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The White House

Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Air Force One en route South Bend, Indiana, 8/5/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                     August 5, 2009


Aboard Air Force One
En route South Bend, Indiana

10:48 A.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  How are you guys this morning?  How was the breakfast?
Q    Heavy.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  It looked a little heavy.
Q    It's apple pie.
MR. GIBBS:  What's wrong with that?  Apple pie for breakfast sounds interesting.
Q    Did you have anything?
MR. GIBBS:  I had just a bagel.  It was more than I needed.
Fire away.
Q    President Obama said before he left that he had a conversation directly with President Clinton -- we hadn't heard that before.  Can you give us a bit of a readout about that?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, they talked for a few minutes right before President Obama went out to speak with you all about his reaction to the journalists being released.  The President thanked him for a great job and knew how much the families appreciated the President's trip and continued service to the country.  And I assume they'll -- I know they hope to get together sometime soon.
Q    The two Presidents?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    Do you envision President Obama calling into service President Clinton in other ways?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, you know, this was a private mission that President Clinton did, and I know the President is enormously thankful for his service.  And look, I think if the President is ever looking for people to help, former Presidents are always a pretty good group to try.
Q    Robert, did the events of the past 24 hours change in any way the U.S. relationship with North Korea?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, Mark, I think first and foremost, as I've said and I think we talked about last night, this is -- we view these as different events.  And I would say secondly -- the best way to change our relationship with North Korea would be for the North Koreans to decide that it's time to live up to the responsibilities and the agreements that they themselves entered into.  Our goal is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  And the North Koreans can and should live up to those agreements.
Q    Switching topics slightly and then we might go back to North Korea.  Do you have any reaction to the swearing-in of President Ahmadinejad in Iran today?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, let me correct a little bit of what I said yesterday.  I denoted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was the elected leader of Iran.  I would say it's not for me to pass judgment on.  He's been inaugurated, that's a fact.  Whether any election was fair, obviously the Iranian people still have questions about that and we'll let them decide that.  But I would simply say he's been inaugurated and we know that is simply a fact.
Q    Do you recognize him as the leader, elected fairly or not?
MR. GIBBS:  It's not for -- it's not for me or for us to denote his legitimacy, except to acknowledge the fact.
Q    Does the White House believe the election was fair?
MR. GIBBS:  That's not for us to pass judgment on.  I think that's for the Iranian people to decide, and obviously there are many that still have a lot of questions.
Q    A couple logistical questions.  Back on Korea, was the plane on the ground when the President spoke to Clinton, do you know?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  This was -- President Obama called him from right outside the Oval Office after the two journalists and former Vice President Gore had spoken and before -- but before he went out and spoke.  So there were just a few minutes between there that they connected.
Q    Who paid for the plane for this private mission, and what kind of a plane was that?
MR. GIBBS:  I'd direct that to the Clintons -- to Clinton's group.  It was not a government aircraft and not paid for by the government.
Q    Not paid for --
MR. GIBBS:  Private mission.
Q    On today, Robert, why is today not a town hall meeting?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know what the -- why the logistical set-up is what it is, except I know the President wants to go and make an announcement about some very important -- the largest investment in electric battery technology, and have a chance to -- ow, sorry, I twisted my ankle last week and just tweaked it again -- the President wants to share that news with a county in Indiana that's been hit tremendously hard.
Q    Just a quick follow -- no concern from you all that you are going to get a lot of questions about:  you were here in February, things have gotten worse, what's happening, why aren't you doing more?
MR. GIBBS:  No, I mean, look, as I said earlier today, look, we've spent a lot of -- we've spent a lot of time in places that are bad off economically, and that's largely because most of the country is bad off economically.  I think if you look at some of the reports today, you know, there are elected officials in the county that are pleased with the impact of the recovery plan that it's been able to have.  You know, you've got -- we're going to announce a grant for this electric battery technology that's going to employ folks in a factory that once housed an RV manufacturer, which --
Q    How many?
MR. GIBBS:  Let me get it.  It's in the remarks.  And I know there are some, you know, there was I think a recent announcement that one of the RV companies is going to expand and bring some more people back.  So, look, the President will tell this community, as he's told many others, and what he told them in February, which is:  It took us a while to get here.  You know, a year ago, the unemployment rate was 10 points lower in this area of Indiana.  So this has built up over a year, and it's going to take some time to dig our way out.
I think the President believes that the announcement today, though, represents the type of innovation and investment in a new economic foundation that can lay the groundwork for some long-term employment prospects for this area through clean-energy jobs.
Q    Can I follow on that, please, just to make sure I understand?
MR. GIBBS:  Sure.
Q    I'm trying to figure out -- for the employees of this company, what's in this announcement for them?  Are they -- is this company getting any help, or this area specifically?
MR. GIBBS:  We'll announce a specific -- a specific awarding grant as part of about I think $2.4 billion in battery -- electric battery grants throughout the country.  I forget how many individual ones, but this is one of them.
Q    But presumably the employees of this RV company are going to have an opportunity for new employment?  I'm trying to make that connection.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, yes, I think whether it's directed -- let me look through the remarks one more time, so I don't confuse the two.
Q    Robert, does the President have a feeling on why North Korea decided to let the two Americans go?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  I don't know that the President does and I haven't heard anything -- anybody but staff.  I know, again, the call that we walked you guys through last night simply was that journalists had mentioned that the North Koreans had said to them this would be an avenue for release.
Q    Just one last question on that.  Did President Clinton brief President Obama today during their conversation about his talks with Kim Jong-il?
MR. GIBBS:  No, I mean, it wasn't long enough to do that.  At some point, I think very soon, members of the team of the NSC will sit down with President Clinton and get a debrief on the events, just as the NSC guys sat down with President Clinton before he left over the weekend.
Q    Did you say earlier that you think President Obama will meet with President Clinton?
MR. GIBBS:  Sometime soon.  Sometime soon.  I don't want to leave the impression that that's in the next few days.  Nothing is scheduled, but I know they both talked about hoping to get together soon.
Q    Did President Clinton have -- and you may have discussed this on the call last night -- any authorization to make any kind of offers or suggestions for rewards for releasing these journalists?
MR. GIBBS:  There were no messages that were passed.
All right?  Thanks, guys.

10:58 A.M. EDT