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The White House

Gaggle by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Aboard AF1 en route london, 3-31-09

Office of the Press Secrectary
For Immediate Release                                       March 31, 2009

Aboard Air Force One En route London, England
2:13 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Before we get started, let me give you a couple of -- just some quick readouts. We've talked to the Secretary of State's delegation -- they're at a conference, as you know, in The Hague. They reported a conference that includes over 80 countries and international organizations. They reported very positive feedback on the Afghanistan/Pakistan review process and the strategy going forward on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There's a genuine recognition that this region and these countries are not simply a concern of just the United States, but instead a concern of the world. The Secretary of State was pleased with what she heard in public and in private about commitments to resolving the concerns that we have in this region of the world.
As you know, the Iranians were invited to participate in this regional conference. The Iranians did attend at the vice foreign minister level. As you know and as I've said before, we were pleased that they accepted the invitation and pleased that their attendance may demonstrate that they have a real interest in regional stability.
At the conference, Ambassador Holbrooke had a brief conversation with the Vice Foreign Minister --
Q Who? I'm sorry --
MR. GIBBS: Ambassador Holbrooke. It is our hope that their attendance means they'll play a constructive role in the future of Afghanistan and the stability of the region.
In addition, during the flight the President had a chance to speak with Prime Minister Brown. This is the, sort of, final in all the consultative conversations that the President has had leading up to the G20, including, as you know, meetings at the White House with Rudd, and Lula of Brazil, conversations over the past week to 10 days with Sarkozy, Merkel and now with Brown.
So that is what I have to report while you guys were watching movies.
Q When we were taking off there was a report about a secret letter from Medvedev to the United States. Can you tell us about any communications they've had or any --
MR. GIBBS: Some report of a secret letter. I will check on that, if somebody will let me borrow their pen. Thank you, sir. Okay.
Q Can you talk about what the President hopes to get out of that meeting with Medvedev?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think they're -- I think we -- the President desires a productive relationship with the Russians, that we can work together on issues of mutual interest, particularly issues around proliferation. I think they'll have an opportunity to talk about that and other concerns tomorrow.
Q What about the North Korea threat to start a war if Japan took down its missile?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would simply reiterate what I said last week and what the Secretary of State has said, that we would view the actions -- if the North Koreans were to take the actions that they've proposed through this launch, that we would find that a provocative action in violation of Security Council resolutions.
Q Can I ask about -- can I sort of put the Russia and China meetings together? Both of those nations have been pretty aggressive in the way they've talked about the U.S., particularly on the currency issue, and are kind of looking to boost their own image and stature in the world by talking that way. How big a part do you think those kinds of issues will play in the meetings tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- look, I can't speak for what those countries will bring up. I think it's been -- we've been quite clear that the reserve currency of the world is now and will continue to be the U.S. dollar, the strength and the breadth of our economy is unmatched.
I do think the President looks forward to each of these meetings as a way, again, of speaking of issues that are of mutual concern. Obviously there are -- there's a lot to deal with on the world stage and this is an opportunity for him to get a chance to talk to these two leaders on a very personal level tomorrow.
Q Both of these nations are trying to sort of use this moment to more assertively challenge the U.S. So how does the President go into those meetings, sort of knowing that they occur in that context?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think it -- look, I think the President will have the issues that he wants to discuss and bring them up with each of those two countries. I don't think that changes what the President does at all.
Q Robert, there seems to have been a -- everything seems to be toning down the expectations, trying to tamp down expectations for everything on this trip. What are the fair measuring sticks? April 7th, flying back, measuring sticks out of G20, out of NATO, out of the EU -- is it -- what are they?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, let's take the G20, for example. I think it's likely that we will come out of the G20 with very broad agreement on measures that have to be taken to address the global recession. We've already gotten -- despite what a lot has been written about -- at the financial ministerial level just a couple of weeks ago the commitment to continue to evaluate what has to be done to spur the global economy along.
Q What does that mean? "Commitment to evaluate" -- I mean, that sounds like -- do you worry you get so much to a broad consensus --
MR. GIBBS: Let me be more specific, because this also hasn't been reported -- so I'll give you a chance to enumerate my evaluation.
As we said last Saturday on the phone call in preparation for this, if you total up what the G20 nations have pledged to address the economic downturn, it represents 1.8 percent of GDP for the G20 nations. That is a significant commitment to addressing the downturn in GDP around the world. The pledge is to evaluate whether or not more steps will be needed in the future to address the breadth and severity of the crisis.
I think secondly there will be broad consensus about far stronger financial regulations to ensure that what we're dealing with now never happens again, that we have different rules of the road for the 21st century. And I think that the United States and the Obama administration last week demonstrated its commitment to leadership in this endeavor by rolling out as strong a set of financial regulations as any country has proposed -- as well as a commitment to get them through Congress this year. So that we will not simply propose new rules of the road, but have them instituted by the end of the year, which will make progress in the sense of we won't just be speaking about this stuff, we'll be acting on it.
We'll address hedge funds and derivatives as part of regulation. There are tougher capital requirements. There are tools to ensure greater security and safety in our financial system. And finally, as both the President and the Secretary of Treasury have spoken about, they give any administration unique tools and necessary tools to deal with systemic risks like resolution authority, which is something we lack in dealing with something the size of AIG.
MR. GIBBS: You know, NATO, I think we will have an opportunity to discuss and review what the President has proposed. As I said, the Secretary of State heard some -- was pleased with what she heard in public and in private. So I think we want -- I think we're making progress and we'll see progress that demonstrates that the concern, as I said a minute ago, about Afghanistan and Pakistan are not simply the concern of one country or one --
Q -- measureable, though? Is it troop commitments?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of where we are. I think if we can demonstrate that there's broad international concern and that people are working together to address it, I think that'll be a success.
Q What specifically pleased the Secretary of State the most, that she heard?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think it was an understanding that -- well, first of all, bringing together neighbors in the region to address in a larger way the problems that we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As you know, the President committed at the beginning of his administration to reviewing our policy -- not simply as one that relates to Afghanistan or one that relates to Pakistan, but one that relates to the region as the whole. That was important. Demonstrating -- understanding and demonstrating that commitment I think is important. And she was pleased with what she heard, as I said, in public and in private.
Look, I think it's a helpful development if they're willing to continue their involvement to have Iran, a neighbor of Afghanistan, who can and should be concerned about drug trafficking into their country. If they are willing to accept the responsibility of playing a constructive role in that region, I think that's an important development. We'll see as we move forward how that goes.
Q What parts of the G20 agenda are still in flux or still being negotiated? Or is it pretty much set right now, in terms of what the outcome will be?
MR. GIBBS: I can go ask those guys in terms of what, in terms of the communiqué. I think the call that he had with Prime Minister Brown demonstrated that they made progress on a number of issues.
One last thing I forgot to mention at G20 is obviously -- and this is largely agreed upon -- is a far greater commitment to international institutions in order to help emerging economies as we see this massive slowdown in global trade.
Q -- contribution?
Q And do you think -- is that on the China agenda? When he meets with Hu, is that about getting them to kick in on this?
MR. GIBBS: I will double check on that. But I know, again, that that is -- you know, greater exports from our country into emerging economies means jobs back home, so that's important.
Q You talked about his consultations going into the G20, you know, all the conversations he's had with leaders in person and on the phone. Could you quantify that? I mean, pull together how many conversations and meetings he's had?
MR. GIBBS: I can go back and try to -- you mean with leaders, not --
Q Yes.
MR. GIBBS: Okay. Again, I know that -- like I said, in the past 10 days he's had --
Q We know, but when the President announced -- it seems like he's had a couple different conversations with some leaders, that once --
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back and try to pull together all of it. Again, I know -- you know I think about most of them. As I said, conversations in the past 10 days or so -- teleconferences with Sarkozy and Merkel; conversations with Brown, and visits by Rudd and Lula to the Oval Office. I should mention he talked with Prime Minister Harper in within the last, I think, 48 hours.
Q Was it about cars?
MR. GIBBS: I think partly to talk about that, but also to talk about G20.
Q Let me just follow up on the Medvedev meeting. Can you explain a little bit more about what the administration means by resetting relations? Some critics of this say that it means giving Russia everything they want. Medvedev had an op-ed piece in which he laid out what he expects from the United States.
MR. GIBBS: And I think we will look forward to laying out our interests in the meeting. Nobody believes that a change in our relationship means giving anybody all that they want. We're looking for a constructive relationship that addresses the issues that we have that are of mutual concern in a way that benefits both countries. But I don't think that anybody goes into the meetings with another country believing that the best way to change the relationship is give the other side whatever they want. That's certainly not the intention of the President or this administration.
Q Did you guys learn anything more about the Pakistan attack -- the attack in Pakistan? Did you learn anything more this morning?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt I would talk about it if we did.
Anything else?
Q How about New York 20 -- what's the danger of over-reading the result of that today?
MR. GIBBS: Let's wait and see the result. (Laughter.)
Q What's the President do in that -- there was the ad, there was the email, what else did the President do in that race?
MR. GIBBS: I think there's -- I think his picture is on some mail. I think the Vice President did a robocall. I would -- I think that's all the President did, but I will double check.
Q Did the President or Mrs. Obama do any kind of robocall call themselves?
MR. GIBBS: I will check. I don't believe the First Lady did, but I will check on the Vice President -- I mean, the President. I know there have been a couple of emails.
Let me say one thing about New York 20. You know, this is a district that is -- has a sizeable Republican voter registration advantage. A very conservative upstate New York district, represented by Republicans for a very long time, until now Senator Kirsten Gillibrand I think won in 2006. You know, public polling and even Republican polling that showed the Democratic candidate down 30 points only several weeks ago.
So regardless of the outcome, this is a district where, by all accounts -- particularly in a special election which largely, as you know, drives out the partisans -- the real partisans on each side -- to even be competitive in a district like that I think demonstrates quite a bit.
Q The President carried the district.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q The President carried the district, though.
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q I mean, so it's not exact -- this isn't --
MR. GIBBS: You understand this isn't -- surely you understand that today is not a presidential election.
Q I understand that, but he did carry -- this is not like we're dealing in some place in rural east Texas or something.
MR. GIBBS: He may have done well in east Texas. Look, Chuck, you're a smart political strategist, you understand the dynamics of special elections, you understand the dynamics of congressional seats that have been represented for many, many years -- except two-and-a-half -- by Republicans, you understand the voter dynamics in the district, you understand the voter registration advantages, you understand the Democratic performance disadvantages of this district. And you understand -- again, because you're a smart political strategist -- that special elections are dominated by -- usually dominated by heavy partisans.
And in a district that has such a huge advantage by Republicans to be competitive even at this point I think says a lot.
Q -- outspent, that you -- the Democrats outspent the Republicans in this district, by a good couple hundred thousand.
MR. GIBBS: I saw -- I don't know the final spending figures. I saw an article yesterday where that was not the case.
Q If you throw in SEIU it is the case -- is that some people don't -- how do you not count SEIUs --
MR. GIBBS: You can count that one when --
Q You shouldn't count the SEIU pro-Democratic money?
MR. GIBBS: I'm interested in the new accounting that's going on in --
Q So given all those dynamics that you just laid out, what would it mean for President Obama if Murphy, the Democrat, were to win tonight?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- we'll cover -- we'll cover that at a later interlude.
Thanks, guys.
Q Hey, Robert, who's on the plane?
MR. GIBBS: Let's see. Obviously the President and the First Lady. Secretary of Treasury is here. The National Security Advisor is here. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina. David Axelrod. In terms of NSC staff, Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough, Mark Lippert.
Q Who was that last one?
MR. GIBBS: Lippert, Mark Lippert. Let me gather up who's here from Treasury.
Q Is the Secretary of State picking up into this trip, traveling with him after?
MR. GIBBS: She's over in The Hague now.
Q I know. But is she coming on the plane and continuing with him after?
MR. GIBBS: She's on the plane at some point; I don't know exactly where she picks up.
Q Any members of Congress?
MR. GIBBS: On this trip? No. I'm trying to think of other principals or staff that are on the plane.
Q Rahm?
MR. GIBBS: No, he's back in D.C. --
Q He's in Albany -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Trying to make up for that massive Democratic disadvantage in voter registration. (Laughter.)
Thanks, guys.
2:34 P.M. EDT