Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route Reno, Nevada, 7/23/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Reno, Nevada
11:49 A.M. PDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Reno, Nevada. As you know, the President is addressing the VFW. He will talk broadly about American foreign policy, where we were four years ago, where we are now, and where we need to go. He will also talk about our veterans and the commitment that he has made and this country has made and must continue to make to our veterans who sacrificed so much serving abroad in two wars.
As you remember, when he spoke to the VFW four years ago, we were engaged in two wars that seemed to have no end to them. Our alliances were frayed. We were in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and people around the country were questioning America's capacity to lead.
I think it's fair to say that much has changed in those four years. The President kept his commitment and ended the war in Iraq. He is winding down the war in Afghanistan. He has taken the fight to our enemies, decimating the leadership of al Qaeda, including removing Osama bin Laden. He has restored our alliances, made them stronger. He has rebalanced our foreign policy toward Asia, an incredibly important region of the world that was largely neglected in the eight years prior to him becoming President. And he has made significant commitments to our veterans, both in their care and in helping them when they return from these wars and they return from service, helping them find employment here in America.
And that's my top. If Jen has something?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, just one announcement for all of you. Overnight, in advance of the President's remarks at the VFW Convention, we released -- the campaign released a video called "Welcome Home," that features a parade welcoming returning soldiers and discusses the President's commitment to keeping our nation's sacred promise to our veterans.
Jay touched on this, of course, but just a reminder, the President has fought to pass a new law that provides business tax incentives for hiring returning veterans and military families, and he fulfilled his promise to fully fund the VA by securing the largest increase in funding for the VA in 30 years. So look out for that video.
Q Will we get prepared remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I don't anticipate that we'll get prepared remarks. We may have some excerpts for you, but we may not.
Q The video that you talked about, and a little bit about what you talked about, as well, Jay, focuses on Iraq, drawing down the war. There have been some pretty horrific attacks there today. Does the President still consider this a success when you still have attacks and al Qaeda ramping up in Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that Iraq remains a violent place, and we strongly condemn the attacks in Iraq. It is also the case that Iraq is not nearly as violent a place as it was, and that, thanks to the enormous sacrifice of U.S. military personnel, Iraqi security forces have been trained up and have the capacity to deal with their own internal security, which was exactly what the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people wanted. So the fact that there remains violence in Iraq is certainly the case and we condemn these attacks, but it is also the case that the Iraqi security forces have been trained up and do have the capacity to handle their own security.
Q Staying on Iraq, Jay -- critics of the President’s decision to withdraw the troops say that that has put at risk sort of gains in stability and security that America spent a lot of money and sacrificed a lot of blood in securing after the invasion. How do you respond to that criticism?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I understand that there are those who think we never should have ended the war in Iraq, that we should stay in Iraq, perhaps, for a second decade. The President simply disagrees with that. And the fact of the matter is that, as I said, thanks to the sacrifice and professionalism of U.S. military personnel, Iraq has significant numbers of security personnel who are engaged in and capable of providing security internally to their own country.
And I also question the general premise that the United States should militarily -- should send forces to every country that has an internal security problem in order to take for -- in order to deal with that security on the behalf of the other country.
MS. PSAKI: One thing just to add -- just a reminder on the President’s history on the war in Iraq. He stood up and opposed the war when many people did not, many years before he ran for President. He promised when he ran for President in 2007 and 2008 he would end the war in Iraq. He talked about it during his speech when he won the Iowa caucuses. And that’s been a long road for the American people, but it’s a promise that he’s delivered on.
Q Is the President ready to resume the sort of punch and counterpunch of the campaign after the weekend timeout?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President spent -- as you know because you were all with us -- the day in Colorado, yesterday, meeting with families, remembering victims, hearing some incredible stories. And as we know, the road of recovery in Colorado is going to be very long, and the day the President spent with these families yesterday will be with him on the campaign trail for several months -- through the end.
At the same time, he also -- what keeps him up at night and what wakes him up in the morning is the concern about middle-class families, the challenges they're facing, whether it’s getting a job, whether it’s having access to affordable health care, whether it’s paying for their college education. And there’s a lot at stake and he will be continuing to lay out why he’s the right choice for the American people.
You may not have seen because we were taking off, but Mitt Romney did an event that was still going on as we were taking off with some small business owners where he -- where they once again kind of rehashed the false and misleading and out-of-context attacks on the President’s record, as well.
So this is -- we’ve got a long way to go here. Just to reiterate, the meetings the President had yesterday will be with him. They're -- they really touched him yesterday. But he also knows that he needs to make sure people know what’s at stake.
Q Jay, there was an international AIDS conference in Washington over the weekend. The White House had put out a series of fact sheets and updates and stuff on Saturday. Still there was criticism of the administration for -- on the AIDS program. And the president of the Black AIDS Institute said that the prevention efforts have been stalled. I was wondering if you have any response to that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the voluminous information that was provided in the run-up to the conference for all the steps that this administration has taken in the battle against AIDS globally and HIV globally. And I don't have any comment except that we certainly disagree with that and the President has a strong commitment to that fight.
Q Jay, on Syria, Senator McCain today said that other Middle Eastern nations are begging for American leadership on Syria. And in his words it’s "missing in action right now." How do you respond to charges that you've not done enough to deal with this as the situation is getting worse on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what Senator McCain is suggesting that the United States do. Perhaps he’s suggesting that it ought to intervene militarily or perhaps invade. The President does not believe that’s the right course of action.
Right now we need to focus on the fact that Assad -- his days in power are limited. The transition needs to take place. There is broad international support for that. We are working to further pressure the Assad regime through sanctions and international isolation. We’ll continue to do that. We’re working to assist the Syrian people through humanitarian aid and the opposition through nonlethal assistance. And we will continue to work with our partners to bring about the political transition that the Syrian people deserve.
Q Staying on Syria. Assad's government talked today about responding with chemical weapons if they're invaded against a foreign invader. What's the President's stance on how the United States would respond if chemical weapons came into use against --
MR. CARNEY: There's a couple of hypotheticals involved in that. But I would simply say --
Q But his government is talking about using them. That's not --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he's talking about using them -- again, I'm just quoting you -- if there were foreign military intervention. Our position on this is very clear, as I said yesterday. We are concerned about the disposition of chemical weapons in Syria, but we believe that they are under control of the Syrian government. We have made clear to the Syrian government that it is their responsibility to keep control of those weapons and that they will be held accountable, both collectively and individually, if those weapons were to fall out of their control or in any way be used. That remains our position.
Q Has the President given any consideration to pulling back on fundraisers in light of events last week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously visiting the families in Colorado was a huge priority for the President. We have clearly -- clearly the events, the tragic events of Thursday have impacted both the tone and the schedule, and it has for several days. There isn’t -- and I know I mentioned this yesterday -- there isn’t a playbook for this. We felt it was appropriate to pull down kind of the larger crowd energy event we had planned, and we're taking it day by day.
But again, the meetings he had yesterday, the interactions he had with the families, the time he spent remembering the victims was something he felt strongly about doing and that will stick with him, and I think will stick with him not just for the next few days but for the coming months.
Q Has he had any other briefings on the shootings with anybody else since we left Colorado?
MR. CARNEY: He received his regular battery of morning updates and briefings, including information on this, but not an in-person briefing, no.
Q It's a typical day in the stock market today -- there's concern about Europe. Has the President been in touch with European leaders at all?
MR. CARNEY: I have no calls to update you on. The President is briefed regularly and very engaged on this issue. We call on European leaders to take steps to follow through on the commitments they made in their summit in late June to stabilize the markets and to address the need for both growth and job creation, as well as long-term reform. And that continues to be our position.
Q -- going back to --
MR. CARNEY: Not unless there is a huge demand. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, on Iran, the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday said that Iran's behavior in Bulgaria and elsewhere has been "brazen, that the nuclear talks with Iran hasn’t stopped the regime one bit, not one inch." Do you think Israel is losing patience and wants to see more dramatic action?
MR. CARNEY: The United States and Israel share a great deal of information about Iran and their nuclear program. We have a very clear understanding together about what the state of that program is and Iranian intentions are. This President has made clear that Iran must not obtain a nuclear weapon, and that is why, through this President’s leadership, we have seen unprecedented international consensus with unprecedented sanctions that have had unprecedented effect on the Iranian economy and on the isolation of the Iranian regime. And we will continue to push forward in that effort.
As you know, new sanctions continue to come online periodically that heighten the pressure on Iran and make even more stark the choice that Iran faces, and that is to continue to be isolated, to continue to see its economy suffer, or to make the right choice to forsake -- forego its nuclear weapons program and to rejoin the community of nations by honoring its international obligations.
12:02 P.M. PDT