Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes -- en route Cape Town, South Africa
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cape Town, South Africa
10:50 A.M. SAST
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us as we make our way to Cape Town. Here to deliver the world’s fastest gaggle is Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor.
MR. RHODES: We’ll begin by going to Robben Island. This is the President’s second trip to Robben Island but it’s his family’s first, and it was very important for the President to have the opportunity to bring his family to Robben Island and to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and all the people who sacrificed by being imprisoned there on behalf of their ideals.
His tour will include the “B Section” courtyard, the recreation room, as well as Nelson Mandela’s cell, the Robert Sobukwe House, and the Lime Quarry. The tour guide will be Ahmed Kathrada, who is 83 years old, a former inmate of Robben Island, a notable anti-Apartheid activist. He also led the President’s tour in 2006 when he visited Robben Island.
Q Can you spell that?
MR. RHODES: Sure. It’s Ahmed -- A-h-m-e-d and then K-a-t-h-r-a-d-a. Obviously, there’s a tradition on Robben Island of former inmates giving these tours, which adds even more meaning to the opportunity to be shown where people were imprisoned by those who shared in the sacrifice with Nelson Mandela and so many others.
After that, as you know, we’ll be going to visit a community health center run by Desmond Tutu. And of course, Archbishop Tutu was also a very important voice for social justice and in opposition to the Apartheid movement -- before giving the speech in Cape Town.
MR. CARNEY: Anything else?
Q This is the first time for Mrs. Obama and the girls? They were never at Robben Island before?
MR. RHODES: Yes, so last time they visited, they were able to visit with Nelson Mandela but they were not able to make it to Robben Island, so this is the first time for them.
Q Will he be joined by any members of the Mandela family as well on this tour?
MR. CARNEY: Just Mr. Kathrada.
Q Just to follow up on the President’s comments on Egypt yesterday -- can you say what kind of contacts you’ve been having with the Egyptian government regarding safeguarding the embassy and consulates? Are there sort of any military contingencies in place? That kind of stuff.
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, we’ve been in touch with all of our contacts in the government -- the political leadership, the military. Those conversations haven’t just focused on the security of our facilities -- that’s clearly been a top priority for us -- we’ve also focused on our desire for there to be a peaceful resolution of differences in Egypt, respect for both peaceful protests, also the obligation of the opposition to protest peacefully. We’ve also been in touch with the opposition as well through our contacts.
In terms of contingencies, we’ve basically taken the appropriate action to ensure that our embassies and consulates have additional security measures and that our personnel are taking additional security precautions. I do want to just note there was an inaccurate report yesterday that I saw about a military deployment of some kind to Egypt -- that is not the case. We believe we have significant security measures in place and that our civilians who are serving in Egypt can take additional precautions. But we’re watching the situation very carefully.
Q Any of this informed by the Inspector General’s report on Benghazi? Is there anything done differently because of that?
MR. RHODES: I would have to defer that question to the State Department. What I would say is that we’ve had significant experience in Egypt with trying to assure security -- for instance, around the protests, some of which turned violent last September in Cairo. So they’ve been dealing with a very volatile security situation for some time now, and we very regularly review the security posture and the diplomatic posture of our people in Egypt.
Q I know one American was killed -- reported killed in what happened. Has the White House had any kind of contact with the family by any chance? He was a D.C.-area resident.
MR. RHODES: I know that the State Department has been in touch with the family and we’re providing all the services that we do in these instances. It was clearly a tragic case, particularly painful to lose a young person. It speaks to how volatile the security situation is there. The President is certainly aware of the loss of that American and shares in the grief that the family has, and we’ll let you know if there are any additional contacts to report.
Q Has the President been in touch with Secretary Kerry at all about the Middle East peace process? I know he’s extended his stay to talk about it.
MR. RHODES: Well, the President spoke at length with Secretary Kerry before he left for this latest trip to the region. So he fully supports what Secretary Kerry is of course trying to move forward there. And we’ve been kept regularly updated by Secretary Kerry and his team from the road, and I think it speaks to what high a priority we place on trying to move forward with a peace process that the Secretary of State has invested so much time and energy in this.
Q President and Secretary Kerry haven’t chatted recently about it?
MR. RHODES: I’m not aware of them having spoken since -- in the last couple days while he’s been there. They did speak again before he left and Secretary Kerry briefed the President on his plans. But I’ll let you know if we have any updates on additional conversations.
Q Can I ask you one thing about tomorrow? I think President Bush and, of course, the First Lady -- former First Lady will be in Tanzania. Is there any talk -- have there been any -- well, first of all, would the current President be talking or meeting in any way with President Bush? And/or have there been any discussions about them doing any kind of joint event?
MR. RHODES: I don’t -- well, first of all, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, will be participating in the forum that Laura Bush is hosting. So they will appear together. It’s an important forum that lifts up the role of women in Africa.
And I think the presence of the Bushes is something that marks I think the bipartisan support for Africa that exists in the United States, and it’s a very welcome symbol that they can be there at the same time. We think it sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent.
In terms of the two Presidents, we’ll keep you updated if there are any scheduling updates as to whether or not they’ll be at the same place at the same time. I think that’s still being worked through.
Q But right now, where does it stand?
MR. RHODES: I’m just not aware that we have anything scheduled at this time. But it may -- there may be something. We’ll keep you updated.
Q And has President Obama spoken with Morsi directly? Or is there any high-level -- like Biden, anyone like that -- contact with the Egyptian government that you can read out?
MR. RHODES: There have been a range of high-level contacts. I don’t have the fullest to read out to you, but we’ll let you know if there’s any additional information there.
10:58 A.M. SAST