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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
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Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
May 6, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:38 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: All right, guys, let's come to order here. In an effort to keep you on your toes and to prevent the normal boredom of having to listen to me each and every day, we have a special guest, the Secretary of State, to give us a readout on her meetings this morning with President Karzai and President Zardari.

Madam Secretary.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Robert. You know, I successfully avoided this room for eight years. (Laughter.) But I'm very pleased to be here to discuss the series of meetings that we had this morning as part of our second trilateral with delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and this time led by their respective Presidents.

I think the takeaway is that this process is producing some very promising early signs. The level of cooperation between the governments of the two countries is increasing. The confidence-building that is necessary for this relationship to turn into tangible cooperation is moving forward. And I think today's series of meetings is another step along that road.

As you know, earlier we met in a bilateral with both President Zardari and President Karzai, and then we had the large delegations meeting. So let me just quickly run through some of what occurred and then I'd be glad to take your questions.

I met early this morning at the Willard Hotel with President Zardari and had a chance to see for the first time in 10 years his son, Bilawal Zardari -- actually, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. I had not seen him since he was a young boy. And so it was really a personal call that I wanted to make on both of them.

At the formal bilateral that I held with President Zardari at the State Department, I reaffirmed our government's strong support for him as the democratically elected President. Being able to say "democratically elected President of Pakistan" is not a common phrase, and I think it's imperative that we support President Zardari and work with him as he extends the reach of the government not only on security, as essential as that is, but also on the range of needs of the Pakistani people.

With President Karzai, it was a very future-oriented conversation. We talked about the necessity to take real, concrete actions to make the kind of progress that Afghanistan desperately needs to see to really deliver for the people of the country.

In both meetings, I thought each President was very forthcoming. We discussed a range of issues that are important going forward, but we kept the focus on what we're actually going to do. I told each that coming out of this trilateral meeting, we will basically have work plans. We're going to be very specific. We don't want any misunderstanding; we don't want any mixed signals; we want to know what we have agreed to, what they have agreed to, how we're going to proceed toward meeting those goals and objectives and timetables that will be utilized to keep all of us focused on the job ahead.

At the trilateral meeting, we had very distinguished delegations from both countries; in addition, Secretary Vilsack, Director Panetta, Director Mueller, Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, Ambassador Holbrooke, Ambassador Anne Patterson, Under Secretary Flournoy, Acting Administrator of USAID Fulgham, and General Petraeus.

The format of the meetings were to hear from our Obama administration officials what the specifics of what the next day's meetings, tomorrow, will focus on in each instance. So, for example, Secretary Vilsack kicked it off because, as you know from our strategic review, we think it's imperative to focus on the agricultural sector. We certainly intend to provide assistance with issues ranging from water rights to anti-erosion measures, to specific seeds that can grow alternative crops in Afghanistan, to continue to help the agricultural sector in Pakistan, as well.

I thought it was a very significant meeting, in some ways a breakthrough meeting. The high-level participation from our government was very important, and the high-level participation from each of the delegations. A number of the comparable ministers had never met each other. They may have talked on the phone about border security or police training or intelligence sharing, but they hadn't actually met in several instances.

I was extremely impressed by the candor that was really evidenced throughout the meeting. And it was a physical manifestation of our strategy, of viewing Afghanistan and Pakistan as a regional challenge but also a regional opportunity.

The Trade Transit Agreement memorandum of understanding that was signed today commits both countries to finalizing a trade transit agreement that deals with all of the obstacles and problems of goods and people crossing borders. It was started 43 years ago, and we're determined to bring it to a resolution. The kind of economic development that will spring up if we see increased trade and commerce between the two countries is one of the best ways that we can provide alternatives for those who might otherwise be dragged into this conflict.

We will continue these meetings at the ministerial level. When, tomorrow, the people of both delegations meet with their counterparts in our government, they will be setting up very specific follow-on planning.

I'm very optimistic that this process is making a difference. I'm realistic enough to know that two meetings does not necessarily turn around the many difficult and complex challenges that confront these two countries and us and our relationship to them. One of the comments that was made struck me, that geography binds us, but we were not connected before. They basically stood on both sides of a border that neither agrees to because it was imposed on them; it was not ever reached by the governments of either country. And yet they have so much both in common and they face this common threat, and they have to make common cause to reach a common objective.

Both Presidents spoke very movingly about the threat and dangers of terrorism. I think that they are committed to this conflict being resolved and their being able to produce more peace and security.

An ancient Afghan proverb says, "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." I think that patience is not always in great supply inside our own government, or even inside our own country. But I think in this instance, the kind of patient strategy that the President has adopted and the steps that we are all taking to implement this strategy is the only way forward. It may not give you a story every day, but hopefully it will give us all a better story next year and the years to come.

So I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to make these short comments, and I'd be glad to answer your questions.

MR. GIBBS: Jennifer.

Q: Thank you, Madam Secretary. You talked about this being a breakthrough and about the focus being on what you can do, what you will do -- specific things. Can you list any specific things that either leader agreed to go back to their country and do to make the kinds of changes that are so desperately needed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: There were such commitments, but I think we would rather talk about those after conferring with each of the Presidents and probably at the end of this two-day process, because there have been commitments made, there will be much more in-depth work done tomorrow to see how we're going to realize the way forward on those commitments. And I think it would be more appropriate to wait to talk specifically.

Q: -- that on behalf of this country, and perhaps --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.

Q: -- what the administration is committing to that we haven't already seen in these plans?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, some of it is very specific. If you look at agriculture, we're going to establish a training program, the Borlaug Fellows Training Program. You remember, Norm Borlaug was one of the architects of the Green Revolution, which transformed life in India and in other places. And we're going to do intensive training with Pakistani and Afghani agricultural experts and researchers and policymakers. We're going to establish a trilateral body to identify the cross-border water issues, one of the critical issues as to whether agriculture can be revitalized, particularly in Afghanistan.

With respect to economic commitments, both Afghanistan and Pakistan confirmed their commitment to the Central Asia/South Asia energy agreement. We're going to press ahead to try to help alleviate some of the blockades that exist for both countries getting reliable sources of energy, particularly electricity.

The Trade Transit Agreement is a commitment to a time line to adopt customs harmonization strategy, pass legislation and create the institutions necessary to prevent illegal transshipments, finalize the reconstruction opportunity zones that are part of the Kerry-Lugar legislation.

We are also looking to deepen our work on the cross-border issues, joint parliamentary exchanges and military training, border coordination centers. We want broader based law enforcement reform, a vigorous anti-corruption agenda that removes the impunity that too often has existed in the past. And they committed to vigorous judicial reform and counterterrorism legislation and improving prison conditions. Those are just some of the things that are part of our dialogue going forward that they've already committed to working with us on.

Q: Madam Secretary, senior administration officials in recent weeks have swung between fairly sharp criticism and praise of the Afghan and Pakistani governments. You, yourself, said that the Pakistani government was at risk of abdicating to the Taliban. First, do you still believe that is the case? And do you see a risk of sending a mixed message to these partners at a time when both their cooperation are needed in combating the resurgent Taliban?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I'm actually quite impressed by the actions that the Pakistani government is now taking. I think that action was called for and action has been forthcoming.

This is a long, difficult struggle. And the leadership of Pakistan, both civilian and military, really had to work on significant paradigm shifts in order to be able to see this threat as those of us on the outside perceived it. And I think that has occurred, and I think that there is a resolve going forward. There are still some challenges in terms of assets and resources and approach toward dealing with not a standing army across a border, but the kind of insurgency and guerrilla warfare that is being waged against the legitimate authority of the Pakistani state.

I think that our resolve and our commitment to the democratically elected government is very, very firm. But we are also working to create an atmosphere and a reality of candor and openness between us. I think that is way overdue. A lot of lip service was paid in the past that did not translate into better lives, more safety, more security, economic development for the people of Pakistan.

So I think that we are very supportive. We are engaged in this process. We are committed to the strategy the President outlined, but we're also going to have a very open and honest relationship.

Q: The administration has recognized that part of -- a big part of the problem for Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban is that it remains militarily focused on its traditional enemy, India. What, if anything -- or why hasn't the administration taken greater action to help to normalize, improve relations between India and Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, everything in due time.

MR. GIBBS: Jake.

Q: Madam Secretary, as this plan was being developed, the U.S. believed that a lot of the insurgency issues were going to be in eastern Afghanistan. Obviously the problem has now emerged more heatedly in Pakistan. How has that affected this strategy of the U.S. as this summit came together?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Jake, I think that the wisdom of the approach that we took even before the President was inaugurated has been borne out by the events of the last months. We were determined to see Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region, as two countries that were dependent upon each other, influenced each other, and needed to figure out a way forward together. So, if anything, the fast-moving conflict and, frankly, the adaptability of the enemy that we are all fighting has demonstrated clearly the wisdom of that approach.

One of the other comments that was made today is that Afghanistan and Pakistan are conjoined twins -- and, in effect, they are. But they were never treated that way. They were kind of one-off: What are we going to do about Afghanistan, and, oh, by the way, what are we going to do about Pakistan? And we have a history there, as you know. We have a history of having been deeply involved and then having withdrawn. And so I think seeing the two countries as connected geographically as they are, and in this common struggle against al Qaeda and the Taliban and their allies, has given us the flexibility to be able to move more agilely than we did before.

Q: Madam Secretary, President Zardari said the following yesterday. He said -- on the U.S. relationship -- "I think it needs more effort; I think it needs more understanding on both sides." What is your understanding of his greatest concerns, from his point of view, that you picked up on in these meetings today -- on the U.S. relationship?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Chuck, I think that's a very fair statement. I think that it does require more understanding on both sides. One size does not fit all. You don't take a strategy from one part of the world and impose it on another part. You don't look at each country just through the prism of the terrorist threat and expect to really understand what's the best way to combat that, and also to begin removing conditions that gave rise to it.

And I think that in my conversations with President Zardari -- whom I've known a very long time and was a great admirer and friend of his wife -- if you talk with him, as I have, about what he faced coming into office -- he's been President for less than eight months, and he inherited a very difficult and unmanageable situation. We have a pretty well functioning government. We've changed directions policy-wise, but you don't have to start from scratch -- and so I think a little more understanding on our part about what he confronted.

You know, he has successfully navigated some real crises. He made a very brave decision when he first came in to raise the price of wheat. Might not sound like a big deal, but it was a huge political challenge. But by doing so, Pakistan is now self-sufficient in wheat again. You know, you have to look at what he was facing: an economic crisis, a military-terrorist crisis, a legitimacy crisis -- just an enormous array of challenges. And I think if you're more understanding of both the history and the conditions, you not only can perhaps empathize a little bit, but be smarter in the suggestions you make, understanding what the consequences will be. And that's what we are trying to do through this process.

Q: What are his asks? What are his asks specifically of us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, you know. They're very public: more economic aid; more assistance with the military and police in terms of what they need to now go after this new enemy; what I just sort of read off in response to an earlier question about the sort of assistance we're going to offer, from agriculture to the economy to intelligence. That's what they're looking for.

Q: Madam Secretary, a couple of questions. One, the Zardari government said it wanted time to have this negotiated arrangement in Swat Valley to see what would happen. They've now seen what has happened and are responding militarily. There are some reports in the region that the civilians on the ground now see the government in a different light, and saw that they tried to negotiate, saw what the Taliban did, and there's a backlash against the Taliban. Do you believe that was an inherent wisdom that maybe the U.S. did not detect before in the strategy?

And number two, with the sense that the refugee crisis in that area -- now that the Pakistan government has asked civilians to try to leave -- is that going to be something the U.S. and both these nations are going to have to confront in the very near term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I'm sorry, say that again.

Q: Well, the military's advice being to try to exit parts of the Swat Valley because of a assumed military offensive -- will that create a humanitarian issue that all three of these countries are going to have to deal with in a very near term?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You know, Major, I'm not going to second-guess the approach that was taken by the government of Pakistan vis-à-vis the Taliban in Swat Valley. Whatever the motive behind it might have been, the reality on the ground soon proved otherwise; that one had to confront the increasing influence and geographic spread of the Taliban. There aren't that many Taliban fighters, but they are so intimidating and they are so ruthless that a very few can control a large swath of territory, which is something that I think everybody learned in watching this unfold.

So the other point to remember -- it goes back to Chuck's earlier question -- is there have been areas of Pakistan that have been ungoverned for a very long time. The British Empire did not govern them; no Pakistani government, civilian or military, attempted to govern them; and they were basically left alone, and they left the central government alone -- it was kind of a unspoken agreement.

But what nobody bargained for was foreign fighters and foreign money and a foreign ideology that would in some way link up disparate elements within these regions into a network, a syndicate, if you will, of extremist groups. And I think that has changed -- that's another one of the paradigm shifts. You know, you could leave those folks alone and they took care of their own business, but that was fine, we were okay in Lahore and Islamabad and Karachi and other places. But as they became more aggressive, and as they kind of broke out of the traditional model of how they had stayed close to home and basically controlled their own surroundings, that produced a new challenge.

And I think that it's part of the change in attitude that we're seeing in the Pakistani military and intelligence services, and in the civilian government.

Q: And the issue --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we're obviously concerned about that. We're going to watch it and see what we can do to help.

MR. GIBBS: She's got a couple of important meetings she's got to get to, so we're going to let her go.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: Thank you for coming.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thanks, everybody.

Q: Come again. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: We will endeavor to find you an additional special guest for later on today in order to keep you continually entertained.

Q: Or you think you will -- in all seriousness?

MR. GIBBS: That is in all seriousness.

Q: Is this going to be after the President's statement?

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q: Okay. Here?

Q: On location or --

MR. GIBBS: Here.

Q: Okay.

MR. GIBBS: Bill, on location? Yes, we'll be right back here. Don't go anywhere.

Q: Senior administration official?

Q: Maybe a secret guest?

MR. GIBBS: It's top secret. I'd have to kill you. That would be awkward. (Laughter.)

Let me start with a couple of quick announcements, and then we will get rolling on other stuff. I want to give you a brief update, from our perspective, on the Chrysler situation.

We're extremely pleased to see last night Judge Arthur Gonzalez approved a prompt sale process for the Chrysler-Fiat alliance. The judge agreed with Chrysler and the overwhelming majority of its stakeholders that this process will provide a fair and orderly transaction that is in the best interest of the company and its creditors.

A final hearing on the transaction, which will lift the new Chrysler-Fiat alliance out of bankruptcy, is scheduled for May 27th, less than a month after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While there is still a lot of work to do, this development gives us further confidence that Chrysler's bankruptcy will be quick and orderly, as the President stated last week, and that the company will emerge from this process within the 30-to-60-day period we originally discussed.

This is good news for Chrysler's major stakeholders, including the secured lenders and the UAW, representing 95 percent of Chrysler's outstanding debt, along with the communities and workers that rely on this iconic American company.

During this restructuring period the government is going to continue to back the warranties of new Chrysler cars and is working closely with Chrysler's management to help ensure that the company emerges stronger and more competitive.

One other quick note: The President spoke yesterday afternoon, about 5:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, with Senator Sessions about the process and the upcoming Supreme Court nomination, and said that he wanted to continue to consult with him throughout this process. The President -- I don't have specific readouts on this, but the President obviously saw additional Judiciary Committee members this morning and this afternoon in the form of Senator Grassley and Senator Coburn. And I believe the President intended to speak with them about this process, as well.

All right, now that the pre-game is over, yes, ma'am.

Q: Gee, I'm all out of questions. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: This is good. I'll have multiple guests from now on. This is -- wow, this is awesome. I'll get a La-Z-Boy right here and kick back. (Laughter.)

Q: Someone in every day. No, seriously, I just want to expand on what I was asking before. She said there were commitments on both sides. Can you speak a little bit more to what they are? Is there a process by which you guys can give us more insight into that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get -- obviously I think what you heard from Secretary Clinton -- as I said, we'll do some readouts of this meetings, the meetings that the President is specifically having. As you know, the schedule is -- will be first a bilateral meeting with President Karzai here, followed by a bilateral meeting with President Zardari, and then a trilateral meeting in the Cabinet Room this afternoon. Then he'll make a public statement later this afternoon.

We'll have somebody come brief you on those meetings and also give you a readout after the two-day period, which I think can provide some insight on that.

Q: I'm just curious, why is the President not appearing with both the leaders for those remarks afterwards?

MR. GIBBS: Both those leaders will be with the President for --

Q: And are they speaking or just him?

MR. GIBBS: No, just him.

Q: So why not have all of them say something publically about their meetings?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I tuned on to a couple of news channels today and seen some public speaking, so I think everybody's viewpoints will be plenty aired by the conclusion of the meetings.

Yes, sir.

Q: Sorry, could you elaborate on the Secretary's response, "in due time," when asked whether --

MR. GIBBS: I bring in a special guest and you guys put me in a position to elaborate?

Q: -- made to improve between Pakistan and India -- is there something planned?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, we're going to give you a readout of what the President discusses with the leaders separately and together at the conclusion of this. I would point you to what -- I think the President brought this up proactively in the news conference last week. Obviously given the security challenges ahead in Pakistan, the President believes and the administration believes focusing on the security challenges within the country that are being posed right now make a lot more sense than stockpiling troops on the border.

Q: But is the U.S. going to be --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of what the President is going to say, but we'll have some readouts on that.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Robert, do you have any more information on that civilian casualty count in Afghanistan? Because there are some quotes from General David McKiernan saying the U.S. might not have been responsible.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'll simply say -- I don't have a lot more information except to in many ways reiterate what the Secretary said earlier. Obviously our government regrets the loss of any civilian life. This is something that we have sought to work on with these two countries, and we're continuing to look into the situation.

Q: So we shouldn't take her regret as an admission of culpability?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the government expresses the regret about the loss of civilian life.

Yes, sir.

Q: Does the President or the White House have a reaction to the Governor of Maine signing a same-sex marriage bill?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President's position on same-sex marriages has been talked about and discussed.

Q: He opposes same-sex marriage.

MR. GIBBS: He supports civil unions.

Q: Does that mean that he's going to say or do anything against what the citizens of Maine --

MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. I think the President believes this is an issue that's best addressed by the states.

Yes, sir.

Q: There was a dinner that was hosted by the previous President with the Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan that was described as famously going nowhere afterward by a senior member of this administration. And there's a long history --

MR. GIBBS: That's why we switched it to like a mid-afternoon -- (laughter.)

Q: Right. And there's a long history of Washington summits, as you know, that after the leaders go back home, not much happens. Why is this going to be different, and what is the President going to commit to do after this happens to make sure that doesn't happen?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I think you lay out a good admonition, but at the same time, I think our approach to this situation recognizes that the only way we're going to make progress is to have that continued engagement. The President, in outlining our new strategy in dealing with the region, noted that we were going to have sustained diplomatic engagement.

This is not the first time that the administration has brought together representatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan together at the White House. Those first set of meetings happened in February. This will continue to happen -- I think sometimes it gets minimized, but I think it's important to understand -- as the Secretary said, in bringing together people like Director Panetta, Director Mueller, Secretary Vilsack and others, to bring their counterparts in the Afghan and Pakistani governments together to begin a level of cooperation.

And I think the quote that the Secretary used, that geography binds them -- bound them, but there's very little connection between the two, I think is something that we hope to make great progress on -- not just as the Secretary talked about, in ensuring economic development, ensuring agricultural development so that we can get away from what we've seen, particularly in Afghanistan, but, as I talked about here yesterday, and I think you'll hear the President speak about later today, and that is a genuine security cooperation and alliance that recognizes and understands the threat from al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and the fact that that threat must be met by continued cooperation to address it.

Obviously this administration has put forward a fairly robust plan for helping this region, increasing the resources that are available for development, understanding that we have challenges in both of these two countries that cannot and won't be addressed simply by the military alone. I think the President recognizes the severity of the situation, the concern that we all have, and is taking steps to address it on many levels. I think this is the first of many, many meetings that will be held in order to forge that cooperation.

Q: There have been reports and suggestions that this administration has less than total confidence in these two Presidents. How would you describe the confidence that this administration has in them?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I noted one story said we were taking a hands-off approach. We in the press department have orchestrated a fairly awkward photo op if that's the case -- which I don't think is the case, obviously. I think you've heard many people say over the past several days, and it's true, this is the democratically elected Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We must do all that we can and all that is in our power to work with them to address the challenges that they face. And we'll do that.

Q: And the level of confidence in them is --

MR. GIBBS: We are confident that we're going to make progress to address those challenges.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, just a quick follow-up on your answer to Chip. You seemed to go out of your way not to mention the Taliban. You say ”al Qaeda and extremists allies." Is there any reason for that, or should we just not -- is that too much --

MR. GIBBS: No, I mean I -- let me replace it with al Qaeda, the Taliban and their extremist allies.

Q: Fair enough. Today the President had lunch with Senators Baucus and Grassley. Last week you released a letter for us that Secretary Sebelius had sent to the two of them, talking about health care. At what point do we get more than just sort of the President's goals, but sort of the parameters of what he'd like to see the health care plan look at. Can you give us a readout of this luncheon today on health care?

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to the President specifically about the lunch. I will -- if you'll make a note, I'll endeavor to do that when we come back this afternoon.

Look, the President is involved in and active in -- and you've heard him talk repeatedly about his priority to get something done on health care reform this year. Obviously the committee process on both the House and Senate side are going to work through some serious level of the details and we're involved with them in parts of that.

I think the President laid out a plan as a starting point during the campaign. I think you've heard him discuss the important goals he has to cut costs for families that are watching their payments skyrocket each year; the concern for those that don't have health insurance; some steps that were taken to speed reform and cover people in the Recovery Act. All of those things are efforts that we're working on and we're working with Congress to develop.

Q: Do you anticipate that the plan that Senator Baucus sort of coordinates will be one that you guys will feel comfortable with?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's see what they come up with -- again, understanding that there's a process in the House, a process in the Senate. There are stakeholders that are involved in discussions with both the White House and Congress, ranging from organized labor to hospitals, doctors, nurses, the pharmaceutical industry -- all of them are active participants in this process.

Q: So Wyden shouldn't feel upset that you're sitting with Baucus first --

MR. GIBBS: No, I assume Senator Wyden, as a member of the Finance Committee, understands the utility of speaking with the Chairman and the Ranking Member. I think that's a fair assumption.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: What are our real goal in all of this? Are they a threat against -- I mean, do the Pakistanis, the Afghans feel the threat that we think is there?

MR. GIBBS: I think there --

Q: And can we stop the anti-Americanism in this region?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take both of those. Obviously I think the President believes, and as I said, is greatly concerned about the security and the threat situation. I think we've seen over the course of the past few weeks a greater understanding and heightening of awareness by all involved of the deteriorating security situation. It's what caused the President in Afghanistan to send more troops. And I think obviously discussions will be had today with Pakistan about addressing the security situation that both threatens the Pakistanis and the United States of America.

The goal is to continue and build on a cooperative agreement and alliance to address the challenges and the security threats that we both face, and understanding that working together to ensure that we address the challenges both diplomatically, militarily and economically, that we can make progress in this region.

And I'm sorry, the second one was -- oh, anti-Americanism. Look, I think this administration believes that we can be a positive partner in this region of the world and in both of these two countries, and that we can, through the help I just talked about -- economically and diplomatically, as well as helping in the security situation -- that we can make progress on any of that sentiment that exists.

Yes, sir.

Q: I'd like to follow up on your response to Chip's question. You've referred to the -- you've responded with your assessment of the confidence in the progress that would be made, but he asked you about the confidence in the two leaders. What is your confidence in Karzai? What is your confidence in Zardari?

MR. GIBBS: We're confident -- we're confident that they understand the situation, and we're confident that, working together, we can make progress on this situation.

Again, these are the elected Presidents of their two countries. The President believes, because after the review and outlining the strategy, that if we work together we can make progress. And I think that's what both the American people and the people of both Afghanistan and Pakistan endeavor to see, and that's what the President is working on.

Q: What's your confidence level in their commitment to do what the U.S. wants them to do?

MR. GIBBS: I think they'll have greater discussions about that today. I think, again, there's greater recognition of the security situation. And as I've mentioned up here before, I think both leaders understand quite keenly the security situation and the threat posed because in many ways they've seen it up close. I mean, as I've said before, President Zardari is here because of the tragic violence by extremists that killed his wife. President Karzai has had attempts on his life, as well. I think both of these two leaders and certainly the people of these countries understand what's at stake.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Two questions. One, with the stress test results coming out tomorrow, we know that several of these banks are going to be requiring new capital. Does the President feel comfortable leaving current management in place?

And secondly, on the Supreme Court, with Justice Ginsburg today -- saying in an interview that came out today, saying that she believed that more women are needed on the Court, does that have any bearing on the President's --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take the second one first. I mean, look, I think I've outlined in pretty good detail what the President is looking for. We're happy to hear from all that have opinions on this. The President has been reaching out to, as I've said, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, and I think the President will pick somebody he believes is best suited to carry on the tradition that is required of the Court.

In terms of the stress tests, I don't want to get ahead of results. I don't want to -- obviously tomorrow the regulators that conducted these important assessments and the Treasury Department will make available these findings. And in terms of what steps, obviously there will be a period of time -- in terms of increased capital, there will be a period of time to put together a plan and then execute a plan to increase the need that the tests denote each of these banks is required to do.

In terms of management changes, obviously in both the case of financial institutions and in the case of auto companies, the government has -- and each of the current and past administrations have weighed in on changes at the CEO level and at the board of directors level to ensure that going forward they felt that the management was in place to remedy the situation and ensure long-term viability without continued government assistance. We'll have to wait and see what these individual tests bring.

Q: Will management changes be announced tomorrow?

MR. GIBBS: I won't get ahead of where these guys are in terms of the tests.

Laura.

Q: On the budget release tomorrow. Is the overall message from the administration going to be focused on areas of new investment that were not announced in the first round? Or would the focus be on areas cutting of existing programs due to the deficit?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you'll get a chance later on today and tomorrow morning to get a look at the budget and to understand that the beginning process of going through the budget and identifying -- as the President said repeatedly in the campaign -- identifying and ending programs that are unneeded and don't work. I think you'll get a clear assessment of the progress that's been made in the hundred or so days to go through those. And I think that's one of the main points that you'll see us highlight in the next 24 hours on that.

Q: Thank you. And can you tell us anything about the meeting with Senator Coburn, what the substance of the discussion was?

MR. GIBBS: I have not touched base with the President on that, but I will do Coburn and the lunch when we come back for our p.m. briefing.

Yes, sir.

Q: Robert, two issues. To what degree does the President agree with the Justice Department report yesterday that it might be best not to prosecute the Bush administration lawyers on the issue of --

MR. GIBBS: I've not talked to the President about this.

Q: Is that a way, possibly, to do something and not look backward but look forward?

MR. GIBBS: Well, this is a report that's being conducted at the appropriate place, an independent office in the Justice Department. They'll make an independent analysis. As you have heard me and the President say countless number of times, the President doesn’t decide who abides by and who breaks the law -- that's what the Justice Department does. And this review is being conducted by an independent department in the Justice Department. And I would refer you to them for a particular comment.

Q: Why is it taking five years?

MR. GIBBS: Pardon me?

Q: For at least five years this --

MR. GIBBS: I can only speak for the last hundred or so days -- (laughter) -- thankfully.

Q: Hurricane season begins in about three weeks. There is a fight going on with one particular senator on the Republican side in Louisiana and your FEMA nominee. Is the administration/President doing anything to resolve that? And to what degree is the administration concerned about this logjam?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, Major, as you appropriately point out, many of us were -- I spent two of the three hours, but many people spent three hours on Monday here going through an exercise of a government response to a hurricane slamming into the coast of the United States. Obviously it's a scenario that we're all well familiar with.

As you mentioned, appropriately, we're three weeks from hurricane season, beginning the first of June. And we have nominated somebody that has a stellar bipartisan record, originally nominated by Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. He is somebody that deserves immediate Senate confirmation, not political posturing from a senator from Louisiana who should understand as well as anybody what's at stake in responding to a hurricane. And we expect that he'll be confirmed quickly.

Q: Has the President done anything to reach out to --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if the President --

Q: He has what he regards as significant policy questions that have been not answered in this intervening two months since the hearings. Are you doing anything to resolve that, to put it in a different light?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know if the President has spoken directly with Senator Vitter. I know they're going -- I think there will be an effort to bring up this nomination again in the Senate today. I think I would let Senator Vitter know that the best way to get moving on any concerns that he has with FEMA is to get somebody of the utmost regard at the helm of FEMA to make progress. And I think his constituents would expect that same level of professionalism.

Q: You took Mark's question yesterday on the status of the video flyover. What's the status?

MR. GIBBS: The President -- I'm sorry -- the report I believe will be concluded at some point this week. We'll release its findings and release a photo.

Yes.

Q: Robert, I wanted to go back to Afghanistan -- Afghanistan/Pakistan, particularly Pakistan for a second. Secretary Clinton talked about coming up with agreements after these meetings on economic commitment, trade, reconstruction, opportunity zones. All of these seem a little bit outside of the core problem right now. Do you have -- do you expect that when these meetings are over you'll be any closer to any kind of agreement on the fundamental issue of getting the Pakistani army to move its troops from the India border -- more than a token number -- from the Indian border to --

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said earlier, I think that process or that discussion is likely to come up in these meetings. You heard the President address it last week in his press conference, and you know his feeling on the priority that currently exists in Pakistan. So we'll see if we've got anything to add to that at the end of the day.

At the same time, I don't want to -- and I don't think you were -- but I don't want to minimize that this is a complex, multilayered problem. This is not a -- there's not a one-step solution to dealing with the challenges in this region or in either of these countries. As we make progress on extremists, we also have to make progress on development and economic issues, as well as security issues, in order to solve the challenges that we face. And I think this starts in earnest that process.

Yes, sir.

Q: On Guantanamo, the Republican leader in the Senate, as well as the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, are asking the Attorney General to disclose to Congress what its plans are for the detainees at Guantanamo and I believe also Bagram. Is the White House talking to the Justice Department about reaching out to Congress and Republicans in Congress to share with them some details about this? And on a broader level, on the same issue, the Republicans are starting to say now that there's no plan about what to do with these guys and you can't release, but you can't also try them. Is the administration confident that they can come to a conclusion on this? Do you have any kind of time frame at this point?

MR. GIBBS: Well, no time frame or announcements other than the review that the President ordered at the very beginning of his administration is ongoing. I know the Justice Department and many players throughout government and the White House are involved daily on this issue.

I'll check in terms of outreach to Republicans. I know there have been discussions, but I will check at exactly what level. But the President and his team are working on the review and, again, the many decisions that have to be made over the course of the year period that the President outlined in his original executive order.

Q: Are you familiar, though, that the Republicans are saying Justice Holder -- I'm sorry, Attorney General Holder went to Europe -- (laughter) --

MR. GIBBS: Do you have an announcement? (Laughter.)

Q: -- the AG went to Europe and he talked about some of the plans apparently for what to do with these guys. I mean, is there a thinking here at the White House that these things that were talked about apparently behind closed doors need to be talked about with members of Congress?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I know that -- I don't know when the last time Attorney General Holder testified in front of Congress; I don't think it was more than a couple weeks ago. I'm sure these issues came up. I don't have any reason to believe that the Attorney General would discuss things with our allies and not with -- our allies overseas and not with Republicans in Congress. But I'll check exactly as to when this --

Q: On the subject of Guantanamo, sort of, and also former CIA secret prisons, ghost detainees, are these issues that the Afghan and Pakistani leaders are being brought into while they're here? Are they being asked to take anybody who's being released, deported to a country? Do they have persons of interest who they're negotiating? Can you discuss that? Is that part of their discussions?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, but -- I have not seen a full itinerary, but I can check on that. Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Thank you.

MR. GIBBS: Let me take -- Goyal, I'll take one more.

Q: Thank you, sir. I have two question, quick, please. One, do you see a light at the end of the dark tunnel as far as Pakistan and Afghanistan terrorism is concerned, in those countries?

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, the last part -- the light at the end of the dark tunnel about --

Q: In Afghanistan and Pakistan as far as dealing with terrorism and threats to the NATO and of course the United States on the border?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think as I've outlined here, we've got a long way to go. The President understands the threat that exists and that the Presidents in Pakistan and Afghanistan understand those threats. Instead of making predications or timetables, I think it's important that all three work cooperatively together each step of the way to make progress. I don't think anybody is more impatient to see that progress happen than the President is here.

Thanks, guys. We'll be back a little bit later. Don't go anywhere.

Q: Thank you.

END 2:33 P.M. EDT



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," May 6, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86125.
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