Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, 7/31/2015
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all. Happy Friday. Let me do a quick announcement and then we’ll go to our special guest today.
On this coming Wednesday, next week, the President will travel to American University in Washington, D.C. to deliver a speech on the historic deal reached by the United States with -- alongside our partners and allies to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The President will continue his effort to make the case for why the Iran deal verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He will lay out the enormous stakes in the current debate taking place in Congress, and describe why this diplomatic resolution is far preferable to the alternatives.
Many of you know, students of history, that 50 years ago President Kennedy spoke of a future defined by peace, not war, at American University. And the President will also describe how this debate is fundamentally about U.S. leadership in the world and how we can lead global efforts to address threats like Iran’s nuclear program the way we did when President Kennedy made the case for diplomatic efforts to address the threat of nuclear weapons and avoid catastrophic conflict.
So that should make for an interesting day on Wednesday. Now, joining me at the briefing today is Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz. Many of you will recall his visit to the briefing room shortly after the completion of the political framework in Lausanne. And we’ve been -- since the announcement on July 14th of this final agreement, we’ve been trying to schedule his appearance here in the briefing room to discuss the deal and to answer your questions about it.
But based on the President’s travel schedule and Secretary Moniz’s extensive visits to Capitol Hill, today is the first day that we could arrange that. So I’m pleased to welcome him back here. He’ll open with a quick statement and then stick around and take a few questions.
So, Secretary Moniz.
SECRETARY MONIZ: My opening statement is that there are too many familiar faces here now. (Laughter.) Just very briefly, to reinforce what was just said -- obviously, this agreement was focused on the question of nuclear weapons and Iran, and the President’s commitment -- and what I believe will be a commitment of future Presidents as well -- to make it clear that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. I believe this agreement provides us with a lot of tools to make sure that’s the case, or, if it isn’t, make sure that we find out in a timely way to respond.
With that, I think I’m open for questions.
MR. EARNEST: All right. Who wants to go first? Olivier.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’m wondering whether you can clear up whether it’s possible that Iran, anticipating the kinds of restrictions that this deal imposes, might have created yet another secret site that you haven’t detected with its own existing stockpile of atomic materials.
SECRETARY MONIZ: I think that’s really a question for our intelligence community, and I think what they would tell you is that we feel pretty confident that we know their current configuration.
Clearly, the deal, of course, is ultimately based on verification. And as General Clapper said earlier this week, while we can never have 100 percent certainty that we know everything, this deal, this agreement provides tremendously enhanced insight into the program. And certainly, over the years ahead, with the measures that we have taken and with the considerable international presence in Iran, we expect to provide the intelligence community with many more tools.
MR. EARNEST: April.
Q Secretary Moniz, because of our lack of information on the Iran nuclear program, could you talk to us about the insight that you will get, in layman’s terms, what you’re expecting to get if this deal goes through and you are allowed to walk in and see what’s there?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all, we should really think about a verification system as opposed to, you know, just one element here, one element there. They all work together. I think the critical issues are, first, that we have tremendously enhanced presence at their nuclear facilities -- if you like, their known or declared nuclear facilities. That includes the most stringent containment and surveillance opportunities for the IAEA, including the use of advanced technologies.
Secondly, very important, is there is an unprecedented visibility into the entire uranium supply chain -- all the way from uranium basically just getting processed, through centrifuge manufacturing, to conversion, to gas -- I mean, you name it. And I think an important part of that is that if Iran were to try to develop a covert program, they would have to recreate an entire fuel cycle -- an entire supply chain, excuse me -- beginning to end, in multiple locations, doing multiple technologies. And one weak link in that supply chain and, shall we say, there would be a problem.
So that's very important -- this entire supply chain. Again, as I was saying earlier, it’s really about more tools for the intelligence community.
A third point I do want to emphasize is -- because there’s been a lot made about the IAEA process with regard to undeclared sites -- and that is that we have for the first time anywhere a fixed time period for resolution, and secondly, we remain very confident in our abilities to detect the signatures of any activity with nuclear materials.
MR. EARNEST: Josh.
Q You've been spending a lot of time on the Hill talking with lawmakers, and you need a certain threshold of votes to block an attempt to override a veto on a legislative measure disapproving of this bill. How many votes in the House and the Senate have you accumulated so far?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, I don't count votes. I just try to explain the deal. And we remain convinced that the more chances we have to explain exactly what the agreement is -- and, of course not from me, but for the President, for the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State to talk about the ancillary activities around regional security arrangements, then the more I think we will be able to carry the day.
MR. EARNEST: Jon.
Q Iran has obviously long denied that they ever intended to develop a nuclear weapon, so this is all about civilian nuclear energy. What is your sense looking at the Iran nuclear program as it exists? Do you have any doubt in your mind that that nuclear program was established with the intention of developing nuclear bombs?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all, a little historical perspective is that, of course, their nuclear energy program started many, many decades ago; in fact, prior to the 1979 revolution. So they were definitely going for nuclear energy for quite a while.
Now, one of the things -- and I will refer to my previous life as an academic analyzing nuclear power issues -- we always said that the economics were not there for developing things like enrichment until you have the order of 10 nuclear power plants.
Now, Iran’s statement is that they are, in fact, planning for a program of that or even greater size, and that they are, in light of security of supply challenges, looking to develop capacity to provide fuel for at least part of that. But that's their statement. We’ve said many times this is not an agreement based on trust. If their statement were simply accepted at face value, they wouldn’t be under the sanctions regime in the first place. There would not be IAEA reports already out there that talk about structured programs up to 2003 that were looking at technologies relevant to a weapons program. So this is all about verifying.
So it’s all about -- especially for the first 15 years --having dramatic constraints on their nuclear activities, but from day one, and forever, to having strengthened verification procedures.
MR. EARNEST: Peter.
Q Mr. Secretary, what do you say to the people of Israel who are convinced that this -- although in the administration’s perspective would make that country more safe -- does just the opposite in that there will be so much money now with the ending of the sanctions program that it will effectively put a bulls-eye on the state of Israel from the money that will go to many of Iran’s partners, like Hezbollah, Hamas and others? Whether it’s a nuclear weapon or other forms of weapons, it’s still a bulls-eye, they think, that goes on top of their country and on their heads.
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all, again, I think even though I will tire you by repetition, I do want to emphasize that this significantly rolls back all aspects of their nuclear program and adds to verification.
With regard to the funding -- now, this is obviously not my lane, but I can certainly repeat what Secretary Lew has emphasized or went over again. First of all, the resources to which Iran will have access is probably in the range of around $55 billion. A lot of that is going to get tied up in a whole variety of areas, including their need to be able to finance international transactions, et cetera. But as Jack has also said, obviously we’re not going to say that some of this funding will not go to their military.
Q So what do we (inaudible) --
SECRETARY MONIZ: Yes, so it’s going to go there. So what we say is I think what the President has said, what Secretary Kerry has said, what Secretary Carter said on Wednesday at the Senate hearing, is that we are going to have to redouble our efforts around regional security issues. We’re going to have to confront directly and energetically the various areas in which Iran is generating instability or supporting terrorism. And I think, in the end, we need to have a system that, without Iran -- having the confidence of Iran not having a nuclear weapon, that we will be able to focus even more intensely on these additional security challenges.
MR. EARNEST: Kevin.
Q Josh, thanks. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I want to ask you about the undeclared sites. What are the verification mechanisms that will be at play when you’re monitoring these so-called undeclared sites? How does that differ from the monitoring of the declared sites? And if it happens that Iran is in some sort of a violation, material violation, is there sort of a mulligan, they get one, they get two, they get three -- what’s the process before the international community does more than just sanction this regime?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all, there’s obviously a huge difference between declared and undeclared sites. I mean, in the former, we have -- or the IAEA will have daily access using advanced technologies, increased number of inspectors, and the resources to, by the way, to carry that out. Now, by definition, an undeclared site starts out with no monitoring because it was undeclared. And obviously intelligence is the foundation of being able to point the IAEA to those locations.
Once that happens, then we have this defined process with a defined time frame for resolving it. I would say that if you think in terms of possible violations of the agreement, clearly there is the opportunity for graded responses. For example, the snapback of U.N. sanctions is termed in whole or in part. So now comes the issue of, okay, what deserves a graded response versus a more robust response.
So, for example, one of the very important conditions of the agreement is the 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for 15 years. Well, if for a short time there happens to be a little imbalance there, that’s probably something that’s got to get corrected, but you wouldn’t call a material response to kind of bring down the whole 64 tons. On the other hand, if there is nuclear activity -- nuclear materials activity at an undeclared site, and that is found, I would consider that to be a very material breach and one that would call for a very, very strong reaction.
MR. EARNEST: Chip.
Q Yesterday the President told supporters in a conference call that because so much money is being sent in opposition of this deal, a lot of members are really feeling the political heat, and some are getting “squishy.” Are you experiencing that in your trips to Capitol Hill to talk to people? And secondly, when you do come across -- when the President does feel somebody is getting squishy, are you the guy he calls and says, get up there and firm things up?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, I don’t know -- he’s probably calling other people too, but I’m certainly getting enough calls. He has to go up and speaking to many, many members. And frankly, I welcome it. And I’ve been very, frankly, pleased at how many members are really digging into the documents, both the public and the confidential documents that we have supplied.
“Squishy,” I wouldn’t use that term, at least in my experiences in what I’ve seen. I’ve spoken with many members after they have had visits, shall we say. And I think what it has led them is to sharpen their questions and hopefully for us to sharpen our answers. So that’s all we can do is continue the process of explaining exactly what this agreement is because I think it’ll stand on its own.
MR. EARNEST: Carol.
Q The IAEA Director General is set to meet with senators next week. And based on your conversation with lawmakers and how much this side deal has raised concerns among them, do you think that that meeting will be enough? And did the White House or the administration have anything to do with getting the Director General to the head to the Hill and meet with senators?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all, I do want to just dispel this idea of secret side deals. Again, just to make sure the record is straight on that, there is no secret side deal. The agreement -- the JCPOA agreement is that Iran will finally stop blunting the IAEA’s attempt to finish its PMD investigation.
I do want to emphasize, somehow we think that this last visit to one site is kind of the whole thing. This has been many, many years of activity, many reports; in fact, that’s what is responsible for a lot of the sanctions of the last years.
So the agreement is -- and this is not secret, this is public -- Iran must respond by October the 15th in terms of providing IAEA all of the access it has asked for in their agreed-upon protocol. Those protocols as a standard are called safeguards confidential between the country and the IAEA. And the IAEA’s independence is very important to our long-term interests. So it’s a standard safeguards confidential protocol.
I’ll give you an example, by the way. If you go back almost 25 years, the IAEA basically took apart the South African program. Those documents all remain confidential. That’s a standard. So the issue is, IAEA negotiated with Iran, in confidential protocols, what would be the steps required for the IAEA to have satisfaction that it could finish the job and issue the final report on what happened; typically we’re talking like 12 years ago.
So I think Amano will come; I think I’d welcome that. And I should say, when I met with the Director General in Vienna a few days before the agreement was completed, he said then that he was going to be very happy to come and have discussions with the administration and with the Congress. I'm personally quite pleased that he’s following up on that in a timely way. I think it will be very helpful.
MR. EARNEST: Sunlen.
Q Thank you Mr. Secretary. You said you’re not responsible for counting votes, but you’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the Hill and in public and also behind closed doors meeting with members of Congress. You also say you didn’t observe any of them getting squishy, as the President said. What’s your level of confidence now on the Hill?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, I remain confident that this disagreement will go into effect. I think ultimately if -- certainly unless there are just too many closed minds, it was not -- the thing which probably most disappointed me was all the opining on the agreement before it was reached.
But I think as a long as there are open minds the agreement is very, very powerful in its constraints on the Iranian program and on its enhanced verification measures. So I think as long as we keep at it and keep explaining that, and have others like Secretary Kerry, Secretary Carter, the President, reinforce our regional security commitments more broadly, I think that this deal will certainly go into effect.
MR. EARNEST: Jeff.
Q Mr. Secretary, I know some people see this as connected to the Iran deal and some people don’t, but there is some growing momentum in Congress for lifting the U.S. ban on oil exports. Is that something that you would support, or is that something you have concerns about?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, I find the linkage to be a little bit interesting. I mean, I would note, first of all, a slight difference here that Iran is, after all, an oil exporter. They’d like to be more of an oil exporter than they are today, obviously. The United States remains an importer of 7 million barrels of crude oil per day. So these are very, very asymmetric situations. There’s a broader issue in general about American oil exports. Obviously the Congress has been acting on that. That’s a question for Secretary Pritzker.
Q Is that something you would support or encourage the administration to support?
SECRETARY MONIZ: It’s a question for Secretary Pritzker. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Lynn.
Q Could you tell me how you’re talking -- I understand you just had a meeting with leaders of major Jewish organizations before coming here, some who opposed the deal. Can you tell me if you think you made any headway in selling the deal? And what are the questions that you think are most formidable to persuading these leaders of Jewish groups who are opposed to it?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, first of all, it was a very good meeting, and a number of the Jewish leaders came in from across the country. So, I mean, it showed I think right there a very, very strong interest in really having a chance to discuss the agreement in depth.
Make progress? Again, I don’t like to make value judgments. I can just say that it was a very good discussion. Not surprising, these were people who were well-schooled in the agreement, but also had lots of clarifying questions to ask. I felt that we made real progress in terms of clarification of issues in terms of how this agreement was ultimately good for our security and for the security in the region.
A lot of the questions, some of the ones being asked here, what really -- what’s the 24 days, what’s the IAEA arrangement -- I would say a lot of it focused on these questions of verification because we all I think understand that those are central to this question of finding any covert activity.
I think, for example, a point that we emphasized and I think had impact and had not been as fully appreciated is this idea of having transparency across the entire supply chain of uranium and how that significantly enhanced our capabilities to find anything outside that allowed supply chain. So I think it was a very, very good meeting, and you are certainly correct that I think it was quite appropriate. People came to that meeting with very, very different perspectives.
MR. EARNEST: Mark.
Q Mr. Secretary, putting aside the the whole secret side deal allegation --
SECRETARY MONIZ: There is no secret side deal. (Laughter.)
Q -- as you have put it aside, what do you say to the folks who say we're placing a lot of trust in the IAEA, in fact subcontracting out a decision about what American sanctions will be doing in the future? Should we trust the IAEA to that extent?
SECRETARY MONIZ: The IAEA is a -- we’ve always trusted the IAEA. The IAEA is an extremely competent organization, I might add, partly because at a place like Los Alamos National Laboratory we have courses that all of the IAEA inspectors take, for example. And that's been going on for decades. We have -- obviously, there are many, many nationalities involved in the IAEA safeguard’s activities. A number of them are American, typically coming from our laboratories.
So they will not be part of the inspection teams because of our lack of diplomatic relations, but they are a very competent organization. What we have done is give them the tools they need to apply those talents, and, I might say, to expand their scope relative to other countries as well, hopefully. For example, this issue of having verification opportunities literally for the uranium supply chain is something that they have sought in many -- they would love to have. They’ve sought it in other occasions unsuccessfully. This will be the first time they’ll have that capability.
This is a period in which they will have -- I mean, an agreement in which they will have the ability to deploy advanced technologies, enrichment-monitoring technologies -- I might add, developed at our national laboratories. Electronic seals -- our laboratories have worked on that, et cetera, et cetera.
So I think it’s the issue -- they are very competent. They need to have the options at their disposal to deploy their tools. This is what the agreement gives them.
MR. EARNEST: Toluse.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I wanted to ask sort of a technical question about the Arak heavy-water reactor. The original framework agreement said that the core would be destroyed, and I think the final agreement said that you all would pour -- or that cement or concrete would be poured --
SECRETARY MONIZ: Concrete.
Q -- into the core. Is that the same as destroying it?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, so it renders it unusable in that or any future reactor.
Q And is there a potential that if this deal breaks apart, that Iran would be able to get that core to -- restart it or rebuilt in a way would get the --
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, clearly, if the agreement is rejected, then obviously -- well, I won’t say obviously -- I presume Iran would not take the steps required of it. One of those steps is removing the calandria from that reactor, and then, in collaboration with the P5+1 -- which includes the United States -- to carry through an alternative design with an order of magnitude less plutonium production, and then build that reactor and, in addition, to send all of the irradiated plutonium-bearing fuel out of the country for the whole life of the reactor.
But if there’s no agreement, I don’t see -- personally, I don’t see why they would do that. They would presumably leave the calandria in and just finish that reactor, which is a major plutonium producer.
Q How long does that process -- or at what point in the agreement are they supposed to actually have done the redesign and taken --
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, the redesign -- as the agreement says, a working group will be set up involving Iran and -- well, involving the P5+1. And that will go forward immediately. And it’s not like there hasn’t been some work done on this; many of the countries’ technical teams, including our own -- particularly the Argonne Laboratory, which is where a lot of especially research-reactor design goes on -- we’ve already done modeling. That’s why we have confidence in the basic parameters.
And if you look at the agreement, you will even find two pages of the parameter’s specification of the new reactor. And then it would be, as expeditiously as possible, to go through design and then construction and commissioning of the reactor.
MR. EARNEST: Victoria.
Q In your meetings with lawmakers, among those who oppose the deal, have any of them come up with a credible alternative that they’ve suggested to you?
SECRETARY MONIZ: I’ve not heard one, to be honest -- at least not one that has the same impact as the agreement does. We have said -- and again, I’m not the Secretary of State, but nevertheless I would opine that if we now undercut this agreement, it’s hard to see how there would not be very negative consequences, and very negative consequences that we would see very quickly. The most important point here is -- I think one of the most surprising elements of this agreements to many is the fact that the P5+1 could hang together through a tough, grinding negotiation over a long time, at the same time in which it’s very clear some members of the P5+1 have some other issues among ourselves. And we all know I think who we're talking about.
And yet, there was tremendous cohesion there. And I think a core underlying reason -- and one that gives me some confidence that this cohesion will stick if there is any question about how Iran is implementing the agreement -- is the P5 have a self-interest in preserving the nonproliferation regime. Obviously, the P5 has a special role in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and so there is self-interest in seeing that this regime is executed properly.
MR. EARNEST: Gardiner, I’ll give you the last one, then I’ll let the Secretary go.
Q It’s an odd one. Mr. Secretary, you've been seen as --
SECRETARY MONIZ: I am too. (Laughter.)
Q Well, I was going to ask about -- you've been seen as one of the most effective spokesmen for the administration on this agreement in part because you cut a somewhat unusual figure in Washington. You've got that slightly longer hair than the rest of us.
SECRETARY MONIZ: I’m leaving.
MR. EARNEST: He means that in the nicest possible way. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, it’s a compliment, sir. So can you tell us what it is about bringing an academic to Washington, which is a somewhat unusual thing, that may have worked out in your particular case, and why you think that you have become the spokesman for this agreement that you're now brought before us?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, I would say a spokesman for the agreement. But look, it’s an area that -- as you know, this is -- frankly, this is not part of -- this was not part of my job description. But obviously it was a fortuitous set of circumstances in the sense that this is an area in which I do have a lot experience. Actually it’s not known but -- here’s some news.
Q Bring it.
SECRETARY MONIZ: Here’s some news. 1978 -- you can look up the American Physical Society Report on Nuclear Fuel Cycles and Waste Management.
Q (Inaudible) reading?
SECRETARY MONIZ: It’s terrific. I recommend it for insomnia. (Laughter.) And there’s a chapter in there on nuclear safeguards. And frankly, I was the lead author of that chapter. So this goes back to 1978, so I’ve been doing this a long time. And I think the other thing is -- I’ll be honest, there was a certain fortuitousness in the sense that Mr. Salehi is also -- was an MIT graduate. I didn’t know him then, but his thesis advisor is a very dear friend of mine, so we were able to have at least some kind of commonality of experiences, which probably helped moved the negotiation along. Because as you know, these kinds of relationships are important there.
So I don’t know, whatever the case is, I’m happy to obviously assist the President and Secretary Kerry -- to aid and negotiate would be to advance this agreement.
Q And you brought MIT paraphernalia, I understand, to some of these negotiations. Is that right, sir?
SECRETARY MONIZ: Well, I mean, it was, again -- I want to make it clear, this was not guile or anything else. This was just -- I have two grandchildren. Mr. Salehi, his first grandchild was born as we were sitting at the table negotiating. So it just seemed appropriate to connect his new granddaughter to his educational past.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
All right, we’ll take questions on other topics. Or if additional discussion of Iran is warranted, we can do that too.
Josh, go ahead.
Q On a different topic, I wanted to see what your response was with that of the President to this attack that killed a Palestinian toddler in a fire that has been blamed on Jewish individuals in Israel.
MR. EARNEST: Josh, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms last night’s vicious terrorist attack in the Palestinian village of Duma. The arson attack on a family’s home in the dead of night resulted in the death of an 18-month old baby and the injury of three other family members. We convey our profound condolences to the family, and extend our prayers for a full recovery to those were injured in the attack.
The United States welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s order to Israeli security forces to use all means at their disposal to apprehend the murders for what he called an act of terrorism, and bring them to justice. We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this tragic terrorist incident.
Q And American intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the DIA, are saying that the Islamic State is essentially as strong as it was a year ago despite all of our massive efforts there, and that basically they’re replenishing it as quickly as we’re diminishing them. Does the White House agree with that assessment from the intelligence agencies?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, I think that an evaluation of the facts, and anyone with some memory about what’s transpired over the last 12 months would acknowledge that we’ve made important progress in our campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. That’s undeniable, and there are a variety of ways to measure that.
One measure is that, over the last year, the U.S. coalition -- the U.S. and our coalition has now hit ISIL with more than 5,800 airstrikes. And that has resulted in the destruction of thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicle bomb factories, training camps, and even some ISIL fighters. Our partners over the last year have made important progress on the ground when talking about Iraq. We’ve frequently cited this statistic that ISIL has been driven out of, or at least is no longer able to freely operate in 25 percent of the populated areas that they previously controlled. That’s an indication that their footprint has been reduced. That’s quite a stark contrast to what was taking place one year ago today when ISIL was essentially operating and moving unimpeded across the desert in Iraq, even threatening cities like Erbil and Baghdad where there’s U.S. personnel.
You’ll recall that around this time, a year ago, there was a siege underway at Sinjar Mountain where religious minorities were trapped and ISIL fighters were threatening to slaughter them. Since that time, operating effectively with fighting forces on the ground and backed by coalition military airpower, Sinjar Mountain is no longer -- was not the site of a widespread slaughter like ISIL was threatening, and has been retaken by anti-ISIL forces.
There are a variety of ways to measure the progress that we’ve made in Syria as well. I think we would acknowledge that the progress that we’ve made in Syria is not as significant as the progress that’s been made in Iraq. But nonetheless, ISIL has been driven out of Kobani. And we’ve talked quite a bit recently about the significant losses that ISIL fighters have endured across northern Syria, including in the key city of Tel Abyad. And we’ve talked about the strategic significance of that city that had previously been a prominent -- sort of the gateway to a prominent and important supply route for ISIL in Raqqa. And that supply route has now been shut down.
I’ll remind you that there have been some prominent extremists taken off the battlefield in Syria as a result of our coalition efforts. The President ordered a raid back in May in which a senior ISIL commander in Syria was killed, and a treasure trove of intelligence information was obtained and is currently being exploited. And earlier this month, the Department of Defense announced the removal of a key al Qaeda-affiliated Khorasan group leader in Syria. Obviously, that’s different than ISIL, but it is the source of the significant national security concern that the President articulated a year ago.
So that’s to say nothing of the important progress that’s been made on the political front in Iraq. We have always indicated that progress on the political front was going to be critical to our longer-term success. One year ago today, you had Prime Minister Maliki sitting comfortably in office, governing that country in a sectarian way that ultimately undermined the effectiveness of the security forces, but, more broadly, undermined the ability of the country to confront this ISIL threat.
Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen a new government take office, led by Prime Minister Abadi, who, thus far, has followed through on pursuing an inclusive, multi-sectarian governing agenda. He has also extended that approach to the security forces, and that’s improved the performance of Iraqi security forces on the battlefield.
So I think there are a variety of measures to evaluate the progress that we’ve made against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. And the preponderance of those measures indicates that we’ve made important progress, but there’s no doubt that there is -- there continue to be significant challenges in confronting ISIL and you noted one of them, which is that ISIL has continued to demonstrate some ability to continue to recruit fighters to their side. And this is an important part of our strategy, and we obviously would like to see additional progress in confronting the flow of foreign fighters to the region, countering the radicalization strategy that they’ve pursued in social media, but also more effectively operating in these communities that had previously been taken over by ISIL to ensure that we can put in place some kind of stable governing structure that will make it more difficult for ISIL to recruit sympathizers to their side.
That’s a long answer but an important one.
Q Josh, does the White House have any last-minute measures to help Puerto Rico ahead of an expected default this weekend? And if not, are you concerned about the consequences of that now, in the aftermath of that expected default?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, as you know, the administration has for some time been trying to work with Puerto Rico and its local leaders as they confront some of the significant financial challenges that they face there in the commonwealth. Puerto Rico is home to more than 3.5 million U.S. citizens who have persevered through a decade-long recession.
And we have put in place -- the President has directed the creation of a Puerto Rico task force. And some of the President’s most senior economic advisors have been engaged in the work of that task force. And obviously, Secretary Lew has been closely following the efforts of both Puerto Rico and this task force to confront some of these significant financial challenges.
I know that there is a payment that Puerto Rico is scheduled to make I believe by Monday. What we have said for some time is that there should be no expectation of a federal bailout, but there should be the expectation that the Obama administration will continue to work with Puerto Rico and their local leaders as they work through some pretty significant financial challenges.
Q Are you concerned about the fallout if they do not make that payment, which is expected?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’d refer you to the Treasury Department for a specific economic or financial analysis of the consequences if that payment is not made. But at this point, I would be reluctant to foreshadow what the consequences could be since, at least at this point, the payment is not due.
Q Thank you, Josh. Two questions, first on Puerto Rico. Former Governor Luis Fortuno, an advocate of statehood, said that if Puerto Rico moved ahead with statehood, it would be a lot easier to resolve these problems. And he recalled conversations he had with the President on this where he found him not committed on the issue. What is the President’s position today on statehood for Puerto Rico?
MR. EARNEST: Well, our position has been that this was a decision for the people of Puerto Rico to make. And I know that there have been a series of structures that have been -- political structures have been created over the last couple of decades to try to resolve this issue. But our position continues to be that this would be a decision for the people of Puerto Rico to make.
Q And I wonder if you could clear up one more thing on the negotiations with Iran. At the President’s news conference in his memorable reply to Major, he said the question is, why did we not tie negotiations to their release -- meaning the hostages; think about the logic that that creates. And then he went on and explained it thoroughly.
The next day, Secretary Kerry appeared on the “Morning Joe” program and said that during the Iran nuclear talks -- and I quote -- “There was not a meeting that took place, not one meeting that took place -- believe me, that's not an exaggeration -- where we did not raise the issue of our American citizens being held.” And he said it was the last conversation he had with the Foreign Minister.
It would seem, on the surface at least, the statements of the President and the Secretary of State are contradictory. Could you explain it and clear it up?
MR. EARNEST: I can, John. And what we said, even while the negotiations were ongoing, the Secretary Kerry and other Americans frequently raised the case of Americans who were being unjustly detained in Iran with their counterparts on the sidelines of the ongoing negotiations.
And let me explain what that means. It means there was never a situation in which American negotiators offered up these unjustly detained Americans as a bargaining chip in the ongoing negotiations. It is our view that those Americans should be released without any condition so that they can return to the United States and be reunited with their families. And that is -- we continue to advocate for their release and we’ll continue to do that.
And the point -- the President made an important point in the news conference in saying that the successful conclusion of the nuclear negotiations was, as all of you know, not at all a foregone conclusion. In fact, there was some healthy skepticism about whether or not this would actually be completed, as evidenced by the fact that the negotiations weren’t completed until two weeks after the original deadline.
So to suggest -- had these individuals and their fates been tied to the successful completion of the nuclear negotiations and the negotiations not had yielded an agreement, it would have only set back our efforts to try to secure their release. And that’s why the President made the prudent judgment to routinely -- and as Secretary Kerry indicated, daily -- make clear that the safe return of these American citizens is a top priority of the administration. We were not willing to subject them to the back-and-forth bargaining that took place in the nuclear talks.
Q A couple on Gitmo. Any more on when the plan will be made public?
MR. EARNEST: No additional timelines to share with you at this point.
Q And then, I think this is an obvious question, but does this plan envision the closing of the entire naval base, or just the detention center for suspected terrorists?
MR. EARNEST: Just the detention center.
Q The President, just a few hours ago in the Oval Office, called out Congress for -- the House specifically -- for leaving without having work done on the budget. What conversations, if any, though, are the White House already doing to try to avoid a shut down once they get back? What conversations are going on?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Sunlen, what the President has done, and what he did back in February, is actually put out a very detailed budget proposal. This is a budget proposal that fully funds our national security requirements. It also makes the key investments that are critical to the success of our economy when it comes to expanding opportunity for middle-class families. And the whole thing was paid for with some common-sense reforms to our tax code that would make our tax code both more fair and more straightforward.
That’s the President’s responsibility, is to be clear and direct about what exactly his priorities are. But ultimately, the Founding Fathers of our nation believed that it was important for Congress to have the power of the purse. And this is a constitutional responsibility, the basic responsibility of anybody who goes to the United States Congress, which is to legislate and pass a budget for the United States of America. This is a constitutional, congressional responsibility.
And the good news is that we have seen Democrats be very forward-leaning in their willingness to sit down at the negotiating table with Republicans in Congress to try to find bipartisan common ground. That has been the formula for past success. You’ll recall that in 2013 after the government shutdown was sustained for a couple of weeks, that there was a patch that was put in place, and then Paul Ryan and Patty Murray -- so a leading House Republican and a leading Senate Democrat -- sat down at the negotiating table and hammered out a bipartisan agreement. It was certainly not a perfect agreement, and there were some aspects of the agreement that the President didn’t like. But what it did do is it avoided a second government shutdown and it identified clear, bipartisan common ground where we could make investments above and beyond the sequester -- investments not just in our national security but also in our economy.
We believe that is a template for success. And we believe that’s what Democrats and Republicans in Congress should do. Democrats have indicated a willingness to do that, but we haven’t seen that same willingness from Republicans. And that is a source of significant disappointment because we know what’s going to happen, we’ve seen this movie before. The ending is not very good. They’re going to come back in early September and they’re going to say, oh, my goodness, look at this, we only have three weeks before a government shutdown. And they’re going to claim that they don’t have time.
The fact is, that’s why it has been a source of such disappointment, that Republicans have resisted talking to Democrats to pass a budget. So what the President indicated is he was hopeful that they would use at least a couple of the next 39 days that they’re on vacation to start having these kinds of conversations. Even if they’re informal, even if they’re phone calls, or even if they’re around a table at the beach somewhere, that we can start having constructive conversations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress to ultimately arrive at a bipartisan budget agreement that doesn’t risk any sort of government shutdown.
Q And you weren’t exactly clear on this part yesterday so I'm going to try another time.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q Would you veto, though, a spending bill that includes defunding for Planned Parenthood?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Sunlen, what we have indicated in the past continues to be true today, that we have routinely opposed the inclusion of ideologically driven riders in the budget process. And certainly a rider that would, on a wholesale basis defund Planned Parenthood, which is the proposal of some Republicans in the House, is certainly something that would draw a presidential veto.
Q And has the President spoken directly with Senator Schumer over the Iran deal?
MR. EARNEST: The President has spoken to a substantial number of members of the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans. But I don’t have any specific conversations to detail for you.
Q Josh, do you have any more information on the White House communication with Cincinnati officials after the indictment and charges for the police officer there -- university police officer?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any specific conversations that have occurred since the indictment was announced in the last day or two. I know that over the last several days that Valerie Jarrett, the President’s Senior Advisor, has been in touch with the Mayor of Cincinnati. But I'm not aware of any conversations that have taken place since the indictment was announced.
Q And lastly, apparently, Dylann Roff has pleaded not guilty to hate crimes charges for the Charleston shooting. What does the White House have to say about that?
MR. EARNEST: This is a case that will be handled by the Department of Justice, and I know that they take the significant responsibility that they have very seriously. And the President continues to have complete confidence in the skill and professionalism of our federal prosecutors, and we’re confident that this individual will be brought to justice.
Q I understand your comment which you just made, but the President went down, eulogized the pastor there, and he even -- he didn’t use Dylann Roff’s name, but he brought it up. And there were references to the Confederate flag and references to what he did. I mean, he is pleading not guilty to hate crimes when we’ve heard from eye witnesses that there was pure racial hate when he conducted these mass killings. So what do you say to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, all I’ll say is -- I want to be careful because I don’t want to say something that could be construed as influencing the criminal justice process. The President has a lot of confidence in the criminal justice process -- in no small part because of the skill and professionalism of our prosecutors. I will say that there has been ample evidence that has been presented publicly. But what’s most important is for that evidence to be presented in a court of law and for the accused to be given all of the rights and responsibilities that the Constitution guarantees.
But we know that our federal prosecutors take this case seriously and they’re committed to pursuing justice. And we believe that’s exactly what they’re pursuing right now.
Q Coming back to the Planned Parenthood videos. You’ve been asked several days -- I wondered if you have an answer now on whether or not the President has actually seen any of these videos.
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t asked him that question point-blank, but I do know that he is aware of the news that those videos have generated.
Q And one of the -- the central question here, of course, is whether or not Planned Parenthood was involved in the selling of fetal tissue for profit. There sure seems to be a strong suggestion that was exactly what was being talked about on those videos. Does the White House believe this should be investigated? Obviously, the selling of fetal tissue, fetal body parts for profit is against the law. Does the White House believe it should be investigated?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, what I will say is I know that -- I haven’t seen the videos. But those who have taken a close look at them have raised some significant concerns about their authenticity and whether or not they accurately convey the view of those particular officials, or even the broader institution.
The New York Times described this as a “campaign of deception.” The Seattle Times described this as a “manufactured crisis.” And The Mercury News even described those videos as “grossly misleading.”
So the other thing that I alluded to yesterday is we have seen this kind of tactic be attempted by other extremist organizations that have an ideological agenda, and they marshaled what purported to be convincing and damning evidence that didn’t -- that later did not prove to hold up to much scrutiny. And I guess the scrutiny that these videos have gotten thus far from at least a handful of news organizations raises significant doubts about their authenticity.
When it comes to a specific determination that needs to be reached about whether or not any sort of criminal behavior or criminal action took place, that is obviously a determination that would be made by career prosecutors at the Department of Justice, and so I’d refer you to them for any decisions they feel like they need to make on this matter.
Q But it seems like the thrust of your comments are critical on those that have brought this evidence out, not at the alleged underlying behavior, which could be, if true, criminal behavior. I mean, does the White House believe that this longstanding ban on the for-profit selling of fetal tissues is something that should be enforced, and if there were a violation it should be prosecuted?
MR. EARNEST: Well, of course, this is the policy and the law, and we think everybody should be following the law. There’s also a question --
Q You’ve chosen to selectively prosecute --
MR. EARNEST: Well, but there’s also a question of ethics. And what Planned Parenthood has indicated is that their standards are consistent with the highest ethical standards that are out there.
And again, there are significant questions that have been raised by outside organizations about the content of these videos, so I think that would explain the comments that I’ve shared here. But when it comes to making decisions about either an investigation of possible criminal activity or charges being brought consistent with the suspicion of criminal activity, those would be questions for the Department of Justice.
Q It sounds -- one more -- it sounds like you’re saying we should just believe Planned Parenthood because they’ve said that they’ve upheld the highest ethical standards.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the standards that they say that they have in place are certainly relevant in this case. And again, those who have taken a close look at the videos have raised some significant concerns based on their own observations about the authenticity of the videos. But ultimately, I think the American people will take a look at the evidence and decide for themselves.
Q But nobody here has taken a close look at the video. I mean, you keep referring to people who have taken a close look, but has anybody here taken a close look?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s possible that people here have seen the video, but just based on the fact that it’s getting a lot of news attention. But I haven’t. I don't know if the President has. And I certainly know that there are a handful of people who I think can legitimately be described as impartial observers who have raised some significant concerns about the content of those videos.
Let’s move around. John.
Q Thanks, Josh. Former Secretary of State Clinton is in Miami today. She made a speech calling for the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. It’s a position, of course, that the President also supports. I wanted to read to you The Miami Herald’s editorial today regarding this issue and get your reaction to it. It’s not very long. They write: “We have yet to see any significant actions by the Castro regime that will benefit the United States or enhance the civil liberties and freedoms of the Cuban people.” Do you disagree with that statement by The Miami Herald editorial board?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would -- what we have seen, John, are some steps that the Cuban government has taken both in terms of releasing some political prisoners and giving the Cuban population greater access to information. These are steps that the government previously resisted. So I think that is an indication of at least some forward progress.
I think the other thing that I would acknowledge is that our expectation is that the kind of policy change that the President initiated just seven or eight months ago is something that is strongly in the best interest of both the United States and the Cuban people over the long term.
And what we saw is that the previous policy that was in place for more than 50 years didn't yield any progress that anybody could point to in terms of changing the government’s posture in the direction of respecting and even protecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people. And that is what prompted the President’s policy decision to change our policy toward Cuba, to begin to normalize our relations with Cuba and to even establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. We didn't see any progress over more than 50 years. And well, if you've been trying something for 50 years and it didn't work, it’s time to try something different. And what we have tried to do differently has resulted in at least what could be described as some preliminary change and positive indications about the future.
One other data point that I would point to is that available data about the preferences of the Cuban people indicate that more than 90 percent of them support the policy change that the President has initiated. So even if there are skeptics here in the United States, the President, who has the national security interest of the United States at heart, believes that this is the right decision for our country. But it is certainly relevant that an overwhelming majority, a near unanimity of the Cuban people, agree that this is in the best interests of their country, too.
Q The editorial board writers with The Miami Herald also write: “The daily arrests, acts of repudiation and censorship of any person or group that questions the official line are still in place.” Do you disagree with that particular sentence?
MR. EARNEST: There is no doubt that there is significant progress that remains to be done. And there are a number of additional steps we would like to see the Cuban government take to do a better job of protecting and respecting the basic human rights of the Cuban people, including those in Cuba who may have some political differences with the government. And there’s no denying that there’s additional progress that's needed. And we believe that that progress is more likely and that we can be more effective in pressing for that progress by the Cuban government by more deeply engaging with the country and by reestablishing diplomatic ties to that country.
Q Josh, thanks. I want to follow up on Jon’s questions about the Planned Parenthood video. You mentioned “grossly misleading,” “partisan,” when you talked about the writer. You called it “ideological.” You even said that there have been impartial observers who have raised questions. Who are these impartial observers to whom you refer? And can you understand why there are so many American people who feel like their voices should also be heard here at the White House? Impartially speaking, there are people -- whether they be Democrats or Republicans -- who feel that what has been revealed in the video is grotesque, at a minimum, and if not criminal, worse?
MR. EARNEST: Kevin, that's why I’m pointing out to you that The New York Times has described the release of these videos as a campaign of deception, and the Mercury News --
Q You're not calling the Times impartial, are you?
MR. EARNEST: Of course I am, Kevin.
Q But, Josh, seriously, you can't say that the Times is impartial about all things vis-à-vis Planned Parenthood. I’ve never seen them criticize Planned Parenthood for anything. And yet you're saying that they're impartial somehow.
MR. EARNEST: I’m going to resist the urge to raise questions about partiality of any news organization in this room, particularly in the context of this discussion.
Q Okay. I’d also like to ask about the Clinton emails. Do you feel like the law is being applied equitably -- especially when you consider what happened with the David Petraeus circumstance and how they basically went in there and they got all his information and took all of his computers. In the case of the Clinton circumstance, the server, to this point, still have not been picked up by anyone in law enforcement. Do you think that’s an equitable use of the law?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t judge the decision that’s being made by -- about enforcing the law by the Department of Justice. If you have questions about that, you should direct it to them.
Q Okay. Then if I could follow up then on the emails themselves. Is the White House confident, as more and more of them are revealed, that the Secretary of State -- then-Secretary of State Clinton was right to predetermine that which she believed was classified? Or does the White House believe that she should have done something different and let other people decide what, in fact, was classified information on her server?
MR. EARNEST: The requirement for Secretary Clinton and for every other public official serving in the Obama administration is to ensure that in those instances where they use their personal email in the conduct of official government business, that they turn over those emails to agency officials so that they can be properly maintained, archived and used when -- in responding to requests for information from either the general public or for the Congress. And that is what Secretary Clinton has done. And that’s what -- those are requests that the State Department is currently attempting to fulfill.
Q Last, I want to ask you about Sandy Bland. Any update on that in terms of a DOJ investigation? It seems like the -- I wouldn’t say the case has gone cold, but certainly there has been less news out of Texas about her untimely death.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I understand that there actually was a commission that was formed at the state level just yesterday to take a look at the conduct of the Department of Public Safety officer, the state-level law enforcement organization there, and I know that there are some state legislators that are actively involved in those discussions. I believe there was a hearing just yesterday on this matter.
The Department of Justice continues to monitor the situation, both the review that’s going on at the local level by the local prosecutor, but also the efforts that are underway at the state level to review the conduct of state law enforcement agencies as well.
Q Any more details on the President’s speech on Wednesday? Is this a daytime, evening speech? Why is he doing this in this setting at this particular time? And will there be anything new in the speech, meaning that you guys have talked about this a lot and he’s obviously talked about this a lot, a number of administration officials have -- you’re delivering this in the middle of when people are typically on vacation, so how do you intend to break through?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Carol, we’ll have some more details on a number of those questions next week. I can tell you that the President is looking forward to the opportunity to make a strong case about our broader national security interests, and how preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy advances those interests and advances the interest of our allies as well.
I think the other thing that I alluded to in the opening statement is that this is also the venue where President Kennedy himself delivered a speech -- I believe it was about 52 years ago -- at American University where he talked about his efforts to try to use diplomacy to make a nuclear war less likely -- in this case a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
So trying to advance our interests through diplomacy even when the threat of nuclear weapons is involved is something that has served our country well in the past, and the President believes that it will serve our country well in the future, particularly when it comes to confronting Iran and their nuclear program.
Q Josh, just to follow up on The New York Times -- that was an editorial board. You’re not putting an editorial piece in the context of impartial -- by definition, that’s opinion. It’s not --
MR. EARNEST: Is there a question?
Q Yes, yes, yes.
MR. EARNEST: I thought there might be.
Q Just asking for a clarification on that point. Are you putting that in the context of an impartial observation, since it is an editorial?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I am. I’m not saying that they don’t have an opinion, but I do think that these are individuals who can take a look at the facts and render an opinion. And that’s what they do. In this case, they called it a “campaign of deception.” We saw FactCheck.org -- if you want to raise questions about their credibility, ironically, you could do that as well -- they described that as “unspinning the Planned Parenthood video.”
So I think the point that I’m making here is that I haven’t seen the videos, but those who have taken a look at it have raised some concerns about the content. And ultimately, what the President believes is that -- or our position on this is that if a Department of Justice inquiry is required, then that’s a decision that they will make. And so for questions about that, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q And as far as you’ve said defunding Planned Parenthood would be ideological. Could one argue that even funding Planned Parenthood is ideological? I mean, there’s a lot of community health services out there that would provide some of the same things -- screenings, contraception even various health services that would not be nearly as controversial as Planned Parenthood, in terms of receiving federal tax dollars.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Fred, I guess it’s relevant to point out a couple of things -- that Planned Parenthood does provide a range of important preventative care and health care services, including health screenings, vaccines and check-ups to men, women and children across the country. Millions of men and women visit Planned Parenthood centers annually.
The other thing that is true -- and this applies to Planned Parenthood, and sometimes I think it gets lost in the debate -- is that no federal funds, including administrative funds, are permitted to cover abortions or administer plans that cover abortions, except in the case of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is endangered. That’s been the federal law since the 1980s, and nothing has changed.
Q And just lastly, this question keeps coming up -- is there any reason to think that the President will watch the videos?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t believe that he has that planned for his weekend.
Q Thanks, Josh. During a Pride celebration in Jerusalem yesterday, at least six people were stabbed, including a six-year-old girl who remains in critical condition. Do you condemn the actions?
MR. EARNEST: Absolutely. And I believe those actions continue to be under investigation. But this is a terrible act of violence and one that the United States would strongly condemn.
Q In case Secretary Pritzker wants to know, what is the White House position on lifting the oil exports -- (laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: If she needs to solicit an opinion on this policy matter, she can do so in private.
Q What about if we want to know -- (laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an opinion on this to convey to you. This is a policy decision that ultimately will be determined by the Secretary of Commerce at the Department of Commerce. And I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the White House would be totally left out of the loop, but if any communication is necessary in making that policy decision, that’s a communication that would take place in private.
Q IHS came out with a study this week showing that gasoline prices, consumer gasoline prices tend to track international oil prices anyway, not the discounted domestic prices. Would that be a relevant thing to consider in making that policy choice?
MR. EARNEST: Well, ultimately that will be something for the Department of Commerce to figure out.
Q Thanks, Josh. I have a question about The New York Times and Clinton emails. So it was reported that both the Times and several other news organizations were told by the Justice Department that it was a criminal referral and that later emerged to not be the case. Is the President concerned about the fact that you have -- whether it’s accurate information or not -- that members of the Justice Department are leaking things about an inquiry related to his potential successor and a former member of the administration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Sarah, I think the -- I’ve gotten in trouble when I’ve opined on the wisdom of relying on anonymous sources for important new reports. So considering it’s Friday in July, I want to avoid offering that kind of advice again. So I guess I would let all of you decide on that.
The Department of Justice I think has gone to some length to try to help all of you understand exactly what’s happened in this situation. And that certainly was made more difficult not just because the report relied in anonymous sources at the Department of Justice, but relied on anonymous sources elsewhere who I think one could logically conclude, maybe even impartially conclude, might have an axe to grind in this particular matter.
But ultimately, it is news organizations themselves that have to account for their own reporting, and they’ll have to account also for relying on what turned out to be questionable, if not misleading, anonymous sources for a really important story. But ultimately, again, that will be something for news editors and media reporters to churn through, and I’ll let them do that on their own.
Q Is it awkward, though, for the administration? And has the President kind of said anything to Attorney General Lynch or people at the Justice Department about dealing especially with things related to Secretary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: No, I’m not aware of any of those conversations. The Department of Justice, like other agencies in the administration, goes to great lengths to try to help you guys understand exactly what’s happening inside the administration and why it’s happening. And in this case, the Department of Justice did work hard to try to help the news media and the American public exactly understand what was going on, and that was complicated by the fact that the original report was wrong. But that didn’t prevent the Department of Justice from trying to work even on an on-the-record basis to help all of you understand what exactly the facts were.
Q Josh, in the conference call last night, the President cautioned supporters not to repeat some of the same mistakes as Iraq. How does the administration, when trying to sell the Iran nuclear deal, avoid the paradox that some fall into that the more that is known objectively -- whether it’s by the IAEA, international community, or whatever -- that the more is known, the less is trusted about the veracity of those reports? That's a paradox that international investigators fell into with Iraq, and that has to be the toughest sell for the administration, doesn't it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jared, I think I see it a little bit differently. As it relates to this specific deal itself, I think the more that people understand the agreement and the commitments that Iran has made, and the nature of the most intrusive inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program, the more likely they are to support this agreement. And that's because they understand that this would effectively shut down every pathway that Iran has to a nuclear weapon. And it would give us significant confidence, as Secretary Moniz described, that we had good insight into Iran’s nuclear program and could confirm whether or not they're following the terms of the agreement that they committed to.
Q The Iranians are a little bit annoyed with you. I’m not sure if you're aware of this.
MR. EARNEST: I heard a little something about this. (Laughter.)
Q -- the IAEA about something you said regarding the military option still being on the table way down the line if the deal doesn't work.
MR. EARNEST: Did you wait until Olivier left to ask this question? Because I was answering his question when they --
Q Oh was that his question?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it was. It was.
Q I’m wondering if you want -- you would want to walk back those remarks, or you think they still stand.
MR. EARNEST: No, I certainly stand by those remarks. I wouldn’t have -- I stand by those remarks.
Q And just a clarification on the confidential protocol between Iran and the IAEA -- who is aware of the contents of that protocol?
MR. EARNEST: Our negotiators were briefed on the contents of that agreement. And it is the basis of that briefing that we have made a commitment to sharing in classified setting that information with members of Congress.
My understanding is that Wendy Sherman, who is the lead negotiator, is the individual who briefed House members in classified setting earlier this week. And she has made an offer to brief members of the United States Senate in classified setting. That leads me to believe that she is the one who was briefed by the IAEA about the contents of that agreement. But you should ask the State Department directly, and they can confirm that for you.
Q And just question -- obviously, you can't go into details about a confidential protocol, but can you envisage a situation wherein the IAEA would come to a broader conclusion about Iran’s nuclear -- the intentions of Iran’s nuclear program without access to Iranian scientists or sensitive sites like Parchin?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Andrew, my understanding is that the IAEA has indicated that they will have access to all of the information that they need to write their report. And I mentioned yesterday some -- the irony of some Republicans in the United States Senate who claim that they're not scientists and, therefore, can't form an opinion about the reality of climate change, but yet, all of a sudden, they have the expertise of a nuclear physicist and can effectively determine what sort of access and information the IAEA needs in order to write their report. So I think it’s -- that's why we don't put a lot of -- that's why we don't find those critiques from Republicans in Congress to be particularly credible.
Toluse, I’ll give you the last one. Then we’ll do the week ahead.
Q You’ve mentioned a couple of different times that you think that members of Congress, as they go on this five-week vacation or recess, should be working for part of that or doing informal conversations. What is the White House going to be doing to sort of reach out or make themselves available to talk about all the unfinished business? Are you going to be calling Congress members back in their districts? Are you going to be doing any lobbying for the various issues that are on the table?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Toluse, I might have been a little subtle when I was answering Sunlen’s question, so I’ll try to be more direct. The White House has put forward a budget. It was -- I believe it was February 1st that we put out a budget. And if it were sitting here, it would be as big as a phone book. So there is ample information and a very detailed proposal that the administration has already put forward when it comes to how we believe that the government should be funded.
Now, if there are members of Congress who suggest that they really don't want to do the work and they just want to pass our budget, we certainly would welcome them taking that step. But my suspicion is that they would like to weigh in. The good news for them is that our Founding Fathers have given the responsibility of maintaining the power of the purse, and ultimately it will be Congress’s responsibility to pass a budget.
And so that's why you've heard me say repeatedly that it’s the responsibility of Republicans in Congress to sit down with Democrats in Congress and find some common ground and put together a budget that can be passed well in advance of September 30th to keep the government open, and make sure that we're funding the government at appropriate levels that are in the best interest of our economy and the best interests of our national security.
The White House will certainly be available to facilitate those discussions, to offer technical advice, even to weigh in with our opinion if it’s requested. But ultimately, when it comes to the responsibility of funding the government of the United States, the responsibility of the President is to put forward his own budget proposal -- something that we did almost exactly six months ago -- and it’s the responsibility of the congressional leadership to pass a budget that they send to the President’s desk before the end of the fiscal year.
And I’ll just remind you one last time that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, in the aftermath of the election, the day after the midterm election, in which it was confirmed that Republicans would be in charge of both houses of Congress, penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, and the headline was: Now We Can Get Congress Moving Again.
Congress’s most basic function, their most basic responsibility is to pass a budget. And what we know about the process is they're going to -- it’s going to require at least the support of some Democrats in the Senate in order for that budget to pass. And that's why we’ve been urging for months for Republicans in the House and Senate to sit down with Democrats in the House and Senate to try to find this bipartisan agreement. And that has been something that Republicans have resisted. And it certainly runs contrary to the promise that they made to get Congress moving again.
Because they're going to come back the second week in September -- from their August recess, ironically enough -- and they're going to be worried about how they're going to get all this work done in three weeks. We're worried about it, too. That's why they should start now.
And the work that they need to get done right now is to sit down across the table from congressional Democrats and try to find some common ground. The one silver lining in all of this is this is exactly how they worked through these conflicts in the past. And in 2013, there was this government shutdown, and in the aftermath of that government shutdown, Democrats and Republicans sat across the table from one another and hammered out a bipartisan solution. And it was a solution that funded the government at appropriate levels above the sequester both for our national security but also for our economy.
So there is a template that we should follow that's been successful in the past. But Republicans, like I said, thus far has resisted it. And that's been the source of the frustration that I expressed at the beginning of yesterday’s briefing and the frustration that the President expressed in the Oval Office when he was signing the transportation bill.
Q The President, on the call yesterday, mentioned the $20 million effort against basically to reject the Iran deal. I’m assuming that effort will reach its peak during this recess as we get closer to the deadline of when Congress has to either approve or reject the deal. What is the White House going to be doing to sort of counter that huge influx of money and advertising against the deal for the public?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President convened the call yesterday with Americans all across the country because of his belief in the power of grassroots organizing, and that there are people all across the country who have been following this issue and are concerned about making sure that we don’t engage in a rush to war, that we’re much more focused on trying to use every element of American authority, including our diplomacy, to try to resolve questions that are critical to our national security.
And in this case, the President has done exactly that. The President has used his influence around the globe to build an international coalition to confront Iran over their nuclear program. They put in place sanctions that we coordinated with the rest of the global community and some of the -- including the largest economies around the world; put intense pressure on Iran, compelled them to come to the negotiating table. And in the context of those negotiations, they voluntarily agreed to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, to reduce their nuclear stockpile by 98 percent, to detach 13,000 centrifuges, to essentially render harmless the heavy water reactor at Arak, and to agree to the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program. And that represents important progress.
And it is -- by following through on this diplomatic agreement and working with the international community to implement it and enforce it is not just the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; failing to do so only makes another war in the Middle East more likely.
And that’s why the President has advocated so strongly for this agreement. That’s why he’s going to continue to do that in the days and weeks ahead. And that’s what we’re going to encourage Americans all across the country to do -- to talk to their friends and neighbors, to talk to their coworkers and to talk to people at church -- to explain to them exactly what’s included in this agreement and why we believe it's something that should earn the support not just of people all across the country, but also of every member of Congress.
All right. So with that, why don’t I do the week ahead, and you guys can begin your weekends.
On Monday, the President will address the second class of 500 Mandela Washington Fellows at the Young African Leaders Initiative Presidential Summit. The Young African Leaders Initiative, launched by the President in 2010, connects the United States to the next generation of leaders across sub-Saharan Africa and provides them with the leadership skills, networks, and professional opportunities that will allow them to make a meaningful impact in their countries and communities. The three-day summit will bring together 500 of sub-Saharan Africa’s most promising young leaders to meet with the President and leading U.S. entrepreneurs, government officials, and civil society representatives.
The event will be a capstone to the President’s trip to Africa, where he affirmed his commitment to young people across the continent and entrepreneurial approaches to common challenges.
On Tuesday, the President will host United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office for a bilateral meeting. In the afternoon, the President will deliver remarks at the White House Demo day -- and we’ll have more details on that over the weekend.
Q White House what?
MR. EARNEST: Demo Day.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, Demo.
Q That’s not short for demolition?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s short for demonstration. White House demolition day is a different event. (Laughter.) But an event I'm similarly looking forward to. (Laughter.)
On Wednesday, the President will deliver a speech on the nuclear deal reached with Iran at American University here in Washington.
And then on Thursday and Friday, we anticipate the President will be here at the White House, but we’ll have some more details on his schedule early next week.
Q AU is daytime, nighttime?
MR. EARNEST: We’re still working through the details of this. I anticipate at this point that it will be during the daytime. We’ll keep you posted.
All right. Everybody have a great weekend.
2:29 P.M. EDT