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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing By Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/30/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 

1:21 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  If you’ll indulge me, I've got a statement at the top before we go to your questions.

You’ve often heard me stand at this podium and express some frustration about the tendency of House Republicans to wait until the last minute before doing something.  We had these conversations when we were talking about funding for the Department of Homeland Security, when we talked about the need to confirm the President’s nominee to be Attorney General, or when it came to making sure our intelligence professionals have the tools they need to keep us safe.  Time and again, Republicans have waited until the very last minute, and in some cases, even past the last minute, before acting.

Well, the good news is that last night, they finally agreed to do something ahead of schedule.  Unfortunately, the thing they decided to do is to start their August recess.  Now, setting aside that the so-called August recess is poorly named -- it starts at the end of July and lasts until September. 

Q    District work period.  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  There you go -- district work period.  The real problem is that House Republicans have skipped town and started their vacation even though they have a lot of important work to do.  First, they left town without reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.  This is actually work that they failed to do before their last vacation, and it's the first time in history that the authorization for the Bank lapsed, even though it enjoys strong bipartisan support.  As a result, thousands of small and medium-sized U.S. businesses will be spending the rest of the summer at a significant disadvantage as they try to do business overseas.

Second, House Republicans merely kicked the can down the road yet again on the transportation bill.  These repeated short-term extensions, which they’ve now used dozens of times, make it very hard for local officials to coordinate the planning and funding for large, multiyear infrastructure projects when they are only being funded for one or two or three months at a time.  That means that our economy and our workers are missing out.

Finally, despite having been in session since January, Republicans in Congress will return in September without a path forward on the stalled budget process, even though the deadline to keep the government open will be a mere three weeks away.  That's right, Republican leaders who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed vowing to get Congress moving again, and vowing to never shut down the government again, will be just a few weeks away from doing it for the second time in two years.  

Meanwhile, Republican leaders steadfastly refuse to sit down and negotiate with Democrats, who, along with the President, have laid out a specific proposal and are ready to find common ground on these issues and, most importantly, make sure that we're focused on investing in our economy and our national security.

So I do hope that Republicans will do more than just rest and relax during their 39-day vacation, because when they do finally show up again in September, there won't be a lot of patience or a lot of sympathy for the claim that they don't have time to do their job.

So, with that, Nancy, do you want to start with the questions?

Q    Sure.  It’s a segue to a different congressional delay. Is the White House at all concerned that more Democrats have not come out in support of the Iran nuclear deal?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that's a good example, Nancy, because you’ll recall that originally the period that Congress had set out for themselves to review the agreement was 30 days, but in order to protect their ability to take a month-long vacation, that review period was extended to 60 days.  We are less than -- I guess we're only about 10 days into that review period now.

And we've not been surprised to see some of the criticism that we've seen from Republicans about the deal.  After all, many of them actually were criticizing the agreement before it was even announced.  Certainly the leader of the -- the Republican leader in the Senate and the Republican leader in the House were on television on the Sunday before the agreement was rolled out on Tuesday saying that it was a bad deal.  So their response has not been particularly surprising. 

But you have seen the President spending a lot of time talking to members of Congress, principally Democrats, who have indicated a desire to actually consider what’s included in the agreement before announcing their support for it, or opposition to it.  And we've been pleased that so many members of Congress on the Democratic side have taken their responsibilities when it comes to this matter seriously.  

And you’ve seen a clear willingness on the part of this administration to engage with members of Congress and to answer their questions about this agreement.  From open congressional hearings to closed classified briefings for members of Congress, to personal meetings that the President himself has convened with members of Congress, this administration has taken seriously the responsibility that we have to make sure that members of Congress understand the agreement.  And as we communicate that information, it becomes clearer to more members of Congress how and why the President believes that this agreement is clearly the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    But would you like to kind of see more members come out -- Democrats -- publicly in supporting this to get some momentum going, given the full-court press that you're doing?  Do you have some private commitments that you’re trying to get put on the record?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any private commitments to announce in this public setting.  But we have confidence that members of Congress -- that many members of Congress will carefully consider the terms of the agreement.  And when they do, we’re confident that many of them will arrive at the same conclusion that the President has, which is that this agreement is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    And just one other thing.  Can you confirm reports out of Syria that U.S.-[backed] rebels have been abducted by the Nusra Front?

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, what I can tell you is -- I got a piece of paper on this right before I walked out here, actually.  We have seen press reports that some leaders have been detained.  But for questions about the specific train-and-equip program, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense.  I know that some of the reports indicate a linkage between those two things, and that’s not something I can confirm.  The only aspect of the reports that I can confirm is that -- or at least that I can acknowledge that we’ve seen is that some of the opposition leaders have been detained.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  Not as this point.  


Q    Speaker Boehner said yesterday that he supports legislation to lift the ban on U.S. crude oil exports.  And today, this morning, the Senate Energy Committee voted to lift the ban -- on legislation to lift the ban.  So I’m wondering if, in principle, the White House has looked at this as an issue at all, and how the White House feels in general about the ban on crude oil exports.

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, I don’t have any specific change in our position to announce.  This is a specific regulation that is managed out of the Commerce Department, so for any follow-up questions about their review or any conclusions that they’ve drawn, I’d refer you to them.

Q    So are they -- the department is reviewing the prospect of legislation that would lift the ban?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if the Commerce Department is doing that or not.  But you can ask them, and I’m sure they’ll tell you.

Q    But the White House isn’t studying it one way or the other?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that the Commerce Department would be responsible for.

Q    Okay.  Secondly, the Canadian election is set for October 19th, and the official campaign is expected to launch as early as Sunday.  And I know you’ve talked before from the podium about the principle of not wanting to be seen as influencing or having any undue influence on elections in foreign countries.  Given that general principle, will that affect the timing of the administration’s decision on the Keystone pipeline?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a remarkably creative way to ask that question.  (Laughter.) 

    Let me give you a lot of credit for that.

Q    But it’s serious, though.  

MR. EARNEST:  I know, I know.

Q    It’s a serious question.

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update on that process.  But if there is anybody who is going to sensitive to the way that decisions that are made in the United States are received overseas, it will be the professionals at the State Department.  So they can give you the best sense about whether or not this specific upcoming election would have an impact on the policy process that they’re running over there.  So you can ask them to find out.

Q    And last -- just really quick -- would President Obama veto any bill that would defund Planned Parenthood -- defund it either in whole or defund it in part?  Is that sort of a principle here?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that there has been an effort on the part of some Republicans to try to play some politics with some selectively edited videos.  This is a tactic that we have seen used before.  The President obviously does not support that ongoing effort.  And I don’t have a blanket principle to share with you, but I can tell you that, on balance, the President would not be supportive of any sort of congressional act done.

Q    But he wouldn’t go so far as to say he would veto any effort that would include that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, it’s apparent that Republicans are just getting started in that effort, and that is an effort that we oppose.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Two for you.  Tonight, the President is doing a conference call on the Iran nuclear deal with a really remarkable number of progressive organizations.  I think I only have a handful of the people who are going to be on the call.  Would you release a comprehensive list of the organizations that he’s going to be speak to tonight?

MR. EARNEST:  Olivier, I can tell you that there have been thousands of people representing a large number of groups that have been invited, so it’s hard for me to give you a comprehensive list for that reason.  But the thing that -- so I don’t think I can give you that list.  But I think if you consider the groups that have previously worked with the White House or would be inclined to work with the White House on this issue, I think there’s a very high degree of likelihood that they’ve been invited to participate in the call.

Q    The fact of that call suggests to me that you are more concerned than you’re letting on about the willingness of Democrats to back the President on the Iran nuclear deal.  They certainly wouldn’t seem -- I don’t think Organizing for Action has a ton of sway with Republicans.  So is that an incorrect diagnosis?  Are you, in fact, more concerned than your collective demeanor suggests from behind the podium?

MR. EARNEST:   I think the way that you should read the demeanor here is that we take pretty seriously the responsibility that we have to communicate the facts of this agreement to members of Congress who ultimately will have to vote on it.  And that's a responsibility that we take seriously.  And we’ve acknowledged that this is a very detailed complicated agreement, and that's an indication how serious we are about making sure that Iran complies with that.

So, again, I don't have a lot of concern to express to you. But I think I have a lot of seriousness of purpose when it comes to making sure that members of Congress have access to the information that they need to fairly evaluate the agreement.

What’s also true is that there are a large number of Republicans in Congress -- not all of them, but a large number of them in Congress -- who, as I mentioned earlier, before the agreement was even announced came out against it.  So I think it would be appropriate for you to conclude that we have concluded that we're not going to spend a whole lot of time trying to persuade them.  

We have indicated that we're going to answer their questions.  And you've seen John Kerry and Jack Lew and Ernie Moniz and Ash Carter and Marty Dempsey, all senior members of the President’s national security team spend a lot of time answering questions from members of Congress -- even from members of Congress who have already announced their opposition, and even from members of Congress who announced their opposition to the deal before the deal itself was announced.  So I think that is an indication that the administration takes very seriously that we have to communicate with Congress about this matter.  But we're most interested in communicating with those who have indicated a willingness to take seriously their responsibility to evaluate the agreement.

Q    Last one.  You've talked about a new plan to close Guantanamo Bay.  Lisa Monaco has talked about a new plan to close Guantanamo Bay.  Yesterday I saw a statement from an NSC spokesman saying that that was an overstatement, that there is no new plan to close Guantanamo Bay.  Could you shed a little light on what’s going on?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I didn't see the statement that you're referring to, so I don't know if what that person said will be consistent with what I said.  But what I can tell you is that the President has long identified closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a top national security priority.  He believes that continuing to operate the prison at Guantanamo Bay is a waste of taxpayer money and is not the best way for us to protect our interests around the world.  We know that many extremists actually use the continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a recruiting tool, and an effective one at that.  So that's why the President has made closing the prison a priority. 

Unfortunately, we’ve not gotten a lot of cooperation from Congress in closing that prison.  So what we have decided to do, at the specific request of some members of Congress who’ve indicated a desire to at least consider working with us on this, is to put forward some specifics about how we would like to proceed.  And that is a process that's underway, and, in fact, it’s been underway for some time.  And when we have more information about that process and more details about that process to share with you, we’ll do that probably after we’ve shared that information with Congress.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Could you give us a readout of the meeting last night -- or the working reception, whatever -- with House Democrats, and what their top concerns were?

MR. EARNEST:  Cheryl, I can tell you that there was some scheduling complexities that interfered with the meeting.  My understanding -- and I attended part of the meeting -- is that members of Congress were called to votes not too long after they arrived at the White House.  

So there was ample time for the President to do a couple of things -- one is to lay out a now familiar case to all of you about why the Iran agreement is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  He did spend some time taking on directly some of the most common criticisms of the agreement.  And after doing so, he didn’t have time to take questions -- or members of Congress didn’t actually have time to ask questions.  What the President did, though, is he made an offer to any member of Congress that if they have questions that we would find a way to answer them.  

And a couple dozen members of Congress actually took him up on that offer, and after the votes were completed in the House last night, actually returned to the White House last night and spent I believe nearly two hours with the President, sort of talking through the different elements of the agreement and giving the President the opportunity to respond to some of the criticisms that have been leveled against the agreement in public.

Again, all of you in this room have been following this pretty closely and have heard the President spend quite a bit of time talking about this.  So I don’t know that there was a lot of detail that was shared in private that all of you haven’t heard, but certainly spending time with individual members of Congress and answering their questions directly, again, I think is an indication that the President feels a personal responsibility to engage with members of Congress who are keeping an open mind and evaluating this agreement.  And I would expect that the President will continue to have many of those conversations -- many other conversations like that over the next several weeks.

Q    Is there a similar event with Senate Democrats planned?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know right now of any caucus-wide meetings that are scheduled.  But I certainly would anticipate that the President will have conversations like this with other  -- with Democrats in the Senate, including even today.


Q    Josh, the President and you have frequently made the case that the choice when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program is either the deal that has been negotiated or a march towards war. We now have heard from two top military officials that that is not really the choice; that there are a range of options.  Martin Dempsey said “I can tell you we have a range of options.”  The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richardson, said, “There are other options besides going to war.”  What do you say to that?  It seems directly in contradiction to what you’ve been saying for months.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, we have heard some critics suggest that there is an alternative here.

Q    These aren’t critics; these are top military advisors of the President who are saying there are options besides this deal and war.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen the specific comments of General Dempsey.  The one that I did see from him is he said that “relieving the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran diplomatically is superior to trying to do that militarily.”

Q    But they were both asked directly before the Senate whether or not there are options besides this deal and war, and both of them said there are a range of options between those two that you’ve kind of presented as the two options.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I didn’t see every minute of the testimony yesterday, and I haven’t seen a specific plan that anybody has put forward.  

Let me explain to you why we’ve made the case that there is no other viable alternative.  And it’s simply this -- that we have seen that since the deal has been announced a couple weeks ago now, 86 countries have issued public statements in support of the agreement.  That is an illustration of how isolated the United States would be if the Congress were to kill this deal.  And let me explain to you why.  

I know that there have been some who have suggested that, well, the United States could merely re-impose sanctions.  Well, let me explain to you why that's not a viable option.  Among these 86 countries who have issued public support for the agreement include not just the other countries who are involved in negotiating it, the member of the P5+1, it also includes the six countries that are currently allowed to import Iranian oil at restricted lower levels.  

So you’ll recall that there are a lot of countries, who, when these sanctions were initially announced, expressed some reservations about whether or not they’d be able or willing to go along with them.  And that's because their economies relied significantly on the ability to import Iranian oil.  So certainly those six countries did eventually go along with the sanctions because they saw it as our best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  It’s hard to imagine that those six countries are going to be willing to re-impose sanctions unilaterally just because the Congress isn’t satisfied with the agreement. 

Q    But you -- I’d say you have a lot of Democrats who are critical of this deal who are either opposed to it or undecided. Even, last I checked, Bernie Sanders was undecided about whether or not to support.  Do you really think as Bernie Sanders is weighing his options here, he’s weighing whether or not to support war or support this deal?  I mean, are you really saying that those are the two options?  Do you see how that kind of rubs some of these people the wrong way who are trying to take a thoughtful look at this and saying there are reasons to be critical of this deal doesn’t mean that you're in favor of war if you don't like it?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I don't think, Jon, I necessarily said -- I think that there are some people who are in favor of war.  But I haven’t necessarily said that everybody who opposes the deal is in favor of war.  I have observed, and the President has observed this, as well, if you're not in favor of war, that's exactly why you should support this agreement.  Because killing this agreement only makes military action and a military conflict with Iran more likely.  And that is the case that's before members of Congress.

There are a lot of details in this agreement that we have spent a lot of time explaining to members of Congress.  But ultimately that is the choice that's facing members of Congress. They can either work -- they can either follow the President’s lead, who did successfully rally the international community around an agreement that will, through diplomacy, prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, or they can essentially sabotage that effort and leave the United States standing apart from the international community -- maybe alongside Israel -- and without a specific plan for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We know that the sanctions regime will crumble.  International unity will crumble.  Iran will get all kinds of sanctions relief because the sanctions will no longer be enforced.  But yet what we would reasonably assume that Iran would do is actually move aggressively to try to pursue a nuclear weapon and to try to obtain it.  And we know that the breakout time, as it exists right now, is only two to three months.  

So we’ve talked about when the President took office that the international community was not united in trying to figure out how to confront Iran over their nuclear weapons program.  And it’s been a painstaking effort over the last five years.  Congress has actually played an important role in this.  It is Congress -- congressional sanctions that have played an important role in applying pressure to Iran.  But Congress right now is -- at least some members of Congress are advocating that Congress use their authority to actually shatter that international coalition, isolate the United States, prevent us from being able to pressure Iran, economically, and almost assuredly, result in Iran getting billions in sanctions relief even as they pursue a nuclear weapons program, and reduce our ability to get insight into exactly what they're doing.

Q    And can I ask you briefly, Senator Ted Cruz has said that in light of this agreement and the fact that it frees up assets for the Iranian government, that President Obama is “the leading global financier of radical Islamic terrorism.”  I was wondering if you might respond to that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think as a factual basis, Jon, the first thing that's important to understand is, as I was trying to convey earlier, if Congress kills this deal, Iran is still going to get sanctions relief.  We know that all these countries that have indicated their support for the agreement are no longer going to make the economic sacrifice to enforce these sanctions. That means that Iran is getting sanctions relief whether or not Congress kills this deal.

And so the question really for members of Congress, including for Senator Cruz, is, is the United States going to get something for that sanctions relief?  Under the agreement that the President and the P5+1 has crafted, we will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  They will reduce their stockpile by 98 percent.  They will have to essentially unplug 13,000 centrifuges.  They're going to overhaul their heavy-water reactor in Arak.  And we’ll have inspections to verify their compliance with the agreement, and Iran will pledge to cooperate with those inspections and to make sure that they will permanently agree to not pursue a nuclear weapon.

Q    But Mitt Romney has said that this is over the top.  

MR. EARNEST:  That's right. 

Q    And I’m wondering -- forget the kind of substance behind the attack, but is this kind of language appropriate?  I mean, he’s basically -- he’s calling the President of the United States the leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.  Is that -- does the White House have a response to that?  Do you agree with Mitt Romney that this is kind of beyond the pale?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there certainly are people who are interested in playing politics with this.  We're focused on the substance.  And for that reason, Senator Cruz’s outrageous claim does not stand up to any factual scrutiny at all.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Good to see you.  Earlier, Planned Parenthood -- you didn't really take a direct position on whether the President would veto a bill defunding Planned Parenthood.  Do you know if the President has seen the latest video that came out today on Planned Parenthood?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know if he has or not.

Q    And yesterday, Eric seemed unsure if he had seen any of the other videos.  Do you know if he’s seen any of them?  And does the White House have a reaction to the videos?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't know if he’s seen any of them.  I do know that he’s been following this story in the news.  And again, we have -- as you’ve heard me say before, there’s ample reason to think that this is merely the tried-and-true tactic that we’ve seen from extremists on the right to edit this video and selectively release an edited version of the video that grossly distorts the position of the person who’s actually speaking on the video.  

And Planned Parenthood has indicated that’s exactly what’s occurred here.  And any review of the policy that Planned Parenthood says they implement indicates that the views expressed on the videos is -- or at least the way that they’re pictured on the videos is entirely inaccurate.

But for those policies and for the way that Planned Parenthood implements them, I’d encourage you to contact Planned Parenthood.  But the President certainly will not support another effort by Republicans to try to defund an organization that offers important and needed health care services to millions of women across the country.

Q    Sure.  And just for clarification purposes, you haven't talked to the President about the videos?

MR. EARNEST:  What I’m saying is I don’t know if he has seen the videos, but I can assure you that he is following this news story.


Q    Would it be accurate to describe this as a new phase in the selling of this Iran deal?  You’ve described the President taking a personal responsibility.  We know that there are at least two one-on-one meetings with members of Congress here at the White House.  Is it indicative of any anxiety as these members head home to the August town hall?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no.  I think this is the phase that we have been in since this agreement was announced a couple of weeks ago.  At that point, you’ll recall that this agreement was announced when the President spoke on live national television at 7 o’clock in the morning to announce this agreement.  And I think it’s fair to say that, since then, he’s taken it upon himself to make sure that the public and members of Congress are keenly aware of what’s included in this agreement and why we continue to believe it’s the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

There is a sense of urgency around the fact that, yes, Congress is prepared to -- members of Congress are prepared to leave town for several weeks.  And so we want to use the opportunity, while they’re in town, to spend some time with the President so that he can talk to them face-to-face about what’s included in the agreement.  But, again, I think that is a desire on our part to make sure that members of Congress are informed.  And that’s why we’re pursuing this approach.  

I think that’s also why members of Congress in both the House and the Senate have asked for classified briefings -- those are briefings that have been given to both every member -- at least offered to every member of the House and every member of the Senate.  And it’s why you’ve seen the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of the Treasury, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all spend time on Capitol Hill testifying under oath about this agreement to members of Congress.

So we’ve been very forthright about our desire to help people understand this agreement.  But there are some members of Congress that are less interested in understanding the agreement and more interested in trying to play politics with it.

Q    And I know there’s a call with grassroots organizers tonight on this.  But the poll numbers out among the American public kind of back up a lot of the skepticism that we’re seeing on Capitol Hill.  A new CNN/ORC poll found that 52 percent of Americans want Congress to reject the deal.  What’s your response to that?

MR. EARNEST:  My response to that is that there’s ample polling data to indicate that the more that people learn of the agreement and the more that they understand the consequences of the agreement, that the more likely they are to both support it and to urge Congress to support it.  And that’s why, again, we’re going to continue to make an extensive effort to make sure that the American people and members of Congress who have any open mind here get the facts that they need to fairly evaluate what we believe is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    Can I ask you one question on the search for MH-370?  The French and Malaysians seem to be leading the investigation.  Australians seem to be leading the search.  But what role is the NTSB or any other federal aviation experts -- do they have a role to play here?  This is an American-built plane.  What’s your understanding?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the NTSB is a worldwide leader and a recognized expert when it comes to investigations like this.  And there have been earlier stages in the investigation where the NTSB has been able to play an important role in offering some advice to those who are responsible for this investigation and responsible for leading the search.  So the NTSB will continue to be involved in that way.  But for specifics about what exactly they’re doing, I’d refer you to that agency.

Q    Are there any U.S. military assets in the area that could be of help?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of, but you can check with the Department of Defense.  I’m confident that there are Department of Defense assets at least in general in the area -- or at least I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they are.  It’s not clear to me that any specific request has been made for their assistance.


Q    Hey, Josh, a quick follow-up on tonight’s conference call.  Americans are being bombarded with ads against this agreement.  Aside from using the bully pulpit himself, is the President going to ask these groups maybe to come up with some more media money to help support the agreement?  Because I think I’ve heard one maybe radio ad in support of it.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any specific requests the President intends to make for financial support.  I think the kind of support that the President is looking for is for those Americans who are concerned about the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And we’re going to make sure that they’re armed with the facts and the details that they need to make this case.  

And this is going to be members of communities all across the country who are going to work, who are going to go to church, who are going to go to spend time in their neighborhoods talking to their friends and neighbors about this agreement. 

And I know that sometimes there’s some skepticism about whether or not that’s an actual strategy.  I think the fact that the President was successfully reelected in 2008 and 2012 despite the opposition spending hundreds of millions of dollars against him is an indication that this is a strategy that’s worked pretty well in the past, and it’s a strategy that we’re looking to employ this time as well.

Let’s see -- Andrew.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Turkey’s attacks on the Islamic State so far seem to be a bit of a fig leaf for a more sustained attacks on Kurdish forces.  I’m just wondering whether the White House thinks that it would be useful for Turkey to recalibrate its offensive in any way to focus more on Islamic State.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Andrew, what we have recently agreed to with the Turks is to deepen our cooperation in our counter-ISIL campaign.  We’re pleased to have the support of the Turks, and there are a variety of ways in which they can contribute to that effort.  That includes some military facilities inside of Turkey that can be helpful to our coalition’s efforts.

What we also know is that Turkey is legitimately concerned about the way this -- that ISIL forces along the Turkey-Syria border have had an impact on the national security of the nation of Turkey.  So they have their own legitimate national security interests in getting engaged in this effort, and we certainly welcome their active participation.

In particular, there is this stretch of the Turkey-Syria border -- it’s about 68 miles long -- that essentially is the remaining corridor that ISIL can use to access money, supplies and even personnel along the Turkish border.  And what the focus of our efforts will be is intensifying our efforts around that region of Syria to essentially shut off the access that ISIL has to the border right now.  

And there’s obviously a clear national security interest that Turkey has in the successful completion of that effort, but also it would be important to the broader strategic success of our campaign against ISIL to try to further isolate them and shut off the flow of weapons and equipment and money and materiel and personnel that we know that they’re in need of.

Q    So given your kind of support for them, then what does that mean for your relationship with other Kurdish groups, particularly in northern Iraq -- Barzani and Peshmerga who have been helpful in kind of fighting Islamic State?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is a coalition of fighters that have operated on the ground in northern Syria, and they have operated quite effectively against ISIL forces in Syria.  One of the reasons that they’ve been effective is they’ve been actively backed by U.S. and coalition military airstrikes.  That has improved their performance on the battlefield.  That has been a part of their success.  And what the Turks have committed to doing is contributing to that success even further.  So we certainly welcome their willingness and their desire to do that.  
There is a separate question related to the ongoing conflict between the Turks and some Kurds, and Turkey has, for a number of years, been pursuing a peaceful solution process, and we encourage them to continue to do that.


Q    Josh, over in Scotland today, Donald Trump made the statement that “Vladimir Putin hates President Obama, and President Obama hates Vladimir Putin.”  Could you offer an assessment of that?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve not seen those comments.  I would merely refer you to the way that President Obama has described his relationship with President Putin on some previous occasions.  He’s described their relationship as “business-like,” and he’s indicated an ability and a willingness on the part of President Putin to speak bluntly, and that includes when there are areas of difference.  And there are a number of areas where President Obama and President Putin have some pretty significant differences.  There have been some areas where we’ve been able to coordinate quite effectively with the Russians, and this international effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is probably the most significant of those.

Q    In the same session, Trump also said the he thought Hillary Clinton was the worst Secretary of State in American history.  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  Again, we could probably spend hours in here responding to outrageous claims from a variety of Republican candidates for President.  

Q    You’ll pass.

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll let others do that.  

Doug.  Nice to see you.

Q    You, too.  One of the biggest hang-ups that Republicans have about the Iran nuclear deal is a so-called side letter that Senator Tom Cotton says that he learned of in a visit to Vienna last week, I believe it was.  Yesterday, Eric said there is no side letter.  

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.

Q    On the other hand, when Secretary Kerry and Moniz were testifying yesterday before the Senate Arms Services Committee, they tacitly acknowledged the existence of the side letter when they said that they had not read it, but that they had been briefed on it.  Your reaction.  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the documents that Senator Cotton claims to have learned of during his trip to Vienna were actually documents that were previously discussed in material that we put forward sometime earlier.  So the fact is Senator Cotton didn’t really learn of anything in Vienna that wasn’t already available to be learned.  And this is information that was disclosed on the IAEA website.  So I hope that Senator Cotton had a pleasant trip to Vienna, but his travel was not necessary to learn the information he claims to have obtained.

And again, we have taken on this quite a bit.  Iran’s effort to obtain sanctions relief is predicated on them following through on a promise to give the IAEA the access and information that they need to write their report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  And no sanctions relief will be given to Iran until they fulfill that commitment.

And that’s why you’ve heard me say previously that this isn’t some sort of side deal.  The whole deal won’t go forward -- none of it will go forward -- unless Iran complies with the requests that have been put forward by the IAEA for access and information to write their report.

The other thing -- the last thing I’ll say about this is that we’ve also -- we’ve put a timeline on this.  We set a deadline for the Iranians, and that deadline is mid-October for them to provide the access and information that they, for years, have fought, that they have refused to provide.  We’ve now insisted that they need to provide that information in 90 days.  That’s an indication of how serious the United States and our coalition partners are about Iran cooperating with IAEA inspections.  

If they do that -- and again, they’re going to have to do that if they’re going to get any sanctions relief -- but if they do that that would certainly bode well for the ability of IAEA inspectors in the future to make sure -- to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement moving forward.

Q    Does Iran have the right to collect its own soil samples at the Parchin facility?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the good news is that somebody like me, who doesn’t have any expertise when it comes to nuclear science, is not responsible for negotiating the kind of access and information that the IAEA needs.  Instead, what we have is we have international, impartial nuclear experts at the IAEA who has put forward to Iran a list of the facts and access that they need to successfully complete their report.  And that is what we have insisted that Iran provide before they get any additional sanctions relief.

Q    Two more quick questions.  Has the -- I know you said that these videos are selectively edited, the Planned Parenthood stuff.  There are several more that are slated to come out, I understand.  Has the White House had any communication with Planned Parenthood about standardizing procedures for fetal tissue research?  Has the White House had any concerns about illegalities in this realm?  Have you had any sort of an investigation, or are you considering it?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of.  And again, I think Planned Parenthood has been quite specific about the policies and procedures that they have in place.  And I know that they have described those policies and procedures as living up to the highest ethical standard.  But for what those standards are, I’d refer you to Planned Parenthood.

And as I mentioned, based on the essentially fraudulent way in which these videos have been released, there’s not a lot of evidence right now that Planned Parenthood hasn’t lived up to those standards.  But again, I’d refer you to Planned Parenthood on all that.

Q    Last question, on the OPM data breach.  Apparently, OPM is reluctant to say anything regarding the total number of people who may have been intruded upon here -- I think the number stands at 22 million.  Do you have any evidence that it might be higher than that?  And also, DNI Clapper said over the weekend that failing to call out the guilty parties, i.e. China or some entity in China, may lead to more of this kind of thing.  Why have you not called out China or some entity in China?  Why have you not considered pursuing criminal charges?

MR. EARNEST:  Doug, I haven’t heard any need to update the number that we’ve previously released -- and you’re right, I think it was right around 22 million people who may have been affected by this particular breach.

As it relates to attribution, our investigators, our national security professionals will make the decision about whether or not it is in the best interest of our national security and in the best interest of the ongoing investigation to disclose who we actually believe is responsible for this particular matter.  And so at this point, they have concluded that it’s not in our interest to do that, but if that changes we’ll obviously let you know.


Q    And back to the so-called side agreements in the Iran deal.  The objections -- among the objections to these are that they are private between the IAEA and Iran, and that that makes the IAEA the judge of whether Iran has complied.  And there are members of Congress who believe that that should not be the case. They also maintain that those side letters or side agreements should be submitted under the terms of the Iran Review Act to Congress.  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I vigorously dispute the description of these as side agreements.  And so it’s -- I guess -- the reason I raise that is I think it’s fine for our critics to do that, but I think that even you would have to acknowledge that I’ve made a pretty forceful case for why that’s not an accurate description.

Q    No, but it’s an agreement between the IAEA and Iran -- 

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct, but their compliance with it  --

Q    -- which remains confidential. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is confidential but entirely known by our negotiating team, and has already been briefed in classified setting to members of the House who’ve indicated an interest in this issue.  We’ve offered a similar briefing to members of the United States Senate.  

So again, I know that people like to throw around words like “secret” and “private” and “confidential.”  The fact is the United States and our negotiating team is aware of what’s included in that agreement and has shared that information with members of the House in a classified setting, and is prepared to share that information with members of the Senate in a classified setting as soon as it can be scheduled.  

Q    So you’re saying that those members who are asking that these whatever you want to call them -- agreements -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Agreements between the IAEA and Iran.

Q    -- would be included in a review under the Iran -- pardon me -- Review Act are, in fact, included because they’ve been briefed to members of Congress in secret?

MR. EARNEST:  I will acknowledge that I don’t know exactly what the requirements are of the Iran Review Act, so I’m not sure exactly what that means they’re asking for.  What the administration has committed to do and has followed through on is to provide all of the information that is necessary for members of Congress to fairly evaluate the agreement that’s been struck here.  And that is why we have gone to great lengths to make sure that the information that’s included in that agreement between Iran and the IAEA has been shared with members of Congress.

Now, there are some limitations about how we can do that.  A lot of that information is directly related to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  So there’s a reason why we wouldn’t want to just post it on a website and allow anybody in the world to take a look at it.  But what we have committed to doing is making sure that Congress understands what kind of agreement was reached between Iran and IAEA.  That's what’s been briefed.  

And I just want to repeat -- and I’ll do it briefly -- that we have made clear that Iran living up to the terms of the agreement that they have reached with the IAEA is necessary before they receive any sort of sanctions relief.  And again, that's why I would not describe it as a side agreement, because no part of this agreement will move forward unless Iran complies.

Q    And then again, who is the judge whether Iran lives up to the agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  The international and nuclear experts at the IAEA that's responsible for enforcing the Nonproliferation Treaty, not just in Iran but all around the world.

Q    That seems to be a point of contention.  But I’ll leave it there. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, are they -- are a bunch of Republicans who claim that they aren’t climate scientists and, therefore, can't evaluate humankind’s impact on climate change, all of a sudden anointing themselves as nuclear physicists and nuclear experts -- that they're the only ones who are in a position to evaluate whether or not this will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?  If that's the case, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of confidence in that.  

I’d have a whole lot of confidence in the ability of the IAEA -- an international, impartial organization filled with nuclear scientists -- who recently won the Nobel Peace Prize -- I think I would have some confidence in their ability to evaluate Iran’s nuclear program.  It is their responsibility. 

I think the last thing I would say about this is -- and I’ll be careful on this part -- but it’s also true that there are a variety of ways that the United States has some insight and information into Iran’s nuclear program.  It is, after all, that the United States, working with our allies, did disclose a previously covert Iranian nuclear facility.  And so I think that should give people some confidence that it is not just the IAEA who is quite interested in making sure that Iran is living up to the commitments they made in the context of this agreement.  That's been true for some time.  It certainly will be true as we move forward with implementing the agreement. 


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I just want to follow up on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which says specifically, it gives Congress access to “annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, guidance, technical, other understandings and any related agreements.”  So whatever you want to call it, I guess my question is -- I would interpret that -- I’m not a lawyer and I’m not a member of Congress, but I would interpret that to say that they can look at the wording.  And so when you talk about them being briefed or shared information, are they able to read exactly what that is -- whatever you want to call it, a side agreement or not?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, they will not have access to the actual documents, but they certainly will be briefed in detail about the contents of those documents.  And that is how members of Congress can have a clear understanding about what specific requests the IAEA has made for access and information so that they can complete their report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

That information and that access must be provided by October 15th.  And then the IAEA -- this international body of nuclear experts -- will review that information and will file a report before the end of the year.  And when that report is filed, it will be made public.

Q    But until then, they can't see the exact documents?

MR. EARNEST:  But they can have detailed knowledge of what’s included in those documents.

Q    Very different topic.  Less than 24 hours after a White House petition went online, there were 100,000 signatures calling for the American dentist who killed the lion to be extradited.  Actually right before I came out here, that petition to extradite Walter Palmer hit 137,000 signatures.  Are you aware of it?  Now that it’s hit 137,000, what happens next?

MR. EARNEST:  What happens next is there is a process by which the White House will reply to those petitions.  This is our “We the People” campaign.  Essentially, members of the public can go on the White House website; they can draw up the petition, and if they get 100,000 people to sign that petition in a set period of time -- I believe it’s 30 days or something, 60 days -- then they will get an official response from the administration.  And so it sounds as though this particular petition has reached that threshold, and so there will be a forthcoming White House response.  The thing that I will say as a general matter is that decisions about prosecution and extradition are made over at the Department of the Justice.  

Q    So that would be something that they would potentially look at?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think -- you’d have to ask them.

Q    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman said that they are deeply concerned about the situation.  And I know that from reading the briefing notes yesterday, Eric wasn’t sure, but do you know if the President is aware of this?  Have you spoken to him about it? 

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t spoken to him about it.  I know that he is aware of it.  I mean I think the thing -- Chris, you and I were in Africa earlier this week, and the discussion of trying to counter illicit wildlife trafficking is something that came up on the President’s trip over.  And this is something that he talked about -- there was an advocate at the meeting that the President held with some civil society leaders in Nairobi, there was an advocate for trying to protect wildlife in Africa.  I think this woman’s principal focus, as I recall, was actually on trying to protect the elephant population in Africa, which I think is also under some threat.  But this is an issue that is a particularly important policy issue in Africa, and -- so this is something that we’re obviously aware of.

Q    So is this potentially something -- again, I just sort of circled back around; maybe it’s a little bit too early to  know -- but that since there is an American involved in this, that some other American agency, like the Justice Department, could get involved?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if there is any reason for the Department of Justice to get involved, it will be something that they’ll announce.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  A couple of other topics.  First of all, infrastructure -- you talked about the highway bill, but not rail infrastructure.  There’s been a lot of commuter problems in and out of New York in the last couple weeks.  And Governor Christie, it seems like he might be changing his mind on wanting a new tunnel there.  That’s something that this administration previously supported, in a different iteration of course, a few years back.  

MR. EARNEST:  That’s true.

Q    Is this something that the President is engaged with now, and is he interested in potentially resurrecting such a project?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a project that the administration had previously approved, and was something that ultimately Governor Christie indicated his opposition to in that these kinds of projects are dependent upon the effective coordination and cooperation between state and federal officials. And when it became evident that that state level of cooperation was not forthcoming, we turned our attention to other projects.

I’m not in a position to talk about how likely it is for us to essentially reinvest in a project that Governor Christie had previously killed, but you can certainly check with the Department of Transportation and they may be able to update you on that status and whether an additional application is required, or something like that.

Q    What about all the rail problems around New York in general?  Is it something that the President is aware of or paying attention to?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, one of the things that we’re certainly advocating before Congress is a more significant investment in infrastructure.  We know that investments in infrastructure are good for creating jobs in the short term, but also good for the economy over the long term.  And our ability through an updated, modernized, improved infrastructure does make our economy more efficient and it certainly makes our workers more efficient, and to say nothing of the kind of quality-of-life benefits that would be associated with a more efficiently functioning transportation system, particularly in a place like New York.

So there are a variety of reasons why it’s in the best interest of the country and our economy for Congress to get serious about investing in a long-term infrastructure proposal.  The President has put forward his own proposal for how to do this, but we’re going to need some congressional action.  And unfortunately it’s Republicans who have expressed some concern about the cost, even though the President has put forward a common-sense way to pay for it.

Q    One other topic.  In corporate inversions, there was a hearing today, or there is a hearing today being chaired by Senator Portman who released reports about the reasons behind inversions in advance of the hearing.  One of the conclusions of the report was that one of the reasons companies will relocate their headquarters overseas is because of U.S. tax burdens.  Obviously the President has made it a priority to reduce inversions, but does he believe that the current tax system is one of the causes of companies doing these deals in the first place?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has advocated reforming our tax code by closing the loopholes that allow some countries  -- or some companies to pursue inversions solely for the goal of trying to avoid paying their fair share of U.S. taxes.  The President doesn’t think that’s fair, and that’s why the President has urged Congress to close those loopholes.  We didn’t see the kind of congressional action on that matter that we would have liked to see, but we certainly would welcome either reform to address that one very specific concern, but we also put forward our own proposal for a broader set of reforms that would close loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations that would make our tax code more fair, make our tax code more efficient.  And that would allow our businesses in this country to be more competitive when they’re doing business not just in the United States but around the world.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Going back to yesterday’s news about Mullah Omar, he’s been dead for two years.  Has there been a failure of U.S. intelligence in this matter?

MR. EARNEST:  Byron, I don’t have a lot of intelligence information to share with you when it comes to this particular news report.  You heard Eric say yesterday that we believe that those reports about his death were credible, but the circumstances and timing of his death is something that continues to be under review by intelligence agencies.  And when we have an update about their assessment, we may be in a position to put it out -- I don’t think I can promise that.  But what I can confirm for you is that this is something that is actively being evaluated by our intelligence professionals.

Q    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an online newsletter called TheSkimm that she was listing President Obama as a reference in her job application for the White House.  

    MR. EARNEST:  Are you a regular reader of TheSkimm, Byron?  (Laughter.)  

Q    No, no.  But I happened to catch it this morning.

MR. EARNEST:  I see.

Q    Are you willing to provide such a recommendation from the podium given that she’s pointed to the White House for a reference?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I will say that -- first of all, I don’t think that she listed me as a reference; I think she listed the President of the United States.  And there is an important difference.

I think you’ve heard the President say, however, on many occasions how well she performed as the Secretary of State; that she was somebody who represented the interests of the United States exceedingly well around the world.  And so I think in many ways, those who are interested in the President’s recommendation, as I guess she described it, can look at the numerous positive things that the President has had to say about Secretary Clinton both when it comes to her character but also when it comes to her service as Secretary of State.

Q    One more.  On a more serious note, is the President at all disappointed in the situation that’s unfolding at the State Department?  We’re seeing multiple Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.  We’re seeing an inspector general saying that classified information has been released.  We’re seeing a report that Secretary of State Clinton’s former staff haven't turned over all their emails to the department.  Is the President disappointed?  And how does this comport with his pledges of transparency and open government?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Byron, the fact that we’re talking about this is an indication that this administration and officials at the State Department take very seriously the responsibility that they have to review these emails and to share them with members of the public who have requested information through the Freedom of Information Act, to share this information with members of Congress who have, in some cases, legitimate requests for information.  

What the State Department has also sought to do is to comply with the extraordinary request that Secretary Clinton herself has made to release all of the information that was included in her emails.  And on the part of Secretary Clinton, that shows a commitment to the priority that the President has placed on transparency.  At the same time, the administration and certainly officials at the State Department take very seriously the responsibility that they have to handle sensitive information appropriately.  And certainly when it comes to the email correspondence of an individual who recently served as Secretary of State, that that information is sensitive.  

So they’re going to great lengths to ensure that that information is being properly managed, and they have received a lot of advice and information from more than one inspector general, I believe, as well as some officials in the intelligence community about how to effectively do that.  They’re doing all of that work under a pretty tough deadline; that they’re being pushed by a federal judge and by the public to produce this information as quickly as possible.  

And so that’s difficult work, but I think it’s an indication that the State Department takes it very seriously and is working as hard as they can to try to balance all those equities with a bias toward to priority that the President has placed on transparency in government.


Q    I’m just curious, has anyone at the White House watched these videos from Planned Parenthood -- about Planned Parenthood?

MR. EARNEST:  I suspect somebody has.  

Q    And where are you getting your information of the fact that it’s fraudulent, or the fact that they’re distorted and edited unfairly?

MR. EARNEST:  Based on the public comments of Planned Parenthood, who has indicated that the views that are represented in the video are entirely inconsistent with that organization’s policies and with the high ethical standard that they live up to.

Q    So would it be unfair to say that you’re simply taking your talking points from Planned Parenthood on these videos?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I guess I would suggest that you consult with Planned Parenthood for the details of their policies.  And I’m merely repeating what I’ve seen that they’ve said, and has been reported publicly, about what they’ve said.  But I’m certainly not the only person to arrive at this conclusion; there are a number of others who have taken a look at those videos and raised significant doubts about their authenticity based on the way that they were edited, and they certainly are consistent with the frequently stated policy of Planned Parenthood.

And I think that’s why many, many people who have taken a look at this situation have arrived at the same conclusion and describe the videos the same way that I have.

Q    And finally, has any representative of Planned Parenthood contacted members of the White House about these videos?  Have they raised the concern about these videos with the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s taken place, but I’m not aware of any specific conversations.


Q    Josh, before the deal was struck, the President and many of his advisors spoke about the Iran deal potentially being this transformational thing in the Middle East -- as empowering moderates in Iran, as balancing the Sunni and Shia concerns and sort of all that.  Once the deal has been struck, we really have never heard about that sort of transformational stuff, but rather it’s focused simply on not allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon.  

In fact, in his East Wing press conference, the President sort of dismissed the notion that this deal should do anything more than simply focus on the nuclear deal.  Can you tell me why the change?  Is it because the politics?  Is it difficult to sort of talk about in a political environment sort of transformation and a new direction in American-Middle East policy?  What’s the reason for the change?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the reason is actually pretty direct, Gardiner.  I think that there would be widespread support, even in a divided town like Washington, D.C., for a change in tone emanating from Iran.  That’s not really the subject of debate.  

And the point that the President has made -- and he made this in the news conference -- that this agreement is worth pursuing because it prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, whether or not it results in a change in Iran’s tone; that the interest of the United States, the interest of our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, the interests of our effective partners in the Middle East and of the world are best fulfilled if this agreement goes forward and is successfully implemented.

And this is an agreement that is not rooted in trust.  This is an agreement that is rooted -- that is based squarely on the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program; that there will be inspectors -- these impartial international nuclear experts will have 24/7 access to Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, and they’ll have regular access all up and down Iran’s nuclear supply chain -- from their uranium mines to their uranium mills to, of course, their declared nuclear facilities, to those manufacturing facilities that are responsible for manufacturing parts for those nuclear facilities.

All of that stuff will be subject to intensive inspection and verification.  And that’s why the President believes that this agreement should move forward.  

We’re hopeful that it might result in some kind of change emanating from Iran, but we’re certainly not counting on it.  And even if that change doesn’t materialize, there is no doubt that this agreement is the best way for us to serve the national security interest of the United States, because it is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    On a completely different subject -- for a long time, you talked about the decline in the rapid growth of health care costs as potentially rising out of the ACA.  Now that health care costs seem to be going back on their rapid anti-ACA incline, is that because of the ACA?  You took credit when health care costs were not growing as rapidly.  What is the reason for health care costs now going back to rapid growth?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Gardiner, I’ll have somebody follow up with you on these details.  I haven’t seen data to indicate that we are seeing a return to the kind of regular double-digit increases that were common prior to the Affordable Care Act going into effect.  The best -- the most recent piece of information that I’ve seen on this has actually been in the state of California, that their expectation is that next year the rise in premiums will be around 4 percent on average.

And that’s an indication that this kind of marketplace strategy that was originally pioneered by the Heritage Foundation, and included in this proposal, is effective in contributing to the slowest growth in health care costs in history.

But if there’s some additional data that you have access to that I haven’t seen yet, let’s talk about it and maybe there’s more information we can provide.  


Q    Guantanamo.  Forgive me if I come back to the question you were asked earlier.  

MR. EARNEST:  That’s okay.

Q    A week and a day ago, you told us the White House was in the final stages of drafting a plan.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, that’s still true.

Q    That is still true?


Q    Because what you said earlier was that, well, it’s not really a plan and it’s -- I guess I misunderstood.  

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, if I was unclear about that, I apologize. I did not mean to leave you with the impression that anything had changed on this since we talked about this last week, which is that it has long been a priority of the administration to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay for a couple of the reasons that I cited earlier.  

And we have seen a renewed indication from some members of Congress that they would be willing to work with us on this.  And what they asked for is a specific proposal for how exactly we would fulfill that presidential priority.  And so there have been some conversations between senior administration officials and members of Congress on this matter.  And the request that was made by some of these members of Congress was, well, can you put forward a specific proposal on paper for how you believe that you should proceed.  And that’s something that they’ve been working on for some time.

I don’t have a specific timeline to share with you at this point about when that information -- when that proposal would be completed and forwarded to Capitol Hill.  But I can commit to you that once that information has been conveyed to Capitol Hill, that’s something that we’ll make public, or at least -- there may be some of that information that is classified that we may have to hold back, but certainly we can give you some insight into what exactly that plan would include.  And they’ve been working on this for some time, which is why I described them being in the final stages.  But I don't know exactly when that information will be completed. 


Q    You mentioned earlier in the briefing the large number of countries that are supporting the nuclear deal with Iran.  I think you said it was 86.

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct. 

Q    Can you put together, compile that list, send it all around to all of us?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I will -- we can track that down.  The reason that I cited that number and the significance of that number is that it includes these countries -- these six countries -- that voluntarily place some restrictions on the amount of Iranian oil that they imported.  It also happens to include all of the countries that had previously imported Iranian oil, but stopped doing it so that they could work effectively with the United States and the rest of the international community to apply pressure to Iran.  It also includes a significant number of countries that may, in the future, be interested in purchasing oil from Iran.  

So the number is significant because it serves to illustrate how difficult it would be -- basically why it would be impossible for us to re-impose sanctions if Iran [Congress] were to kill this deal.

Q    So this then is a selling point that the President is making, other administration officials are making that all these other countries are supporting this deal, you should support the deal, as well, because 86 other countries are supporting it -- is that right? 

MR. EARNEST:  I think that point that we're making when I cite -- I think this point is probably relevant in a variety of ways.  The way that I brought it up is to rebut the claim that, well, if Congress is to move forward with killing this deal, that there is some other option available other than the military option.  And the fact is, killing the deal only makes the need to use the military option more likely because it’s going to be impossible for us to reassemble an international coalition to reach a diplomatic agreement if the United States stands alone in killing a diplomatic agreement that's supported by the rest of the world -- or at least 86 other countries around the world, including countries like China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Taiwan.

Q    This separate deal that the government of Iran has with the IAEA -- if I’m a wavering member of Congress, if I’m on the fence, I’m a Democrat, and I want to see more than just the assurances that you're giving me about what’s in this particular deal, is it a nonstarter?  Can I, as a congressman who is wavering, say I’m not going to support this deal unless I see what’s in this IAEA deal with the Iranian government?  Is that a nonstarter?

MR. EARNEST:  What my response to that wavering member of Congress would be is, in a classified setting we're happy to tell you exactly what’s included in that deal.

Q    Bu they can’t see the deal?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s an agreement between Iran and the IAEA. But we know exactly what’s in that deal, and we're going to tell you in a classified setting so you can evaluate whether or not you believe it is consistent with the kind of good deal that we’ve described.

Q    And then just so I’m completely clear, so yes or no -- if they say, I want to see the deal, the answer is no?

MR. EARNEST:  Our response is we're happy to tell you exactly what’s in it.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Two questions related to the support that you cited from many other countries to the Iran deal.  So given that there’s so much support and given that if the U.S. is not the only party to it by any means, why would the whole deal fall apart?  Couldn’t it just go forward just without the United States, with these other countries?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that's a good question.  I think -- the reason I have described it this way is that essentially the -- Iran is going to get sanctions relief.  This is the concern that's been raised by all these members of Congress.  It’s either that Iran is going to get extensive financial benefits associated with this agreement moving forward for a variety of reasons.  And that's not entirely true.  There are significant areas where that money has already been committed.  So it’s not exactly a financial windfall for Iran.

But what is true is that Iran will get sanctions relief whether Iran -- I’m sorry, whether Congress kills the deal or not.  The question is, it required international pressure, unanimity of opinion across the globe to convince Iran to reduce their uranium stockpile by 98 percent, to essentially unplug 13,000 centrifuges, to overhaul their heavy water plutonium reactor, to agree to a set of inspections and verification measures that are more intrusive than any set of inspections that have been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.  And the only reason we were able to reach that agreement and apply that much pressure on Iran is that the international community was united.

But if the United States steps away from this agreement, it certainly is fair for Iran to start calling everybody’s bluff.  You could imagine Iran then saying, well, you know what, we're actually not going to comply with the agreement.  The United States says they're not going to.  We're not going to either.  What are you going to do about it?

And there’s one thing we won’t be able to do about it.  We won’t be able to apply a comprehensive international set of sanctions against Iran.  And the reason that we were able to do that last time is because the President of the United States -- with the active engagement of his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton -- went around the world and said, I know that it’s going to be a financial sacrifice for your country and your economy, but we need you to either stop buying oil from Iran or we need you to significantly reduce the amount of oil that you purchase from Iran.  Because if you do, what we're going to do is we're going to apply intense pressure on Iran to make them voluntarily commit to rolling back their nuclear program and to come clean about their nuclear program.

So what that ultimately means is it means that the international community would be fractured.  And that's how Iran would be able to go back to doing what they were doing before, which is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Q    So these other countries involved in the deal wouldn’t be capable of enforcing the deal without the United States being --

MR. EARNEST:  The point that I’m making is, why would they?  
Q    Because maybe they also care about whether Iran has nuclear weapons.

MR. EARNEST:  Right, but they know that the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is the diplomatic agreement that's been reached and subsequently killed by the United States Congress. 

So it certainly would -- the United States and our credibility to go and tell China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Taiwan that they needed to go back to curtailing their purchases of Iranian oil, I think all those countries would say, “Why?  Why should we do that?  You're not serious about trying to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, so we're not going to enter into a diplomatic agreement for that reason.”

Q    So they care more about their economies than whether -- than helping prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think they care about their economies, and they do care about preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But they will recognize that the United States Congress has squandered the best opportunity that's ever come about to prevent that from happening.  So that's why many people logically conclude -- including me -- that it makes the use of the military option much more likely.  

Q    So last question.  Given the eagerness that you've cited for many countries to resume trade or to start trade with Iran, how does that make you confident that a snapback would be possible if Iran does break the agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  Because the principle in place will remain.  The principle has always been that the international community is banding together to apply international pressure on Iran to get them to essentially abandon their pursuit of a nuclear weapon.  And because of the way this agreement has been reached, that principle is still alive, that principle has been protected.  Iran, under enormous economic duress, has taken the steps to reduce their nuclear stockpile, to disconnect the centrifuges, to overhaul their heavy-water reactor, and to agree to an intrusive set of inspections to verify their compliance with the agreement. If they break the agreement, the international community will still be unified and can still snap sanctions back into place.

But if the United States Congress takes steps to undermine an agreement that is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that principle has been shattered.  And once again, the international community will be in disarray in trying to confront Iran and their nuclear weapons program.  

The reason that this is relevant, Sarah, is that this is actually the situation that the President encountered when he took office in 2009.  You’ll recall that the nation of Iran was united in pursuit of a nuclear weapon and the international community was divided and at a loss for how to confront them.  And because we were able to unite the international community, we presented a united front, applied significant pressure to Iran, and now there’s a lot of disagreement inside of Iran about the wisdom of pursuing a nuclear weapon.  And, in fact, we have now changed the equation in Iran, and Iran has now agreed to this -- to a whole set of limitations on their nuclear program in an effort to try to obtain some sanctions relief.

So this is a strategy that we know has worked.  This is a strategy that the rest of the international community has bought into.  And the way that this strategy gets undermined is if Congress takes an agreement that we can verify would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and flushes it down the toilet.


Q    Two questions.  First, I want to follow up on this political debate on Iran, because, as you know, going back to this administration’s first year, August can be very tough for the administration’s priorities.  Sunlen referred to the town halls that are going to be going on.  We know about the disparity in ad spending.  Leader Pelosi, just this morning, said she wishes the vote could be now rather than in six to eight weeks.  So I’m wondering, is this grassroots campaign that you’re talking about really enough?  Or is there anything more you can say about what the President is prepared to do publicly, perhaps next week, to make his case before his own work period -- if you want to use the congressional euphemism?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, it is a euphemism, both in describing it as August and a work period.  

Q    It’s like a working reception.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  It is.  It is, in some ways.  Although in some ways I would actually say that the description of the August work period is probably the best of both worlds because it extends beyond August and they’re not actually working.  The working reception thing is the worst of both worlds because you have to both work and you have to sort of be at an awkward work reception that doesn’t really appeal to a lot of people.  But I digress.  (Laughter.)

Q    Slightly.

MR. EARNEST:  Slightly.  

Mike, I think you have seen over the last couple of weeks the President demonstrate not just a willingness but a desire to spend a lot of time in public talking about this and making his case.  The President has demonstrated a similar desire in making the case in private conversations with members of Congress.  And so I would anticipate that in the week that remains before the August work period that the President will be making the case, both in public and in private, for the congressional -- for Congress not to kill this agreement with Iran that would prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    Separately, House Democrats, a group of them, either were sending or have already sent a letter asking the administration not to appeal a recent federal court ruling regarding the release of women and children at some immigration detention facilities.  I’m wondering if you can update on any consideration about an appeal or a response on the part of the administration to some of the concerns that the judge raised.

MR. EARNEST:  Our legal strategy in this regard is one that’s being driven by the Department of Justice, so I’d refer you to them for the latest on that.

Jared, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  When it comes to these confidential agreements with the IAEA, in the 48-year history of the IAEA, isn’t it standard operating procedure for the framework that they create with the countries that they’re inspecting to remain confidential?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t know.  What I can tell you is that -- I mean, the road map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program that was put out by the IAEA is actually a document that appeared on the IAEA website a couple of weeks ago.  This is the document that Tom Cotton, the Republican international man of mystery, discovered when he traveled to Vienna.  So this is information that has been put out.

The second thing, Jared, is that the information that’s included in the agreement between Iran and the IAEA is information that the administration is both aware of and willing to share with individual members of Congress in a classified setting.  That’s already happened in the House; it will happen in the Senate.

And third, the IAEA will write a report about the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  This is a report that they’ve said that they are prepared to make public before the end of the year, assuming that Iran complies with the request that they have made for information and access by October 15th.  

And this is the key part of this whole thing.  If Iran doesn’t comply with those requests for information and access by October 15th, then they’re not going to get any sanctions relief and it will set back the implementation of the agreement in the first place -- which is why I have pushed back -- I guess that whole answer actually undermines the claims by our critics that somehow this agreement is either a side agreement or a secret agreement.  The fact is, it’s neither.

Q    What do you make of people who are saying that it’s a side or a secret agreement, given that this is the IAEA --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I just explained why neither of those descriptions is true.  It’s not a secret agreement because we’re happy to tell members of Congress, admittedly, in a classified setting, about exactly what’s included in the agreement.  And the fact that no element of the agreement is going to move forward unless Iran complies with the requests that the IAEA has made for request to access -- that’s an indication that this isn’t some agreement that’s been made off to the side; it’s actually central to the completion of the agreement’s implementation.

Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

2:42 P.M. EDT