Seoul, Republic of Korea–(ENEWSPF)–March 27, 2012 — 1:45 P.M. KST. Also participating in today’s Press Briefing are Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes, and NSC Director for Nuclear Threat Reduction Shawn Gallagher.
MR. CARNEY: Everyone ready? Terrific. Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us here today for a daily briefing. I have Ben Rhodes again — Deputy National Security Advisor to the President for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting. He has another briefer with us that he will introduce to you. They can take your questions on today’s events at the Nuclear Security Summit, as well as the trilateral meeting with President Nazarbayev and President Medvedev, as well, of course, President Obama.
I’ll, again, as I did yesterday, be ready to take your questions if you have any non-trip related subjects. And with that, I will turn it over to Mr. Ben Rhodes.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, everybody. I’m going to say just a few words about the summit and what we’ve been doing here. Then I’m going to turn things over to my colleague here, Shawn Gallagher, who’s the Director on the National Security Council for Nuclear Threat Reduction — also a former first baseman on the Texas Rangers team and a nuclear engineer. So everybody should kind of think through why we haven’t accomplished as many things in life as Shawn.
But just to begin with some context for the summit itself, I know there’s been a lot of focus in the last couple of days on nonproliferation in North Korea. This summit is very much about nuclear security. And I think the best way to understand the goal of the summit is to remember just how severe this threat is. What this is about is preventing an act of nuclear terrorism. And in the aftermath of September 11th, you’ll recall that the great concern of policymakers in Washington and around the world was the potential for terrorist groups like al Qaeda to obtain a nuclear device and explode it in an American city. And they had expressed their interest in doing that, and we also knew that there was significant amounts of nuclear material that was not adequately secured around the world, and that there were smuggling networks that could potentially be exploited as well for terrorists groups to obtain this material. And so that’s the first order of threat, the greatest threat, really, that the American people face.
The offensive part of our strategy of course involves going after al Qaeda. So you’re taking out the people who have a demand for these materials. And that’s why since coming into office you’ve seen us I think take really aggressive action to devastate al Qaeda’s leadership, to take out Osama bin Laden, who had expressed an interest in obtaining an atomic weapon, and putting that organization on a path to defeat. But at the same time, it’s essential that we’re doing what we can to secure these materials around the world, again, so that they’re secure from terrorist groups, smuggling networks, proliferation.
And the fact is it’s also a solvable problem. We know how to secure nuclear materials. We know what materials are more dangerous than other materials, and we know that if we can take coordinated action around the globe, we can get to a point where there are levels of security and levels of safety that dramatically reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.
That’s why the President set up this summit process, beginning with the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. And the concept is that only by getting leaders together at the highest levels of government can you force the type of action that is necessary in over 50 countries around the world. And that’s exactly what this process has been — summits serving as an action-enforcing mechanism to get nations to take national commitments and to get nations to sign on to cooperative efforts to secure nuclear materials. And it’s really building a new international architecture around nuclear security.
Different countries have different challenges. For some, it’s the challenge of disposing of nuclear materials. For some, it’s a challenge of increasing security at their nuclear facilities. For others, it’s joining on to cooperative efforts to crack down on smuggling, so that you don’t have transit through different places of these materials.
So in terms of some of the activities that have taken place thus far at the summit today, I’ll turn it over to Shawn to walk through some of the key example of cooperation that we fostered, and also a few words about the President’s announcement on Degelen Mountain, and then we’ll take your questions.
MR. GALLAGHER: Thank you. Well, as a nuclear engineer I can bore you to death if you want. But let me talk — my job really over the past couple of years has been to enforce action, and that’s what this summit is all about. There is a work plan that we released at the Washington summit, and that was all about the actions that countries can take. So I want to take you through, just very quickly, a couple of the key actions that we’ve taken as a group since the Washington summit.
First, eliminating materials has really been a focus for us. No terrorist can use that material if it’s not in existence anymore, and so we have a key agreement with the Russians to eliminate 17,000 nuclear weapons’ worth of plutonium of the next several years.
We have been helping the Russians since the Nuclear Security Summit — down-blend and eliminate 2,000 weapons’ worth of material from inside Russia and from other countries. In the U.S. we have taken unilateral actions to eliminate nuclear materials. Another 400 weapons’ worth of nuclear material in the U.S. has been down-blended out of the U.S. stockpile.
And we’ve been doing some projects with other countries, some of which you’ve heard about over the past couple of days. Ukraine has eliminated all of the material out of that country; it happened just a few days ago. We saw Mexico about a week and a half ago announce that they’ve finally gotten rid of all of their nuclear material. The Swedish Foreign Minister announced today that they had eliminated all of the plutonium in their country.
And so as we start piecing these things together you see countries completely eliminating that material so that that material can never be stolen from their country and used against the world.
One of the other themes I think that we see out of this summit is the collective action. I think in the lead-up to the Washington summit you had a lot of countries coming in and making pledges and statements about the things that they want to do individually. What we’ve seen over the last couple of year is that evolve into a collective action. So you’ll see several joint statements — some of them have already been made, some of them are out there. But it really shows that countries are coming together and realizing that they need to work together to solve this problem — not something any single nation is going to be able to do on their own.
Let me highlight just a couple of those for you. You saw Secretary Chu and his Belgian, Dutch, and French colleagues last night announce a deal that will essentially change the European medical isotopes market so that it no longer uses highly enriched uranium. But the United States has supplied highly enriched uranium for the next couple of years in that transition period so that we can ensure the reliable supply of these isotopes. These go to cancer patients and heart disease patients so that they have a reliable supply of these isotopes
One of the other things that I think we’ve seen collectively coming out of the summit is work on countering nuclear smuggling. There are many countries in the summit that do not have nuclear material, but they are potential transit countries. And so you see these countries taking action.
The President in his speech yesterday highlighted the actions of the Georgian government to seize highly enriched uranium on the black market. The Moldovans also took some of these actions. So you see countries taking actions that are not involved in the summit. They seized highly enriched uranium as well within the past two years.
And you saw an announcement from the Jordanian — from King Abdullah today that they have decided to create what they’re calling a counter-nuclear-smuggling team. We’re linking all of these teams together and these national capabilities together as sort of a worldwide law enforcement and intelligence fusion of information and capabilities to really take concrete actions to break up the black market. And so you’ll see some of those announcements coming out as well.
That’s about all I want to highlight for you today.
MR. RHODES: Great. I’ll just say a few words here about the announcement that the President made with his Kazak and Russian counterparts on Degelen Mountain. I will say that we have with us also one of the Department of Defense officials who’s participated in this project, who’s going to be available for those of you who want to have additional information, color and context for this.
I think what you’ll note by being here at the summit is how much focus is put on some of the former Soviet Union in terms of addressing the vast amounts of nuclear materials that existed in different Soviet republics, and that posed a risk over the course of the last few decades. And this is an example of this.
The announcement that was made by the three Presidents revealed a longstanding project that was aimed at eliminating the remnants of past nuclear testing activities within the territory of the former Semipalatinsk — and I’m going to call this, STS going forward — test site to bring it to a safe and secure state. And again, this project has been kept secret until our discussion of it today. And I think you heard the Kazak President himself talk about the breadth of this site comparable to the most utilized nuclear test sites here in the United States.
What STS is, is an area in eastern Kazakhstan. It’s 18,000 square kilometers, so five times the size of our Nevada test site and almost the size of New Jersey. And the Soviet Union conducted 50 years of nuclear testing at this test site, including hundreds of tests and experiments, often in underground tunnels.
So in the 1990s, the United States, through our Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, partnered with Kazakhstan to try to begin to eliminate the legacy of Soviet nuclear test infrastructure. This project was completed as a first step in 2000, which involves sealing a number of tunnels at this site. And the intent of the work was to ensure that the tunnels could never again be used for the testing of nuclear weapons.
However, in the years that followed, there was some scavenger activity that became apparent at the site that people were looking for things ranging from scrap metal to other materials. And this, coupled with our focus on nuclear terrorism, led to the launch of this trilateral effort, again, in I think roughly 2004, so that there couldn’t be the theft of the residual nuclear material at the site. And you had literally former Soviet and U.S. weapon scientists working together, and they concluded that more than a dozen nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear material was still in these tunnels.
And so over the course of this project we decided together to reopen over 40 test tunnels and take measures to secure and eliminate the residual nuclear material together. So Kazakhstani work crews used U.S.-provided equipment to access the suspected areas based on Russian data to get at the material of concern. So you have the Kazaks in the lead, you’ve got U.S. equipment, and you’ve got the Russians who has information about the materials. So essentially, this involved a lot of very thorough work over the course of the last several years.
As the President said, this is a type of project that demonstrates how three different countries can work together to eliminate a nuclear threat. That work, of course, was accelerated and prioritized by the President in conjunction with the last Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. And we were able to reach the goal of being able to announce today that we’re wrapping up the project.
So, again, I think we have with us here, for those are interested, someone who can speak at greater length about the context for this, some of the color involved in how we did this. But I think what it highlights is — literally, if you think about having several nuclear weapons’ worth of materials in Kazakhstan, in a region where we know there are terrorist groups operating who are seeking this type of material, who are seeking to steal it, buy it from somebody, that’s an intolerable risk, frankly, to global security. So by working cooperatively with nations like Russia and Kazakhstan, we’re able to secure these materials, and just an example, as with Shawn’s, of the type of cooperation we’re fostering at this summit.
With that, I’m happy to take questions on this, the summit, or anything else related to the trip.
Q Does the President feel that all the work all the work that you’ve just discussed has been sort of hijacked by the open mic issue from yesterday? And why did you guys want to bring that around again today with his comments? I mean, do you risk at this point that he looks weak at home by having it dominate this summit so much?
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, I’d say that I don’t think it has anything in particular to do with the summit. What the summit is doing is advancing an effort among over 50 nations to secure nuclear materials, and that progress is going to be made and we’re confident that it’s going to be achieved going forward.
In terms of the President’s comments, I think what he said today is that insofar as the open mic comments that were reported, they tracked completely comments that he’s made repeatedly about missile defense and nuclear nonproliferation. He said in his speech yesterday that he was committed to pursuing additional nuclear reductions in conversations with the Russians, but that he understood of course that the Russians have concerns about missile defense that they would bring to the table in those discussions.
He’s similarly said many times in the past — in fact, we’ve had many meetings about missile defense with the Russians in our desire to foster cooperation on missile defense. We are implementing a missile defense system. The Russians are concerned that it upsets their strategic stability; we’ve made clear it doesn’t. But there’s going to have to be some agreement between our two countries to resolve those outstanding concerns. It’s not going to affect our commitment to going forward on missile defense, but it is going to help us work through a range of issues with the Russians.
So I think the President’s point was simply that there was nothing he said in his comments after the bilateral meeting yesterday that is any different than what he said in other context. Insofar as there are people talking about this, that in and of itself is just a fact of the political context that we’re in. But other than that, I think he addressed it in a way that made clear that his commitment to both going forward with missile defense and pursuing an agreement with Russia is something that he’s talked about repeatedly for –throughout his presidency, really, and something we’ll continue to do going forward.
Q So he’s not at all bothered or offended that the old politics stops at the water’s edge adage seems not to apply here?
MR. RHODES: Well, I mean, the President, as he acknowledged in his comments, knows that this is a political season. And frankly, that’s precisely why he believes that the best way forward on missile defense now is to have a technical process with the Russians. They had an election; their election campaign included a lot of discussion on missile defense. We’re going to have an election; Congress, who would be a part of these types of discussions, is going to have an election. And frankly, that’s not the type of context where you have a breakthrough on an arms control issue as sensitive as missile defense. But what we can do in the interim period is work at the technical level to clear out the underbrush so that we can continue to pursue this type of cooperation going forward.
I think what he’s also made clear, though, is how much he can cooperate with the Russians. We reached a New START Treaty that gave us reductions in both U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons that were deployed. We achieved a great deal of progress on nuclear security. In fact, it was a coincident of timing that he was going to announce this with President Medvedev today, this significant achievement in terms of securing nuclear materials. And the President has made clear that we don’t need to go back to a type of Cold War mind-set where we are unable to work with the Russians on any issues of common interest, but rather it’s in the interest of the United States to work cooperatively with the Russians. And that’s what he’s going to do.
Q On the big ones — Iran and North Korea — can you tell us now that we’ve been here for three days, are there any real, concrete, solid signs that North Korea is in any way poised to back down on a missile launch? And is there any more detail that you can give us on China or anyone else that’s in the progress* to do so? And on Iran, I know we asked you this yesterday or the day before, but today is another day — so is there progress on when talks will resume with Iran?
MR. RHODES: Just to take the second one, we’re very confident that they will — that the talks between the P5-plus-1 and Iran will resume soon. We’re working through finalizing the details of those talks, where they’ll take place and when. But we’re confident that in the near term we’ll be moving into discussions with the Iranians about their nuclear program.
I think we feel very good coming out of this summit in these last two days that we are firmly aligned with our P5-plus-1 partners going into those talks — not just with our European allies, but with the Russians and the Chinese, who shared very much our sense of urgency about making progress in those negotiations. And that was a matter of discussion in both bilateral meetings yesterday.
On North Korea, I couldn’t hazard a guess as to what the North Korean leadership may or may not do. It’s obviously a very opaque system. They’ve indicated their intent of going forward with this test; we’ll see if they do that.
I think what the President was doing over the course of the last three days is making a bigger point that you have the immediate issue of this particular launch, but then you have the bigger issue of North Korea’s behavior over many years and the fact that that behavior is breeding instability in this part of the world and is contrary to the nuclear nonproliferation regime; and that given that there’s a new leadership in that country, we need to be looking now at what can we do to sharpen the choice for that leadership to make clear that bad behavior and provocative actions will never be rewarded, but also make clear that if they go down a different path they could have a different future.
And I think the President elevated that choice publicly with his comments throughout this trip — with his trip to the DMZ, with his speech in which he spoke at length about the fact that South Korea is winning in the long view of history, and spoke aspirationally about the potential for unification on the Peninsula. And similarly, he spoke about it very directly to the Chinese and the Russians that if the current situation is not stable they should be taking whatever actions they can to make clear to North Korea that they need to move in a different direction.
Q There’s Japanese wire reports that President Obama met with Japanese Prime Minister Noda on the sidelines at the summit. Was there any substantive points to that discussion, or was it just kind of a brief, “hey, how are you?”
MR. RHODES: I’m not aware that they had a particular meeting. He certainly interacts with a lot of leaders, though, so I’m sure he spoke to Prime Minister Noda. But I don’t have anything further on that.
I will say, too, that we consult regularly with the Japanese and on the North Korea issue in particular, we’ve been in touch with the Japanese at a range of levels of our governments and will continue to do so going forward.
But we’ll give you any — it’s likely that he’ll have conversations on the margins of these meetings today and we’ll give you information on that. We’ll also have information when the communiqué is out at the end of the day about the results of the summit, but wanted to give you some of these interim national actions to give you some sense of context.
Q What do you say about reports today that the negotiations with Pakistan over the drones, we’ve offered to make some concessions which have been rebuffed? And what do you expect the meeting between the President and Gilani to be later today?
MR. RHODES: Well, I’m familiar with the particular story. I think that we did think that there were some inaccuracies in the story. What I would say, though, is that we’re constantly in a bilateral discussion with the Pakistanis about our counterterrorism operations. That’s an ongoing discussion that we’ve had with them over many years. Frankly, we’ve seen significant success in those counterterrorism operations because U.S. and Pakistani cooperation has enabled the devastation really of al Qaeda’s leadership in that part of the world.
But that will certainly be a part of the agenda this afternoon in the bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Gilani — our CT cooperation going forward as well as the regional issues I talked about yesterday. And we’ll have a readout for you after that meeting.
Q What are the inaccuracies?
MR. RHODES: Well, look, I’m not going to speak about specific counterterrorism programs other than to say that the story I think did not represent the ongoing nature of the dialogue with have with the Pakistanis — these kind of regular exchanges of views on issues related to counterterrorism — and the fact that we are confident that we’ve been able to continue to see progress in those counterterrorism operations over the course of the last several weeks.
Q On another subject — The Post and possibly other outlets — I don’t know — has a story right now on our website, talking about a major expansion of U.S. military ties with Australia, on top of the announcement you guys made about the Marines last fall. The story talks about another example of your pivot to Asia and being, as many analysts think, another sign that you’re concerned about China’s rise. Can you comment on that and explain a little bit more about what this entails and how far you’re going to go? Is it going to be even more on top of this one, and is it aimed at sort of containing China?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think that as a general matter we’ve made very clear our focus on the Asia Pacific as a region of interest in our security efforts and in our defense budget. It’s prioritized within our defense budget. And what we’ve been trying to do is expand our bilateral relationships with a range of countries in the region. Australia is certainly one of those, and the positioning of the Marine task force in Australia is the clearest manifestation of that partnership. But we’re constantly looking at ways to increase and enhance our relationship.
I’d have to defer to the Pentagon on the specifics of additional steps that have been taken. But it’s true across the region. We have a range of partners who we work with on issues from maritime security to counterterrorism to countering nuclear smuggling. And I would say also, insofar as we’re concerned about North Korea’s actions and the instability that comes from North Korea’s provocative actions, that’s yet another reason why it’s important for the United States to be present in the Asia Pacific region and to have both strong alliances, but also a strong security presence, whether it’s through military exercises or the presence that we have in many countries in this part of the world.
So it’s a priority, and frankly, it’s not aimed at China. As we’ve always said, we’re here because we have an interest in this part of the world. We have an interest in the free flow of commerce. We have an interest in clear rules of the road in terms of maritime security. We have an interest in, frankly, nonproliferation and also making sure that North Korea understands that the United States has an ironclad commitment to our allies. So that’s what informs our actions.
And I should– sorry, one more thing I should add about the China meeting, the two Presidents also did discuss the need to continue to increase military-to-military cooperation between the United States and China. That came up at the meeting yesterday. And I think that demonstrates the point that we don’t see this as coming at China’s expense; in fact, we’d like to have increased contacts with the Chinese as well
Q The Korean Central News Agency has come out with a reaction to the President’s remarks. They’re not terribly illuminating, but I wanted to see if you had an opportunity — (laughter) — to think of a response. I will read them for you.
MR. RHODES: I couldn’t say that that particular Korean Central News Agency release has reached me yet, but I frequently review their reports with interest. But I think what we want to see from the North Koreans is there’s going to be rhetoric — there’s always a lot of rhetoric out of North Korea — but we’re interested in their actions. And frankly, the thing that’s most troubling about this latest provocative action is it violates commitments that they’ve made. And that’s the President’s point. They cannot continue to say one thing and then do another. That they have to demonstrate through their actions that they’re moving in a different direction if they want to have a better relationship with the United States.
Q Can you just clarify, when you talk about the missile defense talks with the Russians going to a technical stage, is that a continuance of the technical stage or the start of going into the technical talks?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think — there’s been ongoing technical exchanges with the Russian government on this. We also, however, had very high-level discussions about missile defense aimed at trying to reach some kind of agreement about moving towards cooperation between the United States and Russia, because, again, we think that that’s in our interest. We have a missile defense system. We’re implementing it. We’re building it in Europe — in Eastern Europe. To listen to some critics of our efforts on missile defense you would think we had taken a step backwards on this issue. We’ve taken a step forwards.
We’ve begun to build a system that can protect all of Europe and the United States and have commitments from countries like Poland and Turkey and Romania and others to host parts of that system. However, the Russians have a concern that it’s aimed at preventing their strategic deterrent capability. We have said it isn’t. We have said it’s aimed at the threat from Iran and other rogue actors.
However, the Russians have not been persuaded of that. We’ve had technical exchanges on this issue, but it reached the leader level. And President Medvedev and President Obama had a number of discussions about this, I think most prominently in Deauville, and just weren’t able to reach an agreement because we couldn’t bridge that divide, we couldn’t bridge the trust gap that was associated with the missile defense issue.
Over the course of the last several months, frankly, we have seen it become an issue in Russia’s politics. In the recent Russian election, there was a lot of rhetoric around missile defense and it was the type of rhetoric that makes it harder to build that type of trust. And that’s exactly what the President was talking about when he said, look, we’re in a political year in terms of the Russian election and the transition of Russia’s political leadership; we’re also in an election year here in the United States. Given that activity, it’s going to be hard to work through the very complicated differences that we’ve had over many years on this issue. However, let’s not walk away from the table. Let’s not say that we’re not going to pursue something that could be very much in our interest, Russia’s interest, and the world’s interest.
So therefore, instead of walking away from the table, closing the door on a potential agreement, let’s have our technical experts work this through. Let’s have them exchange the types of views that allow us to understand what Russia’s concerns are, and allow us to communicate to the Russians why we believe missile defense is important and is not aimed at upsetting strategic stability. And frankly, that work needs to be done anyway, and if it’s done effectively, as the President said today, we’ll have a better chance at getting the type of an agreement that allows us to move forward in 2013.
Q You said that you want to sharpen the choice of North Korea’s leaders. Could you just talk about who you think those leaders are? I know it’s difficult to say, but is there a sense that now that Kim Jong-il’s authority is lacking that there is sort of a competing sense of power in North Korea that might make it even more difficult to figure out what they’re trying to do?
MR. RHODES: Well, it’s always hard for us to have a clear sense of the exact leadership dynamic in a society that’s as closed as North Korea. I think it is clear to us that Kim Jong-un is the leader of that country and is the leader of that government. But what’s also true is that this is a new leadership under Kim Jong-un and therefore that presents both challenges and opportunities. And frankly, the opportunity should be that as a new leadership emerges they can make different decisions going forward.
And I guess the point that the President made repeatedly is they can keep on doing the same thing that they’ve been doing for year and they’ll find themselves in a deeper hole, or they can climb out of that hole, live up to their obligations and have a different type of relationship with us.
The other part of that is they have not — they have too often, frankly, been rewarded for engaging in provocative acts and bad behavior. And we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to go forward with assistance to the North Koreans or outreach to the North Koreans at a time when they’re engaging in these type of provocative actions. And furthermore, we’d like to see nations like China that have close relations with North Korea consider what else they could do to send a clear signal to this new leadership that it’s time for them to move in a different direction.
Q How do you sort of formulate a policy for a country that doesn’t look like it wants to dig out of the hole? I mean, they’re starving their people to stay in power. So I mean, I guess that’s a question of North Korean policy for years, but how difficult is it for it to be effective?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think it’s clearly difficult to deal with any regime that would rather spend its money on satellites and nuclear facilities than feeding its people. That’s the extraordinary challenge that exists with regard to North Korea.
At the same time, though, I think you also see trend lines — and that’s what the President spoke about in his speech. Look, it was several decades ago that levels of development in the North and South were not that different. And what’s happened is the South has taken off and is now one of the most rapidly growing countries in the world, with a vibrant democracy, and the North has just moved backwards. And again, their situation has worsened over the course of the last several years. They’re under tighter sanctions. They’re under deeper isolation. They are increasingly the odd man out in the international community, and they’re, frankly, dependent on support from other countries as well — not just support from the international community that has provided assistance, but support that they get from countries like China that provide them with a lot of assistance.
So there’s additional steps that can be taken to apply pressure to North Korea. But the other thing that we need to make clear is that at the same time that we apply that pressure they need to understand that their provocative actions will only lead to them being deeper in the hole. And again, we can’t make the choice for them. They are a very oppressive, tyrannical and backward regime. But at the end of the day, what we can do is create the choice and create the incentives for them to do the right things and the disincentives that go along with them doing the wrong things.
Q When you talk about — after the bilaterals with the Russians and the Chinese there is an increase in agreement on how to move forward with Iran. Does that make it easier or more difficult to figure out how to go forward on Syria?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think we felt like we made some progress with regard to Syria in that, despite the differences that we’ve had — and they continue with regard to Syria — there is the framework for cooperation through the Kofi Annan initiative, which, again, at the very least provides a framework for stopping the violence, initiating greater humanitarian access to the people of Syria, and initiating a transition in that country.
Again, we believe very strongly that that transition has to involve Assad leaving power. But there is a framework within that context for us to have discussions with the Russians and the Chinese about what they can do to support Kofi Annan’s efforts.
With regard to Iran, I think they understand the urgency involved. They don’t want to see an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon, nor do they want to see greater instability in that part of the world. Therefore there needs to be urgency heading into these talks; there needs to be a clear message to the Iranians that they have to take this opportunity. And that’s I think what we expect the Iranians to hear from all the members of the P5-plus-1: Don’t miss this opportunity to pursue a diplomatic resolution, to meet your obligations. And that’s where we think we’re in alignment.
Q But does needing Russian and Chinese support on Iran, does that inhibit moving forward on Syria?
MR. RHODES: I see what you — no, I don’t think we draw a linkage, if that’s what you’re getting at. These are different issues handled in different — through different ways. We would never draw a linkage where we would say that we’ll pay less attention to one issue and more attention to the other.
Insofar as the discussion of Iran and Syria came up the last several days, that discussion was really one that the President had with Prime Minister Erdogan, who said to the President he was going to Iran after the summit to have a very direct discussion with Iran’s leaders about the need for them to not continue providing the type of support that they have to the Assad regime.
So that was the only leader that he had a discussion about the connections between Iran and Syria.
Q Jay, a domestic question?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Obviously the President has had a full platter here. Just wondering if he’s had any opportunity to review what’s been happening in the Supreme Court. Obviously he knows the arguments, but how does he think it’s playing out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he has been focused on his responsibilities here, his meetings with different world leaders, his participation in the Nuclear Security Summit, so he has not had a great deal of opportunity to review the reports of what’s happening in Washington or in the Supreme Court. He’s certainly aware of them. And I think that our position is clear, his position is clear. We feel very confident that the individual responsibility provision within the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.
We’ve remarked before that its providence is in the conservative political arena, the Heritage Foundation. It was supported by a number of Republicans before it became a bipartisan idea, and it was implemented in Massachusetts by a Republican governor. And I think that that providence speaks to the broad consensus that’s out there that it’s constitutional.
But the President feels that this is something for the Court to decide, not for us to weigh in on directly. He’s aware of the progress that’s being made and I’m sure will follow it with interest, but he’s been focused here on his meetings with foreign leaders.
Q If I could just follow up on that —
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sure.
Q The President has made it very clear with his decision — with his address to Congress a few years ago that he disagrees with some of the decisions that have been made by this Court and, I think it’s fair to say, questions their thinking. Is he not concerned about this case going before this Court?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he and his advisors believe that the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is established and we’re confident that it will be upheld by the Supreme Court based on that. There’s no question that the President believes very strongly that the Citizens United decision was not a good one, that it’s had the kind of negative effects on the American campaign system, political system, that he anticipated and feared, and that we’re now seeing vividly in this campaign cycle.
Again, we’re not — we’ll see how the Court decides. There has been a great deal of precedent as some of these cases have moved through the system, a number of opinions that we think, the President thinks, reaffirm our position on its constitutionality.
And we’re focused on implementing a law that has already provided enormous benefits to millions of Americans — seniors who have had assistance paying for their prescription drug benefits, young Americans who now have access to their parent’s insurance policies, people can no longer be thrown off of their policy if they get sick, insurance companies can no longer withhold insurance if you have a preexisting condition. These are all benefits that exist now and the Affordable Care Act has not even been fully implemented, as you know.
So as an administration, we’re focused on implementation. In terms of the Court, we’re obviously watching with interest.
Anybody else? I want to thank you all for being here, thank your guest briefers. And we’ll see you later.
2:25 P.M. KST