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The White House

Press Gaggle By White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Aboard Air Force One, 4/17/2009


Office of the Press Secretary
(Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                              April 17, 2009
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

2:40 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: How are you doing? Let me give you guys just a couple of -- some scheduling info. In addition to the opening ceremony, which we talked about yesterday, the President will do two meetings after that: a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Manning of Trinidad and Tobago, and then a multilateral meeting with the nations that represent CARICOM, which is short for the Caribbean Community.
And I will read you those nations: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and finally, Trinidad and Tobago. So that is the President's schedule for after we land.
Q Why them? Why CARICOM?
MR. GIBBS: It's one of the groups represented here at the Summit of the Americas. He'll meet tomorrow with nations representing the South American countries, as well. So it's a chance to get to see all of them.
Q What's the reaction to the comments that Raul Castro made last night?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I think the strongest reaction that we've all had is the admission by Castro that they might well have been wrong. I think we were particularly struck by that.
But I think you guys have all heard the President talk, and the American people have all heard the President talk about this notion of a greater engagement of the Cuban people at a time and place of our choosing if that engagement could further our national interest.
He took some concrete steps, probably the first and most decisive steps in the past two decades to change our policy with Cuba during the past week by lifting travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and lifting restrictions for remittances. And I think he is -- that was keeping a campaign promise to change the policy -- to begin to change the policy with Cuba.
So -- and I think -- I mean, largely, I just don't think that this notion of engagement is anything that's a surprise to us because it's something that we've talked about.
Q Where does it go from here, based on any reaction to what he said? Does it change the state of play at all?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said last night, I still believe -- and as you heard the President say last night -- there are actions that the Cuban government can take beyond wanting to have any dialogue with the American government. They're certainly free to release political prisoners. They're certainly free to stop skimming money off the top of remittance payments as they come back to the Cuban island. They're free to institute a greater freedom of the press. There are a number of things that they're -- that they can and, we believe, should do to bring greater freedom to the Cuban people. And the President will address some of -- Cuba in his remarks tonight during the opening ceremony.
Q Robert, Castro said we have sent word to the U.S. government in private and in public that we're willing to discuss everything -- human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners -- everything. Two questions on that, following up what Peter said. Simply put, does President Obama believe him? Does he take Castro at his word?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think the rephrasing of the question changes my answer. Again, I think we were most struck by a few statements later saying they're human beings; they could have been wrong. That certainly stood out and struck us. But greater engagement at a time and place of our choosing has been something that the President has talked about for almost two years.
Q The President spoke yesterday about wanting to see signals from Cuba. Does this count, that kind of word?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we sent a signal earlier this week about our desire to change the policy. It was more than just talking for talking sake. It was change in relating the way Cuban Americans are able to travel and send money to their family and friends in Cuba. As I said yesterday, and as the President said, there are some concrete actions that the Cuban government can and should take, as well.
Q One other on this. When he says he's been communicating -- Cuba has been communicating in public and private, can you explain that at all -- how the two nations have been communicating?
MR. GIBBS: Occasionally the Cuban government gives lengthy speeches. I don't have any information on private communications.
Q Robert, does the President still have full confidence in Steve Rattner given the investigation going on in New York?
Q Does it send any sort of signal that might cloud the auto -- what's going on with the auto --
MR. GIBBS: Let's be clear: I would -- I guess I'd point you to the third paragraph of a lengthy story which denotes that he's not accused of doing any wrongdoing and is not likely to face either criminal or civil charges as it relates to this, and a pending investigation was something that he brought up to us.
Q But does it send any signal given that this is the hedge fund that he ran? Is it a cloud over him?
Q When did he advise you of this?
MR. GIBBS: During the transition.
Q Robert, can you give us any more details about the meeting that the President is expected to have with banks next week about credit cards?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any new stuff on that, but let me try to pull something.
Q Can you confirm that that meeting is taking place?
MR. GIBBS: Let me do that, yes.
Yes, sir.
Q One more question about Cuba. The President's remarks tonight -- are they in response to Raul Castro's remarks of last night -- were they written before?
MR. GIBBS: The bulk of the speech was. I'll check and see if anything has changed as a result of that. But the steps that the President had desired to take on Cuba had been out there for quite some time.
Q How did the President find out about Raul Castro's comments?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know who did; I'm sure somebody just showed him one of the stories.
Q Thank you.
Q Robert, does the President think the trade embargo has been -- has served its purpose?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's -- you could certainly debate the effect of the embargo, and I think the President is less concerned with the debate about the past and more concerned about how we move forward in our relationship. But, Mark, again, I would -- this is not a one-way street; this is a very busy two-way thoroughfare. And the steps that can be taken by one country can also be matched or met by steps taken by another country.
So this is -- this is a responsibility that each government has to its people and to the greater world community. And we hope that each nation is willing to understand those responsibilities and act on them.
Q Another issue -- is the President going to meet with Captain Phillips when he's back in the States?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I saw on TV that the captain is likely to arrive back home in Vermont. Our hope at some point would be to bring together the captain, his crew, as well as the brave men and women of our military that acted so courageously in freeing the captain all together. And it's our hope that we will be able to do that soon, but there's nothing currently on the schedule.
All right? Anything else?
Q Thanks.
MR. GIBBS: All right. Thanks, guys.
2:48 P.M. EDT