Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I start, I wanted to let you know that at approximately 10:30 this morning, in the Oval Office, the President was notified by his Homeland Security Advisor, John Brennan, of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut at a school. The President is receiving regular updates as more information becomes available about this incident. And as the day proceeds, if we get more information and as we get more information, we’ll certainly provide it to you. I do not have anything to confirm for you at this point.
The FBI is supporting state law enforcement, which has the lead, as well as local law enforcement, as they respond to and begin to investigate this incident. And as I said, the President will receive regular updates as the day progresses.
I’ll take your questions.
Jay, one follow on that -- can you relay to us any of the President’s reactions or thoughts? Obviously, these shootings are all -- all of them are tragic. We’re hearing some particularly heinous numbers and the fact that children were involved.
I would rather not relay reactions at this point because I don’t have any confirmation to give to you about what exactly has happened there or potential victims. So at this point I’d rather just inform you that the President has been informed about the shooting, was informed at 10:30, and is being given regular updates as more information becomes available.
Any thoughts on whether we’ll hear from him today?
We’ll just have to keep you updated as more information becomes available.
Two other topics. In the ABC News interview, the President was asked about the legalization of marijuana in a couple of states where voters have sounded off on that and essentially said that it’s not a high priority for him -- no pun intended -- I guess to go after recreational users. But obviously, this is a serious issue -- states’ rights versus federal rights. And I’m wondering if there’s any concern that the President’s comments could signal that to states -- it’s okay to go ahead and pursue your own policies on marijuana; we’re not going to enforce it at the federal level.
Well, that wasn’t what the President said. I think there is clearly a conflict here between federal law and state laws now in these states, and that is being reviewed, the ballot initiatives, by the Department of Justice. And I would direct you to them for updates on that review.
What the President was saying I think is, much as he said about the use of medical marijuana, that in prioritizing our law enforcement objectives, that pursuing recreational users of marijuana in states where it has been, through a ballot initiative, declared legal, is not a top priority -- would not be a top priority given, as the President said, there are bigger fish to fry, more important law enforcement priorities.
But the law is the law, and that is why he has directed the Department of Justice to review these ballot initiatives and to make some assessments about how to proceed.
But is it his view? And has he directed the Department of Justice to continue to enforce federal law?
It is certainly our responsibility and his responsibility and the executive branch's responsibility to enforce the law. It is also the responsibility of law enforcement agencies at the federal level to make -- to have priorities in the enforcement of the law. And that is certainly his position.
Last topic. On the fiscal cliff, in one of the TV interviews the President had yesterday, he was asked about the political dynamic and he said -- referring to Speaker Boehner -- “I think Speaker Boehner has a contentious caucus and his caucus is tough on him sometimes. So he doesn't want to look like he's giving in to me somehow, because that might hurt him in his own caucus.” I'm wondering how that kind of comment, obviously candid, but doesn't that hurt the trust, no-comment dynamic you guys have tried to foster when the President says he doesn't want to look like he's giving in to me, he's got problems with his own caucus? Doesn't that hurt the dynamic?
What we have done is not comment on the internal discussions that he has had with the Speaker, and Secretary Geithner and Rob Nabors and others have had with leaders on the Hill and their staffs. I think what the President said is reflected in reams of reporting by I'm sure you and others, your organization and others, about the internal dynamics within the House Republican conference. I think that's a fairly standard observation that the President made yesterday.
Jay, if I could ask about -- in connection with the shootings, yesterday and today, obviously tragic events. Do these raise limiting handgun violence or other gun violence on the President's list of priorities in any way?
We're still waiting for more information about the incident in Connecticut. As we do, I think it's important on a day like today to view this as I know the President, as a father, does; and I, as a father, and others who are parents certainly do -- which is to feel enormous sympathy for families that were affected and to do everything we can to support state and local law enforcement and to support those who are enduring what appears to be a very tragic event.
There is I'm sure -- will be, rather, a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I don't think today is that day.
Can I just turn then to fiscal cliff -- can you say more about how the meeting went with Speaker Boehner last night? Where do things stand now? Are there plans for further talks? Did you make progress? Is this a stalemate?
The President's meeting with the Speaker of the House was frank. It lasted a little less than an hour. And the lines of communication remain open. I don't know why I see smiles in response to that very candid assessment.
The President continues to believe that a deal is possible that not only confronts the deadlines associated with the so-called fiscal cliff, but allows us to achieve something far bigger, which is a broader compromise, a balanced compromise that significantly reduces our deficits and puts us on a fiscally sustainable path. That is the deal that the President seeks. And we hope that Republicans are willing to compromise in order to achieve that goal with him.
It remains the case that on some of the fundamental issues that are matters of debate, we have yet to see any change in the position of the Republican leadership. It is still their position, as they tell you when you ask them, that they want extension of the high-end Bush tax cuts. That is not going to happen. The President will not sign such legislation. It is still a fact that in contrast to what the President has done, which is to put forward specific proposals for both spending cuts and revenue increases, the Republican leadership has yet to give us a single specific about what they want to cut, how they would do it, how they would raise revenue. All of that at this point remains lacking.
But the President believes that the parameters of a deal are quite clear: A willingness by leadership that rates have to go up on the top 2 percent would potentially move us more quickly towards the achievement of a deal, but that has yet to happen.
Jay, the Speaker is in Ohio this weekend. The President has plans himself to go on holiday a week from today. The deadline draws closer. Is it the White House’s calculus that if the nation does in fact go off the fiscal cliff, the blame -- the burden of the blame will fall on the Republican side? Secretary Geithner said not that long ago that absolutely, that there would be willingness to go off the cliff if there was no acceptable deal.
The President is not interested in apportioning blame. He’s interested in reaching a deal. He is most concerned about middle-class families and the impact on them should taxes go up on everybody on January 1st -- which would be nonsensical given that everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike, says they support extending tax cuts for the 98 percent -- everyone except for the top 2 percent of earners in the country. So his position has been and continues to be that one way to send an important signal to the American people, to the middle class that Washington is functioning and not punishing them would be to pass tax cuts that everyone says they support. He would sign that into law right away.
I’m not going to speculate about what would unfold should Republicans continue to refuse to accept that rates have to go up on the top 2 percent. The President is still pursuing a deal.
Stipulating that you probably have no personnel announcements to make, does the President think that it is -- would be appropriate for Senator Kerry to recuse himself from chairing the Senate hearings next week in the Benghazi incidents?
I think the stipulation that you made should be applied broadly in reference to matters like that because it’s all about issues of personnel. And I haven’t asked that question, but I -- again, I’m not going to go down paths that lead to discussions about personnel.
So this is something that the White House isn’t going to weigh in on, one way or another, doesn’t have an opinion on?
I certainly am not weighing in on that today.
Given that the President is not running for reelection and he previously --
Barring a change in the Constitution. (Laughter.)
Right, and he previously made a campaign promise to oppose --
Do you have any announcements on that? (Laughter.)
-- and previously made a campaign promise to work to
renew the assault weapons ban, why won’t you stand up here today and say that that remains a commitment of his?
It does remain a commitment of his. What I said is that today is not the day to -- I believe, as a father, a day to engage in the usual Washington policies debates. I think that that day will come, but today is not that day, especially as we are awaiting more information about the situation in Connecticut.
I hear what you’re saying about the events today, but I’m going to ask a question about entitlements now, if that’s okay.
So does the President think that the entitlement spending or social welfare spending, whatever you want to call it, is on a sustainable path as it exists right now?
The President believes that Medicare, in
particular, and more broadly our health care entitlements -- Medicare and Medicaid -- need to be adjusted in ways that protect beneficiaries and protect the integrity of the programs, but bring about savings. He achieved that significantly in the Affordable Care Act, and seeks to achieve additional savings in a compromise deal with Congress that would reduce our deficits on the order of $4 trillion over 10 years.
So absolutely, he recognizes that health care entitlements are significant drivers of our deficits.
So the answer is no, he does not think they're on a sustainable path right now without any changes?
Well, it depends on what you mean by sustainable, but certainly the numbers show that, for example, because of the President's action, Medicare's sustainability was advanced by a number of years. But more action needs to be taken, he absolutely agrees with that premise.
Does he think that the changes he proposes in his budget make it sustainable? Is it enough what the President has suggested doing in his budget -- would that be enough to make Medicare and other health care programs sustainable?
He believes that in combination with the health cost savings brought about by, according to the CBO, the Affordable Care Act and the deficit reduction brought about by the Affordable Care Act, that the reforms that he has proposed would significantly expand the sustainability of these programs, and that obviously down the road more work will be done. But there has been no proposal that solves for time immemorial the challenge faced by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid in perpetuity.
But the President believes we need to take significant action to rein in our deficits, bring down our deficits as a percentage of the economy to a level that is sustainable and that would give a boost to our economy, and through other measures that invest in the economy, help the economy grow and create jobs that would put us in an even better position as we move along to continue to address these challenges.
So he is, again, the only member of this debate, a participant in this debate, who has put forward specific spending cuts of any kind, and specific spending cuts garnered from our health care entitlements. I mean, this is one of the -- I think people are beginning to notice this; I noticed in the press this morning that our counterparts here have yet to put or mention a single cut. I mean, they spend -- the Speaker says the spending is the problem, but I think none of you have been able to elicit from him or other Republican leaders exactly what it is they want to do, what it is they propose.
Well, in their letter they talked about raising the eligibility age for Medicare. That would be a cut or an adjustment.
I think you're referring to comments made by Senator McConnell. There has been no proposal of any specificity from Republicans to us about what they would do to --
In the letter from Boehner to Geithner, to the original Geithner proposal there was no --
I don't believe.
-- mention of the eligibility age of Medicare from 55 to 57 and --
I can look at that again, but there is --
-- and the CPI? There wasn't --
There was no -- there has been no specific proposal from the Republicans. Ideas have been bandied about in the press. But again, we look for -- if the Republicans want to put forward specific proposals to us that either build on or replace the cuts the President has proposed, we would like to see them. But you haven't seen that, and I haven't seen the Speaker mention any in any of his press conferences or other public presentations.
The last question is, is the President -- what reforms to entitlement programs, for want of a better term, is the President willing to make beyond the ones that he has proposed in his budget?
Well, as enticing as --
Not for the sake of negotiation --
Sure, but as enticing as the --
-- but for the sake of the solvency of the programs.
Well, sure, but that would be negotiating with ourselves and basically saying what we're willing to do when the Republicans haven't demonstrated a willingness to do anything when it comes to revenue or, for that matter, spending cuts. The President has put forward very specific spending cuts, including in entitlements, including some structural reforms to entitlements, and is willing to discuss and entertain other cuts that make sense and would work as part of a broader package for deficit reduction.
But, thus far, the Republican position, which goes against vast public opinion, goes against what we learned in the election, goes against everything that was debated for the past 12 months, is that they demand permanent extension of the Bush high-end tax cuts for the wealthy. That's just not going to happen, and I think it's important that we reiterate that the President will not sign a bill that extends those tax rates for millionaires and billionaires and everyone making over $250,000. It's bad economic policy.
And I had a little fun yesterday talking about -- we have a little recent history to compare which kinds of economic plans work and the impact of various tax rates on economic growth. And contrary to everything they say about the calamity that would befall America if the wealthy were asked to pay a little bit more, the evidence decisively proves otherwise.
What's your reaction to folks on the left who say the President didn't aggressively defend Susan Rice?
I think you, broadly speaking, were in the audience when the President made his views about the unfair attacks on Susan Rice -- very well-known and very clear. And I think you saw in the President's statement yesterday his belief that those attacks were misguided and unfair.
But he still apparently --
And let me just say, if I may --
-- accepted the resignation, or withdrawal, without pushing back.
Well, it should hardly be a negative that someone of Susan Rice's enormous character would be willing to, viewing the situation, put the country's interests above her own personal interests; and seeing the kind of political circus that had been created around the mere potential of her nomination, make the decision that it was not in the country's interests, given all of the major foreign policy issues that confront us, the President's interests, for her to be considered for Secretary of State.
If I could just as a -- make a point here that the leading critics of Ambassador Rice, with their wildly unfounded assertions, have a spotty record at best when it comes to making judgments about who is qualified for high office in this country. Susan Rice is enormously qualified for the job that she has and for any potential job serving her country that she might have in the future.
Who are you referring to? The spotty record by whom?
Leading critics of --
No, I mean, what's their spotty record? You're just generically saying they have a spotty record?
You have to deduce. (Laughter.)
Did the President, the Vice President, or the Chief of Staff recommend, advise, or suggest to Susan Rice that she withdraw?
I would point you to what Ambassador Rice herself has said, and the answer is that she took this action herself. And the President has enormous regard for Ambassador Rice, is extremely appreciative of her service, and is grateful for the fact that she will continue at the United Nations.
So a purely organic conclusion she came to?
Again, I would point you to her assertions of just that. And again, I think it shows a great deal about her character and what her priorities --
Is she a casualty of something going on in this town, in your opinion?
Oh, I think it's fair to say that this situation is the result of the kind of practices in Washington that are extremely regrettable. Because this all began because of her appearances on a series of Sunday shows in which she presented information given to her by the intelligence community, that was provided also to the Hill and everyone else, that were the best assessments that they had made about what had happened in Benghazi.
It remains to this day that the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is not responsible for the collection or evaluation of intelligence or for security of diplomatic facilities around the world. And to somehow make judgments about her qualifications for a different office based on absurd allegations surrounding her performance on those Sunday shows is politics at its worst.
Then why accept something that many regard as defeat for this administration?
Well, I disagree. First of all, the President had not made a decision about his next Secretary of State. Secondly, it, again, says a lot about Susan Rice and what she believes are the nation’s priorities that she decided not to pursue this because she thought it would be bad; the circus that would ensue in what would absolutely have led to her confirmation had the President made that choice was not worth it to her.
You mentioned Mr. Brennan came in and talked to the President at 10:30 a.m. This is obviously a situation of enormous magnitude and tragedy. Does the President and Mr. Brennan at that time or since have any sense of what this is or isn’t in regards to terrorism or anything like that?
No, we just don't have anything right now to provide to you in terms of an incident that just happened a few hours ago and that is being responded to and investigated as we speak. And as we get more information about what happened and who is responsible, we’ll obviously provide it to you and have judgments to provide to you. But I just don't have that at this time.
I know this may elicit the same answer, but just for the record, it’s customary at times like this for a President to make phone calls. Can you give us any idea if he’s called the Governor or any of the other relevant officials or reached out in a direct way personally?
I don't have any communications of the President to report out to you at this time. But again, as the day progresses, we will provide you with more information as it becomes available.
With regard to Jake’s question, my attentive ears perked up when you were saying there have been no proposals from Republicans on entitlements. I just want to clarify that you were referring to their public pronouncements not to the conversations that go on face to face? Because that sounded like a readout.
Well, it’s not a readout of any meetings. I’m just saying that --
Because that would be an important point to understand. If they're not saying anything in these private meetings different than what they’re saying publicly that would be helpful for the public to understand.
I think broadly speaking, again, and I guess it’s commendable because their presentations in public are --
Utterly consistent, would you say?
I think that would be fair to say.
You are comfortable, quite obviously, with the Clinton-era tax rates for the reasons you have said, economically and otherwise. Are you similarly comfortable with the Clinton-era level of spending, even for an inflation adjustment as of ’10?
Well, I think you’d have to give me a little more specificity. If you're making the point that under Bill Clinton deficits were reduced and turned into surpluses, we obviously find that a commendable record.
Right. But there was less discretionary spending. There was less entitlement spending. Things like that.
But again, what’s your question?
Would that be a level of spending the President --
I think the level of spending from 20 years ago, no, I don't think that's --
But with an inflation adjustment, just for example.
I’m not going to make policy from here based on top line numbers. I think that the President has demonstrated -- let’s back up, too. When we talk about this deal, remember back in the summer of 2011, after a grand bargain was not achieved, Republicans could not in the end go along with revenue being part of the package, the Budget Control Act was passed and signed into law, agreed to by the President as well as leaders in Congress and approved by significant percentages of each party in each house.
Speaker of the House Boehner at that time declared that he had gotten, on behalf of House Republicans, 98 percent of what he sought. So let me remind you when we talk about what this President has been willing to do, that at the time when he signed into law $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts, that was viewed by Speaker Boehner as a great victory for Republicans. Additionally, that bill created a super committee and set up a system where an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction needed to be achieved or else the sequester would kick in, and that’s why we face the fiscal cliff, or one half of it.
But it is important to know when we talk about who’s willing to move here, who’s willing to compromise, who’s willing to accept some of the other party’s goals, that when the President of the United States signed into law the Budget Control Act in the summer of 2011 and signed into law $1.1 trillion in cuts, Speaker Boehner said it was a 98-percent victory for Republicans.
Jay, there’s reports from our good friends at Bloomberg News that there’s discussion among Senate Republicans of providing a fallback on the fiscal cliff, specifically on the middle class tax cuts, and creating a series of votes that would provide cover for House Republicans who may not vote one way or the other but would get to choose. What I’m asking is, did Speaker Boehner and the President discuss that kind of sequencing that might at least move that portion along before the end of the year?
I don’t have a readout for you on their conversation beyond what I’ve provided. I can say that it’s -- there are a lot of ideas floated by anonymous folks up on the Hill in particular about different proposals that may or may not materialize. What we have yet to see is a proposal of any kind with any kind of specificity. So I can’t really comment on random thought bubbles.
So another quick follow-up. On Susan Rice --
With all due respect to Bloomberg.
Bloomberg does better than a thought bubble. Susan Rice -- in the category of a tax that you described as misguided and unfair, would you put Senator Collins’s reservations in that category?
I do not recall specifically what she said, but I certainly, profoundly disagree with any negative assessment of Ambassador Rice’s qualifications for a top foreign policy position based on what she said on those Sunday shows that weekend. It’s just a spurious and ridiculous allegation. And so, yes -- I can’t recall specifically what she claimed was the cause of her reservations, but if that was it, it’s bogus.
Jay, earlier this week, the 7th Circuit overturned Illinois’s -- the President’s home state’s law of forbidding conceal and carry. Does the President agree with that decision? Does he think the court decided correctly? One. And two, earlier you suggested that today is not the correct day to debate gun control laws, but given that this is the second considerable incident this week, after the one in Oregon, when would be a good time to have that debate?
I've stated repeatedly what the President's position is on legislation that Ms. Yellin mentioned. And, more broadly, my point is that as this incident is unfolding in Connecticut, our minds and our focus need to be on what's happening there and providing assistance where we can to those who need it in Connecticut.
But does the President have a position on the law in his home state?
I have not asked him. And I would refer you to the Justice Department for views on issues like that.
I want to shift to a question of transparency, Jay.
We are the most transparent administration in the history of this country.
Okay, let me see what your answer is to this. (Laughter.) Bloomberg News filed a Freedom of Information Act request for government agencies for Fiscal '11, wanting to get their travel expenses from the top officials in his Cabinet. This was partly to test the President's pledge of being the most transparent in history. Now, six months later, most of the Cabinet is in defiance of the law. They haven't disclosed this information. This includes Hillary Clinton, Kathleen Sebelius, and Eric Holder, the official in charge of monitoring the executive performance on FOIAs. So are the President's Cabinet colleagues ignoring his instructions on openness?
Roger, I appreciate the question. I'm not even aware of Bloomberg's FOIA request, so I think I'll have to take it. I'm not aware of the issue at all. I can't confirm anything you just said, so I can't comment on it.
Jay, I’ll try once more. FOIA requires a 20-day response. You know that as a former reporter. It's now six months.
Again, I'm not aware -- you're asking me to comment on something that I'm not aware of. And I would hesitate in all cases to do that. My general rule is not to guess at answers.
Would you take the question, though?
I will certainly take the question.
Now that Susan Rice is out of the running, the President's --
Do you want to know who is in the running?
Well, yes, if you care to respond to that. But the President is losing someone who would have brought diversity to his Cabinet. So how important is it to the President now that his Cabinet with her out of the running reflects the sort of diversity that we see throughout the rest of the country? And is that going to affect his decision-making process?
I think the President has always believed that in order to achieve the highest level of excellence in his Cabinet, and more broadly, in his administration, that diversity is important. I would note that Ambassador Rice remains in his Cabinet and remains a valued advisor on foreign policy matters, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
But I think that the President's approach has always been to seek excellence, and as part of that believes that diversity in finding highly qualified candidates for senior positions enhances excellence.
Can you shed any more light on the President's reaction to this news in Connecticut? From that 10:30 a.m. briefing with Brennan, has he been watching the news? Is he getting regular up-to-date -- updates from the ground? And how often are those occurring? Just these last two hours, or how has he been spending that time absorbing all of this?
Well, I have been out here, so I haven't been with him. But I can tell you that he was initially informed by John Brennan and is being regularly updated. He obviously has other meetings that he is involved in. But I just don't know whether he has watched any of the TV reports on it. But he is being regularly updated by his team, led by John Brennan.
-- by Brennan and not Tom Donilon?
John Brennan is his Homeland Security Advisor. This is an event occurring in the homeland.
Law enforcement authorities are telling multiple media outlets that more than a dozen schoolchildren have been killed in this incident, and more than 20 people I think killed. You seem shaken. A lot of us here feel shaken. Certainly there is something from the President’s response to this news that doesn’t confirm any details specifically, but just news reports that you could share with us that would allow us to understand his personal human reaction.
Sure. I appreciate the question, and I would just say that those news reports have come since I’ve come out here. So I can’t confirm victims, and therefore, not being able to confirm victims, it’s hard for me to give you a reaction of the President to reports of victims, especially children. I can just tell you that as a father, incidents like these weigh heavily on him, and I think everyone who has children can imagine the enormous suffering that accompanies an event like this, if you what you say is true. But I prefer to provide you more information once I have it and once we have confirmed some of the reports that you mention.
Should we expect the President to address it?
I think it’s certainly possible if not likely that the President will have something to say. I can’t tell you whether or not it’s -- depending on the reports that we’re hearing, whether it’s a statement, a written statement, or otherwise. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Governor Malloy’s office in Connecticut has said that the President has talked with him. And I don’t know if that happened while you were up here. If we could get some sort of a readout of what was said.
Again, I’ll have further information for you on the President’s responses to this matter as it becomes available.
Thank you, Jay. Condolences. The President signed the bill today, the PNTR, the Magnitsky bill. Moscow keeps saying that it will hurt the relations. Do you agree with that? Is there anything you are looking at to limit the damage?
Well, the President signed a bill that repealed the Jackson-Vanik legislation, which is something that both this President and Russia had sought. And as you saw from his statement, he commended the House and Senate for working on a bipartisan basis to pass legislation to end the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Russia and Moldova, allowing him to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations to both countries. And he looks forward to receiving and signing this legislation. He signed it today, as you know.
The legislation ensures that American businesses and workers are able to take full advantage of WTO rules and market-access commitments that the United States worked so hard to negotiate.
The United States is also one step closer to realizing job-creating opportunities and leveling the playing field for American workers, farmers, ranchers and service providers. The President’s administration will continue to work with Congress and our partners to support those seeking a free and democratic future for Russia and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world.
Yes, Jay. But this last part that the Russians seem to think is unwarranted and object to. And this is why I’m asking you about this. Actually, President Putin, when he was asked about it yesterday or a few days ago, he said, it seems like it’s an example of politicizing the issue -- of politics. As you said, politics as its worst.
Well, I hardly think that. I think the legislation is important legislation, all of it. And the President was happy to sign it, and he believes it’s an important step forward in our relationship with Russia.
If I could, I’ll just let you know that the President recently completed a phone call with FBI Director Mueller, as well as a call with the Governor of Connecticut, Dan Malloy, to receive the latest information on the situation there in Connecticut and to express his condolences and concern for those who have lost loved ones, as well as those who were injured.
Can I just follow up on the shooting questions? In Aurora, Colorado, the President said, “We all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country.” Let me give you the chance maybe to get into sort of these trends. I mean, has there been enough reflection since Aurora?
Dan, I really encourage all of us to give a moment here to focus on what is an unfolding tragedy in Connecticut and not to engage in Washington policy battles of long running the day -- we do that often and it’s appropriate, and I’m sure the day for this will come, but today is not that day in our mind. We’re focused right now on what’s happening in Connecticut.
On a foreign policy question -- next month, Afghan President Karzai will be here on January 7. Will that be the President’s last meeting with the foreign leader at the end of his first term? And secondly, what are the issues that the President wants to discuss with the Afghans?
Well, I appreciate the question. We’re expecting President Karzai during the week of January 7th. I don’t think a specific date has been decided on, and I have no other foreign leader meetings to preview for you so I can’t answer the question about whether that would be his last meeting with a foreign leader prior to his inauguration a few weeks later.
The President and President Karzai look forward to discussing a shared vision of Afghanistan beyond 2014 to include the post-2014 role of the United States in Afghanistan. Their meeting will be an important opportunity to discuss implementation of the strategic partnership the two Presidents signed in May, to include the progress we’re making in negotiating the bilateral security agreement that would replace our current SOFA and lay out the rules of the road for potential U.S. military presence after 2014.
The President also looks forward to discussing an Afghan-led peace process as well as the region, and the future of Afghanistan’s security forces. So to your answer your question, those will be what we would expect to be the topics of conversation at that meeting.
And is the President disappointed that the Taliban are not coming for peace negotiations?
While we support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, we believe that that’s essential for the long-term prospects of peace in Afghanistan, I don’t have any updates on that process from here.
Last week, Syrian troops were seen loading bombs with chemical weapons onto trucks, and the President warned Syria the use of chemical weapons is a red line. Isn’t use of chemical weapons a bit late for the red line? Shouldn’t the red line be movement of chemical weapons? I mean, once they’ve been used, damage is done.
The President addressed this very clearly from this podium what his views are on that matter, and they regard both the use of chemical weapons, the potential for use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, as well as movement in the sense of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons. I think our warnings about any consideration of the use of these weapons were extremely clear and stark. Our promise of significant consequences should the Assad regime go down that road were very clear and stark, and they remain in place.
And I think that we share concern about this with our international partners, and we’ll continue to carry that message forward.
What is the level of concern that -- it seems from the reporting on this that it isn’t known whether the order that was given to get these chemical weapons going was given by senior leaders in the Assad regime, Assad himself, or by just some field commander. What is the level of concern that maybe Assad is not in control?
Well, I think you’re citing reports that are based on purported intelligence information, and I’m not going to discuss matters of intelligence except to say that we remain concerned about this issue. We have made our position extremely and starkly clear about the consequences should the Assad regime go down that road, and we reiterate those concerns today.
All the way in the back. Yes.
Thanks, Jay. I wanted to go back to your comment about transparency and ask, the year is coming to an end and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is still in the Ecuadorean embassy. I wanted to get your response. One of the reasons he hasn’t returned to Sweden for questioning on sexual allegations is because he fears he would be extradited to the U.S. Where is the Obama administration in the investigation of Assange and Wikileaks? And what is your response to those who say Julian Assange, Bradley Manning are examples of the President being anything but transparent?
Well, I entirely disagree. And in terms of investigations of that nature I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Thanks very much.