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The White House

Gaggle By Press Secretary Robert Gibbs To The Travel Pool At The Prague Congree Center, 4/5/2009

Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          April 5, 2009

Prague Congress Center
Prague, Czech Republic
1:11 P.M. (Local)
      I just wanted to make sure that you guys had a copy of the statement the Northern Command has put out on the assessment of the North Korea launch.
     Q    Does that make it any less of a threat, the fact that it didn’t get into orbit?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that there have been a number of instances now where the North Koreans have failed in what they’re trying to do.  I think that’s the best way to leave it.
     Q    Does this change what you guys are going to do at the Security Council -- or try to do at the Security Council?
     MR. GIBBS:  No.  No.
     Q    What are you going to do?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I mean, I think they’ll have a broader discussion about that, but obviously as we said before the launch, the launch violates Security Council resolutions.  And that should be dealt with and responded to and I think that will be the topic of the meeting this afternoon.
     Q    So are you saying it doesn’t -- it doesn’t change what actions the President is seeking from the Security Council --
     MR. GIBBS:  What doesn’t?
     Q    -- the fact that it was a failure?
     MR. GIBBS:  No.  No.  Look, the launch itself was the violation, not the fact that the launch we now see was unsuccessful.  It was the launch itself that was provocative and in violation of Security Council resolutions.
     Q    I guess there’s less cause for concern because as a failure, as you just --
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t want to get -- I would point the assessment at what these guys are saying.  But, again, it doesn’t change -- again, it just doesn’t change the steps that they’ve -- the negative steps that have been taken today in opposition to, as I said, Security Council resolutions and a big step away from their responsibility in the community of nations.
     Q    How was the President briefed on what happened with the launch?
     MR. GIBBS:  I did a little of this earlier, so we can get you a copy of it.  We were notified a few minutes -- I forget exactly what I said earlier in terms of the time --
     Q    You said 4:30 --
     MR. GIBBS:  Which is what time -- which was the time of the launch.  Shortly thereafter I woke the President up and gave him a very quick download.  As we got more information from defense and intelligence officials, he spent a lot of time being briefed and understanding -- getting an understanding of what had happened.
     You know, I was asked a question earlier that I’ll go back to.  Somebody had asked -- I think Mark asked whether the North Koreans had timed the launch to coincide with the speech.  You know, as I had said earlier -- and I should have connected these dots -- this was something that the North Koreans had been talking about publicly for probably more than four weeks.
     Q    But they knew about the President’s visit here, though, four weeks ago, didn’t they?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, they may have known he was going to be in Prague, but I don’t believe -- we had not settled on speech topics four weeks ago.  So I think it is a --
     Q    It’s still a four-week window, though.  They had -- I mean, they could have done it tomorrow, as opposed to three hours before he delivers his speech.
     MR. GIBBS:  I think your -- pretty big coincidence, is what it was.
     It doesn’t change, though -- again, I’d underscore what the President said today.  I think it makes more important the topics he discussed today:  the danger of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  And again we’re reminded -- again we’re reminded with need to take swift action to ensure that we do all we can to protect and secure our country and other countries of the world from these deadly weapons.
     Q    Robert, at the top you said there had been numerous failures in what the North Koreans --
     MR. GIBBS:  Let me get a couple of other dates.  I know -- I forget -- I think it’s ’06, but let me check the dates.
     Q    But those failures are limited to missile launches, not other failures that you see in the North Korean government?
     MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, I’m sorry.  Let me be more clear.  Let me get precise dates, they’ve had a couple of different launches that have had similar assessments from Northern Command.
     Q    I didn’t read this, but does it include whether different phases, different stages of the missile worked and others failed?
     MR. GIBBS:  It says just, "Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan, the remaining stages, along with the payload itself, landed in the Pacific Ocean."
     Q    So nothing got into space?
     MR. GIBBS:  "No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan."
     Q    But it got over Japan and into the Pacific.
     MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
     Q    Robert, the broader timing of this, though, even if you don’t think it was necessarily timed for the speech, the broader timing of it is it comes very early in your administration.  Do you think the North Koreans are trying to test him?  And trying to get his attention?
     MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that -- I’m trying to be careful -- I think that the North Koreans have disregarded their responsibilities and international resolutions for many, many years now, going back at least to the last two presidencies.  So I don’t think this has anything to do with President Obama; I think it has to do with the disregard of the North Koreans, the steps backwards that they are continuing to take and that the President supports the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
     Q    Will you have any more six-party talks now that this has happened, in good faith?
     MR. GIBBS:  Let me get a better answer on that.
     Q    Was the Secretary of State woken this morning, as well?
     MR. GIBBS:  I believe so, yes.  I don’t know who did that, but I know she was -- I’ll double check, but I think that's the case.
     Q    The President talked about this with Secretary of State Clinton?
     MR. GIBBS:    Yes.  She’s here, they’ve talked about it, yes.
     Q    Robert, two years ago when they launched a nuclear -- they did the nuclear test in October, or detonated a nuclear device, the Bush administration put sanctions on there once the Security Council had got something, and that didn’t -- I mean, those were of very limited effect.  Do you have any confidence at all that anything that the Security Council can come up with today is going to be able to --
     MR. GIBBS:  I don’t want to get ahead of the discussion that they’re going to have today or ahead of what others might talk about before this afternoon’s meeting.
     Q    Have there been any foreign leader calls?
     MR. GIBBS:  No.  No.
     Q    So he hasn’t talked to the Chinese?
     MR. GIBBS:  I mean, obviously Secretary of State Clinton has, and I believe --
     Q    Japan, too?
     MR. GIBBS:  I believe so.  Let me get a full list from her.  I believe she has.  They were reaching out -- she was reaching out to her counterparts, as I said, Ambassador Rice was.  I will try to find a fuller --
     Q    -- a list of who they talked to specifically.
     MR. GIBBS:  Let me run back here.  I will find out your six-party Clinton calls, and as we have any updates coming out of here on this we’ll gather you back.
     Q    And we were requesting to get the Secretary of State to come back and chat with us on the plane.
     MR. GIBBS:  Let me find that out.  That's a good idea.
     Q    Thanks.
1:20 P.M. (Local)