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The White House

Press Gaggle aboard AF1 en route Prague, by General Jones, Denis McDonough and Robert Gibbs, 4/4/2009

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                             April 4, 2009
 Aboard Air Force One
En route Prague, Czech Republic
6:15 P.M. (Local)
MR. GIBBS:  Okay, Guys, this is National Security Advisor Jim Jones.  I think what he can help you guys understand a little bit is, as a former supreme allied commander in NATO, what was accomplished in today's meeting.  So why don't we just take questions, to either of us, actually.
Q    General Jones, I wanted to ask, the President at NATO -- at G20 talked about the need for a compromise when countries feel particularly strongly on one issue.  Turkey felt very strongly about the choice of the NATO Secretary General.  And I'm just wondering how an agreement was reached?  Did the President put pressure on Turkey to accept the outcome?
GENERAL JONES:  Well, I think that Turkey's position was not ever against the individual or the country; it was primarily about the fact that they wanted to have their views and their concerns about terrorism properly articulated in ways that the rest of the Alliance could understand.
And what the President did is work with the Prime Minister of Denmark and President Gul of Turkey to bring about the legitimate recognition on both sides of the issue.  We all -- the Alliance rejects terrorism in any form, but we all have our specific concerns as it relates to what's going on inside our borders -- Turkey, in particular.
And so I think as a result of the dialogue between the three heads of the state, they found a common ground that allowed Turkey to believe that their legitimate concerns about terror were going to be addressed, and Denmark, the Prime Minister found common ground to where, in his capacity as Secretary General, that Turkey now feels certain that he will take their considerations -- take under account their considerations Alliance-wide.
So I think it was a very helpful moment.  I think that our President really was instrumental in bringing about this common ground and finding this common ground -- and as a result the Alliance has a new Secretary General elected unanimously.  So I think it's a very good day for the Alliance and I think it was a little bit -- probably I would have liked to have had the President have a little bit easier job to start with, but he took on a difficult one and --
Q    Easier job on what, sir?
GENERAL JONES:  Pardon me?
Q    Easier job on what?
GENERAL JONES:  Oh, just NATO -- NATO issues can be very cumbersome and they can be very difficult and protracted.  And to go from, you know, where we were in 24 hours, through a resolution, I think is remarkable.
Q    General, could you walk us through a little bit of how the President did this?
GENERAL JONES:  Well, actually, he did that privately with the two other heads of state, and they came to a mutual viewpoint where enough trust and confidence was built in.  The President gave a lot of assurances that the legitimate concerns about terrorism, as viewed by both individuals and both countries, would be addressed, and could be addressed in such a way that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be the beneficiary, and I think that's what happened.
Q    When was the meeting between the three of them?
GENERAL JONES:  This morning.
Q    This morning.
Q    He invited them to his hotel suite or --
GENERAL JONES:  No, no, no, no.  It was before the start of the plenary session.  Actually, the discussion started last night at the heads of state dinner.  And because the agenda was so full it wasn't -- they weren't able to complete it.  And so the President extended an invitation to both to meet with them after the ceremonial function and before the plenary session.  And they met privately.
Q    How long?
GENERAL JONES:  I would say probably an hour -- probably an hour, yes.
Q    Why was the meeting two hours longer than it was supposed to be?  Was it because of that issue?
Q    Okay.
GENERAL JONES:  Yes.  I mean, they couldn't start the meeting without -- this was going to be an issue for the day and everybody wanted it to come to closure.  So he took a little time to talk to the other two heads of state.  And when they walked out they had the framework of an agreement and the rest -- some of the assistants spent the rest of the day making sure that it was, you know, put in a right understanding so at the end of the day when they reconvene and had the unanimous vote that everybody knew what had been agreed to.
MR. GIBBS:  Let me just -- can I underscore that point.  I think many of you that have watched then candidate and Senator Obama and President Obama understands that he's somebody that seeks out and I think is very good at achieving a sense of common ground.  I think for the new Secretary General-elect to be done in a way that was unanimous speaks to a good start for him and continued momentum for NATO.
Q    Did you view about the Secretary General?  I mean, when he was asked at the news conference with Merkel about it, she was asked about it, she responded that she wanted Rasmussen to get the job.  He didn't answer, he talked about something else.
MR. GIBBS:  I think it's important to understand that the question was directed at the Chancellor of Germany.
Q    Yes, it was.  Right.  Fair enough.  But he could have jumped in and stated a preference, but he didn't.
GENERAL JONES:  I mean, he -- you have to understand that his role in this started January 20th.  The Europeans were talking about this for, you know, a little bit before because they knew this was coming up.  So we had to get to know the candidates and talk to many countries.  There's a lot of engagement with different countries about their candidates, the other countries had candidates and we wanted to be respectful to them.
Q    What's the thrust of the speech tomorrow?  Is this a follow on to the agreement with Moscow?  What is the thrust of the message?
MR. GIBBS:  Denis?
MR. McDONOUGH:  Look, the President has been very focused on these issues of proliferation for many years.  So tomorrow I think you'll hear the President outline many -- in a very comprehensive way many of the things that he's been talking about and working on for some time.  He in October 2007 laid down a very comprehensive speech as it relates to proliferation.  He saw it as one of the defining issues of the debate over the course of the last several years.  He did a lot of work with Senator Lugar as it related to legislation to expand the good work that Senator Lugar and other bipartisan senators in the Senate have undertaken.
And so I think what you'll see tomorrow is not a follow on to the London meeting with President Medvedev, so much as a much more comprehensive framework into which the work that he has undertaken with President Medvedev fits.  And it's a very comprehensive framework that will lay down several of those issues.  And I think later tonight you all will get a chance to get a little bit more time with the experts to learn a little bit more about what the President is going to --
Q    Denis, how does he -- how does he get to global zero?
MR. McDONOUGH:  He gets to it very carefully.  The challenge here is to maintain an effective deterrent as long as there's any threat in the world.  But it also recognizes that as Secretary Kissinger, Secretary Baker, Senator Nunn and others have laid out, that there's a bargain at the heart of the NPT, which says that nuclear powers will work to get rid of nuclear weapons and non-nuclear states will not seek that new technology.  That is an age-old bargain that the President wants to reinforce, and it will strengthen our hand with countries like Iran, that continue to pursue an illicit nuclear technology and nuclear program, and give the United States and our allies additional moral suasion, as the President has underscored, in making sure that Iran does not develop these weapons.
Q    Have you included Israel in the discussion?
MR. McDONOUGH:  Pardon me?
Q    Have you included Israel in the discussion?
MR. McDONOUGH:  Look, I think what you'll see tomorrow is a very comprehensive speech.  You'll have an opportunity to see exactly what the President is talking about.  But, again, this is not a snapshot in time.  This is a movie -- this is a film that's been developed over the course of many years.  This is an effort that will have many parts and it will advance fundamental U.S. national security interests.
Let me just --
Q    Why Prague?
MR. McDONOUGH:  Well, we can get into that in a second, maybe later tonight with the experts.  I don't want to miss the opportunity to ask General Jones to frame up what happened today.  As somebody who spent a lot of time in summits with his NATO allies, I think that we have a very good story to tell because of many of the attributes of leadership that Robert and the General have laid out.  And I think we have a good opportunity, with somebody who has seen a lot of this, to put this into context.
Q    Over to you, General.  (Laughter.)
GENERAL JONES:  Well, I would simply say that -- I mean, I served as the NATO commander from January of 2003 to December of 2006, so it's fairly recent.  I am very proud to be -- I was very proud to be there today to see the best of American leadership, partnership, be on display.  And really the best of the Alliance, too, because we really had two other leaders -- Denmark and Turkey -- two important NATO allies who have had positions that were pretty far apart in terms of understanding when the day started -- and at the days' end, they came together.  And this is, to me, a tremendous achievement, a very important achievement and it bodes well for the future of the Alliance.
I'd like to say one other thing:  that I've been involved in a lot of force generation conferences, I've been in a lot of NATO summits in my time -- and I have never been in a room where there's been as much good feeling and good will towards each other around the table, as I was today.  And for someone who was, like myself, raised in Europe, really a child of NATO when NATO was in France, to be here and to listen, to see French reintegration, to see the genuine good will expressed on the part of everyone around the table -- if I could say, towards our President -- was a very proud moment for me.
Q    As you said, NATO sometimes isn't easy -- or maybe usually isn't easy.  What are the biggest challenges that your followers are going to have -- your successors, I should say -- in running this new phase of the operation in Afghanistan and in coordinating all this?
GENERAL JONES:  Well, let me -- I'd like to answer that question, but let me start with NATO.
Some of us have been arguing -- and I did unsuccessfully, but maybe we helped pave the way -- that NATO needs a new strategic concept, that it needs to explain itself better to our people on both sides of the Atlantic; it needs to be more agile; it needs the be more expeditionary; it needs to be more proactive than in the past; and it needs some fundamental reforms at the institutional level.  In 2002 we reformed the military.  But the other half still needs to be done.  And with this agreement today I think we have the framework for doing that.  And so we'll see where that goes.
With regard to your question as it relates to Afghanistan, for me as the former commander who actually wrote the plan that got NATO into Afghanistan, the piece that was missing, has always been missing, is the non-kinetic side -- that is to say the capacity-building.  Although there has been a lot of efforts, it's been so uncoordinated and so left up to individual countries to do whatever they wanted, that there was no synergy and there was no prioritization.  And so if everything is important, nothing is important.
And I think with the reenergized U.N. leadership under Kai Eide, with our Special Representative Richard Holbrooke -- and other countries have named Special Representatives, like France named Pierre Lellouche -- having a regional approach to Afghanistan, and one that is not solely based on military action, but has a complementary portion of capacity-building.  And I think the third leg is government and rule of law.  And I think the pieces are here now to where we can actually measure -- both measure progress and see if we can fuse these three things together in order to get a desired effect.
MR. GIBBS:  And just to build on that -- I mean, obviously, I think -- and I've certainly seen stories and I know you guys have watched the press conference and asked different questions, but I think if you understand that we've been in Afghanistan for seven years, the President outlined this regional policy that General Jones just discussed eight days ago.
And in that intervening eight days you had unanimous agreement about the direction of that strategy and some real concrete commitments, despite the fact that, as the President said, this was not a pledging conference.  You have concrete commitments from all of NATO in the form of military capacity, funding capacity and a real buildup on the civilian side.
So I think it says a lot about where we've come in only a short period of time.
Q    One last question about the trilateral meeting.  How did the news of an agreement reach the rest of you -- or to anybody beyond the three?
GENERAL JONES:  Well, it formally reached them when they reconvened at a table of heads of state.  And the Secretary General introduced President Obama and the other two heads, and they announced them.  So that gave the basis for the unanimous vote.
Q    What was the reaction?  Did people cheer, did --
GENERAL JONES:  I wasn't in the room.  But when they came out you could see by the smiles and the warm congratulations extended to the new Secretary General and to our President -- and to President Gul -- that this was a big moment in the Alliance.
Q    Thank you very much, General.
GENERAL JONES:  Thank you so much.
Q    Can I ask one more question -- you might have answered it earlier, but I was having trouble hearing.  What was it that the President offered his Turkish counterpart in the meeting to persuade him that this was -- and then a follow up to that that you might -- is the President satisfied now that Turkey is satisfied with the rest of the Islamic world will not be greatly offended by this appointment?
MR. McDONOUGH:  You know, I think that there is a whole range of issues that we're working with the Islamic world on.  And I think who leads NATO, how NATO conducts itself, how the United States conducts itself, how the leaders in the Islamic world conducts themselves are all issues in this multi-variable equation that have a dramatic impact on that.
So do I think that the President is satisfied today on the state of our relations with the Islamic world?  Absolutely not.  Can we do much better?  Absolutely.  Will we continue to work at it because it's in the fundamental interest of our country and the interest of the Alliance?  Absolutely.
So this is something that the President, as you've all seen, is working very aggressively every day.  He thinks it's in -- he's doing it not because he thinks it's a nice thing to do -- although it may be -- he's doing it because he thinks it's in the interest of this country and in the interest of our allies.  And that's what he's going to continue to do.
MR. GIBBS:  Thanks, guys.
6:33 P.M. (Local)