Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/25/2011
1:36 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Before I start taking -- start with questions, I have a couple of things I want to bring up.
First of all, it’s a very sad, sad day here in the White House press office. As some of you may know, the delightfully droll and sartorially splendid Reid Cherlin is leaving us; this is his last day. He will be missed by all of us. And I’ve only worked with him for a short while; a lot of folks have worked with him a lot longer. And he is -- I know that he helped a lot of you over the years here, and he’s just a terrific asset that we’re losing. So wish him well when you see him.
Next -- I just happened to notice this the other day and I thought I’d throw it out there because we all like a little good news -- General Motors, you may have noticed, is by the fall going to hire back the final 2,000 of the workers that were laid off, which if you remember where we were just a few short years ago in terms of the economy in general and the American auto industry in particular, it’s quite a remarkable thing. And so we think that’s great.
I’d also like to mention that the President participated in a National Security Council meeting earlier today on Libya, and also will tell you that in about 21 minutes he will speak with leaders of Congress about Libya in a conference call.
And that is what I have for you. Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Jay. On that last point, can you tell us more about the call with Congress, who’s taking part from their end?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a list because I think it will partly depend on who is able to call in, since Congress is on recess, as you know. So we will provide a list to you after the fact.
Q How would you characterize the purpose --
MR. CARNEY: It’s part of the President’s -- as I’ve talked about -- part of his consultations with Congress, part of the administration’s consultations with Congress, and he will update them on the situation in Libya, on what we’ve accomplished thus far since the adoption of U.N. Security Council 1973. And he will update them on the transition of command and control to NATO, which as you know is taking place as I speak. So I think that's -- those are the issues he’ll cover, and obviously he’ll answer some questions.
Q Bipartisan, I assume?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q One follow on the -- you just mentioned command and control. I'd like to try to get a little clarity on that. The NATO Secretary General said yesterday that “there will still be a coalition operation and a NATO operation. We are considering whether NATO should take on the broader responsibility in accordance with the U.N. Security resolution. But that decision has not been made yet.”
And then a senior administration official said last night that NATO had in fact agreed to the entire operation. So can you clarify which --
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are two aspects of this. The senior administration official is correct, but the -- what has already happened and is occurring now is the transfer of command and control over the no-fly zone to NATO. That is happening.
What has been agreed to but the details of which -- the military planning aspect of which has not yet been finalized is the transfer of the rest of that, the civilian protection aspect of the military mission. So that, we expect, it will be wrapped up in the next couple of days. But it has been agreed to.
Q So the White House position is that NATO will take control over the entire operation. It’s just a matter of time on the last part.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s the position of our NATO allies and the coalition partners, but yes.
Q Syria -- which way does the United States see Syria going? And what are you hearing from allies in the region? Any concerns? What are their concerns? And does the White House still think that President Assad is still legitimate -- is legitimate?
MR. CARNEY: We strongly condemn the Syrian government’s attempts to repress and intimidate demonstrators, and we are calling for an immediate cease to the violence and killings of civilians at the hands of the Syrian security forces. It’s the same position we’ve taken throughout the region, and we condemn it strongly.
We have obviously, as we always do, consulted with our allies in the region. And we urge upon the Syrian government that they pursue a non-violent path, that they pursue political dialogue, because the future of this region depends upon -- the stability and future of this region depends upon the decision by governments to listen to their people, to act on their legitimate aspirations, and to open up their systems so that the people of these countries can have a greater stake in the future of their country and their own futures. So we take the same position with Syria as we’ve taken with others.
We also -- you know, we’re also deeply troubled by the arbitrary arrests of human rights activists in Syria, and we urge them to cease that practice, as well.
Q Are you in touch with President Assad at all?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything for you on that. But we are making clear from here and from other places what our position is.
Q GE in 2010 made more than $14 billion in profits, $5 billion here in the U.S., and yet GE paid no taxes last year. Given that the CEO of GE is the head of the President’s Competitiveness and Jobs Council, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on their paying no taxes last year, as opposed to probably every single person in this room.
MR. CARNEY: I hope so. But the -- look, Jake, I’ll just tell you I don't know about this specific company’s balance sheet or its tax returns. But I --
Q It’s on the front page of The New York Times today.
MR. CARNEY: But I can -- I’ve read the story.
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying I don't have my own assessment to make of it. But what I will tell you is that the President has said that he is committed to corporate tax reform, and he wants to do that because it will improve our competitiveness. And he believes that one of the ways to do that -- the way to do it is to -- you can lower the rate if you -- and still bring in the necessary revenue if you remove a lot of the loopholes and other aspects of it that make it complicated, that give companies fits and also make us less competitive in the process.
So he’s committed to corporate tax reform because it’s right for growth, it’s right for job creation, and he will have that conversation going forward.
Q Does it bother him?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken to the President about this, but he is bothered by what I think you’re getting at, which is that Americans, I’m sure, who read that story or heard about it are wondering how this could be. And one of the reasons why it could be -- again, not addressing the specific company because I don't know independently about that -- but it is part of the problem of the corporate tax structure that companies hire armies of tax lawyers to understand how it works and to take advantage of the various loopholes that exist that are legal in order to reduce their tax burden. And he thinks that in the name -- for the purpose of greater competitiveness and job creation, we have to address our corporate tax structure.
Q Well, if in the name of competitiveness and job creation, the President feels we have to address our corporate tax structure, why appoint to the head of the Competitiveness and Jobs Council a person who is now the poster child for using the system to get out of paying taxes?
MR. CARNEY: The Job Council and Competitiveness Council is designed for just that, and he has brought together a lot of voices on that and he wants to hear the opinions of every member of that council. And we have said, with regards to questions about other members who’ve been appointed, that the President obviously doesn’t want to counsel the people who agree with him on every issue -- he wants to hear diversity of opinion. In the end, the decisions that are made about which policy to pursue on corporate tax reform will be the President’s decision and his policy. So I think that addresses that question.
Q But is there a perception problem at all for the President? He says he wants to take on this issue and yet --
MR. CARNEY: He very much wants to take on this issue.
Q This is the second year in a row I believe that GE didn't pay any taxes, and yet he appoints the CEO to the head of his Competiveness and Jobs Council.
MR. CARNEY: I think the issue, Jake, is --
Q Does that not feed a cynicism that the American people might have?
MR. CARNEY: No, because the President is very committed to addressing this issue.
Q So much so that he puts the CEO of GE at the head of his Jobs and Competitiveness Council?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think -- Jake, we can do this five or six times. But he is committed to corporate tax reform. He believes that -- one of the reasons why he addressed it before this story came out, or stories -- is because that this is not an unusual situation; that the tax code is complex, it’s filled with loopholes, and other pieces of it that make it possible for corporations to reduce their tax burden. And it’s not good for the companies in terms of their competitiveness and potential for growth, and it’s obviously not good overall for job creation in the United States. So that's why he wants to address it.
Q The call that the President will be having with lawmakers, is that in direct response to some of the criticism that he’s been getting from up on the Hill that these lawmakers were not --
MR. CARNEY: It’s because you said it had to happen, Dan. No, it’s --
Q Then I’m glad he’s listening.
MR. CARNEY: It’s part of -- I won’t go through it again today, but the list I read you yesterday of the series of consultations and briefings that the President and members of his administration have had with both leadership and rank-and-file members and committee members on the Hill. It’s part of that process.
And he is -- he looks forward, when Congress is back, to having these meetings in person, but while they’re on recess he looks forward, in just a matter of minutes, to updating them on our progress, all that has been accomplished, the lives that have been saved, the incredible speed with which we have done what we said we would do, what the President said we would do, which was transfer command and control to NATO, and then update them on the progress or how we see things going forward. But this is one in a series of consultations.
Q You guys are listening to what’s happening up on the Hill, the criticism. Was there concern in the White House about the ongoing pressure, if you will, for the President to speak with lawmakers, explain what he’s doing in Libya --
MR. CARNEY: Dan, I’ll just go back to what I said yesterday, which is that we have consulted with Congress. I read a lengthy list of engagements that members of the administration have with Congress on this issue. We understand that it’s our responsibility. We take the need to consult very seriously. And the President will continue to do that, as will senior members of his administration.
I will also say that -- what I said yesterday, but it bears repeating -- that there was an urgency to act here. And had the President waited, given the preponderance of evidence that was available to everyone that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces were about to move on Benghazi and wreak horrible damage and kill many, many Libyans, had he waited for Congress to come back, had he waited for more -- taken more time to debate and consult on this issue, I think there’s very little doubt that Benghazi would have fallen and that many people would have died. And he believes very strongly that he made the right decision.
Q On the no-fly zone in Iraq, years of no-fly zone pressure did nothing to run Saddam Hussein from power, and I’m wondering if in Libya, is the administration prepared for a long, drawn-out process where Libya remains under the control of Muammar Qaddafi?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the -- even the -- the military mission that is described in Security Council Resolution 1973 goes beyond just the no-fly zone, as you know, and it includes the civilian protection piece that enables -- well, enables the coalition to do more to protect civilians than I believe the no-fly zone allowed in northern Iraq.
Secondly, as you know, on a separate track, it is the United States’ position, the President has stated often, that Muammar Qaddafi is not fit to lead and that we believe he should leave power. And we are engaged in a host of actions, unilaterally and multilaterally, that are designed to put pressure on Qaddafi, to put pressure on those around him, with the aim of -- that he will take the decision or those around him will take the decision that he has to go.
And we don’t have crystal balls here and I can’t predict what the future will bring, but we will stay focused on those measures even as the military mission reaches benchmarks of success, and as the transfer occurs we will continue with those tools that we have to put pressure on Qaddafi and his regime.
Q So the administration is pushing for a coup?
MR. CARNEY: That’s not what I said. I think we said that the Libyan people -- we have said the Libyan people need to decide who their leaders are. We think, quite clearly, that Qaddafi has lost legitimacy in the eyes of his people, not least because he has murdered his people in large numbers. And the purpose of many of the measures that we’ve taken, including financial sanctions and other measures, are aimed at putting pressure on him and isolating him so that he either makes the decision or those around him come to the conclusion that the future is not bright for this regime and that its capacity to function is severely limited in the world.
Q Mike has to run to a live shot, so he’s butting in line.
Q I thank the gentleman.
Q Please give him something to report. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: How can I help you, Mike?
Q You used the verb “consult.” You’re “consulting” Congress. They’ve been complaining that you’ve been informing them but not consulting -- for example, the meeting last Friday that was here or by teleconference or --
MR. CARNEY: Some members were here and some called in.
Q I understand. So if you’re consulting them, to what end are you consulting them? Are you asking them for congressional action, or why not just tell them what’s going on and inform them?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we want to hear what they think, and we want -- if they have suggestions about things that we should be doing, obviously the President wants to hear that. It is well within, as we’ve described and others have described, well within the President’s constitutional authority to take this military action. The precedent -- the list of precedents is quite long. But he believes that consultations with Congress are important, and he does want to hear their thoughts about the mission, about the situation in Libya, and about our overall policy there.
Q And on the question of leading the coalition, have we ever led the coalition? Are we still leading the coalition? When will we stop leading the coalition?
MR. CARNEY: We were a principal actor in the first phase of the military mission because of our unique capacity and capabilities that were brought to bear in sort of creating the environment necessary to enforce a no-fly zone and creating an environment where Qaddafi forces that were menacing cities like Benghazi and Misurata could be --
Q I understand. But a principal actor leaves open the question of someone else leading --
MR. CARNEY: No, we were -- I mean, there was no question that we were leading in the first phase.
Q So we’re first among equals?
MR. CARNEY: Look, it’s a partnership, but we -- at least in the early, the first several days were flying the majority of the sorties and doing the majority of the missions, although others were, as well. And that ratio has been shifting day by day.
And today -- to answer the second part of your question -- today, as I speak, the authority -- command and control authority for the enforcement of the no-fly zone is being shifted to NATO. It will no longer be a U.S. lead.
The authority for -- there is an agreement for the command and control over the rest of the mission, the civilian protection mission. There is an agreement at a political level and the military plans that -- associated with that are being worked out now and will be worked out in the next several days.
Q Thank you. I yield back.
Q I just want to follow up on that --
MR. CARNEY: Mr. Reid. (Laughter.)
Q You say that the United States has had a leader -- has been leading in the first phase. So that means the President, the Commander-in-Chief, has been the leader of this operation so far. Will he be giving up that leadership role as the transition happens?
MR. CARNEY: Chip, we have made clear from the start, from the moment the President announced his decision to take this, that our role in the lead would be a matter of days, not weeks, as we brought to bear our unique assets and capabilities to create an environment in Libya that allowed our allies to enforce the no-fly zone and our allies to take the lead in civilian protection. That process is underway right now, as he said. He said what he would do, and he’s doing what he said. So I don't see the confusion.
Q I’m not saying -- it’s not confusion, really. It’s just a lot of people -- mostly Republicans but even some Democrats -- are uncomfortable with the whole concept of the United States and the President stepping back from a leadership role in such a major international action --
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve heard a lot of voices, Chip, about how we should approach this. One thing I know that the President believes strongly is that the wrong course of action would have been, in this country or other countries, unilateral military action to remove the leader of an Arab country. I am confident that most Americans think that would have been a bad approach.
Instead he pursued a policy where we worked very quickly to build an international coalition that includes Arab support -- vitally important -- to launch this military action against Qaddafi’s forces. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. And it is the best thing to do in terms of U.S. national interests in the long term, because, as I’ve said about Libya and other countries, it is vitally important that the unrest that we’ve seen and the transformation that we’ve seen in these countries that is unfolding every day now be recognized for what it is, which is organic. It is about the people of these countries demanding to be heard, demanding greater rights, greater freedoms, and less repression. It is not about the United States of America.
And that's not -- making that decision is about leadership. It’s about keeping your eye on the ball about what's in the interests of the American people, in our national security interests.
Q But the primary purpose of all this was to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. If it becomes clear that that is no longer an imminent threat, will the President pull American forces out?
MR. CARNEY: The mission, as you just rightly stated, is to protect civilians -- we’re talking about the military mission -- and the United States will continue to participate in the coalition to enforce the mandate given by the United States -- the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 for as long as is necessary to make sure that those civilians are protected.
We, as I’ve said in answer to Dan’s question, are pursuing a whole host of other measures, unilaterally and multilaterally, with our partners to continue to put pressure on the Libyan regime, on the Qaddafi regime.
Q And I just want to -- one last question to clarify. The Pentagon says that U.S. pilots -- well, they anticipate that U.S. pilots will continue to participate in strike missions -- not just surveillance, but strike missions in Libya -- even after the transition. To whom will those pilots be reporting -- somebody other than Americans?
MR. CARNEY: I'll refer you to the Pentagon for the specifics. I believe, as I’ve said, that in terms of -- and I don't -- the details lie across the river at the Defense Department, but it is certainly the case that while we -- the control -- command and control transition is still pending on the civilian protection aspect of this, that the United States will continue to fly sorties as part of that mission. And again, that's a matter of days and not weeks.
In terms of our -- we’re taking --
Q I think the Pentagon was making clear that this would go on.
MR. CARNEY: But overall it’s about a lead role, okay? And I will refer you to the Pentagon to the details of what we will continue to be doing. But what we will not be is in the lead in either the no-fly zone or the civilian protection.
Q But is the President comfortable having U.S. pilots report to foreign commands?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think this President and the previous President was comfortable having United States forces report to NATO commanders -- non-American NATO commanders in Afghanistan, and that's how NATO works, so we feel very comfortable with the structure of NATO. It is, by the way, the most successful and powerful military alliance in the history of the world. And we think it’s quite a good one.
Q You said the broad coalition the President has built is the right, smart and best thing to do in terms of U.S. national interest, but also appear to move more slowly than a coalition of folks more on the same page. Is that just an acceptable trade-off?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Wendell, I would certainly say that it was worth the time to assemble a coalition. I would also say that the time was pretty compressed. If you look at any historical precedent for this kind of action to be taken, this kind of collective action by our international partners, there is no comparison at all. And I think in the past -- I have given you a blow by blow of the comparison in terms of sanctions taken in Bosnia, or the use of military kinetic force in Bosnia and how long it took for the world to act in those case. And that's certainly true in a host of previous examples.
So the speed here was I think notable, and the need to do it with a coalition of international partners was essential.
Q Given that it is U.S. policy that Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy and should go but that is not the goal of the U.N. Security Council resolution, one of the questions Speaker Boehner has is can military action in Libya end with Qaddafi still in power?
MR. CARNEY: That's a question that depends on Qaddafi’s decision regarding the use of force and violence against his people, against the people of Libya -- I dare say they're not “his” people. The mission of the United States, the mission of the military coalition authorized by the United Nations Security Council is to protect Libyan civilians, and that mission continues as long as Libyan civilians are threatened by Qaddafi’s forces.
Q Meaning if he stops threatening them --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don't want to predict the future and how this plays out. What I have said is what the mission is. I have also, I think, elaborated on what -- the other actions we have taken and what their goal and purpose is. And those continue now and in the future regardless of -- or in concert with the military mission.
Q Secretary of State Clinton said she feared Libya could become another Somalia with groups like al Qaeda and Islamic Maghreb. Is the lack of boots on the ground, if you will, leaving an opening for them? Do you need a more robust --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we -- the President has made very clear that we are not sending American troops into Libya on the ground. We are obviously working in a variety of ways to reach out to the opposition in Libya, to advise them on what a post-Qaddafi Libya would best look like in the sense that we believe that as with every government -- every country in the region, that the government that is most responsive to the aspirations and grievances of its people will be the most successful. So those consultations are obviously part of our policy.
Q This might sound like a silly question, but the format of the President’s call to lawmakers, will they be allowed -- will it just be him talking or will they be allowed to ask him questions and give him suggestions --
MR. CARNEY: I believe it’s a conversation.
Q And do you know if his update will include cost analysis of the war or the -- not the war, excuse me -- of the conflict?
MR. CARNEY: That may come up. I don’t -- I don’t know, since it’s happening now.
Q And do you have any update of when we will hear from him, or the public will hear from him, considering all the confusion? Everyone is asking about --
MR. CARNEY: From the President?
Q Yes, excuse me.
MR. CARNEY: The President, I can tell you with great confidence, will speak about this in the relatively near future, will -- as he has numerous times in the last several days. He believes it’s vitally important, it’s part of his role as President and Commander-in-Chief to speak to the American people about an operation like this, and he will do that in the very near future.
Q Hours or days?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to give you a time or a day --
Q Will it be after the transition?
MR. CARNEY: -- but in the very near future.
Q What about the venue?
MR. CARNEY: Not today, but very near future. And I’m not -- you guys can pepper me with questions, but I don’t have any more for you on that.
Q What is the weekly address on, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: The weekly address is embargoed, Mark, as you know, so I’m not going to announce the subject now.
Q No? Might he mention Libya in the Greek event?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that whatever he talks about in the weekly address, that if it were to mention Libya it would not be the only time that he addresses the American people on the subject of Libya in the very near future.
Q You might save yourself a lot of questions if you put the conference call on the mult. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I’m confident that with the number of people on that call, it’s -- the contents of it --
Q On the mult already? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The contents of the conversation will be known to you all very soon. (Laughter.)
Q A former Libyan Prime Minister who was taking part in talks at the African Union today says his country is ready to talk with opposition rebels and accept political reforms, possibly even elections. Are you aware of this? What’s your reaction to that? How serious is this offer?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without addressing the specific offer, we are aware of contacts that various members of the regime have made -- I’ll just say that generally. But what we don’t know is what they amount to, in terms of the outcome that they would bear. But we’re aware of contacts that are being made.
Q Have there been specific discussions with this --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into details about that.
Q Okay. And why do you think a Gallup poll that was conducted this week shows support for the mission in Libya as the lowest at the start of any U.S. military action in the past three decades?
MR. CARNEY: And how high was it?
Q It was 47 percent compared to 51 percent of Americans who approved of Kosovo.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that the American people have a lot on their mind and a lot on their plate right now. We’re still coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. We’ve been focused -- the American people have, as well as the government, on the tragic events in Japan. I think there’s -- it’s a lot for anybody to process.
And we’re confident that the President’s decision is the right one, and he will speak to the American people, as he has in the past, about how he made his decision, what the objectives are, and why he thinks it’s the right thing for the United States and for the American people.
Q Jay, last week 64 senators wrote to the President asking him to play a more active role in the long-term budget talks. When they come back into session next week, what should we look for?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re referring to the longer-term issues that --
Q Not the 2011 --
MR. CARNEY: The debt-related issues. And as he had said, very much looks forward to doing that. He believes that it is precisely the path that needs to be taken, a conversation with members of both parties, everybody getting into the boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over, and that that's the only way that we can effectively deal with these difficult issues, which have proven so hard to deal with in the past because they are complex and politically charged; that the way to do that is to do it in a bipartisan way and a conversation where a lot of folks from both parties participate. So he welcomes that and looks forward to doing it.
Obviously he and they, the leaders of Congress and the members of Congress, still have some unfinished business to attend to in terms of the finishing up the 2011 fiscal year budget, which is last year’s business and needs to be attended to.
Q So does he think that has to be done first before that --
MR. CARNEY: I think nobody believes -- we are open to all sorts of ideas for funding the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011. And I’ve gone through the various parameters the President has set, and the fact that we’ve come more than halfway towards the Republicans, and negotiations are ongoing at many levels. I believe the Vice President -- we put out the fact that the Vice President made some phone calls on this yesterday, and senior administration officials are engaged in these conversations.
And again, without prescribing the contents of that deal, which is only a one-year deal, what I think is irrefutable is that no single-year fiscal deal is going to resolve the long-term debt issues that face us in terms of entitlements, tax expenditures, defense spending, and all the major drivers of long-term debt that have to be addressed.
Q Two questions. Does the President still have confidence in Mr. Immelt to run the Jobs Council?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, he does.
Q Yes, he does. And then the second question is, Christina Romer this week gave a speech where she said the 8.9 percent unemployment is a “absolute crisis” and she said that it’s shameful that people in Washington, including the administration and the Federal Reserve, are not doing enough. Does the President agree with those remarks? Has he heard about that? And what is his reaction?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t talked to him about those, but we certainly agree that 8.9 percent, while it has come down substantially from its high, is much too high. That is why the President engaged with Republicans to reach the bipartisan tax cut deal that he reached in the lame duck session in December. And within that deal are a lot of things that address growth, address job creation, and we think will have already been effective in terms of improving the economic picture in the first quarter of this year.
So he is --
Q Do you think you’re doing all you can to reduce unemployment?
MR. CARNEY: We are doing everything we can, working with Congress, to address these issues. And he’s taken dramatic measures, as you know, in the first two years, two plus years, of his presidency, because nothing is a higher priority for him than economic growth, job creation, innovation, education, infrastructure as the drivers of economic growth and job creation in the 21st century.
There is -- a lot of folks have asked about, as we’ve gone through these significant events in the early part of this year, how can you still go out and give speeches on education or the economy? Because, first of all, he’s President of the United States and it is the responsibility of the President to do many things at once, to keep his focus on a number of high priorities.
But secondly, because this is vitally important. That’s why he went to South America, because this is a region of the world that will contribute greatly to the country’s economic growth in the 21st century. So I think his commitment is extremely strong on that.
Q With the instability in Yemen increasing and the massive protests and counterprotests today, is it in the United States’ interests that President Saleh stay in power? And has President Obama spoken with him in the last few weeks, either to suggest that he step down or stay or for any other reason?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything -- I don’t believe the President has spoken to President Saleh, although we can double-check that. As you know, and I believe we’ve read out, John Brennan, the homeland security advisor, has, on several occasions, spoken with him.
But going back to the top of your question, it is not for us to decide the leaders of other countries. We have said to the leadership in Yemen what we have said to the leadership in other countries. It is not acceptable to use violence against peaceful protesters. We condemn that. We urge upon the leaders of these countries the idea that they pursue peaceful political dialogue with the broad swath of their -- representatives of the people of their countries to respond to -- there is a reason for these protests, and to hear them and respond to them and to reform accordingly. That’s our position in Yemen. It’s our position across the region.
Q But this country has a particular interest for us because it has al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
MR. CARNEY: I think we have interests and important relationships across the region. It is an extraordinarily important region of the world where we have problem relationships and ally relationships. The principles apply to all of them. And we are working with governments in the region, advising them on what we think they should do, the right course of action, the political dialogue, the nonviolent response to these protests. And again, that applies to Yemen; it applies across the region.
Q Jay, can we come back to the civilian protection part of the Libya mission? I know you’ve said that you expect that that’s going to be resolved in the next few days, but isn’t that a little more -- well, not a little -- a lot more difficult? Turkey has objected to participation in air strikes; the Germans, of course, are not participating in the mission, in general military terms. What I'm getting at is, is it not a setback that NATO did not take everything under its wing right away?
MR. CARNEY: I think we talked yesterday about what days, not weeks, meant, and that we’re still not even at one week yet, so we have -- before we get to plural of weeks, we have quite a few number of days left.
A setback? Under what construct could six days, in terms of transfer from the U.S. lead to NATO command and control for the no-fly zone be a prolonged period of time, and two more days, or several more days, to resolve the underlying issues of an agreement that has already been reached on civilian protection, the civilian protection aspect? Again, that is a very remarkably short period of time.
We believe that coalitions -- obviously everybody needs to be consulted, everybody participates in the agreements and the discussions. That’s what coalitions are about. We think that this has functioned remarkably well, given the circumstances.
Q But hasn’t this gone on for weeks?
MR. CARNEY: Wait, wait, wait. What, what?
Q I mean, the conflict has been going on for weeks, so you can’t say it’s just a matter of days --
MR. CARNEY: The military mission was authorized --
Q -- by the military, but the conflict --
MR. CARNEY: The military mission has been -- this is day six, right, I believe?
Q Of the military operation, but the conflict itself. So the administration and the international community --
MR. CARNEY: Well, it was authorized a few days before that. Look, I will not argue with the fact that because of the need to act quickly, that every T was not crossed and every I dotted prior to this. We did not have that luxury. But the reality is that in that environment, the coalition has worked extremely well and extremely quickly to come to these agreements.
Q When you talk about this new phase and the United States no longer in the lead, should Americans assume from that that American warplanes will no longer be flying over that area? Will the American forces that are still participating be under foreign -- a foreign commander? And is the impression now that the U.S. doing the jamming and the -- is literally kind of out of the combat, less risk to American personnel?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the less direct engagement you have -- to start at the end of your list of questions, is that it’s always risky. There’s no question that risk will continue, just because American forces are in the region advising and assisting as part of this coalition. But the risk would, I think, logically be reduced the less -- the fewer flights we’re flying and the fewer actions we’re taking that are kinetic, so to speak.
In terms of the specifics of airplanes in the sky, the ratio has gone down dramatically, will continue to go down. I believe we have said -- I would refer you to the Pentagon for the specifics -- that on the no-fly zone aspect of this, we will not be participating in the flights. But I don’t want to -- on the details, I think the Pentagon has the best information. And I think they’ve been briefing at the same time that I’ve been briefing on this.
Q Members of the Congress after the conversation they had with the President last Friday at noon complained that they couldn’t ask questions the way the conference call was set. Do you know whether he is actually taking questions from members --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure that that’s the case. My understanding is that there was a discussion and various members did have questions, did have comments in that briefing that the President gave.
Q And how many are actually with the President today, or is it all by teleconference?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that we have any physically with the President. We can check on that once we find out who was able to participate.
Q Thanks, Jay. Do you believe the American people understand why we’re taking military action in Libya, but say, for example, not Bahrain, where there is also unrest, protests, a non-democratic form of government? And does the President owe the American people sort of a clear explanation of what the standard is for military intervention in this region?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s an excellent question, and I think the President, as I said, will address in the very near future some of the answers to these questions or the answers to these specific questions.
I think that the American people do expect and will get from this President what they have gotten in the past, which is a very clear explanation of the decisions he makes when he makes the significant decision to engage in military action, to send America’s men and women in uniform into harm’s way.
And I think on the question of what's different about Libya, I think scale is important here. The enormity of the potential violence -- well, the amount of violence that had occurred against civilian populations but also what was about to occur, and the promises made by Qaddafi himself on what he would do to the people of Benghazi were obviously factors in this.
Q On Tuesday, President Obama, in answer to a question about whether Qaddafi -- what would happen if Qaddafi remained in power, said, unless he changes his approach and provides the Libyan people with an opportunity to express themselves freely, and there are significant reforms in the Libyan government, unless he’s willing to step down, there are going to be potential threats.
I’m just wondering is it still a possibility for Qaddafi to make changes to his government, to reform, or does he absolutely have to go, regardless of what reforms --
MR. CARNEY: It is our position that he needs to leave, that he’s no longer legitimate. But I think -- I’m glad that when you read that quote, that you read it to the end, where he said that part of that is stepping down. And what I think -- what I know the President was saying is what we have said and he has said in the past, which is that he is obviously menacing his own people, using violence against his own people, it continues, and as long as he remains in power, it is certainly, given past behavior, not to be expected that he will no longer be a menace to his own people.
So we believe that the change of mind that we would hope he would reach is to cease and desist the violence and to give up power.
Q In the context --
Q Just two questions --
Q Sorry, in the context of the reports that there are these talks ongoing, if the consequence of these talks are that the Libyan leaders are willing to go forward with reforms but that Qaddafi wants to stay in power, we would not accept that as an option?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to entertain that hypothetical because the world as it is -- complicated enough. So I will stick to what we know and not what we may or may not be able to predict.
Q Jay --
MR. CARNEY: Hold on, Lester.
Q I was next.
Q A question on Syria.
Q You’ll come back to me?
MR. CARNEY: I'll tell you what. You’re saying two questions. How about one?
Q Go for it.
Q All right.
Q Another two-parter.
Q Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times report the arrest of 130 illegal aliens in Virginia this week. Is the President gratified or sorry?
MR. CARNEY: I have no response because I haven’t spoken to him about those arrests. I would tell you that the President believes that it is very important to enforce our immigration laws. But that's my response.
Q Can I just follow one -- just one? (Laughter.) Does the President believe that illegal aliens who repeat their invading after being drafted and are -- who commit additional crimes should just continue being sent back? Or should they be imprisoned?
MR. CARNEY: Lester, I’m not even sure I understand your question. But I will just refer you to what I said, which is --
Q What if they repeat their crimes? If they’re sent back and then they go back again and repeat their crimes, does he think they should just be sent back or imprisoned?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President is committed to enforcement of our immigration laws.
Q Thank you.
Q On Syria, does the President think that Assad still has legitimacy to govern? That seemed to have been a threshold issue on his policy on Libya, and in Syria you start to see the violence against his own people --
MR. CARNEY: Which we strongly condemn.
Q Exactly. Does he still have the legitimacy to govern?
MR. CARNEY: I would just say that we strongly condemn the violence. We urge on the government of Syria what we have urged on the governments in other regions: that they pursue a peaceful course here; that they participate in a political dialogue with their people because that is the better path. And we also urge the Syrian government to refrain from in any way detaining or -- human rights activists or journalists as part of this position.
Q Well, if he -- if they continue violence against --
MR. CARNEY: There you go with hypotheticals.
Q Jay, it’s not a very long stretch to be hypothetical in Syria right now. Is that a threshold? Is there a point at which --
MR. CARNEY: I don't want to --
Q -- tips the scale on legitimacy to govern?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to engage in that hypothetical. I just would say that our position now is that we strongly condemn what’s been happening and are monitoring it very closely.
Q Yesterday, Secretary Gates said in Tel Aviv that he’s carrying a message that it was time to take bold actions towards implementing the two-state solution. Was he carrying a detailed message from the President? Is the President ready to do and make bold actions, as well, to implement the peace process and to have the two states?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he was certainly -- without going into any -- the details, the Secretary was expressing the President’s point of view that both sides need to take bold steps towards peace, that that is the only resolution to this vexing problem. And he encourages both sides to do that. And he also, as you know, spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and expressed his condolences about the bombing in Jerusalem and the other -- the attacks that they’ve seen. And we urge restraint and we urge both sides to take bold steps towards peace.
Q You often hear in Washington disquiet about the extent to which some European nations have been cutting their defense budgets and the extent to which they are able to kind of join international military operations. Given that, how important is the successful resolution of this Libyan action to proving that -- or to ascertaining whether they can actually alleviate the burden on the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been very gratified, Stephen, by the willingness of coalition members to participate in this very important endeavor, and we think it’s a sign of the strength of our international partnerships and our alliance in the case of NATO. And I think that's a welcome sign about our ability to work together to solve or to address some of these very difficult problems. And we really do think that that's an effective way to tackle some of these issues.
I’m going to start jumping around here. Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. Given what you mentioned about your reaching out to the opposition, the Libyan opposition, why doesn’t the President recognize the interim council in Benghazi as the legitimate representative of Libya? Is he skeptical? And is arming them still a possibility in order to achieve U.S. policy goal of getting Qaddafi to step down?
MR. CARNEY: What I’ve said in the past is that we are looking at a variety of ways to assist the opposition, and that continues. And we have -- as you know, the Secretary of State met with the head of the National Council, and that was a form of recognition about the importance of that body. But we're not at a point where we're going to pick leaders. We think it’s very important for the Libyan people to have a voice in that process. And I'm not trying to set benchmarks on how this will work. But we are working with the opposition, consulting with the opposition, looking at ways we can assist them, and that work continues every day.
Q Thanks, Jay. Congressman Braley, a Democrat from Iowa, said that your answer yesterday on the cost of the operations was unacceptable. And I understand obviously that you don't want to get into predicting future costs, but why can't you guys say how much has been spent so far over the six days, or even just last weekend?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have the figures, Kara, and I'm certain that part of our consultations with Congress will address this issue. What we have said is that we feel confident, given the nature and the limitations on the mission, that it can be paid for within existing budget appropriations because there are funds that exist for that purpose.
Mr. Sheridan, I see your hand is up there. Welcome back.
Q Thank you. You had my question.
MR. CARNEY: Congratulations, by the way.
Q Thank you. I mean, assistance to the opposition -- you’ve ruled out, just to be clear, non -- military assistance, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not -- I think that we actually -- there was a few weeks ago a statement that the arms embargo prevented us from doing that, and in fact, there’s flexibility within that to take that action if we thought that were the right way to go.
Q So there’s still possibility --
MR. CARNEY: I think that's right, yes.
All the way in the back. Yes, sir, blue shirt.
Q Thank you, Jay. Can you clarify something you said earlier? You said the U.S. would remain committed to the coalition as long as it takes to keep the civilians safe. So is the military participation from the U.S. coalition-dependent? If the coalition dissolves, will then the military participation from the U.S. also go away?
MR. CARNEY: The world is complicated enough for me not --
Q It’s not a hypothetical --
MR. CARNEY: It is a hypothetical. You're saying if something happens, will the U.S. do something.
Q The administration has stressed so many times the importance of the coalition in going in. And so if that's the case, then someone has to have raised that question in the national security meeting.
MR. CARNEY: My understanding, my reading of Resolution 1973 is, it does not have a time limit on it. It is -- says that the coalition will --
Q Does it have a coalition limit?
MR. CARNEY: -- will use all necessary measures to --
Q Does it have a coalition limit?
MR. CARNEY: I don't read one in it, do you? The -- will use all necessary measures to protect Libyan civilians.
Take one more. Yes, ma’am, all the way back.
MR. CARNEY: Sarah, sorry.
Q Thank you. The President just came back from Brazil, Chile and Panama, as you know. And is he going to visit Puerto Rico -- (laughter) -- sometime this year?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any travel announcements for you, but -- well, I don't have any travel announcements for you. (Laughter.) Thank you. Bye-bye.
Q Hey, Jay, week ahead?
Q Week ahead.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, oh.
Q How was Panama?
MR. CARNEY: Panama?
Q That’s what she asked.
MR. CARNEY: El Salvador.
Q Never mind.
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, the week ahead. Well, this is what we have. On Monday, the President will participate in a town hall hosted by Univision at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C. At this town hall the President will have the opportunity to talk with students, parents and teachers about education and Hispanic educational attainment. The town hall will be broadcast on the Univision network on March 28th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time and Pacific time, and 6:00 p.m. Central time.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to New York City to deliver remarks at the dedication of the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations building.
And on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
That is your week ahead.
Q Is Libya related to the Ron Brown --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have an announcement --
Q It’s not what you were alluding to earlier?
MR. CARNEY: No announcements. Thank you.
END 2:29 P.M. EDT