didn’t ask, but just to make it clear, the U.S. diplomatic presence in Brussels, they are – they all are open – maybe they’re not open now, since it’s later in the day. But anyway, they’re open for business as normal and we are coordinating with our partners. But I’d refer you to the Belgian Government for details. We, of course, are supportive and we’ve got active and ongoing law enforcement and information sharing arrangements with our allies in Europe, and naturally those contacts continue, especially given what’s been going on.

QUESTION: So you’re helping? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to read out any specific information sharing or so forth, but we are supportive and we stand with our Belgian allies in their counterterrorism efforts.

QUESTION: What about the content of the AQAP video? Have there been any more efforts to —

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything new to add to what’s already been said about the video.

Yes, Abbie.

QUESTION: Going back to Niger and the protests that he was mentioning, the U.S. Embassy in Niamey tweeted out: “Protesters burn churches, French flag, and other items in Zinder, chanting ‘Charlie is Satan. Let hell engulf those supporting Charlie.’” Is that cause for concern? Are there – is there any concern with people down there at the Embassy or is there anything on that situation?

MR. RATHKE: I wasn’t aware of that report, so we can certainly check and see if we have anything more for you. But of course, I would go back to what I said in response to Nicolas’ question – we certainly call on everyone to exercise restraint and to express their views peacefully, and we certainly reject any kind of violence.

QUESTION: Is there any expectation that the general Travel Warning that went out in recent days might be updated in light of these protests outside U.S. installations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any updates to that to announce. For those who are familiar with that worldwide caution, which was updated just recently, it’s quite detailed. And so I’m not aware of any move to change it in any way, but certainly it’s comprehensive and tries to give American citizens the best information and advice before going overseas.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any confirmation of – apparently, the Saudis have postponed the flogging of the activist?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, we’re aware —

QUESTION: Apparently, they postponed it on medical grounds, that the doctor who carried out a pre-flogging checkup said – recommended that he does not go ahead.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we are – we’ve seen the reports, and to our knowledge, they’re accurate. I don’t have anything to contradict them. I would go back to what we’ve said on this all along in our January 8th statement: We are greatly concerned that human rights activist Raif Badawi started facing the punishment of 1,000 lashes in addition to serving a 10 year sentence for exercising his rights of freedom of expression and religion. So we call on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and the sentence.

QUESTION: Do you have anything – the BBC is reporting that the case of this blogger has been referred to the supreme court by the king’s office.

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have anything to confirm that. I wasn’t aware of that.

Anything on this topic, or a new topic, Nicolas?

QUESTION: Nigeria?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: We have reports coming from N’Djamena, Chad about army vehicles sent from Chad to Cameroon. And apparently, the Chad parliament has voted for supporting Nigeria and Cameroon in their fight against Boko Haram. Does the U.S. – were you notified in advance about this, and do you support this regional military response?

MR. RATHKE: Well, we’re not in a position to confirm precisely what sort of support Chad has offered. And – but we certainly support a regional solution to the problem of Boko Haram, and in particular through the establishment of a multinational taskforce. And now, there is additional security assistance to countries in the region in the fight against Boko Haram. That’s under full consideration. And I don’t have any detailed updates to provide about that, but it’s certainly something we are considering. And so that’s our view on the assistance. We certainly support regional approaches.

QUESTION: So Jeff, are you talking about that you support the creation of a new force, a regional force? Because you got the Ghanaian president today talking about considering creating a military force to fight Boko Haram. It’s unclear whether that’s a regional force or whether – I doubt he’s talking about a Ghanaian one.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm. I don’t have details on that. I haven’t seen that report. So we can see if there’s more that we have to say and get back to you about that.

QUESTION: And do you know, perhaps, what the Secretary was talking about, about the – a new – the possibility of a new British-U.S. initiative to fight Boko Haram that he mentioned yesterday?

MR. RATHKE: Right. I don’t have anything new to read out about that.

Yes, Scott.

QUESTION: There was some concern about the conduct of Chadian troops in the Central African Republic when they intervened in that crisis. Does the United States carry any of those concerns into potential Chadian involvement in Nigeria?

MR. RATHKE: Well – I see. Okay. So you’re asking about Nigeria, though, in this particular case. I don’t have any views to offer on that. I understand the point you’re raising, so let us check into that and come back to you.

Brad.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the ICC preliminary probe in the Palestinian territories?

MR. RATHKE: Yes. Well, as we’ve made clear over the last couple of weeks, we are deeply troubled by Palestinian action at the ICC. Our position on this is clear, and we don’t think that the Palestinians have established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court. I would highlight that many other countries share this view, and we’ve put out a lengthy position paper on that to which people can refer. So our —

QUESTION: But wasn’t there – I mean, this is a prosecutor of the —

MR. RATHKE: Right. That’s – so that’s – no, I wanted to start, though, just to remind.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. RATHKE: So to be clear, what the prosecutor announced today is not an investigation. It’s a preliminary examination. Now, I don’t have any further comment on it, and in general, as we’ve long said, the United States strongly opposes actions by both parties that undermine trust and create doubts about their commitment to a negotiated peace.

QUESTION: Okay, but —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: No, wait —

MR. RATHKE: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Your comment – except for “no comment,” the rest was extraneous to the question, right?

MR. RATHKE: This – well this has just happened in the last couple of hours. I don’t have any further comment to offer on the announcement by the ICC prosecutor.

QUESTION: Would you hope that, if the prosecutor moves forward, he would examine the possibility of infractions by both sides and not just one side?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think we’re in the position of giving advice to the ICC prosecutor on that score.

QUESTION: Even on impartiality you don’t give advice?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, we – going back to where I started, we don’t believe that the Palestinians have formed or established a state, and we don’t think they’re eligible to join the International Criminal Court, so —

QUESTION: But I don’t think this investigation necessarily hinges on that, because they still haven’t joined and this prosecutor is investigating regardless. So that comment – that notwithstanding, your point’s noted on the Palestinians, they’re not a member, and this thing has been opened nevertheless. So what’s your position on the investigation, not – or the preliminary examination, not the Palestinians’ course of action?

QUESTION: Is it an illegitimate preliminary examination?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to characterize it. Again, this has just happened, so I’m not going to characterize it further at this point.

QUESTION: Both the Israeli prime minister and the foreign minister have condemned the ICC’s decision to open this preliminary exam. Would it be fair to say that the U.S. Government shares their view?

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, our view on the Palestinians joining the ICC I would go back to, so I’m not – I haven’t seen those particular statements by Israeli officials, so I’m not going to say anything one way or another about them. Again, this is an announcement that has just taken place. We’re looking at it. Our view is – on the broader question of the ICC, we don’t think the Palestinians have met the necessary requirements to be a part of it.

QUESTION: I’m not sure that’s the broader question. I think that’s a completely separate question, but —

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think —

QUESTION: — I don’t quite —

MR. RATHKE: — it’s certainly related, so —

QUESTION: Is it conceivable that the U.S. will appeal to the ICC to drop the preliminary examination?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not going to speculate about anything like that. As you know, we’re not a member of the ICC, but I’m not going to speculate about any particular steps.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. ever asked the ICC not to look into any particular case involving human rights violations?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have that at my fingertips, Roz. I’m happy to look, but I don’t have that.

QUESTION: Yeah, if you could, please.

MR. RATHKE: Tejinder.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate or – but this is a subject that’s being discussed in Delhi, and – that Delhi has a thick fog in the mornings. And usually – and so when the Air Force One goes, is it going – how is it going to land if there is a fog on that day? Will it go to Ahmedabad or Islamabad?

MR. RATHKE: It won’t surprise you that I’m not going to comment on the air operations of Air Force One. I’d refer you to the White House if you’ve got questions about that.

QUESTION: But this – I raised it here because it is being discussed in the State Department.

MR. RATHKE: It won’t surprise you that we are not going to comment on air operations of Air Force One for obvious reasons, I think.

Right. Nicolas.

QUESTION: Last question about the country we never talk about, Switzerland.

MR. RATHKE: Okay.

QUESTION: Is – do you have views about the surge of the Swiss franc, which apparently rocks the global currency market? Is it a source of concern for U.S. interest and American tourists going there?

MR. RATHKE: I’m not aware and I don’t think we normally comment on currency issues in that respect. I’ll —

QUESTION: You’re not aware of conversation between the two governments?

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of.

Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: You put out a statement yesterday that Ambassador Sung Kim, the deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea —

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: — he will be traveling to Brussels next week to attend Japan trilateral forum. And Spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a Foreign Press Center briefing that this will be a key forum for discussion on trilateral cooperation between U.S., Korea, and Japan. Can you explain what this forum means and what it’ll be discussing, who else will be participating, and how it is related to Korea-Japan cooperation?

MR. RATHKE: Okay. I think, yeah, there are two different things here. Let me make sure and I want to highlight – I think Marie said this yesterday, but I can go over it again. So Ambassador Sung Kim, who is the special representative for North Korea policy – he’s also deputy assistant secretary for Japan and Korea – he’s traveling to Brussels in the next few days, January 19th and 20th, and he’s attending there the Japan trilateral forum. This is an event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. It was established with the purpose of bringing together policy makers, intellectuals, journalists, business leaders from Japan, Europe, and the United States, and for dialogue on matters of mutual interest.

There is separately a – there will be a trilateral in Tokyo for Special Representative Sung Kim. He mentioned this in his testimony earlier this week. And if you’re interested in the details of the scheduling, I’d refer you to the Government of Japan. At this point, we don’t have details on that to announce right now.

So there are two different events. There is the event in Europe, which is not a government-to-government multilateral meeting. It is a meeting that brings together policy makers as well as people from outside of government. It’s Japan, Europe and the United States. Then there will be a trilateral in Tokyo, and that’s what Special Representative Kim was referring to in his testimony on the Hill earlier this week.

QUESTION: So the meeting in Brussels, that has nothing to do with Korea, right?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t put it that way. There – he will be – of course, security in Northeast Asia is an important part of our relationship with Japan, as well as with our other allies and partners in Northeast Asia.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. RATHKE: Yes.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead, Lesley.

QUESTION: A new subject, or —

QUESTION: No, same subject.

MR. RATHKE: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to ask just about one that we already discussed here, and that is a – today, there were two analyses on – saying that last year was the Earth’s warmest on record. Given the Secretary’s interest in this, do you have any comment on that?

MR. RATHKE: Right. There – we, I think, have just released a statement by the Secretary on this, and if you haven’t seen it, I’m happy to quote it for you. It’s fairly short.

The – in the Secretary’s words: What’s surprising is that anyone is surprised that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The science has been screaming at us for a long, long time. We’ve seen 13 of the warmest years on record since 2000. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are at an all-time high, which we know leads to a warming planet. And we’re seeing higher than ever occurrences of extreme weather events like catastrophic droughts, storm surges, and torrential rain. These events are having devastating economic, security, and health impacts across the planet. So this report is just another sound in a steady drumbeat that’s growing increasingly more urgent. And the question isn’t the science. The question isn’t the warning signs. The question is when and how the world will respond. And as the Secretary closes: Ambitious, concrete action is the only path forward that leads anywhere worth going.

QUESTION: So how do these analyses bode for an important year in climate talks that – and they hope to reach in a – or efforts to reach a deal in December?

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly, it only underscores the urgency. And the Secretary, of course, has been actively engaged. I would also refer you to the press availability over at the White House today where this was also discussed. So this only reminds, if any reminder was needed, how important it is to work toward the goals that the Administration has set.

Tejinder.

QUESTION: Do you have any readouts or confirmations of any talks with the Belgian counterparts or the EU counterparts in Brussels about this after the attacks —

MR. RATHKE: Well —

QUESTION: — and the arrests?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any specific meetings or exchanges to detail, but certainly, we stand in support of and solidarity with our partners in Europe. And as I said before, we have active security cooperation and information-sharing arrangements with them, and it’s precisely at a time like this when those are most important.

QUESTION: And was there any contact with —

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have any details to read out about those.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. RATHKE: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:41 p.m.)

Benefits of Historic Trade Achievements for Ontario in 2014

Under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan (GMAP), the government’s pro-export, pro-jobs plan, new markets around the world have been opened for Ontario exports. These historic trade achievements will benefit hard-working Canadians in Ontario and throughout Canada.

In just one year, the government has delivered on its GMAP commitment to eliminate tariffs and support Canadian companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and to boost exports, including through:

  • the conclusion of negotiations and release of the complete text of the historic Canada-European Union trade agreement. The agreement will eliminate tariffs on virtually all of Ontario’s exports. Ontario is one of the hubs of Canada’s manufacturing activities and is set to benefit greatly from this agreement. On the first day of the agreement’s coming into force, 99 percent of tariffs on manufactured products entering the EU will be duty-free.
  • the conclusion of Canada’s first free trade agreement in Asia with the landmark Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement (CKFTA), which will come into force on January 1, 2015. Ontario will see tremendous opportunities for export growth, given the complete elimination of South Korean duties on many Canadian products. For example, as of January 1, over 95 percent of South Korean tariffs on industrial products will be eliminated. This will lead to increased market access for key sectors of interest to Ontario, include aerospace, medical devices, clean technology, food manufacturing, information and communications technologies, life sciences, and metals and minerals.

Historic trade agreements require historic trade promotion, and under GMAP, the Harper government is supporting workers and businesses in Ontario and ensuring that SMEs have all the necessary tools to seize new opportunities and realize their full export potential.

Key elements of the trade promotion efforts include:

Go Global Export Workshops

Over the next several months, the Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, is holding workshops across Canada in collaboration with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and all the Government of Canada’s export support agencies. Under GMAP, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada, the Business Development Bank of Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation have been aligning their activities, facilitating referrals, sharing market intelligence and information, and providing a whole-of-government approach to boost SME exports. In 2014, over 300 SMEs participated in Go Global workshops, including one in Mississauga, Ontario, in November.

Minister Fast will be hosting Go Global workshops in Kitchener-Waterloo on January 20 and in Richmond Hill on January 29, 2015.

Regional Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) Activities

In 2014, the TCS’s Ontario Regional Office assisted 732 SMEs, providing them with on-the-ground international business support, including 1,083 targeted services, and connecting them to new business opportunities.

Trade commissioners have been embedded with public and private sector partners across Canada, including in Ontario—with the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters – Ontario, the Canadian Services Coalition – Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Information Technology Association of Canada, the MaRS Discovery District and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce—so they may work closely with businesses to ensure the Government of Canada is responsive to their needs.

Export Development Canada (EDC)

EDC helped 2,041 Ontario companies finance or insure $19.42-billion worth of international sales and investments. For example, General Electric (GE) Canada and EDC worked together to identify and introduce innovative and globally minded Canadian companies into the supply chain of two GE Canada divisions in Peterborough; EDC provided financing for Toronto-based Merus Labs for its acquisition of an established pharmaceutical product in several European countries; and EDC led a $20-million commercial project finance facility for BioAmber to develop a biochemical production facility in Sarnia.

Overall, EDC’s new outlook calls for Ontario exports to increase by 7 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015.

Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC)

In 2013-14, CCC worked with over 65 companies in Ontario on export opportunities abroad, including Allen Vanguard Corp. of Ottawa, General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada of London, and Manitex Liftking of Vaughan.

Attracting Job-Creating Investments in Ontario

Significant investments were made in Ontario in 2014 that created jobs and opportunities for Canadians.

Through the Invest Canada – Community Initiatives program, the Government of Canada provided a total of $1.6 million to 22 Ontario communities or community organizations: Burlington Economic Development Corporation, Canada‘s Technology Triangle Inc., Chapleau Economic Development Corporation, City of Guelph, City of Hamilton, City of Niagara Falls, City of Welland, Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation, Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance, Invest Ottawa, Invest Toronto, Kingston Economic Development Corporation, London Economic Development Corporation, Niagara Region, Quinte Economic Development Corporation, Regional Municipality of Durham, Sarnia-Lambton Economic Partnership, Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance, Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Regional Municipality of Halton, United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and Town of Whitby.

As part of GMAP, the government attracts investment to Canada, benefiting hard-working Canadians and their families. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) worked with provincial, territorial and municipal investment partners to facilitate 146 successful investment projects worth $3.65 billion and create over 5,500 new jobs within Canada. 

Opening Markets and Supporting Ontario Businesses Abroad

In 2014, Minister Fast led 13 trade missions to 20 countries. Trade missions connect Canadian businesses, especially SMEs, with new opportunities to boost their exports, which creates jobs, growth and prosperity across all regions of Canada, including Ontario. Minister Fast was joined by representatives of 78 Ontario companies on several of these missions—including Germany in March, where he was joined by 12 representatives; the United Kingdom in September, where he was joined by 11 representatives; and China in November, where he was joined by 28 representatives.

During his trade mission to India in October, Minister Fast was joined by eight Ontario companies: Best Theratronics, DataWind, Deloitte LLP, Environmental Waste International, IT Measures Ltd., LM Technologies Canada, Nrich Canada and Prudential Consulting. While in India, the Minister witnessed the signing of an agreement between Novadaq Technologies of Mississauga, Ontario, and Kirloskar Technologies of New Delhi to market innovation technologies in India.

During his trade mission to China in May, Minister Fast witnessed the signing of a contract potentially worth $10 million between EHC Global of Oshawa, Ontario, and the Shanghai Mitsubishi Elevator Corporation to develop innovative solutions for the Chinese elevator and escalator market.

Also during his trade mission to China in November, Minister Fast witnessed numerous signing agreements between various Chinese and Ontario companies, including:

  • one between Anemoi Technologies Inc. of Ontario and CSR Sifang to design and supply a high-speed train crash-testing facility;
  • one between Candu Energy of Ontario and the China National Nuclear Corporation to develop the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor and deliver CANDU new build projects in China and international markets;
  • one between Ontario-based Firan Technology Group Corporation and Shanghai Avionics Corporation concerning the design, development, manufacturing and product support of display system control panels for the Chinese C919 aircraft;
  • one between Ontario-based KELK and Wuhan Iron and Steel Group to supply state-of-the-art electronic measurement equipment for new builds or revamping of steel rolling projects;
  • one between Ontario-based LeMine Investment Group and Guizhou Fengguan Group for exporting canola oil;
  • two for Ontario-based Michael H.K. Wong Architects Inc. for design services for the headquarters building of the Fujian International Business Association and for the new Yangjiang Guo-Fu-Yi-Jia Health Care & Resort Centre in Guangdong; and
  • one between Ontario-based Plasco Energy Group and Shougang Group to bring Plasco’s waste-to-energy facilities to Beijing.

Innovative companies from Ontario can also count on the support of the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) program. Seventy-six companies from Ontario have recently participated in CTA programs, including 41 in 2013-14 and 35 in 2014-15. These include dynamic companies like iNTERFACEWARE Inc., which took part in a CTA program in Philadelphia, and Voices.com, which which took part in a CTA program in San Francisco.

Minister Fast encouraged Ontario-based businesses to take advantage of the Enterprise Canada Network, provided in partnership with EDC and Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, which provides online access to more than 30,000 business profiles and opportunities in the European market to help Canadian companies take full advantage of the historic Canada-EU trade agreement

Under GMAP, the Harper government committed to developing comprehensive strategies in key sectors. Strategies released this year that support Manitoba businesses include the International Education, the Extractive Sector and the Corporate Social Responsibility strategies, and an export-oriented Defence Procurement Strategy. 

Minister Fast invited businesses in Ontario to accompany him on his first trade mission of 2015. This trade mission to South Korea, which will take place from February 8 to 13, will enable businesses to take full advantage of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement and benefit from the on-the-ground support from the Government of Canada.

Quotes

“This year, 2014, has been the most successful year for international trade in Canadian history, benefiting hard-working Canadians in Ontario and in every region of the country. Under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan, we will continue our vigorous trade promotion efforts to boost our exports.

“In 2015, we will continue to focus on the real priorities of hard-working Canadians: creating new jobs and prosperity.”

– Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade

Associated Links

Quotes from Ontario Stakeholders

Trade Missions

“The trade mission to India was a fabulous experience overall. It was a great way to get the inside scoop on the feel and flavour of India by meeting the local entrepreneurs and elected officials who make the country work. The positive effects of this India mission for me included higher sales revenue opportunities, visibility and goodwill and a better perspective. An additional benefit was that the mission helped us develop close business relationships. This was a great way for the participants who were looking at doing business in India for the first time to initiate the process of breaking into a new market.”

– Dilip Ghose, Director/President, Global Business, LM Technologies Canada Inc.

“The trade mission provided a number of opportunities to connect with other Canadian companies operating within the region, as well as with key stakeholders and clients in Tanzania. We appreciate the support of the Canadian government to engage in this trade mission to Tanzania, as it highlights the current opportunities and ultimately benefits Canadian companies.”

– Peter James, Senior Consultant, CPCS Transcom Limited

“My company is very satisfied with the results of this trip, and all our strategic objectives have been met. We were impressed by all the work done by embassy personnel and commercial delegates and by ministers Bernier and Fast during this extremely well-organized event.”

– Marc Carrier, Account Director – Business Development, Rheinmetall Canada Inc.

“We are most appreciative of the opportunity to participate in this trade mission with Minister Fast. The whole-of-government support for defence export sales was an important factor in our recent contracts with Colombia and Peru. The ability to sign government-to-government contracts through the Canadian Commercial Corporation with a sovereign guarantee of performance provides a significant advantage to Canadian exporters.”

– Chris Brown, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada

“We have found the support of Canadian Trade Commissioner Service officers to be extremely valuable. The experience with the other participants during the trade mission helps to verify our common interest in this market. With the support of the officials, we met with a client yesterday truly interested in a solution for their situation. We are very grateful.”

– John MacDonald, President, IT Measures Ltd.

Canadian Technology Accelerator

“The Canadian Technology Accelerator experience helped refine and accelerate segment plan and pipeline development refinements, and help received during CTA participation has create an accelerated sales process and a more successful market strategy. The CTA was a useful facility in accelerating business/market planning, saving a substantial amount of time and effort and compressing plan-to-execution cycle.”

– Toni Skokovic, Vice President, Sales, iNTERFACEWARE Inc.

“The Canadian Technology Accelerator located in San Francisco’s RocketSpace provided Voices.com with the launching pad necessary for connecting with key stakeholders, for drawing new customers and engaging existing customers already in the San Francisco area, and for securing new partnerships with heavy hitters like Adobe—many who were part of RocketSpaces’ corporate development arm. Thanks to the CTA, a number of invaluable relationships were created for Voices.com. The growth experienced in the CTA has supported the expansion of our London, Ontario office.”

– David Ciccarelli, ‎Founder and CEO, Voices.com

Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

“The industry congratulates the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade on the government’s ongoing commitment to opening international markets and successfully negotiating CETA. The health of the Canadian economy depends on the ability to competitively export to markets around the world. CETA will deliver significant dividends for the Canadian economy over the years ahead.”

– Andrew Casey, President and CEO, BIOTECanada

“Ford Motor Company of Canada congratulates the Government of Canada on reaching a transformational free trade agreement with the European Union. Ford is a company built on free trade. Throughout our history, Ford has supported deals that provide an opportunity to increase effective two-way trade among all partners. Expanding trade opportunities is fundamental to Ford’s business plan, and the EU market represents a significant global market for our vehicles.”

– Dianne Craig, President and CEO, Ford Motor Company of Canada

“We applaud Canada and the EU for completing a modern, high-standard comprehensive economic and trade agreement that will provide enhanced opportunities for growth in both regions. We appreciate the hard work to find creative solutions that improve market access for Canadian-produced automobiles, while ensuring Canada continues to benefit from the integrated manufacturing sector that has developed in North America over the past 50 years.”

– Kevin Williams, former president and managing director, General Motors of Canada

“The EU is the largest buyer of Canadian soybeans, with more than a million tonnes exported to the region annually. We look forward to even greater trade with Europe with the implementation of CETA.”

– Barry Senft, CEO, Grain Farmers of Ontario

“Canada has some tightly controlled pricing regimes as [they] relate to drug products, and subsequently as time moves forward there should be no reason as to why drug prices would increase from the levels that we currently are at. This is good for Canada. It enables us to become more competitive with other countries around the world that currently have better intellectual property regimes.”

– Chris Halyk, President, Janssen Inc.

“We anticipate that this agreement, when it comes into force, will open new markets to Canadian exporters like NOVO Plastics throughout Europe and will generate significant commercial opportunities for all Canadian small to medium-sized businesses. NOVO Plastics will benefit from the elimination of EU tariffs on auto parts, which are as high as 4.5 percent. This will provide us with a competitive advantage in the EU market that few other countries have.”

– Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, NOVO Plastics Inc.

“Gaining preferential access to the world’s largest economy—with a GDP of almost $17 trillion and a market of 500 million consumers—will be good news for a trading nation like Canada. The value of the [financial] industry’s exported services has doubled in the past decade, and the sector now accounts for roughly half of Canada’s total stock of outward foreign direct investment. What’s more, exports by financial companies are growing faster than [those in] other sectors, and CETA could open new opportunities for our financial services providers.”

– Janet L. Ecker, President and CEO, Toronto Financial Services Alliance

“The European Union has become a key export market for us, with customers in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia who appreciate the high-quality and low-cost products we are able to provide. This agreement will make our products even more cost-competitive, which will expand our business, create new sources of prosperity for current and future employees and benefit Canadian manufacturers as a whole.”

– Ben Whitney, President, Armo Tool Limited

“Our exports to the European market are an important and growing aspect of our business. Creating an improved access to the European market with reduced tariffs and barriers would help us to continue to diversify our customer base and stabilize employment at ODG.”

– Michael Eckardt, CEO, Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd. (ODG)

“We at Miovision are in full support of a Canada-EU trade agreement, and would consider freer trade with Europe to be a milestone achievement for the government procurement sector. At a minimum, the reduction of technical barriers to trade will allow companies like Miovision to reap far greater gains from existing deals with European customers. Ultimately, the faster Canada can gain preferential access to the European Union, the faster companies on both sides of the equation can grow and create jobs.”

– Kurtis McBride, Co-founder and CEO, Miovision Technologies

“In the eyes of our industry, CETA means increased demand here in Canada for construction. It means expanding companies. It means housing for the new workers. And it means people have the confidence to invest in their future and in construction. Hand in hand with seeking increased trade in the Asia-Pacific [region] and our existing free trade with the United States, freer trade with Europe will benefit Canadians and construction for decades to come.”

– Terrance Oakey, President, Merit Canada

“There is no doubt that a Canada-EU comprehensive economic trade agreement will be a huge win for the Waterloo region. As a regional economic development partnership, we seek to attract investment by showcasing the region as a place of great opportunity with an exceptionally talented and innovative labour force. That is exactly what this agreement will help us do, and is why Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc. supports a successful CETA as a means to improving the Waterloo region’s competitive edge in the world.”

– John G. Jung, CEO, Canada’s Technology Triangle Inc.

“This is the classic way to create jobs, by lowering trade barriers. We are a trading nation. We are convinced that with better opportunities in Europe we can increase our production, therefore hire more people and, therefore, create jobs. That is how it is done.”

– Paul Van Meerbergen, Business Development Manager, Lamko Tool and Mold Inc.

“The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada strongly supports the government’s pro-trade agenda and successful completion of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the EU. A trade agreement would help Canada’s chemistry manufacturing industry secure new markets; stimulate economic growth, job creation and investments; and provide more opportunities to develop Canada’s natural resources—including energy—into value-added products for the benefit of the broader manufacturing sector.”

– Richard Paton, President and CEO, Chemistry Industry Association of Canada

“As a world-class supplier of medical and industrial high purity alcohol, a comprehensive economic trade agreement with the European Union will allow GreenField Ethanol to expand our operations into the lucrative EU market and take our products global. This agreement is about moving Canada forward and positioning Canadian companies to compete and succeed in the 21st-century global economy. Access to the European market through the reduction of tariffs and other barriers to trade will open up new opportunities for my business and allow me to create well-paying jobs right here in Canada.”

– Kenneth Field, Chairman, GreenField

Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement

“This trade agreement is of tremendous importance to the food and beverage processing sector in Ontario and across Canada. For the agri-food sector the agreement commits to eliminating nearly 87 percent of tariffs on products from Canada to Korea. An open door to Korea will offer new opportunities for Ontario food and beverage processing companies not just in Korea, but all of Asia through a network of supply chains.”

– Steve Peters, Executive Director, Alliance of Ontario Food Processors

“The Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario is supportive of a Canada-Korea free trade agreement. South Korea is the second most important Asian market for Ontario wines, particularly our premium product, icewine. Such an agreement should increase the competitiveness of Ontario wines in Korea and ultimately lead to increased exports.”

– Patrick Gedge, President and CEO, Winery & Grower Alliance of Ontario

“The signing of a free trade agreement between Canada and Korea is great news. We anticipate this agreement, when it comes into force, will open new markets to Canadian exporters like NOVO throughout the dynamic and fast-growing Asian market and will generate significant commercial opportunities for all Canadian small to medium sized businesses.”

– Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, NOVO Plastics Inc.

“Free and open trade with priority markets in Asia, most notably Korea and Japan, is vital to Canada’s national interest to be globally competitive, create jobs and increase prosperity. The successful conclusion of a trade agreement with Korea would also allow Canada to direct its full resources towards the swift completion of the economic partnership agreement with Japan.”

– Jerry Chenkin, Chairman, Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association of Canada

“With the imminent completion of these negotiations with South Korea, we expect that the Government of Canada will move expeditiously to finalize a Canada/Japan economic partnership agreement to level the playing field for all vehicle distributors in the Canadian market, which will create benefits for Canadian consumers.”

– David Adams, President, Global Automakers of Canada

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