Tagged: FRA-EU

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

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

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

13/11/14

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

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

 

INTRODUCTION

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

• Job creation for sustainable livelihoods and income generation;

• Food security through continued agricultural renewal;

• Expanded access to land and housing ownership;

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

• Citizen, including youth, economic empowerment;

• Dignity for all through the eradication of poverty;

• Zero tolerance for corruption in all of its manifestations;

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

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

 

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

 

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

EMPLOYMENT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

COMPETITIVENESS    

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

CITIZEN EMPOWERMENT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

RULE OF LAW

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

ACCESS TO JUSTICE

 

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

 

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

Daily Press Briefings : Daily Press Briefing: June 4, 2014

12:57 p.m. EDT

MS. HARF: Hello, welcome to the briefing. I have a quick travel update at the top, and then I’m happy to get to your questions. As you all now know, the Secretary is in Beirut, Lebanon today meeting with a range of Lebanese officials to discuss the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon and other shared concerns as well. This – this is the first Secretary visit in five years, and he will be going back to Paris this evening. Tomorrow, he’ll be following much of the President’s schedule in Paris. He will also be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. And I think that’s it.

Lara.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks. So first off, just to follow up on that, he’ll be meeting with Lavrov? What is the topic?

MS. HARF: I’m imagining they’re going to be discussing a range of topics, most importantly Ukraine.

QUESTION: Ukraine. Okay. So that’s where I wanted to go.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’ve seen the reports out of Luhansk about the separatists overrunning two government bases there. I see that, in his comments with President Poroshenko today, President Obama discussed additional assistance for law enforcement, and – assuming that’s a civilian law enforcement or police force, because he made the distinction between military forces and civil – law enforcement?

MS. HARF: It’s a little of both, I think. So let me just detail a little bit of it, and then we can —

QUESTION: Great.

MS. HARF: — go into that more. So the White House, as you know, today announced $5 million in new security assistance. This new assistance will go for night vision devices, body armor, and additional communications equipment. It’s my understanding that’s going to the Ministry of Defense, actually.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: And that, obviously, adds to what we’ve already given, which is 23 million in total, including the last 5 million. Fifteen million has gone to the ministry of defense, and 8 million has gone to the State Border Guard Service.

QUESTION: Okay. He did make the distinction between law enforcement and also military troops. He talked about the night vision goggles for the military forces. I’m just wondering if there’s anything else that might be going for law enforcement forces in some of the eastern regions.

MS. HARF: I can check. I don’t have any more additional details. I know they put out a fact sheet as well, but we can see if there’s anything else. And we continue to evaluate requests from the Government of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay. What do you make of this new offensive by the separatists?

MS. HARF: Well, I would say a few points. Look, the first is – and I have a little bit on this. Just give me one second. We have – in addition to what you mentioned, noted that Ukraine’s operations in some of those regions you mentioned have also entered a new and more active phase. So we have said all along that the Ukrainians have shown remarkable restraint in the face of unacceptable Russian-backed aggression, but that they do have a responsibility and a duty to protect their citizens. That’s why you’ve seen us continue to support them, like some of the ways I just talked about.

So the situation on the ground is obviously fluid and fast-moving, but we have repeatedly throughout this called on the Russians to use their influence with the separatists, to ask them to cease what they’re doing, to stop taking government buildings, to stop their offensives. And have yet have not seen any movement in that area, but hope we will.

QUESTION: Are the Ukraine forces still referring to this – or the government still referring to this as a counterterrorism operation, or —

MS. HARF: I can check on the exact wording they’re using.

QUESTION: Okay. I mean, I know there was some discussion earlier about whether or not that was an appropriate term to use when we we’re talking about – I mean, whether or not they’re backed by Russians, they’re still Ukraine citizens, no?

MS. HARF: Well, some of them.

QUESTION: Some of them at least.

MS. HARF: Right. So some of them certainly are Ukrainian, some of them are from other places, as we’ve seen in the press. But look, in terms what word we use, I think that’s less important, quite frankly, here than the fact that we’ve said the Ukrainians have a responsibility and an obligation to protect their citizens, all of their citizens in all of their regions, including all of the parts of the east, and that the Russians should use their influence with these groups, whatever we want to call them, to pull back.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Anything else on Ukraine?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Yes, Said.

QUESTION: Now, you are saying that you want the Russians to use their influence with the separatists. The Russians want you to use your influence with the Ukrainian Government. They’re saying that they should – you should use your influence to stop attacks.

MS. HARF: That the Ukrainian Government should stop defending its own territory?

QUESTION: Okay. So —

MS. HARF: See, that’s a false logic on the Russian part, though, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. So everything that the Ukrainians are doing, I just want to understand your position correctly – everything that they are doing is actually self-defense, correct?

MS. HARF: They’re – I mean, look, I mean, I don’t want to use the term self-defense, but this is Ukrainian territory that they are defending —

QUESTION: They defend – right.

MS. HARF: — from incursions from people that are backed by another government, and in the case of Crimea actually was annexed by another government.

QUESTION: Okay, so —

MS. HARF: So it’s not one-to-one.

QUESTION: Okay. You just preempted my next question, which is they – what about Crimea? Does it fall under that? Ukrainian?

MS. HARF: Still part of Ukraine.

QUESTION: Okay. Now – and a quick follow-up: You’re saying that they are – some of them are Russians, suggesting that some or maybe many are not Russian. Do you have any percentage or breakdown?

MS. HARF: Well, I said some are Ukrainians.

QUESTION: Right. I’m saying, are some of them —

MS. HARF: Well, any percentages? I can check with our folks and see. I don’t know if we have that kind of clarity.

QUESTION: I mean, some of the ethnic Russians are Ukrainian citizens; some are not.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. We’ve seen some Chechens recently. We’ve seen others. So —

QUESTION: Okay, and that’s my last question. Are you – because the charge was made last week that some Chechen fighters were being sort of ferried by the Russians across the border to go and fight in Crimea. Do you have any more details on that?

MS. HARF: Well, I mean, without a doubt, we have seen the numerous reports now that armed Chechen fighters have traveled from Russia, particularly to Donetsk, to support the Russian-backed separatists. How they get there I think we’re still looking for more details on, but there’s no question that we’ve seen some go there. And I don’t have more details for you on that right now.

QUESTION: So Marie —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the U.S. isn’t concerned that some of the actions by the Ukrainian forces, particularly in places like Luhansk, are excessive? We see numbers of deaths on the part on the sides of the rebels. You’re not worried that some of that is excessive actions?

MS. HARF: So I think I’d make three points here. The first is that in any armed conflict, there are going to be casualties on each side, right? Here, we have not seen any credible reports of things like human rights violations by the Ukrainian Government. There are a variety of reports out there. Obviously, it takes some time to run these down on the ground. I don’t want to rule it out completely, but we as of this point haven’t seen credible reports of the kind of human rights violations or things like you mentioned.

QUESTION: Yes, please. Ukraine?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I mean, at a certain point it was an issue raised about – that Ukraine is going to be – is at the edge of a civil war. You still looking that way, or just —

MS. HARF: We don’t look at it that way, because a civil war would imply that there are factions inside a country fighting each other. This is a situation where you have a country with an outside force that’s doing – that’s encouraging the fighting in some cases, like in Crimea, annexing it themselves, so that’s not a civil war; that’s another country messing around in its neighbor’s internal politics, which just a different thing.

QUESTION: And one of the things that you were pushing with the Ukrainian Government, or at least we call it the government of Kyiv at that point, you – the issue —

MS. HARF: I think you can call it the Ukrainian Government.

QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) Or Ukrainian Government —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: So it was asked – they were asked to make some modifications or whatever, the inclusiveness of the separatists or the pro-Russian entities, whatever, it was – it is still push this issue or —

MS. HARF: Are you talking about the constitutional reform process?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: That – the term that you are using.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Yeah. So obviously, they’ve said they’re committed to that. President-elect Poroshenko, who the President met with today – Secretary Kerry did as well – these are things that he is going to, as he moves forward with his government, will be dealing with. They’ve said they’re committed to it.

QUESTION: So the —

MS. HARF: And we do believe it’s an important process.

QUESTION: What’s your understanding of what are the main challenges now facing Ukraine? Is the separatist movement or the economic crisis or the presence of Russian troops at the borders, or it’s not there anymore?

MS. HARF: Well, on the Russian troops, we’ve said they’ve been slowly moving back from the border, so obviously we believe they need to move quickly. But we have noted, in terms of the troops on the border, that they have been – many of them have moved, many of them have made preparations to move. They are moving slowly, but they’re working on that.

President-elect Poroshenko himself announced, I think, right after his election, that his number one priority after taking office will be to restore order in eastern Ukraine by increasing dialogue with citizens of that region, traveling to the area soon after his inauguration, and increasing the transparency of the ongoing constitutional reform process.

So I think there are a couple challenges, right? Ukraine is coming out of a time when it had a leadership that stripped its citizens of money and rights and ways to choose their own government, and that’s why you saw the Ukrainians come out and say that’s not okay and we want a new government.

So they have some economic challenges, certainly, which is why we’ve said we think it’s important to support them economically. There is a huge security challenge, too, and I think President-elect Poroshenko is focused on that.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: Marie, how do you differentiate between this not being seen as a civil war in Ukraine, even though, as you just said, there are some Ukraine separatists – some of the separatists are at least are Ukrainian fighting against their government – and a situation like Syria, which I think the State Department, the Administration —

MS. HARF: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: — everybody acknowledges is a civil war —

MS. HARF: There wasn’t —

QUESTION: — when there are also outside forces?

MS. HARF: That’s true. The difference, I would say, is in Ukraine there was no violence before outside forces intervened. So in Syria, you had a situation where the government – Syrians rose up.

QUESTION: Except in, like, Maidan and places like that.

MS. HARF: But there – that wasn’t civil war-level violence, no. That was internal – it was things like we’ve seen elsewhere around the Arab world, for example. It was people rising up against their government. The government cracked down, and eventually the government fled. That’s not – we wouldn’t term that a civil war.

In Syria, when we started calling it a civil war, right, is when you had this local opposition rise up against the government, the government puts them down, and the armed opposition emerges, and there truly is a Syrian-on-Syrian civil war raging throughout all of Syria, basically.

And in Ukraine, there was no military-to-military level or style of violence. I mean, what happened on the Maidan was an uprising and the government putting it down violently.

QUESTION: Okay, but couldn’t you also argue that —

MS. HARF: There was no large-scale violence like we’ve seen until the Russians started messing around there.

QUESTION: Okay, but you could – one, I guess, could also argue that so much – so many regions of Ukraine at this point are fighting.

MS. HARF: A majority of Ukraine is still completely calm and violence-free – completely calm and violence-free. That’s why you saw with the elections a large, vast majority of the country go ahead to vote totally peacefully and freely.

So I – actually, in terms of where the fighting’s occurring, it really is in a very limited area, which again —

QUESTION: But that would – that could also include Crimea, could it not?

MS. HARF: Right. Still very limited. But again, there was no violent – I mean, you can talk about the violence in the square, but that’s a different kind of violence than we talk about with a civil war and that we talk about with what we’ve seen in Ukraine.

QUESTION: The upcoming talks between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Are you hoping that there may be some kind of way of resolving this? We’ve seen some troops move back – not all of them – but some move – troops move back from the eastern borders – two-thirds, you said. I wonder if you sort of see that there’s some chink, some possibility of an opening?

MS. HARF: I mean, we hope so, right? I don’t want to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t happened or be overly optimistic. We obviously have always said there was a diplomatic off-ramp here, and that that’s why we were going to keep talking with the Russians. And if we can make some progress tomorrow, that would be great.

QUESTION: What would constitute progress for you?

MS. HARF: I think we’ll wait and see.

QUESTION: Are there any carrots being offered in these talks? Is the Secretary going to come offer some kind of – I don’t know —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: — olive branch or opening or —

MS. HARF: I don’t have anything to preview specifically about what he’ll say. But what we’ve said, broadly speaking, is that we have put a lot of pressure on the Russian economy, and that pressure will increase if we don’t see changes. And so I think the Russians know that they have a choice to make to continue with the actions and have more pressure, or to do the opposite.

QUESTION: So you’re talking about there could be an easing of the sanctions on the table if certain actions are taken by Moscow?

MS. HARF: Well, I think I was probably saying the opposite: that if certain actions aren’t taken, there will be more sanctions.

QUESTION: More sanctions.

MS. HARF: But no, I haven’t heard anyone talking about easing of sanctions. But again, like, that’s – eventually we would like to get to a place where we could do something like that. But we haven’t seen any indication that will be possible.

QUESTION: So is it purely coincidental, then, today that Germany’s just come out – warned again of – warned that there could be tougher sanctions against Russia?

MS. HARF: We’ve certainly been linked up with the EU. I know people think we haven’t been, but we’ve been linked up with the EU and all the countries quite closely on this, and it’s not coincidental. Look, I think we’re all talking about the fact that there could be more.

MS. HARF: Yeah. Ukraine?

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Afghanistan. Have you seen the video released by the Taliban?

MS. HARF: I have.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. And you would like a comment?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Or a question? Besides have I seen it? I think I’d probably refer you to the statement by my colleague at the Pentagon, Admiral Kirby, who said we’re aware of the video allegedly released by the Taliban showing the transfer. We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but obviously they are reviewing it. Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful. Our focus, of course, remains on getting Sergeant Bergdahl the care he needs. I think DOD – if they have anything else to say, I’d point you there.

QUESTION: But did you know in advance that the Taliban had done a video recording of that? Was there any —

MS. HARF: I was not aware of that. I’m happy to check with my DOD colleagues.

QUESTION: Was there any understanding between the U.S. and the Taliban that this process would be video recorded, or —

MS. HARF: Well again, we weren’t negotiating directly with the Taliban. Qatar was. I don’t have any details on that topic. I’m happy to look into it further.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did any U.S. officials ever meet any members of the Taliban in connection with the possibility of Mr. Bergdahl’s release?

MS. HARF: Over the five years?

QUESTION: Correct.

MS. HARF: I will have to check, Arshad. I don’t know.

QUESTION: I’m pretty sure that – okay. Please do.

MS. HARF: Do you mean one on one, or with other people in the – or just at all?

QUESTION: At all.

MS. HARF: Okay. I’ll – I would need to check.

QUESTION: Okay. Because – and just so we’re clear, my follow-up is if it proves to be the case that there were actually meetings, then there is then the question of why any such meeting in connection with the possibility of Mr. Bergdahl’s release might not be construed as a negotiation.

MS. HARF: Okay. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. HARF: And there have – as you know now – been multiple sort of phases in this discussion about his release, so I just don’t have all the history. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: Marie, would you like to —

MS. HARF: Wait, let me go – go ahead, Said. And then —

QUESTION: Go, Jo. I defer.

QUESTION: Oh, I just —

MS. HARF: We’re all so polite today.

QUESTION: Very polite today.

I just wondered if you had any concerns about the release of this video. Is it being used by the Taliban as some kind of propaganda value? I mean, they had – they blasted across it, “Don’t return to Afghanistan again. Next time, nobody will release you,” and they call it a ceremony for the handover of the soldier.

MS. HARF: Look, I think what we were focused on here is getting this American soldier home. Again, I think there might’ve been some confusion yesterday that the – how he ended up in Taliban captivity is wholly unrelated to whether or not we should’ve brought him home, and I think the Army and military leadership has spoke to that quite eloquently.

So we’ve been very clear about our feelings on the Taliban. The United States military has been very clear about the lengths they will go to take action against the Taliban. We’ve seen that. So I don’t think anyone should be confused or in doubt about the United States military’s willingness to go after the Taliban based on this.

QUESTION: Yeah, that wasn’t – thank you, but that wasn’t really quite my question.

MS. HARF: So I mean I don’t think —

QUESTION: My question is whether it has propaganda value for the Taliban.

MS. HARF: I don’t want to venture to analyze that. I think – I was trying to put it in the broader context of our activities against the Taliban, that it’s a video of us getting an American soldier home. And that’s important to us, and I think that is an important thing for the United States to say that we do no matter how they go missing, and I think on our – that’s how I would view it, at least.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: It – was it just a status —

MS. HARF: Wait, wait, hold on. Said and then Lucas. Said.

QUESTION: On the question of whether it (inaudible) —

MS. HARF: Okay, wait —

QUESTION: — whether it was propaganda.

MS. HARF: Lucas, go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: On the question of whether this —

MS. HARF: There’s time for all of them. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Didn’t you say he was – we were being very polite today?

MS. HARF: I know. Go ahead, Lucas. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: On the question of if this is a propaganda video, this video is propaganda for the Taliban – would you say it’s just a status update on Facebook?

MS. HARF: I have no idea why – I will not venture to guess why the Taliban does things or why they release videos. As I said, what’s been important to us throughout this whole process is his health and safety, which, as you know, is why we had to move very quickly. Determining the facts now, which we just don’t know and which is very important to the Army – you’ve heard other people speak about it now today – not prejudging what those are. And look, if the facts lead one way, there will be consequences, of course. But what we’re focused on now really is his health.

QUESTION: Said, do you have a question?

QUESTION: Yeah, I have —

QUESTION: And then we’ll go back to Lucas. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The broader —

MS. HARF: Look at how polite everyone is.

QUESTION: — you mentioned the broader context.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Would you like to see this, in the broader context, lead to some sort of a negotiation with the Taliban where the United States can achieve some sort of a SOFA agreement where the border with Pakistan – you can negotiate with the Haqqani network and the border in Pakistan is more secure? Would you like to see that?

MS. HARF: That was just, like, 15 hypotheticals in one.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Okay.

MS. HARF: I think – no, but more broadly speaking, Said —

QUESTION: It’s a good place to ask hypotheticals.

MS. HARF: — more broadly speaking, what we’ve said is if this could lead to progress on the reconciliation front —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: — that would be good. I don’t want to get too far ahead of this now because it’s a really tough challenge, right? We need there to be an Afghan-led reconciliation process where they talk about their future and they talk to each other about what would happen next. I don’t think I have much more analysis to do about what possibly could come from this. The President very clearly outlined the future of the United States in Afghanistan several times over the past few years, most recently, of course, in his announcement last week about our troop numbers and what our presence will look like there. So I think we’ve been very clear about the role we’re going to be playing.

QUESTION: So it is possible that this is not just an isolated negotiation for exchanging prisoners incident?

MS. HARF: Well, this was an isolated negotiation about the exchange of prisoners. But if it could lead to progress on reconciliation, which we’ve said is very important, then obviously that would be a good thing. We don’t know if it will, but if it could, that would be good.

Yes, going back to Lucas.

QUESTION: Former Secretary Clinton has spoken out —

QUESTION: I’ve got one on Afghanistan.

MS. HARF: I think this is about Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is – oh – this is – oh, yeah. We’re in Afghanistan still.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MS. HARF: We’re just staying on Afghanistan today.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Benghazi.

QUESTION: No, no, no, we’re not going to Benghazi.

MS. HARF: (Laughter.) Go ahead, Lucas.

QUESTION: On the Bergdahl case —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — former Secretary Clinton has spoken out, calling it one of the hard choices that top policymakers are often called upon to make. As we all know, this concept of a prisoner swap was first broached with the Congress in late 2011, early 2012. What view of the idea did Secretary Clinton take at the time and when she was serving in the President’s cabinet?

MS. HARF: I think I’d probably refer you to her to speak – I think she’s spoken about it now, and if she has anything else to say, I’m sure she’d be happy to provide it.

QUESTION: Published reports from then and now state that Secretary Clinton opposed the idea of a prisoner swap. Are those reports inaccurate?

MS. HARF: I’m – I know there are a variety of reports out there, and I know that one thing we said very clearly recently is that while we’ve been talking about this for a long time, the situation has continued to evolve; his health, we believe, continued to get worse; and the decisions we made now are not identical to the conversations that we’ve been having for years, just broadly speaking. So again, I’m happy to see if there’s more from her time here or more that she’d like to add, but she’s right. It’s a tough choice. I think what you’ve seen is complete unanimity throughout the Administration, both throughout the last six – or five years he’s been a captive, that we need to do everything we can to bring him home and what that looks like. And even some members of Congress, who were today criticizing us, have been on the record saying we’ll do everything to bring him home, including prisoner swaps.

So I think she’s right that it’s a hard choice and the choices we had in the last week were different than the discussions we were having two years ago.

QUESTION: At the time this – the idea was broached, what involvement was there in the intra-agency process from the State Department?

MS. HARF: Broached in terms of what? When?

QUESTION: Did the Department’s lawyers provide legal opinions? Did INL provide assessments?

MS. HARF: When are you referring to? Sorry.

QUESTION: In 2011, 2012, any time during Secretary Clinton’s term.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check on what occurred previously. I’m obviously most familiar with what’s happened over the past few weeks. But I’m happy to check if there’s more detail.

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: I have just one more.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: You might not – I don’t know if you know about this, because I’ve just been pinged it myself, but apparently —

MS. HARF: I love these.

QUESTION: — yeah, me too – there’s some breaking news. There’s another video which shows this young American couple who disappeared in Afghanistan a few years ago. Apparently they’re appealing for help. Do you know —

MS. HARF: Do you have a name?

QUESTION: I can’t remember their name. You might —

QUESTION: I know more about this. It’s – I don’t know the name, I will get it for you, but it’s a Canadian man and his wife who’s from Pennsylvania. They’re a young couple. The video shows her in an abaya with a hijab and they’re being held.

MS. HARF: Private citizens?

QUESTION: Yes. Civilians.

MS. HARF: Obviously, we have no greater priority than the protection of American citizens overseas. I’m not familiar with this, and obviously, there are always privacy concerns. I’ll check on it, though.

QUESTION: She was apparently pregnant, I think, when they disappeared —

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: Okay. I’m happy —

QUESTION: — back in 2012.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check. I know there are some privacy concerns, so let me just check.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: But are there privacy concerns even if they have identified themselves?

MS. HARF: I’d have to check on the specifics.

QUESTION: Okay. Because the video shows them saying, my name is X, Y.

MS. HARF: Okay, I’ll check.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MS. HARF: Yeah, I’ll check.

QUESTION: Back to Secretary Clinton real quick.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Just in general, was this the only option, the prisoner swap?

MS. HARF: Compared to what?

QUESTION: Well, Fox News’ Catherine Herridge is now reporting that this prisoner swap – that this was the second option, this was not the only option, that they had pursued another plan in December 2013.

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check on the details. Obviously, if there were other things considered – I think, broadly speaking, we’ve considered all options to get him back. This was judged to be – again, recently, we believe as General Dempsey said, this was the best, probably last chance to get him home. This was what we undertook in order to get him home. As we’ve said very publicly, we’ve been talking for a long time about a potential prisoner swap and what that might look like. I’m sure we looked at a range of options, but again, as – I will refer to General Dempsey’s comment that this was the best opportunity to get him home.

QUESTION: So cash payments were discussed?

MS. HARF: I can check on that. I don’t know, Lucas.

QUESTION: And were you – was the United States Government negotiating with the Pakistani Government?

MS. HARF: Negotiating with the – were they – I’m happy to check on those details. Again, I’m most familiar with the recent history here, but I’m happy to dig a little deeper.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan —

QUESTION: To go back to what (inaudible) just sent to me. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: See, I wish I could have my phone up here because I feel like I’m at a disadvantage. You all have your phones.

QUESTION: And I need to pay tribute. It’s an AP story, AP. (Laughter.)

MS. HARF: I need to, like, be able to phone a friend. Yes.

QUESTION: It’s Caitlin Coleman and Joshua Boyle.

MS. HARF: Okay, yes. So again, as in these general types of cases, strive to remain in contact with the U.S. citizen’s family, provide appropriate consular access. About this case, because of privacy considerations, cannot provide additional details.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: So yesterday you said you had a very short window of time for the prisoner swap.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And today you are saying that you had the best and the last opportunity. Did the Taliban give you a deadline for —

MS. HARF: I don’t have more details for you on the discussion – internal discussions between the Government of Qatar and the Taliban.

QUESTION: And exactly where this happened? Was it around – along the Pakistan border in Afghanistan?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check if there’s more detail we can provide on that.

QUESTION: And did the U.S. also video record and took pictures of —

MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge. I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Because the video didn’t see – I don’t see anything in the video that —

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check.

QUESTION: Was it a risky operation, do you believe?

MS. HARF: Was it a – I mean, look, every time – everything we do here in this part of the world entails some risk, absolutely. But we had, through our discussions with the Government of Qatar, come to an understanding about how this would occur. Obviously, there is always risk, but thankfully, this transfer went forward peacefully.

QUESTION: But did you take any backup precaution? Because we see Taliban fire fighters all around —

MS. HARF: I think the United States military always takes a lot of backup precautions, I would venture to guess.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Just to complete the idea of this contact with Taliban, is Taliban in any way part of the Afghanistan equation?

MS. HARF: Absolutely. They’re a huge power player there.

QUESTION: And do you have something for it, or because you – the reason I’m asking: It was 2012, I think, there was an office of Taliban opened in Qatar.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh, yes.

QUESTION: And I don’t know – I mean, I think that it was not even – I mean, it was – if not welcome —

MS. HARF: Briefly open.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Well, in terms of that, the Taliban did suspend direct talks in 2012, and we have not resumed them. As you mentioned, that office was/is still based in Qatar. Nothing to update you in terms of that. They remain suspended.

QUESTION: But this office was to contact other Afghanis or contact you?

MS. HARF: I think it was to be part of the reconciliation process, which of course we’ve said needs to really be Afghans talking to Afghans, but we obviously play – have some role here.

QUESTION: Marie?

MS. HARF: Afghanistan?

QUESTION: New topic?

MS. HARF: Anything else on Afghanistan?

QUESTION: One more time: Can you confirm that cash options were considered in exchange for Bergdahl?

MS. HARF: I don’t know, Lucas. I’m happy to check and see if there are other options that were considered and if we can confirm them. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: But you can’t deny that cash payments were discussed?

MS. HARF: But I can’t confirm – I just – I can’t confirm it, so it’s not that I’m not denying it. It’s that I don’t know if it’s true or not. Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a legal question on —

MS. HARF: My favorite.

QUESTION: Well, it’s just – it’s very general, but it relates to this. When people are saying the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorist groups, is that statute or is that general policy? And —

MS. HARF: Well, our line is that we don’t make concessions —

QUESTION: That’s what I was about to ask you.

MS. HARF: — which is different. I mean, that’s the – you’re quoting it colloquial. That’s actually not what you’ll hear us say from the podium (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay. And how do you define the difference?

MS. HARF: How do we define the difference? Well, I —

QUESTION: Between making concessions and negotiating.

MS. HARF: I think it’s clear that we don’t make concessions to terrorists. And that’s a judgment, right, that we don’t – I think – I don’t know. I think those words, using Matt, I think are fairly well defined.

QUESTION: So releasing five of their prisoners or five of their —

MS. HARF: Is not making a concession.

QUESTION: It’s not a concession?

MS. HARF: No. It is consistent absolutely with what’s happened in previous wars, including Korea, including Vietnam. I think one of the large tranches of prisoners in Vietnam, it was something like around 500 Americans for 1,200 North Vietnamese. So again, this has a long history in the United States of prisoner swaps.

QUESTION: But it allows you to keep – to hew to your policy just by how you define the word “concession.”

MS. HARF: No. Well, and let’s talk about these five a little bit, because I think it might be helpful. All of these five were eligible for review by the Periodic Review Board of Guantanamo Bay. So there are three buckets of people in Guantanamo that remain. There are those who are approved for transfer. That’s 78. There are about 30 who have been referred for prosecution in some way. These five are in that middle bucket and were unlikely – might have been, but unlikely – to be added to the group that was going to be referred for prosecution. So it is quite likely that eventually, in line with our commitment to close Guantanamo Bay, they would be transferred.

Now, I’m doing some hypotheticals and going out a little bit here, but I think it’s important to remember who these five were, what likely would have ended up happening to them. So let’s say it was important for us to get Sergeant Bergdahl home. Let’s say these guys may have eventually been transferred somewhere anyways. I think many of us would make the argument – I would make it – that we should get something for them.

QUESTION: Marie, so not making concessions does not preclude negotiating. Is that what you’re saying?

MS. HARF: I’m saying our policy is not to make concessions to terrorists.

QUESTION: I’m trying to understand, because this is the first I hear this. So suppose someone hijacks a plane and demands an hour on television, for instance.

MS. HARF: We don’t make concessions to terrorists.

QUESTION: That would be a concession. But to negotiate exchange of prisoners is different?

MS. HARF: But again, this was an exchange of prisoners in war.

QUESTION: Right, okay.

MS. HARF: Right? Let’s be clear about that. Operating under —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) legitimizes the Taliban to take prisoners of war, and now we’re doing this exchange with the Taliban?

MS. HARF: It’s – well, I don’t know what you mean by legitimizing. We have an authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan partly because of – in large part because of the Taliban. So we are operating under an AUMF, congressionally approved AUMF. We are at war in Afghanistan. The Taliban was holding captive in a war zone our soldier. So operating under the long-established prisoner swaps that we’ve done – yes?

QUESTION: Yet all of the detainees in Guantanamo were specifically referred to as detainees and enemy combatants —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — and not prisoners of war.

MS. HARF: And we talked about this a little bit yesterday that it’s the underlying principle that we exchange prisoners in war – whatever term we use for them, right? It’s not a technical term; it is a concept that these are prisoners we have taken during wartime, factually.

QUESTION: Well, detainees. I mean, every administration since 2001 – or I guess the two administrations since we opened Guantanamo – has made it very – I mean, have parsed it out to —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh. I understand that.

QUESTION: — ad nauseum that these are not prisoners, these are detainees.

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: You’re not calling them prisoners of war. You’ve changed your language today and called them prisoners in war.

MS. HARF: I am not – right. I’m not changing the technical definition of what we call people incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay. I’m not changing that in any way, nor was this decision changing that in any way, period. And these five detainees went through the routine process we do for all Guantanamo detainees before they are transferred in terms of the mitigation to the threat, undertaking a review to make sure we are sufficiently assured that we’ve mitigated the threat as much as we can. We can never mitigate it 100 percent.

And again, that’s why I gave a little of the backstory on what’s happening to the rest of these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and who’s slated for what. It was also, I think, important to remember that these five were taken and brought to Guantanamo very, very early on in the war in Afghanistan. It doesn’t mean they’re not bad guys, but it’s important for context to remember who these guys are in comparison. They weren’t, for example, on the list of about 30 that have been referred for prosecution.

QUESTION: Right. These are guys who were swept up on the battlefield —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Very early on.

QUESTION: — and they were combatants.

MS. HARF: Very early on.

QUESTION: So let me ask this: I’m sure this is the case or I assume this is the case, but I just want to make sure. These five who were released, were they – did the Taliban specifically by name ask for these five, or did the Administration pick these five?

MS. HARF: I’m not probably going to go into more details about the back-and-forth negotiations. This was the agreement we ended up coming to.

QUESTION: Because it begs the question whether or not some of them could have come from the 78 who have already been cleared for transfer.

MS. HARF: None of them were in the 78 already cleared for transfer. They were all in this middle – and so everyone who’s not cleared for transfer already or has been referred for prosecution is eligible for review by the Periodic Review Board.

QUESTION: Correct. No, maybe I should be more clear.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, if given the choice, I assume the Administration would have picked five people who had already been cleared for transfer who have already been deemed not a threat to —

MS. HARF: I think we wanted – given the choice, we wanted to find an acceptable agreement where we could get our soldier back and feel like we sufficiently mitigated the risk for whoever we transfer.

QUESTION: So can I just ask —

QUESTION: Marie —

QUESTION: — you’re making the argument that you should get something for these people, for these —

MS. HARF: I’m making the argument that if – if, and this is an if – I’m breaking my own rule – they someday were eventually going to be transferred, then if we could get something for them now, that is, of course, something that I think most people would agree with. But that – to be fair, the broader context about why this decision was made was because we felt like, again, we had a short-time window with Bergdahl —

QUESTION: Sure.

MS. HARF: His health was declining. We needed to get him home and wanted to get him home, and that the Secretary of Defense had made, based on the interagency assessment we do when any – whenever a Gitmo detainee is transferred, had made the assessment that we had sufficiently mitigated the risk and it was in our national security interest to make this prisoner swap.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. I understand that.

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I’m just wondering more broadly now, does that mean that the others who are eligible for review or approved for transfer who remain in Guantanamo are now American bargaining chips?

MS. HARF: Well, there’s no —

QUESTION: In other situations.

MS. HARF: Well, there’s no other American POWs in Afghanistan being held by the Taliban.

QUESTION: No, but I mean there are other situations where there are Americans being held. Does that mean – I mean, I just think —

MS. HARF: I mean not —

QUESTION: — that their lawyers might have an issue with that if —

MS. HARF: Not – again, I’m not saying it’s a bargaining chip per se. I’m trying to put these five – I think people have – there’s been a little confusion out there about who they are and what was eventually going to happen to them. I was trying to put that into the broader context.

QUESTION: But you said that the argument was that we should get something for them, which means equally the argument could be made —

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: — for all those others.

MS. HARF: That’s not —

QUESTION: It could be made. I’m not saying it’s going to be made.

MS. HARF: Right. And I think every situation is different. We have a broad goal of closing Guantanamo Bay. If we can charge people, we will. When we can approve people for transfer through this interagency process, we’ll do that because we do at the end of the day want to close Guantanamo Bay. We had one American soldier who’s been a – who’s a POW in Afghanistan, so this is an incredibly unique situation, I would say, and wouldn’t compare it to any other detainees. And I wasn’t trying to set a precedent. I was just – I think people have had a little confusion about eventually what was going to happen to these five at the end of this.

QUESTION: Marie, a follow-up question to Arshad’s: How do you define concessions?

MS. HARF: I’m happy to see if there’s a legal definition for you.

QUESTION: And Marie, critics are – have said that this is a very bad deal, that these weren’t just five guys swept up on the battlefield in 2002, they were high-ranking Taliban officials, direct ties to al-Qaida, it was essentially the Taliban’s war cabinet – how is this a good deal?

MS. HARF: Well, first of all, our American POW is home and he’s going to be reunited with his family. So I think by any measure, that’s something that’s good.

QUESTION: Most would —

MS. HARF: Second —

QUESTION: Most would argue that an alleged deserter, outside of him being reunited with his family, that was not a good deal.

MS. HARF: I don’t think most would argue that, Lucas. I think you can look at what – first of all – well, I think you can look at what military leadership has said. Regardless of how he went missing, it is our duty to bring him home regardless. And I would trust our military leadership, Chairman Dempsey, the Secretary of the Army McHugh, and others who have spoken to this, Secretary Hagel. So that’s a separate conversation. They are doing an investigation now to determine the facts.

And I’m not saying we don’t believe anyone that’s come out. I think there’s been some confusion about this, too. I’m not saying that we – certainly we at the State Department aren’t doing the investigation, but people who are looking at it need to get all the facts. They will look at a variety of sources to get them. If there’s been misconduct, Chairman Dempsey was clear there will be consequences.

QUESTION: In 2010 the Pentagon did conduct an investigation and concluded that Sergeant Bergdahl walked off the COP.

MS. HARF: I think you’re misrepresenting that. First of all, DOD can probably speak more clearly to that. But again, in 2010 we didn’t have all the facts. Many more facts have emerged since then, including now the person at the center of this.

QUESTION: So if you didn’t have all the facts, why did you agree to this deal?

MS. HARF: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: You didn’t have all the facts when —

MS. HARF: Because as I said, the facts of how he got into Taliban custody have no bearing on whether or not we bring him home, period. Those are two separate questions. And we will look at all the information. We – I’m sure that people are talking to people he served with, they’re talking to him when they can when he’s in good enough health. And they – the Army has said that it’s launching a review. And look, if there was misconduct, there will be consequences.

QUESTION: Did the State Department know about these alleged allegations about him being a deserter?

MS. HARF: I think there have been – as I said yesterday, perhaps not as eloquently as I should have – there have been a range of reports about what happened to him and how he ended up in Taliban custody – there really have – a range of them since he went missing. You can read press reports going back several years to attest to that. So obviously, we were aware of some of that. But again, what we were focused on was getting him home. Determining how he went missing is for a later time.

QUESTION: And what evidence did you have that his health was in danger?

MS. HARF: I mean, we had a variety of evidence. Some of it you’ve seen publicly in terms of proof of life. I’m not going to go into details about all the information we had about him.

QUESTION: Does the State Department think – back to the Taliban video – that when he was walking to the bird he looked like he was in pretty good shape?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to make a medical assessment based on a video. This is a United States soldier who has been in captivity for five years. I can’t – none of us here can imagine what that would do to you or how you would come out of that on the other end, and that’s why I think we all owe him and his family, regardless of our feelings on this, a little bit of time so he can get in better health, he can reunite with his family, and then we’ll figure out what happened. But I think we owe it to him to do that.

QUESTION: Will the investigation be —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question? You have consistently referred to Mr. Bergdahl as a prisoner of war.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Who decides who is a prisoner of war and who is not a prisoner of war?

MS. HARF: What do you mean, “who decides”? I mean, he was an American serviceman —

QUESTION: Well, the U.S. Government —

MS. HARF: — taken by the enemy in an armed conflict where we’re operating under an AUMF.

QUESTION: Right, I get that. But the people who are imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay were – although they could by some people be construed to be prisoners of war, and some of them were indeed taken on the battlefield in the course of a military conflict – they were deemed by the United States government not to be prisoners of war. They were very carefully defined to be enemy combatants, I think the historical record shows, so as to be able to strip them of the right —

MS. HARF: Well —

QUESTION: Let me finish – the rights that would have been —

QUESTION: Afforded —

QUESTION: — granted to – or afforded, exactly – prisoners of war. So you guys can call – you say that Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, but maybe from the Taliban’s point of view he was not a prisoner of war.

QUESTION: He was just swept up on the battlefield of Afghanistan, just like the Taliban, right?

MS. HARF: Yeah, wait – can I make a few comments, though? So first of all, I can speak for what’s happened during this Administration, the decisions we’ve made about what we call people. Obviously, we inherited a situation with respect to Guantanamo Bay that we have tried through various mechanisms to rectify. The Supreme Court has held that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions protects Taliban and other detainees captured in non-international armed conflicts like the one in Afghanistan. So they have – the Supreme Court has weighed in on this. Obviously, we inherited a situation where we were dealing with Guantanamo Bay that was operating a certain way – and again, we’ve tried to rectify it to the extent that we can.

Whether or not members of the Taliban meet particular prisoner of war criteria, including, I think, that it has to be between states – the prisoner of war term, I believe, in the Geneva Conventions refers to conflict between states. Obviously, the Taliban is not a state.

QUESTION: Right. So how then, if I may ask, is —

MS. HARF: In terms of the Geneva Convention.

QUESTION: — Mister Bergdahl a prisoner of war —

MS. HARF: Because he’s a member of a —

QUESTION: — because you’re an ally of the state of Afghanistan, correct me? So how is he a prisoner of war?

MS. HARF: So he is a member of the United States military —

QUESTION: You talked about conflict between states.

MS. HARF: Right, but he is a member of a state army being held during a time of war where we’re operating under an AUMF in American law.

QUESTION: That you —

MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with the lawyers if there’s more details —

QUESTION: No, no, I get it. It’s just —

MS. HARF: — and I’m not re-litigating why the Bush Administration called people a certain thing when they got to Guantanamo.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: No, no. But the point I’m trying to make is when you justify your – the President’s decision to secure his release in the manner that he did – I take no position on the merits of that —

MS. HARF: Yeah.

QUESTION: — by using certain terms like “prisoner of war” for your guy and not prisoner of war for the Taliban people, you’re using language in a way that tries to justify something, but it’s not clear to me at all whether the use of the language – and maybe it is – is actually justified.

MS. HARF: So can I – just speaking, I think, to your – I think your broader point: that we believe that prisoner swaps during a time of war – forgetting about the legal definitions under the Geneva Convention or international law – are – have a long historical precedent and are justified, and this was one of them.

I think the President has been clear when it comes to Guantanamo Bay that we inherited a situation we did not agree with; that we are bound in some respects by some of the legal rulings, by what Congress has tried to do. But the fundamental notion that we want to close the prison, that we want these – charge or transfer where we can, and that we have improved the situation there is something that is in line with, I think, what you’re getting at. I think. And I can’t defend what was done in the previous eight years when Guantanamo Bay was open, but the President has been very clear about the incredibly hurtful nature of Guantanamo Bay to the United States – how we’re seen overseas, how it in many cases has not been in line with our values, and that’s why he has committed to close it.

So I’m trying to get, I think – I mean, language is important, absolutely. And here we very much stand by the notion that this was prisoner swap during a time of war. But I think actions and how we’re treating these people and how we’re trying to rectify the situation is in some ways more important.

QUESTION: So are we now prepared to afford the remaining 160 or whatever number of detainees —

MS. HARF: Hundred and forty-nine.

QUESTION: — hundred and forty-nine detainees that remain at Guantanamo – are we now willing to afford them POW status?

MS. HARF: This in no way changes the system we are operating under at Guantanamo Bay today. This in no way – which has been the subject of many legal cases, congressional action – again, we inherited a situation; we’ve attempted to rectify it. Congress has done quite a bit, as has the court system, to put in place how Guantanamo Bay operates today, and this in no way changes that, period.

QUESTION: Marie, just a follow-up real quick —

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: — about the Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. Can you restate how you classified them? Were they part of a detainee group scheduled for release?

MS. HARF: No. As I said, there have been – just give me one second.

QUESTION: How many are (inaudible) —<