Press Briefing 10/1/09

October 2, 2009 | 41:35

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing. (public domain)

Download mp3 (38.1MB)

Read the Transcript

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                            October 1, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:36 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon.  Let me give you a couple quick announcements before we start. 
The President will make some remarks at approximately 3:05 p.m. this afternoon about the recently concluded meeting with the P5-plus-1 dealing with Iran.  That again, 3:05 p.m. this afternoon.  And then I wanted to just go through --
Q    Where, Robert?
MR. GIBBS:  Pool in the Dip Room.
Just a couple -- let's go through quickly just the schedule for the President and the First Lady for tomorrow.  As you all know, the President will depart at approximately 6:40 p.m. from the White House, travel overnight and arrive in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the morning.  As you all know, the arrival is open press.
The President and First Lady will then deliver remarks at the Chicago 2016 presentation to members of the International Olympic Committee.  The President, along other Chicago 2016 panel members, then will participate in a Q&A session with IOC members. Both of those are open to IOC credentialed media.  There will also be travel pool coverage.  Later the President and the First Lady will attend an informal reception with IOC members, again with travel pool coverage. 
The President and the First Lady then go meet with the Queen and Prince, and meet with Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, and a pool spray at the top of that; return tomorrow afternoon at approximately 3:30 p.m. if we're on schedule.
So that is a quick scheduling update for both --
Q    Air Force One have any champagne in the eventuality --  (laughter.)
Q    Is the First Lady coming back with him? 
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    Bud Light?
Q    Thank you, Robert.  When is the decision --
MR. GIBBS:  It's my understanding the decision is announced at approximately 6:30 p.m. local time, which I think is about roughly 12:30 p.m. local time --
Q    So he'll be in the air?
Q    Will he watch that on the plane?
MR. GIBBS:  There are TV capabilities on the plane.  I don't know if where we will be traveling we will have that or not. 
Q    But you always have phone --
MR. GIBBS:  We do have too many phones on that plane.
Q    Thanks.  This morning there was a spirited debate in the Senate Finance Committee about whether the proposed fee on people who would refuse to buy health insurance under the proposed plan, whether that would break the President's pledge not to tax individuals who make less than $200,000 or families that make $250,000.  Do they have a good point there?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  I think this is, again, one more game that we've seen in the roadblock to getting comprehensive health care reform.  There is an individual mandate in this piece of legislation that the President supports.  But something that's charged to an individual that doesn't have and can't afford health insurance is a little bit like if you're not complying with the law and you're speeding.  And I don't think anybody would say that if you're going too fast on the interstate that somehow somebody has raised your taxes.  So I think that's a silly argument that we can easily dispense with.
Q    It's called a tax in the House bill and the Finance Committee bill.  It's referred to as an excise tax.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would -- maybe the analogy on the speeding isn't -- I think it's pretty clear.
Yes, sir.
Q    The P5-plus-1 appears to have given Iran more breathing space, several more weeks at least, before they are to, as the President has demanded, come clean on their nuclear program.  He actually said in advance that that response was expected at this meeting and had to come at this meeting.  What makes the administration --
MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, what had to come at this meeting?
Q    That Iran had to give -- had to respond at this meeting.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's understand what the Iranians have initially agreed to, and that is full compliance and transparency around the facility at Qom, which, as you know, was publicly disclosed less than a week ago, a facility that had been long under construction and long in violation of IAEA rules. 
No one ever suspected or believed that this issue was going to be finished with or dealt with after one meeting.  I do believe that today's meeting was a constructive beginning to this process, understanding that the onus remains on the Iranians as it did prior to the meeting to live up to what they promised today and to live up to their continued international obligations to provide confidence to the international community that what they're undertaking is for peaceful means and not for a weapons program. 
Again, we believe it was a constructive start.  The onus continues to be on the Iranians to live up to their obligations.
Q    But the Iranians have given no indication at this meeting, as far as we've seen so far, that they're going to back down on their defiance of international demands that they suspend uranium enrichment -- 
MR. GIBBS:  Well, two days ago I was responding to your story that they wouldn't talk about their nuclear program -- and we seem to have spent some quality time talking about their nuclear program today.  I think the President has been clear, and you'll hear the President say today, as he has for more than two years, this is not talk for talk's sake.  If at any point this appears to simply be the Iranians trying to talk some issue to death, then I think, working in concert with and common purpose with our P5-plus-1 partners, we'll take additional steps to ensure that Iran knows we mean business.
Q    The Iranians have said that they have actually disclosed all their nuclear facilities at this stage.  The Iranians say they have now disclosed all of their nuclear facilities.  Does the administration believe that?
MR. GIBBS:  I think I'll let the IAEA deal with that and not get into any of those matters, and expect that Iran, again, will live up to what they promised to do at the table here today.
Q    Robert, how is the President going to address the ongoing violence in Chicago, going before the Olympic Committee and making that bid?
MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry?
Q    How is the President going to address the ongoing violence in Chicago in going before the Olympic Committee and making a bid?  Is it something that he's going to address?  Is he prepared to talk about it?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I talked about this yesterday.  Obviously it's of great concern to the President, as somebody who lives in Chicago, but would and should be a concern for every American.  This isn't a Chicago problem; this is violence -- youth violence is a problem throughout our country.  The President is concerned and has asked that next Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder travel to Chicago.  They'll meet with officials from the school, meet with students and meet with the community to talk about the issues of school violence and youth violence.
Q    It's not a Chicago problem, obviously, but he's going before the Olympic Committee tomorrow.  Is he prepared -- what is he prepared to say if it comes up, as they ask about the safety of the city in which the Olympics would be held?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that the President has full confidence in the safety of the city and will be prepared to talk about that if that were a question.
Q    Why does the White House think -- what does the White House think is the key as to why the Predator strikes in Pakistan have been so much more successful?
MR. GIBBS:  Not going to get into discussing that.
Q    Based on press accounts of Predator strikes --
MR. GIBBS:  I appreciate the opportunity, but not going there.
Q    Does the President or the White House have any response to comments made yesterday by Congressman Grayson about how the Republican -- or maybe it was earlier this week -- the Republicans' solution to health care is they want everybody to die?
MR. GIBBS:  I mean, I would simply reiterate what we've said on this a number of times, and I think this goes for anybody from whatever political party and whatever end of the political spectrum -- that we ought to be able to have an honest, calm debate about health care, the need for health care reform, without disparaging each other.
Q    Is the White House -- this is my last question, I'm sorry -- is the White House involved -- obviously you guys are monitoring the votes in the Senate Finance Committee, but are you making the President's position on different amendments clear to those senators that are voting?
MR. GIBBS:  We're watching the process and --
Q    But are you saying the President believes that a bill is --
MR. GIBBS:  I can check with Legislative Affairs -- I don't know that that's the case.  I don't believe we're that involved in the committee process.
Yes, ma'am.
Q    Has the President given up on the public option?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  Helen, this is --
Q    Sure, I ask it day after day because it has great meaning in this country and you never answer it.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I apparently don't answer it to your satisfaction. 
Q    That's right.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  I'll give you the same answer that I gave you unsatisfactorily for many of those other days.  It's what the President believes in because --
Q    Well, is he going to fight for it, or not?
MR. GIBBS:  We're going to work to get choice and competition into health care reform.
Q    You're not going to get it.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Well, then, why do you keep asking me?  (Laughter.)
Q    Because I want your conscience to bother you.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Wow!  Should we sit down and I confess a little bit to you?  No, I'm -- go ahead.
Q    On the --
MR. GIBBS:  Are you going to make me feel bad, too?
Q    I am.  I want this to weigh on your conscience also.  (Laughter.)  You said earlier that if at any point it looks like Iran is talking us to death, we will take additional steps, steps to show we mean business.  Two questions.  Number one, do you have a time -- some people have talked about the end of the year as the --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has talked about that in the Oval Office.
Q    Some administration officials yesterday said maybe it's not the end of the year, maybe it's much sooner than that if it becomes clear --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think by the end of the year.  As the President said, this is a situation that will be dealt with; it will either be dealt with with the Iranians choosing to take a path towards responsibility, or it will be dealt with collectively with the international community.
Q    And on the issue of taking steps to show we mean business, there are some experts on sanctions and Iranian sanctions who believe the only thing you could really do that would have an immediate effect on Iran is the gasoline issue, is working with other nations, either unilaterally through the Bayh legislation or through the United Nations, cutting off gasoline exports from other countries to Iran.  Is that on the table for the administration?  How do you feel about the Bayh legislation?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would say that as the President said last week when he and other leaders discussed the facility of Qom, that if they didn’t address this, if they didn’t live up to their responsibilities, then we'd take action.  I mean, I wouldn't pull anything off the table.  We want to work, and have worked, collectively with our P5-plus-1 partners to get to this point.  I think we've made progress.  And we'll continue to make plans for what might happen if the Iranians don't live up to their obligations. 
Q    And could you clarify where exactly does it stand after today's meeting for the next meeting?
MR. GIBBS:  Watching Javier Solana's comments, I believe there will be a meeting before the end of October.  But I don't  -- from what I saw, that date has not yet been announced.
Q    And is that satisfactory to the United States?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, we are -- we do know from his comments that the agenda is on the nuclear program.  And I think -- again, that's progress from what we had heard weeks ago, and even a week ago, that the Iranians were not going to discuss their nuclear program.
But again, Chip, this is -- we've worked this methodically. We're not going to talk this issue to death.  The Iranians are going to have to take responsibility, demonstrate their actions mean something, and if we or others in the P5-plus-1 don't get the feeling that they are, then we'll take steps.
Q    And inspectors need to be allowed into this facility by when?
MR. GIBBS:  I believe in the next couple of weeks, as Mr. Solana said.
Q    But is that a deadline, as far as the United States is concerned?  I mean, or will Iran just keep extending and stringing you along?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, then they would not be living up to those obligations, and then we'd move to the next phase.  Again, this is not an issue that's going to be talked to death.  This is not an issue that is going to go years and years and years, or even months and months and months.
Yes, sir.
Q    Just to quickly follow up, a month is not a short amount of time in this case.  If the next meeting is not until the end of October --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, by the end of October. 
Q    So the expectation is these inspections happen in the next couple of weeks, then the meeting, correct?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, I don't know -- I admit, I don't know the  -- I have not seen from the IAEA the exact timing of the next meeting.
Q    A couple of other items.  Senator Harkin, chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, today said no Republicans would be at the table in the Senate when his bill and the Senate Finance Committee bill is merged.  Is that what the White House thinks ought to be the case?
MR. GIBBS:  I'm not going to get ahead of the bill getting out of the Finance Committee, and I haven't seen those comments.
Q    Second thing, the House added a provision -- motion in one of these ways that the House can do these things, inside the Homeland Security appropriations bill that would prevent anybody who has been detained in Gitmo to be transferred to a U.S. prison.  And if this motion passed the House, obviously, you'd have to see it and it would be a part of that appropriations --  are you guys -- are you guys going to actively work to make sure this gets taken out?
MR. GIBBS:  Let me talk with Legislative Affairs.  I have not seen that provision, but I will tell you that --
Q    I assume you're not supportive of this provision.
MR. GIBBS:  The President is going to do what it takes to close Guantanamo Bay.  That's what he promised, and that's what he intends to do, because it will improve our security.
Q    And quickly, on this text messaging, are you -- how are you -- this means you cannot use your BlackBerry in your car, correct?
MR. GIBBS:  That's what I'm told.  (Laughter.)  That's what I'm told.
Q    Are you going to be able to do this?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I assume that somebody would take my picture and show it to the President, which wouldn't be good.
Q    It should weigh on your conscience, too.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  I was going to say, not to mention the -- the additional conscience burdens one bears --
Q    I thought you had none.  (Laughter.)  
MR. GIBBS:  -- each and every day at work.  Well --
Q    So you can use a private BlackBerry and text while driving?  Or you can use a -- but you can't use your government  --
MR. GIBBS:  I think it would be a good example for me not to use any BlackBerry --  
Q    -- to change your behavior?
MR. GIBBS:  To what?  I'm going to have to.  Look, I don't think there's --
Q    You going to get a driver?  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Look, I don't think there's any -- no -- (laughter) -- that wouldn't be -- that would weigh on my conscience.  (Laughter.)  No, look, I think it's -- we've all read accounts of horrific accidents, of what happens.  I think all of us understand -- we've all done this and we all understand that had we not looked up at a certain point we might have hit somebody in front of us.  And it's a serious problem, and this is the beginning of addressing that.  And we'll all have to rightly change our behavior. 
So I'll call you when I get home.  (Laughter.)
Q    On a different subject, the right went after Van Jones for statements that he had made in the past.  He lost a job.  This guy Yosi Sergant at the National Endowment of the Arts was their next target.  He lost his job.  Now conservatives are going after Kevin Jennings at the Department of Education for what they say is, I don't know, facilitating -- I can't tell what it was -- but anyway, something bad.  (Laughter.)  It was facilitating statutory rape.  And I'm wondering, first of all, if you guys -- are you aware of this latest campaign?  Do you have anything substantive to say about what they are saying about this guy, Kevin Jennings, and when does -- what do you think of this hop-scotching from appointment -- Obama appointment to Obama appointment?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the Department of Education had a statement on this.  I would point you to that.  I think there are many good people from every political persuasion that seek to serve their country and serve in government.  I think it's a sacrifice, but one that people do voluntarily because they love their country. 
I think it's a shame to watch what they do -- I think it's a shame -- I hope that as people watch, they'll match up some of the actual truth to what is being said on some of these occasions and start to provide a little reality check to some of what's going on.
Q    But some in your camp would say that it's -- the White House has the power to stop it simply by no longer pushing these guys out of their positions.  Is there any truth to that?
MR. GIBBS:  I think in previous occasions that you mentioned are people that resigned on their own volition.
Q    Robert, can you explain why you won't mention in any way anything about the use of Predators in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
MR. GIBBS:  I am not going to get into discussing military operations.
Q    Well, you discuss military operations, but you just always refuse to address anything about the use of Predators.
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  (Laughter.)
Q    Can you tell us if any progress was --
Q    Why?
Q    Well, that's what I asked, but he, at peril of his conscience, he wouldn't answer.  (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I am -- there are I think a series of things that many in my position over the years have chosen for important national security reasons not to discuss and I'll continue that tradition.
Q    Was much progress made in the Sit Room meeting yesterday afternoon?
MR. GIBBS:  I think there -- I think a lot of progress was made.  Understand -- just to give you a little background -- I think a lot of us talked to folks on this -- it lasted the full three hours.  There was I think a very constructive conversation and assessment about where we were, understanding that the President in March made decisions to send additional forces to the region to secure Afghanistan ahead of its election and then to evaluate at the conclusion of that where we stood. 
And we started off in many ways exactly where we thought we'd be.  We had an opportunity to get a fairly in-depth intelligence assessment on what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to assess individually where we are in each, and what's changed since March.  And I think you've seen cases where things have gone and advanced more quickly than one might have thought originally.  I would put in that category obviously the cooperation that the international community has gotten from Pakistan in dealing directly with threats within their borders. 
Obviously there remain a series of challenges, not the least which is, as General McChrystal talked about, a security situation that has deteriorated more rapidly than many supposed in Afghanistan, as well as continued uncertainty around election results.
Q    Will it take another three sessions for a strategy to be drafted?
MR. GIBBS:  I think it probably at a -- likely at a minimum. This was the second long meeting that the President has held to discuss this.  There are two more, as you know, scheduled for next week, on Wednesday and Friday, the agendas with which are being drawn up by principals that were in the meeting along with the President. 
And, look, the President got a chance yesterday to hear from -- a robust discussion with the intelligence community and robust discussion with military and diplomatic advisors that participated from the region.  The President heard from, by my count, 17 different people as part of that meeting.  I think it was exceedingly productive.  I think the President and I think most of the participants thought that as well.
Q    On the timing, did Jones leave early to brief the senators?  I wasn't --
MR. GIBBS:  He did.  We had a commitment to brief them on both the process in Afghanistan, as well as developments with Iran.  I believe -- I could check my notes -- I think he left sometime in the third hour of the meeting. 
But again, I would say, Jones -- I don't know how long -- there was a principals committee meeting the day before the meeting with the President that Jones chaired throughout, so there wasn't anything discussed in the meeting that he hasn't been working through.
Q    And then a FOIA-Fed question -- it was this FOIA request to compel the Fed to release the banks that received some funding.  Yesterday Kagan supported the Fed's decision not to go ahead with an appeal on that.  How does this square with transparency? I mean, Kagan is, like, allowing the Fed not to release these names.  You guys talk about transparency all the time.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, we don't just talk about transparency.  We're the first administration in the history of the country, Hans, to let you know, beginning soon on a regular basis, who comes into the White House, who they come to meet with, and how long they're here.  The Fed is an independent agency, and I'm not going to get into discussing an ongoing case that's --
Q    It's independent, but Kagan, as part of your administration, is supporting their actions.
MR. GIBBS:  In her responsibility as a Solicitor General, as part of the Department of Justice.  But I'm not going to get into discussing an active --
Q    Robert, a couple on Afghanistan and Iran, but I just want to follow up on Chuck's question about -- in general, doesn’t the White House believe it's proper in most cases, if not all cases, necessary for the opposition party, in this case Republicans, to be involved in a conference committee debate on a significant piece of legislation -- sort of melding of two large committee bills as is contemplated by Chairman Harkin.
MR. GIBBS:  The White House and the Finance Committee have been actively working with Republicans for months; 200 some amendments -- or almost 200 amendments were approved by Republicans on the HELP bill.  Again, the same answer I gave yesterday; we're happy to work with Republicans that are happy to work with us.  But understand, Major, we -- I got asked yesterday about House leadership and why they haven’t had a chance to talk to the President, when three months ago they declared what the President was doing was something they couldn't support.  It's unclear to me what it is they'd do in a meeting -- reiterate the fact that they, three months ago, said they didn’t support what the President was doing?  The President reads that in the newspaper. 
I think the President has worked every step of the way constructively with Republicans that also want to work constructively with him.  I don't think that definition has fit each and every member up there on Capitol Hill.
Q    On Afghanistan, yesterday in here we talked a little bit about the political context of timing of how long the President was to decide, but I want to ask you about something that may have actually come up in yesterday's meeting that's more strategic.  Does the President believe -- and his military advisors say he has some breathing space now on the idea of whether or not to send additional combat forces because as Secretary Gates said, even if he were to decide tonight they couldn't arrive to theater until January, and that typically is a much less active military climate in Afghanistan.  So I'm just curious if you've evaluated that.
MR. GIBBS:  I think the scenario that you outlined is absolutely factual.  I'll tell you as I've told others, there was not a discussion last night about additional troops.
Q    In any way, shape or form?
MR. GIBBS:  Not in the three hours.
Q    But would it be fair to say that within those who are advising the President there is this idea of a window of opportunity where a decision, whatever -- is there some room for that to be made?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think --
Q    -- as a tactical reality.
MR. GIBBS:  I think the scenario that you outlined is certainly factual.  I think there have been concerns brought up about the availability of troops in the near term, as well.  I think all of those are certainly factors that will have to go into a decision-making process at a point in which we get to that discussion.  We weren't at that point last evening.
Q    On Iran, there was -- in addition to the plenary session there was a bilateral conversation between Mr. Burns and Mr. Jalili.  This constitutes the highest-level engagement of the two countries diplomatically since 1979.  Do you want to comment about the weight the American people should give to that, what it signals?  Is that in itself, according to the White House, a positive development about where this might be heading?
MR. GIBBS:  Understand that Mr. Burns outlined again for the Iranians the case that the P5-plus-1 outlined to the broader group earlier in the day, and reiterated to them that -- the responsibilities that they have.  There was -- Mr. Burns brought up the issue of human rights.  And I think again, this can be productive if, and only if, the Iranians decide to live up to those responsibilities.  At a point in which they make a decision not to, then I think not only will America know, but the world will know that they're not interested in dealing with this on the level.
Q    Also, at his press conference, Mr. Jalili said, there are a number of other issues the Iranians believe are essential to these talks.  He listed drug trafficking, human trafficking, the international financial meltdown, regional security issues.  All of those are, I would assume, from the U.S. perspective, side issues or minimal issues next to the future of the Iranian nuclear program.  How would your rate them, and do you consider that an attempt to drag or slow these conversations down?
MR. GIBBS:  I think the point of these conversations is clearly about Iran's nuclear program.  That's what the team from the P5-plus-1 spent that time talking to the Iranians about, and that's what we expect concrete action to follow on promises that they made.
Q    Raising these issues, is that a distraction or a diversion or something to undermine these talks?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, I think the Iranians know the responsibilities that they have to live up to, and now we expect them to take the steps that they agreed to with the IAEA today.
Q    I was wondering if the President feels that at some point before making his next big decision on Afghanistan, if he needs to visit the country himself, since he has not yet as President.
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if anything -- I think this got mentioned earlier in the week and I hesitate to -- I hesitated then to talk about it.  I don't know if anything is on the schedule.  I think obviously the President believes that we're getting a lot of good information from all sides of this, and we're going to take the time to make a methodical decision.
Q    On a separate question about the Olympics, what is he going on this long flight to prepare for what he needs to do during his short time there?  What type of briefings --
MR. GIBBS:  Sit-ups, push-ups.  (Laughter.)
Q    What type of briefings has he been given, and who is briefing him, and what does he need to accomplish?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think obviously he's going to make an appeal for -- on behalf of all of America to showcase America to the world in 2016.  He will work on remarks that he'll make as part of the IOC presentation -- I'm sorry, part of the American IOC presentation, and will likely continue to make calls to members that are going to vote.
Q    Has he been focusing on leaders beyond the leaders from African countries, or has that been his primary focus?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, he's -- some from there and some from other parts of the world. 
Q    Will it be like a caucus, one and two and three process?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if they've got everybody lined up quite like that, and -- a little bit, a little bit.
Q    Why can General McChrystal not come back and brief Congress?
MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry?
Q    A number of members of Congress have asked General McChrystal to come brief them on Afghanistan.  And I believe they were told that he needed to stay in Afghanistan.  Yet he was in London giving a speech this morning.  Senator McCain was particularly vehement on this today.  Why can't General --
MR. GIBBS:  I've not seen Senator McCain's comments on that.
Q    It's okay with the President if he comes back?
MR. GIBBS:  I'd certainly like to see the comments and --
Q    Robert, Senate Majority -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for this; congressman after congressman have called for this; Joe Lieberman has called for this -- there's a whole bunch of people.  Does the White House --
MR. GIBBS:  I'll be happy to look at those -- I'll be happy --
Q    -- this has been for days.
Q    We're not asking about the comments, we're asking --
Q    About the idea of General McChrystal --
MR. GIBBS:  And I'd like to see the comments.  But at that point, I could comment for you.
Q    But, forget the comments.  Should General McChrystal be able to come back to Congress and testify?
Q    Should he testify before the President makes a decision I guess is what --
MR. GIBBS:  I'm happy to look at the comments.
Q    This is not about comments.  This is about the General -- is General McChrystal going to testify before --
MR. GIBBS:  I'm happy to look at what the basis of your question is and get back to you. 
Q    A couple of personnel questions.  The White House today is announcing that the NSC's Chief of Staff Mark Lippert is going to be leaving to return to active duty in the Navy.  Does this move have any underlying differences of opinion or a broader personnel move about it, or is this entirely a personal decision by Mark?
MR. GIBBS:  Mark has been with the President since probably January or February of 2005, when he first joined -- when the President first came to the U.S. Senate.  Mark's been in the Reserves.  Mark was activated in -- some time in the spring of 2007.  I remember when Mark told me he was going to Iraq, we were in a parking lot outside of a high school in Iowa, and he wanted to tell me before he told Senator Obama, because he wanted to see -- he said to me, "I don't want him to think I'm letting you guys down" -- somebody who was going to serve our country in Iraq.
Q    -- or is there anything else going on?
MR. GIBBS:  He and I had a discussion.  Mark, again, served our country, as hundreds of thousands of men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places throughout this country have, admirably and bravely.  Mark has wanted for a long time to return to service.  He and I had a discussion before the end of the campaign in a barn on an apple farm in New Hampshire.  We were inside because it was raining outside.  And Mark wanted my opinion because he said, "I'm struggling, if we win, about going to the White House, because the truth is I might also want to go back to the Navy."  He talked to the President about that before he made a decision to come here, and I think Mark just wants to serve right now in the Navy as an intelligence officer.
Q    I just want to do my second personnel question, which is on Peter Galbraith.  Yesterday the administration said that his firing was a U.N. personnel matter, but my sort of follow-up question is, does the White House support the U.N.'s decision, did the White House get a heads-up, and did the White House protest or accept the decision --
MR. GIBBS:  I'd push you to the U.N. as a U.N. personnel matter. 
Did you have a follow-up?
Q    I had a question about Afghanistan.  You mentioned intelligence -- getting an in-depth intelligence briefing yesterday.  How much of that discussion in the intelligence briefing there and just the broader Afghanistan discussion is about trying to really get down into the details of how much the al Qaeda-Taliban threat is a transnational threat versus a regional threat?  Does that make sense?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean, look, without -- as you can imagine, without going into a ton of detail on what was discussed inside that room, obviously that was something that was discussed for quite some time as a part of yesterday's briefing with the President.
Q    Robert, two questions.  One, Chicago.  On Wednesday -- mostly saying something to communities and to the nation, we're watching, we're observing, we see -- or is there going to be policy, something with teeth, for these school kids who -- school kids and kids in the community --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm going to let Secretary Duncan and Attorney General Holder go, and may or may not have something out of that, but I'm going to let them do that.  I would say -- we talked about this yesterday -- I think there's obviously things that all levels of government can do, all levels of -- and partly what we can do obviously through something like a COPS program is provide more police officers on the streets -- understanding, though, that you are not going to be able to legislate an end to the type of shocking and horrific behavior that we saw that happened in Chicago in the beating to death of that honor student.
Q    Did the President actually see it?  I know you said you saw it.
MR. GIBBS:  I will ask him.  I don't know if he's seen the particular tape.  I know he mentioned to us in the Oval Office that -- how much of a concern the incident was to him.
Q    And on my second question --
MR. GIBBS:  Actually, your third, but go ahead.  (Laughter.)
It was weighing on my conscience.  Go ahead.
Q    Well, I'm glad to know you have a conscience.  But anyway --
Q    Ooooh!
MR. GIBBS:  Go ahead, see.  Go ahead, see.  Apparently, it hadn't weighed enough that I'm still giving you a third question. But go ahead.
Q    Okay, anyway, going back to Chip's question and I asked you yesterday -- about gasoline -- could you tell me the significance of the role of gasoline in these discussions, and in this pressure --
MR. GIBBS:  No, I understand.  And all I did with answering Chip's question and I think answering your question yesterday was, obviously, the administration and -- with the P5-plus-1, are looking at the possible next steps.  But I'm not going to get into the plusses and minuses of individual aspects of what might be involved in potential international sanctions.
Q    In response to the Galbraith firing, the chief rival to President Karzai said that fraud is victorious in Afghanistan now.  And the McChrystal report goes on at great length about corruption in the Afghan government.  What can the Obama administration do, as it weighs options in Afghanistan, about corruption in Afghanistan?  And if you don't deal with that, do you have a way of handling Afghanistan with a corrupt government in place?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, we talked a little bit about this in the last day or so.  In dealing specifically with the vote, obviously there are two -- there's an internal Afghan, and there's an international committee looking into allegations and evidence of fraud.  And our position continues to be that legitimate votes should all be counted, and those that aren't legitimate should be thrown out.  I think we're probably still several days away from a decision by each of those committees, and we certainly await that decision.
Look, I think without getting into a lot of specifics -- I'll reiterate what I said yesterday --
Q    We'll take specifics.
MR. GIBBS:  I understand -- that regardless of what decision ultimately comes from the administration, in concert with all of the players and actors that were in the Situation Room yesterday, I don't think you could find anybody with any international expertise that didn't strongly believe that you had to have a willing partner to make anything succeed in Afghanistan. 
We, as I've said, are not going to be there forever, which means the security of the Afghan people through either a security force or a police force is going to have to be the obligation and responsibility of the Afghan government.  They've got to demonstrate to the world their ability to receive international aid and put it to use not for cronyism but for worthwhile development projects that, through economic development, will increase and sustain the security of the Afghan people.  Without a willing partner, one that is free of corruption and transparent, I don't think any situation or any series of meetings can adequately solve for the Afghan people the problem that that would contribute to.
Thanks, guys.
END                                                                                                                                           2:19 P.M. EDT 

Close Transcript