Tagged: PolicyPublicHealth

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

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 11, 2014

Intercontinental Hotel
Beijing, China

10:56 A.M. CST

MR. EARNEST:  Good morning, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  You don’t look nearly as bleary-eyed as I expected.  I’m joined today by Ben Rhodes, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, and Ambassador Mike Froman, who is the United States Trade Representative.

Ambassador Froman has, as you would expect, primarily focused on the aspects of the President’s trip that’s focused on the economy and strengthening the American economy and expanding economic opportunity for Americans back home.  That is, as you would expect, a core component of the President’s agenda while he out here so Mike has got a couple of things to talk to you about.

Then we’ll turn it over to Ben, who will do a review of some of the other aspects of the agenda that the President has been discussing in the context of these APEC meetings but also what we’ll be focused on in the context of the President’s bilateral meetings with President Xi that will begin later on this evening.

And then after that, the three of us will be up here to take questions you have on any topic.  We’ll do this for 45 minutes or so.  All right, Ambassador Froman, would you like to start us off?

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Well, thanks, Josh, and I’d like to start with an announcement on an important breakthrough we had in our negotiations with China on the Information Technology Agreement, or ITA, and that’s news that the President just shared with his other APEC leaders at the leaders summit.

Last night, we reached a breakthrough in our ongoing efforts to expand the Information Technology Agreement.  This is a WTO agreement that eliminates tariffs on high-tech products among 54 economies, including the U.S. and China.  And to give you some idea of the importance of this agreement, the last time the WTO agreed to eliminate tariffs on IT products was in 1996 when most of the GPS technology, much of the medical equipment software, high-tech gadgetry that we rely on in our daily lives didn’t even exist.  In fact, since that time, global trade in these types of high-tech products have reached $4 trillion annually.  And despite the explosion of trade, the coverage of the ITA of products has never been expanded.

And so that’s why for the last two years, we’ve been working to –- very intensively –- with our global partners to expand the Information Technology Agreement.  But unfortunately, during the summer of 2013, those talks broke down due to disagreements over the scope of coverage -– what list of products would be covered by the agreement, with most countries, led by the U.S., working to achieve an ambitious outcome.

Since that time, the United States and China have been working to close our differences but without a breakthrough sufficient to resume the plurilateral negotiations in Geneva.  And that finally changed here last night with an agreement between the U.S. and China that we expect will pave the way for the resumption of ITA negotiations in Geneva and their swift conclusion.  And that will be the first major tariff-cutting agreement in the WTO in 17 years.  At a time when there have been a lot of FTAs and other regional arrangements, the WTO hasn’t actually cut tariffs in 17 years and the ITA presents the first opportunity to do that.

This is encouraging news for the U.S.-China relationship.  It shows how the U.S. and China work together to both advance our bilateral economic agenda but also to support the multilateral trading system.  And it also underscores the importance of institutions like APEC — regional organizations — APEC actually gave birth to the ITA back in 1996.  It’s always been a key part of the ITA –- APEC leaders have always called for swift conclusion of the ITA so this is another indication of the utility of forums like this.

Industry estimates have concluded that successfully concluding the ITA would eliminate tariffs on roughly $1 trillion of global sales of IT products.  It would contribute to global GDP $190 billion and would support up to 60,000 additional U.S. jobs in technology and manufacturing.  And by also boosting productivity around the world and particularly in developing countries.

So we’re going to take what’s been achieved here in Beijing back to the Geneva and work with our WTO partners.  And while we don’t take anything for granted, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to work quickly to bring ITA to a successful conclusion, and that will help support good-paying jobs in the United States, where we lead the world in creating and selling made-in-America high-tech products that the world is hungry to buy.

Let me conclude just about — a word perhaps about TPP, which has obviously been another area of major focus while we’re here.  As you all know, President Obama convened the TPP leaders yesterday.  They had a very productive conversation.  It was a good opportunity to take stock of where we were in the negotiations, to provide political impetus and guidance in terms of resolving the remaining issues.  All the leaders made clear in that joint statement that we’ve narrowed many of the gaps.

There’s still work to be done, but the end of these important negotiations is coming into focus, and that’s awfully important to the United States from a number of perspectives — it’s with 40 percent of the global economy covered by TPP, some of the fastest-growing markets in the world successfully concluding TPP will help support jobs, promote growth, strengthen the middle class in the United States.  It’s a key part of our rebalancing strategy, it underscores how the U.S. is embedded in this region and how the economic wellbeing of this region is integrally related to the wellbeing of the economy in the United States.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Ben.

MR. RHODES:  Great, I’ll just give a brief preview of the President’s upcoming meetings here in China, and then we can take your questions on Mike’s issues or any other issues in foreign or domestic policy.

With respect to the bilateral visit here to China, the two issues that we’ve highlighted over the course of the last two days I think are the key priorities that we were able to get down and closed out around this bilateral visit:  That is the visa announcement that was made yesterday, and then the bilateral understanding on ITA that was reached today.

I think what speaks to the significance and dynamism of the U.S. economic — U.S.-China economic relationship.  Today at APEC that is clearly going to be broadened out into a discussion in regional issues related to trade and economic cooperation, as well as a number of other areas.

But as you know, tonight the President will have a dinner with President Xi Jinping of China to kick off the state visit portion of our time here in Beijing.  And then tomorrow, the two leaders will have bilateral meetings, as well.

In addition to discussing and marking the progress that’s been made on these bilateral economic issues, they’ll also discuss a range of other bilateral and global issues that are of mutual interest to the United States and China.

Specifically I’d expect there to be a discussion around our cooperation on clean energy and climate change as our two countries prepare for the ongoing international climate negotiations heading into next year.

We’ll have a discussion of a number of regional security issues, among them our shared commitment to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the security environment in the broader Asia Pacific region, including our interest in maritime security and the situation in the South and East China Sea.  We’ll discuss our military-to-military relationship and what we can do to develop greater dialogue and cooperation and confidence-building measures working together.

There will certainly be a discussion of the ongoing talk in Iran with Iran over its nuclear program.  And Secretary Kerry will be joining the President from Oman, where he’s been in a trilateral dialogue with the Foreign Minister of Iran and Cathy Ashton from the European Union.

Cybersecurity, of course, will be an important focus for the President given some of our concerns related to cybersecurity and the theft of intellectual property.  Afghanistan is an area where we are looking to cooperate with China.  We very much welcomed President Ghani visit here to Beijing earlier in the year and believe that China can be a partner in promoting development and stability in Afghanistan going forward.

Global issues like Ebola and ISIL will certainly be a part of the discussion.  And we’ve worked with China to enlist them in the effort to fight the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.  And then, of course, as is always the case when we meet with China we’ll have a discussion around areas where we have differences — not just cybersecurity, but issues related to human rights and universal values.

So there will be a very broad agenda.  I think we’ve already had very good progress on our leader economic priorities heading into the visit with the ITA and visa understandings that were reached.  I think that shows an ability to identify areas of practical cooperation with China even as we’re, of course, going to have differences on a range of other political, economic and security issues.

And so tomorrow we’ll have those believe meetings.  And then the President will be hosted at a lunch here.  He’ll have a chance to meet with a range of Chinese officials before leaving for the EAS and ASEAN summits in Naypyidaw.

So with that, we’ll move to questions.

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s get started.  Julie, do you want to take us up?

Q       I have one two for Mike and one for Ben also.  Mike, can you say exactly what the U.S. and China agreed to that led to the breakthrough?  And, Ben, with the Obama and Xi bilat starting, the President has invested a lot of personal time in trying to build a relationship with Xi.  At the same time, China continues to be provocative on cyber and maritime issues.  How do you see their personal relationship at this point?  And how does that affect their conversations over the next two days?

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Sure, so the ITA is basically a list of tariff lines that are to be covered by tariff elimination.  And we now have agreed to more than 200 tariff lines representing about a trillion dollars of trade to be covered by the ITA.  And some of the — for the last six months we’ve been focused not just on the quantity of the lines, but the quality of the lines.  And the lines that have the greatest potential, for example, for U.S. exports, where the U.S. plays a leading role, areas of expected future growth.  So things like high-end semiconductors where there are tariffs up to 25 percent currently.  We already export over $2 billion of high-tech, high-end semiconductors even with 25 percent tariffs.  Eliminating those tariffs will obviously expand that trade significantly.  It’s an area where we have a comparative advantage, and where we can support a lot of good well-paying American jobs.

Same thing on medical equipment, MRIs, CAT scans.  We export more than $2 billion of those products a year, and they face high tariffs around the region — 8 percent in some places, as well as tariffs elsewhere.  This will eliminate those tariffs and allow us to expand our exports.

Same is true on some of the high-tech instruments that have become components in advanced manufacturing that we’re very much involved in.  So those were some of the issues that we had a breakthrough on that will allow the negotiations now to move forward in Geneva.

MR. RHODES:  Sure, Julie, on your second question, the President has invested a good deal of time and energy in his relationship with President Xi.  I think if you look at the breadth of the agenda, it’s clearly, as Secretary Kerry said, the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world.  And what they were able to do at Sunnylands is cover this whole spectrum of issues.  And, in fact, actually the ITA came up at Sunnylands so this was an area of focus on our trade agenda.

And I think what the President was able to do is convey in that meeting his thinking on all these issues, both strategically and at a tactical level, and he was able to hear the same from President Xi.  Again, Xi Jinping has clearly established himself as a strong and assertive leader here in China.  And the way we look at the relationship is there, at any given time, are going to be areas where we can identify ways to make progress and then there are going to be areas where we’re going to have differences.

And I think we’ve been opportunistic in saying, okay, where do we have an agreement that we can drive the relationship forward on something like visas or ITA.  But on, frankly, the global security issues like Iran and North Korea, the Chinese have been constructive partners.  In the Iran negotiations, they have played a constructive role in being unified with the P5-plus-1, in pressing Iran to take this opportunity to demonstrate that their program is peaceful.  In North Korea, they’ve taken a very strong line to support the notion that denuclearization has to be the goal of any discussions with North Korea.

When we look at the global issues, we’ve encouraged China to play a more assertive role on things like Ebola.  We want them to be stepping up to the plate and kicking in more resources so we welcome the desire from China that is clearly on display here at this summit to play a role in the international community commensurate to its economic and political standing, and its standing as the world’s most populous nation.

At the same time, we’re going to be very clear when we believe that China’s actions are actually pushing outside the boundaries of what we believe to be the necessary international norms that govern the relations between nations and the ways in which we resolve disputes.  And so when we see things on cyber security where we have Chinese actions that disadvantage U.S. businesses or steal intellectual property, we’re going to be very candid about that.

On maritime security, what we’ve said is we’re not a claimant, but there cannot be a situation where a bigger nation is simply allowed to bully smaller nations.  There has to be a means of resolving disputes through international law and international cooperation through discussion between China, for instance, and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea, dialogue between China and Japan on issues related to the Senkakus.  And to that end, actually, we welcomed the meeting yesterday between President Xi and Prime Minister Abe as an opportunity to reduce the tensions between those two countries.

So I think the benefit of the personal relationship is that they know where they’re coming from.  There’s no mystery in our position on these issues, there’s no mystery on the Chinese position.  What we need to do is find when there’s an opening, we take it, and we run through that opening, we work together.  And when there’s a difference, we’re just going to keep raising it repeatedly with China, raising it in international forums like this and try to find ways to encourage China to work within an international system that ultimately is going to be the best way of delivering stability, prosperity, security to this part of the world and also dealing with global challenges.

Q       One for Ambassador Froman and one for Ben.  Ambassador, what are the remaining sticking points when it comes to TPP?  And you say the end of negotiations are coming into focus –- what specifically does that mean?  Do you have a timeline in your head for when there might be an actual deal?  And, Ben, can you talk a little bit about what, if any, specific asks President Obama will have on Ebola and ISIS when he meets with President XI?

MR. EARNEST:  Okay, so just to repeat –- I’ll try to repeat the questions just so everybody can hear them.  So the question about TPP –- final sticking points and timeline for completion, and then any requests that President Obama will make related to ISIS -– ISIL and Ebola.  So, Mike, do you want to go first?

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Well, with TPP, it’s a two-track negotiation.  There’s market access and then there are the rules.  In market access, we’ve made very significant progress with most countries, including Japan, on agriculture and on autos we’ve made progress.  We’re not done yet, there are still outstanding issues, but we have made quite good progress there in recent weeks.

On the rules issues, we’re working to close out issues and narrow differences on the remaining.  I’d say areas that there are still issues we need to work through include intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises, the environment –- those are three examples of areas where we’re paying particular attention to, to try and further narrow the differences and find appropriate landing zones.

In terms of the end coming into focus, these negotiations are an ongoing reiterative process.  And at every stage, we close out issues, we narrow differences, we try and find landing zones, and then we try and build consensus around them.  And I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer what the final landing zones might look like, but we still have some work to do, both to define them and then build support for them.

Q       But can you put any type of timeline —

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  We’re going to complete it as soon as we achieve the ambitious, comprehensive high standards we set out for ourselves and we’re all working very hard to do that.  There’s a lot of momentum, all the countries are very focused on doing that, but we want to make sure that we get it right.

MR. RHODES:  Kristen, I think on Ebola we’ve encouraged the Chinese and they have made commitments, both financial commitments in the provision of health care workers and support for health care infrastructure in West Africa.  So I think we’ve welcomed those commitments.  We are always encouraging nations to consider ways to do more, but also to galvanize international action — as we head into the G20, for instance.  So I think at the G20 this will be a topic among the countries in Brisbane.  And China obviously has a key role to play there.  So I don’t want to suggest that it’s kind of the lead item on the agenda but I think given the focus that we have on Ebola right now, we want to make sure we’re understanding what the Chinese contributions are, and then how we can work together on a collaborative basis heading into the G20 to get the international community to continue to step up and provide resources.

On ISIL, with respect to China, we obviously wouldn’t anticipate them playing a role in the military coalition.  I think all the countries here in the Asia Pacific region share the concern about foreign fighters going to and from Iraq and Syria, so we can have a discussion around those issues.  I think regionally, too, of course we’ve made clear that any lasting solution is going to have to deal with the political situation inside of Syria.  So it’s an opportunity to exchange views about how to bring about the type of transition that could ultimately end the civil war in Syria.

So I think more likely that they’re going to spend a lot of their time on some of the other issues that I mentioned –- Iran, North Korea, cyber, mil-mil relations, Asia Pacific –- but we want to make sure China is invested on the global agenda that we’re focused on and I think Ebola and ISIL clearly plays into that, particularly on the Ebola front where they can kick in significant resources.

And Ebola is an area where what we said to the Chinese is, there’s both the commitments you can kick in here on Ebola with respect to money and health care workers and infrastructure but also how we’re thinking about infectious disease going forward, and how we have the Global Health Security Initiative where nations are anticipating what’s going to be needed if there are additional outbreaks of different diseases.  And we’ve seen airborne diseases here in the Asia Pacific region.  So I think we want to make sure that when we talk about China playing a bigger role ono the world stage, it’s exactly those types of issues where they can bring resources and expertise to bear in fighting not just Ebola but future infectious disease.

Q       Ambassador Froman, please.  What about the TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement?  There was hope that maybe some steps ahead could have been done also on that subject within the WTO.  Also do you think that you could every close quickly the TPP without a TPA?  And thirdly, what about the development bank for investment in infrastructure that China is building up?  Is the U.S. now open to have it and maybe to participate in it?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll just repeat the questions.  The Trade in Services Agreement in the context of the broader trade negotiations.  A question about TPA and — what was the last one?  The development bank.

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Well, we’ve had quite good progress over the course of this year on the Trade In Services Agreement negotiations.  Several rounds and countries putting on the table offers.  And we have a robust work program going into next year as well.  So there is a lot of work being done on that.  But I would just put in the context of today’s announcement.  I think that the ITA announcement is a significant step in terms of showing the vitality of these plurilateral agreements where countries – likeminded countries can come together and make progress in trade liberalization, whether it’s in Geneva, the WTO, or elsewhere.  So ITA, we took a major step forward today.  TISA is well on its way, the Trade In Services Agreement.  And we have a very good work program ahead.  And earlier this year, we launched the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiation, which also includes China and we hope to work well with China and the other parties in the Environmental Goods Agreement to make progress on that in the coming year or so as well.

On TPP and TPA, our view has always been that the President has made clear that of course he would like to get a Trade Promotion Authority, he’d like to finish TPP consistent with it being an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard agreement as soon as possible.  And we are working in parallel tracks on that, that ultimately the only guarantee that a trade agreement earns the support of Congress is that we bring back a good agreement.  And our focus is on bringing back an agreement that meets those standards.

On the infrastructure front, obviously the U.S. is very active in the G20 and a variety of other forums, including here at APEC, in talking about the importance of infrastructure and financing for infrastructure.  We have been a strong supporter of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.  And we think it’s important that whatever mechanisms are put in place, they live up to the high standards of the multilateral development banks in terms of procurement practices, environmental practices; that they have the very highest standards that exist for international lending.

Q       For Ben.  Ben, before you left on the trip, I think you met with NGOs that were doing work on human rights and democracy in Burma.  What message were they giving to you?  And how do you respond to them when they say, as they maybe have to journalists, it’s not a bump in the road on the reforms when you have the violence going on in some parts of the country.  I think the violence — you have to do more to stand up to — how did you talk to them about that?  And also, how do you carry that message forward in Burma?  What notes will you strike so that the United States doesn’t look like they’re maybe lecturing but rather trying to encourage further —

MR. EARNEST:  Just to repeat the question for everybody else in the room.  Question about how you respond to concerns that have been raised by human rights advocates about the slow pace of progress in Burma, and how does that impact the message that you’ll deliver to Burmese officials when the President is there later this week.

Q       (Inaudible.)

MR. RHODES:  Well, David, I did meet with a number of NGOs, human rights advocates, a number of Burmese separately from that as well who are engaged in civil society there.  I also talked to a lot of the congressional staff that is focused on these issues, given Congress’s interest.  And I think our message is – let me just step back here.  On the one hand, what we’ve seen in the last five years in Burma is transformational.  The opening of a country that had been completely closed off for decades, the opening of some political space, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the release of political prisoners, and the initiation, really, of a kind of politics in Burma that just didn’t exist several years ago.  But it’s a country with enormous challenges and enormous needs.  It has a lot to do.

And you don’t complete those types of transitions quickly or easily.  This is going to take years to work through all the different issues that have to be addressed inside of Burma.  However, I think we need to be practical about the timelines associated with those transitions.  When we look at, for instance, Indonesia, the President met with the newly elected President of Indonesia yesterday.  It took many years for them to work through elections and constitutional reforms and dealing with different ethnic groups in the country.  So we’re taking a view here in Burma that this is enormous opportunity for the people inside the country, enormous opportunity for democratization.  However, I think that we are concerned about areas where we do not see progress and where we see significant challenges.  And I think there are really three broad categories that we’re going to be focused on heading into this visit.  One is the ongoing process of political reform in the country.

And, again, what I said to the people I met with is that we share the same objective here –- we share the objective of there being a credible election next year in the parliamentary elections in which the Burmese people can choose their leadership but we also share the objective of supporting the process of constitutional reform inside of Burma.  One election isn’t going to fix all the problems.  There needs to be constitutional reform that enables there to be a fuller transition from military to civilian rule, that enables Burma to choose their own leaders.  And the President will definitely be discussing the progress in planning for those elections but also the progress on, and the need for constitutional reform.  And that’s something that he’ll talk to Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi about.

Secondly, there is the issue in Rakhine State.  And here I think is we’ve seen the most troubling difficulties with the humanitarian situation deteriorating in Rakhine State.  A very specific issue having to do with the treatment of the Rohingya population there.  And there, too, I think we share the same objective of the human rights community.  We want to see better humanitarian access to the Rohingya, to help alleviate the humanitarian situation.  We would like to see a long-term plan, an action plan that does not rely on camps but rather allows people to settle in communities and pursue development within the country.  And we would like to see a process where the Rohingya can become citizens of Burma without having to self-identify as something other than who they are, which is citizens of –- prospective citizens of Burma.

So We’ve been working very hard in the country, working with other countries to try to bring a focus on the situation in Rakhine State, and it will certainly be front and center in the President’s discussions.

Then the third area is the ethnic insurgencies and the ceasefires that have been reached.  Here, I think the government has made a good deal of progress.  They have reached individual ceasefires with many of the different ethnic group.  The Kachin is one that we’ve been particularly focused on of late.  But they’re working to translate that into a nationwide ceasefire that can lead into a process of reconciliation that addresses the underlying issues of ethnic political participation, of economic development in the ethnic areas, and the role of the military as well.

And we believe that there’s a real opportunity here for the government to move forward with this plan.  But again, it has to be one that doesn’t just put a lid on things, but addresses the underlying challenges and works towards the type of federal union that I think has been contemplated in many of the discussions with the ethnic groups.

So we’re coming at a time where a lot of these are in flux.  But the fact of the matter is they can be dealt with through politics — and that’s new in Burma.  That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it means that people are going to get around the table; there’s going to be a process for reviewing the constitutional amendments.  There’s going to be elections.  There are going to be talks ongoing with the ethnic groups.  And so we want this opening to continue to move forward.  We want the trajectory to continue to be one of progress.

And the United States can best — I think to sum up my message, the United States can best move that forward by engagement.  If we disengage, frankly I think that there’s a vacuum that could potentially be filled by bad actors.  But when we’re at the table, when we’re pressing these issues, we’re bringing more attention to the situation in Rakhine State.  We are working to bring the parties together in the political process.  We can help facilitate and support through development assistance the implementation of the nationwide ceasefire.

So I covered a lot of ground there, but the bottom line here is I think that we share the same objectives with the advocacy community here.  We are pursuing those objectives through engagement, and we’re clear-eyed about where there’s been progress and where there needs to be more.  And we believe we can best move that along by the President raising this with Thein Sein, with Aung San Suu Kyi.  But you’ll notice he’s also meeting with civil society, he’s meeting with young people.  We’re sending the message that we’re engaging very broadly in this country because we care deeply about its future and we see a real opportunity, but that opportunity can only be seized if they continue moving in the right direction and don’t let some of the recent very significant challenges through the reform off course.

MR. EARNEST:  Carol.

Q       I have one for each of you actually.  On the ITA, can you explain what the difference this one is going to make to the tech industry given that — and how it will impact consumers, and if China got any concessions in this breakthrough?  And then, Ben, you mentioned that Obama and Xi are going to talk about military-to-military cooperation.  Can you guys talk on those building measures?  And have you guys reached agreements on notifying each other about military activities and on a code of conduct for encounters in sea and air?

Josh, on the net neutrality announcement, can you talk about why you guys did that now and what you’re trying to accomplish, and what sort of pushback can you expect from the new Congress?  And whether or not the President has talked to Comcast about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Mike, I’ll let you go first.  Do you want to repeat the question for — I think I lost track by the end.

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  The benefits of ITA.

Q       Right.  (Off mic) and how it’s going to affect consumers.

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Well, in these tariff reduction agreements, it obviously benefits both the producers who can now sell more of their product, but also the consumers — because they’ll see access to products more easily.  And when you’re talking about medical devices, for example — medical equipment, like MRIs and CAT scans, and a whole variety of implantable devices — that means better health care for people all over the world.

The tariffs range as high as 25 percent for some of the next generation semi-conductors; 30 percent for loud speakers; 30 percent for certain software media; 30 percent for video game consoles.  So some of the tariffs are in the 5 to 8 percent range, some are in the 25 to 30 percent range.  And right now the trade in these cover lines is about $1 trillion, and we’d expect it to grow significantly for the benefit of consumers and the benefits of producers, including a lot of products made in the United States.  We export over a billion dollars of these products right now, even with these barriers in place, and that will help support more jobs in the United States.

Q       (Inaudible)

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  In trade negotiations there’s always issues of how the obligations are phased in over time, and that will be part of what’s discussed in Geneva.

MR. RHODES:  Sure, on the specific nature of the confidence-building measures with the Chinese and mil-mil ties.  I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions, but we’ve certainly been focused on both just simply the lines of communication with China, but also how to address some of the challenges we’ve seen recently, for instance, with respect to circumstances where we certainly came a little too close for comfort between the United States and Chinese military assets.  And so we’re looking at what practical things can be done to build confidence and have more transparency.  So we’ll keep you updated on that.  I don’t want to get ahead of the leaders.

But the bottom-line principle is, first of all, it’s incredibly important that we avoid inadvertent escalation and that we don’t find ourselves having an accidental circumstance lead into something that could precipitate conflict.  So there’s enormous value in that type of dialogue.

And the second point I think is it’s good for the region if the United States and China are able to have greater transparency between our militaries.  I think that will ultimately promote stability.  And we’ve encouraged that type of transparency across the region — whether it’s an ASEAN code of conduct or whether it’s the type of dialogue that President Xi and Prime Minister Abe had yesterday.  This is something that we’ve been encouraging all of our partners to do — to be more transparent, to build confidence, develop practical means to avoid an inadvertent escalation.

So it will be an important topic of their meeting, and we’ll keep you updated on it.

Q       So just the two things that —

MR. RHODES:  I mean, there are those and then there’s just the broader nature of our military-to-military relationship and how we interact, how we have exchanges.  So I think we’ll have more to say on this, but I don’t want to get ahead of the leaders.

MR. EARNEST:  And then before we move on to — just on the net neutrality question that you raised earlier, Carol — I know that there are members of Congress on both sides of this issue who have made their views known.  The White House has been in touch with the business community on a variety of issues, as we always are.  And I know that this is something that, again, on both sides of this issue they are very strongly held views.

The position that the President articulated in the statement that was released today is consistent with the President’s previously expressed strongly held views about the important of an open Internet; that the Internet has been the source of innovation, that it’s been good for the economy, in particular in the United States.  And putting in place a regulatory regime that does not allow some of those companies to sort of extend some preferential treatment to some content is an important way that we can protect the freedom and openness that’s associated with the Internet that will ensure that it continues to be a space that’s open to innovation and progress.

But again, this is something that has been — has engendered strongly held views on both sides, so I would anticipate this will continue to be a pretty robust debate in the political sphere back home in the United States.

I will say that in terms of the timing of this announcement, it is not related to this specific trip; that there are some regulatory decisions that are due.  And the President felt like this was an appropriate time to, again, reiterate his views about the important principle that’s at stake here.

Ed.

Q       Ben, I had a question about Putin in terms of — I know it was just a brief conversation so far.  But can you say anything that happened there?  But also more importantly moving forward what you hope to accomplish, what message you hope to send to Putin because we’ve heard again and again that sanctions are working against Russia.  And certainly we’ve seen the ruble in the last couple days — there’s been an economic impact.  But the administration put out a statement a day or two ago saying that heavy artillery and tanks are being sent to the front line basically by Russia.  And that’s your own assessment.  So doesn’t that suggest that the sanctions are not stopping them from this heavy influence inside Ukraine?

MR. EARNEST:  The question is about the exchange between the President — President Obama and President Putin yesterday and the impact of sanctions on influencing Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  Ben, you want to take that.

MR. RHODES:  Sure.  Well, first of all, their interaction, as I think we said last night, it was very brief.  The leaders greeted each other as the President greeted many leaders.  They did not have the substantive exchange that they do today on the margins of APEC, where I think there’s a lot more time.  We’ll certainly let you know.

But, Ed, I think — first on the message and then on the situation in Ukraine specifically, on Ukraine, we continue to be deeply troubled by Russia’s activities.  And I guess to take your question head-on, the sanctions are clearly succeeding and having an impact on the Russian economy.  There’s no question that if you look at every metric from the status of the ruble, to their projections for growth, that the Russian economic picture is grim and getting grimmer because of the sanctions.

The sanctions have yet to sufficiently affect Russia’s calculus as it relates to Ukraine.  That’s why we continue to impose them.  That’s why we continue to be very clear about where we need to see better Russian action, specifically, as you said, we’ve seen the continued provision of support to the separatists, including heavy weapons that are in complete violation of the spirit of the Minsk agreement.  And what our message is to Russia is there’s an agreement that you reached with the government in Kyiv, and you just abide by that agreement.  The separatists must abide by that agreement.  And escalating the situation by providing these types of weapons into Ukraine is clearly not in service of that process.

And what Russia will find is, if they continue to do that, it’s a recipe for isolation from a broad swath of the international community.  It’s a recipe for the type of economic disruption they’ve seen from the sanctions going forward.

So our message is one of resolve in insisting upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  It’s a message that there is a road map here through the Minsk agreement that should be followed.  And the President will certainly I think express that view publicly and privately in the coming days and weeks.

I think more broadly with Russia, I think at the same time we’ve had differences with them on Ukraine, we’re working to pursue an Iran agreement.  We’re working in a range of areas where we can make progress together.  But clearly what we’ve seen is a troubling focus from President Putin on the situation in Ukraine that is going to demand a response from the international community going forward, just as it has the last several months.  And the United States is going to be committed to leading that response.

MR. EARNEST:  Mark.

Q       Thank you.  Just a question for Mike and then a question either for Mike or Ben — if more appropriate.

On the trade talks, Mike, I’m paraphrasing, but you said earlier the best way to get Congress to pass a TPP deal is to bring them a very good agreement.  And some trade analysts say that that sort of has it backwards, that you sort of need to get the TPA authority first because that allows you to obtain concessions from trading partners.

I’m wondering sort of whether you think you can get those concessions without the President having TPA, and whether foreign leaders have pressed the President in the wake of the elections to try to get that authority from Congress.

And then secondly on cyber, the working group that Secretary Kerry set up on the cybersecurity issues obviously stopped working after the charges were brought against the Chinese military officers for hacking.  Will President Obama in his talks with President Xi encourage him, ask him to resume the dialogue of that working group?

MR. EARNEST:  So just to restate the two issues on the microphone, the second question was about the cybersecurity working group and the relationship between the U.S. and China and how the President will raise that with President Xi when they discuss it tomorrow.

And then the first question was related to does the Ambassador feel as if he can reach a good agreement with other countries without having TPA authority first, right?  Okay.

Ambassador Froman.

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Well, our approach has always been to pursue both in parallel and to make clear that ultimately, again, as I said the only guarantee that agreement gets the support of Congress is that it is a good agreement and meets that ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard outcome that we have sought to achieve.

I think — we have an ongoing discussion with our trading partners.  They follow our political system very closely, and we have made clear — and I think they understand — that every country has its domestic processes to go through on trade agreements.  And we’re responsible for ours, and they’re responsible for theirs.  And as the President has made clear that he wants to work with leaders in Congress, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, to advance the trade agenda, that has allowed our negotiations to continue.  So we’re continuing to work in parallel to close out the TPP negotiations consistent with the high standard that we’ve set for ourselves.  And we’re continuing to work with Congress to achieve trade promotion authority with as broad bipartisan support as possible.

MR. EARNEST:  Ben, do you want to do the cyber?

MR. RHODES:  Yes, Mark, it’s certainly the case that after those charges were brought we did see a chill in the cyber dialogue.  I think the fact that we pursued those cases demonstrates that we’re not going to simply stand idly by.  If we see activity that we don’t like, that we can call out, we’re going to do that.

At the same time, though, we do believe that it’s better if there’s a mechanism for a dialogue where we can raise concerns directly with one another.  So I think President Obama will highlight the importance of having a means to have a cyber-dialogue so that our governments can share information.  We can be direct about areas of concern.  We can try to find ways to build confidence in that space, as well.

So it is something where we’ve been very firm in our position.  We did see a Chinese reaction to those charges.  Again, we’re going to continue to call out behavior as we see it.  But I think the message in the bilat today, and has it has been going forward, is better for us to have a means to have a dialogue, just as we do on a whole host of other issues through the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, so that we can be more transparent.

MR. EARNEST:  Major.

Q       Ben, on Ukraine, I’m just trying to get a sense, if the President wants to use this venue for the G-20 as an opportunity to engage Putin directly and say, what’s happening in Ukraine right now?  Which seems to be an escalation after several months of relative calm, to protest in a very specific way, and to convey that message to him directly.

Secondarily, can you in any way shape or form provide any clarity on the status al-Baghdadi?

MR. EARNEST:  So just to repeat the two questions.  The first is does the President plan to raise directly with President Putin the concerns that the United States has about their actions on Ukraine either while we’re here at APEC or in the context of the G-20 meetings.

And then an update on the latest assessment about the strike against ISIL that may have had impact on al-Baghdadi.

Ben, do you want to —

MR. RHODES:  Well, Major, I think our position on Ukraine is well known, and it’s manifested in our sanctions and our policy.  So I don’t think we’re necessarily looking to focus to make this a — to go out of our way to try to make the focus of these multilateral Ukraine in the way that we did when we were in Europe, when it was obviously a more natural venue.

That said, I think if the President has the opportunity to talk President Putin, I know he’ll be expressing the need to highlight and get back to the Minsk agreement and express concern over these latest reports.

I also know that other leaders share those concerns, as well.  And yesterday, for instance, with Prime Minister Abbott, we discussed the situation in Ukraine.  He’s obviously very focused on the MH17 investigation and the need for there to be justice for Australian families.  So it’s not simply the United States.  You have a number of leaders — Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Abbott, a number of other European leaders — Prime Minister Cameron — who share our concerns.

And so this is not just simply a U.S. view.  I think it’s probably held among many of our friends and allies.  And so I can’t predict exactly what will happen except to say that I know where different nations stand, and I know that that’s what they’ve been saying to the Russians.

Q       Is it fair to interpret, Ben, then that you don’t consider what’s happening right now to be particularly alarming?

MR. RHODES:  We do consider it to be particularly alarming.  That’s why we’ve spoken out about it.  I guess what I’m saying is our position is very clear on this, and the pathway out of this is very clear.  It’s to get back to the Minsk agreement.  And the pattern of imposing consequences on Russia when we see an escalation is also established, as well.

So again, I could anticipate knowing how these meetings go that as the President has an opportunity to engage with leaders like Chancellor Merkel, for instance, on the margins of the G-20, this will certainly come up.  And again, I was just highlighting that President Putin knows full well where we stand.  And we’ve made that clear through not just our words, but our policies, our sanctions.  And that’s go to continue to be our approach here.

On Baghdadi, we cannot confirm his status at this point.  As you know, we did take a strike that successfully hit a number of ISIL vehicles that we assessed was associated with ISIL leadership.  We obviously take time to do due diligence to get an understanding of what the impact was.

The message I think is very clear, though, which is that we’re not going to allow for a safe haven for ISIL and its leadership and its fighters in Iraq or Syria.  And they had for months.  They were able to operate freely.  And I think what they’re finding now — whether it’s outside of Kobani, whether it’s in Anbar province, whether it’s in northern Iraq, whether it was that strike outside of Mosul — that if they move, we’re going to hit them.

Q       Just to clarify — you’re saying you don’t —

MR. RHODES:  I don’t have an update on his status.  No.

MR. EARNEST:  Josh.

Q       Two for Ben.  The first one on Indonesia and the second one in China.  At the meetings yesterday, were there any — meeting yesterday between the President and President Widodo, was there any discussion of Hambali, the terrorist suspect that’s been locked up at Guantanamo for more than 10 years.  I think President Bush at one point promised to return him to Indonesia for trial.  Regardless of whether it came up, what’s going to happen to that individual?  Is there any plan to do anything with him or just keep him at Guantanamo indefinitely?

And then on the Chinese front, given the concerns about press freedom in China, can you explain the President’s decision to do a written interview with the Xinhua Agency, since the Chinese leaders have been criticized in the past for insisting on sort of canned interviews with American news outlets?

MR. EARNEST:  The two questions.  Did the President discuss with the Indonesian leader the status of an Indonesian terror suspect that’s being held at Guantanamo?  And the decision-making behind the President’s decision to do a written interview with Xinhua.

Ben, do you want to take those?

MR. RHODES:  Yes.  Well, on the first question, it did not come up in the discussion.  Counterterrorism did, ISIL did.  We discussed ways to share information.  And we have a good relationship with Indonesia on information sharing related to counterterrorism.  And so those issues were addressed.

But on his specific status, I’ll have to check, Josh, on exactly what the status of his case is.  As you know, we’ve reviewed each one and have a very rigorous process to determine who is cleared for transfer, who is not.  So we can get back to you on that.

On the second question, look, it’s very — when we go on trips, this is something we do everywhere.  As you know from covering us, we tend to do written interviews with outlets when we arrive in a country.

Our view is on the one hand, we need to engage.  And the more the President’s voice can be heard in a country the better because people understand where we come from.  So we do engage Chinese media.  We engage CCTV in the Briefing Room every day.  We engage Xinhua.

At the same time, we’ll raise issues of press freedom.  And the President has raised it directly with President Xi in their believe meetings.  We’ve raised our concerns about the status of some U.S. media organizations and the treatment — the adjudication of their visas.  We’ve raised, again, our concern on having more free access to information here — not just as it relates to the news media, but as it relates to Internet.

So these are things that we will consistently raise, but again, I think better for the President’s voice to get out and to be heard in a country.  We use those interviews as important venues to address different issues.  But in no way does that diminish the fact that we have concerns about the press freedom here in China, just as we do in a range of other countries that we’ve visited who have — who are on a spectrum of how they treat the press.

MR. EARNEST:  Mr. Acosta.

Q       Yes, just to follow up on that with Ben.  What does the President see as his legacy with China?  Is it more engaging with China, but not changing China’s behavior?  Because I was struck by something the President said yesterday with Prime Minister Abbott that press freedoms he likes, that those are U.S. values.  But he does not expect China to have those traditions, to follow those traditions.  Why not?  Why not publicly with Xi push the Chinese to adopt a more American value system on press freedoms and human rights?

MR. EARNEST:  To repeat the question again.  Jim’s question is about who aggressively the President pushes the Chinese on some of the human rights concerns that the President himself has spoken about pretty publicly.

Q       And how that fits into his legacy?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, and how that fits into his legacy, with that relationship.

MR. RHODES:  Yes, so I’ll start with the human rights piece.  Jim, the President doesn’t just see these as American values.  There are certain things that are universal values.  They’re embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.  And they should be able to take root in any society.  When you talk about freedom of speech, freedom of association, again, America has championed those values, but we believe that they are universal.

I think what the President is speaking about is the fact that China is at a different stage of development.  Obviously, it has different traditions.  But we do raise these issues.  And we do believe that certain things are universal, the right to, again, speak your mind, access information, to freedom of assembly.  And so it’s something that we’re going to press.  It’s something that comes up in every meeting.  It’s something that we raise publicly, as well.  And at the end of the day, again, I think the people of China are going to determine the future of their country.  But we want to make sure that just as we want China to live up to the rules of the road, we want them to live up to the rules of the road on universal values.

In a place like Hong Kong, that involves respect for freedom of assembly.  It also involves the people of Hong Kong being able to select their own leaders, as was agreed to, to choose their own leadership, again, which was the one county, two systems notion.

In terms of the President’s legacy, I think there’s — what did we get done with China.  On a bilateral basis to, again, improve the American economy, to save the global economy — and coordinated action with China was critical to that — to take the steps we’ve taken on this trip that will promote U.S. exports, promote more tourism and investment in the United States.  All that will have a positive economic impact for America and the American people.

Then I think, however, we want to look at where do we enlist China in regional and global efforts.  Because, again, we want them to play a bigger role.  We want them to be a part of international climate negotiations because you can’t deal with climate change unless China is coming to the table in a serious way.

We want them to be a part of settling disputes and resolving disputes around maritime security in the region.  We want them to be part of pursuing an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.  So China kind of fits into the type of international order we’re trying to build in which nations are invested in solving problems.

And that very much speaks to rebalance, the signature Asia Pacific policy of the President’s.  We want to see this region more prosperous, more cooperative; again, a place of robust American engagement in ways that support our economy; support the security of our allies and the civility of the region; support the values we care about in a place like Burma where we have an ongoing transition.  And that mitigates the risk of conflict that could derail the extraordinary progress we see here.

So again, when we look at his legacy, it’s going to be where do we move the ball forward bilaterally in ways that benefit the American people?  How do we embed China, working with them, in an international system that can solve problems like climate change and maritime security?  And how is this region a more stable, prosperous and secure place which has robust American engagement.  They’re critical to all those things.  And human rights in our view is a part of the international norms that we uphold.

So just as we care about maritime security and cybersecurity, we care about universal values.  And that’s going to be a part of how we judge the status of the relationship.

Q       You mentioned Iran a couple of times.  If I could just follow up on that.  November 24th is coming up very quickly.  Do you foresee a scenario where that deadline might be put back a little bit?  And you’ve seen Netanyahu’s comments, where he seems to be pretty upset about Khamenei tweeting about the (inaudible) and what do you make of that?

MR. EARNEST:  Can you repeat the question?

MR. RHODES:  Yes, so the question.  Was the states of the Iran negotiations heading to the 24th and the Israeli Prime Minister’s comments on the Supreme Leader’s tweet.

On the first question, what we’ve been focused on is driving towards what progress can we make towards an agreement for the 24th.  We have not focused on discussions with Iran on extending those discussions because we want to keep the focus on closing gaps.

Secretary Kerry was meeting into the night in Oman.  He’s currently on a plane, set to arrive in Beijing.  He will give the President an update on where things stand and what progress he made, so President Obama will hear directly from him about the status of the talks.

And then there are negotiations scheduled in Vienna where we’ll see where we can get by the 24th, and we’ll keep people posted on where things stand.

With respect to the — first of all, the sentiments expressed by the Supreme Leader’s office in that tweet.  They’re obviously outrageous.  It’s the type of rhetoric we’ve seen from the Iranian leadership for years.  We completely reject it, of course.

The fact of the matter is what we’ve always said is even as we pursue this effort around diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear program, that’s about addressing a security concern of the United States and Israel and the international community.  If we can prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that’s in all of our interests.

At the same time, it doesn’t lessen our concern over other Iranian behaviors, including the virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric that has been a part of their political tradition.  So we’ll continue to speak out against that.

With respect to the agreement itself, though, what we would say is, again, if we can verifiably discern that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon, that it’s program is for peaceful purposes, that’s a good thing.  That’s far better than an outcome where Iran is back to trying to accumulate more stockpile, enriching at a higher percent and getting more breakout capacity.  So we’ve already frozen their nuclear — the progress of their nuclear program.  We’ve rolled back the stockpile just during these negotiations.

If we can get a comprehensive agreement, we would say that would be in the interest of American national security and also the security of our friends and allies.

MR. EARNEST:  We’re nearing the one-hour mark here, so we’ll just do two more.  Ching-Yi and then Jim Avila, I’ll let you wrap up.  Go ahead.

Q       Thank you, thank you, Josh.  First question is to Ambassador Froman.  According to interview with Xinhua, President Obama say our summit will also be an opportunity to make progress toward ambitious bilateral investment treaty.  So what kind of progress?  What kind of breakthrough that we can expect about the VIT?

And also the second question is to Ben.  Other than ITA and the visa, what else deliverables that the U.S. is looking forward to reaching this time.  Thank you.

MR. EARNEST:  Repeat the question so everybody can hear.  Ambassador Froman, an update on progress related to the VIT negotiations.  And, Ben, what other deliverables do you anticipate out of the meetings between President Obama and President Xi.

Ambassador Froman?

AMBASSADOR FROMAN:  Well, as you may recall it was about a year and a half ago that China agreed to negotiate a bilateral investment treaty on the basis of what we call a negative list, which is to open up their economy but for specific carve-outs that they negotiate with us.  And that was a major step forward, as were some of the other provisions that we agreed to then.

Since that time we’ve had very good discussions in the bilateral investment treaty channel.  We’ve had a series of rounds to walk through our model of it and to talk about how it would be applied in the case of China.  We have further work to do.  Next year, early next year, China has agreed to give us their first version of their negative list.  And it will be very important if we’re to achieve early progress in these negotiations that that list be as short and as focused, as narrowly tailored as possible.  And we’re encouraging our Chinese counterparts, including while we’re here for this visit and around this summit to focus on making that list as narrow and as short as possible so that we can proceed with negotiations and make progress next year.

MR. RHODES:  I, of course, will let the leaders speak to the specific deliverables.  I think we certainly focused on the visa issue and ITA in these first couple of days because of the economic theme of APEC and the venue of the CEO forum.  So again, I think the President’s meeting will certainly address economic issues.  But I think we’ll also d

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

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

July 28, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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

1:10 P.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

So with that, I present Tony Blinken.

MR. BLINKEN:  Josh, thank you. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you, Tony.

MR. BLINKEN:  Thanks, Josh.  Thank you.

Q    Thank you, Tony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve.

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

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

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

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

Michelle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob.

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

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

Cheryl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Can I follow on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Wendell, go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Moving on —

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Ann.

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

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

Q    Will he ask Congress to delay its break?

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s move around a little bit.  Leslie.

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

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

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

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

Roger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Josh?

MR. EARNEST:  Goyal. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, ma’am.

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

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

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

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

Q    Can I follow on Israel please?

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

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

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

Q    Tuesday night or Wednesday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris.

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

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

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

END
2:04 P.M. EDT

The Brussels G7 Summit Declaration

Brussels, Belgium – 5 June 2014

1. We, the Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission, met in Brussels on 4 and 5 June 2014. This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are profoundly committed to the values of freedom and democracy, and their universality and to fostering peace and security. We believe in open economies, open societies and open governments, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, as the basis for lasting growth and stability. For nearly forty years, we have shown through our actions that collective will can be a powerful catalyst for progress. Our efforts to address major global challenges have also been guided by a commitment to transparency, accountability and partnership with other concerned members of the international community. We remain bound together as a group by these values and this vision. Guided by these shared values and principles, we will continue to work together to meet the challenges of our times. We thank the European Union for hosting this Summit and welcome Germany’s Presidency.

Global Economy

2. Supporting growth and jobs remains our top priority. The global economy has strengthened since we met at Lough Erne, downside risks remain which will need to be managed carefully. Advanced economies are recovering, but continued and sustained growth is needed to bring down unemployment, particularly among young people and the long-term unemployed.

3. We will take further steps to support strong, sustainable and balanced growth, with a common goal of increasing the resilience of our economies. We will present ambitious and comprehensive growth strategies at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, to include action across a broad front including in the areas of investment, small and medium enterprises, employment and participation of women, and trade and innovation, in addition to macroeconomic policies. We will continue to implement our fiscal strategies flexibly to take into account near-term economic conditions, so as to support economic growth and job creation, while putting debt as a share of GDP on a sustainable path.

4. We agreed that 2014 will be the year in which we focus on substantially completing key aspects of the core financial reforms that we undertook in response to the global financial crisis: building resilient financial institutions; ending too-big-to-fail; addressing shadow banking risks; and making derivatives markets safer. We remain committed to the agreed G20 roadmap for work on relevant shadow banking activities with clear deadlines and actions to progress rapidly towards strengthened and comprehensive oversight and regulation appropriate to the systemic risks posed. We will remain vigilant in the face of global risk and vulnerabilities. And we remain committed to tackling tax avoidance including through the G20/Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan as set out in the agreed timetable, and tax evasion, where we look forward to the rapid implementation of the new single global standard for automatic exchange of tax information. We call on all jurisdictions to take similar action.

5. Trade and investment are key engines for jobs and growth. We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight all forms of protectionism including through standstill and rollback. We are committed to strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system. We will protect and promote investment and maintain a level playing field for all investors. International standards for public export finance are crucial for avoiding or reducing distortions in global trade. Since we met at Lough Erne, we have made substantial progress on major trade negotiations: Canada-EU; Japan-EU; Canada-Japan; EU-US; the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and the Trade in Services Agreement. We aim to finalise them as soon as possible. We are committed to liberalising trade in environmental goods and services, including through an Environmental Goods agreement. We will work to conclude an expanded Information Technology Agreement as soon as possible. These agreements and initiatives can help support and will be consistent with the multilateral trading system and act as building blocks for future multilateral deals. We welcome the successful outcomes of the 9th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference. We will prioritise full and swift implementation of the Bali Package, in particular the Trade Facilitation Agreement. We will continue to provide, within our current Aid for Trade commitments, substantial support and capacity building to help implement this agreement, in particular to the benefit of the Least Developed Countries. We fully support efforts in the WTO to secure swift agreement to a balanced work programme for completing the Doha Round.

Energy

6. The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable. The crisis in Ukraine makes plain that energy security must be at the centre of our collective agenda and requires a step change to our approach to diversifying energy supplies and modernising our energy infrastructure. Under the Rome G7 Energy Initiative, we will identify and implement concrete domestic policies by each of our governments separately and together, to build a more competitive, diversified, resilient and low-carbon energy system. This work will be based on the core principles agreed by our Ministers of Energy on May 5-6 2014, in Rome:

  • Development of flexible, transparent and competitive energy markets, including gas markets.
  • Diversification of energy fuels, sources and routes, and encouragement of indigenous sources of energy supply.
  • Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy as a key contribution to sustainable energy security.
  • Enhancing energy efficiency in demand and supply, and demand response management.
  • Promoting deployment of clean and sustainable energy technologies and continued investment in research and innovation.
  • Improving energy systems resilience by promoting infrastructure modernization and supply and demand policies that help withstand systemic shocks.
  • Putting in place emergency response systems, including reserves and fuel substitution for importing countries, in case of major energy disruptions.

7. Based on these principles we will take the following immediate actions:

  • We will complement the efforts of the European Commission to develop emergency energy plans for winter 2014-2015 at a regional level.
  • Working with international organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the international financial institutions, we will supply technical assistance, including leveraging the private sector, and facilitate exchanges with Ukraine and other European countries seeking to develop indigenous hydrocarbon resources and renewable energies, as well as to improve energy efficiency.
  • We will conduct assessments of our energy security resilience and enhance our joint efforts, including on critical infrastructure, transit routes, supply chains and transport.
  • We will ask the IEA, in close cooperation with the European Commission, to present by the end of 2014 options for individual and collective actions of the G7 in the field of gas security.

8. We will also:

  • Promote the use of low carbon technologies (renewable energies, nuclear in the countries which opt to use it, and carbon capture and storage) including those which work as a base load energy source; and
  • Promote a more integrated Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) market, including through new supplies, the development of transport infrastructures, storage capabilities, and LNG terminals, and further promotion of flexible gas markets, including relaxation of destination clauses and producer-consumer dialogue.

9. We ask our Energy Ministers to take forward this Rome G7 Energy Initiative and report back to us in 2015.

Climate Change

10. Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change, as set out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. We therefore remain committed to low-carbon economies with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We affirm our strong determination to adopt in 2015 a global agreement – a new protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties – that is ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances. We will communicate our intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) and call on others to follow our lead. We welcome the Climate Summit of the United Nations Secretary General in September and his invitation to all Parties to prepare for ambitious contributions and to deliver concrete action to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience. We look forward to a successful Summit.

11. We reaffirm our support for the Copenhagen Accord commitments to mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, both public and private, to address the climate mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries in the context of their meaningful and transparent mitigation actions. We welcome the adoption of the Green Climate Fund’s operating rules and the decision to commence its initial resource mobilisation in the coming months. We remain committed to the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and continued discussions in the OECD on how export credits can contribute to our common goal to address climate change. We will strengthen efforts to improve measurement, reporting, verification and accounting of emissions and improve the reporting of international climate finance flows, consistent with agreed decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We will work together and with others to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) under the Montreal Protocol. We will also continue to take action to promote the rapid deployment of climate-friendly and safe alternatives in motor vehicle air-conditioning and we will promote public procurement of climate-friendly HFC alternatives.

Development

12. The pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development and greater prosperity in all countries remains a foundational commitment that unites our people and our countries. We continue to implement the commitments we have made at previous Summits. To be accountable we will provide a report in 2015 on progress toward their attainment.

13. We commit to work with all partners to agree an ambitious and universal post-2015 agenda, anchored in a single set of clear and measurable goals. That agenda should complete unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals. It should be centred on people and focused both on the eradication of extreme poverty, promoting development and on balancing the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development, including climate change. It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all. We are committed to build a global partnership with shared responsibility and mutual accountability to ensure its implementation. We await the synthesis report of the United Nations Secretary General in the second half of 2014. We welcome the African Union’s common position.

14. We will continue to promote inclusive and resilient growth in Africa, working with governments and citizens in Africa to enhance governance and transparency, improve infrastructure, notably in the energy sector, eliminate trade barriers, facilitate trade and investment, and strengthen the responsible and sustainable management of natural resources and the revenues they generate. We welcome the active role of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the process of reforming the Africa Partnership Forum.

15. Security and development are the prerequisite of a lasting peace in regions affected by the scourge of war, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, instability and poverty, notably the Sahel region, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. We welcome efforts by African partners and the African Union, supported by the international community, aimed at building their capacities to respond to crises and support stabilisation.

16. We confirm our strong commitment to the Deauville Partnership and our support to Arab countries in transition in their efforts to improve governance and stimulate inclusive growth and job creation, particularly for their youth and women. Our Foreign and Finance Ministers will meet in the margins of United Nations General Assembly, and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Annual Meetings, to take forward the Partnership.

17. We remain committed to work towards common global standards that raise extractives transparency, which ensure disclosure of companies’ payments to all governments. We welcome the progress made among G7 members to implement quickly such standards. These global standards should continue to move towards project-level reporting. Those governments that are signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard will voluntarily report their revenues. We confirm our commitment to implement fully the extractive partnerships launched in 2013.

18. We today announce a new initiative on Strengthening Assistance for Complex Contract Negotiations (CONNEX) to provide developing country partners with extended and concrete expertise for negotiating complex commercial contracts, focusing initially on the extractives sector, and working with existing fora and facilities to avoid duplication, to be launched in New York in June and to deliver improvements by our next meeting, including as a first step a central resource hub that brings together information and guidance.

19. We will continue to work to tackle tax evasion and illicit flows of finance, including by supporting developing countries to strengthen their tax base and help create stable and sustainable states. We renew our commitment to deny safe haven to the proceeds of corruption, and to the recovery and return of stolen assets. We remain committed to prevent the misuse of companies and other legal arrangements such as trusts to hide financial flows stemming from corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and other crimes, ensuring that beneficial ownership information is available in a timely fashion to financial intelligence units, tax collection and law enforcement agencies, for example through central registries or other appropriate mechanisms, leading by example in implementing the Financial Action Task Force and other relevant international standards and our national action plans in line with the principles we agreed at Lough Erne. Greater transparency in this area will help developing countries.

20. Recent events illustrate that corruption undermines trust in governments and limits economic growth. We will build on existing efforts, including in the G20, to take additional steps to prevent this. We continue our engagement to and support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative. We welcome the outcomes of the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery and look forward to the third Arab Forum on Asset Recovery. The G7 remains committed to working with governments and global financial centres to follow up on asset recovery efforts.

21. We remain committed to the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, and welcome the call made at the Saving Every Woman, Every Child Summit in Toronto to accelerate progress on this global priority. In addition we are committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and ending child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and other harmful practices. The health and well-being of women and children are improved through ensuring universal access to affordable, quality, essential health services, strengthening health, education and child protection systems and improving nutrition and access to immunisation. We recognise the impact of the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and welcome its efforts to expand access to vaccines to an additional 300 million children during 2016-2020. We welcome Germany’s offer to host the second replenishment in early 2015, reaffirm our commitment, and call on other public and private donors to contribute to the replenishment of the GAVI Alliance. We reaffirm our commitment to an AIDS free generation and to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to reduce the burden of these three major infectious diseases on eligible countries and regions.

22. To address the threat posed by infectious diseases, we support the Global Health Security Agenda and commit to working with partner countries to strengthen compliance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations and enhance health security around the world. We commit to working across sectors to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or the result of a deliberate act by a state or non-state actor. That includes building global capacity so that we are better prepared for threats such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and working together, in close cooperation with WHO, to develop a Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance.

23. We continue to strongly support comprehensive approaches to achieve global food security and nutrition. We look forward to the second International Conference on Nutrition in November 2014 and the Expo Milan 2015, which will provide a platform for the global post-2015 debate on sustainability and food and nutrition security. We continue to support the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition under strong African leadership and the successful completion of principles for responsible agricultural investment by the Committee on World Food Security. These will better enable smallholder farmers, especially women, to benefit from sustainable rural development. We continue to support the consistent implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, including by building on the land partnerships we launched in 2013 and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme.

Ukraine

24. We welcome the successful conduct under difficult circumstances of the election in Ukraine on 25 May. The strong voter turnout underlined the determination of Ukraine’s citizens to determine the future of their country. We welcome Petro Poroshenko as the President-elect of Ukraine and commend him for reaching out to all the people of Ukraine.

25. In the face of unacceptable interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs by the Russian Federation, we stand by the Ukrainian government and people. We call upon the illegal armed groups to disarm. We encourage the Ukrainian authorities to maintain a measured approach in pursuing operations to restore law and order. We fully support the substantial contribution made by the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the de-escalation of the crisis through the Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE instruments. We commend the willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to continue the national dialogue in an inclusive manner. We welcome the “Memorandum of Peace and Unity” adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 20 May and express the wish that it can be implemented rapidly. We also encourage the Ukrainian parliament and the Government of Ukraine to continue to pursue constitutional reform in order to provide a framework for deepening and strengthening democracy and accommodating the rights and aspirations of all people in all regions of Ukraine.

26. The G7 are committed to continuing to work with Ukraine to support its economic development, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We encourage the fulfilment of Ukraine’s commitment to pursue the difficult reforms that will be crucial to support economic stability and unlock private sector-led growth. We welcome the decision of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to approve a $17 billion programme for Ukraine, which will anchor other bilateral and multilateral assistance and loans, including around $18 billion foreseen to date from G7 partners. We welcome the swift disbursement of macro-economic support for Ukraine. We support an international donor coordination mechanism to ensure effective delivery of economic assistance and we welcome the EU’s intention to hold a high-level coordination meeting in Brussels. We welcome ongoing efforts to diversify Ukraine’s sources of gas, including through recent steps in the EU towards enabling reverse gas flow capacities and look forward to the successful conclusion of the talks, facilitated by the European Commission, on gas transit and supply from the Russian Federation to Ukraine.

27. We are united in condemning the Russian Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to de-stabilise eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop. These actions violate fundamental principles of international law and should be a concern for all nations. We urge the Russian Federation to recognise the results of the election, complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border and to exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence. We call on the Russian Federation to meet the commitments it made in the Geneva Joint Statement and cooperate with the government of Ukraine as it implements its plans for promoting peace, unity and reform.

28. We confirm the decision by G7 countries to impose sanctions on individuals and entities who have actively supported or implemented the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and who are threatening the peace, security and stability of Ukraine. We are implementing a strict policy of non-recognition with respect to Crimea/Sevastopol, in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262. We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require.

29. The projects funded by the donor community to convert the Chernobyl site into a stable and environmentally safe condition have reached an advanced stage of completion. While recognizing the complexity of these first of a kind projects, we call upon all concerned parties to make an additional effort to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion and call upon project parties to keep costs under control. This remains a high priority for us.

Syria

30. We strongly condemn the Assad regime’s brutality which drives a conflict that has killed more than 160,000 people and left 9.3 million in need of humanitarian assistance. We denounce the 3 June sham presidential election: there is no future for Assad in Syria. We again endorse the Geneva Communiqué, which calls for a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers and agreed by mutual consent, based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria. We strongly condemn the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and indiscriminate artillery shelling and aerial bombardment by the Syrian regime. There is evidence that extremist groups have also perpetrated grave human rights abuses. All those responsible for such abuses must be held to account. We welcome the commitment of the National Coalition and Free Syrian Army to uphold international law. We deplore Russia and China’s decision to veto the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution draft authorising referral to the International Criminal Court and demanding accountability for the serious and ongoing crimes committed in Syria.

31. We are committed to supporting the neighbouring countries bearing the burden of Syrian refugee inflows and deplore the failure to implement UNSC Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance. We urge all parties to the conflict to allow access to aid for all those in need, by the most direct routes, including across borders and conflict lines, and support further urgent action by the UNSC to that end. In our funding we decide to give particular support to humanitarian actors that can reach those most in need, including across borders. We call for the international community to meet the enormous funding needs of the UN appeals for Syria and its neighbours. We resolve to intensify our efforts to address the threat arising from foreign fighters travelling to Syria. We are deeply concerned by allegations of repeated chemical agent use and call on all parties in Syria to cooperate fully with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission. We call on Syria to comply with its obligations under UNSC Resolution 2118, decisions of the Executive Council of the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure the swift removal of its remaining chemical stockpile for destruction, and to destroy its production facilities immediately and answer all questions regarding its declaration to the OPCW.

Libya

32. We reaffirm our support for a free, prosperous and democratic Libya which will play its role in promoting regional stability. We express serious concern at the recent violence and urge all Libyans to engage with the political process through peaceful and inclusive means, underpinned by respect for the rule of law. We urge continued and coordinated engagement by the international community to support the Libyan transition and efforts to promote political dialogue, in coordination with the UN and with the UN Support Mission in Libya fulfilling its mandate in that respect. We ask all in the international community to respect fully Libyan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in its affairs. In this framework, we commend the proposal of the High National Electoral Commission, endorsed by the General National Congress, to convene the elections on June 25. We emphasise the importance of these elections in restarting the political process and appreciate the vital work of the Constitution Drafting Assembly.

Mali and Central African Republic

33. We welcome the ceasefire signed on May 23 by the Malian Government and armed groups in the North of Mali, thanks to efforts by the African Union, through its Presidency, and the UN. We reaffirm our strong commitment to a political solution and to an inclusive dialogue process that must start without delay, as prescribed by the Ouagadougou agreement and UNSC decisions. We fully support the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali efforts in stabilising the country and, with the commitment of neighbouring countries, including Algeria, Mauritania and the Economic Community of West African States, in working for a durable settlement respectful of the unity, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Mali.

34. We commend the role played on the ground in the Central African Republic by the AU-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, together with the forces sent by France and the European Union, to support the transition and encourage the Transitional Authorities to take urgent concrete steps toward holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. We fully support the UN efforts in the areas of security, reconciliation, preparation of the elections, and humanitarian assistance.

Iran

35. We reaffirm our strong commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue and welcome the efforts by the E3+3, led by High Representative Ashton, and Iran to negotiate a comprehensive solution that provides confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. We underline the importance of the continuing effective implementation by the E3+3 and Iran of the Joint Plan of Action. We call on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency on verification of Iran’s nuclear activities and to resolve all outstanding issues, including, critically, those relating to possible military dimensions. We strongly urge Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. We call on Iran to play a more constructive role in supporting regional security, in particular in Syria, and to reject all acts of terrorism and terrorist groups.

North Korea

36. We strongly condemn North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. We urge North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions and commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. We call on the international community to implement fully UN sanctions. We reiterate our grave concerns over the ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in North Korea documented in the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, and urge North Korea to take immediate steps to address these violations, including on the abductions issue, and cooperate fully with all relevant UN bodies. We continue to work to advance accountability for North Korea’s serious human rights violations.

Middle East Peace Process

37. We fully support the United States’ efforts to secure a negotiated two-state solution. We regret that greater progress has not been made by the parties and urge them to find the common ground and political strength needed to resume the process. A negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict. We call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any unilateral action which may further undermine peace efforts and affect the viability of a two-state solution.

Afghanistan

38. We renew our long-term commitment to a democratic, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan and our enduring partnership with the Government of Afghanistan based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. The first round of presidential elections and the provincial council elections marked a historic achievement, especially for the more than 2.5 million women who voted, and we look forward to the completion of the electoral process. We continue to assist the Government of Afghanistan to strengthen their institutions of governance, reduce corruption, combat terrorism, support economic growth, and counter narcotics. We continue to actively support an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation.

Maritime Navigation and Aviation

39. We reaffirm the importance of maintaining a maritime order based upon the universally-agreed principles of international law. We remain committed to international cooperation to combat piracy and other maritime crime, consistent with international law and internationally recognised principles of jurisdiction in international waters. We are deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea. We oppose any unilateral attempt by any party to assert its territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force. We call on all parties to clarify and pursue their territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law. We support the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including through legal dispute settlement mechanisms. We also support confidence-building measures. We underscore the importance of the freedom of navigation and overflight and also the effective management of civil air traffic based on international law and International Civil Aviation Organization standards and practices.

Other issues

40. We reaffirm our commitment to the protection and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, for all persons. We recognise the need to show unprecedented resolve to promote gender equality, to end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, to end child, early and forced marriage and to promote full participation and empowerment of all women and girls. We look forward to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict taking place in London later this month.

41. We reiterate our condemnation of terrorism and our commitment to cooperate in all relevant fora to prevent and respond to terrorism effectively, and in a comprehensive manner, while respecting human rights and the rule of law. We condemn the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by Boko Haram as an unconscionable crime and intend do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

42. We confirm that non-proliferation/disarmament issues remain a top priority and welcome the G7 Non-proliferation Directors Group statement issued today.

The Brussels G-7 Summit Declaration

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

June 05, 2014

Brussels, Belgium
June 5, 2014

1.       We, the Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission, met in Brussels on 4 and 5 June 2014. This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are profoundly committed to the values of freedom and democracy, and their universality and to fostering peace and security. We believe in open economies, open societies and open governments, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, as the basis for lasting growth and stability.  For nearly forty years, we have shown through our actions that collective will can be a powerful catalyst for progress. Our efforts to address major global challenges have also been guided by a commitment to transparency, accountability and partnership with other concerned members of the international community. We remain bound together as a group by these values and this vision. Guided by these shared values and principles, we will continue to work together to meet the challenges of our times. We thank the European Union for hosting this Summit and welcome Germany’s Presidency.

Global Economy

2.       Supporting growth and jobs remains our top priority. The global economy has strengthened since we met at Lough Erne, downside risks remain which will need to be managed carefully. Advanced economies are recovering, but continued and sustained growth is needed to bring down unemployment, particularly among young people and the long-term unemployed.

3.       We will take further steps to support strong, sustainable and balanced growth, with a common goal of increasing the resilience of our economies. We will present ambitious and comprehensive growth strategies at the G-20 Summit in Brisbane, to include action across a broad front including in the areas of investment, small and medium enterprises, employment and participation of women, and trade and innovation, in addition to macroeconomic policies. We will continue to implement our fiscal strategies flexibly to take into account near-term economic conditions, so as to support economic growth and job creation, while putting debt as a share of GDP on a sustainable path.

4.       We agreed that 2014 will be the year in which we focus on substantially completing key aspects of the core financial reforms that we undertook in response to the global financial crisis: building resilient financial institutions; ending too-big-to-fail; addressing shadow banking risks; and making derivatives markets safer. We remain committed to the agreed G-20 roadmap for work on relevant shadow banking activities with clear deadlines and actions to progress rapidly towards strengthened and comprehensive oversight and regulation appropriate to the systemic risks posed. We will remain vigilant in the face of global risk and vulnerabilities. And we remain committed to tackling tax avoidance including through the G-20/Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan as set out in the agreed timetable, and tax evasion, where we look forward to the rapid implementation of the new single global standard for automatic exchange of tax information. We call on all jurisdictions to take similar action.

5.       Trade and investment are key engines for jobs and growth. We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight all forms of protectionism including through standstill and rollback. We are committed to strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system. We will protect and promote investment and maintain a level playing field for all investors. International standards for public export finance are crucial for avoiding or reducing distortions in global trade. Since we met at Lough Erne, we have made substantial progress on major trade negotiations: Canada-EU; Japan-EU; Canada-Japan; EU-US; the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and the Trade in Services Agreement. We aim to finalise them as soon as possible. We are committed to liberalising trade in environmental goods and services, including through an Environmental Goods agreement. We will work to conclude an expanded Information Technology Agreement as soon as possible. These agreements and initiatives can help support and will be consistent with the multilateral trading system and act as building blocks for future multilateral deals. We welcome the successful outcomes of the 9th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference.  We will prioritise full and swift implementation of the Bali Package, in particular the Trade Facilitation Agreement. We will continue to provide, within our current Aid for Trade commitments, substantial support and capacity building to help implement this agreement, in particular to the benefit of the Least Developed Countries. We fully support efforts in the WTO to secure swift agreement to a balanced work programme for completing the Doha Round.

Energy

6.       The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable. The crisis in Ukraine makes plain that energy security must be at the centre of our collective agenda and requires a step change to our approach to diversifying energy supplies and modernising our energy infrastructure. Under the Rome G-7 Energy Initiative, we will identify and implement concrete domestic policies by each of our governments separately and together, to build a more competitive, diversified, resilient and low-carbon energy system.  This work will be based on the core principles agreed by our Ministers of Energy on May 5-6 2014, in Rome:

  • Development of flexible, transparent and competitive energy markets, including gas markets.
  • Diversification of energy fuels, sources and routes, and encouragement of indigenous sources of energy supply.
  • Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy as a key contribution to sustainable energy security.
  • Enhancing energy efficiency in demand and supply, and demand response management.
  • Promoting deployment of clean and sustainable energy technologies and continued investment in research and innovation.
  • Improving energy systems resilience by promoting infrastructure modernization and supply and demand policies that help withstand systemic shocks.
  • Putting in place emergency response systems, including reserves and fuel substitution for importing countries, in case of major energy disruptions.

7.       Based on these principles we will take the following immediate actions:

  • We will complement the efforts of the European Commission to develop emergency energy plans for winter 2014-2015 at a regional level.
  • Working with international organisations such as the International Energy Agency  (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the international financial institutions, we will supply technical assistance, including leveraging the private sector, and facilitate exchanges with Ukraine and other European countries seeking to develop indigenous hydrocarbon resources and renewable energies, as well as to improve energy efficiency.
  • We will conduct assessments of our energy security resilience and enhance our joint efforts, including on critical infrastructure, transit routes, supply chains and transport.
  • We will ask the IEA, in close cooperation with the European Commission, to present by the end of 2014 options for individual and collective actions of the G-7 in the field of gas security.

8.       We will also:

  • Promote the use of low carbon technologies (renewable energies, nuclear in the countries which opt to use it, and carbon capture and storage) including those which work as a base load energy source; and
  • Promote a more integrated Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) market, including through new supplies, the development of transport infrastructures, storage capabilities, and LNG terminals, and further promotion of flexible gas markets, including relaxation of destination clauses and producer-consumer dialogue.

9.       We ask our Energy Ministers to take forward this Rome G-7 Energy Initiative and report back to us in 2015.

Climate Change

10.      Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change, as set out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. We therefore remain committed to low-carbon economies with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We affirm our strong determination to adopt in 2015 a global agreement – a new protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties – that is ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances. We will communicate our intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) and call on others to follow our lead. We welcome the Climate Summit of the United Nations Secretary General in September and his invitation to all Parties to prepare for ambitious contributions and to deliver concrete action to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience. We look forward to a successful Summit.

11.      We reaffirm our support for the Copenhagen Accord commitments to mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, both public and private, to address the climate mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries in the context of their meaningful and transparent mitigation actions. We welcome the adoption of the Green Climate Fund’s operating rules and the decision to commence its initial resource mobilisation in the coming months.  We remain committed to the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and continued discussions in the OECD on how export credits can contribute to our common goal to address climate change. We will strengthen efforts to improve measurement, reporting, verification and accounting of emissions and improve the reporting of international climate finance flows, consistent with agreed decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  We will work together and with others to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) under the Montreal Protocol. We will also continue to take action to promote the rapid deployment of climate-friendly and safe alternatives in motor vehicle air-conditioning and we will promote public procurement of climate-friendly HFC alternatives.

Development

12.      The pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development and greater prosperity in all countries remains a foundational commitment that unites our people and our countries. We continue to implement the commitments we have made at previous Summits. To be accountable we will provide a report in 2015 on progress toward their attainment.

13.      We commit to work with all partners to agree an ambitious and universal post-2015 agenda, anchored in a single set of clear and measurable goals. That agenda should complete unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals. It should be centred on people and focused both on the eradication of extreme poverty, promoting development and on balancing the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development, including climate change. It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all. We are committed to build a global partnership with shared responsibility and mutual accountability to ensure its implementation. We await the synthesis report of the United Nations Secretary General in the second half of 2014. We welcome the African Union’s common position.

14.      We will continue to promote inclusive and resilient growth in Africa, working with governments and citizens in Africa to enhance governance and transparency, improve infrastructure, notably in the energy sector, eliminate trade barriers, facilitate trade and investment, and strengthen the responsible and sustainable management of natural resources and the revenues they generate. We welcome the active role of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the process of reforming the Africa Partnership Forum.

15.      Security and development are the prerequisite of a lasting peace in regions affected by the scourge of war, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, instability and poverty, notably the Sahel region, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. We welcome efforts by African partners and the African Union, supported by the international community, aimed at building their capacities to respond to crises and support stabilisation.

16.      We confirm our strong commitment to the Deauville Partnership and our support to Arab countries in transition in their efforts to improve governance and stimulate inclusive growth and job creation, particularly for their youth and women. Our Foreign and Finance Ministers will meet in the margins of United Nations General Assembly, and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Annual Meetings, to take forward the Partnership.

17.      We remain committed to work towards common global standards that raise extractives transparency, which ensure disclosure of companies’ payments to all governments.  We welcome the progress made among G-7 members to implement quickly such standards. These global standards should continue to move towards project-level reporting. Those governments that are signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard will voluntarily report their revenues. We confirm our commitment to implement fully the extractive partnerships launched in 2013.

18.      We today announce a new initiative on Strengthening Assistance for Complex Contract Negotiations (CONNEX) to provide developing country partners with extended and concrete expertise for negotiating complex commercial contracts, focusing initially on the extractives sector, and working with existing fora and facilities to avoid duplication, to be launched in New York in June and to deliver improvements by our next meeting, including as a first step a central resource hub that brings together information and guidance.

19.      We will continue to work to tackle tax evasion and illicit flows of finance, including by supporting developing countries to strengthen their tax base and help create stable and sustainable states. We renew our commitment to deny safe haven to the proceeds of corruption, and to the recovery and return of stolen assets. We remain committed to prevent the misuse of companies and other legal arrangements such as trusts to hide financial flows stemming from corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and other crimes, ensuring that beneficial ownership information is available in a timely fashion to financial intelligence units, tax collection and law enforcement agencies, for example through central registries or other appropriate mechanisms, leading by example in implementing the Financial Action Task Force and other relevant international standards and our national action plans in line with the principles we agreed at Lough Erne. Greater transparency in this area will help developing countries.

20.      Recent events illustrate that corruption undermines trust in governments and limits economic growth. We will build on existing efforts, including in the G-20, to take additional steps to prevent this. We continue our engagement to and support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative. We welcome the outcomes of the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery and look forward to the third Arab Forum on Asset Recovery. The G-7 remains committed to working with governments and global financial centres to follow up on asset recovery efforts.

21.      We remain committed to the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, and welcome the call made at the Saving Every Woman, Every Child Summit in Toronto to accelerate progress on this global priority. In addition we are committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and ending child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and other harmful practices. The health and well-being of women and children are improved through ensuring universal access to affordable, quality, essential health services, strengthening health, education and child protection systems and improving nutrition and access to immunisation. We recognise the impact of the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and welcome its efforts to expand access to vaccines to an additional 300 million children during 2016-2020. We welcome Germany’s offer to host the second replenishment in early 2015, reaffirm our commitment, and call on other public and private donors to contribute to the replenishment of the GAVI Alliance. We reaffirm our commitment to an AIDS free generation and to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to reduce the burden of these three major infectious diseases on eligible countries and regions.

22.      To address the threat posed by infectious diseases, we support the Global Health Security Agenda and commit to working with partner countries to strengthen compliance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations and enhance health security around the world.  We commit to working across sectors to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or the result of a deliberate act by a state or non-state actor. That includes building global capacity so that we are better prepared for threats such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and working together, in close cooperation with WHO, to develop a Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance.

23.      We continue to strongly support comprehensive approaches to achieve global food security and nutrition. We look forward to the second International Conference on Nutrition in November 2014 and the Expo Milan 2015, which will provide a platform for the global post-2015 debate on sustainability and food and nutrition security. We continue to support the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition under strong African leadership and the successful completion of principles for responsible agricultural investment by the Committee on World Food Security. These will better enable smallholder farmers, especially women, to benefit from sustainable rural development. We continue to support the consistent implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, including by building on the land partnerships we launched in 2013 and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme.

Ukraine

24.   We welcome the successful conduct under difficult circumstances of the election in Ukraine on 25 May. The strong voter turnout underlined the determination of Ukraine’s citizens to determine the future of their country.  We welcome Petro Poroshenko as the President-elect of Ukraine and commend him for reaching out to all the people of Ukraine.

25.   In the face of unacceptable interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs by the Russian Federation, we stand by the Ukrainian government and people. We call upon the illegal armed groups to disarm. We encourage the Ukrainian authorities to maintain a measured approach in pursuing operations to restore law and order. We fully support the substantial contribution made by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the de-escalation of the crisis through the Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE instruments. We commend the willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to continue the national dialogue in an inclusive manner. We welcome the “Memorandum of Peace and Unity” adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 20 May and express the wish that it can be implemented rapidly.  We also encourage the Ukrainian parliament and the Government of Ukraine to continue to pursue constitutional reform in order to provide a framework for deepening and strengthening democracy and accommodating the rights and aspirations of all people in all regions of Ukraine.

26.   The G-7 are committed to continuing to work with Ukraine to support its economic development, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We encourage the fulfilment of Ukraine’s commitment to pursue the difficult reforms that will be crucial to support economic stability and unlock private sector-led growth. We welcome the decision of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to approve a $17 billion programme for Ukraine, which will anchor other bilateral and multilateral assistance and loans, including around $18 billion foreseen to date from G-7 partners.  We welcome the swift disbursement of macro-economic support for Ukraine. We support an international donor coordination mechanism to ensure effective delivery of economic assistance and we welcome the EU’s intention to hold a high-level coordination meeting in Brussels. We welcome ongoing efforts to diversify Ukraine’s sources of gas, including through recent steps in the EU towards enabling reverse gas flow capacities and look forward to the successful conclusion of the talks, facilitated by the European Commission, on gas transit and supply from the Russian Federation to Ukraine.

27.   We are united in condemning the Russian Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to de-stabilise eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop. These actions violate fundamental principles of international law and should be a concern for all nations.  We urge the Russian Federation to recognise the results of the election, complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border and to exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence. We call on the Russian Federation to meet the commitments it made in the Geneva Joint Statement and cooperate with the government of Ukraine as it implements its plans for promoting peace, unity and reform.

28.   We confirm the decision by G-7 countries to impose sanctions on individuals and entities who have actively supported or implemented the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and who are threatening the peace, security and stability of Ukraine. We are implementing a strict policy of non-recognition with respect to Crimea/Sevastopol, in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262. We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require.

29.   The projects funded by the donor community to convert the Chernobyl site into a stable and environmentally safe condition have reached an advanced stage of completion. While recognizing the complexity of these first of a kind projects, we call upon all concerned parties to make an additional effort to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion and call upon project parties to keep costs under control. This remains a high priority for us.

Syria

30.   We strongly condemn the Assad regime’s brutality which drives a conflict that has killed more than 160,000 people and left 9.3 million in need of humanitarian assistance. We denounce the 3 June sham presidential election: there is no future for Assad in Syria. We again endorse the Geneva Communiqué, which calls for a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers and agreed by mutual consent, based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.  We strongly condemn the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and indiscriminate artillery shelling and aerial bombardment by the Syrian regime. There is evidence that extremist groups have also perpetrated grave human rights abuses. All those responsible for such abuses must be held to account. We welcome the commitment of the National Coalition and Free Syrian Army to uphold international law.  We deplore Russia and China’s decision to veto the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution draft authorising referral to the International Criminal Court and demanding accountability for the serious and ongoing crimes committed in Syria.

31.   We are committed to supporting the neighbouring countries bearing the burden of Syrian refugee inflows and deplore the failure to implement UNSC Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance. We urge all parties to the conflict to allow access to aid for all those in need, by the most direct routes, including across borders and conflict lines, and support further urgent action by the UNSC to that end. In our funding we decide to give particular support to humanitarian actors that can reach those most in need, including across borders. We call for the international community to meet the enormous funding needs of the UN appeals for Syria and its neighbours. We resolve to intensify our efforts to address the threat arising from foreign fighters travelling to Syria. We are deeply concerned by allegations of repeated chemical agent use and call on all parties in Syria to cooperate fully with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission. We call on Syria to comply with its obligations under UNSC Resolution 2118, decisions of the Executive Council of the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure the swift removal of its remaining chemical stockpile for destruction, and to destroy its production facilities immediately and answer all questions regarding its declaration to the OPCW.

Libya

32.   We reaffirm our support for a free, prosperous and democratic Libya which will play its role in promoting regional stability.  We express serious concern at the recent violence and urge all Libyans to engage with the political process through peaceful and inclusive means, underpinned by respect for the rule of law.  We urge continued and coordinated engagement by the international community to support the Libyan transition and efforts to promote political dialogue, in coordination with the UN and with the UN Support Mission in Libya fulfilling its mandate in that respect.   We ask all in the international community to respect fully Libyan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in its affairs. In this framework, we commend the proposal of the High National Electoral Commission, endorsed by the General National Congress, to convene the elections on June 25. We emphasise the importance of these elections in restarting the political process and appreciate the vital work of the Constitution Drafting Assembly.

Mali and Central African Republic

33.   We welcome the ceasefire signed on May 23 by the Malian Government and armed groups in the North of Mali, thanks to efforts by the African Union, through its Presidency, and the UN. We reaffirm our strong commitment to a political solution and to an inclusive dialogue process that must start without delay, as prescribed by the Ouagadougou agreement and UNSC decisions. We fully support the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali efforts in stabilising the country and, with the commitment of neighbouring countries, including Algeria, Mauritania and the Economic Community of West African States, in working for a durable settlement respectful of the unity, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Mali.

34.   We commend the role played on the ground in the Central African Republic by the AU-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, together with the forces sent by France and the European Union, to support the transition and encourage the Transitional Authorities to take urgent concrete steps toward holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. We fully support the UN efforts in the areas of security, reconciliation, preparation of the elections, and humanitarian assistance.

Iran

35.   We reaffirm our strong commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue and welcome the efforts by the E3+3, led by High Representative Ashton, and Iran to negotiate a comprehensive solution that provides confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. We underline the importance of the continuing effective implementation by the E3+3 and Iran of the Joint Plan of Action. We call on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency on verification of Iran’s nuclear activities and to resolve all outstanding issues, including, critically, those relating to possible military dimensions.   We strongly urge Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. We call on Iran to play a more constructive role in supporting regional security, in particular in Syria, and to reject all acts of terrorism and terrorist groups.

North Korea

36.   We strongly condemn North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.  We urge North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions and commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. We call on the international community to implement fully UN sanctions. We reiterate our grave concerns over the ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in North Korea documented in the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, and urge North Korea to take immediate steps to address these violations, including on the abductions issue, and cooperate fully with all relevant UN bodies. We continue to work to advance accountability for North Korea’s serious human rights violations.

Middle East Peace Process

37.   We fully support the United States’ efforts to secure a negotiated two-state solution.  We regret that greater progress has not been made by the parties and urge them to find the common ground and political strength needed to resume the process. A negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict. We call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any unilateral action which may further undermine peace efforts and affect the viability of a two-state solution.

Afghanistan

38.   We renew our long-term commitment to a democratic, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan and our enduring partnership with the Government of Afghanistan based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. The first round of presidential elections and the provincial council elections marked a historic achievement, especially for the more than 2.5 million women who voted, and we look forward to the completion of the electoral process. We continue to assist the Government of Afghanistan to strengthen their institutions of governance, reduce corruption, combat terrorism, support economic growth, and counter narcotics.  We continue to actively support an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation.

Maritime Navigation and Aviation

39. We reaffirm the importance of maintaining a maritime order based upon the universally-agreed principles of international law. We remain committed to international cooperation to combat piracy and other maritime crime, consistent with international law and internationally recognised principles of jurisdiction in international waters. We are deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea. We oppose any unilateral attempt by any party to assert its territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force. We call on all parties to clarify and pursue their territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law. We support the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including through legal dispute settlement mechanisms.  We also support confidence-building measures. We underscore the importance of the freedom of navigation and overflight and also the effective management of civil air traffic based on international law and International Civil Aviation Organization standards and practices.

Other Issues

40.   We reaffirm our commitment to the protection and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, for all persons. We recognise the need to show unprecedented resolve to promote gender equality, to end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, to end child, early and forced marriage and to promote full participation and empowerment of all women and girls. We look forward to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict taking place in London later this month.

41.   We reiterate our condemnation of terrorism and our commitment to cooperate in all relevant fora to prevent and respond to terrorism effectively, and in a comprehensive manner, while respecting human rights and the rule of law. We condemn the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by Boko Haram as an unconscionable crime and intend do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

42.   We confirm that non-proliferation/disarmament issues remain a top priority and welcome the G-7 Non-proliferation Directors Group statement issued today.

Conclusion

43.    We look forward to meeting under the Presidency of Germany in 2015.