Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, 9/25/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base
2:10 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for joining us aboard Air Force One as we make our way back from New York to Washington. I have with me Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor to the President for Strategic Communications, who can, I’m sure, answer some of your questions about the President’s speeches today and the vision he laid out broadly at the United Nations and then on a specific subject at the CGI.
I have no announcements, but I do have to say that there is a pressing matter that kind of transcends all else for most Americans, and that is the --
Q -- the question? Come on. You’re not even waiting for the question, Carney. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: But I am -- just having watched it -- last night I watched it. This morning I watched it, and it was really astounding. And by “it,” I mean the end of the Packers-Seahawks game. It’s very distressing for every American football fan to see all the focus at the beginning of the season on the officiating rather than on players in the games.
Q I’m sorry, was that “American, football fan” or “American football fan?” Was the American modifying the football, or is it American football fans?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not even sure what you’re asking, Hans, but I appreciate the question.
Q Does the President have a position on this?
MR. CARNEY: As an avid sports fan and an avid football fan, he does. As a matter of fact, last week in an interview with a Cleveland radio station, he brought it up on his own, saying that as a sports fan he thought it was time that we got back to the regular refs. This morning, I talked to him about the end of the Packers-Seahawks game and he said that what happened in that game is a perfect example of why both sides need to come together to resolve their differences so that the regular refs can get back on the field and we can start focusing on a game that so many of us love, rather than debating whether or not a game was won or lost because of a bad call.
Q So the President clearly thinks it was an interception?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, he thinks that there was a real problem with the call.
Q And the pass interference before the interception?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t get into the details, but I think everybody who saw that play saw a number of problems with it.
And with that, I turn it over to my esteemed colleague, Ben Rhodes.
MR. RHODES: Well, I may be the only American who didn’t see the game last night, but I just saw the replay and I was very distressed by it as an American football fan, so I associate myself with those remarks.
Just a couple of things and then I’ll take your questions. A number of people had asked about the gap in time after the President left the U.N. As he does every year, he did courtesy-call meetings with both the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and the current President of the U.N. General Assembly, Vuk Jeremić. And then, John Brennan was meeting with President Hadi of Yemen. President Obama stopped by that meeting to say hello to President Hadi of Yemen and to thank him for the steps he’s taken to secure our embassy and our diplomats in that country.
Beyond that, you all saw the President’s speeches. I guess the only thing I’d say by way of opening on the U.N. speech is that the President felt it was very important to address directly what has been going in the Middle East and North Africa. I think you heard him give a very strong message that violence is completely unacceptable as a response to any type of speech; that leaders have an obligation to stand up to violence and extremism; that even as we very much condemn the message of the video that has helped spark protests around the world, we also need to get at the deeper forces that helped fuel this type of unacceptable activity around the world, and that includes a politics that in some instances has preyed upon division and opened the door to extremism.
And I think what you heard from the President is a very strong message to the world that that type of politics needs to be left behind if we're going to deal with the challenges we face. That includes complete and successful transitions to democracy in the Arab world, and you heard the President speak about why it was so important for those transitions to succeed, but also how hard choices needed to be made along the road of transitioning to democracy so that we don't see incidents like we've seen in the last two weeks. And then you also heard the President apply that to other events and issues in the region.
So in Syria, clearly we need to reject a dictator who murders his people, and move forward towards a future that is inclusive for all Syrians. With respect to Iran, clearly that is a country that has been outside of the boundaries of international law for many years now. The President focused in particular on the nuclear program, and again, he reiterated that containment cannot be the policy of the United States, nor can it be accepted by the international community, and underscored that the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
So in general, I think it was a chance for the President to step back and lift up his view of the world as it stands today and to project a vision of American leadership that deals with the challenges we face and supports our values around the world.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q Ben, the President not only condemned extremism and violence and called on leaders to do the same, but he also called on them to respect free speech, no matter how reprehensible. What gives him confidence that that message will go over in the countries that often have cultures that have a very different take?
MR. RHODES: I think there were a couple of things the President wanted to do there. First of all, he wanted to give the clearest affirmation that he could of why free speech is so important to the United States. Because, you're right, different countries don’t ensure the same legal protections we have of free speech, or the same traditions of free speech. But people need to understand that that’s a core American value, and it’s been essential to the progress of our democracy throughout our history.
Secondly, though, he was making a point that in the age of the world we live in today, no matter what prohibitions you might even try to make on free speech, you're going to have offensive images and material that can get around the world with the click of a button. So people need to be able to deal with those types of challenges without resorting to violence, without resorting to this pattern of outrage that we've seen in recent years when you've had things taken as a cause to stir up not just protests but rather to stir up, in some instances, violence.
And I think the President's point, therefore, to these leaders was very much that it's not enough to simply respond to that type of -- to something that offends you by protecting an embassy; we have to put an end to people stirring up division and stirring up crowds in ways that, frankly, are not just harmful to the United States but ultimately are going to be deeply harmful to these countries. Because for them to have successful transitions to democracy, they have to demonstrate that they can provide for the protection of diplomatic facilities, they can be a place for deeper trade and investment.
So he was responding to both our commitment to free speech, but also how do nations respond to speech in the world that we live in.
Q In either of the courtesy calls, did Syria or Iran come up?
MR. RHODES: I haven't gotten a detailed readout out. I would expect that Syria -- he intended to discuss Syria and Iran with the Secretary General given how much of that has been at the United Nations.
Q Okay. And then are you going to take this opportunity to announce any meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday?
MR. RHODES: I have no scheduling updates for you on that. Prime Minister Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Secretary Clinton on Friday.
Q During the reception last night, can you talk about were there any pull-asides or handshakes with people that you can tell us about?
MR. RHODES: Nothing of particular note. Generally, what happens at the reception is there is a photo line where the President is able to greet foreign leaders, take a picture with them, exchange a few words. So I know he did that, but I don't have any particular readouts.
Q Was Thein Sein down there?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think he got here --
MR. RHODES: Today, yes.
Q Hey, Jay, Senator Barrasso had a TV interview last night; accused the administration of stonewalling and engaging in a cover-up regarding the murder of Ambassador Stevens. Can you address anything on that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure the Senator is aware that there is an active investigation into what happened in Benghazi. The President has addressed it. The Secretary of State has addressed it. Our Ambassador to the United Nations has addressed it. Ben Rhodes and I have addressed it. That investigation needs to take place, and I think you heard the President again say with great clarity at the General Assembly today that he is determined to make sure that those who killed our personnel in Benghazi are brought to justice.
Q So the administration was not aware of any of the findings we’ve seen in the journal that there was some security issues?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re putting words into my mouth, and that wasn’t even in your question. I said that there’s an active investigation into this. The fact of the matter is you saw the head of the NCTC testify before Congress on what we knew at the time that he testified and what we didn't know after that point. That's the whole reason why you have investigations -- to find a full set of facts about how the attack happened and who was responsible.
MR. RHODES: I’ll just add one thing. In addition to the investigation by the FBI, the State Department has announced their own review of the security at the facility with an eye to understanding what happened. But also, the President’s direction to us has always been that we need to be doing everything that we can to make sure that we’re taking appropriate security precautions around the world. So this is something that we’re constantly reviewing and working on.
And frankly, I think it underscores just how seriously the President takes the incident in Benghazi that he focused his speech today at the United Nations General Assembly on what the entire world needs to take away from that event, and that includes protecting our diplomatic facilities and meeting their responsibility to provide that security, but it also means addressing some of the underlying causes that have fanned the flames of this type of violence for far too long.
So this is something that we’re very focused on, and we have every interest in understanding exactly what happened precisely so we can make sure that we are doing everything we can going forward to protect our diplomats.
Q Thanks, guys.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, a lot.
2:21 P.M. EDT