The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Cooperstown, NY, 5/22/2014

Aboard Air Force One
En route Cooperstown, New York

1:44 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for being here aboard Air Force One as we make this exciting trip to Cooperstown, New York and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As you know, we’re heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame to discuss the new steps we are taking to welcome international visitors to the United States and to highlight the job growth and other economic benefits generated by this increased travel and tourism. 

As you know, earlier today, the President met with several CEOs and executives from leading travel and tourism companies.  And as a part of this Year of Action, the President is urging the power of his -- is using, rather, the power of his pen and phone, whenever he can and wherever he can, on behalf of the American people to create jobs and help hardworking Americans get ahead.

Today, the President signed a presidential memorandum to expedite the entry process for travelers, starting with the 15 largest airports.  We also are taking additional steps to improve and streamline the entry process, including expanding the use of technology to streamline the -- that’s repetitive -- including expanding the use of technology to streamline the entry process, such as Automated Passport Control kiosks.  Additionally, we are launching new efforts to encourage travelers to visit the United States. 

This builds on the National Travel and Tourism Strategy in 2012 the President launched.  He set an ambitious goal of attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021.  Two years later, we are on track to meet this goal, in part due to the actions taken by the President and the administration to expand our ability to attract and welcome visitors while maintaining the highest security standards.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.

Q    Jay, was it a coup in Thailand?  And what does that mean for the United States if it was?

MR. CARNEY:  I think as you heard Secretary Kerry say, the United States is disappointed by the decision of the Thai military to suspend the constitution and take control of the government after a long period of political turmoil.  And there is no justification for this military coup.  We are also very concerned by reports that senior political leaders of Thailand’s major parties have been detained, and we call for their release.  And we are concerned that media outlets have been shut down.

The U.S. urges the restoration of civilian government immediately, a return to democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as press freedoms.  The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people.  While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the U.S.-Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military.  We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements consistent with U.S. law.

Q    Does U.S. law require the United States to take certain actions or withdraw certain benefits that we provide Thailand?  And if so, is the United States initiating those actions?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we're reviewing the assistance and engagements that we have with and for Thailand, consistent with U.S. law.  But I don't have answers yet in terms of the effect of this development in Thailand on those programs.

Q    Have any U.S. officials been in touch with military leaders over there?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the State Department, where Secretary Kerry has addressed this.  I don't know of -- well, I can tell you that we are working to maintain contact with the civilian government and to deliver the message that there is no excuse for a military coup.  We're concerned by reports that senior political leaders have been detained, and we call for their release.

Q    Can I ask you a little bit more about Chad?  If you could give us some more details about that decision -- when it was made, why it was made, what you think you can do now to help those Nigerian girls.  And also, are there any other steps other than that that the U.S. is contemplating?

MR. CARNEY:  The presence of U.S. personnel in Chad is related specifically to the use of unmanned surveillance vehicles as part of the effort to conduct reconnaissance missions in search of the missing or abducted Nigerian girls.  As we notified Congress yesterday, we’ve deployed 80 U.S. military personnel to Chad in support of Nigeria’s search for the girls, and that's in addition to the disciplinary team we already have in place at our embassy and the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance support we have already been providing. 

Specifically, the team in Chad is there to support one of our -- in support of one of our intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets -- ISR assets -- an unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicle supporting the search for the girls.  As our colleagues at the Pentagon said yesterday, roughly half of the team consists of maintenance and support personnel; the other half provides security for that team. 

More broadly, the search for the girls is ongoing.  The Nigerians, of course, remain in the lead and we continue to lend our unique assets and capabilities to assist the search.  We'll continue to evaluate what additional resources we might bring to bear in support, in close consultation with the Nigerian government.

Q    There may be additional steps, but none that you're prepared to announce at this time?

MR. CARNEY:  There are none to announce at this time.  We've obviously stood up an interdisciplinary team based out of our embassy, and we have the personnel in Chad who are there in support of the unmanned, unarmed aerial vehicle.

Q    Are you able to take us at all behind the scenes on that decision in terms of whether there were leaders of other countries you consulted with or any other officials?

MR. CARNEY:  You’d have to ask State and DOD, specifically. But again, this is consistent -- this is the implementation of what we said we were going to do, which is provide unique assets, including personnel, in assistance -- as part of our assistance to the Nigerian government as they search for the abducted girls.  And we've already talked about the fact that we have both manned and unmanned aircraft involved in the search, and these personnel are there to support one of the unmanned, unarmed aircraft.

Q    -- has generated any leads or new information yet?

MR. CARNEY:  I am not aware of any new information as to the whereabouts of the girls.

Q    And I just want to talk about Ukraine really quickly.  Yesterday you mentioned there was some troop movement.  Have you seen any -- is there any updates or anything to report on?

MR. CARNEY:  We still have not seen anything conclusive.  We’ve seen some movement, but it is not yet --

Q    Moving away?  Moving closer?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, the movement is not definitive enough to say that it represents a withdrawal of any kind.  We certainly hope that President Putin and the Defense Secretary are true to their word and that this is the beginning of a withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border.  The presence of those many, many troops has clearly had an effect on the stability of Ukraine and has at the very least caused intimidation and tension in the relations between Russia and Ukraine.

So we monitor very closely the situation on the border and hope that Russia follows through on its promise, or its announcement, that it would be withdrawing those troops.  And we also urge Russia to use its influence with separatists in eastern Ukraine to get them to cease their efforts aimed at undermining the upcoming elections, cease their engagement in violence and intimidation and occupation of official buildings.

Q    Jay, do you have any sense of timing in terms of the elections this weekend and how quickly you guys would be able to assess how those elections went and then make a determination on sectoral sanctions?  I mean, is that something that can happen on Sunday?  Is that something that takes a week to figure out, or something in between?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it depends, of course, on how the process unfolds.  There will be international observers in most parts of the country, as I understand it, organized by the OSCE.  And the OSCE continues to report good progress in the preparations for balloting across the country.  And most of the country, of course, is calm, and we expect that election -- that the balloting on election day will be able to proceed effectively and peacefully and freely.

We obviously have concerns about the efforts by separatists to disrupt the ability of Ukrainians to engage in free and fair elections in Luhansk and Donetsk and those regions of eastern Ukraine, and we call on Russia to use its influence on the separatists to get them to cease in that effort. 

In terms of how soon we’ll know, it just depends on how it goes.  Again, I think OCSE may have a better sense of what their expectations are, but much of it depends on what takes place on election day.

Q    Do you have an assessment now of how things are shaping up in terms of the potential for a fair election?  You mentioned the disruptions by the separatists.  How disruptive are they? 

MR. CARNEY:  Right.  As I think I mentioned the other day, it’s important to remember that most of the country remains calm and that a smooth election process should be able to take place.

We do have concerns about the efforts to undermine the electoral process in eastern Ukraine, especially in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.  I would point out that it is certainly possible, and there are precedents for it, to see Ukraine carry out free and fair elections even if there are pockets of the country where there is violence or there are successful efforts to prevent people from voting and having a free and fair election. 

We’ve seen reports of election offices raided, ballots taken, and the like.  And again, if Russia were serious about wanting to use its influence on separatists to allow for a free and fair election, we believe they could do so.

Q    The House passed the Defense Authorization bill today.  Is the White House threatening to veto that because of the Gitmo restrictions in it?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me see if I have anything on that.  I’ll have to take the question.  Sorry.

Q    -- on VA, could you talk about just two brief things?  One, is there any more light you can shed on how the White House views the VA Accountability Act and what discussions you’ve had with the Senate Democratic leadership in terms of whether they would bring that up?

And also, when the President said that Rob Nabors’s report would happen next month, can you give us a little more information on when next month he expects to get that comprehensive review?

MR. CARNEY:  I would only point you to what the President said in terms of the timing of Rob’s more comprehensive review and his expectation that Rob will have it for him next month. 

On the issue of the legislation, the administration shares and supports the goals of the bill, ensuring accountability at the VA.  We do have some concerns that some provisions could result in significant litigation, which would defer valuable time and resources from VA’s accountability efforts and its core mission of delivering quality services to our veterans.

But we’ve been very clear we want to work with Congress on specific language issues and look forward to discussing the bill going forward.  And I would note that the President has also directed Secretary Shinseki to make sure that the VA is making maximum use of its existing authorities and looking at whether the VA needs any additional tools in this area.  I think the President made clear that not only -- that if there’s evidence of misconduct, if individuals are engaged in misconduct, and there is evidence of that established, that he wants to see folks suffer consequences for that.

Q    Jay, has the U.S. formally asked China to turn over the five military officials that were charged with cyber espionage earlier this week?

MR. CARNEY:  For the specifics of that conversation I think I would refer you to Justice.

Q    We’ve gone to Justice, and they're not saying --

MR. CARNEY:  I think what I talked about earlier when the announcements were made is that consistent with routine practice when individuals, foreign nationals in foreign countries are charged with crimes in U.S. courts, we as a routine matter seek the assistance of the foreign government.  But the specifics of that conversation and that communication are not available to me.

Q    One last thing on the VA.  Next week, when he goes to West Point, do we expect him to talk about the situation with the vets at all? 

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a preview of the President’s commencement address at West Point at this time.

Q    Do you expect he will?  I mean, he has used those to make -- no, I mean he’s used those to set policy or shape our view of policy going forward in the past.

MR. CARNEY:  Margaret, I just don't have a preview of those remarks.  I would note since we’re now -- you’re now asking me when is the next time he’s going to talk about the VA, that it has been 24 hours since he spoke about the VA. 

Q    (Laughter.)  Actually, that's not what I was asking you.

MR. CARNEY:  But it is essentially the question. 

Q    That wasn’t my question.

Q    Her question was if there’s a broader policy --

Q    I’m asking you if he’s going to use the commencement speech to make policy, not on the VA.

MR. CARNEY:  As I said when I answered the question moments ago, I don't have a preview of the speech.

Q    When you fly to Chicago, can you talk us through that a little bit, what he’ll do, besides the fundraisers?

MR. CARNEY:  He has a couple -- I just said he has a couple of events for -- I’m not sure if they're -- which committee, I think DCCC.  I can find out. 

2:05 P.M. EDT

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