Tagged: EU-LatinAmerica

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.

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 05, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

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

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

Q    Happy New Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Freudian slip?  (Laughter.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Thanks, Josh.

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

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

MR. EARNEST:  Scary, I think is the —

Q    Scary, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl.

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

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

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

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

Olivier.

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

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

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

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

Jon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    You don’t mean that.

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

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

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

Peter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexis.

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

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

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

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

Q    But maybe February?

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

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

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

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

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

Signing of an updated Canada-China Air Transport Agreement

Beijing, China – 8 November 2014

Our Government is committed to helping the Canadian air industry increase its access to international markets which, in turn, benefits domestic businesses, shippers and travellers.

To this end, on November 8, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Li Keqiang witnessed the signing of an updated Air Transport Agreement, which reflects growing bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Agreement:

  • Increases the number of flights permitted for services between Canada and China;
  • Increases the number of destination points in each others’ territory;
  • Enhances the flexibility of Chinese airlines to offer passenger and all-cargo services to third countries, in connection with services to Canada; and,
  • Provides greater flexibility and certainty for Canadian and Chinese airlines with respect to code-sharing with airline partners of third countries.

The signing of this updated Agreement, which was concluded in June 2013, represents an important step towards ratification of the Agreement and a further step in enhancing transportation and trade relations between Canada and China. Canadian and Chinese airlines operated up to a total of 73 passenger flights per week between both countries during the peak summer months. Canadian airlines have also enhanced their code-sharing partnerships with Chinese airlines.

Canada’s Blue Sky policy encourages long-term, sustainable competition and the development of new or expanded international air services. Under this policy, the Government of Canada has concluded new or expanded air transport agreements covering over 80 countries, including:

  • Open Skies-type agreements with 16 countries: Barbados, Brazil, Costa Rica, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Sint Maarten, South Korea, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Expanded agreements with 20 countries: Algeria, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, and Turkey.
  • New first-time agreements with 21 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Gambia, Kenya, Kuwait, Macedonia, Paraguay, Qatar, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Tunisia, and Uruguay.
  • A comprehensive Air Transport Agreement between Canada and the European Union’s 28-member states (including Croatia and Ireland).

The EU at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia – Supporting global recovery

On 15 and 16 November 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will participate in the 9th edition of the G20 summit in the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane, Australia.

At the G20 summit in Brisbane (Australia) the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, will push for the adoption of a strong Brisbane Action Plan on Growth and Jobs to put the G20 collectively on a higher growth trajectory.

This and the European Union’s views on other key issues on the summit agenda (financial regulation, tax avoidance/tax evasion, development, anticorruption and energy matters) are reflected in the joint letter by the two Presidents to EU Heads of State and Government of 21 October 2014.

A background briefing by Commission and Council representatives will be held in the Berlaymont press room (for accredited journalists only) on Monday 10 November at 9am.

Background

The G20 leaders’ process has been co-initiated in 2008 by the European Union. The G20 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

The European Union thus is a full member of the G20 and is usually represented at G20 summits by the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.

The Brisbane Summit is the 9th edition of the Group of 20 (G20) Summit of the world’s major advanced and emerging economies. Together, the G20 members represent around 90% of global GDP, 80% of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. This year, Australia welcomes Spain as a permanent invitee; Mauritania as the 2014 chair of the African Union; Myanmar as the 2014 Chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Senegal, representing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; New Zealand; and Singapore. The 10th edition of the G20 Summit will be hosted by Turkey in 2015.

For more information:

Joint letter from the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council ahead of the Brisbane G20 Summit: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-600_en.htm

G20 website of the Australian Presidency: https://www.g20.org/

Two Europes or One Europe?

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Valedictory speech by President Barroso

European Parliament plenary session

Strasbourg, 21 October 2014

Mr President, Honourable Members,

First of all, I would like to thank you for the invitation to address this Parliament in what would be the last time I have this opportunity. In fact, we are coming to the end of my second mandate as the President of the European Commission and I am very happy to be here with you and my colleagues to present to you our bilan, since this is my second Commission, I think I can also refer to the last ten years.

I want to share with you my feelings, my emotions, what I think about the way the European Union has responded to these very challenging times and what I think are the most important challenges for the future.

I think you can agree with me that these have been exceptional and challenging times. Ten years of crisis, and response of the European Union to this crisis. Not only the financial and sovereignty debt crisis – let’s not forget at the beginning of my first mandate we had a constitutional crisis, when two founding members of the European Union rejected, in referenda, the Constitutional Treaty. So we had a constitutional crisis, we had a sovereign debt and financial crisis, and in the most acute terms we now have a geopolitical crisis, as a result of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The constitutional crisis that we had was in fact solved through the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty. The reality is that at that time, many people were saying that it would be impossible for the European Union to find a new institutional setting. And in fact there were moments of ambiguity and doubt. But basically, we could keep most of the acquis of the European Union, including most of the new elements of the Lisbon Constitutional Treaty, which was ratified by all Member States including those that today seem to have forgotten that they have ratified the Lisbon Treaty.

More recently – because I learned to leave to the end the economic issues because they are still with us – we had this very serious challenge and threat to our stability, in Europe, coming from the unacceptable behaviour of Russia regarding Ukraine. And we took a principled position. We offered Ukraine an association agreement and a free trade agreement and I am happy that, in spite of all the difficulties, Ukraine was there, signing and ratifying the association agreement, and I want to congratulate this Parliament, because the same day at the same hour the Parliament in Ukraine was ratifying this agreement, you were also ratifying the agreement showing you can offer hope to Ukraine as part of the European family of nations.

At the moment I am speaking to you, this crisis is not yet solved – we know that. But I think we can be proud that we have kept a position of principle, that we have condemned in the most unequivocal terms the actions of Russia and that in fact an association agreement was ratified, not only with Ukraine, but also with Georgia and Moldova because I believe we have a duty to those countries that are looking to Europe with their spirit and their hope to share with us the same future and because they want to share with us the same values.

At this moment we are still mediating and, today, there is a meeting mediated by the Commission on energy with the Russian government and the Ukrainian government, so a political negotiated solution is possible, we are working for that. It is in the interest of all the parties to have a political agreement, but a political agreement that respects the principles of international law, a political agreement that respects the right of country that is our neighbour to decide its own future and a political agreement that respects the sovereignty, the independence of that country. So, we should be proud of what we have been doing in this very challenging geopolitical crisis.

And we also had the financial and sovereign debt crisis. The reality is that the crisis was not born in Europe, but the fact is that because we were not prepared, because the Euro-area had not yet the instruments, we were very much affected by it – not only in financial terms, in economic terms, in social terms and in political terms. I think this crisis was probably the biggest since the beginning of the European integration process in the 50s of the last century. Let’s now put things into perspective.

Dear Members of Parliament,

Let’s remind ourselves what was the main opinion of most analysts in the economic and financial media, or even many of our countries or outside of Europe, about what could happen: everybody was predicting Greek exit, Greece exiting the Euro, and, of course, Greece exiting Euro would certainly, immediately have had a cascading effect in other countries, a domino effect that was indeed already felt in countries such as Ireland or Portugal. But let’s not forget, Spain was also under very heavy pressure, and Italy. We were staring into the abyss. I remember well what happened in discussions in the margins of G20 in Cannes in 2011, I remember well when analysts were predicting with almost unanimity a Greek exit and at least 50% of them were predicting the implosion of the Euro. And what happened? Not only was there no exit of the Euro, now we are to welcome the 19th member of the Euro, Lithuania will join us in the 1st of January 2015. And not only did Greece not leave the Euro area, it has enlarged and the European Union has been enlarging as well. This is a point that has been very much underestimated in our analysis.

2004, the year I had the pleasure and the honour to assume the leadership of the European Commission, do you remember that we were 15? Today, we have 28 countries. So we have almost doubled the membership of the European Union during this crisis. Is there a better proof of the resilience and the capacity of adaptation of our Union? The fact that we were able to remain united and open during the crisis I think confirms the extraordinary resilience and the strength of the European Union and this should not be underestimated.

I know that, for some, these things do not count for much. They are in a way making an idealisation of the past; they dream probably of a closed Europe; they think Europe was better when half of Europe was under totalitarian communism. I don’t think that. I think Europe today is better than when half of Europe was under communism. The fact that the European Union was able, during all this crisis, to open, to consolidate and to unite on a continental scale almost all of Europe around the values of peace, of freedom and of justice, I think it is a great thing we should commemorate and not to be ashamed of, as some seem to be.

So, this is I think also a reason to commemorate. Many people were predicting, as you probably remember, those of you following these issues at that time, that the European Commission would not be able to function with 25 or 27 or 28 Members, that the European Union would be blocked. The reality is that the European Union was not blocked by the enlargement; the reality that I can share with you now is that sometimes it was more difficult to put together some of the founding Members of the Union than all the 28 countries of Europe.

So I think we should be proud of that as well, collectively, because the European Union was able to remain united and open during the crisis. And when I say open, I mean it in all senses of the word, including with an open attitude towards the world. For instance, when we have promoted a proactive climate agenda after the failure of the Doha Development Round and the Doha trade talks. And we are now leading in that sense, because I believe that trade can be one of the best ways to support growth globally and in the European Union. Or when we, because it was an initiative of the European Union, went to the former President of the United States of America, inviting him and convincing him to organise the first G20 meeting at Heads of State or Government level, because that was a way of having a global cooperative approach and to avoid the return to ugly, nasty protectionism. That could be a temptation in times of crisis. So we were able to keep Europe not only united and, in fact, enlarging its membership, but also open to the rest of the world.

But now, are we stronger or are we weaker? I know that the most critical people today will say that we are weaker. But are we really?

In fact, when the crisis erupted, we had almost no instruments to respond to it. We were facing, as it was said at that time, an unprecedented crisis. Yet we had no mechanisms, for instance to support the countries that were facing the immediate threat of default. A lot has been done. We have collectively, the Commission and the Member States and always with the strong support of the Parliament, we have created a new system of governance. We have today a much more reinforced governance system than before, including with unprecedented powers for the community institutions, and we have done everything to keep the community method at the centre of our integration. For instance, the Commission today has more powers in terms of governance of the Eurozone than before the crisis. The European Central Bank has today the possibility to make direct supervision of the banks in Europe, something that would have been considered impossible earlier; it would have been almost unimaginable before the crisis. And I remember when we spoke about the banking union, when I gave an interview saying that we need a banking union, I received some phone calls from capitals saying ‘Why are you speaking about the banking union? This is not in the Treaties’. And I responded, ‘Yes it is not in the Treaties, but we need it if we want to fulfil the objective of the Treaties, namely the objective of stability and growth’. And today we have a banking union.

Honourable members,

If we look at things in perspective and we think where we were ten years ago and where we are now, we can say with full rigour and in complete observance of the truth that today the European Union, at least in the euro area, is more integrated and with reinforced competences, and we have now, through the community method, more ways to tackle crisis, namely in the euro zone. Not only in the system of governance in the banking union, but also in the legislation of financial stability, financial regulation, financial supervision.

We have presented around 40 new pieces of legislation that were all of them approved by the European Parliament. And once again I want to thank you, because in almost all those debates the European Parliament and the European Commission were on the same side of the debate and were for more ambition, not less ambition for Europe. And so today, I can say that we are stronger, because we have a more integrated system of governance, because we have legislation to tackle abuses in the financial markets, because we have much clearer system of supervision and regulation. So, I think we are now better prepared than we were before to face a crisis, if a crisis like the ones we have seen before should come in the future.

Of course, you can say that there are many difficulties still. Yes, and I am going to say a word about this in a moment regarding the prospects for growth, but please do not forget where we were. We were very close to default, or, to use a less polite word, to a bankruptcy of some of our Member States. And look at where we are now. From the countries that had to ask for adjustment programmes, Portugal and Ireland exited the programme successfully. Ireland is now one of the fastest growing countries in Europe. And in fact all the others that were under the imminent threat of collapsing, are now in a much more stable mood. Spain, that asked for a programme for the banks, also has improved successfully. So in fact only two countries of all those, because we should not also forget the Central and Eastern European countries that also had adjustment programmes, even if they were not yet in the euro area, only two countries are still completing their adjustment programmes.

The deficits now on average in the Eurozone are 2.5%. This is much less than in the United States or in Japan. So, in terms of stability, we are much better now than before. By the way, the Eurozone has a trade surplus. The European Union in general now will have a surplus in goods, in services and, for the first time in many years, in agriculture.

I am saying that because very often the opinion in some of the political sectors is that we are losing with globalisation. This is not the case. Some countries of our Union in fact are not winning that battle, but on average we can say that Europe is gaining the global battle in terms of competition, namely in terms of trade and investment.

But of course, growth is still timid. I think that basically we cannot say that the crisis is completely over, because threats remain, but we have won the battle of stability. Today nobody in the world will honestly bet on the end of the euro. The euro has shown that it is a very strong, credible and indeed stable currency. The reality is that our growth is still timid and clearly below expectations.

So what can we do for growth? This is the important question. And for that I need to make a reminder once again. I know very well that very often the European Union policy and namely the European Commission policy has been presented as completely focused on austerity. I think this is a caricature.

We have constantly asked at least for three important lines – fiscal consolidation certainly, for the countries that are feeling the pressure of the markets. It would be completely irresponsible if they could not frontload a programme of rigour to correct their public finances, but we have always said with equal vigour, probably some would not like to listen, the need for structural reforms, for competitiveness, because the reality is that even before the crisis we were growing under our potential, that is the reality, and with serious problem of lack of competitiveness in some of our countries and so that is why we needed more ambitious structural reforms.

But we have also argued in favour of investment. I have always said that we need more investment, public and private investment. Private investment will come the more we show that we have competitive economies that we can attract private investment. Indeed I am now happy to see that most of our countries, certainly at a different pace, but they are pursuing ambitious structural reforms that would have been considered completely impossible before the crisis.

And the reality is, if we want to be honest in terms of the analysis that the countries that have suffered the most during the financial crisis were precisely those that have lost in terms of cost competitiveness before the crisis. And now, for instance the reforms that have been made by Spain, by Ireland, by Portugal, by Greece, are impressive.

Now, apart from the political consolidation and the structural reforms, we have always seen the need for more investment. Private investment, but public investment as well. You will remember the debate about the MFF. President Schultz remembers certainly. We were together in many meetings asking the Member States to do more in terms of investment and the most important instrument we have at European level for investment is the Multiannual Financial Framework, that is around one trillion euros.

So if there is not more ambitious investment it was not because of a lack of ambition of this Commission, or a lack of ambition of this Parliament. It was because of the opposition of some capitals. This is the reality. We are for solid investment, targeted investment for growth. Not only with the MFF. Remember the proposals that for instance here in the State of the Union speeches with you I have put forward. The increase of the capital for the EIB that finally was agreed. The project bonds that the Member States have accepted, but only as pilot project bonds. The facility that we have created for SMEs with loans from the EIB and funds from the structural funds, from our budget. Unfortunately only two countries wanted to pursue that line.

Or, for instance, the programme for youth, the Youth Guarantee that we have proposed and that the Member States have agreed. But now with the Youth Employment Initiative, only two countries have accepted to have a dedicated programme for youth employment.

So, my dear colleagues, let’s be clear: we are for investment. I wish all the best to the new Commission and to my friend and colleague Jean-Claude Juncker, to have the support of the Member States for a more ambitious investment programme for the next years. I believe this is possible now, I believe the awareness is much bigger on this matter. But once again this is part of a comprehensive strategy that combines fiscal consolidation with structural reforms and investment, and, of course, all the measures taken by us in terms of the banking union and in terms of financial regulation for stability.

And I’m saying this with this vigour because I think it would be now a mistake, after everything we have done, to give up, to show less determination, to abandon the road of structural reform. I think we have done a part of the job, stability is broadly there, growth, even if it is slower than what we would like to have, but now we need determination to complete the reforms so that sustainable growth, not growth fuelled by debt, excessive public or private debt – because such growth is artificial, it’s a fictional growth, and afterwards, sooner or later, we would pay the price – but sustainable growth – that I believe it is possible if we continue the courageous path of reforms and a stronger governance for the European Union.

I don’t have the time now to go over all the other policies we have been developing over the years. But let me just highlight one or two, because I think they are very much at the moment of decision, and I think they are important.

I’m extremely proud that is was my Commission in my first mandate, in 2007, that put forward the most ambitious programme for climate protection in the world. And we are still leading in the world in terms of the climate agenda.

In fact, we were able to join the climate agenda with the energy security agenda, and I’m saying that because this week we are going to have an important discussion in Brussels at Heads of State and Government level, and I hope that the European Union will keep its leadership role – of course not to be isolated but to have others, because we have a responsibility towards our planet. And this is was certainly one of the great advances of these years, that the European Union was able to make the most important and bold steps in terms of fighting climate change.

Another area where I think we could very proud is – in spite of all the restrictions because of our financial situation – that it was possible in the MFF to get 30% more for Horizon 2020, for research and technology. I think there is a great opportunity now for us to do more in that area, as also in the culture side, with our Creative Europe programme.

The reality is that in some areas it was possible, in spite of the economic and financial crisis, to increase investment at European level.

But I’m also very proud that in spite of the pressures of our budgets, we could always be there in terms of development aid and neighbourhood policy.

Whenever there was a big tragedy in the world, from the tsunami in Indonesia to the recent Ebola crisis, from the Syrian refugee crisis to Darfur, we were there, we were among the first. And I think we, Europeans, should also be proud of that, because we are still, together with our Member States, the most important donor for development aid in the world. That is something that corresponds very much to our values and I’m happy that in spite of all the crises we did not abandon our obligations in terms of development cooperation.

I have already said a word about trade. I think it is very important to keep an ambitious trade agenda, an open Europe but for free and fair trade. And the Commission has concluded a record number of agreements, not only with South Korea, Singapore, Central America – the first region to reach an agreement -, Peru, Ecuador, recently with Canada, with Western Africa, Eastern Africa and Southern Africa. And I could also mention some others that are now progressing, like Japan, the United States and also an investment agreement with China.

So we are the most important trade bloc in the world. We are the biggest economy in the world.

And I’m saying that because today I know it’s very fashionable the pessimism, the defeatism about Europe, what I call the intellectual glamour of pessimism. But I believe that we have a good record to show and I believe that together, collectively, we are much stronger and we can better defend our interests and protect our values.

Dear colleagues – I call you colleagues because I believe we have been sometimes in discussions but we have been colleagues in this great enterprise that is the European project -, I think politically we have some lessons to draw.

One is that we have shown great resilience. I think we can say that the forces of integration are stronger than the forces of disintegration. And I believed that day and night, sometimes in very dramatic moments, sometimes when I had to make dramatic appeals to some capitals: to the richer countries, asking them to show more solidarity; and to the poorer countries asking them to show more responsibility.

Sometimes we have done it very discretely, it’s true. The European Commission is probably more discreet than others. I did not want the Commission to be part of the cacophony of different voices during the most acute moments of the crisis. It was extremely market sensitive that situation. But I can tell you, in my full conscience, that we have done everything we could with existing instruments to avoid the fragmentation of the euro or to avoid a division in the European Union. And I very often had to call on my colleagues in the European Council, Heads of State and Government, to show the ethics of European responsibility.

But one of the lessons I draw from this is that if eventually it was possible to come to decisions, it is true that it was sometimes extremely painful and difficult. And took time. We have said also, and I think it is something that we can all agree: democracy is slower than the markets are.

The Commission would have preferred, and I’m sure this Parliament as well, decisions to be bolder, more comprehensive, faster. But we are a Union of democratic states, we are not a super state. And we have to respect different sensitivities.

One of the conclusions I draw from these ten years of experiences is the need to cooperate between institutions. I know sometimes it is more popular to put forward impossible ideas and to criticise others. But I firmly believe that we need to engage with different institutions, that it is not a solution to oppose the countries to the European Union. On the contrary, we have to show to our countries that they are stronger if they are part of the European Union. That we are not diluting their national identity but, on the contrary, we are asking them to share their sovereignty so they can project better their interests globally. I’m firmly convinced of this.

And I’m saying this to you now, as I am leaving in a few days: my only interest is that these lessons are learned so that we do not repeat some mistakes in the future. At the same time, I think we can say that it is not through confrontation but through cooperation that we can attain our objectives.

At the moment I prepare to hand over this very challenging and interesting job to my good friend Jean-Claude Juncker, I want to say here, on my behalf and on behalf of all my colleagues of the Commission, that we wish the new Commission all the best, that they have a great challenge ahead of them but that they could count also on our support. And I’m sure of the support that this Parliament is going to give to them.

Because, Mr President, the relations were not always perfect. But I think you can agree that we were able to establish a fruitful relationship between the Parliament and the Commission.

I’ve been in this Parliament more than 100 times. There was never a Commission that was so often represented in the Parliament as my two Commissions. We have established this cooperation and I’m so grateful because this Parliament, sometimes with very strong demands, was always supportive of the community method, was always supporting the community institutions. And I believe this is very important for the future of Europe.

My dear colleagues of the European project,

The way to solve the problems we have in Europe is not through revolution and even less through counter-revolution. It’s by compromise, it’s by reform. Evolution and reform. We have to reform to adapt to the new challenges but not with new clashes between the institutions, not with clashes against our countries. And I believe that if this idea of strong cooperation putting the European common good above all else, I think my colleague and friend Jean-Claude Juncker and his new Commission will have success, of course based on the support I’m sure you are going to give them.

Because the European Union is a union of values. In these last days I had to face many journalists and they asked me ‘what was your most emotional moment? Which moment did you prefer?’ And I have many, and I also had very difficult ones, to be honest. But one of my most emotional moment was when, on behalf of the European Union, together with Martin Schulz and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, we received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the European Union.

I think this was a powerful reminder sent to us from the global community that we count in this world and that what we do is very important. That the values that were at the origin of the creation of our Union, namely the value of peace, are still at our essence today. And that we have to fight for them.

And I think is the moment I really said I want to share with all those in the different institutions, including this Parliament, that have been working for a united, open and stronger Europe. And when I leave this office, with all my colleagues at the Commission, I can tell you that we have not achieved everything we could, or everything we would have liked to have achieved, but I think we have worked with the right conscience, putting the global interest of the European Union above specific interests. And I believe that now there are conditions to continue to do work for a united, open and stronger Europe.

I thank you for your attention.

Auf wiedersehen, goodbye, au revoir, adeus.

Muito obrigado, thank you very much.

Following the statements of the Members of the Parliament, President Barroso made the following closing remarks:

Mr President,

I should like to take up a number of the points raised by the previous speakers. Firstly, I believe that proof that we – and by “we” I mean the Commission of which I have had the honour of being Presidentare on the right track lies in the fact that the criticisms have come from the opposite ends of the spectrum, though often couched in the same terms, resolutely ignoring the difficulties and extraordinary challenges that we have had to face and failing to put forward any coherent response.

The truth is that we have been through possibly the worst economic and financial crisis we have seen since the countries of Europe began to come together and that it was not the European Union or Europe that spawned the crisis. This is what some defenders of national sovereignty, as they like to call themselves, do not or will not understand. It was not Europe that created excessive private debt or caused the financial sector to behave irresponsibly. Quite the opposite – this all took place under national scrutiny, or rather lack thereof. Europe is the answer. We now have one of the most ambitious regulatory and supervisory systems in the world, if not the most ambitious. In other words, saying that Europe is worse off because of the European Union is simply not true. It shows a complete lack of respect and a lack of intellectual rigour. Europe is not responsible for the financial crisis, which had its roots in the United States. Europe had its weaknesses, but what the European Union did was to respond. The blame for this does not lie with the European Union, and I believe this is something that all those who share the European ideal – be they at the left, right or centre of the political spectrum – should have the courage to state, because by remaining silent we will be reinforcing the populist rhetoric of the extreme right and extreme left.

I listened carefully to those of you who said that populism was on the rise and who laid the blame for this at the door of the European Union. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not true. It is abundantly clear that populism and xenophobia exist outside the European Union. Look at the anti-immigrant incidents that have taken place in Switzerland. Look at what happened in Norway when that terrorist killed all those young people because he was opposed to a multicultural Europe. Look at the Tea Party movement in the United States. Is Europe to blame for America’s Tea Party movement?

We are currently seeing an aggressive form of populism around the world, which espouses arguments from both the left and the right. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference. So to say the European Union is responsible for this shows a lack of intellectual rigour and a lack of political integrity. What we have to do, as Europeans, is to demonstrate that it was not Europe that caused the crisis or the public debt in the Member States. There was little that Europe could do when, for example, one Member State falsified its accounts. This is something Europe had to face. The first initiative of my second Commission was to ask the Member States to give us more powers to supervise national statistics, because in my first Commission this was rejected. And not by Greece. It was rejected by the big Member States, which were reluctant to hand more powers over to the European Union. So if we really want to have a debate, let us be quite clear and strict in terms of intellectual integrity and political candour.

Ladies and gentlemen, there is one thing that I would like to say to you with the greatest of conviction. The team that I have had the honour of heading has worked with enormous commitment and diligence, whilst always putting Europe’s interests first. There is something that I want to say to you, since this is a political assembly with a wealth of political dynamics, but where the emphasis is always on the common European good. My Commission was not made up of colleagues from the EPP, socialists or liberals. It was made up of people who worked for Europe. My party is the EPP and I am proud of that, but, as President of the Commission, my party is Europe and that is the message I wish to convey, in particular to the major forces of the pro-European centre-left and centre-right.  Differences must, of course, be aired, but they must not be allowed to weaken the pro-European camps. We cannot hand the extreme right or extreme left anything else on a plate. Pro-European forces must come together. They must have the courage to defend Europe. They must do so at national level, and not just here in Strasbourg. We need a major coalition of this nature for Europe because I believe that we have the strength to win the battles of the present and those of the future.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Remarks by the Vice President at the John F. Kennedy Forum

The White House

Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release

October 03, 2014

Harvard Kennedy School
Boston, Massachusetts

6:37 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, Dean, you did that introduction exactly like my sister wrote it sounds like.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.  That was very, very generous of you.

And as we used to say in the Senate, please excuse the point of personal privilege.  There are three reasons why I’ve won the races I’ve won and why I sustained winning, and they’re right here in this front row.  The first one is my sister, but also the guy who got me through the 1972 campaign is one of the best political strategists I have ever known, and a man who is — as Frank — is that you, Frank, back there?  Frank Fahrenkopf, the former chairman of the Republican Party.  We’ve known each other a long time, back to the days when we really liked one another, Republicans and Democrats.  (Laughter.)  We still do.  It’s great to see you, Frank.

But as Frank can tell you and anyone else can tell you that the one thing when you hire a political consultant that you most are concerned about — and I mean this sincerely — is will they reflect your values.  This guy that I’m about to introduce to you has more integrity in his little finger than most people have their whole body, but is the reason I overcame that deficit — John Marttila, a native Bostonian here. 

And the guy sitting next to him who has fought in Vietnam and came back to fight against the war in Vietnam and has become my friend.  And if you ever have to — that old joke, if you have to be in a foxhole, this is the guy you want with you, Professor Tommy Vallely (ph).  Tommy, it’s great to see you.  I didn’t expect to see you.

And it’s great to be here.  And I have one plea, don’t jump.  (Laughter.)  Don’t jump.  It’s good to be back.

I understand that Senator Markey may be here.  I hope for his sake he’s not and he’s out campaigning because — but I was told he might be, and Congressman Delahunt, two fine friends.  If they’re here I want to acknowledge them.

Folks, “all’s changed, changed utterly.  A terrible beauty has been born.”  Those are the words written by an Irish poet William Butler Yeats about the Easter Rising in 1916 in Ireland.  They were meant to describe the status of the circumstance in Ireland at that time.  But I would argue that in recent years, they better describe the world as we see it today because all has changed.  The world has changed.

There’s been an incredible diffusion of power within states and among states that has led to greater instability.  Emerging economies like India and China have grown stronger, and they seek a great force in the global order and global affairs. 

Other powers like Russia are using new asymmetrical forms of coercion to seek advantage like corruption and “little green men,” foreign agents, soldiers with a mission but no official uniform.  New barriers and practices are challenging the principles of an open, fair, economic competition.  And in a globalized world, threats as diverse as terrorism and pandemic disease cross borders at blinding speeds.  The sheer rapidity and magnitude, the interconnectedness of the major global challenges demand a response — a different response, a global response involving more players, more diverse players than ever before.

This has all led to a number of immediate crises that demand our attention from ISIL to Ebola to Ukraine — just to name a few that are on our front door — as someone said to me earlier this week, the wolves closest to the door.

Each one in its own way is symptomatic of the fundamental changes that are taking place in the world.  These changes have also led to larger challenges.  The international order that we painstakingly built after World War II and defended over the past several decades is literally fraying at the seams right now.

The project of this administration, our administration at this moment in the 21st century, the project that President Obama spoke about last week at the United Nations is to update that order, to deal with these new realities, but also accommodate and continue to reflect our enduring interests and our enduring values.

And we’re doing this in a number of ways.  First, by strengthening our core alliances; second, building relationships with emerging powers; third, defending and extending the international rules of the road that are most vital; and fourthly, confronting the causes of violent extremism.  But all of this rests on building a strong, vibrant economy here at home to be able to underpin our ability to do anything abroad.

So tonight I want to talk to you about our efforts and provide, as best I can, an honest accounting of what it’s going to take for America to succeed in the beginning of the 21st century.

The first thing we have to do is to further strengthen our alliances.  Many of the challenges we face today require a collective response.  That’s why we start from a foundation of the strong alliance we’ve had historically in Europe and in Asia, a feature of American strength unmatched by any other nation in history and built on a sacred commitment to defend one another, but also built on shared political and economic values.

One of the cornerstones of our foreign policy is the vision we share with our NATO allies of a Europe whole and free, where every nation can choose the path it wishes with no interference.  But that vision has been recently challenged.  We’ve seen aggression on Europe’s frontier.  And that’s why we’ve moved to mobilize our NATO allies to step up and provide significant security assistance to Ukraine. 

Each of the 28 NATO allies has now committed to providing security assistance to Ukraine, including over $115 million from the United States.  And as we respond to the crisis in Ukraine, we are determined that NATO itself emerge stronger from the crisis thrust on us by Russia.  With our allies, we are increasing deployments on land, sea and in the skies over Central and Eastern Europe.

And at the most recent NATO Summit in Wales, the Alliance agreed to create a Rapid Response Force to make sure that NATO is ready and can respond to any contingency.  And we’re increasing exercises and capacity building with non-NATO nations, countries in European — on Europe’s eastern frontier to ensure that they too can exercise their right to choose their own future, and that NATO’s door remains open.

But beyond mutual defense, we’re working closely with Europe on everything from trade to counterterrorism to climate change.  But we have to be honest about this and look it squarely in the eye, the transatlantic relationship does not sustain itself by itself.  It cannot be sustained by America alone.  It requires investment and sacrifice on both sides of the Atlantic, and that means ensuring that every NATO country meets its commitment to devote 2 percent of its GDP to defense; establishing once and for all a European energy strategy so that Russia can no longer use its natural resources to hold its neighbors hostage.  Reaching a final agreement on the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the new mechanism to try to strengthen the economic engines to sustain our mutual efforts in Europe and at home.

To the East, for six decades, America’s alliances in Asia have made possible the security and stability that has flowed from — that has allowed the economic miracle.  When I met not long ago and I met many, many hours with President Xi — I probably had dinner alone with him over 22, 23 hours over two five-day periods, talking about — I mentioned that America — I made clear that America is a Pacific power and we will remain a Pacific power.  And us in the area is the reason for the existence of a stability in Asia for the past 50 years.  That’s why it’s essential that we modernize our Pacific alliances, updating our posture and expanding our partnerships to meet the new challenges we face.

America today has more peacetime military engagements in the Asia Pacific than ever before.  By 2020, 60 percent of our naval assets and 60 percent of our air power will be stationed in the Pacific.  We’re supporting Japan’s efforts to interpret its constitution to allow it to play a larger security role.  We’ve signed enhanced defense cooperation agreements with the Philippines.  We’re strengthening our missile defense capabilities in the region to deter and defend against North Korea.  And three years ago, we had no forces in Australia; today, we have more than a thousand Marines rotationally deployed in Darwin.  And we have a growing partnership with Vietnam, in no small part — by the way — to the work of Tommy Vallely and his colleagues actively engaged in regional organizations like ASEAN.

We have an historic opportunity as well to build a new relationship with Burma if we get lucky.  But our Asian allies also have tough choices to make.  We cannot do this on our own.  It will relate to their willingness to work closely and more closely with one another.  As the President and I have done in meetings with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, we’re going to continue to promote trilateral cooperation among our allies and partners in the Pacific to make the most of those ties that will benefit the entire region if we succeed.

In the Middle East, our alliances are also crucial.  We will never waver from our steadfast support for Israel, and we’re working alongside a coalition of Arab partners and countries from around the world to confront ISIL. 

So even as we strengthen our traditional alliances, we’re building wider coalitions to bolster the world’s ability to respond to these emerging crises.

Take Ebola.  A horrific disease that is now a genuine global health emergency.  Our Centers for Disease Control, USAID and our military have taken charge of that world epidemic.  We are organizing the international response to this largest epidemic in history.  The President rallied the world at the United Nations last week, mobilizing countries from all around the world to act, and to act quickly.  We’re deploying over 3,000 American soldiers to West Africa to support regional civilian responses and advance the effort in fighting the disease of Ebola.

The second thing we have to do besides strengthening our alliances and cooperation, we have to effectively manage our relationships with emerging powers of the 21st century.  And that means putting in the effort to realize the potential of America’s friendship with emerging democratic partners like Brazil and President Dilma, President Peňa Nieto in Mexico, Prime Minister Modi in India, who just made a historic visit to the United States this week.

Each of these relationships has a significant potential to genuinely, genuinely promote shared interest and shared ideals.  But each one has to overcome domestic politics, bureaucratic inertia, and a significant legacy of mistrust over the last century.  But there is great potential here, but there is no guarantees.  There is no substitute for direct engagement and an unstinting effort to bridge the gap between where we are today and where we can and should be tomorrow.

The world in which emerging powers and responsible stakeholders promoting common security and prosperity has yet to arrive, but it’s within our grasp to see that happen.  That’s why we’ve embraced the G20 as a model for economic cooperation.  That’s why it’s also important that we fully support international institutions like the IMF, fund them and reform and modernize them to better serve all nations.

But managing our relationship with China is the single most essential part of the strategy at which we must succeed.  Even as we acknowledge that we will often be in competition, we seek deeper cooperation with China, not conflict. 

Nowhere is it written that there must be conflict between the United States and China.  There are no obvious, obvious impediments to building that relationship.  And we’re committed to building up that partnership where we can, but to push back where we must.  The President plans to visit China this fall as part of his second trip to Asia this year.  This is the kind of engagement that is necessary for us to come together and do consequential things.

At Sunnylands, when he met with President Xi last, they reached an historic agreement on the super pollutant known as HFCs, hydrofluorocarbons.  And our hope is that this year we can continue to expand our cooperation with China on climate and environment, but also be very direct about our differences.  That’s why in a five-hour meeting I had with President Xi this past December — after they had several days earlier announced unilaterally an air defense identification zone, contrary to international law — I sat with President Xi and I told him bluntly, Mr. President, understand one thing.  We do not recognize it, we do not honor it, and we’re flying a B-52 through it.  Understand. (Laughter.)  No, I’m serious.  I’m not asking you to do anything.  I’m not asking you to renege.  Just understand — we will pay no attention whatsoever to it.  It’s important.  It’s important that in emerging relationships there be absolute, frank, direct discussions.
 
That’s why we’ve made clear as well that freedom of navigation must be maintained in the South China Sea.  But that’s also why President Obama has been direct in public and private with China’s leaders on cyber theft.  And as the world watches Hong Kong’s young people take to the streets peacefully to demand respect for their own rights, we’ll also never stop standing up for the principles we believe in that are universal — democratic freedoms and human rights.

President Xi asked me, why do we focus on human rights so much?  I’m serious.  And I gave him a direct answer — which is almost unique to the United States; it doesn’t make us better or worse, but unique to the United States.  I said, Mr. President, even if a President of the United States did not want to raise human rights abuses with you to have a better relationship on the surface, it would be impossible for him or her to do that — for the vast majority of the American people came here to seek human rights and freedom.  It is stamped into our DNA.  It is impossible for us to remain silent.  Again, he took it on board — and it’s important to understand why we do it.  It is not a political tool.  It is who we are.
 
To build these robust relationships with emerging powers, we also have to demonstrate staying power — which is hard and costly — in places that will do the most to shape the world that our grandchildren are going to inherit.  That’s why our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region depends in no small part on completing a trade initiative known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And that’s the whole Pacific — from Peru all the way to Japan. 
It’s a partnership that will stitch together the economies of 12 Pacific nations, stretching from South America to Asia, united behind rising standards regarding labor, the environment, and fair completion.  Once completed, these trade agreements we are negotiating across the Atlantic and the Pacific will encompass nearly two-thirds of the global trade in the world, and can shape the character of the entire economic global economy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership also has a profound strategic — not just economic — strategic element to it.  Because deeper economic ties cement our partnerships but, most of all, help small nations resist the blackmail and coercion of larger powers using new asymmetric weapons to try to achieve their ends in other countries.

And this brings me to the Western Hemisphere, a vital part of the Pacific equation, but where there’s another great opportunity.  The President asked me to oversee our hemispheric relations.  And for the first time in history, you can truly envision a Western Hemisphere that is secure, democratic and middle class, from northern Canada to southern Chile, and everywhere in between.  But we have to overcome centuries of distrust.  We can no longer look at the region in terms of what we can do for it.  The question is what can we do together in this hemisphere.  And the possibilities are endless.

On energy, North America is literally — not figuratively — the epicenter of energy in the world today.  There are more rigs, gas and oil rigs in the United States pumping today than every other nation in the world combined.  Combined.  North America will account — meaning Mexico, China and Canada — for two-thirds of the growth of global energy supply over the next 20 years.  By 2018, the United States will be a net exporter of natural gas, and most projections show North America will be totally energy independent by 2020, and the United States shortly thereafter.
 
Look at the hemisphere in terms of trade.  Forty percent of all our exports stay in this hemisphere — 40 percent.  We have $1.3 trillion in trade in a yearly basis just in North America, including $1.3 billion per day with Mexico alone.
 
On security, we partnered with Colombia and Mexico and others to combat the scourge of drug trafficking.  We’re helping Central American countries address the root causes of poverty and violence and migration.

But to realize the potential of our partnerships in the region, we have to be present, we have to build that trust — which is why I’ve made five trips to Latin America just in the last — and to South America as well — just in the last 18 months.
 
It’s why we have to pass immigration reform here in the United States.  It’s one thing to say we respect the rest of the Americas, the majority of which are Hispanic.  But it’s another thing to say I respect them and yet not respect the immigrant population that’s the Hispanic community of the United States.  It does not connect.

The single most significant thing we can do to fundamentally change the relationship in terms of trust and commitment is to pass immigration reform.  Those of you who travel to or are from Central and South America know of what I speak.  Because respecting immigrants from the Americas is part of how we show that we really have changed our view, that South and Central America is no longer our back yard; it is our front yard.  It is our partner.  The relationship is changing.  And when it changes fully the benefits for us are astounding.

The third thing we need to do — and are doing — is to defend and extend the international rules of the road and deal with asymmetrical threats that are emerging.  The international system today is under strain from actors pushing and sometimes pushing past the limits of longstanding important international norms like nonproliferation and territorial integrity.  That’s why we insisted that Syria remove its chemical weapons stockpile and the means to manufacture them.  So we assembled under great criticism a coalition with Russia and others to remove Syria’s chemical stockpile.  That’s why have made it clear to Iran that we will not allow them to acquire a nuclear weapon.  So we’ve put together the single most effective, international sanctions in history to isolate Iran, and to push them back to the negotiating table.

Elsewhere, actors are subverting the fundamental principle of territorial integrity through the use of new asymmetric tactics, the use of proxies to quietly test the limits and probe the weaknesses across boundaries and borders on land and sea; the use of corruption as a foreign policy tool, unlike any time in modern history, to manipulate outcomes in other countries in order undermine the integrity of their governmental institutions.  That’s exactly what’s happening in Ukraine today. 

Putin — President Putin was determined to deny Ukraine and the Ukrainian people the power to make their choices about the future — whether to look east or west or both.  Under the pretext of protecting Russian-speaking populations, he not only encouraged and supported separatists in Ukraine, but he armed them.  He sent in Russian personnel out of uniform to take on the Ukrainian military, those little, green men.

    And when that wasn’t enough, he had the audacity to send Russian troops and tanks and sophisticated, air-defense systems across the border.  But we rallied the world to check his ambitions and defend Ukrainian sovereignty.  We didn’t put boots on the ground. 

Putin sought to prevent a free and open election.  We rallied the world to help Ukraine hold quite possibly the freest election in its history.  Putin sought to destabilize Ukraine’s economy.  We provided a billion dollars directly from the United States and worked with the IMF on a $27 billion international rescue package to keep them from going under.

Putin sought to keep Ukraine weak through corruption.  We’re helping those leaders fight back corruption, which by the way is an issue that demands our leadership around the world, by helping them write new laws, set up a new judiciary and much more.  Putin sought to hollow out Ukraine’s military the last 10 years, and he was very successful.  But we rallied NATO and NATO countries to begin to build that military capability back up.  Putin sought to keep secret Russian support for separatists who shot down a civilian airliner.  We exposed it to the world, and in turn rallied the world.  And remember this all began because Putin sought to block Ukraine’s accession agreement with the European Union.  Well, guess what:  That agreement was signed and ratified several weeks ago.

Throughout we’ve given Putin a simple choice:  Respect Ukraine’s sovereignty or face increasing consequences.  That has allowed us to rally the world’s major developed countries to impose real cost on Russia.

It is true they did not want to do that.  But again, it was America’s leadership and the President of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs.  And the results have been massive capital flight from Russia, a virtual freeze on foreign direct investment, a ruble at an all-time low against the dollar, and the Russian economy teetering on the brink of recession.

We don’t want Russia to collapse.  We want Russia to succeed.  But Putin has to make a choice.  These asymmetrical advances on another country cannot be tolerated.  The international system will collapse if they are.

And to state the obvious, it’s not over yet.  And there are no guarantees of success.  But unlike — the Ukrainian people have stood up.  And we are helping them, leading and acting strategically. 

The fourth element of our strategy is countering violent extremism.  As you know, we’ve engaged in a relentless campaign against terrorists in Afghanistan, in the so-called FATA, in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere.  This campaign against violent extremism predates our administration, and it will outlive our administration.  But we’ve made real progress against al Qaeda’s core and its affiliates since 9/11.  But this threat of violent extremism is something we’re going to have to contend with for a long time. 

Today, we’re confronting the latest iteration of that danger, so-called ISIL; a group that combines al Qaeda’s ideology with territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria and beyond, and the most blatant use of terrorist tactics the world has seen in a long, long time.  But we know how to deal with them.

Our comprehensive strategy to degrade and eventually defeat ISIL reflects the lessons we have learned post-9/11 age about how to use our power wisely.  And degrading them does not depend upon an unsustainable deployment of hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground.  It’s focused on building a coalition with concrete contributions from the countries in the region.  It recognizes outside military intervention alone will not be enough.  Ultimately, societies have to solve their own problems, which is why we’re pouring so much time and effort into supporting a Syrian opposition and Iraqi efforts to re-establish their democracy and defend their territory.  But this is going to require a lot of time and patience.

The truth is we will likely be dealing with these challenges of social upheaval not just in Iraq and Syria, but across the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, which will take a generation or more to work itself out. 

We can’t solve each of these problems alone.  We can’t solve them ourselves.  But ultimately — and we can’t ultimately solve them with force, nor should we try.  But we can work to resolve these conflicts.  We can seek to empower the forces of moderation and pluralism and inclusive economic growth.  We can work with our partners to delegitimize ISIL in the Islamic world, and their perverse ideology. 

We can cut off the flow of terrorist finance and foreign fighters, as the President chaired the hearing in the United Nations Security Council on that issue just last week.  We can build the capacity of our partners from the Arab world to Afghanistan to solve their security problems in their own countries with our help and guidance.  The threat posed by violent extremists is real.  And I want to say here on the campus of Harvard University:  Our response must be deadly serious, but we should keep this in perspective.  The United States today faces threats that require attention.  But we face no existential threat to our way of life or our security.  Let me say it again:  We face no existential threat — none — to our way of life or our ultimate security.

You are twice as likely to be struck by lightning as you around to be affected by a terrorist event in the United States.

And while we face an adaptive, resilient enemy, let’s never forget that they’re no match for an even more resilient and adaptive group of people, the American people, who are so much tougher, smarter, realistic and gutsy than their political leadership gives them credit for.

We didn’t crumble after 9/11.  We didn’t falter after the Boston Marathon.  But we’re America.  Americans will never, ever stand down.  We endure.  We overcome.  We own the finish line.  So do not take out of proportion this threat to us.  None of you are being taught to dive under your desks in drills dealing with the possibility of a nuclear attack.  And I argue with all of my colleagues, including in the administration, the American people have already factored in the possibility that there will be another Boston Marathon someday.  But it will not, cannot — has no possibility of breaking our will, our resolve, and/or our ultimate security.

Which brings me to the fifth and final point, the strength of America’s economy.  Without a strong economic foundation, none of which I have spoken to is possible — none of it.  It all rests on America remaining the most vibrant and vital economy in the world. 

And America is back.  America remains the world’s leading economy.  I got elected when I was 29 years old, as was pointed out, and I was referred to in those days as a young idealist.  And I’m today — if you read about me among the many things that are often said, good and bad, I’m always referred to as the White House Optimist, as if somehow, as my grandpop would say, I fell off the turnip truck yesterday.  (Laughter.)

I’m optimistic because I know the history of the journey of this country.  And I have never been more optimistic about America’s future than I am today, and that is not hyperbole.  We are better positioned than any other nation in the world to remain the leading economy in the world in the 21st century. 

We have the world’s greatest research university.  We have the greatest energy resources in the world.  We have the most flexible venture-capitalist system, the most productive workers in the world.  That’s an objective assertion.  We have a legal system that adjudicates claims fairly, protects intellectual property.  Don’t take my word for it.  AT Kearney has been doing a survey for over the last I believe 30-some years.  They survey the 500 largest industrial outfits in the world.  They ask the same question:  Where is the best place in the world to invest?  This year, America not only remains the best place in the world to invest by a margin larger than any time in the record of the survey, but Boston Consulting Group right here, a first-rate outfit, surveys every year American corporations with manufacturing facilities in China and asks them what are they planning for next year.  This year, the response was 54 percent of those invested in China said they planned on coming home.

I don’t know how long I’ve been hearing about how China — and I want China to succeed, it’s in our interest they succeed economically — about how China is eating America’s lunch.  Folks, China has overwhelming problems.  China not only has an energy problem, they have no water.  No, no, not a joke — like California.  They have no water.  (Laughter.)  It is a gigantic and multi-trillion-dollar problem for them.  We should help them solve the problem. 

Ladies and gentlemen, raise your hand if you think our main competition is going to come from the EU in the next decade.  Put your hands up.  (Laughter.)  I’m not being facetious here now, I’m being deadly earnest.  We want — it is overwhelmingly our interest that the EU grow, and that China grows, because when they don’t grow, we don’t grow as fast.  But, ladies and gentlemen, relative terms, we are so well-positioned if we act rationally, if we invest in our people.

A recent study points out that American workers are three times as productive as workers in China.  It matters in terms of where people will invest their money, where jobs will be created.  And one of my — I was in and out of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina over twenty-some times.  As Maggie will remember, I was the voice that kept hectoring President Clinton to lift the arms embargo and take on Milosevic, which he did, to his great credit.

And one of my trips to Kosovo, I had a Kosovar driver, meaning he was Muslim, a Kosovar driver and who spoke a little English.  And I was going up to Fort Bondsteel, which is right outside of Pristina, a fort that was being built on a plateau.  And it was a rutted, muddy road, and we were — the tires were spinning to get up there, but there were all these cranes and bulldozers and all these incredible movement.  And my driver very proudly sort of looked down like this and looked out the window and he pointed at me and he said, Senator, America, America.  And we were literally at a gate – and, Tommy, you know, the old pike that came down across this rutted road in red and white striped.  And standing to the right of the gate, stopping us, were five American soldiers.  An African American woman, who was a master sergeant; a Chinese American — I forget the rank; an African American man; a woman colonel, and a Hispanic commanding officer.  And I tapped him on the soldier and I said, no, no, and I meant it so seriously — there’s America.  There’s America.  Until you figure out how to live together like we do, you will never, never, never make it. 

America’s strength ultimately lies in its people.  There’s nothing special about being American — none of you can define for me what an American is.  Can’t define it based on religion, ethnicity, race, culture.  The uniqueness of America is that we are a group of people who agreed on — whether we say it, whether we’re well-educated or not, whether we say it in terms of basic agreements but we really do believe without saying it, “We the People.”   “All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator.”  Sounds corny.  But that’s who we are.  That’s the essential strength and vibrancy of this country.

And that’s why it’s our obligation to lead.  It’s costly.  It takes sacrifice.  And sometimes it’s dangerous.  But we must lead — but lead in a more rational way, as I hope I’ve outlined for you, because we can.  We can deal with the present crisis, and it is within our power to make a better world.

You’re a lucky group of students.  I’m not being solicitous.  You’re lucky because you are about to take control at a time where one of those rare inflection points in the history of the world, in this country.  Remember from your physics class in high school, if you didn’t have to take it in college.  I remember my physics professor saying an inflection point is when you’re riding down the highway at 60 miles an hour and your hands are on the steering wheel, and you turn it abruptly 2, 5, 10 degrees one way or the other, and you can never get back on the path you were on.
 
We are at an inflection point.  The world is changing whether we like it or not, but we have our hands on the wheel.  The only time you get a chance to bend history a little bit are these moments of great change.  And if we’re wise, if we have courage and resolve, and with a little bit of luck we can all make the world a better place — for real.
 
God bless you all and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  

END
7:20 P.M. EDT

Open Skies Air Transport Agreement with the Republic of Korea

Ottawa, Ontario
22 September 2014

The Government of Canada is committed to helping the Canadian air industry increase its access to international markets which, in turn, benefits domestic businesses, shippers and travellers. To this end, on September 22, 2014, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, witnessed the signing of the Open Skies Air Transport Agreement between Canada and Korea. The signing, by Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, and Yun Byung-se, Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, is a significant milestone in the deepening of our bilateral relations. The signing took place during the state visit of PresidentPark to Canada.

The Agreement provides for:

  • An open and unlimited number of direct passenger and cargo flights between the two countries;
  • Unrestricted ability for Canadian and Korean airlines to stop in countries between and beyond Canada and Korea, to drop off and pick up additional passengers and cargo;
  • A market-based tariff regime with minimal filing requirements for prices;
  • Fully open unrestricted code-sharing; and,
  • Open points of service.

The Agreement builds on the original 1989 Canada-Korea Air Services Agreement, which was amended in 1993 and 1996.

Canada’s Blue Sky policy encourages long-term, sustainable competition and the development of new or expanded international air services. Under this policy, since 2006, the Government of Canada has concluded new or expanded air transport agreements covering more than 80 countries, including:

  • Open Skies-type agreements with 16 countries: Barbados, Brazil, Costa Rica, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Sint Maarten, Switzerland and Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Expanded agreements with 20 countries: Algeria, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa and Turkey.
  • New first-time agreements with 21 countries: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, the Gambia, Kenya, Kuwait, Macedonia, Paraguay, Qatar, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Tunisia and Uruguay.
  • A comprehensive Air Transport Agreement between Canada and the 28 European Union member states (including Ireland and Croatia).

Additional and up-to-date information on the Blue Sky policy and its implementation can be found at: www.tc.gc.ca/bluesky.

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, 7/28/2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

July 28, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with an asterisk.

1:10 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Hope you all enjoyed your weekend.  It’s nice to see you on this Monday afternoon.

We are starting pretty close to on time today, which is a nice, new trend, hopefully that we’ll be able to continue.  The reason for that is I have alongside with me here today the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Tony Blinken, who is going to talk to you about a telephone call that the President convened with some of our allies in Europe today. 

I know that over the last couple of weeks you guys have had a lot of questions about what the President is doing in terms of leading the international community’s response to the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jetliner a couple of weeks ago now.  There have also been, obviously, a series of coordinated efforts to increase international pressure on Russia for the actions that they have taken in Ukraine.

So Tony is here to give you a detailed readout of that telephone conversation that the President convened today and answer any questions you may have about our ongoing efforts to coordinate the imposition of economic costs on the Russian regime.  He probably only has 10 or 15 minutes here, so we’ll go through that part of it relatively quickly and then I’ll be around to answer remaining questions you may have.

But I would encourage you, as you’re thinking about the questions you want to ask Tony, to focus on the Russia and Ukraine situation.  I know that there are a lot of newsy developments in Gaza as well, so he can take one or two of those before departing.  But we have to limit this to 10 or 15 minutes. 

So with that, I present Tony Blinken.

MR. BLINKEN:  Josh, thank you. 

Good afternoon.  Let me start by giving you a readout of the President’s videoconference with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy.  I should add that Chancellor Merkel was actually on the phone; the others were on a videoconference.

The primary focus of the conversation today was to talk about Ukraine, and they discussed next steps concerning the crisis there, but also efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza, and the situations in Iraq and Libya.

On Ukraine, they stressed the continued need for unrestricted access to the shoot-down site of Malaysia Air Flight 17 to allow for the recovery of the victims’ remains and for international investigators to proceed with their efforts.  They agreed on the importance of coordinated sanctions measures on Russia for its continued transfer of arms, equipment and fighters into eastern Ukraine, including since the crash, and to press Russia to end its efforts to destabilize the country and instead choose a diplomatic path for resolving the crisis. 

Concerning Gaza, the President noted that Israel has the right to take action to defend itself.  The leaders agreed on the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire, noting shared concern about the risk of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.

On Iraq, they discussed the security challenges, welcomed developments in the political process, and urged the swift completion of government coordination and hopefully an inclusive government that results from that.

And then, with respect to Libya, they agreed on the need for an immediate cease-fire among the militias of Tripoli, calling for the seating of the newly elected Council of Representatives, and underscoring support for the U.N. in seeking a resolution to the conflict.  They condemned any use of violence to attack civilians, intimidate officials, or disrupt the political process.

Having said that, let me just spend a few minutes if I can on Ukraine to put this in context.  This was, I think by our count, about the 50th call or videoconference the President has had with his European counterparts since the beginning of this crisis.  And ever since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its campaign to destabilize Ukraine, the President has led the international effort to isolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine, to support Ukraine itself, and to reassure our allies.

This effort has produced major strategic gains.  We’ve created space for Ukraine to hold successful presidential elections despite Russian efforts to disrupt them.  And that’s produced the strongest leadership Ukraine has seen since the end of the Cold War.  We’ve created space for Ukraine to sign an association agreement with the European Union despite Russian efforts to prevent that.  And recall that the former President Yanukovich’s last-minute about-face on signing that association agreement is exactly what precipitated this crisis in the first place.  And we’ve forged a robust financial support package for Ukraine led by the IMF.

None of these things just happened.  They were the result of a major, sustained effort by the President to lead the international community.

All of that said, the challenge to Ukraine remains acute.  Ukrainian forces are right now making major gains to regain sovereignty in the east, but at the same time, Russia is doubling down on its own efforts to support the separatists and destabilize the country.  Indeed, it is cynically using all of the attention focused on the crash of MH17 as a cover and distraction for its own efforts.  It’s increased the provision of heavy weaponry across the border.  We’ve seen convoys of tanks, multiple rocket launchers, artillery and armored vehicles.  There’s evidence it’s preparing to deliver even more powerful multiple rocket launchers. 

It is firing from positions inside of Russia into Ukraine — something that we documented this weekend.  And we’ve seen a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine.

So there’s urgency to arresting these developments, to ending the efforts to destabilize Ukraine.  And the urgency is this:  First, everything we’re seeing is a real drag on the Ukrainian economy.  The military expenditures that Ukraine has to make are a drag, and the fact that Luhansk and Donetsk, which represent 15 percent of Ukrainian GDP and about 25 percent of its manufacturing exports, are basically taken out of the Ukrainian economy equation is also a drag on the economy.

Second, the longer this goes on there’s the risk of further outrageous actions by the separatists or by Russia that deepen the international crisis.  So there’s a need to take further action now to convince Russia to change course and cease its efforts to destabilize Ukraine. 

On the call, the European leaders clearly shared this assessment and a determination to act.  We expect the European Union to take significant additional steps this week, including in key sectors of the Russian economy.  In turn, and in full coordination with Europe, the United States will implement additional measures itself.

Our purpose here, again, is not to punish Russia, but to make clear that it must cease its support for the separatists and stop destabilizing Ukraine.

Let me just finish by putting this in a larger context.  Everything we’ve seen as a result of Russia’s actions and the actions that the President has led in the international community over these many months has turned what is happening in Ukraine into a strategic loser for Russia.  First, we’ve seen a dramatic impact on the Russian economy by the sanctions that the United States, Europeans and others have taken. 

These are acknowledged by the Russian Finance Minister and, indeed, the Deputy Prime Minister, even Putin himself.  Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia and a proxy for the larger economy, a month ago, in announcing a steep decline in profits, said, “In particular, recent events in Ukraine significantly impacted the dynamics of the Russian economy.”

We’ve seen the financial markets go up and down, the ruble hitting lows, the Central Bank has had to spend $37 billion to defend the ruble, about 8 percent of its foreign exchange holdings.  The result is higher borrowing costs and a decrease in the value of Russian savings. 

Capital flight — $70 billion in the first half of this year, more than all of 2013 combined.  And projections for the entire year put it at between $100 billion and $200 billion. 

Foreign investment is drying up.  Investors are looking for stability; they’re looking at countries that keep their international commitments; they’re looking at countries that have connected to the international economy.  On all three counts, Russia is giving them great pause.  The credit rating for Russia was cut to just above the junk level; financing yields are frozen; Russian companies are not issuing bonds to raise capital. And as we’ve seen overall, Russia is heading for economic contraction, not growth, a significant reversal from just a few months ago.

Let me add as well, there’s talk that Russia has “won Crimea.”  But the fact of the matter is what’s happened is it’s lost Ukraine.  Ukraine is more united in a Western orientation than ever before and has a much greater sense of national identity.  We’ve produced, as I mentioned before, the space for elections and the signing of the association agreement with the European Union. 

Crimea itself is becoming a dead weight on the Russian economy — $7 billion a year at least in budget and pension support; $50 to $60 billion required over the next several years for critical infrastructure.  And Russians themselves are asking why this money is being spent in Crimea and not in Russia.  There’s downward pressure on defense spending; there’s downward pressure on discretionary spending as a result of this.

We’ve seen the actions in Ukraine reenergize NATO.  There’s a deeper commitment to Article 5.  NATO itself, it now has a virtual regular presence, a continuous air, land and sea presence on the territory adjacent to Russia.  And we’ll see what happens at the NATO summit, but there’s at least the prospect now for reversing the downward trend in defense spending.

We’ve seen on energy reform a jolt to the Europeans to take real steps to decrease dependence, to diversify supply, to upgrade infrastructure, to develop new sources.

And then, finally, I would say this:  For the Russians and for President Putin, power equals a combination of geopolitical influence and economic strength to provide for the Russian people.  There was a recent survey in Russia — the top two priorities of the Russian people were evenly split:  international influence and creating the conditions for individual prosperity.  As a result of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and as a result of the leadership we’ve exerted, both of those are in jeopardy.  And so is President Putin’s compact with his own people.

There is a way out:  Integrate Russia with the international economy, diversify away from fossil fuels, and play by the rules. That is still on offer.  That is still a possibility.  We would like nothing better than to resolve this crisis in Ukraine diplomatically.  And that’s now up to President Putin.

Q    Thank you very much for this update.  Could you also update us on the U.S. response to the criticism that Senator Kerry has come under in Israel after his attempts to implement a cease-fire there?  Is that damaging to the U.S.-Israel relationship?

MR. BLINKEN:  Let me say this about Secretary Kerry:  Israel has no better friend, no stronger defender.  No one has done more to help Israel achieve a secure and lasting peace.  He has been tireless in his efforts.  And I think that Israel and many countries and friends around the world recognizes exactly that.

Q    Has the President raised this in his call with the Prime Minister yesterday?  Or have U.S. officials been complaining about the criticism to counterparts in Israel?

MR. BLINKEN:  No.  Look, what you see, I think, unfortunately on a regular basis, are people leaking things that are either misinformed or attempting to misinform.  And in particular, with regard to criticism that was levied by undisclosed sources about the proposal for a cease-fire, the proposal that was criticized was not a U.S. proposal, it was a draft to illicit comments from the Israelis.  It was basically a discussion paper based on the original Egyptian initiative.  Virtually every element that unidentified sources complained about was in the initial Egyptian proposal and agreed to by Israel 10 days before.

In that, there was no mention of the need for disarmament. The document underscored the need for discussion between Israel and Palestinian factions.  It called for the opening of border crossings.  It did not make mention of tunnels.  All of this, again, in the Egyptian proposal that the Israelis had accepted and unfortunately Hamas did not.  The document also reflected the strong view that we have that demilitarization as well as reconstruction in Gaza are critical agenda items for any negotiations that follow a cease-fire.

So the bottom line on this is that what was leaked, unfortunately, was I think an effort to misinform or was just misinformed.

Q    The sanctions that we’ve seen so far have been fairly targeted against Russia.  Would you describe the sweeping nature of what you’re talking about later this week being coordinated between Europe and the United States?

MR. BLINKEN:  I don’t want to get ahead of where the Europeans are or where we are, and we’ll see that in the days to come.  But what we know is this:  The Europeans made clear last week that they were prepared to act in key sectors of the Russian economy, including the financial sector, the arms sector, the energy sector.  And so I think you can anticipate actions in those areas.  Similarly, they’re looking to broaden criteria by which they can sanction people or entities.  And I think one of the things they’re looking at is to bring in some of the cronies of President Putin. 

So we’ve already seen with the sanctions to date, as I went through a few moments ago, a very serious impact on the Russian economy.  And indeed, it’s the sanctions themselves and then the climate of tremendous uncertainty they create, even with the prospect of more sanctions, that has led to capital flight, investment drying up and the growth projections going down to basically zero.

Q    And when you talk about this force that’s building up  — the Russians are building up, are they preparing a Russian invasion of Ukraine?

MR. BLINKEN:  One of the things that we believe Russia has been trying to do is, for example, to get the Ukrainians to take some action that they can then use as “justification” for some kind of intervention — so-called humanitarian intervention, or so-called peacekeeping intervention.  So that’s one of the things that we think is in the potential Russian playbook.

The other thing they’re doing, most significantly, is increasing the supply of heavy equipment, weapons and fighters to the separatists across the border.  And this is well documented in what we’ve seen; it’s well documented in social media.

Q    In talking about that buildup and the heavier artillery, are we talking about more surface-to-air missile capability?

MR. BLINKEN:  We are talking about multi-rocket launchers — that’s one of the things we’re seeing — artillery pieces, tanks, armored vehicles, and the concerns, as I said at the outset, about increasingly heavy weaponry.  And I think there’s a reason for this, and the reason is that on the battlefield itself the Ukrainians are doing very well against the separatists in trying to regain the sovereignty of their entire country.  So Russia’s proxies are right now on the losing end of the fight.  And that’s why we think Russia is doubling down.

Q    Do you think there are still Buk missile launchers within Ukraine at this point?

MR. BLINKEN:  We believe that there are SA-11s that are still within Ukraine, including potentially in separatists’ hands.

Q    A two-parter.  How did you arrive at $37 billion spent to defend the ruble?  And second, are there any other security things you’re looking at besides rocket launchers and tanks and heavy equipment? 

MR. BLINKEN:  I think the $37 billion has actually been fairly well documented in the financial press and by other statements that have been made.  We can get you the backup for that.

And in terms of the military equipment that the Russians are providing, again, those are the main elements, but there are certainly other things that are going in.  But in terms of heavy weaponry, those are the critical elements.

Q    You’ve been talking about actions that have been taken this week by the EU and U.S.  I want to go back to something that Josh said from the podium Friday about Russia and Putin were culpable for the downing of Flight 17.  Is there a chance, is there a possibility that Putin could be charged in the International Crimes Court with war crimes, by any chance, with all of this that’s going on right now?

MR. BLINKEN:  When it comes to Russian culpability, I think the record is clear.  The Russians have been directly supporting the separatists with the provision of weapons.  We believe that the SA-11 that was used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner came from Russia.  We don’t know who was operating it.  We believe the weapon itself came from Russia.  The three top leading separatist leaders are all Russian nationals.  So it’s clear that Russia has a significant influence over the separatists and could, if it so desired, get them to cease and desist.

So, in that sense, there is a clear and ongoing culpability by Russia for events in eastern Ukraine and for a failure to de-escalate the situation, and indeed, for the context in which all of this is happening, including the shoot-down of the airliner.

In terms of pointing to exactly who pulled the trigger, that we don’t know yet and we’ll see if we can develop that information.  But the bottom line is this:  Through its ongoing support and increasing support for the separatists, Russia bears responsibility for everything that’s going on in eastern Ukraine.

Q    So you’re saying technically he could be brought before the International Crimes Court?

MR. BLINKEN:  Look, I don’t want to get ahead of anything.  Again, the main point is to emphasize that Russia bears responsibility and has the ability to actually de-escalate this crisis by moving it onto a diplomatic track.  That is what we’d most like to see.

Q    I don’t know if you’re aware of reports that just came now that Gaza Central Hospital has been hit, and 10 more dead Palestinian children.  You said that the United States is Israel’s best friend, which I tend to agree with you.  You also provide them with $3 billion a year, and you give them the Iron Dome that saved countless lives.  How come you don’t have any leverage over Israel to extract a humanitarian cease-fire that would last for seven days?  Does that mean that you basically have no influence over them, or that just Israel doesn’t care?

MR. BLINKEN:  First, I haven’t seen those specific reports. Second, the record is clear:  Israel has repeatedly accepted cease-fires that Hamas has rejected.  So the bottom line on that is clear.

Let me say more generally, no country can abide rockets raining down on its people or terrorists tunneling underground to kill or kidnap its people.  We have consistently and repeatedly defended Israel’s right to defend itself.  Hamas intentionally targets civilians.  And indeed, Iron Dome, thankfully, is there and has protected many of those civilians.  And it uses the Palestinian people as human shields, wrapping them around its weapons and strategic sites. 

In contrast, Israeli policy is to avoid civilian casualties. Indeed, it holds itself to the highest standards to take every precaution to avoid those casualties.  But the fact is, despite its efforts, the civilian suffering in Gaza is great and growing every day.  So the practical reality is that it is difficult for Israel to meet its own high standards.  Civilian casualties are increasing.  It’s especially heartbreaking to see children suffering in this crisis.

This is a problem we have grappled with in Iraq and then in Afghanistan because we, too, hold ourselves to these standards.  It’s incredibly difficult to sustain them.  But I think this underscores the urgency of getting an unconditional, immediate, humanitarian cease-fire.

Q    — said yesterday — just a quick a follow-up — that he wants Gaza demilitarized.  What does that mean in terms of a long-term strategy or a peace negotiation or now as we talk in the next week or so?

MR. BLINKEN:  As I said, we support an immediate, unconditional, humanitarian pause leading, we hope, to a sustainable cease-fire.  We also believe that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must also lead to the disarmament of terrorist groups.  And what we intend to do is to work closely with Israel, regional partners and the international community to achieve this goal.
MR. EARNEST:  Ann, I’ll give you the last one, then we’ll let Tony go.

Q    Thank you very much.  On Russia, if all the impact of all of these sanctions and all the threat of sanctions are as dire as you’ve described, why hasn’t Putin blinked?

MR. BLINKEN:  He has to make a strategic decision.  And you’re exactly right, he hasn’t made it yet.  We’ve seen him on a regular basis pull back tactically, say the right things in public while he’s doing the wrong things behind the scenes.  So he’s clearly sensitive to the pressure that’s being exerted.  But it’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures.  And that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week.

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you, Tony.

MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks, Josh.  Thank you.

Q    Thank you, Tony.

MR. EARNEST:  All right before we move on to other topics, I do want to do one thing at the top.  And I believe we have a slide that goes along with this — there it is.  Today we got some very good news about Medicare’s financial future.  In the President’s first year in office in 2009, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security trustees projected the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund would not be able to pay its bills in 2017, just three years from now.  Today’s new date is 2030 — 13 years later than that projection in 2009, an improvement that is thanks in part to the reforms of the Affordable Care Act, such as efforts to reduce hospital spending on preventable readmissions.  And today’s date, you’ll note, is actually even four years later than was projected just last year.

A couple other relevant statistics that are included in the report:  Furthermore, per-capita growth, or the amount spent per Medicare beneficiary has slowed dramatically in recent years, falling to one-third of what it was, and to nearly zero last year — helping to restrain overall growth in Medicare spending even as millions of baby boomers enter the program. 

In addition, the trustees project that the Medicare Part B premium will not increase, which would make 2015 the second year in a row that premiums in Medicare stay flat.

While today’s report focuses on Medicare, it reflects broader trends in the health care system toward much slower growth in costs, a trend that has continued into 2014.  Over the 50 months since enactment of the Affordable Care Act, health care prices have risen at a slower rate than over any comparable period in 50 years. 

So that is a report that is being released as we speak, and so there will obviously be some more details included in that report later today when you get a chance to review it.

So with that, Nedra, do you have any additional questions today?

Q    I do.  Can you give us your response to the VA deal?  Does the President think it does enough to solve the problem with the health care system?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Nedra, this compromise has been announced between House Republicans and the chair of the Senate Veterans Committee.  We certainly welcome that announcement.  There are a couple of reasons based on published reports that we’re encouraged by that compromise.

The first is, as you even heard me mention on Friday, there are much-needed reforms that need to be implemented into the Veterans Administration.  The President and others have called for those important management reforms to be implemented, and again, based on press reports, the indications of those reforms are that many of them are included in this bill.

The second thing — and this is really important — on July 16th, Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson called for Congress to provide VA the additional resources necessary to deliver timely, high-quality care to veterans through a strengthened VA system while also temporarily using care in the community to help ensure veterans can get the care they need when they need it.

When he asked for those additional resources to address some very specific concerns that he had laid out, that was something that had previously not been part of the debate as it relates to this VA reform package.  So the inclusion of these additional resources at the strong urging of the Acting Secretary is a positive step in the right direction, and something that we think will be very important to the success of some of the reforms that are contemplated by this bill.

In addition, this proposal for on a temporary, as-needed basis to allow some veterans to get some access to care in the community is also the kind of thing that could address the immediate need that many veterans have, but by adding these additional resources over the long term, we feel like those are benefits and care that can be provided through the VA.

So the details of this compromise have yet to be unveiled, so I don’t want to get ahead of the announcement that is planned for Capitol Hill later today.  But the early reports are positive.

Steve.

Q    Josh, Susan Rice was on MSNBC a while ago.  She talked about a grave and deepening concern at the civilian casualties in Gaza.  What exactly would you like the Israelis to do?  Are you calling on them to call off the offensive?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Steve, we have said many times — I think Tony just had the opportunity to say that we defend Israel’s right to defend themselves.  In fact, you could make a case, and many Israeli political leaders do, that they have a responsibility to make sure that they’re taking steps militarily to account for the safety of civilians on the Israeli side of the border.  This is, after all, the Israeli population that elected them, and they are in the best position to determine what steps are necessary to protect their citizens.  That is their right.

At the same time, Israel leaders often say that they have in place very high standards to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians on the other side of the border, as well.  That stands in stark contrast to the strategy that is deployed by Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza that are intentionally targeting civilians on the other side of the border.  They are also intentionally using civilians on their side of the border to try to essentially shield their equipment and their personnel from Israeli military activities.  So there is a stark contrast in the approach that’s taken by the Israelis and taken by Hamas and other extremist groups. 

That said, as I mentioned, Israel and their political leaders often talk about the high standards that they put in place for their military operations to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians — innocent civilians on the Palestinian side of the border.  Based on published reports, it’s apparent that there is more that they should do to live up to those standards that they have set.  And that is something that we routinely encourage them to do, while defending their right to defend themselves.  The President reiterated that in his phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday.

Michelle.

Q    For months, we’ve been talking about increasing sanctions against Russia, and sort of the ultimate would be these sweeping sectoral sanctions.  So can you explain why that hasn’t happened now?  Why is this not the time to go that far, and still do these kind of slow, incremental building sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  I would say that the sanctions regime that the President rolled out about a week and a half ago, the day before the downing of the Malaysian Airlines jetliner, did take a step in that very direction.  These were sectoral sanctions that were aimed at specific entities in the defense, financial and energy sectors. 

There was an indication from our European partners that they were taking the preliminary steps necessary to implement similar sanctions in their own right, but those steps have not yet been taken by the Europeans.  That is something that was discussed by the President and his counterparts in Western Europe earlier today, as Tony mentioned.

So there have been some steps that the United States has taken to put in place and impose economic costs against President Putin and the Russian regime.  Tony detailed the economic impact that those sanctions were having.  But as Ann rightly pointed out in her question, it is true that the costs have not yet led to the kind of strategic re-evaluation that we would like to see the Russians undertake.  That is why the international community is actively considering imposing additional costs by having the Europeans increase the amount of sanctions that they have currently levied.  It’s also why the United States is considering additional steps that we could take that would pose additional economic costs on Russia and on President Putin.

Q    Well, so the question was really — I mean, we all know that it’s sort of these very precise, let’s pick this bank or that bank; it’s not on the entire Russian banking system.  Do you think there’s still any leverage left in doing it that way?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m certainly not an expert in terms of the way that these tools are deployed.  But it is our view that there is additional leverage that can be gained.  That is certainly why they’re being contemplated both by leaders in Western Europe, but also by those who do have an expertise in this field in this country. 

As Tony documented, there are a number of economic consequences that Russia has already had to bear in terms of the outflow of private capital, in terms of the downward revisions in their economic projections.  We’ve also seen Russia expend significant sums of money to try to shore up the strength of their own currency.

So there are a number of steps that Russia has taken, and a number of outside evaluators who have reviewed the situation to confirm our suspicion that the economic costs have taken a toll on the Russian economy but they have not yet led President Putin to re-evaluate his strategy in Ukraine.  And that ultimately is our goal.

Bob.

Q    Josh, a quick follow-up on the VA bill.  Is $10 billion enough?  They’ve unveiled it up on the Hill, so is $10 billion enough to take care of the system with its deep, deep troubles right now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re still evaluating the specifics and details of their package, so I don’t want to get — I don’t want to say any more than I already have.  But in the next couple of days, we may be in a position to comment on that a little further.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  The House and Senate are very divided on the border supplemental right now.  If they can’t come to agreement by the end of the week, what is the practical effect?  Can you wait until September?

MR. EARNEST:  Cheryl, I would refer you to the individual agencies for the impact that Congress’s failure to pass the supplemental appropriations request would have on their ability to perform the functions that they are required to perform. 

We are hopeful that Congress will take the kind of action that is required.  Both Democrats and Republicans have spoken quite publicly about their concerns about the situation at the border.  This administration has been really clear about what we feel like we need in terms of resources to deal with the influx that we saw of those who were apprehended at the border earlier this summer.

So there’s a detailed package that we’ve put forward.  As I mentioned last week, the Speaker, at a news conference at the end of the week, said that he was still discussing this matter with members of his own caucus.  That was a pretty disappointing development in the part of this administration.  We put forward a detailed package — I happened to bring it with me right here — it includes very detailed numbers about what we feel is necessary.

I noticed that the new Republican Whip was on one of the Sunday shows yesterday and noted that the administration was asking for a — what he described as a blank check.  It makes me think he’s not sure — that he doesn’t know what a blank check is.  We’ve actually been very specific about the numbers that we feel are necessary to deal with this problem and to address the range of concerns that many people have raised about those who have been apprehended at the border.

So we hope that there will be prompt congressional action on this that is in line with their rhetoric on this issue.

Q    Can I follow on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Wendell, go ahead.

Q    Why isn’t the change in the 2008 law on non-contiguous migrants’ deportation part of that package?  The President had indicated that he supported a change and his advisors say that changing that law would be necessary to send the kids at least from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador back as rapidly as those from Canada and Mexico.  So why is that not a part of that package?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you would have to talk to members of Congress about how they want to put this all together.  What we believe is most important is ensuring that the federal government has the resources necessary to address the range of challenges that are posed by this situation.  Remember, it includes some additional security at the border in the form of surveillance equipment.  It also includes the ability of the federal government to open and operate additional detention centers so that we can detain those individuals who have been apprehended at the border.  It includes some funding for HHS that would allow them to evaluate the basic health needs of those individuals who have been apprehended, both to meet their humanitarian needs, but also to ensure the safety of the broader communities in which they’re detained.

It also includes funding that would allow these repatriation flights to take place so that we could more quickly return those individuals that have been apprehended here to their home countries.  It also, of course, includes additional resources to ensure that those who are apprehended at the border receive the due process to which they’re entitled.  So this means hiring new judges and prosecutors and asylum officials to ensure that that can take place.

Q    But notwithstanding Democrat and Republican differences over the amount of funding, the Republicans say in order to approve some, they’re going to need to change that 2008 law.  Does the President support that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is unfortunate that you would see them take an absolutist position on this.  We certainly do support Congress taking the necessary steps to give the Secretary of Homeland Security the flexibility he needs and the discretion that he can use to more efficiently and effectively enforce the law.  That is a priority of this administration.

But we should not allow the debate around what should be included in that language to hold up something that everybody agrees is necessary, which is additional resources that can be used by the federal government to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those individuals who are apprehended, but also provide funding that can be used to more quickly return those who are found by the courts to not have a legal basis for remaining in the country.

Chris.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Some members of the Republican Whip team on that have suggested that they’ve gotten surprising support for what is a much smaller check than the one that the White House is asking for, and the $2.7 billion being put forth by the Senate is getting some pushback from Democrats like Joe Manchin, Mary Landrieu and doesn’t seem to have a lot of support on the Republican side.  And you also have a situation where Congress is in session for three and a half days this week.  So with the clock ticking, what do you see as the prognosis and what happens if none of this goes through?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are those here in town and probably those of you here in this room that have a little bit more experience in evaluating congressional action than I do.  So I will leave that analysis and prognostication to the experts.  I’ll simply observe that this administration three weeks ago today put forward a very detailed request before Congress, and asking for those additional resources to address a problem that I think to a person every single member of Congress agreed existed. And what we have seen in Congress is a lot of talk, particularly from Republicans, but not a lot of willingness to act.  And that is rather unfortunate.

And we are hopeful that in the pivotal week that remains before Congress departs Washington for the traditional five-week recess that they’ll take the important steps that are necessary to ensure the federal government has the resources to deal with a problem that, again, I think every single member of Congress agrees exists.

Q    Can I also ask you about a Reuters’ report that just came out?  I don’t have any more details than this, that Netanyahu says Israel “must be prepared for protracted Gaza campaign.”  And I wonder if it’s possible that there could be a military victory for Israel, but a loss for them in both the political realm and the court of public opinion.  Can I get your reaction to that statement by Benjamin Netanyahu?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s hard to react to a statement that occurred while I was standing up here.  But let me say that it is the position of the United States that it is in the best interests of people on both sides of the border for a cease-fire to take effect.  And the reason for that is pretty simple, that as long as the violence continues across the border, there are going to be innocent civilians in harm’s way.  And having those innocent civilians face that extreme danger has already had terribly tragic consequences for both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.  And that’s why we want to see that cease-fire put in place. 

There will be an opportunity once that cease-fire is in place for us to have discussions around the kinds of concerns that have legitimately been raised by the Israelis, in particular about Hamas’ repeated willingness to use tunnels and to fire rockets aimed squarely at doing harm to innocent civilians.

So it is the priority of this administration for a cease-fire to be put in place.  That is why you’ve seen Secretary Kerry doggedly pursue diplomacy to protect the lives of innocent civilians on both sides of that border.

Q    Moving on —

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Ann.

Q    What are the two or three, maybe three or four absolute necessities that the President thinks Congress has to get done by the end of this week?  Would he ask them to delay their recess?  And would he ever consider skipping Kansas City?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as we always say with the President’s travel, his trip to my hometown notwithstanding — (laughter) — as is always the case with the President’s travel, if there is a critically important function of the presidency that cannot be performed from the road, the President will not hesitate to change his schedule in order to fulfill those functions.  So I do not anticipate that anything that’s happening in Congress would require that at this point.  But if something does emerge, something unexpected does emerge, I’m sure that is something that the President would consider.

Q    Will he ask Congress to delay its break?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll let him speak to that.  If he decides that that’s what they should do, then he will say so.  At this point it’s the responsibility of the leaders in Congress to determine their own schedule.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of important work that needs to get done this week.  That includes continuing to follow through on these VA reforms on which an agreement was announced over the weekend.  So hopefully that can move forward without any delay or incident.

We certainly would like to see a step taken in terms of passing the supplemental appropriations request that this administration put forward several weeks ago to ensure that the administration has the resources necessary to deal with the problem at the border.

That being said, we could certainly address many of the problems at the border if Congress — if the House were to take action on comprehensive immigration reform legislation that’s already passed the Senate.  The Senate did their work more than a year ago.  Just by taking one simple vote, the House of Representatives could approve that legislation.  The President would sign it.  That would do more to improve our economy, create jobs and reduce the deficit than so many other things that Congress is debating right now.

I think what is the source of particular disappointment on this end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and I think of people in both parties across the country is to see that Congress — House Republicans in particular — are using this very valuable time to debate a piece of legislation that would allow House Republicans to file a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against the President of the United States.  I certainly don’t think that rises to the level of a priority that so many of these other things Congress is ignoring right now. 

Let’s move around a little bit.  Leslie.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  With Secretary Kerry unable to get a cease-fire during his trip, and the President talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu last night in what sounded like pretty blunt terms — what are the next steps for the White House?  And do you — to follow up on a previous question, do you believe that there is any leverage left for the United States with Israel?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States remains deeply engaged in this effort.  Secretary Kerry has been leading that effort over the last week in terms of the dogged diplomacy that he’s been pursuing.  He’s been meeting with his counterparts not just in Israel and among the leaders of the Palestinian people, but also with his counterparts in Egypt and Qatar and Turkey and the Arab League, the U.N.  He’s been deeply engaged in these conversations in pursuit of a multilateral, international effort to try to bring both sides together and reinstate the terms of the 2012 cease-fire, to try to get those civilians who right now are in harm’s way into a safer position.  That’s been the focal point of our efforts, and we remain engaged in it. 

In terms of our relationship with Israel, the United States remains a strong ally of the nation of Israel.  American leaders say that; Israeli leaders say the same thing.  The best evidence that I have of that is the assistance that the United States has provided to the Israeli government to construct the Iron Dome system that right now is, thankfully, protecting so many Israeli civilians from these rockets that Hamas is firing.  So that relationship remains strong. 

And the reason that Secretary Kerry remains so committed to this effort is that — or at least is in part that we believe it is clearly in the interest of Israel’s long-term security for this cease-fire [violence]* to be brought to an end, and for negotiations between the Palestinian leaders and Israeli leaders to get started in terms of trying to eventually down the line reach this broader, two-state solution.

Roger.

Q    I want to go back to what Tony was saying about the sanctions and the outlook for them.  Is that — if I understood it correctly, the EU is going to go first with their sanctions and probably — or possibly this week, is that correct?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know that he was in a position to talk about the sequencing of the announcement.  But I do think that he committed to our expectation that we would see Europe act before the end of the week.

Q    Would the U.S. act before the end of the week?

MR. EARNEST:  Our position is that the options like that remain on the table, that the United States is prepared to impose additional costs on Russia for their destabilizing activities in Ukraine.  I’m not in a position to confirm for you whether any decisions have been made about carrying out that action or what those actions might look like.   As we’ve talked before, it would be a strategically unwise thing to do to talk about the details of those sanctions before they’re implemented. But I am in a position to confirm that those kinds of options remain on the table when it comes to the United States.

Q    One final — would the U.S. concentrate on any particular sector?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if we have additional sanctions to announce, then we will be able to get into those kinds of details.  But at this point, it would be preliminary for me to do so.

Q    Josh?

MR. EARNEST:  Goyal. 

Q    Thank you.  Two questions.  One, some people in the Congress want to close down the 84-year-old Export-Import Bank.  And many small businesses are saying that it is helping small businesses export U.S. goods abroad and also creating thousands of jobs in the U.S.  My question is that some people in the Congress are saying that it is helping only the big companies.  What is the President’s action — or reaction about this bank?  Next month will expire the —

MR. EARNEST:  The President does believe that Congress should take steps to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.  That’s not just the view of this administration and many Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, it’s also the view of organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce.  Those are two organizations that don’t often agree with the President when it comes to some aspects of American economic policy.

But that is an area where this administration agrees that the Export-Import Bank plays a positive role in creating jobs and creating opportunities for American businesses to succeed by opening up markets around the world.

Q    Second question — oh, by the way, it has also created jobs between India and U.S. trade.  Second question is that as far as U.S. ambassador to India is concerned, you think U.S. will have an ambassador before Prime Minister Modi visits the White House end of September?  And second, what is happening as far as Mr. Modi’s address to the Congress?  Is White House is supporting it?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any personnel announcements at this time, Goyal.  But when we have any updates in terms of appointing an ambassador to India, we’ll let you know.

Q    And address — U.S. address, Mr. Modi’s address to the U.S. Congress, is White House supporting it, the President?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of those conversations.

Bill. 

Q    Josh, there was an unusual editorial in The New York Times yesterday, I’m sure you saw, urging the lifting of the prohibition against — the federal prohibition against marijuana. What is the White House’s position on that?  Would you endorse that?  It’s been there for 44 years.  Maybe too long and time to change it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I did read the editorial yesterday, Bill.  The administration’s position on this issue has not changed.  We remain committed to treating drug use as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice problem. 

In light of state laws that legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults in Colorado and Washington, the Department of Justice issued updated guidance last August to federal prosecutors in all states.  That guidance reiterates that marijuana remains an illegal substance based on the laws that Congress has passed.  But it also recognizes that we have limited enforcement resources, and that those resources are best used to address the most significant threats to our communities.

That was the policy before The New York Times editorial, and it continues to be our policy today.

Q    So does that mean that if other states follow Colorado and Washington, the administration would also give them a green light to go ahead and legalize marijuana without federal interference?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not sure a green light is the technical term that the Department of Justice has used.  (Laughter.)  But in terms of the guidance that might be offered to those states, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

Q    “Blessing” or whatever word you’d want to use.

MR. EARNEST:  The Department of Justice issued guidance like that.  So if there are other states that are contemplating these kinds of steps, you should check with the Department of Justice about that.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Yesterday, North Korea military member had announced that North Korea will attack United States, and especially they point to the White House and Canada with using their nuclear missiles.  What is your comment on their threatening like this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I have not seen the reports of those specific threats.   I would encourage you to check with my National Security Council colleagues about that.  The United States remains very committed to our alliance with the Republic of Korea, and that alliance allows us to have a strong military-to-military relationship with South Korea to ensure their security.  The United States remains committed as ever to the safety and security of the Republic of Korea.

Q    So you don’t have a strong reaction to them?  Because this is the first time they mentioned the White House and Pentagon specifically.

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I’m not in a position to comment specifically in reaction to those comments because I have not seen them. 

Q    Can I follow on Israel please?

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s move around a little bit.  Zeke. 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Just with regards to the President’s trip tomorrow, can you give us any reason why is he staying an extra night in your hometown if he’s not doing a fundraiser as you said on Friday?

MR. EARNEST:  At my own personal recommendation.  (Laughter.)  No, look, we’ll have a little bit more about the President’s trip tomorrow.  This will be an opportunity for the President to spend some time in that wonderful community.  He’s going to spend some time talking to individuals who have written him a letter.  You’ve seen on the last couple of trips the President has taken across the country, he’s spent a little extra time in the community to visit with those who have written him letters about the way that individuals in these individual communities are benefiting from some of the policies the President is putting forward and how they could benefit from some of the policies the President is pushing on Congress to implement.  So we’ll have some more detail on that tomorrow.

Q    Tuesday night or Wednesday?

MR. EARNEST:  The President is departing tomorrow.  He’ll remain —

Q    — the letters segment, when he’s going to visit people, is that going to be —
MR. EARNEST:  I believe he’ll have the opportunity to do that both Tuesday evening, as well as on Wednesday. 

Q    One other real quick, just on Secretary Kerry.  Those leaked conversations or however you want to categorize them, is that jeopardizing the U.S. government’s ability to have candid conversations with the Israeli government?  Or do you envision any sort of lasting impact on sort of the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government as a result of these leaks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Tony made clear that we were disappointed to read them.  But I do not anticipate that they are going to have much of an impact on the very strong, robust relationship that exists between the United States and our allies in Israel.

Q    And, finally, does Secretary Kerry coming back to the United States and the President conducting that phone call yesterday and the one today, is this a shift — is the President going to take a more active personal role now that Secretary Kerry’s efforts have at least temporarily failed?  Is the President going to try to use his own convening authority?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I do anticipate that the President will continue to be in regular touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  That has been the case over the last several weeks of this crisis that has been ongoing in Gaza.  And I do anticipate the President will continue to get regularly briefed by his team and will continue to be on the phone with his counterparts in the region who have concerns about the outcome here.  So I do think that the President will continue to be engaged in this. 

In terms of the next steps, those conversations will continue.  But ultimately, as we’ve said in similar circumstances as it relates to situations like this, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the two sides to come together.  What the international community and what the United States can certainly do is use our influence with both sides to press them to come to an agreement that’s in the best interest of their citizens.

As we’ve pointed out many times, we believe that a cease-fire is in the best interest of civilians on both sides of this conflict.  We just need the leaders of both sides to take the kinds of steps that will impose a cease-fire and allow the leaders to sit around the table and try to broker an agreement here.  And that’s what we’re going to continue to be focused on.

Q    But over the last week, Secretary Kerry was the point person in trying to bring those two sides together.  Has that changed this week?  Will the President be trying to bring the two sides to a multilateral agreement together?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess what I would say — the point that I’m trying to make, Zeke, is that I think there have been a range of officials who have been actively engaged in trying to resolve the situation — the President, first and foremost among them.  It was, however, the case last week that Secretary Kerry was the most senior U.S. official on the ground in the region trying to roll up his sleeves and broker an agreement between those who were involved in this situation. 

So those efforts will continue, even though Secretary Kerry is not actually in the region.  But if he needs to return, I’m sure that he will not hesitate to hop back on the plane and get back to work.

Chris.

Q    Josh, while you were at the podium, the Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.  It’s the third federal court appeals ruling and the latest in an unbroken string in rulings against the marriage ban since the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA last year.  Any thoughts on this latest decision and the unanimous string of these decisions against marriage bans?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chris, I haven’t — as you pointed out, the decision was handed down while I was up here, so I have not had an opportunity to talk to anybody on our team who was able to analyze the decision.  But based on the way that you’ve described it, it does sound like the kind of decision that is consistent with the President’s views on this topic.  I think that’s the best I can do. 

All right, guys, we’ll see you tomorrow. 

END
2:04 P.M. EDT

Foreign Policy Update

3:00 P.M. EDT

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

MS. HARF: Thank you. Hello, everyone. It’s so good to be back here, I think for my fifth briefing they were saying, so looking forward to this one and, of course, to many more.

As you know, there’s a lot going on in the world. Secretary Kerry is currently in Cairo, working to see if we can make progress on getting a ceasefire with Gaza. I was in Vienna for the last few weeks working on the Iran negotiations on the nuclear program, lots going on there as well. Obviously, you’ve seen all of the news about Ukraine lately. I’ve spoken to it a number of times in the briefing over in the State Department, but I’m sure there are questions on that as well.

So with that, I think I’m going to go ahead and open it up to questions. I’m going to try and get to everyone, so go ahead. We’ll start here and I’ll work down the front and then move towards the back. And please say – I know most of you now, but please say your name and where you’re from as well.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Sonia Schott. I am today with RCA in Colombia. My question is on Latin America. There are some news that the Venezuelan general Hugo Carvajal has been arrested yesterday in Aruba under the request of the U.S. I was wondering if you have any comments on that.

MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. I’m happy to look into it. I’m sorry, the first question I don’t have an answer to, but I hadn’t seen that. It sounds a little dubious to me, but we can check afterwards and get you an answer.

QUESTION: I have a second one, just —

MS. HARF: Okay. Then ask a second. Hopefully I can answer this one.

QUESTION: Okay. The opposition leader in Venezuela is facing a trial and presently his wife was here denouncing a lack of transparency. I was wondering if you have any comments on that too. Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, look, we’ve said throughout the crisis in Venezuela that this is a decision for the Venezuelan people to make. There needs to be room for dissent. There needs to be room for opposition. We cannot see arrest of – for political reasons. We have to see a process go forward that’s inclusive. We haven’t seen a lot of progress there, but this is certainly a key priority for us. It’s not about the United States, as much as sometimes the regime would like to point at us. It’s about what the Venezuelan people want and indeed deserve. So I don’t have any more updates for you than that, but obviously, we want to see an inclusive process going forward.

Yes. I’m just going to go across the front here.

QUESTION: Shi Larasteve (ph), Voice of America, Persian TV. Yesterday, a group of Republican lawmakers unveiled a legislation which forces – if passed, forces the Administration, President Obama, to seek approval from the Congress for any final deal with Iran. What is the Administration’s strategy against these maneuvers?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. We are aware there’s new proposed legislation regarding the Joint Plan of Action, any final comprehensive Joint Plan of Action we would get to. But I’d make a few key points here. The first is that Congress has played a key role throughout the years in our policy towards Iran, most importantly by imposing very serious and significant sanctions on Iran to put the economic pressure in place that indeed has, in part, led us to the diplomatic place we are today.

But there are not 535 commanders-in-chief; there’s just one. And our diplomatic negotiating team led by the President and the Secretary and our team on the ground – I was just there for three weeks – really needs the space to be able to negotiate with the Iranians and with our partners to get to a comprehensive agreement. We have been clear with Congress that our goal is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, to ensure their program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. But indeed, we need space to be able to get the right combination of pieces to eventually get there.

So we don’t support attempts by Congress to try to insert themselves into outlining what a final deal might look like; indeed, there are a number of different combinations that could get to our goals here, and we need the space to be able to get there. So we will continue to talk to Congress, to hear from them. We’d like to hear their ideas, but we don’t support this type of legislation.

Yes. I like your tie. It’s very festive.

QUESTION: Thank you, thank you. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I do. I like it.

QUESTION: I like it too. (Laughter.) This is my special tie to get questions at briefings, (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: There you go. It worked, clearly.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: It worked.

QUESTION: My name’s Andrei Sitov. I’m with TASS, the Russian news agency. Thank you for doing the briefing. We do look forward to many more. Thanks for our friends at the FPC for hosting it.

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: A couple of things. On Ukraine, first off – and I quote – you said about 20 seconds ago, “There needs to be room for dissent. There needs to be room for opposition.” The Ukrainian parliament has just taken steps, so the Ukrainian Government supports those steps to dissolve their Communist Party. Isn’t it stifling the opposition, the criticism, political voices?

MS. HARF: Well, a few points. I think I do believe what you’re referring to is draft legislation that hasn’t been approved that would ban the Communist Party. The Communist Party is not banned in Ukraine today. We do believe that all peaceful voices should be heard anywhere. So obviously, that’s something we feel is important in Ukraine and elsewhere. We will continue looking at the draft legislation as it goes through the process, but again, as of today, the Communist Party is not banned in Ukraine.

QUESTION: But do you support a ban? Do you support a ban?

MS. HARF: As I said, we’re not taking a position on the legislation other than to say that all peaceful voices should be heard in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And secondly, and more importantly, obviously, with the tragic loss of the Malaysian airplane, the Russian defense ministry have released their own tracking data and have called on others, specifically on the United States, to release yours.

MS. HARF: To release what?

QUESTION: So – the tracking data from – I understand it’s from the satellites, from what they saw from the satellites on that particular day. And they claim that there was a U.S. satellite directly above that spot on that particular day – maybe a coincidence, maybe not. They – again, have you seen their data? What do you think about their information?

And secondly, can we expect you to release yours?

MS. HARF: Well, we have released up to this point our assessment about what happened and we’ve released as much information as we can at this point, that we’ve been able to declassify that underlies that assessment. So we are continuing to work through releasing more. But I’d just make a few points, and then if you have follow-ups, we can – you wore the tie today; we can keep talking. So that’s okay.

So first, we, based on a variety of information, assess, believe that this was an SA-11 fired from an area controlled by Russian separatists inside Ukraine. We have released a photo which has the trajectory of that missile based on classified information. We can’t get into how we know that. We have released that. We have also released additional information about why the two alternative theories put forward by the Russians are not plausible – the first being that it was a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter that shot down the aircraft.

Very briefly, the reasons we do not believe that this is plausible is because the only missiles it carries are short-range infrared guided missiles. Ground photography from the crash site is consistent with expected damage from a surface-to-air missile of the kind the separatists have indeed used and bragged about having, does not correspond to the kind of – what we would expect to see from an air-to-air missile such as the Su-25 has.

So we have put forward our assessment, based on a variety of information about why we believe that it indeed was an SA-11 fired from Russian-controlled separatist area. We believe an investigation needs to go forward to determine exactly who had their finger on the trigger. We still don’t know that, don’t know the intentions behind why they did this. So we think an investigation should continue, but we will continue to put out more information as we are able to do so.

QUESTION: And —

MS. HARF: Do you want the microphone? Should we wait?

QUESTION: — about their own data, have you seen the data released by the Russians?

MS. HARF: I’ve seen some of the information put out by the Russians. Again, we feel very strongly in our assessment of what happened.

Yes, I am just going to go across the front here. So – and then I will get to the rest of the room. I promise.

QUESTION: Sungchul Rhee with SBS Seoul Broadcasting System from Seoul, Korea. I have two questions on Russia.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: First is that this morning, Russian Government expressed concern over United States plan to introduce missile defense system in Korea – U.S. camps. It was the – it was called THAAD – the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. What is your reaction to the – Russia’s statement here?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see that specific statement, but in terms of missile defense, we have very clearly said we are committed to missile defense but also to missile defense cooperation with Russia, which would enhance the security of both NATO and of Russia. I understand there are strong opinions here in Russia about missile defense, but we have been very clear that it is not aimed at them, that we are looking at a variety of other threats, and that we will continue talking to them and being transparent with them about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

I haven’t seen this —

QUESTION: You mean the North Korean threat?

MS. HARF: Well, we are looking at a variety of threats when we talk about NATO and now we’re often looking at Iran when we talk about other places, we do look at a threat from North Korea, but – a variety of threats we’re looking at, but they are not designed to deter anything from Russia. Indeed, we’ve said we will cooperate with Russia on missile defense.

QUESTION: My second question is: You are dealing with really a lot of global issues at the same time which really you’re juggling. And – but not a few critics are criticizing the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, questioning on – if President Obama is adequately dealing with all the issues at the same time effectively. Even General Jim Jones, a former national security advisor to President Obama, appeared on TV this morning and he was citing a seismic shift in the relations between the United States and Russia. What is your reaction to those issues?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a couple questions there and let me try to address all of them. I think in terms of our relationship with Russia over the time we’ve been in office in this Administration, we have always said we will work together when we can. If you look at – I mean, again, going back to Vienna where I was for the Iran talks, we and the Russians are in lockstep on the exact same side about how we deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. We work very closely together on that issue. That doesn’t take away from the fact that much of what I have talked about this week at the briefings and that we deal with right now in the Administration is very serious concerns about Russian activity in Ukraine. And I’ve been very – I think we’ve all been very outspoken about that in our serious concerns there.

So it’s complicated. We work together when we can and we very strongly disagree when we do. And all of those things happen at the same time because the world is a big place, and we have places where we do have overlapping interests like when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program. But very many places where we have very divergent interests as well, as you’ve seen with Ukraine.

But on the broader question of foreign policy, you’re right; the world is a complicated, dangerous place at times. We are dealing with very serious crises, whether you look at Gaza, whether you look at Ukraine, whether you look at the host of other issues we’re dealing with right now.

And what we’ve always said is that we will do a few things, right. We have, since the beginning of this Administration, rebuilt partnerships and alliances if you look all over the world. Because in these crises, you need friends and you need partners and you need allies. And so while you can never make the world a perfect place, you can help address these when you have people on your side helping you. So that’s one thing we’ve done in terms of these challenges.

And I think you’ve seen Secretary Kerry not hesitate to get on a plane and try and make progress here. We have been very actively engaged in diplomacy and diplomatic efforts on all of these crises. We believe that diplomacy in many of these instances is the best way to handle it. That’s why you see him flying all over the world, to try and make progress here, because we are deeply and personally present and engaged in trying to deal with these crises. But they’re difficult and the world is complicated, and there are no easy answers, and people who tell you there are either just not paying attention or aren’t telling you the truth – one of the two.

So I think we will keep working on all of them. We take each one individually. There’s a different way we deal with all of them, but we have a really great team who is working very hard to do so.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Yeah, we can go back. Yes, yes.

MS. HARF: But you need a microphone, Andrei.

QUESTION: And just what is your biggest success story in terms of winning new friends? Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, look, when we took office – I think you can look at when we took office in 2009, which feels like an eternity ago probably to all of us, a lot of our relationships had waned in Asia, in Europe, all around the world. There had been eight years of neglect, and in some cases outright disagreement. So we have worked very, very hard over the past, I think, now six years – is that how long it’s been? – to rebuild these alliances. If you look, again, at the P5+1 in Europe and how we’re working on Iran together, we built an international coalition on Iran – not just at the negotiating table through the P5+1, but with all of the countries that buy oil from Iran, with all of the countries who have put sanctions in place, whether it’s Japan, South Korea, the UAE, India, China, all of the countries we’ve brought together to put pressure on Iran. That was done with really painstaking diplomatic work, with people going all over the world and saying, “This is why you should join us,” even though it’s really tough for many of these countries economically.

So I think that’s just one way we’ve done it. But again, look, these are tough challenges that we face.

I’m actually going to go to New York for a question, if they can hear me.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. With regard to the recent development in the Gaza Strip and the bombardment of the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun and the increasing number of innocent civilian casualties, what does the Secretary Kerry have to say about the recent development, and would that be categorized as a war crime from the U.S. Department of State perspective and precedents? And with regard to Iraq, and excuse me, I’m going to bundle my questions together —

MS. HARF: Let me do Gaza first. You stay there and I’ll come back to you for Iraq, okay? So I don’t forget. So just stay there. On the UNRWA school, we are deeply saddened, very concerned about the tragic incident at the UN facility today. We’re still trying to determine the facts. But I think the reason the Secretary is on the ground in Cairo, has been shuttling back and forth trying to get a ceasefire here is because this – everything that we see happening needs to stop. We are increasingly concerned about civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. We’ve seen many, many rockets being fired from Hamas into Israel.

So the Secretary is very committed to seeing if he can get a ceasefire here. Obviously, it’s very complicated and it takes a lot of work on all sides to get that done. So we will continue working on it and we are very concerned by the rising civilian casualties. We think the Israelis need to do more to prevent them, and we’ll keep talking to them about it.

Now your second question on Iraq.

QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on Gaza before we move to Iraq?

MS. HARF: Sure, you can. Yes.

QUESTION: For Gaza, there is an apparent war crime committed today. How does the United States justify this to its people, to the international community, within the principles and manners that the United States try to be a mediator in this conflict?

MS. HARF: Well, we’re still trying to get all the facts about what happened today, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions or put labels before we know all of the facts. What we do know is that Hamas has repeatedly kept rockets in civilian areas – in schools, in hospitals. But at the same time, we have told the Israelis and we have said publicly that they need to take more steps to protect civilian casualties, that they’re not doing enough. So we’ll get all the facts about this before we make a determination there.

But again, this just underscores why we believe a ceasefire is so critical to try to get in place. There are gaps between the two sides that remain. I don’t know if we’ll be able to, but we’re certainly working towards it for exactly this reason.

QUESTION: Moving along to Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant is persecuting Christians, Shiites, Yazidis, people from the Shabak, just for their religious faith and affiliation. To add to the crisis, there is some reports speaking about that the ISIL government, or whatever we can call it, is now requiring all females to go through female genital mutilation surgeries. Would there be within the UN Charter – would the United States consider pushing into the Security Council, applying Chapter 7 for military action against the ISIL militias at this point?

MS. HARF: Well, just a few points in what you asked. We are aware there are conflicting reports about ISIL issuing a decree ordering female genital mutilation. We’re aware there are some conflicting reports here. We are gathering more information. We can’t confirm the details at this point. But that goes without saying that we clearly condemn strongly this abhorrent practice no matter where it is. We know it can lead to very serious health consequences. We know it’s affected approximately 130 million women and girls worldwide, which is an extraordinary number and which is really unacceptable.

So we’ll get more details on this. But more broadly speaking, we have seen ISIL or ISIS, whatever name we want to use, go to extraordinary lengths to kill civilians, to attack them, oftentimes just for their religion, which is – has absolutely no place at all in Syria or Iraq. That’s why we’ve tried to help the Iraqis fight ISIL certainly by providing support, by providing assistance. We are providing advice to them and also, of course, weapons. When it comes on the Syrian side, we have increased our support to the moderate opposition, including through asking Congress for some funding so we can equip and train them. So those efforts are all ongoing, and we’re trying to help both of those folks fight ISIL now. I don’t have anything to preview in terms of UN Security Council action, but clearly we believe we, acting in partnership with our friends in the region, can try and help them fight this threat because they have really – I mean, you see some of the Christian communities, some of the things they’re doing there. It’s just disgusting, and we need to help put it to an end.

Yes, let’s go to the back here in the white jacket. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thanks for doing this briefing, Ms. Harf. My name is Maria Garcia. I’m with Notimex, the Mexican news agency. The U.S. Bishop Conference sent a letter today to Secretary Kerry, and they ask to change the trade and economic policies in Central America and also address issues of drugs here and the trafficking of armaments. I wonder if the Secretary has any knowledge of the document or – and if you have any thoughts about that.

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen the letter yet. You said it was sent today? Yeah. I’m sorry. I haven’t seen it, and I’m not sure if the Secretary has yet. As you know, he’s traveling, and I’m sure it will get to him soon. Obviously – and I was actually with the Secretary during his last trip there to Mexico City – there are a whole range of issues we’re working on in the region, including the security issues and when it comes to drugs and trafficking and those issues. We’ve talked a lot about the unaccompanied minors and children issue that we’ve seen coming across the border in such huge numbers lately. So there’s a whole range of issues. Trade, you mentioned, is one of them as well. So we’ll take a look at the letter when we get it, and I’m sure we’ll have some thoughts on it then. But suffice it to say, I don’t have any specific thoughts, because I haven’t seen it yet. I’m sorry.

Yes, let’s go right here in the middle, and then I’ll go to you. Let’s do you first, and then you’re next.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Lauri Tankler with the Estonian Public Broadcasting. I got a couple questions on Ukraine —

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: — and Russia. So in your last briefing today, you already came out with the statement that you have evidence that Russia is shelling Ukraine from the —

MS. HARF: Firing artillery.

QUESTION: Yeah, firing from the Russian side of the border. What is that going to be – what does that mean in terms of that’s clearly an escalation? And what does that mean in the face of the threat of sectoral sanctions by the U.S.? Or what’s going to happen now?

MS. HARF: Well, it’s a good question. You’ve seen us continue to impose increasingly tough sanctions throughout this conflict, including very recently. And we have more ready to go if we think it’s appropriate to do so. So we’ll talk with – we’re particularly talking with our EU and European partners about how we can all impose more costs on Russia here. We know they’ve already had an impact. I don’t have anything new to announce today in terms of what might come next, but we have more steps ready to go, and we are willing to use them if we see more escalation of this kind.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So the European Union is under more and more criticism about not getting the decision done and pushing it forward to Tuesday and so on. Does the Administration still believe that it’s addressing the Russian question in lockstep with its European allies?

MS. HARF: Well, we do. We coordinate very closely on this, and we do think that the downing of MH17 should be a wakeup call for Europe. This happened in their backyard. There were many Europeans on this plane. This can’t go unpunished, so I think that’s a conversation we’re having. We do, at the same time, know that it is – Europe is much more economically intertwined with Russia than we are, for example, and we don’t want them to have to take steps that would adversely impact their economy while trying to impose costs on the Russians. So it is a balance, but we think there’s a way to strike it where they can impose more costs, and we’re encouraging them to do so.

QUESTION: But no criticism?

MS. HARF: I think I just encouraged them to do more, and I’ve said this should be a wakeup call, and we haven’t seen them do more yet, we saw them do a little bit coming out of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting this week. No criticism, but we will keep working with them. We know it’s hard, but we do think more costs need to be imposed.

Yes, I’m going to go to you, and then I’m going to go to New York next. So one more here, and then to New York.

QUESTION: Thank you. Inga Czerny for Polish Press Agency, PAP. Could you please tell us if it’s a good or bad thing that European Court of Justice in Strasbourg today found Poland guilty of helping the U.S. setting up the secret prison of CIA where people were tortured? And generally, how do you find the fact that Poland is being held accountable for this and in U.S. nobody was actually charged?

MS. HARF: Well, I saw those reports, and I think I, unfortunately, won’t be able to comment on them in any way. We obviously have a very close relationship with Poland today on a host of issues, but I just don’t have much more for you than that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) when can we expect the report – the Senate report of the interrogation program?

MS. HARF: I would refer you to the Senate Select Committee on that. I think they probably have the best information on timing. I don’t know the timing, quite frankly.

Let’s go to New York for a question.

QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli of the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Thank you very much for doing this. You say that there are still gaps to fill in the negotiation for a truce in Gaza. Could you please elaborate on that and what are the hopes to (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: Well, I wish I could, but we’re having these conversations privately and diplomatically to see if we can bridge those and aren’t going to detail the specifics in public. But this is complicated, and there’s a lot of issues that we need to deal with to get to a ceasefire, a lot of different partners we’re working with. The Secretary today has spoken with the Turkish foreign minister, the Egyptian foreign minister, the Qatari foreign minister, the Israeli prime minister, the French, the Brits, the Jordanians, a whole host of people, not all just on this topic, but to try and get everybody who has some influence with Hamas or with Israel to try and get us to a place where we can all agree on a ceasefire. Obviously we don’t talk to Hamas because we consider them a terrorist organization, but there are some of our partners who do. So we are trying to bridge the gaps through any means we can, but it’s hard and I don’t want to downplay how difficult it is.

Thanks. Let’s go to you in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Daniel Pacheco with Caracol Television from Colombia. Two questions. General Carvajal from Venezuela who was appointed in the consulate in Aruba was captured today. There are some reports that he sought for extradition. I don’t know if you maybe have something on that.

MS. HARF: I got – that was the first question I got asked.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: No, no, no, no. It’s okay. And I will say the same thing – that I hadn’t seen those reports and I don’t know the facts here. It sounds a little dubious to me, but I don’t know. So I will check and I will get you an answer, I promise.

QUESTION: This one is broader, so I’m sure you can say something.

MS. HARF: Let’s hope so.

QUESTION: President Putin was touring Latin America just before the Malaysian Airlines accident, the tragedy. He was welcomed in Argentina, in Brazil. He even met with President Santos, a big ally of the United States. Was this a very successful tour? Does this – what is your comment on this in times when you are constantly talking about isolating Russia economically and politically?

MS. HARF: Well, we do talk about isolating Russia, but as I also said a few minutes ago, we work with Russia. The Iran talks where I just was recently, we are on the same side of this issue, we are working together on the same side of the negotiating table. So we don’t believe these things are mutually exclusive, and we think other countries can and should have strong relationships with Russia, and we work with them on many issues.

So I’ve seen some of the reports from his trip there. I know a number of folks were in the region for the BRICS summit. And look, we believe countries should have relationships with other countries; doesn’t mean they shouldn’t make very clear when they disagree with them, which, of course, we do in this case.

Yes. Coming up to you.

QUESTION: Michael Ignatiou from Mega TV, Greece. Marie, you and other officials of the American Government, you are asking the Russians to withdraw from Ukraine, and you are doing this every day. But at the same time, you never ask your friend and ally, Turkey, for example, to withdraw from Cyprus. As you know, Turkey has occupied Cyprus for 40 years. What is the difference or differences between the two cases? Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, I think there are many differences that I’m happy to talk about. In terms of Cyprus, we fully support the ongoing process under the auspices of the UN Good Offices mission; have urged both parties to seize the opportunity to make real and substantial progress toward a settlement that reunifies the island as a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation. We, as the United States, are willing to assist in any way we find useful.

I know that there are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of this issue, but there’s a process in place here to get a resolution here, and we fully support that process and can help in any way we can, but completely different situation.

Yes. I’m going to go to the gentleman in the middle back here with the blue shirt on. Yes, you.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. My name is Oliver Grimm for the Austrian newspaper Die Presse. I have a short follow-up, and then a question on public diplomacy.

MS. HARF: I just spent a lot of time in Austria. (Laughter.) It was lovely.

QUESTION: It was pretty nice, and I think I saw the pictures from the Secretary.

MS. HARF: It is.

QUESTION: The short follow-up on the European Court of Human Rights question on (inaudible): Can you just explain why the Administration wouldn’t comment on this court’s finding? I do recollect that you quite regularly comment on European legal findings by the European Court of Justice or the – so —

MS. HARF: Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.

QUESTION: So if you could explain that. And then the second question would be about the reform of Voice of America. What do you make of criticism that the – I think it’s called the United States International Communications Reform Act that is in Congress now would sort of impinge on the editorial independence and the journalistic freedom of reporters working for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and so forth by turning it into a public diplomacy tool as it is envisioned and planned in this legislation?

MS. HARF: Right, no. We support Voice of America remaining as it is, believe it’s a very important journalistic outlet. There may be some of you in the room from Voice of America or from other related outlets. And we, I don’t think, would support efforts to take away some of the independence like we’ve seen some people on the Hill want to do. So I don’t think that’s something we would support. We’ll keep talking to Congress about it, obviously.

On the first, we don’t always comment on those kinds of cases, particularly when they involve allegations about U.S. intelligence activities, so unfortunately I just don’t have more of a comment for you on that.

Yes, I’m going to go behind you to this woman whose hand is still up. Yes, in the black shirt.

QUESTION: Hi, Lisa Rizzolo from ARD German TV. And I know you were asked at your earlier briefing about the European Union putting out a statement about the execution in Arizona, and I just wanted to see if you’ve seen anything on that and if you have anything.

MS. HARF: I’m sorry. I literally ran over here right after the briefing and hadn’t seen it. I’ve seen some of the press reports about it. And if we can take a look and if there’s an additional comment to make, I’m happy to get it around to folks. Just running around a little bit today, sorry.

Let’s go right here on the left.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I’m Chuanjun Wang from China’s Guangming Daily. As we know, last year in Sunnylands summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the new model of major-countries relationship with the U.S. During that time, President Obama and later high officials from the U.S. all give a positive reaction on that proposal, but recently, especially in the past three months, I noticed that during the meetings with the Chinese officials, the U.S. officials said and used the major – a new model of a major-power relationship with China, even in the SED, in the (inaudible). President Obama only used the new model of (inaudible), so I just wonder if the U.S. has changed the position on this new model and how U.S. and China should move forward regarding that.

MS. HARF: Right. Well, no, we haven’t. And you’re right, President Obama and President Xi made clear at Sunnylands last year that they are committed to building a historic bilateral relationship based on really two critical elements, and both are important. One, practical cooperation on areas where we do cooperate; and then two, constructive management of differences when they arise. And I think that is – both of those have been the hallmarks of our relationship going forward. At the S&ED, there were a number of very productive conversations that came out of those meetings. Again, cooperation where we can and constructive management of differences when we have them – those both underpin our relationship, and nothing on that has changed.

Yes. Let’s go in the middle here, and then I’ll come up front to you.

QUESTION: Michael Hernandez, Anadolu Agency. Today at the State Department, I believe you said that something like three times the Secretary has been in contact with Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

MS. HARF: He has. Today he’s spoken to him three times.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s among the most or the most that you outlined during the earlier briefing. I was wondering, what is behind this close consultation between the Secretary and foreign minister? What’s motivating it?

MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, it’s not – so just to be clear, he’s made – the count as I have on here, 15 or so phone calls today, many of them related to Gaza. So it’s part of his broader engagement on Gaza. He’s spoken to the Qatari foreign minister twice today as well. So it’s, at least with the Turks and others, related to how we can push the parties to a ceasefire in Gaza.

The other consultation, much of it has been on Ukraine and MH17.

Yes. I will go back here. Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Anwar Iqbal. I work for Pakistan Dawn newspaper. There is a Pakistani delegation here, and they met Deputy Secretary Burns and Dan Feldman and others – officials at State and White House. And there was an AP report suggesting that they are asking the United States to reconsider their withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, and they also had a discussion on the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan. So would you please like to comment on those?

MS. HARF: I haven’t gotten a full readout from those meetings yet. I know they discussed a wide range of issues. I can check and see, but I haven’t gotten a readout from those meetings yet.

Would you have one up here? Yes.

QUESTION: This week, Iraqis’ ambassador to Washington criticized the Administration for lack of support – military support for his country, and claimed that this creates vacuum which they are going to – willing to give to anybody to fill it. And they said Iran has offered literally to replace the United States. So what is the position?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s a few points. No other country, I think, can do what the United States does in terms of support. We have been very supportive of the Iraqi Government. We have done that with assistance, with weapons, with advice, with training. There are some systems we’re still trying to get delivered, which the main holdup has been slowness on the Iraqi Government’s side throughout the years. But I think now they understand the severity of the situation, and we’re trying to get things delivered as quickly as possible. And we stand ready to assist in a number of ways.

But at the end of the day, this is not a problem we can fix for the Iraqis. It is a problem that needs to be fixed by them. We saw today a president being named. Next step is the prime minister, so we can hopefully soon have a new government in place that can put forward a strategy to deal with this terrorist threat as we go forward. And we’ll help them as they do it, but we can’t do it for them. So I think we are looking forward to working with the new government and seeing what else we could possibly do to help.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t work with Iran on Iraq. We have spoken on one occasion to Iran about it on the sidelines of another meeting, many weeks ago now. But look, we’re not going to coordinate with Iran on Iraq. What we’ve said is any country in the region, including Iran, should use its influence over different parties in Iraq to pull them together, to promote an inclusive government that – and that it’s the Iraqi army and security forces that need to fight this threat. It’s not militias; it’s not anything outside of the government. And so we’re encouraging all parties, including Iran, to do so.

Yes, and then I’ll go – actually, I’ll go to you. And then I’ll come back up to you, Andrei. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: My name is Jae Sun Chang, Yonhap News Agency from South Korea. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui has said today that the United States should lower the bar for resuming the Six-Party Talks, and he also accused the United States of trying to achieve its target before the talks even resume. What’s your response?

MS. HARF: Well, I didn’t see those specific comments, but we’ve worked very closely with the South Koreans and other partners on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We are very committed to it. We’ve said that the North Koreans need to take certain steps before we can get back to the table, and we’ll continue to have those conversations.

QUESTION: Many critics say the United States is basically ignoring this problem of North Korean nuclear program and – while this communist nation is strengthening its nuclear capabilities day by day and – do you see any urgency in the problem?

MS. HARF: We do, and we’re certainly not ignoring it. We see quite a bit of urgency. And I think that’s why, speaking to your previous question, we do think there should be a high bar here, that it is a very dangerous threat. We’ve seen increasingly provocative rhetoric coming out of North Korea, including with recent missile launches that are in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. So it’s an issue we have a whole team very focused on, are working with our partners and the rest of the Six-Party as well, to see if we can get back to the table here.

QUESTION: My last question is, South Korea and China earlier this week signed an agreement to establish a hotline between the defense ministry of the two countries. I think China is the second country to have – after the United States – to have a hotline with South Korea’s defense ministry. This is yet another sign of deepening relations between the two countries, and what is your response?

MS. HARF: Right. Well – and we think the concept of hotlines in general, particularly if you’re talking about territorial disputes in either the South China Sea or the East China Sea, tend to be a good idea. The Japanese have talked about doing this as well. So anything that can reduce tensions and try to get these disputes resolved peacefully we do think is a good thing. So those – that’s just one of those steps that we tend to, sort of across the board, like.

Yes, Andrei.

QUESTION: Marie, when we were talking about this incident with MH17, you said that you are for a full investigation —

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — full and fair investigation and getting to know whose finger was on that button or whatever it was that launched the missile. So basically, it’s an open question yet for you?

MS. HARF: No, that’s not what I said. We know a couple – here’s what we know based on a very wide-ranging assessment, that it was – let me just – and then you can ask follow-up. We know where the missile was fired from; we know that it was an SA-11; we know the area is controlled by Russian separatists. We know that there were no Ukrainian SA-11s within the vicinity that could’ve been fired. We know the trajectory, we know where it hit, and we know where it came down. We know that Russia has been supplying the separatists with weapons and training them on these weapons.

Now who – which one of them actually had their finger on the button, you’re right, we don’t know that. We don’t. But we know where the missile was fired from. We know who fired it, who controls that – generally speaking – and who controls that territory, who’s been funding and arming and training these folks.

QUESTION: My original question was about prejudging, because on one of the other questions you said that – on the question about the Europeans and the sanctions against Russia, you said, yeah, it cannot go unpunished. So you already know whom to punish?

MS. HARF: We know who —

QUESTION: Which is prejudging.

MS. HARF: Well, no. We know who’s been supporting these separatists for months. We know that these separatists would not be in eastern Ukraine, able to do this, without the direct backing of President Putin and the Russian Government. They wouldn’t even be there without the Russian Government’s support. They wouldn’t have weaponry without the Russian Government’s support. Forgetting about this specific incident, they wouldn’t – they today, again, have been bragging about more Ukrainian fighter jets they’ve brought down.

So we will do a full investigation into MH17, but these separatists would not be there —

QUESTION: Marie —

MS. HARF: — without the support of the Russian Government.

QUESTION: — I don’t think you are right about that. I could tell you in response that without the government – Ukrainian Government planes flying over Ukrainian cities and bombing Ukrainian peaceful civilians —

MS. HARF: That’s not —

QUESTION: — there would be no need for the civilians to defend themselves.

MS. HARF: That’s not what’s happening here.

QUESTION: And it is what’s happening.

MS. HARF: It’s not.

QUESTION: And everybody knows that’s what’s happening.

MS. HARF: Well, we can agree to disagree —

QUESTION: But basically – yeah, I know.

MS. HARF: — on this.

QUESTION: I know.

MS. HARF: But we have a preponderance of evidence on our side here.

QUESTION: But the question that I wanted to ask about this was: Why is it that you are so adamant about not admitting even the possibility that the missile was launched mistakenly or deliberately by the Ukrainians? They had their own motives for that.

MS. HARF: They don’t, though. Let me just address that specific point. Russia did release a map with alleged locations of Ukrainian SA-11 units within range of the crash. We are confident that this information is incorrect. We have information that the nearest Ukrainian operational SA-11 unit is located well out of range from both the launch and the crash sites. So there were no Ukrainian SA-11s within the range. So again, we can’t make up our own facts here. We can’t go on hunches. We have pictures of where this was launched from. We can see the trajectory. And so what we need now, as President Putin himself has said, is a full investigation. We need to see that backed up with actions, and we need to see some accountability.

QUESTION: This is your information, not information coming from Twitter or from the Ukrainians or whatever?

MS. HARF: No, this is our information. We have eyes on this area and we’ve seen some of this. Yeah.

Yes, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Hello, Marie.

MS. HARF: Hi.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this. Atsushi Okudera from Asahi Shimbun, in Japan. The President Putin originally has a plan to visit Japan. And as you know, Japan is preparing for a peace treaty with Russia, and we have a territory issue – and a northern territory issues. So I’m just wondering that – are you supporting these – the Japanese efforts for resolving the – these – the country, territory —

MS. HARF: Well, we want Japan to have good relations with its neighbors and with other countries in the region. I don’t have more of a comment than that on what you asked about specifically. I think probably up to the Japanese to speak about that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: Again, we believe that Japan should have good relationships with its neighbors. Japan is one of our closest alliances in the world. We work together on a whole host of issues, one of our most important friends that we have, and so we’ll continue working together.

QUESTION: And the same time, on the – DPRK abduction issues, you know?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Probably it’s on July 6th that Secretary Kerry spoke to Foreign Minister Kishida of Japan, and there is some report indicate United States is concerned about the lifting sanction or visiting. Prime Minister Abe is also – has also now – there is a possibility to visit North Korea. Do you – what is the position on that? Are you concerned about the visit to North Korea?

MS. HARF: Well, in terms of the abductions issue or whether the prime minister will go to North Korea, we support Japanese efforts to resolve the abductions issue in a transparent manner. I am aware of press reports indicating that Prime Minister Abe is actually not currently considering a visit to Pyongyang. I know there’s been some conflicting reporting out there, but I don’t think he is right now. I think the Japanese Government probably has the most up-to-date information on that.

Let’s do a few more. Yes, right here, and then I’ll go up to the lady in front of you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Marie. I’m from China, with China News Service. Just now, you mentioned if it’s necessary, United States will have more steps to sanctions U.S. – the Russia if the tension escalated. So how do you define that? And yesterday, reports say the United States officials told CNN that the more troops moving to the border of the Ukraine. Is that one of them?

MS. HARF: Well, that’s certainly – we would consider that escalation, yes. Look, there’s not one blanket definition here. We take a look at the steps across the board that we’ve seen. We make assessments on a day-by-day basis. People are very focused on this. We have more steps ready to go if we are – if we decide to take them. But it’s an ongoing process here. And there is a diplomatic path forward. We have consistently said that even as we increase pressure, there’s a different path that Russia can choose to take. And I think hopefully they will do so.

Let’s do a couple more. Yes, you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike) mentioned the difficulties of the Europeans and you understand the difficulties of the Europeans in proceeding with sanctions against Russians given – Russia given the energy dependence. Can – and the IMF just warned today, actually, of the rising tensions, geopolitical tensions actually having an effect on oil prices. And I can tell you from experience the oil prices in Europe are much higher than what they are in the United States, especially in some countries like my own, which are also coming out of a very difficult crisis. Now, what can the U.S. do to assist Europe in its effort towards more energy security and diversification? Are you working with them on specific projects?

MS. HARF: We’re working together very closely. It’s a conversation we have all the time, because we know it’s difficult and we know that as more costs are imposed on Russia it will get harder for the Europeans across the board on this issue. So we work together to talk about energy flows, how we can help, energy independence, all of these issues, alternative energy, clean energy, basically how we can help relieve the pressure, if we can, by working together.

But it’s really a long-term issue. There are things we can do now, but it really is more of a discussion about what we do over the long term, so if there are crises like this we don’t have the same pressure and we can help Europe with its energy situation so we don’t have the same kind of considerations. But it is much more of a long-term issue, but we are working together at a number of levels now on that.

Yes. Let’s go – go ahead, here. Let’s do just a couple more. And we’ll go back here to folks who haven’t had a question yet next.

QUESTION: Hi. China has been proposing the Asian infrastructure development bank, and earlier this month I read news from China media who quoting – which quoting the South Korean media saying that U.S. high officials request South Korea not to support China on this issue. I just want get your comment on that. And also, what’s the U.S. position on the China’s Asian infrastructure development bank?

MS. HARF: I’m not actually familiar with that issue. So I’m happy to check with our folks and see if we have a position and what that is, and we can make sure we get it to you.

Let’s go to the back here for two of you who haven’t had questions yet.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. My name is Xavier Vila, Catalunya Radio in Barcelona. Are you aware of these – administration planning to send anyone, any observers to Scotland for the referendum in September and the Catalan one in November, or this is something that’s going to be controlled by the consulates and embassies in those areas? Thank you.

MS. HARF: I’m not aware of us sending anyone. I can check, but I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: You’re not sending anyone?

MS. HARF: Yeah, not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Yep. Let’s go right behind you, and then I’ll come up to you.

QUESTION: Yeah. This is Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News, Pakistan. A couple of days ago the former president Mr. Zardari was in town and had meeting with Vice President Joe Biden. So could you tell us something about that meeting, because there are too many speculations in Pakistan about that meeting. And secondly, U.S. expressing its concerns over the Haqqani Network, about their safe havens in North Waziristan (inaudible). Despite knowing that, the Pakistani military is – right now is in military operations going on there. So what type of concerns you have now about the Haqqani Network? Thank you.

MS. HARF: Well, on the first question, I think that the Vice President’s office is probably better able to speak about their meeting. I don’t have more details to share on that.

But look, we’ve long been very focused on the Haqqani Network, on their intent to cause instability in Afghanistan, to attack and kill U.S. citizens, which we’ve seen, and military service members particularly. And it’s been one of our top priorities to bring to bear sort of all of the elements of our power to help fight this threat, to degrade its capability to carry out attacks, to prevent it from raising money, and to prevent it from moving people around. So this remains one of our top priorities. We know it’s a challenge. We’re working to help particularly in Afghanistan fight this threat.

Anyone else? Let’s do just two more here. We’ll do right here, and then you can wrap us up.

QUESTION: My name is Inoue from Kyodo News Japan. Thank you for doing this.

MS. HARF: Good to see you.

QUESTION: I have a question about the SA-11. The SA-11 was apparently used by the separatists in Ukraine, that it – they are not state – they are non-state actor.

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: So do you think this incident would have any implication when you’re considering – when you’re trying to ratchet up the assistance to Syrian opposite? Because they have asked you to provide like surface-to-air missiles, like MANPADS. So do you think this incident may have any impact to your – on your decision.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve – sorry. Finish your question. Sorry. I jumped in there a little early. Look, when it comes to that issue, we have said for a very long time that we have concerns about providing those types of systems in Syria because of the risks. You just need to see the past few days to see that. And so our position on that hasn’t changed. Any assistance we’re providing to the opposition in Syria, it’s a judgment that you make. We want to make sure people are vetted properly, that you feel comfortable providing them with assistance, and that you calibrate that assistance so you don’t give them the types of assistance that could end up in the hands of some pretty bad people and that could do pretty bad things with them. So that’s why our position on that has remained consistent. We are – concerns about the risk of the system.

Last – we’ll do two more. Two more. In the back, and then you can wrap us up, up front.

QUESTION: Thank you. Short question on Ukraine. Do you still exclude delivering any military relief or assistance to Ukrainians to have them restore the sovereignty themselves?

MS. HARF: Right. So we’ve provided a great deal of assistance monetarily and with other kinds of support as well, material support to the Ukrainians. But they – look, there’s not a military solution here, right. We need to see de-escalation. Quite frankly, nothing we gave the Ukrainian military could put it on par with the Russian military, which is why there’s not a military solution here. The Ukrainians have a right to defend their people and their territory. We’ve seen them do that. We’ll continue supporting them, again with material and assistance and money. And we review all the requests that come in from them, because we do want to keep making decisions that will help them in the best way that we think is appropriate.

Last one. Yes. You have the honor of the last question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Voice of America, Persian TV. Last time when the truth was reached in Middle East conflict was during Morsy, friend of Hamas. How important is the role of Egypt now and how do you define the relationship between the United States and al-Sisi government?

MS. HARF: Well, Egypt is playing a crucial role. Obviously, the Secretary’s in Cairo. They have long played a role in these discussions. They have a peace treaty with Israel, for example. They also have a relationship with a Hamas. It’s different than it was under President Morsy, but they do have a relationship. But that’s why we’re also talking to countries like Qatar and Turkey and others who have other relationships they can use with Hamas to see if we can get to a ceasefire.

But our relationship with Egypt is much bigger than one administration there. It’s strategic. We have strategic interests, whether it’s security, particularly in the Sinai and on the Israeli border, whether it is economically helping Egypt undertake needed economic reforms to help their people, whether it’s pushing them on human rights and freedom of expression. When you have journalists in jail that have been subjected to these horrible sentences, we believe it’s important to have a relationship so we can raise concerns. It’s the best way to engage. So it’s a very broad, longstanding relationship, and the Secretary is there right now working very closely with them. They are committed to seeing if they can help with the ceasefire here, and we think there’s a critical role they have played and can play going forward.

MODERATOR: All right.

MS. HARF: With that?

MODERATOR: With that, thank you all for coming. Thank you, Marie.

MS. HARF: Thank you.

MODERATOR: This briefing is now concluded.

MS. HARF: Thank you all so much. We will see you soon.

# # #

First general discussion on EU trade policy with the new Committee on International Trade (INTA)

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Karel De Gucht

European Commissioner for Trade

First general discussion on EU trade policy with the new Committee on International Trade (INTA)

European Parliament

Brussels, 22 July 2014

Mr Chairman, Honourable Members,

Thank you for inviting me to the first full meeting of this Committee.

I am happy to see that the Committee has grown larger – which I think is a fair reflection of the importance, and even the respect, it has gained over the last few years. I am also happy to see quite a few familiar faces, but also many new faces – offering us an excellent mix of experience and new insights.

I sincerely hope that I will continue to work together with you in the same spirit of intense and constructive cooperation as with your predecessors in this Committee. You can count on me to remain as committed and transparent to this Committee as I was in previous years. My successor will need to have a very large shoe size if you consider what we have achieved during the last legislature. Indeed, our joint work with the Parliament and this very active Committee has in recent years contributed greatly to the conduct, legitimacy and accountability of the EU’s trade policy.

This Committee has been very active on the legislative front, adopting legislation that adapted our trade policy instruments to the Lisbon Agreement, as well as to the new global trade environment. This includes two important regulations related to investment policy, the review of the Generalised System of Preferences and the Enforcement regulation. I note with satisfaction that the compromises found between the Parliament and the Council fully respected the spirit of our initial proposals. This being said, there are still a few legislative procedures pending, and I will come to that in a minute.

We also managed to ratify and provisionally apply free-trade Agreements, such as with Korea, Colombia, Peru and Central America, offering EU business new opportunities in growing markets. All in all, more than 20 trade agreements, large and small, were submitted to Parliament’s consent during this term. Practically all passed with very comfortable majorities. This shows that there is a broad agreement on the key principles of European trade policy enshrined in our Treaties: open markets – both at home and abroad, a broad concept of the trade barriers we need to address, and a need to ensure we can compete on fair terms.

This is why the agreements that I just mentioned are new generation agreements, covering areas that bring additional value to the European economy – for example, services, public procurement, geographical indications, and a greater promotion of the recognition of EU standards.

These agreements are now being implemented, and are starting to bear fruit. The EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement entered into force in July 2011. We see today the benefits of this agreement with a more than 20% increase in our exports during both the first and second year of implementation. A considerable part of your work will also consist of monitoring the implementation of these agreements as well as those that you will be called upon to approve in the next few years.

This Committee has indeed witnessed the finalisation of quite a few agreements that are now ready, or about to become ready for consent: the DCFTAs with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, which are now signed, our deal with West Africa, which will soon be ready for signature, and the political agreements with Canada and Singapore, where we hope to finalise the outstanding technical issues soon. Only last week, we concluded negotiations on an Economic Partnership Agreement with Southern African countries and with Ecuador on its accession to the agreement we already have with Colombia and Peru. One agreement I would still like to conclude over summer is with the East African Community. However, this shall not be done at the cost of our obligation under the treaty to safeguard human rights through EU trade agreements.

One last point on EPAs, before the end of the month, the Commission hopes to present a solution to Council and Parliament to help preserve preferences beyond 1 October for Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Fiji and, if the conditions are right, Cameroon too, in the light of recent positive developments. I cannot pre-empt a College decision by saying more but would of course appreciate the support of this Committee at the right time.

In the meantime, we have more than 15 active bilateral negotiations underway, including with the US, Japan, Mercosur, Morocco and Vietnam, which you will be called to monitor in the following months and years.

If you really insist, I could say something on TTIP. We had a very long debate in plenary only last week. And I would of course be ready to take your questions on the most talked-of negotiations in town. Chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero was with you this morning to report on last week’s negotiations.

I will only add to what you have heard a point I made last week. I am a strong believer in public debate and on my watch we have had plenty with this Committee and your colleagues in plenary. I am also conscious of my responsibility to present facts and substance, and not false truths about a negotiation that is not even concluded. We are not what our detractors make us out to be. The Commission negotiates on the basis of existing EU legislation and hears a very broad range of views on an almost-daily basis. We know where our responsibilities lie.

I will only have a few months left to work together with you under the mandate. And I hope that we can use this time to move forward on a number of pending issues that I consider important.

First of all, there are two legislative proposals that the Commission made in March 2012 and April 2013 respectively, the International Procurement Instrument and the Modernisation of Trade Defence Instruments. Parliament has considerably advanced but the Council is still examining them. The current Italian Presidency is very dedicated to move these files forward. I very much hope that this Parliament will resume work as left off in April, so that you could be in a position, when Council is ready, to swiftly move to negotiations and find fair compromises together.

A brief word too about a recent proposal on conflict minerals, which I am deeply interested in, for I have seen the human tragedies caused by trade in conflict minerals in Africa. The proposal is based on a carefully-thought approach to promote responsible sourcing from conflict-affected areas without disrupting legitimate trade without which communities have no viable economic livelihoods other than recruitment in armed groups. So I welcome the fact that Parliament is now in a position to start examining this important piece of legislation and I hope that the balance we sought can be preserved.

Finally, we have also proposed in June to extend autonomous trade preferences for Western Balkan countries for another five years. I hope work can start soon on this file, even if preferences granted to Bosnia and Herzegovina may be suspended as of 1 January 2016, unless they fully treat Croatian exports as EU exports.

As regards pending negotiations, we are moving step-by-step towards conclusion with Canada. Following the political break-through of last October, our negotiators have worked very hard to finalise all remaining technical issues and to transpose the elements of the break-through into legal text. In some instances this has proven more difficult than we thought, but I am confident that the end is now in sight. As soon as the negotiators have completed their job, you will receive the consolidated text of all chapters. However, it is clear that this is one of the most ambitious agreements we have concluded so far going well beyond what Canada conceded to the US in the context of NAFTA. This is no mean achievement.

The FTA with Singapore is the EU’s first agreement with a Southeast Asian economy, laying down state-of-the-art rules on the full range of trade issues. Negotiations in the investment protection chapter started later and are being finalised as we speak, to be included as an integral part of the FTA for signature.

In March, we have launched negotiations on an investment protection agreement with Myanmar/Burma. No Member State has concluded one with this country, so this agreement will give EU investors much needed guarantees for their investments. We will push for the inclusion of provisions on sustainable development, covering social and environmental issues of relevance in an investment context, and to promote Corporate Social Responsibility and responsible business conduct. In addition, negotiations with China will also continue.

Before concluding, I would like to say a few words about the multilateral trading system, which despite the many other efforts underway, remains the cornerstone of the EU’s trade policy. In December last year, Members of the World Trade Organization reached a historic agreement on several issues from the Doha Development Agenda, including a brand-new Trade Facilitation Agreement, and opening the door to further work on the DDA. We are also advancing on a number of closely related initiatives. Negotiations to liberalise trade in environmental goods and services were formally launched this month, and we are moving towards concluding the review of the Information Technology Agreement, to liberalise trade in several products not covered before. Lastly, work is also advancing on the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) to create a better playing field in trade in services, despite the challenge of how to dock such a large plurilateral agreement within the WTO system.