3/14/11: White House Press Briefing

Uploaded by whitehouse on 14.03.2011

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 led 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?
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: Jay?
Mr. Carney: Yes? Sorry, let me just go -- Carol, do you have anything?
Okay. Anybody? Mark.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 --
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: Can I ask about nuclear waste, please?
It's very important.
Mr. Carney: I want to let these guys go for now.
The Press: Can we ask you about it?
Mr. Carney: We'll take one question on nuclear waste, Connie.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 --
The Press: As far as you know -- okay.
Mr. Carney: I don't know. I don't have anything for you on that.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: The recovery is safe?
Mr. Carney: Again, I would just refer you to what I said.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
Yes, Carol.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
Yes, sir.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: So they haven't informed you?
You don't know anything --
Mr. Carney: I don't have anything on that. Yes.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: Have you run any numbers on that as to cost?
The Press: She said it didn't get rid of the leader --
Mr. Carney: I don't have any -- no, I don't.
The Press: 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.
The Press: Can I follow up, Jay?
Mr. Carney: Yes.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: Just two questions, Jay.
Mr. Carney: Okay, I'm going to wrap it up here.
Thank you very much.
The Press: When does he fill out his bracket?
Mr. Carney: Stay tuned.