Press Gaggle by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Commnications Ben Rhodes and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Dan Restrepo Previewing the President's Visit to Chile
12:07 P.M. CT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. This is our gaggle. Today our guest stars are Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes; and Senior Director at the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere is also with us, Mr. Restrepo, Dan Restrepo.
So Ben will start. Dan will also have an opening statement, and then they’ll take your questions. And I’ll stand back here.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, everybody. Let me just give you a couple updates and then I’ll go through the schedule. And then Dan can make some other comments about Chile and the President’s speech. First of all, at 9:40 a.m. today on the plane, the President had a one-hour secure call with Tom Donilon, Bill Daley, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Admiral Mullen, and General Ham. He got a briefing from Admiral Mullen and General Ham about the status of our military operations, what took place overnight, and the planning that they are doing going forward.
He got a review from Secretary Clinton about the status of our coalition-building efforts, the diplomacy associated with the enforcement of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, and the work that we are doing, again, as we support this effort on the front end and look to transition to a lead role for our coalition partners in the coming days.
The President, again, was able to receive those briefings and have a discussion with his national security team.
After that call, the President did a call with Tom Donilon, Bill Daley, John Holdren, and John Brennan to get an update from John Brennan and John Holdren on the situation in Japan. On this call, the President got an update about the developments at Fukushima, and our ongoing efforts to inform American citizens in Japan and provide them with support, as well as our ongoing efforts to support the government of Japan as it copes with this very difficult situation.
With that, I’ll point to what we’re doing today, and then turn it over to Dan to make some other comments.
After we arrive -- and you saw this in the guidance -- but there will be an arrival ceremony, and then the President will move into the bilateral meeting with President Piñera of Chile. And Dan can speak to the issues that we’ll be going through. Chile is obviously a very close partner of the United States. We cooperate on a range of issues and have a free trade agreement with them; work together through regional organizations like APEC. So Chile is a good and strong partner of the United States in this part of the world, and therefore this is a good opportunity to renew our efforts with them on a range of issues.
Following the bilateral meeting, there will be a press conference with the two leaders. After the press conference, the President will go and deliver a speech at the Centro -- Dan, you may have to give the --
MR. RESTREPO: It’s Centro Cultural de la Moneda, the cultural center of the presidential palace, which is named la Moneda.
MR. RHODES: There you go. Thanks for the assist. This speech will be not just about Chile. This is a speech to the broader region. And this is meant to be the President’s signal speech about his Latin American policy in his first term. He will review the range of efforts that we have ongoing across the region in a number of areas and our vision for both the region and the U.S. role in the region. And Dan can speak a little bit more to that as well.
We’re very honored that the speech will also be attended by all the former presidents of Chile, as well as --
MR. RESTREPO: Three of the four.
MR. RHODES: Three of the four former presidents of Chile, and members of the diplomatic corps from around the region.
Q Which ones? Like Lagos --
MR. RESTREPO: It’s Lagos, Aylwin, and Frei. President Bachelet is in Tunisia and Egypt in her role for U.N. women, which is why she’s not there.
Q Lagos, Frei, and who?
MR. RESTREPO: Lagos, Frei and Aylwin.
MR. RHODES: So then the last piece of the day is tonight President Piñera will host an official dinner for the President and Mrs. Obama.
Dan, you may want to tee up Chile and the speech.
MR. RESTREPO: Thanks, Ben. Picking up on the themes that you saw over the course of the last two days with the President’s visit in Brazil, Chile is another strong partner in the -- for the United States in the Americas but also a global partner working on a series of issues. This is the first formal bilat that the President will have with President Piñera, but they have interacted on the margins of several important international meetings -- at the last APEC summit, at the Nuclear Security Summit last year in April.
Picking up on that, Chile will host a regional follow-up to the Nuclear Security Summit in May. So the presidents will be talking about that. They will be obviously talking about the trade relationship between the two countries, as well as the work that we’re doing together to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Chile is one of the founding countries, one of the P4 that started the Trans-Pacific Partnership process in motion and has been a key partner in moving it forward.
Also on the agenda will be a series of issues related to disaster response and enhancing the cooperation between the United States and Chile and other partners in the Americas. Chile has a wealth of hard-earned experience on disaster response. As you all know, it had a very significant earthquake 13 months ago. Our FEMA and its counterpart in Chile have been working and will be intensifying that work.
Also Chile is playing an important role in following up a Council of the Defense Ministers of the Americas proposal that the United States and 13 other countries put forward last November when Secretary Gates went to Bolivia for that meeting on the military support for civilian response to disaster relief in the Americas, building on the shared experiences in Haiti. Haiti will be a topic. Chile is a very key member of the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH. Yesterday Haiti had the second round of its presidential elections, and so the two presidents will talk about the path forward and the importance of the international community continuing to work to support the Haitian people as they recover from last year’s devastating earthquake.
Also on the agenda will -- I think you also get a regional -- Chile has gained prominence or is more engaged in regional policy and the President will have an opportunity to exchange views with President Piñera about the integration efforts in south America, about regional security issues in Central America, where the Chileans are stepping up and playing a greater role.
Many of those same themes will carry over to the President’s speech later in the day, where he will, as Ben noted, lay down the -- his approach to the Americas, recognizing the significant advances that have been made but the also significant challenges that remain for the people of the Americas and countries of the Americas, both on inequality and overcoming historic inequality; strengthening democracies in the region; and addressing the key challenges that face the countries and people of the Americas, be it on citizen security, be it on climate and energy -- climate change and energy security, be it on promoting greater economic and social inclusion -- all areas in which Chile is a leader. One of the reasons that we chose Santiago as a venue for this speech is exactly that, that these are issues where the Chilean experience and the consolidation of Chilean democracy over the last 20 years plus its leveraging of its global commercial relationships to benefit an increasing -- increasing sectors of Chilean society, hold lessons for countries in the Americas and countries around the world in light of unfolding events.
So with that, I think we’re good on overview and I think we were going to take some questions.
Q Ben, on Libya, reports confirm today that Qaddafi’s compound was hit by artillery. Wondered if you could comment on that? What does that mean in terms of the nature of the mission, if they’re specifically targeting him? And is there evidence of civilian shields being used in Libya right now?
MR. RHODES: On that specific targeting question, I’m not the best person to answer it. I think the Pentagon can go through the targeting list better than I can, as well as the targeting list both of the United States and of our coalition partners.
I will say that, again, the target list that we have pursued has been based upon protecting Libyan civilians and establishing a no-fly zone, thereby taking out things like air defenses, things associated with air defenses, anti-aircraft, as well as air assets by Qaddafi, in addition to forces that he had around Benghazi.
But with regard to the specifics, I think the military would have the -- should be the --
Q Is part of the mission -- is taking Qaddafi out part of the mission?
MR. RHODES: No. We’ve said this a number of times, that there are very clearly defined goals for the military operation that we are undertaking. It is to protect Libyan civilians, stop the advances of Qaddafi’s forces on cities like Benghazi, enable the establishment of a no-fly zone, and enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya.
Those are the express purpose of the military mission, which is enforcing U.N. Security Council 1973, which is about protecting the Libyan people, which is not about regime change.
Q And human shields?
MR. RHODES: With human shields, certainly -- we are aware of Qaddafi’s -- the potential that he may engage in that kind of action. You saw Admiral Mullen speak to it I think yesterday morning. So I don’t know that we have specific information but it’s certainly something we watch closely because we anticipate it’s a tactic that -- it’s certainly a tactic that would be consistent with how Qaddafi has acted.
Q And what would the coalition’s response be if you can -- if you are able to establish the existence of human shields? Are you not going to bomb these places? Presumably you’re not going to bomb them if there are human shields there.
MR. RHODES: Well, obviously in anything that we do we take great care to avoid any civilian casualties. So I’d leave it at that. And certainly we undertake to be as careful as we can in our military operations to ensure that there are not civilian casualties.
Q Can I just -- I’m sure others will want to talk about Libya, but can I ask about Yemen? There’s been reports of a senior member of the military coming out and declaring support for the protesters. Is the United States concerned that this could escalate the risks of violence and confrontation in Yemen and further destabilize the situation?
MR. RHODES: I think in Yemen you saw some changes in the government that were made yesterday. I think our view is that there’s clearly going to have to be a political solution in Yemen that includes a government that is more responsive to the Yemeni people. That has been our consistent message to President Saleh. John Brennan actually spoke with President Saleh yesterday to discuss developments in Yemen.
Our concern in the immediate term has been with the violence that we’ve seen in recent days. You saw the violence that took place with people being fired upon from rooftops a number of days ago. We communicated to the Yemeni government that that kind of violence is unacceptable; that people who engage in that violence need to be held accountable.
But in terms of how the situation will develop, we just continue to underscore that a political solution that leads to a government that is more responsive to the Yemeni people is going to have to be the way through this situation, not violence.
Q So to the specific question of some guy who has power to command tanks and artillery siding with the protesters, you don’t want to go to whether that’s going to exacerbate the risk for escalation and destability?
MR. RHODES: Look, I mean, these are -- in Yemen as it in other countries, these are very fluid situations. There have been a number of changes in the Yemeni government. We’re certainly aware of the statements made by this general today.
But again, I think that our message to everybody involved is that this should be channeled into a political dialogue in pursuit of a political solution and a government that is responsive to Yemenis; that, again, an escalation of violence is not in anybody’s interest.
Q Can you say whether the President has been briefed on Yemen or was briefed on Yemen today?
MR. RHODES: Yes. Every morning, it’s fair to say that his updates include not just Libya and Japan but also the situation in Yemen and other countries across the Middle East and North Africa that have been facing some of the similar issues with regard to protests. And I know Yemen was a part of that briefing this morning.
Q One more, about the issue of -- you have talked about being able to pass over the operation or the leadership of the mission, the no-fly mission, to international partners in a matter of days or weeks. Have you gotten any idea of how many days or weeks it’s going to take to be able to hand it over?
MR. RHODES: Again, I think what we’ve consistently said about this is that we have a unique set of capabilities that we are applying now on the front end that is going to enable the establishment of an effective no-fly zone, for instance, the efforts that we’ve undertaken to take out air-defense systems, air assets, that have led, in effect, to -- we have not seen, for instance, Qaddafi using air assets against his own people.
And similarly we had capabilities that together with our partners we could apply to protect Libyan civilians in population centers like Benghazi that had been under assault.
We are going to transition this to an international coalition in terms of having the longer-term enforcement of a no-fly zone. Right now we’re in discussions with our partners about the nature of that transition, the nature of the command structure that will follow on from the actions that we’re undertaking right now. We anticipate, again, that that command structure will include our European allies and will take place, we’ve said, in a matter of days, not weeks. So I would stick to that timeframe. I mean --
Q A year is days.
MR. RHODES: What?
Q A year is made up of days. I mean, is there any --
MR. RHODES: No, well, I think the temporal point is, yes, this is not going to be a couple of weeks. This is going to be a period of days.
Q So sooner than weeks.
MR. RHODES: Yes, exactly.
Q You haven’t seen Qaddafi using air assets against the Libyan people since the no-fly --
MR. RHODES: Not since we began our military operation. The Arab -- we’re continuing to talk to the Arabs. I think you saw a positive statement out of the GCC meeting, today, for instance, about the UAE and Qatar and their commitment to being a part of the international coalition. We’re still working with these countries to determine what the nature of their contributions will be to the enforcement of the no-fly zone over time, but we obviously see them as an important part of the coalition.
Q On Iran and Bahrain, the Bahrainians yesterday said that they had uncovered a foreign plot. Is the United States aware -- and this was clearly aimed at Tehran -- is the United States aware of any evidence of Iran trying to foment trouble with the Shia community in Bahrain?
MR. RHODES: I think that what’s clear is that the protests that originated in Bahrain were by the Bahraini people, and that led to the series of events that continues to play out. So we believe that these movements in some of these opposition forces are longstanding political parties, for instance within Bahrain, have contributed to the protests there.
That said, I think across the region, Iran always seeks to find ways to exert influence. That’s not unique to Bahrain. I think we’ve seen Iran and countries like Lebanon, for instance, and others, seek to exploit opportunities for their own interests. So it’s something we watch very closely. I wouldn’t say that -- I wouldn’t say that we’re going to spell out in precise terms what we think their role might be in Bahrain other than to say that we always monitor these types of situations for Iranian efforts to try to take advantage of situations for their own interests.
Q But you seem to be waving us away from it a little bit by pointing out that the opposition has been there for a long time. These people haven’t just suddenly arrived from Iran. I mean, that seems to be the thrust of what you’re saying by emphasizing that.
MR. RHODES: Well, I think that it cuts both ways. On the one hand, it is very clear that there is a longstanding indigenous opposition in Bahrain that is comprised of organized political movements and that they have been, again, the actors who have been most responsible for protests and organizing protests.
At the same time, it’s certainly fair to say that Iran would seek to try to take advantage of any situation in the region that it thought could to redound to its benefit. So we do take very seriously the risk of Iranian meddling and we’ll just monitor it closely.
Q Dan, quick question? In Chile, there were protests yesterday with some people demanding that the President acknowledge and even apologize for the role that the U.S. may have played in the overthrow of Allende. Is that issue likely to come up? How will the President address the role that the U.S. may have played leading up to that and during the Pinochet regime?
MR. RESTREPO: As you’re all aware, there was several years ago declassification of documents from that era. Those documents remain available to the public and obviously have been reported on and written about at great length.
I think the focus of the President’s comments both I think in the context of the bilateral relationship and in the hemisphere is, as you heard yesterday, as you’ve heard in previous occasions, understanding the events of the past but focused on the challenges of today.
One of the successful pieces of democratic transitions in particularly the -- particularly in Chile, has been accountability processes of -- within countries themselves. The U.S. has been supportive of those, will remain supportive of those accountability processes, because they are a vital piece of a stable transition like the one we’ve seen in Chile.
So the President will certainly speak to the lessons from the Chilean democratic transition and for Chile’s defense of democracy today in helping embattled civil society around the world, both in the context of the bilateral discussions with President Piñera and in the context of his speech on the Americas policy writ large.
Q Any acknowledgment of a U.S. role in the past, though?
MR. RESTREPO: I think the President in his statements at the Summit of the Americas, if you go back and look, was very clear on -- that the United States has not always lived up to its ideals in all aspects and that understanding the shared history of the Americas but not being prisoners to the shared history of the Americas; that the people of the Americas today want and need governments to move forward in partnership to deal with the challenges before people today on economic inclusion, on energy and environmental issues, on solidifying democracy in the region, on citizen security, and that’s where we’re focused and there’s where the President will be focused in his comments today.
Q Still no miners on the schedule?
MR. RESTREPO: Miners on the schedule? I am now aware of the miners on the President’s schedule.
Q Do you know what the press conference will be like? Will it be one, one and one? Or two? Do we know yet?
MR. RESTREPO: You’re asking the wrong guy.
Q Do you know?
MR. CARNEY: One, one and one. It’s one, one and one.
Q One U.S., international and local?
Q Dan, I’ve got just a general broader question. A lot of us went to these think-tank briefings all week to try and prepare for this, and one of the things that a lot of experts said at various organizations, you heard the same words: We haven’t had a coherent policy towards Latin America. We haven’t had a -- not just criticizing this President but past administrations, Democrat and Republican. We’ve lost influence, we’ve been focused on the Middle East. How do you guys respond to those kinds of comments?
MR. RESTREPO: I think you’ll see in the President’s comments today, speech today, that we very much have a coherent policy toward the Americas. And this President has had one from the beginning of his administration, again, focused on working in partnership with countries throughout the region on the challenges of today, with an increasingly capable set of partners in the region to work on citizen security issues, economic and social inclusion, energy and climate issues, the common defense of democracy. And also we have an increasing set of partners in the Americas that we can work with on the global stage. You saw that in the engagement over the course of the last two days in Brazil. You’ll see it again today, both in the bilateral context with Chile and in the multiple international fora where the President finds himself with leaders from the Americas -- in the G20, at APEC. It is -- at the Nuclear Security Summit, the Major Economies Forum.
There are multiple engagements by this administration, by this President, with leaders from throughout the Americas working on the key global issues. I think some people fall into a trap of separating the Americas out from the world. The President doesn’t do that, and his policy and his global engagement has very much been -- or engagement with the Americas has been very much a part of his engagement with the world. You see that with this trip and the actions that have led up to it and what will follow from it. And I think he’ll very clearly lay out his policy to date in moving forward in the Americas.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all very much. See you on the ground.
Q Thank you.
END 12:32 P.M. CT