Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest on G-7 Summit
11:40 A.M. CEST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the G7. It's nice to see you all. I don't have any announcements at the top. But I'm told that we have the pool who has dialed in from the summit site on the phone, so what I thought I might do is take two or three questions from the pool, and then we'll go to questions in the room.
I don't know if anybody from the pool can hear me, but if so, why don't you ask your first question.
Q Hey, Josh, it's Julie Pace over here with the pool. A couple of us do have questions. If I could just start. Can you give us any kind of readout of the trade meeting? What was the President asked by the leaders about the status of the TPA? What did he tell them on that? And what have the lawmakers that he brought over with him been doing? Have they been talking to the leaders about trade at all?
MR. EARNEST: It sounds like you're asking for a readout of the first plenary session. I don't have a specific readout of the plenary session. I know that they have a series of topics that are scheduled over the course of the weekend, and so I would anticipate that in the news conference that the President does tomorrow that he'll have a more detailed readout of the individual plenary session meetings.
I can give a more detailed readout of the bilateral meeting that the President did with Chancellor Merkel, and maybe we'll get to that a little bit later in the briefing.
In terms of the members of Congress who joined the President for the trip, I believe there are four members of Congress who have traveled here to attend the G7 along with the rest of the presidential delegation. These members are principally here for a couple of reasons. One is they obviously have an interest in some of the issues that will be discussed at the G7, including the issue of trade. This will be a topic at one of the plenary sessions that the President does with other world leaders, to talk about opening up access to overseas markets for American goods and services.
Some of the members of Congress who joined the trip are members of Congress who have been engaged in the debate that's on Capitol Hill back in the States right now about this particular issue, so this is one of the reasons that they’re on the trip.
As you know, over the last year or so, we have redoubled our efforts to try to engage members of Congress in new and creative ways, and on recent foreign trips, the President has invited members of Congress to attend -- or to join him for those trips. Obviously there are several members of Congress that joined him on the recent trip to India earlier this year, and this is just a continuation of that ongoing effort.
Do we have another question from the pool? I feel a little like I'm hosting a call-in show. (Laughter.) Jeff from Germany, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Jeff from Germany. (Laughter.) Two questions. First, can you give us any details about what the President had told the European leaders about Greece, and any update about that discussion and that situation? And secondly, could you do the same on climate change? Has there been any progress on what the G7 leaders were trying to accomplish on that today?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, I can say that both of those issues were discussed when the President had the opportunity to sit down for a more formal discussion with Chancellor Merkel. They convened that bilateral meeting shortly after their social visit to Krün this morning.
As it relates to Greece, I will say that there was unanimity of opinion in the room that it was important for Greece and their partners to chart a way forward that builds on crucial structural reforms and returns Greece to sustainable, long-term growth. We're pleased that we have seen similar indications from the Greek government. And there obviously is a deadline that's looming, and the President is certainly hopeful that Greece and their partners will be able to chart this path without causing undue volatility in the global financial markets.
That, after all, is the United States interest that's at stake here. The U.S. economy would be negatively influenced by that kind of volatility, and the President is hopeful that that can be avoided if all sides engage in these productive conversations and reach a resolution that is in the interest of all parties.
Q Can you clarify, Josh, was that -- excuse me for interrupting you -- was that just in the bilat with Merkel, or was Greece discussed at the table with all of the G7 leaders?
MR. EARNEST: This was in the context of the bilateral meeting that the President had with Chancellor Merkel.
As it relates to climate, there was a discussion about climate in the bilateral meeting. It was acknowledged that all of the G7 countries who are participating have publicized the commitments that they are prepared to make at the Paris climate negotiations that are scheduled for the end of this year. I think that is a pretty good indication of the leading role that G7 countries are taking in this effort. This is, after all, a global effort and will require a significant commitment from countries around the world. And it makes sense that some of the largest economies in the world would make serious commitments, and do so well in advance of the talks to set an appropriate tone for what could be achieved in those conversations.
I will say that the President and Chancellor Merkel had an opportunity to discuss that briefly in their bilateral meeting. But I wouldn't describe those consultations as particularly substantive, other than both referencing how this is an important priority and how both were pleased that all of the G7 countries had made important commitments already.
Q Just one follow-up the Greece one before -- Justin I know wants to ask a question. But are you able to say whether the topic has also been discussed at the wider meetings, Josh, or just at the bilateral?
MR. EARNEST: I know it was discussed at the bilateral. I'm not in a position to talk about the first plenary session that already occurred. I'd already left by the time before those plenary discussions had started, so I don't have a detailed readout of those plenary discussions. But that's something we should be able to get into tomorrow.
Q Hey, Josh, it's Justin. Long time listener, first-time caller. (Laughter.) Maybe you could just touch on two things pretty quickly -- the first was, going into the bilat with Prime Minister Cameron, does President Obama plan to raise the issue of Britain’s defense spending? We know this has been kind of an issue that's been ongoing, so I'm wondering, now that we're past the campaign, if this is something that the President plans to bring on. And then I also noticed the sanctions language in your statement about the meeting with Merkel. I'm wondering if you guys saw President Tusk’s comments today about trying to get sanctions renewed before even the deadline before the end of the month -- whether you guys see that as attainable, if you’ve gotten assurances from the EU that this is something that's going to happen. Thanks.
MR. EARNEST: Justin, in terms of your second question, I would say that a little over half of the meeting with the President had with Chancellor Merkel was dedicated to the issue of Ukraine and the need for the G7, but also our European partners, to continue to show unity in confronting Russia over the destabilizing actions in Ukraine.
Obviously, Chancellor Merkel has played an important and leading role in preserving this unity. And the goal is to ensure that it continues on a range of issues, including on sanctions, which impose significant economic costs on the Russian economy, again, as a result of Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine.
And so there was an opportunity for the two leaders to consult on this issue. And the President certainly does believe that it would be an important show of that continued unity for Europe to send a signal about their intention to continue sanctions. And this is something that I am confident will be discussed not just with Chancellor Merkel, but will be discussed with the broader G7 leaders over the course of the summit.
Justin, you asked a question about Prime Minister Cameron and whether a particular issue had come up, but I couldn't tell -- it was hard to hear which issue you were asking about. Can you repeat the beginning?
Q Sure. Defense spending -- British defense spending.
MR. EARNEST: What I do know is that the President does believe that it's important for all of our NATO allies to meet the commitments that they’ve made in terms of dedicating sufficient resources to ensure the defense of our alliance. I’m not able to say at this point whether or not it will come up in the meeting, but there will be some press access and both leaders will make statements after their bilateral meeting. So hopefully we’ll be able to gather some more information after that meeting has concluded. But this is something that the President believes is a priority and something that he does not hesitate to raise when he is meeting with our NATO partners.
Now we’ll take questions in person. Major, do you want to start?
Q Sure. Josh, you gave kind of a bland overall statement about Greece. As you know, there are deadlines looming. The President plays a significant role in offering U.S. opinions to specifically the Germans. Did the President in any way communicate a willingness to shift the deadline, or did he ask Angela Merkel through the IMF to keep the deadlines as they are and the repayment schedules as they are currently understood, and that Greece should meet those obligations in order to avoid the volatility you referred to?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Major, it is important to point out that these are deadlines that are related to the financial commitments that Greece has made to their creditors. And so exactly how they’ll meet those deadlines and what sort of agreements they’ll reach to ensure that there isn’t undue volatility that’s added to the financial markets is something for Greece and all of their creditors to resolve. And the United States has played a role in trying to support the completion of those conversations, again, in a way that will hopefully avoid any unnecessary instability in the global financial markets.
Q Did he characterize that role in this particular conversation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, the fact is that Chancellor Merkel has played a very important role in this process. And our interest here is in ensuring that this eventually gets resolved. And this has obviously been the subject of extensive conversations that Secretary Lew has had. He had the opportunity at the G7 Finance Ministers meeting that occurred in Dresden last week to meet with his counterparts and to urge all parties to find common ground and to promptly reach an agreement. He had the opportunity to speak with the Prime Minister Tsipras and emphasize that the United States remains engaged with all of the parties to try to facilitate this satisfactory resolution.
Q Did he talk to Tsipras from Dresden, or was this is a new --
MR. EARNEST: No, that was Lew and Tsipras from Dresden.
So the point is that the principal interlocutor from the United States has been Secretary Lew. But, again, our effort is to bring all sides to the table and encourage them to resolve their differences in a way that doesn’t destabilize the global financial markets. And we’re heartened by the fact that there is an interest on all sides for the satisfactory resolution of this particular situation. And we’re pleased that Greece continues to send what we believe are the right signals about their desire to remain in the EU and remain in the currency union, and their partners and the other members of the union want to include them. And so it’s a matter of working through those details, and we continue to encourage them to do so constructively.
Q Does the U.S. have a philosophical or economic point of view on repayment schedules as they are, or if flexibility should be brought into the conversation or flexibility around the deadline?
MR. EARNEST: Again, what we have impressed upon both parties is the need to reach a satisfactory conclusion that we believe is in everybody’s interest. And they all have acknowledged publicly and privately that they share an interest in resolving this, as well, in a way that prevents significant volatility in the global financial markets and preserves the current composition of the European currency union.
Greece wants to remain a part of it. Their partners, the members of that union, want them to remain part of it. And so the challenge is taking the necessary steps to chart that constructive path, again, that will build on the commitments that Greece has already made to crucial structural reforms but also allow Greece to return to sustainable long-term growth. And this is ultimately something that will have to be resolved among the parties, among Greece and its creditors.
Q Josh, what is the administration’s take -– it’s a fairly new development but it happened this weekend that Iraqi forces apparently were able to retake the city of Baiji. And what does that say about the so-called will to fight?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, we’ve seen these reports. We’ve been unable to confirm them at this point. And so we’re going to continue to try to learn more about what exactly is happening inside the city of Baiji. It is our understanding that the Baiji refinery, which has also been the site of extensive fighting, is an area that continues to be contested and that is an area that has –- or that has been an area where military coalition airstrikes have taken place in support of Iraqi security forces.
What we continue to believe and what we’ll continue to support is the effort of Iraqi security forces that are under the command and control of the Iraqi central government pushing back on ISIL. And there are a variety of ways that the U.S. and our coalition partners can support that ongoing effort. We’ve talked about this quite a bit. This is training and equipping; this is offering some military advice; and this includes the use of coalition military airpower that has proved to be a very valuable addition to the efforts of Iraqi security forces on the ground.
And so we’re going to continue to learn more about what exactly has happened around Baiji City and we’re going to be continuing to support ongoing efforts in other parts of the country, including in Anbar Province, which has been the site of setbacks recently. But we continue to be encouraged about the commitment of Iraqi security forces in Anbar to taking the fight on the ground to ISIL in that province and pushing them back. And that will require sustained effort, and the United States and our coalition partners are working to determine what additional assistance we can provide to ensure the success of those efforts.
Q Just to switch to Russia. I don't know if you saw the interview that President Putin gave to the Italian newspaper, Il Corriere della Sera, during which he said, “Only a sane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.” He seems to be saying that all of these concerns are unfounded among the NATO partners about their activity in Eastern Europe. I guess what is your take on that? What do you make of those comments? And is his absence -- I mean, Russia was part of the G8. Is his absence felt here? Does Vladimir Putin’s name come up in conversations -- well, if he were here, what would he say about any particular subject?
MR. EARNEST: As best I can tell, the way that President Putin’s name comes up is that it comes up in the context of the leader of a country that is increasingly isolated from the international community and that isolation is a result of the ongoing destabilizing activities of Russia in eastern Ukraine.
We have talked for quite some time about intelligence reports that indicate that Russia continues to move weapons and personnel across the Ukrainian border into eastern Ukraine to support the ongoing efforts of separatists in that region of Ukraine. We know that Russia maintains a force presence in eastern Ukraine and Russian soldiers play an integral role in sustaining and directing the fighting there. We know that Russian officers serve in leadership roles in the combined Russian separatist force and that they have been instrumental in organizing the force and planning operations. We know that the Russian military continues to maintain advanced air defense systems in eastern Ukraine. And we know that combined Russian and separatist forces have conducted extensive training in eastern Ukraine over the last several months, and the complex nature of the training leaves no doubt that Russian military instructors are involved.
All of this underscores the degree to which Russia has essentially thumbed their nose at the commitments that they made in the context of the Minsk negotiations. And Russia’s failure to live up to those commitments is what leads to their increasing isolation and the increasing costs being imposed on their economy. And to the extent that President Putin’s name is raised in the context of this summit, it’s raised specifically in the context of his ongoing refusal to live up to specific commitments that he’s already made.
Q So given that, where did things -- where did President Obama and Chancellor Merkel leave things in their conversation? Are we at sort of stasis? Was there any more clarity on how long they would be willing to wait for Russia to comply with the terms of the agreement, and what they’ll do in the meantime?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll say a couple things about that. The first is that Chancellor Merkel and President Obama agreed that preserving the unity of the United States and principally our European allies and partners is a top priority, and that it’s important for us to coordinate and cooperate in our response to Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine. And there was a shared view and a shared hope that we’ll be able to preserve that unity with respect to our sanctions program moving forward.
The second thing that’s important is to ensure that as Ukraine pursues economic reforms in those areas of the country that are not affected by Russia’s destabilizing activities, or at least not directly affected by Russia’s destabilizing activities, that the international community continue to support Ukraine as they make those reforms.
And obviously, the United States has made a significant financial commitment to Ukraine; the IMF has made an important financial commitment to Ukraine and their economy. And that ongoing support of their economic reforms will continue to be important in those areas of Ukraine that are not directly threatened by the separatists. And for Ukraine to withstand the destabilizing activity in one region of the country, they’re going to need continued support from the international community when it comes to their economy.
And the United States has already demonstrated a commitment to being a strong partner of Ukraine. We will, moving forward. We’ve seen a number of international organizations step up and offer that support, and we’re hopeful that other G7 countries will demonstrate a similar level of commitment to Ukraine as they pursue those important economic reforms as well.
Q Any conversation about military aid or increased economic aid?
MR. EARNEST: No details that I am prepared to discuss from here. I can tell you that the President’s view has not changed about, at this point, not providing additional offensive military assistance to Ukraine. As you know -- and this is something we’ve talked about quite a bit -- there is a substantial amount of assistance -- military assistance that the United States has already provided to Ukraine. And again, I think that reflects the depth of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine. But providing additional offensive military capabilities to Ukraine, in the mind of the President, would only further escalate a situation that must be resolved diplomatically. And that continues to be the target that we have set.
MR. EARNEST: Can I follow up on a couple of things from the pool? I know you can’t read out the meeting today, but what was the President’s message going into the fellow leaders on trade and TPA?
MR. EARNEST: Obviously, these leaders have been carefully following the political debate in the United States. A couple members -- a couple leaders -- a couple of G7 leaders represent countries that are parties to TPP -- Canada and Japan, specifically. And there are other countries who are part of the G7 but not part of TPP that are interested in trying to lower existing trade barriers for the benefit of citizens in both our countries.
And I think the President’s philosophical view of this is something that he has expressed in public quite a bit lately -- that he does believe that there is an opportunity for the United States and middle-class families in the United States to benefit from expanded economic opportunities around the globe; that if we can level the playing field, that will only benefit -- or it will certainly benefit the American economy and middle-class families.
And so to the extent that it comes up in these conversations -- and I think that it will -- I think the President will restate that philosophical view. And there’s no doubt that -- well, there’s no doubt that the President hopes that that is a view that is shared by others at the G7, and I think it largely is.
Q And on climate, what’s his goal there? You mentioned that the G7 countries have already made commitments, so is there more to accomplish here at this meeting? And what does he hope will come out of it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would anticipate that this is something that they will discuss. As is true in the United States, making these kinds of commitments to reduce carbon pollution post-2020 are not easy. These often require important investments and significant reforms of certain elements of the economy. The President’s view is that if we can -- that by making this serious commitment early when it comes to the United States economy that it will actually open up economic opportunity for American businesses; that the sense is that if we can continue to make investments in renewable energy -- things like wind and solar -- if we can make continued gains when it comes to efficiency, that that will have important economic benefits for the country as a whole. And that's why the President has pursued this so directly, in addition to the moral imperative of acting on climate change.
So this will be the subject of -- because these are serious commitments and they do have an economic impact, they will -- I'm confident this is something that will be discussed quite a bit among the leaders at the G7. At this point, I don't know yet what kind of results will be announced out of those discussions, but we may have more on this for you tomorrow.
Q And one non-G7 question. Netanyahu is complaining that the international community has been silent over rocket attacks from Gaza, and warning that a strong reprisal could be forthcoming. Could you comment on that?
MR. EARNEST: Nedra, this is not the first time that I stand at a podium like this and strongly condemn rocket attacks by extremists in Gaza against innocent Israeli citizens. And clearly, the United States stands with the nation of Israel as they defend their nation and their people from these attacks.
We did spend a lot of time talking about this last summer, that the United States has committed significant financial and military resources to assisting Israeli security forces in defending the Israeli people and protecting innocent Israelis from these kind of attacks. And the United States will continue to stand with them as they do that. And, again, that is something that we -- that has been our position for a long time and it continues to be our position today.
Q Thank you, Josh. For the very first time that G7 summit put maritime security on its agenda -- we note that the G7 foreign ministers already adopted a declaration on maritime security. So will we see a similar declaration made by G7 leaders this time?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know if there will be a declaration on this separately. If there is, I don't have anything to preview. We have been clear, particularly as it relates to the South China Sea, about the importance of the free flow of commerce in that region of the world. Disrupting that flow of commerce would have a significant impact on the global economy and would have a corresponding negative impact on the U.S. economy. I think the same could be said for economies of the G7 member nations.
But at this point, I don't know whether or not there will be a formal declaration or a formal statement out of the G7. But I'd encourage you to take a close look at the communique when it's issued tomorrow.
Q Actually, this new agenda has caused some concerns, like the council on foreign relations just published an article that “like last year’s position to reject Russia, this development suggests that the G7 could be returning to its Cold War roots.” So is the G7 returning to its Cold War roots?
MR. EARNEST: The G7 is a group of democratic nations that are committed to a set of shared values, and we strongly encourage and seek to spread those values around the world. And when our nations come together it sends a very powerful statement about how important those values are. And so, again, there, I think, are some who -- particular President Putin -- who try to sort of restart or reignite a Cold War mentality. But that certainly is not the perspective of the United States or other members of the G7.
Carrie. Nice to see you.
Q Nice to see you. Two questions. One is, was there any discussion of FIFA in any of the meetings today? There was discussion here that that would come up -- there would be some leaders -- David Cameron would bring it up. That's my first question. The second question is much less serious, and that is when the President was drinking beer today, was it alcoholic or non-alcoholic? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Carrie, I can say that, to my mild surprise, the FIFA issue did not come up in the President’s bilateral meeting with Chancellor Merkel. But, again, given the heavy concentration of soccer fans at the G7 summit, I would not be surprised if at some point in the next 24 to 36 hours it does come up.
As it relates to the President’s beverage of choice today, I can tell you only that I'm not aware of what kind of beer the President was served, but I'm confident that he did not order a non-alcoholic beer.
Q -- reports he drank a non-alcoholic beer are inaccurate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don't know what he was eventually served. But I would be very, very surprised if he ordered a non-alcoholic beer -- even after an overnight flight on a Sunday morning.
Q Thanks, Josh. I wanted to ask about the meeting with -- the bilat with Abadi tomorrow. What do you expect to come out of that? What’s the President’s message going to be to the other G7 leaders about what comes next in the campaign against ISIL and how he plans to confront their accelerated gains -- what does he want to hear from them in terms of changing strategy, changing direction, or anything like that?
MR. EARNEST: Our expectation at this point is that the participation of Prime Minister Abadi in tomorrow’s sessions will be an opportunity for the G7 nations to reiterate their continued support for the coalition that's been assembled to help Iraq face down the ISIL threat in the country. It is in the economic interest of the G7 member nations to do so. More importantly, it’s in the national security interest of each of those nations to do so. That’s a consensus view, and the United States has certainly been appreciative of the financial and military commitments that have been made by our G7 partners to this broader military coalition.
I suspect, though I won’t speak for him, that Prime Minister Abadi will deliver a similar message, which is that he is grateful for the kind of support that he has seen from the international community. I don’t know at this point whether or not he’ll have additional requests. It continues to be the view of the United States, and I think this is a view that’s shared by our coalition partners, particularly our G7 members, that it’s critically important for Prime Minister Abadi to continue on the path that he has chosen, which is to govern that country in a multi-sectarian way and to ensure that security operations against ISIL are carried out in a multi-sectarian way.
Uniting the diverse country of Iraq to confront the ISIL threat will be critical to their success. And we’ve seen evidence of this approach when it comes to the efforts of Iraqi security forces to face down ISIL in Anbar Province. The Prime Minister has received strong support from his multi-sectarian cabinet, but also from Sunni leaders in Anbar, that the deployment of a multi-sectarian force in Anbar Province against ISIL isn’t just important, it’s actually something that they specifically requested. And they welcome the support of the international community for local Sunni fighters in Anbar and they welcome the decision from Prime Minister Abadi to deploy even Shia fighters and Kurdish fighters that are under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.
That’s an indication that Prime Minister Abadi’s multi-sectarian, inclusive approach is one that has the support of even Sunni leaders in Anbar Province. Again, that is an indication that the strategy that we believe will be critical to their success is one that Prime Minister Abadi and other leaders in Iraq are committed to pursuing.
Q What is the President’s position on the Prime Minister’s view that he has expressed as early as last week that he needs more help from the United States and other coalition partners to really be able to effectively counter ISIL? And what’s your sense of the other world leaders’ view on that? Is there (inaudible) --
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t characterize the view of other G7 leaders on that particular issue. The President has spoken to this and has made clear his willingness to -– well, actually, the President has made clear to his national security team that he is interested in looking for more efficient ways that we can offer assistance to Iraqi security forces, including Sunni fighters in Anbar that are under the command and control of the Iraqi central government. And the President and his team are constantly reviewing their strategy and looking for lessons learned, particularly in those areas where the strategy has been successful in making progress against ISIl, using those lessons learned and applying those to the areas where we’ve experiences some setbacks.
But I’m confident this will be part of the kind of conversation that Prime Minister Abadi will have not just with President Obama but with other G7 leaders tomorrow.
Q Josh, has anyone in the government been able to confirm that China was behind the hacking of the Office of Personnel Management?
MR. EARNEST: Pam, as you know, this is an ongoing investigation by the FBI. The FBI has been looking at this for some time. They obviously have experts who have already learned important information about this particular intrusion. But for any formal declarations about conclusions that they have reached, I’d refer you to the FBI.
At this point, what I know is that the identity of the individuals who are behind this attack and the motivations of those who carried out this intrusion are still subject of the ongoing investigation. And so I don’t want to say anything at this point that would get ahead of that ongoing investigation.
Q Not too long ago, the President issued an executive order that said he had the authority to issue financial sanctions on people who were responsible for hacking. If China or some other country like that were to be found guilty of doing that hacking, would he consider issuing financial sanctions?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Pam, the reason that the President signed this executive order a couple of months ago is because it gives the U.S. government additional tools to respond to these kinds of incidents. And this is authority that the President delegated to the Secretary of Treasury, who is typically responsible for administering financial sanctions like this. And at this point, again, our investigators are still looking into who precisely carried out these intrusions. But the option that the President put on the table for responding to these kinds of activities in the form of financial sanctions certainly is one that continues to be available to him and the administration with regard to this particular activity.
Q This is the kind of incident that the sanctions would be aimed at or would be appropriate --
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s something that we’ll evaluate when we have more information about who precisely carried out these attacks and as we learn more about what their motive was. But it certainly is possible that this new tool, financial sanctions, could be used to respond to this incident. But that will become clearer once we have a better sense of who is responsible and what their motives were.
Q Thanks, Josh. You said in an answer to Christi’s question about Russia that there’s a shared view and hope we’ll be able to preserve sanctions moving forward, which would indicate that there’s a concern that they won’t be able to. And certainly it does seem that part of the strategy is sort of wait it out. I’m wondering if you can tell us what the level of concern is -- and any more readout you can give us on what the strategy is, what they discussed in terms of moving forward?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there is an acknowledgement –- there was an acknowledgement on the part of both President Obama and Chancellor Merkel that preserving the unity and coordination of the United States and our European allies and partners has been critical to our efforts to maximize the impact of economic sanctions against Russia, and preserving that unity moving forward is an important priority. The reason it was discussed in the context of these meetings is that it will require action on the part of the Europeans to extend these sanctions. And the President is certainly advocating that they extend the sanctions.
Q There could be opposition?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there is -- the sense is, is that there is certainly a view that this unity is important moving forward. But ultimately, it will be up to the Europeans to make these decisions. But we’re hopeful that they’ll do so keeping in mind our shared view that preserving this unity is really important.
Q And in the early reporting following this morning’s events, there are indications that the Germans remain skeptical of the President following a series of spying scandals. One newspaper called it a “pretty picture” that Merkel created basically to overshadow what it called a “smoldering espionage affair.” And I wonder, with regards to all this and given the very real fact that Germans remain more skeptical about this, what the President’s message is directly to the American people as well as to Merkel.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would start by observing that the President was very pleased with the warm welcome he received this morning not just from Chancellor Merkel, but from the German citizens who attended the event. And I do think that reflects the depth of the U.S.-German relationship. This is a relationship that has enhanced the national security of both our countries, and there was even a comment from Chancellor Merkel about the critically important role the United States played in the reunification of Germany. And this is the -- I believe this is the 25th anniversary of that reunification -- or the 20th anniversary, one of the two. And that is, again, a testament to the depth of the U.S.-German relationship.
And I think it’s noteworthy that, in the context of their 45-minute or so bilateral meeting, that this particular issue did not come up between the two leaders. And I think it’s an indication that of all of the priorities that our two countries have, that things like climate change, trade, preserving unanimity in terms of our response to Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine, continuing to coordinate when it comes to our counter-ISIL efforts -- these are the priorities in our relationship, principally because by working together, we can enhance the national security and expand the economic opportunity of citizens in both our countries.
Q Josh, I just wondered if you could clarify the President’s policy on Ukraine sanctions. What is he asking for here? You say that the Russians have essentially been thumbing their nose at the commitments under the Minsk agreement and that they need to abide by that. Is that enough? Or is the return of Crimea to Ukraine in sovereignty part of the President’s policy on ending sanctions on Russia?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Terry, what we have said since the day that we put these sanctions in place is that the United States and our partners put these sanctions in place because of our expectation that Russia should live up to the commitments that they made in the context of the Minsk negotiations. And so we have made clear that we would begin relieving those sanctions if Russia began living up to their commitments that they’ve made in Minsk.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen Russia do exactly the opposite, which is to, in fact, redouble their destabilizing activities in Ukraine. And whether that is playing an important leading role in directing the activities of combined Russian separatist forces in Ukraine, or continuing to maintain advanced air-defense systems in eastern Ukraine, time and time again we have seen Russia walk away from important commitments that they had made.
And those sanctions will remain -- it’s our view that those sanctions should remain in place until we start to see Russia live up to their commitments.
Q But Minsk doesn’t mention Crimea. So is Crimea basically a lost cause?
MR. EARNEST: No. The United States continues to have concerns about the way that Russia has essentially annexed Crimea. That is the source of continued concern and not something that the United States or members of the international community will tolerate. We have expectations that countries around the globe will respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries. And the annexation of Crimea is certainly a violation of that important international principle.
But when it comes to these specific sanctions that we are hoping that the Russian -- or that the Europeans will continue to coordinate with us -- are directly related to commitments that Russia made in the context of the Minsk Implementation Plan.
Q Josh, thanks. You mentioned that at least for now, broadly speaking, there may be some hesitancy on the part of the Europeans to maintain sanctions on Russia. I’m wondering if, in the background, there’s a reliance on natural gas and energy that’s behind that hesitancy. And is there something that the President will announce or that he can do to increase, say, natural gas -- for example, exports here to Europe and our partners so that they become less reliant on Russian energy?
MR. EARNEST: Kevin, that’s a good question. I don’t have any announcement like that to foreshadow at this point. But we have long acknowledged that the commitment required by our European partners to implement and maintain these sanctions is significant. They have economies that are more integrated with Russia than the United States has, and so we recognize that many of the countries that we’re counting on to continue to enforce these sanctions are countries who do so at some sacrifice to their own economy.
I think that sends a pretty important signal about how big of a priority respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another country actually is not just for the United States but for our European partners and allies. We should not underestimate the significance of our European partners and allies working with us to impose these sanctions; that imposing these sanctions requires some of our European partners to make more significant economic sacrifices than the United States has to.
Q I want to follow up on Chris’s question for just a second. From the Germans’ perspective, the people -- I'm not saying they expect an apology for the surveillance that was conducted by the NSA, or maybe they would expect something like that. Maybe the American people would expect that the President would stand up and say, you know what, we were wrong, this was not consistent with our values. Is it too much to expect that something like that might come out of this particular summit?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, I can tell you that in the bilateral meeting the President had with the Chancellor this issue did not come up. I will say that I'm not going to be in a position to talk in a lot of detail about any classified programs. I will say that the United States continues to value the important cooperation that we receive from the Germans on a variety of national security programs that are critical to protecting the German people and German interests around the globe. But that kind of cooperation is also critical to American national security and to the safety and security of the American people. And we're pleased to have that kind of cooperation on a range of national security programs with the Germans.
Q Lastly, if I might ask something that's not G7 related. President Morsi has been sentenced to death. Is it possible that there might be an economic cost if Egypt follows through on its plans to execute their former leader?
MR. EARNEST: Kevin, we have raised concerns in the past about the politically motivated detention and even sentencing of prominent political figures in Egypt and even some, frankly, not prominent political figures. But this kind of politically motivated action is contrary to the values of the United States and we have raised our concerns about it in the past and those are concerns that we continue to have and continue to express to the Egyptian authorities.
Q I have two questions on China. One is about AIIB. What kind of direction or perception does the President want to give inside G7?
MR. EARNEST: Again, this is a topic that did not come up in the President’s meeting with Chancellor Merkel. But I think this is -- the President participates actively and, frankly, plays a leading role in organizations like the G7 because we value the cooperation with our G7 partners on a range of international priorities, and that includes priorities related to the international economy. So we're going to continue to seek to coordinate our efforts and cooperate on a range of issues.
That said, the U.S. policy on the AIIB has not changed and at this point we're not contemplating joining.
Q The other question is about -- my colleague asked the same question -- what kind of outcome do you expect to come out of this summit? You said that you don't know if there will be a declaration coming. Is there going to be some kind of decision from the G7 --
MR. EARNEST: Which issue are you talking about?
Q Maritime issue, especially South China Sea.
MR. EARNEST: Oh, I see. Again, I don't have any -- I don't know at this point whether or not there is anything like that that's planned for the G7 communique, so I'd encourage you to take a look at it when it comes out tomorrow.
Q Thank you, Josh. Just to follow up on Greece -- does the President believe the Europeans should be more flexible towards Greece in order to avoid a potentially negative result?
MR. EARNEST: Jerome, what we have indicated is that we believe that it's important for us to try to chart this path that acknowledges a couple of critically important goals. The first is, it's important for Greece to build on structural economic reforms, but it's also important for Greece to return to sustainable, long-term growth. And this means balancing some competing priorities, and it means that Greece and its partners will have to facilitate an agreement to try to pursue those priorities.
The good news is that I think that all of the partners who are sitting at the table trying to negotiate this agreement understand that those are priorities and that those priorities are in the collective interest. It certainly is in the interest of the United States for those parties to resolve their differences in a way that doesn’t inject unneeded instability and volatility into the global financial markets.
And so that's why the role that the United States has played -- principally, Secretary Lew -- has been to encourage the parties to come together to resolve their differences without brinksmanship or without threatening the deadline. And there obviously is important work that needs to be done to achieve this goal and to achieve these shared priorities. But given that all of the parties acknowledge that these priorities are in their collective best interests, we're optimistic that they’ll be able to do that.
Q Two questions to follow up on climate change and maritime security. First, on climate change. Do you expect the G7 leaders to reach some kind of agreement for setting a new target or send a strong message tomorrow -- I mean, a new outcome to reach tomorrow -- do you expect? And how the United States play an important role on this issue? Because last year, President Obama said he would set an important, ambitious target with China, and President Xi is going to visit the United States in September. So this issue will also be on the agenda. So what is the United States role in this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the United States role has been to lead the world in confronting this issue. And it was global news when the President traveled to China, and two of the world’s largest economies and two of the world’s largest emitters of carbon pollution -- the leaders of those countries stood on the same stage and made significant commitments to reducing carbon pollution. And that was a significant development. And it does reflect again -- and it reflects a commitment on the part of the Chinese to make some significant reforms to their economy.
In terms of the U.S., it’s going to require seizing on the opportunity that exists, particularly when it comes to the renewable energy industry and to efficiency gains, to attain this ambitious but achievable goal. I think the fact that we have seen every G7 member nation make a specific commitment in advance of the Paris climate negotiations scheduled for December I think is an indication that there are other countries that are standing with the United States in leading this effort, and we certainly welcome those early commitments.
As it relates to any sort of announcements out of the G7, I don’t have anything to preview at this point.
Q And one on maritime security. Do you believe that the G7 leaders could share the significance of this vital security issue? Because, you know, there is (inaudible) the United States and Japan and the (inaudible) pursue economic ties with China. Do you think the G7 leaders would unite on this issue?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I only speak for one G7 leader, and we’ve made our views pretty clear. I will just observe that the priority that we have identified, which is protecting the free flow of commerce in international waters, particularly in the South China Sea, has significant consequences for the global economy, and a significant negative impact on the global economy would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy and that’s been the source of our interest in this issue.
A similar impact on European economies would also be felt if there were this disruption in the global economy. And so, again, without speaking on behalf of them, I would just observe that that interest of the United States as identified is one that is not unique to the United States.
Q Thanks, Josh. So just circling back to President Putin, recently the Japanese government has indicated a willingness to invite Putin to Japan, to visit Japan. Would the U.S. government support such a move? And just secondly, I know you said you weren’t at the meeting in the first plenary session that you talked about, but do you think that President Obama pushed the Ukraine issue? Similar to the way he pushed Angela Merkel, Chancellor Merkel, do you think he pushed that with the other leaders?
MR. EARNEST: To take your second question first, I don’t know whether or not the President had the opportunity to make clear that international unity, and particularly European unity, around responding to Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine is an American priority. It is something that the President will have the opportunity to discuss over the context of the summit. I don’t know if that’s something that he raised in the first plenary session, but I’m confident it's something that he will discuss with other G7 leaders while we’re here.
I was not aware of the invitation on the part of the Japanese to President Putin, so I don’t have a specific reaction to that. What I will say is that we’re obviously –- Secretary Kerry met with President Putin a week or two ago in Sochi. And we have indicated on the part of the United States that we have a rather complex relationship with Russia; that there have been areas where we’ve been able to -- in spite of our significant differences about Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine, we’ve been able to cooperate on a range of issues that have been important to the national security of both our countries. That’s been true as it relates to ridding Syria of their declared chemical weapons stockpile. It’s also true when it comes to negotiating with Iran to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Russia has been an important and constructive contributor to that effort.
Anybody else? I’ll give you the last one, sir.
Q How can the difficulties to the North Korean nuclear issue and nuclear missile strategy -- (inaudible) the G7 leaders are worried against North Korea’s nuclear missile strategy.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would observe two things. Without previewing what will eventually be included in the G7 communique, I would say it’s the U.S. belief that there is a global interest in dealing with the concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program. And we are interested in seeing North Korea come into compliance with a whole set of U.N. rules and regulations that they have flouted when it comes to their nuclear program.
And I am confident this will be a topic of extensive discussion when the President has the opportunity to sit down with one of our closest allies in the region, the President of the Republic of Korea, and the President is looking forward to the meeting.
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