Press Gaggle by Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Aboard Air Force One, 5/19/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chicago, Illinois
8:23 P.M. EDT
MR. RHODES: Hi, guys. All right, so I’ll just give you a readout of the bilat with Chancellor Merkel. You saw obviously the communiqué and the briefing from earlier today, and the President’s statement.
I will say -- we noted this in the pool report -- that the meetings concluded with all the leaders moving into an adjacent room to watch the end of the Chelsea-Bayern Munich game. They watched the entire penalty kick series unfold. And the President was able to offer his sympathy to Chancellor Merkel when that concluded, as did Prime Minister Cameron.
But then, they had a bilateral discussion that continued on a lot of the subjects that they had already discussed, both at the G8 meetings and in some of their side conversations over the course of the G8 Summit. They continued their discussion about the eurozone, and including the emerging consensus for steps that need to be taken to promote growth in the immediate term, even as Europe continues with its plans for fiscal consolidation.
And they discussed some more -- the meeting that will take place later this week among European leaders, and agreed to stay in touch on issues related to the eurozone and global economy going forward through those meetings and into the G20.
They briefly -- they discussed Iran. And I think that we are in complete alignment with the Germans heading into the next round of P5-plus-1 talks. We’ve obviously been coordinating closely with the European Union and the three members -- three European members of the P5-plus-1. And Lady Ashton, who’s the lead negotiator, and the two leaders of course agree that Baghdad is an opportunity for the Iranians and the P5-plus-1 to discuss concrete steps that could be taken to build confidence in the peaceful nature of Iranian program.
But then they also discussed Afghanistan in advance of the NATO Summit. They focused on the three areas that will be the focus of the ISAF meeting in Afghanistan, and that is the transition in which ISAF moves into a support role in 2013 on the way to a full transition to Afghan lead in 2014. And they also discussed the Afghan National Security Forces and the enduring support that NATO will provide to the ANSF as well as the Afghan government.
Germany, as you may know, recently, at a bilateral meeting between President Karzai and Chancellor Merkel, announced significant long-term support for the ANSF of 150 million euros on the other side of 2014. So that’s an important contribution to the future of sustainment of Afghan security forces and that have reached a similar agreement with Afghanistan as our SPA, in terms of a strategic partnership with Afghanistan beyond 2014.
So on these security issues, Iran and Afghanistan, we really are in lockstep with the Germans. And so it was a good opportunity for them have those conversations before the NATO Summit, the P5-plus-1 talks, and the eurozone meeting later this week.
Q Did Merkel seek any assurances from Obama that her fiscal consolidation plans weren’t getting pushed to the sidelines given how much talk there’s been at the summit about the growth agenda?
MR. RHODES: No, I don’t think she sought that type of assurance. I think there is an understanding that has been developing over time as this debate has shifted that you can go forward with the fiscal consolidation, and you can have the pact that Chancellor Merkel showed so much leadership in getting around fiscal reforms within the eurozone, while also pursuing steps to promote growth at the same time.
And so, for instance, there is discussion of a growth pact -- not to take the place of the fiscal pact -- but to be taken above and beyond the fiscal reforms. So I think what really we saw here in these discussions is the way in which the debate has evolved, and there is a growing recognition of the need to take steps in the immediate term that can promote growth in the eurozone while managing the crisis around the political situation in Greece and across Europe, and also pursuing the fiscal consolidation that Chancellor Merkel and others have been focused on.
Q Is she part of that growing recognition? And how did she articulate to the President to what extent she’s willing to modify her original stance?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think, again -- I think she is. I think you’ve seen her in recent days say that she was certainly open to discussing a growth pact that President Hollande had called for, and she was open to discussing some form of stimulus around Greece. And I think at the discussions over the course of the last two days, the leaders discussed, again, not steps that would take the place of fiscal reforms and structural reforms within the eurozone, but that could be taken on top of that to promote growth and to help stabilize the situation. And also, you see in the communiqué, language to the effect and language that recognizes the need to proceed with some flexibility in dealing with the challenges in the eurozone.
So I think she certainly has been as involved in these issues as any leader in Europe, and is going to continue to be a leader on all these issues. And again, as a part of I think the consensus we saw in the communiqué and in the discussions, that you can do growth and fiscal consolidation on two tracks.
Q No new -- the ball wasn’t advanced in any kind of specific way in this bilat that you’re going to read out here?
MR. RHODES: Well, I actually think that the most consequential discussions about the eurozone really took place in the G8 meeting, the G8 discussion, and the -- some of the side conversations that the leaders had. And they had, frankly, hashed out a lot of these issues in the negotiation in the communiqué.
So this was kind of a wrap-up discussion. This was not a discussion to go far beyond what had already been covered over the course of the previous 24 hours or so.
Q When she first arrived he indicated that he understood she had a lot on her plate. Was there any sense in the meeting -- did she vent any frustration at feeling isolated at this meeting with everybody emphasizing growth?
MR. RHODES: No, I think -- look, as I said earlier, I think obviously she’s had a lot on her plate with the situation in the eurozone, her first meeting with President Hollande, and then she had a huge public meeting in Germany the day she flew out. And then, frankly, to her credit -- the credit of the other European leaders, they had a very long day yesterday on their European clock because they were up well into the night, which was early morning hours their time.
But I think what the President underscored is just how much leadership Germany plays within the eurozone, and that there is an extraordinary responsibility that they have carried through all of these steps over the course of the last two and a half years. Chancellor Merkel has been at the center of that, which is going to be going forward as we head into the talks later this week.
So again, I think there is a recognition of a leadership role that Germany plays in the eurozone. And there is a sense that these new leaders, Prime Minister Monti and now President Hollande, have gotten off to a good start. And I think that was a big part of what was accomplished at the G8. This group of leaders has never met before. You’ve never had this particular collection -- sit down and get at these global economic issues, and to do so at a critical juncture. And I think that provides a basis going forward for their talks later this week and then for the G20 next month.
Q How detailed was their discussion of Greece?
MR. RHODES: Greece certainly came up. And they I think reflected what's in the communiqué, which is, there is an interest in keeping Greece in the eurozone as they go through with their commitments. And I think they discussed steps that can be taken to support that objective, and recognize that Greece has its own political process to work through in the next month. And as the President said in his statement, the Greek people are going through very difficult times.
But again, I think it's the President's belief and the Chancellor's belief that the Europeans have the capability to deal with this challenge; that they can build on the work that they've already done by taking additional steps around growth and stabilizing the situation in the eurozone. And he's confident that they'll do so.
Q How long was their bilat?
MR. RHODES: I think it was 45 minutes, roughly. And again, they had had -- they had spent a lot of time together already throughout the course of the summit. So it was really an opportunity for them to just wrap up together and to kind of recognize all the work that had been done at the G8, and again, the role Germany plays in the eurozone, but also to look ahead to two big security events -- the NATO summit on Afghanistan and the P5-plus-1 talks and Iran, where Germany has really been a critical partner with us that’s been in total lockstep.
Q Did Merkel ask for the bilat?
MR. RHODES: Actually, they had discussed for some time being able to get together at this -- at the G8. And we actually -- remembering that when the President talked to her while she was on vacation I think recently, they discussed it would be very good to get together on their own, on the sidelines of the G8. And so it was a matter of just finding the time. And, frankly, the G8 schedule was so booked that the time we found was on the other end of the G8.
Q Could we just switch to NATO, quickly? I just wanted to get your sense of where things stand with Pakistan and reopening the supply route, and if there's any chance at this point that Obama and Zardari will meet separately on the sidelines of the summit.
MR. RHODES: We don’t have any plans for a bilateral meeting with President Zardari. The only bilateral meeting we have scheduled is with President Karzai tomorrow morning, and then they’re in the summit sessions. President Zardari will of course be in the ISAF session. And so the President will certainly have a chance to see him and speak to him.
On the supply lines, we believe that this is going to be resolved. There have been positive steps, statements made by the Pakistanis, and we're currently negotiating the opening of the supply lines with them; we expect that to take some time. So there is still work to be done through those negotiations.
But again, based on the statements they’ve made and the negotiations that we've started, we believe it's going to be accomplished.
Q So you don’t think it's going to happen this weekend?
MR. RHODES: We're not anticipating necessarily closing out those negotiations this weekend. A lot of it is happening, frankly, at the working level between our governments. We obviously keep you updated, but it's our sense that both sides want to get it done, it will get done. But right now, we're in a process of negotiation about how exactly that’s going to happen.
Q Is that basically why -- I mean, the President really can't meet with Zardari until this is formally resolved. Is that why there's not a scheduled meeting at this point?
MR. RHODES: Not necessarily. I mean, he met with Prime Minister Gilani in Seoul when this issue was still in play. So I think it was more a matter of simply, he's got a lot of time devoted to chairing these summits. President Karzai, of course, and the Secretary General of NATO, he's going to meet with before the summit because it's important for them to get aligned as we head into these discussions on Afghanistan.
MR. RHODES: Aligned, yes. But beyond that, we don’t anticipate there being any more bilateral meetings. We'll let you know if that changes, but it's a pretty full summit schedule.
Q Do you know if the President was briefed on the arrests in Chicago? This terrorism plot? And do you know more about it?
MR. RHODES: I'm not aware that he has been. I could check on that, but not to my knowledge.
Q Do you have any comment on that situation?
MR. RHODES: The only comment I'd make is that, again, there is always -- look, we go and you guys come with us to summits several times a year now, for three and a half years. Every single city we go to there's obviously protests and security disruptions.
We're very confident in the ability of Chicago, together with the United States government, to have a very successful event over the course of the next two days. If these more serious allegations are true, then I think it was effective work in making sure that they couldn’t pose any additional threat to public security. But I'll have to wait -- what additional information comes out before getting into the specifics of this case.
Q I got one more. Is there any actual move for a burger outing between the President and Monsieur Hollande? It was mentioned yesterday he wanted to hear what he thought about the burgers in Chicago. Will he get a chance to find out?
MR. RHODES: I'm not aware of a particular hamburger summit on the agenda. There’s opportunities embedded within the menu of the summit, so we'll have to keep you abreast of the dinner tomorrow night at Soldier Field.
But actually, I will say that a number of the European leaders -- and I'll let them speak to their schedules -- were planning some pretty outings of their own to see the sights in Chicago, to see the architecture. And so I think you'll see leaders taking advantage of the great setting of the city of Chicago over the course of the next few days. And again, for some of us here, it's a bit of a homecoming, too. So we're looking forward to seeing a city that is very close to our hearts.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, guys.
8:38 P.M. EDT