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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle Aboard Air Force One en route Andrews AFB, 10/28/15

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base  

11:11 A.M. CDT

MR. SCHULTZ:  Welcome aboard Air Force One, everyone.  I have one quick announcement at the top and then we’ll take your questions.

I wanted to let you know that everyone at the White House, including the President, is encouraged that the Senate has passed key portions of the legislative proposal that the President sent to Congress in January on cybersecurity.  As the President has stated, cyber threats pose one of the nation’s most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.  That's why the administration proposed legislation to facilitate greater information-sharing by providing for targeted liability protections, while carefully safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and civil liberties, all the while preserving the longstanding respective roles and missions of civilian and intelligence agencies.

The Senate’s passage, with strong bipartisan support -- I think it’s notable and worth mentioning Senator Feinstein, Senator Carper, and Senator Burr, in particular, for their support for this information-sharing bill that upholds these principles and that this is an important step towards better protecting the nation’s networks from malicious cyber actors.

We're hopeful that the Senate and House can work together expeditiously to send the best possible bill to the President’s desk as soon as possible.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.

Q    What are the President’s expectations for the next round of international talks on Syria now that Iran has accepted that invitation to join?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Thank you, Darlene.  As the President mentioned in his address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York a few weeks ago, the United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict in Syria.  The Secretary of State has made clear that Iran is going to have to be part of this discussion.  And our bottom line is we believe it’s important for all key stakeholders to be present.  Iran has been invited, and we're going to leave it to the State Department to provide additional details.

Q    The telephone call that he had yesterday with the King of Saudi Arabia, was that sort of a heads-up to the King that Iran was going to be invited?  

MR. SCHULTZ:  I don't have any additional details to read out to you on that call.  I do know that the State Department and, clearly, White House officials have been in touch with the Saudi government.  Clearly, this is a problem that's going to require a lot of work.  And I want to be clear that the invitation for Iran to participate in these discussions does not overlook the underbelly of Iran’s ongoing relationship with Iran Syria [sic], including the propping up for the Assad regime, and its continued support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. But as the President has said, after so much bloodshed and so much carnage, there cannot be a return to the prewar status quo. 

So this is about having meaningful discussions towards a political solution that results in a government that's more responsive to the Syrian people.

Q    You said Iran’s -- the underbelly of Iran’s relationship with Iran -- did you mean Syria?  Iran with Syria?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes.  Thank you. 

Q    Who invited the Iranians?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Andrew, I’m not going to get into the sequencing of that, but I can tell you that, for us, the State Department is serving as our primary interlocutor.  So they might have additional details for you on that.

Q    Can you say whether or not the Syrian opposition, if there will be a role for them in either these talks or future talks?  Since now the Iranians are being invited, will there be an olive branch sort of spread out for them to participate, as well?

MR. SCHULTZ:  So, Toluse, I don't quite have an invitation list or a manifest yet of these talks.  I would refer you to the State Department where this information is being sort of -- being worked over in real time.  So they’ll be the best source of information.  Obviously, from our point of view, we believe that talks will only be meaningful if all stakeholders are present.  

Q    Eric, are you going to give us any more detail than you did yesterday on talks between China and the United States regarding the South China Sea?  We understand that China’s government had called on U.S. Ambassador Baucus over this.  Are there any other lines of communication, or have there been any formal warnings from China over this?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, Julia, our policies are intended to advance our strategic objectives in the Asia Pacific region, including on maritime issues.  This includes protecting the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law.

So I can tell you that the operation that was conducted that you're referring to was the result of a rigorous interagency process designed to produce options for our leadership to ensure that was the case.  And again, as the President stated I believe in front of all of you that the United States is going to fly, sail, and operate anywhere where international law allows.

Q    So that's what led up to the decision.  I’m asking about the response to that action.  Do you have anything that you can tell us on that?

MR. SCHULTZ:  The only thing I would add is that, as we would communicate in private to our Chinese counterparts as we would say in public, that these operations are conducted in accordance with international law and applied evenhandedly around the globe.

Q    Any talk about Ryan, given that he’s likely to be being chosen as speaker as we are flying?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Mike, we've been hesitant in the past to weigh in on speakers-in-waiting.  Maybe that's for good reason. I would tell you that obviously the President has worked with Chairman Ryan on some key issues like trade and on immigration, but there’s a number of issues where we have vastly different approaches, vastly different policy positions.  Our concern all along in this process is the Republicans spend a lot of time and energy consolidating their fractious caucus instead of working to figure out how Congress can run in a more bipartisan way.  So we hope that that process of identifying and selecting a new speaker isn't a precursor to a partisan way of governing, but rather that this next speaker comes -- is positioned to work with Democrats.  

Q    Now that it's clear that Ryan will become speaker, can you talk about, from the President’s perspective, what he plans to do in the coming days to try to encourage the bipartisan approach that you’ve just outlined?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, Juliet, I think as Mike alluded to yesterday in his questions, we see some -- see some bipartisanship sprouting.  That includes a significant two-year budget agreement, the likes of which I think a lot of outside observers wouldn't have thought to be possible a few months ago. That includes the cybersecurity piece of legislation that I just mentioned.  And that, by the way, includes the progress we've been making with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill on criminal justice reform.  

A lot of those issues the President talked about yesterday, but the good work that's been happening in both the House and the Senate has been the result of Republicans and Democrats coming together on what is admittedly a very complicated issue, but they’re making good progress.

Q    -- more interaction like between the President and Mayor Emanuel over this trip?  We saw a handshake.  Did they meet?  And did the President talk with him about the recent spike in violence in Chicago?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I know that the President had a chance to catch up with Mayor Emanuel right before his address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.  I don't believe it was an extended conversation, but I know they got a chance to briefly catch up.

Q    Do you know what they discussed?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I think it was a very casual conversation.  

Q    The President’s meeting with Prince Harry this afternoon, will there be any substance to that, or will it just be about pleasantries?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I'm very glad you asked, Darlene.  (Laughter.) The President, this afternoon, will meet with Prince Harry today in the Oval Office.  This visit is a sign of the enduring and special relationship that binds our two countries.  Prince Harry is in the United States, as I think you're well aware, to promote the Invictus Games, which will take place in Orlando next May.  

Earlier today -- actually, I think this might be happening while we're in the air -- the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden will join Prince Harry at Fort Belvoir to formally kick off preparations for the 2016 Invictus Games.  

In terms of their conversation later today in the Oval Office, I expect the President to thank Prince Harry for the important and inspirational work he’s doing on behalf of wounded warriors, who are the focus of these games, and I also expect the President to thank the Prince for his gracious hospitality in hosting the First Lady earlier this summer over in London.

Q    Is this the first time Harry has been to the White House -- or the Oval Office?  I know he did something with FLOTUS a couple years ago.  

MR. SCHULTZ:  I believe that's true, but we can double-check.  I think the President hosted his brother and his father earlier.  So I'll double-check on that for you, though.

Q    Ash Carter yesterday was on the Hill testifying, and he said that the U.S. would not hold back from direct action on the ground in the fight against ISIL.  You all have been hesitant to say anything about boots on the ground, but I'm wondering if he’s trying to prepare the American people for a more robust American response and American presence in the weeks and months ahead.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Toluse, I do think Secretary Carter had the opportunity to answer dozens of questions about our operation for about three and a half hours yesterday, and I think he offered the administration’s take, which is the President has been clear we have no intention to pursue long-term, long-scale ground combat operations like our nation has conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But we do, as Secretary Carter made clear yesterday, retain the ability to conduct limited operations with partners as opportunities allow.

We have all had the chance to discuss a few examples of those operations, so I think Secretary Carter was saying there might be more of those to come.  But in terms of any large-scale change in our policy, I don’t think he was previewing that at all.

Q    Thank you.

11:23 A.M. CDT