Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 14, 2011 – 1:07 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Over the weekend, as you know, the President was briefed multiple times on the situation in Japan in the wake of the tragic earthquake and tsunami there. USAID is leading our humanitarian assistance effort with the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others.
Here at the White House, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan is coordinating an interagency process with regards to Japan and engaging with relevant officials from across the government. Because we knew that you would have a lot of questions about the situation in Japan, especially with regard to nuclear issues, I brought with me today, asked to come today, Greg JACZKO, who is the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He can answer questions people have about the safety of American citizens in Japan, as well as he can just generally update Americans about the impact of the accident — or rather the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake.
And then I also have Dan Poneman, who is our Deputy Secretary of Energy, and he can outline everything that we are doing to assist Japan as it deals with the aftermath.
With that, I’ll ask these two gentlemen to speak. If you could address the questions related to their areas to them, and then we’ll let them get out of here and get back to work. And I will take questions on other issues. Thanks very much.
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: If I could just start with just a few points. First and foremost, based on the type of reactor design and the nature of the accident we see a very low likelihood, really a very low probability that there’s any possibility of harmful radiation levels in the United States or in Hawaii, or in any other U.S. territories.
Right now, based on the information we have, we believe that the steps that the Japanese are taking to respond to this crisis are consistent with the approach that we would use here in the United States. And most importantly, we advise Americans in Japan to listen to and to follow the instructions of the Japanese government with regard to the nuclear facilities.
The agency has been providing technical assistance to the Japanese government as they are requesting, and in particular, we have dispatched two technical experts to Japan and are continuing to assemble a team of experts that would be dispatched in the near future.
So with that, I will then turn to Dan.
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Jay.
We have been working very closely with our colleagues throughout the interagency process here at the Department of Energy. We’ve been by Secretary Chu — I just came from speaking with him on this matter and we’ve been speaking continuously throughout the weekend. John Brennan has been coordinating matters interagency. We have had frequent meetings in person, we’ve had frequent meetings over the telephone, as we are trying to respond to all of the data that we are taking in.
We’ve also been in very, very close, continuous consultation, all hours of the day, with Ambassador John Roos — and hats off to him for the incredible job he and the country team have been doing as they’ve been coordinating the American response. And as appropriate, given their independent regulatory status, we’re making sure we share information as appropriate with Chairman JACZKO and our colleagues over at the NRC.
We have focused our efforts on consulting very, very closely with our Japanese colleagues. We also have dispatched subject matter experts — both reactor experts and an expert on emergency response. We are in consultation with them and we will make sure that any requirement that they have we are prepared to meet. And we are talking with them even on a real-time basis as that proceeds. So we have technical expertise already there on the ground. We have additional capabilities if and as needed. Of course, the Japanese government has tremendous capabilities on their own, but because a matter of this nature requires all of our best efforts, we stand ready to assist as required.
MR. CARNEY: What I’ll do is I’ll go ahead and call on people. Ben, why don’t you start?
Q Thank you. Chairman Jaczko, can you give us a sense of how President Obama is getting briefed about this nuclear crisis in Japan and the risk to the people there? And also, in the plainest terms you can, can you describe sort of the nature of what we’re seeing and just how bad it is?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Well, I would turn to one of the others about the President’s briefings.
MR. CARNEY: Let me just say, Ben, if I could, the President was briefed multiple times over the weekend. He has been briefed this morning and is being updated throughout the day. John Brennan, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, is taking a lead on that and gathering information and coordinating the briefings the President gets with all the relevant officials in the government.
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: It terms of the second part of your question, it is a serious situation certainly in Japan. The efforts right now of the Japanese government, with our assistance where they’ve requested it, is to continue to look for ways to provide the ability to keep the reactors cool. And that is a process that has been ongoing now for some time, and we continue to provide assistance where we can. In particular, they have asked for additional types of equipment that will help provide water and other resources to ensure that the reactors continue to be cool.
Q Has there been a partial meltdown in any of these reactors there?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: At this time, we don’t really have detailed information about the nature of the core in the reactor itself. But it is a situation in which there has been a loss of the normal type of cooling mechanisms to the reactor. So as the situation continues to develop we’ll get better information. But right now, the focus has been to do everything possible to ensure that the reactor continues to be cooled.
Q And this incident leading to any safety concerns at nuclear facilities here in the United States?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Well, as I said, from the NRC’s perspective, we are always focused on the safety and security of nuclear power plants in this country. That will always be something that we do. Whenever there’s any new information, we always take that information into consideration and make changes if necessary. But right now we continue to believe that nuclear power plants in this country operate safely and securely.
I’ll stop at that point.
MR. CARNEY: Jill.
Q Following up on that, is there any attempt, though, at this stage to assess, carry out a study of the ability of these plants in the United States to withstand an earthquake? Because after all, you have California. And also at least one of the reactors in jeopardy apparently in Japan uses that MOX fuel. Is there more concern about that, heightened — any situation with the venting?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Well, with regard to the U.S. power plants, the U.S. power plants are designed to very high standards for earthquake effects. All our plants are designed to withstand significant natural phenomena like earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunamis. So we believe we have a very solid and strong regulatory infrastructure in place right now. But of course, as we always do, as an independent regulatory agency, we will continue to take new information and see if there are changes that we need to make with our program.
With regard to the MOX fuel, again, we are providing assistance to the Japanese where they request our assistance. And at this time, they have not asked for any specific information with regard to the MOX fuel.
Q You just talked about how the high standards are here in the United States domestically. What are the differences in safety standards between what Japan has and what the United States does have?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Well, right now as I said, our focus is always on keeping the nuclear power plants in this country secure. We are also putting a strong focus right now on providing technical expertise to the Japanese as they request it. Questions about exactly the differences and what changes we might want to consider and look at in this country is something we’ll deal with down the road. But bottom line right now, we believe that the plants in this country continue to be designed to a very high standard for seismic and tsunami-type events.
Q There’s already been calls — this might be more for Jay, but there are already calls for moratoriums in the United States. For example, Congressman Markey called for that. Does the President know about these calls for changes in U.S. handling of this issue? And you said you were reviewing, but what is the timeline for that? This is obviously something that Americans are concerned about.
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Again, as an independent regulatory agency, we will always take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety and security of nuclear power plants in this country. But right now we believe we have a very strong program in place. As we get more information from Japan, as this immediate crisis ultimately comes to an end, we will look at whatever information we can gain from this event and see if there are changes we need to make to our system.
I would just add as a similar scenario, following the 2004 tsunami, we did review tsunami requirements for nuclear power plants, and, in fact, went and made sure that our plants would be able do deal with that type of event.
MR. CARNEY: Chip.
Q Would plants in the United States be able to withstand a quake of this magnitude?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Again, I don’t want to speculate on anything like that at this point.
Q But are they planned to be able to — I know they try to estimate what they would be able to withstand. I know in Japan, for example, this one I believe was only built to withstand a 7.9 or something like that. In the United States, are they built to withstand a quake of this magnitude, of an 8.9?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: At this point what I can say is we have a strong safety program in place to deal with seismic events that are likely to happen at any nuclear facility in this country. As we get past this immediate crisis where we continue to provide support to the Japanese, we’ll gather information about the specifics of the event. But I don’t want to speculate too much about what exactly were the relevant factors in Japan at this point.
Q And one other question. You said that there’s a “very low likelihood,” I believe were your words, of harmful radiation making it to Hawaii or the West Coast. Is that based on the condition of those plants right now, or is that based on a partial meltdown or, heaven forbid, a total meltdown? Could that change your assessment?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: The information about harmful — the lack of any harmful impacts to the U.S. is simply based on the nature of these reactors and the large distances, obviously, between those and any U.S. territory. So you just aren’t going to have any radiological material that by the time it traveled those large distances could present any risk to the American public.
Q Even in a worst-case scenario, even with a meltdown, you’re not going to have harmful radiation reach Hawaii or the West Coast?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Again, I don’t want to speculate on various scenarios, but based on the design and the distances involved, it is very unlikely that there would be any harmful impacts.
MR. CARNEY: Mike.
Q Do you gentlemen worry about perhaps an overreaction in this country, seeing a nuclear problem in another country, in terms of policymakers running away from nuclear energy?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: I would defer to Dan.
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: I think you just heard very clearly from Chairman Jaczko that we place safety paramount when it comes to the regulation of our nuclear power plants, and we always will. That having been said, we have to have an energy policy and a direction in this country that’s driven by our overall assessment of our country’s best interest.
In that respect, we are going to continue to seek to diversify our energy supplies. We’re going to continue to make sure that each and every one of those sources is as safe as is humanly possible. And we will continue to take all learnings into account as we proceed from episodes that happened, from hypothetical that we might be able to come up with. It’s a matter — it’s nothing new about it. It’s a matter of our continuous approach to our own development of our safety resources — our energy resources to make sure that they’re done continuously and safely. Each event as it occurs is taken into account, but we don’t sort of change from day to day our overall approach to the desire to diversify our overall energy posture.
Q And nuclear is a key component in your interest in diversification, correct?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: Nuclear power has been a critical component to the U.S. energy portfolio. We have 104 operating reactors — that’s 20 percent of the electricity of this country; 70 percent of the carbon-free electricity in this country comes from nuclear power. So we do see nuclear power as continuing to play an important role in building a low-carbon future. But be assured that we will take the safety aspect of that as our paramount concern.
And under the independent regulatory authority, going back to 1974, the NRC, which is independent and is, therefore, at arms’ length, will ensure that we live up to exactly those kinds of high standards that the President expects us to use in operating those plants.
Q And quickly, it is critical to reaching your mission goals, correct — nuclear energy?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: We view nuclear energy as a very important component to the overall portfolio we’re trying to build for a clean energy future.
Q I want to follow up on a question and see if we can get Jay to answer on this — the moratoria issue. I think it was Senator Lieberman said over the weekend that what’s gone on in Japan should cause us to put the brakes for the moment on nuclear power plant development in America. Does the administration agree with that?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: I’m happy to start and others can supplement.
As I said, going back decades, every experience that we have with respect to our nuclear plants we take fully into account. Certainly back in March 1979 at the time of the Three Mile Island episode, there were a tremendous amount of learnings that we applied to the improvement of safety in our fleet. Our reactors are much safer today because of all those learnings that have been applied.
We continually hypothesize new scenarios of different types and never stop our efforts to continue to exercise our capabilities, to assess the possibilities, and to ensure that our reactors can operate as safely as possible. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to seek to improve. We’ll certainly take the learnings out of this experience and apply those as well. And we know, because of the independence of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that in terms of operating our reactors only if they can operated safely, that is a responsibility that is properly reposed in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Q So a pause isn’t necessary?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: From a policy perspective, we will continue to operate our reactors and seek to operate them safely. We will continue to seek to build nuclear into a part of a responsible energy future, and we will repose our confidence in the NRC to make sure that we only do so to the extent that it can be done safely.
MR. CARNEY: Athena, I would just add that we have the plants that we have already in operation that provide 20 percent of the electricity in the United States. And information is still coming in from Japan, so as we evaluate that information, these gentlemen have made clear that they will incorporate that into how we view safety and security of nuclear energy as a resource.
But it remains a part of the President’s overall energy plan when he talks about reaching a clean energy standard it’s a vital part of that. And as we get more information about Japan and what happened there, that can be incorporated. But right now, we remain committed to the clean energy standard and the other aspects of the President’s energy plan.
Q Mr. Chairman, do you have NRC people in Japan now?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: We currently have two NRC technical experts in Japan. They are working to provide information to the U.S. embassy, as well as to interface with their colleagues in the Japan regulatory authority.
Q And from your understanding of the situation now with the Japanese reactors, is it as bad as it’s going to get, or might it get worse?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Again, I don’t want to speculate on how this may progress. I would say it is a serious situation, and we continue to provide whatever assistance is requested from us and is necessary — assistance requested or necessary by the Japanese government. And I would it is a — Japan is a technically advanced nuclear country and they possess significant technical resources and capability on their own.
Q Jay, so there’s nothing — the President hasn’t seen anything in Japan that will lead him to change his position that the U.S. should continue to get power from nuclear sources and increase that amount in the future?
MR. CARNEY: Dan, from a policy point of view — but again, this is a — information is still coming in. I think these gentlemen have addressed the issues of safety and security of the American nuclear energy program. And as more information comes in, obviously it will be evaluated. But 20 percent of our electricity is generated by nuclear power. It is already a major component of our energy here I in the United States.
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: If I could add, just again to reiterate I think the point that’s been made, that we are an independent regulatory authority and we always keep focus on a day-to-day basis on the safety and security of nuclear reactors in this country. So if we do get information that would cause us to take action, we will take that action. But at this time, we don’t have any information that would cause us to do anything different with our approach with the current reactors. But we will review information as it becomes available.
MR. CARNEY: A couple of more.
Q Mr. Chairman, of those two technical advisors you have there, are they in Tokyo? Are they up near the facility? Are they getting information from the Japanese government? And how would you describe the Japanese government’s description of what’s going on? Are they being forthcoming with both the public and with you?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Well, our two experts are in Tokyo and they are providing assistance to both the U.S. embassy as well an interface with our Japanese counterparts. And we continue to work to provide resources and assistance as we can.
Q Are they getting information, technical information from the Japanese? Are they watching press reports about what they’re seeing going on? To what extent are they really hearing what’s going on?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Right now, they’re providing a very valuable resource to us to give us direct information from Japan about what’s going on. And that’s coming from a variety of sources, including interaction with counterparts in their regulatory —
Q Has the government of Japan been very cautious about what it’s putting out publicly? They didn’t have much urgency at the beginning and it’s gotten more and more urgent.
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Again, from what I’ve seen, we continue to see a very aggressive effort to deal with what is a very difficult situation in Japan right now.
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: Can I just supplement that by saying that we’ve been in consultation through Ambassador Roos. He’s been in continuous consultation with Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano. And we have two subject matter experts over there as well, and they are in communication with their counterparts.
Q Have you supplied any actual equipment to the Japanese? Have they requested anything?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: Well, we are ready to provide equipment. We have talked to them about what they have. As of this morning, there may be some additional information that Chairman Jaczko may wish to comment on. But what we are making sure of is, A, of course they have a lot of equipment on their own, but, B, such equipment as we have — and we have equipment that can do aerial monitoring of ground deposition — that’s available. We have emergency response equipment. That’s available. We’re not starting from a blank slate, though, because the Japanese already have a lot of equipment, and we’re just making sure we’ve got what we need to supplement.
MR. CARNEY: Why don’t we — one question from the Japanese media and then we’ll wrap this part up.
Q With the accident at the nuclear plant over the weekend, has there been any direct impact from that on the U.S. support teams that are already in the area? Have they had to alter their plans at all as a result?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: I would defer that question to AID, I believe. They have better information about the teams. The two NRC officials who are in Tokyo have not experienced any issues that I’m aware of. But, obviously, their safety — their personal safety is important to us. But in Tokyo, there is no direct impact from the nuclear incident itself.
Q Can you talk then more generally about the logistical challenges of going into an area with such unprecedented damage?
CHAIRMAN JACZKO: Again, I would defer some of those broader questions to the folks at AID that we’ve been working with very closely to help provide that logistical support.
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: I would just add to that, our DOE people have not been impaired in their ability to reach out to their Japanese counterparts. And in fact, at the Ambassador’s request, we’re sending another technical expert to join the team so they’ve got more subject matter expertise there.
In the context of the coordination that Mr. Brennan has been doing from the homeland perspective, we are making sure and working very closely with our colleagues in the Pentagon to make sure that any assets from a U.S. government perspective that need to be brought in there, we make available whatever assets we have through them, working with AID, as well.
Q Can I ask about nuclear waste, please? It’s very important.
MR. CARNEY: I want to let these guys go for now.
Q Can we ask you about it?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll take one question on nuclear waste, Connie.
Q Thank you. Is the U.S. reviewing its policy now on nuclear waste? And what are the Japanese doing in the midst of this crisis with their nuclear waste?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: I would segregate what they’re doing in the middle of this crisis with respect to their nuclear waste. The first focus in the crisis, obviously, is getting the coolant to the cores of the affected reactors. And of course, there is spent fuel present at the reactors and making sure that that used fuel remains cooled properly and so forth.
From a U.S. perspective, we are still very closely evaluating our options. And the principal mechanism here, as you well know, is that President Obama asked Secretary Chu to convene a high-level panel of very distinguished Americans, chaired by Mr. Lee Hamilton, former congressman, and retired general Brent Scowcroft. And that group is going to be looking at all the options having to do with the back end of the fuel cycle for the United States of America, and by July will be coming back with some interim views on the options we ought to think about going forward. I’m sure they’re going to be taking all of these experiences, data coming out of this experience into account.
Q Are you confident that Japanese nuclear waste is safe now?
DEPUTY SECRETARY PONEMAN: In terms of Japanese regulation of Japanese nuclear waste, I would refer you to the Japanese regulatory authorities.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, gentlemen, very much. I appreciate it. We’ll move on to the rest of the briefing. Thank you for coming.
Thanks for holding in abeyance your questions on other issues. Ben.
Q Two quick ones, Jay. I know that the President’s concern first and foremost is about health and safety as it relates to this disaster. But is he also concerned about the impact the Japan natural disaster could have on the world economy?
MR. CARNEY: Ben, we have full confidence in the capacity of Japan to address the economic challenges during these exceptionally difficult times. We’re monitoring, as we do always, the global economic environment, but we stand ready to assist the Japanese who are our friends and allies in any way that we can. And it’s important to remember that the Japanese have demonstrated a great resiliency and ability to pull together during times of adversity, and we are confident that they will overcome this challenge and recover from this tragedy.
Q And on one other topic, on the meeting that the President is having with General Petraeus, could you just tell us a bit about why he’s here? And specifically, is this a meeting at which he — the General plans to talk about troop withdrawal plans in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the General, as you know, is here. He is testifying on the Hill this week, and he is here meeting with the President today — well, they meet with some regularity — but to brief him on the progress we’re making in Afghanistan. And as part of that discussion, yes, I believe they will discuss the President’s plan to being a transition process in July of 2011, which will begin a process that will lead to turning over the security lead to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.
Q Jay, I saw the statement this morning about Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries, but if this is the case that you have Saudi Arabia sending its forces into Bahrain, isn’t that a gross violation of the sovereignty of another country?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re aware of those reports and that other GCC countries are considering doing that. We urge all of our GCC partners to show restraint and to respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it. The important factor here is that our overall principles apply to Bahrain and all the countries in the region, which is that we urge restraint. We urge nonviolence in response to nonviolent protesters; the respect for the universal rights of people in the region to gather peacefully, to voice their opinions, to have their grievances heard by their governments, and to have greater participation in the political process.
We have long believed and the President has expressed for a long time now that stability in the region will be brought about by dialogue and political reform. And it is counterproductive to that goal to in any way repress the expression of those desires that the people of Bahrain, in this case, and other countries, have.
Q Jay, that’s a very diplomatic way of saying that the U.S. is unhappy about what’s going on. But if another country, if Iran had decided to go into another country because they felt it was the right thing to do, what would the United States be saying? And I know it’s a hypothetical, but this appears to be pretty serious.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think you have to understand what — I mean, we’ve seen the reports that you’re talking about. This is not an invasion of a country.
Q Right, but there are security forces.
MR. CARNEY: It is — correct. And we urge the government of Bahrain, as we have repeatedly, as well as other GCC countries to exercise restraint, and not to meet the nonviolent protests of people legitimately expressing their concerns and asking to have their voices heard with any kind of physical violence. So we — that — we call on, again, the government of Bahrain as well as other countries in the region that — to hear this message.
Q Did you get any advance warning that this was going to happen, the Saudis moving in?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that for you, Steve. As far as —
Q As far as you know — okay.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I don’t have anything for you on that.
Q Are we calling on the Saudis to leave?
MR. CARNEY: We are calling on the Saudis, the other members of the GCC countries, as well as the Bahraini government, to show restraint; and that we believe that political dialogue is the way to address the unrest that has occurred in the region, in Bahrain and in other countries, and not to in any way suppress it.
Q Over the weekend you sent out a statement responding to the Arab League’s endorsement of a no-fly zone, but you didn’t obviously indicate whether the United States supports that or not. Knowing that all options are still on the table, isn’t it approaching a situation where it might be too little, too late, in Libya to enact this no-fly zone?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, we have discussions going on at the United Nations in New York regarding various options, military options, as well as non-military, and specifically a no-fly zone option. We have, as you know, tomorrow and then Wednesday at NATO, a process by which the plans that were being reviewed and refined that address a no-fly option will be presented to the NAC on Wednesday. And so we are, as we have said, constantly reviewing our options, refining our options, and this process is moving along.
The situation in Libya — we continue to condemn the use of violence against the Libyan people by the Qaddafi regime, and we are encouraged by the international condemnation of that and by the actions taken by the Arab League, for example, because we believe that whatever actions we do take should be international and especially should represent the will of the people in the region and the countries in the region. And that’s why the Arab League’s voice on this is so important.
Q Knowing that you are — could potentially be — could be moving forward on this this week, but doesn’t that — there’s been some voiced concern from foreign counterparts that that might nullify the goal of a no-fly zone, to enact it a little too late. Is there no concern —
MR. CARNEY: Well, Sunlen, again, I would say that the — to go back to things we’ve talked about last week, the speed of the international reaction here has been quite remarkable and we are not letting up on our pressure, as the President made clear on Friday. I would note that, as you probably know, Secretary Clinton is in Paris where she will meet with opposition leaders, Libyan opposition leaders, as well as G8 counterparts to discuss some of these issues.
So we are moving with a great deal of haste and in coordination with our international partners, again with the kind of deliberation and speed that the situation requires, mindful of the fact that the decisions we’re talking about here are significant ones and need to be made with everyone’s eyes open to what they mean and what the goals are — and I mean that with regard to a variety of possible options.
Q Jay, following up on the no-fly zone, my understanding is there are now about five ships off the coast of Libya, three U.S. submarines off the coast, presumably with cruise missiles, plus you’ve got plenty of NATO aircraft at bases in the vicinity. Is the hardware now in place where if the President and other leaders were to give the order, that they could pull the trigger on a no-fly zone right now?
MR. CARNEY: Chip, what I would say, first of all, for the technical requirements to impose a no-fly zone, I would refer you to NATO, to the Defense Department. But what I think Secretary Gates has made clear and others have made clear is that this has never been a case about what our capabilities are. Obviously the United States of America has the capacity with its international partners to engage — activate a no-fly zone, as well as take a variety of other potential measures.
The issue is making sure that the policy decisions we make, we make collectively with our international partners, because it is very important that the response be an international one and not just an American one, and that we are cognizant of what the goals are and whether they’re achievable, and what the impacts of that decision will be.
Q But there’s no big lag period? If they decide Tuesday, Wednesday to —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have specifics on what technical requirements have to be met in order to begin to implement an option like that. I would refer you to NATO probably for that.
Q Just one more question. Following up on Ben’s when he asked you about the global economic impact here, you basically responded with your confidence in the resiliency of Japan. But even if Japan does respond as well as could possibly be expected, this could still have a significant effect on the global economy. In discussions back there that you’ve been a part of or are aware of, have you heard economic advisors for the administration suggest that what could happen here is the same thing that happened last year with the Greek crisis, delaying the economic recovery? Could this have that same kind of effect on the economic recovery again?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would just say, Chip, that these are still early days, but that we remain confident that Japan and, therefore, the world can deal with this crisis and respond and rebuild in a way that is good for Japan and good for the world. So we have that confidence and we therefore believe that — the resiliency of the Japanese people, the resiliency of the Japanese economy are very important factors in the capacity of Japan to handle this, and therefore the world working with Japan to handle it as well.
Q The recovery is safe?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just refer you to what I said.
Q A quick one on the gun laws. President Obama wrote an op-ed over the weekend and he said, “None of us should be willing to remain passive in the face of violence or resigned to watching helplessly as another rampage unfolds on television.” So the question is what is the administration prepared to do actively, to actively support legislation-wise? For instance, Representative McCarthy’s bill to ban high-round magazines — is that something that the President or administration officials will come out in support for?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I’ve said in the past still holds, which we will review proposed legislation as it comes up. I don’t have any announcements for what we would support. But I would also say that the Department of Justice has reached out to stakeholders on all sides of this issue and they’re going to be holding a series of discussions as a first step, and that some of those meetings are happening this week.
So we are — the President made his views known in the op-ed that you referred to. And the Department of Justice is continuing this process by meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to look at ways that we can find common ground to take some common-sense measures that respect Americans’ Second Amendment rights, but also deal in a common-sense way with Americans’ safety and security.
Q So the administration wouldn’t put forth legislation on its own or spearhead a plan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to speculate about what we may or may not do legislatively, except to say that we are engaged in this process.
Q Sort of on what Chip was talking about, is there — how much aid is the United States willing to give to Japan? And have there been discussions in the administration about financial assistance and what that amount might look like? Have the Japanese made any specific requests?
MR. CARNEY: I think we are now in the phase of dealing with the immediate crisis, and we are offering any and all assistance that we can provide that the Japanese request and need to help them deal with it. They are a very close ally and we stand ready to assist them in any way that we can. Long term, obviously, we’ll have to evaluate what the needs are and how we can help. But we’re committed to helping Japan recover from this.
Q Have there been any discussions about that internally, in terms of what —
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, because we are literally dealing with the aftermath, the considerable aftermath of a terrible situation caused by this earthquake and tsunami.
Q Just one quick thing on education — and obviously that’s an area where the White House sees room for compromise and bipartisanship — would you consider Race to the Top an area where you have consensus? Or is that an area where the White House thinks that they might need to do some work in order to get consensus?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are consulting with our partners on Capitol Hill of both parties on education reform regularly. And Race to the Top already has received a great deal of bipartisan support. We think it’s been a very effective program and a good model for education reform. And we expect that bipartisan support to continue — which doesn’t mean we take it for granted. And in the process of improving the law, we’ll be working with Republicans and Democrats going forward, but we do expect it to happen this year.
Q Jay, on a funding bill, does it look to the White House as though you will get a three-week extension before the end of the week?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to put timing on it, Mark. But we — the cuts that have been outlined in that temporary measure are ones that we have already identified as acceptable. So we believe that we should be able to get something done. But again, we are focused on the process of achieving a resolution for the full fiscal year. Those conversations and negotiations are ongoing and that is our primary focus.
As the President said on Friday, because of the time it took to allow the process in the Senate to take place where the Senate voted on the Republican measure that emerged from the House and the Senate Democratic measure, it became necessary to give us the breathing space to negotiate the final CR for the fiscal year. But that remains our focus. And we remain absolutely committed to the idea that we need to get this done, last year’s business done as soon as possible so we can focus on some of these other big challenges that we face.
Q And Vice President Biden will be taking the lead on that now that he’s back from Europe?
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is a team effort. Vice President Biden is back from his trip and I’m sure he will be very much engaged in that process going forward.
Q Thank you, Jay. If the U.S. wants — believes that the legitimate grievances of Bahraini people need to be met, why not call upon Saudi forces to withdraw?
MR. CARNEY: Peter, I don’t have anything more for you on that. We are calling on the countries in the region to show restraint and pointing to the fact that the dialogue that can bring about political reform is essential for the stability of the countries in the region and their continued economic prosperity. Because we believe, as the President has said going back to his speech in Cairo, that it is — the unrest that we have seen is a result of the lack of dialogue and the lack of engagement with the peoples in the region in their governments and in the political process.
Q And also, you mentioned in Egypt that the — Mubarak was on this wrong side of history. Is that Bahraini monarchy also on the wrong side of history?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have called on the Bahraini government to — as we have others in the region — to have a dialogue with their people, to listen to their grievances, to adopt political reforms, to respect the universal rights of their people. And I think, broadly speaking, in the countries of the region, the leaders in the region will be judged by how they deal with this process. And we think it’s important for the future of the region, for the peoples in these countries, that their voices be heard and their legitimate aspirations be addressed.
Q Going back to the op-ed of President Obama on gun control — the President talked about the mental competency of the gunman in Arizona, how he could not get into the U.S. military, how he could not get into a college, but yet he still purchased a gun. Is that President looking at any — what kind of ways does the President want there to be issues of judging mental competency in purchasing a gun? Or is that something that he’s looking for in anything — any gun control measures that come along?
MR. CARNEY: That level of specificity, I don’t have, April. But I think that his point that he’s making is that we can honor our Second Amendment rights while still ensuring that, as you noted, that someone with a criminal record shouldn’t be able to check out a gun seller; that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to buy a gun so easily. I mean, there is room for us to have reasonable laws that uphold liberty, ensure citizen safety, respect the Second Amendment, and that we should be able to find some common ground on some of those measures. I don’t want to detail what those measures are or what he has in mind, specifically. The conversations are beginning along those lines at the Department of Justice.
Q Do conversations include gun shows, purchases at gun shows?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have — I don’t want to narrowly define specific measures that may or may not be proposed. We’re looking at possible legislation and we’re having conversations with stakeholders on all sides of the issue.
Q Thanks, Jay. I have some questions for you on marriage. Last week, the Maryland statehouse recommitted a bill legalizing same-sex marriage to committee because proponents didn’t feel like they had enough votes for passage. The measure is effectively dead for this year even though Democrats have control of the chamber. By not supporting same-sex marriage, is the President, as head of the Democratic Party, giving cover to Democrats in that chamber who don’t support the bill?
MR. CARNEY: Chris, the President’s position on gay marriage is well known. He addressed this in December at the press conference and I don’t have anything new for you on that.
Q So is the President not concerned that this measure failed to progress in that chamber?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that either.
Q One last question, one last question. The proponents of this bill said they’re going to try again in 2012. You said he’s grappling with the issue of same-sex marriage. The President said he’s wrestling with it. Is he going to pin down support for marriage equality and make an announcement before next year in time for these efforts —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any timing for you on that either.
Q Moroccan King has delivered a speech in which the government will change the reform (inaudible) constitution to give more power for the prime minister and lose more freedom. So does the White House have any comments on Morocco speech?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure if we have anything specifically on that. We encourage political reforms that liberalize the governments there, that allow for greater participation and representative government, and that applies across the region.
Q Jay, I have two questions, one a follow-up. Is it safe to assume that the GCC countries have not coordinated or informed the United States about their move to enter Bahrain, considering that they’re close allies of the United States? And second, the Turkish Prime Minister said that it’s counterproductive to have military intervention in Libya by NATO or any other country. Does this complicate your effort or all-options-on-the-table kind of approach?
MR. CARNEY: Regarding the no-fly zone and other options, nothing has changed since I last addressed this question five minutes or so ago. So the — and with regards to Bahrain, we’ve made clear that we call on the nations in the region to show restraint and to honor the peaceful protestors by not using force against them. We make that — call on the Bahraini government and the GCC countries as well.
Q So they haven’t informed you? You don’t know anything —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that.
Q Jay, last week, Robert Einhorn over at State had a comment on Iran’s nuclear program. He said that the U.S. believes that Iran intends to get to the brink of a nuclear capability but won’t go to breakout. Can you talk about the extent to which that’s been the subject of the conversation here at the White House by the President?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything — any new information on that since the last time we addressed — Ron, if you can talk to State about those particular comments.
Q Is that going to change his calculus at all?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve made very clear that we are very concerned about Iran’s pursuit. We and a lot of our international partners maintain that concern, so I think that still holds.
Q Secretary Clinton last week told Congress that she wasn’t sure that a no-fly zone would actually be effective. She cited Iraq and Kosovo. Was she stating administration policy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I’ve made clear from this podium and others have made clear, too, that it is very important — no matter what options we choose — that we are aware of what is entailed in applying them, enforcing them, and that we are confident that the goals we set out for them are achievable.
The fact that, as Secretary Gates and others have said, that a no-fly zone is a serious matter and with costs associated and risks associated doesn’t mean that it’s off the table. It’s still very much on the table. I think the purpose of having Secretary Clinton or Secretary Gates or others make people aware of the seriousness of a measure like that is simply that; so that we all are aware going into this process should that decision be made — or other decisions be made — that we know what we’re talking about and what we would be pursuing.
Q But she said it doesn’t work. So why would it be on the table?
MR. CARNEY: No — well, I don’t want to parse her words. I think — but what I have made clear and others have made clear is that we need to know — we would in any process, any decision like this we would make, we would have a plan, which I think elements are being developed at NATO about what a no-fly zone plan would look like and its implementation would look like should that be chosen. And it would obviously include within it discussion about its presumed effectiveness, the impact it would have, the risks associated with it and the potential costs associated with it.
Q Have you run any numbers on that as to cost?
Q She said it didn’t get rid of the leader —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any — no, I don’t.
Q She said it didn’t get rid of the leader. It didn’t stop the violence. So what would be the point?
MR. CARNEY: Again, making — she’s making an observation about a past exercise. Before we take any action, we would evaluate what that action would mean if it were applied in the specific case at hand.
Q Can I follow up, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Thanks, Jay. I don’t want to ask about what the U.S. is ready to do or not ready to do, and I have lot of sympathy towards caution, but my question is about what would the U.S. accept others to do? Would it be conceivable that somebody else who seems to be much more eager to call for a no-fly zone, like France, like Arabic states, could you accept that they are taking the lead and say, okay, if France want to do it, together with Egypt, it’s fine with us? Or would the U.S. prefer to be in control of the process because the consequences would also be consequences for the position of the U.S. in the region?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I have made clear that we feel it’s very important that this — the actions we take in response to the situation in Libya be international actions, that we work in concert with our international partners. So, quite the contrary; this is not about the United States dictating what happens working with our international partners. So the consultations continue with the French and the British and others about what other measures we can take together.
So I don’t — I think we welcome the fact that there is so much international approbation and international unity in condemning what the Qaddafi regime is doing, and so much discussion with our international partners about all the different measures that we could do together to continue to put pressure on Qaddafi, to get him to cease and desist what he’s doing against his people, and ultimately to remove him from power.
Q Could it also happen without involvement of the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Well, right now we’re discussing at the United Nations, in Brussels at NATO, with our international partners what the various options are. We’re very engaged in that discussion and continue to have that specific option on that the table.
Q Just two questions, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, I’m going to wrap it up here. Thank you very much.
Q When does he fill out his bracket? When is the Andy Katz exclusive?
MR. CARNEY: Stay tuned.
1:58 P.M. EDT