White House Press Briefing — the latest

White House

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release March 24, 2014

 

PRESS BRIEFING

BY DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR

FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS BEN RHODES

 

Via Videoconference

 

3:52 P.M. CET

 

 

MR. CARNEY: Thank you for being here. Thank you for joining us on this trip. Ben Rhodes, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, is joining me today. He can go over the meetings the President has had today thus far as well as preview some of the meetings he will have later today. He’ll take questions on those subjects or any other subjects that you have for him and I will stand by for questions on other matters.

 

With that, I give you Ben Rhodes.

 

MR. RHODES: Thanks, everybody. And thanks for people joining us virtually. I’ll just give a brief readout of the President’s meetings this morning.

 

You saw his comments with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands after their meeting. I’d just note in particular that there was strong agreement in their meeting about the need to support the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian government; to continue to impose costs on Russia for its actions. And as one of our key allies here in Europe and in NATO, we’ll be consulting closely with the Dutch going forward.

 

We also very much welcome the announcement made today by the Dutch to join the effort that the United States is leading to end financing for coal-fired plants abroad as part of our efforts to combat climate change.

 

Turning to the meeting with President Xi of China, first of all, the President expressed his thanks, as he did publicly, for the welcome and hospitality the First Lady and his family has received in China. The President also indicated his condolences for the loss of life in the recent terrorist attack in China, and also noted our determination to work with the Chinese to continue to try to locate the Malaysian airliner that has gone missing, and expressed his sympathies to the Chinese families.

 

In terms of issues, the President reviewed a number of global and bilateral issues with China. On climate change, the President stressed a need for the United States and China to work together to set a strong example in terms of reducing our emissions as we head into the 2015 climate negotiations; also noted the importance of continuing to work together to phase out HFCs, something that was committed to at Sunnylands. And we’re working to bring other countries into a global effort to phase out the use of HFCs.

 

On the situation in North Korea, the President underscored the need for close coordination in sending a clear message that there needs to be denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and that any discussions or dialogue among the six parties around the situation in North Korea needs to be based upon actions taken by North Korea, which has not yet demonstrated its willingness to come to the table seriously. We’ve had good cooperation with China in applying some pressure on North Korea, but we as an international community need to continue to insist that North Korea abide by its obligations.

 

On Iran, the President welcomed China’s leadership within the P5-plus-1, where they’ve been a constructive partner. The two leaders agreed that we have a good opportunity here to reach a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

 

The President reviewed a number of bilateral economic issues, including our desire to continue to see China move to a more flexible and market-based exchange rate, expressing our concerns in that regard.

 

The President also discussed a range of other economic issues, including our continued interest in seeing China move forward with the economic reform package that President Xi has put forward, the importance, for instance, of transparency in Sino enterprises, and also the potential for greater energy cooperation between our two countries.

 

On cybersecurity, the President once again underscored the need for the U.S. and China to cooperate closely on this issue. He raised, again, our concerns about the theft of trade secrets for commercial purposes, reiterated that the United States does not engage in intelligence for the purpose of gaining a commercial advantage.

 

The two leaders welcomed the good progress that’s been made on military-to-military exchanges and agreed to continue to expand those exchanges. On maritime security and regional security issues, the President reiterated our concern over the Chinese ADIZ that was recently announced. He also expressed a concern over the need to reduce tensions in the East and South China Sea, noting that the United States is not a claimant. He underscored the need for resolutions to these issues based on dialogue and international law, and expressed continued U.S. support for that effort. In that context, of course, the President reiterated his support for the security of our allies, Japan and the Philippines.

 

The two leaders also discussed the need to cooperate on counterterrorism issues. The President also raised issues related to human rights and the rule of law in China, specifically expressing concern over the recent lack of visas to U.S. media outlets like The New York Times and Bloomberg and Voice of America.

 

On Ukraine, the President reiterated our interest in seeing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine respected, reaching a diplomatic resolution that deescalates the crisis and allows for the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own future.

 

With that, we’d be happy to take your questions on this or any other matters.

 

Yes, Steve.

 

Q Did it come up, the NSA report having to do with China? Did the Chinese President bring that up? And, secondly, how do you interpret this Russia troop buildup along the border? Is that an ominous sign? Do you see signs of –

 

MR. RHODES: Well, President Xi did raise those recent reports in the context of their discussion on cybersecurity. What President Obama made clear to him is that, again, the United States does not engage in espionage to gain a commercial advantage. We don’t share information with our companies.

 

Both the United States and China, understandably, like other countries in the world, engage in intelligence activities on behalf of our national security. But there’s a clear distinction, in our view, between intelligence activities that have a national security purpose versus intelligence activities that have a commercial purpose. And what we’ve tried to stress to the Chinese in our cyber dialogue is that while we understand that different nations are going to have approaches to cybersecurity and intelligence collection, that we need to cooperate in setting clear rules of the road that wall off theft of tradecraft related to commercial entities, theft of intellectual property. And so that was President Obama’s message on those issues generally, including when those recent reports were raised.

 

With respect to the Russian troop movements, we’ve been very concerned by the potential for escalation into eastern and southern Ukraine. We’ve monitored very closely Russian troop movements along the border of Ukraine and, frankly, it underscores the need for there to be a de-escalation because any further steps into eastern and southern Ukraine would represent a very dangerous escalation of the situation.

 

At the same time, I think we’ve sent a clear message that we are prepared to continue escalating our response to Russia and imposing costs for that type of activity. To take one example, the executive order the President signed gives us the authority to sanction and designate major significant sectors of the Russian economy. And the message to Russia is clear: They’re already facing consequences. They’re already going to face costs. Should there be any further escalation, we have the ability, together with our partners here in Europe and around the world, to dramatically escalate those costs on Russia.

 

Jim.

 

Q In his interview with de Volkskrant, the President was asked what he would say the members of the EU with regard to imposing heavy sanctions against Russia and he said, “There have to be consequences. And if Russia continues to escalate the situation, we need to be prepared to impose a greater cost.” What the EU has announced has been short of what the U.S. has — the steps the U.S. has taken. The economic sanctions are not as specific as the executive order the President signed. So I wonder what will we see from the G7 today and the EU tomorrow that goes beyond just harsh rhetoric against the Russians?

 

MR. RHODES: Jim, I’d say a few things. First of all, the EU has moved with us in a coordinated fashion and imposed sanctions on Russia. They’ve implemented visa bans, asset freezes, designated individuals, often in coordination with us. Their lists coordinate broadly with ours, for instance, in terms of the individuals who we’ve designated. They’ve also moved to politically isolate Russia, cancelling several upcoming meetings and engagements. So we’ve had good cooperation to date. And in that European Council statement, they indicated clearly that there would be broader for the Russian economy going forward if the situation continues.

 

In terms of the meetings coming up with the G7, I think what we want to send is a strong message in several respects — number one, that there will be growing costs for Russia for its actions. And frankly, Jim, the type of consequences we’d like to see are what the President foreshadowed in his executive order. So we identified sectors of the Russian economy. We believe that those broader sanctions have the ability to send a powerful message to Russia that it will face costs.

 

And so, consistent with the European Council’s statement that foreshadows consequences for the Russian economy, I think out of that G7 meeting we’re looking to send a message that we’re not done with building out the types of sanctions that we would impose upon Russia for its actions.

 

We’d also, though, I think, importantly, with the G7, want to underscore our support for the Ukrainian government and people, our support for a very robust IMF package getting done as soon as possible, and our support for individual member states of the G7 and of the EU providing assistance to the Ukrainians as well.

 

Q Is there any talk — obviously a lot of those sanctions are something for the EU and in those countries. Is there any talk in the conversation with the Chinese President about China putting any economic pressure on Russia?

 

MR. RHODES: They had a good discussion on Ukraine. Again, what the President said is China has always held sovereignty and territorial integrity as a core of its foreign policy and national security approach and that that principle needs to be applied to Ukraine, and that China’s interest should be in working with us to deescalate the situation in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese leader did affirm again that the principle of the independence and sovereignty of nations was fundamental to their approach and that they did want to see a de-escalation and a political resolution to the conflict.

 

In terms of economic pressure, the Chinese have not generally moved to the types of sanctions that we have with the Europeans, so I think that would be a more dramatic action on their part. I think we would find it as a constructive step for them to continue to refrain from supporting Russia’s action, and to speaking out for the principle of the rule of law, international law, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Doing so I think further isolates Russia on the international stage, as they were at the U.N. when it was a 13-1-1 vote in the Security Council.

 

Q Is there anything specific that the President asked the Chinese to do vis-à-vis Ukraine?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, I think his specific request is one that he would make of any country, which is that all of us have an interest in an international system that upholds the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, and that that is the position that we would like to see China stand behind in its international engagements. And we’re going to continue to work with them to try to deescalate the situation. Furthermore, China has a relationship with Russia insofar as they can be constructive in urging de-escalation and a political resolution

– they could play a constructive role in that regard as well.

 

Q On the G7 meeting (inaudible) –

 

MR. RHODES: We’ll also be discussing that at the meeting. I don’t want to get ahead of it, but clearly we believe that there’s no reason for the G7 countries to engage with Russia going forward based on its behavior. So I think the leaders will discuss the upcoming future of the G7 and the G8. I think the very fact of a G7 meeting here in the Netherlands — which is extraordinary in its own right; it’s not common for the G7 to meet in a country that is not a G7 country itself — I think speaks to both the need for the G7 to mobilize as an entity to isolate Russia and support the Ukrainian people, but also speaks to Russia’s isolation from an organization that they’ve been a part of now for almost two decades.

 

Q Are you looking for any G7 sanctions –

 

MR. RHODES: No, we wouldn’t. We are looking to coordinate our sanctions in the G7. The G7 as an entity doesn’t impose sanctions, but every member state of the G7 has already imposed sanctions — because in addition to the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada and Japan have also come along with us in imposing sanctions as well — Germany, of course.

 

So what we want to do is take the G7 as a platform to coordinate the national actions that we’re taking and then to work with our European partners as they formulate responses through the EU and European Council so that we have the strongest unified voice in imposing sanctions — because the more we coordinate the designation of individuals and entities and potentially sectors of the Russian economy, the more that’s going to have an impact on Russia.

 

Q (Inaudible.)

 

MR. RHODES: I think what you’ll have is you’ve seen a steady ratcheting up of the pressure on Russia. You’ve seen a response to that ratcheting up, continued market plummeting in Russia, downgrading of Russia as a place to do business, investors staying away from Russia. So we are already seeing the impact of sanctions.

 

I think we would like to see a steady ratcheting up of that pressure. I think the outcomes that we’re seeking in the coming days are a continued unified front in terms of our ability to impose sanctions and to go further as necessary; continued support for our Eastern European NATO allies to reassure them of our commitment to their security; and also, importantly, robust economic assistance from the IMF to individual member states to provide the support that the Ukrainian people in government really need at this time.

 

Q So two questions — and it was hard to hear some of the questions, so I apologize if I repeat, but are there specific things that you want to come out of this G7 meeting tonight, specific statements? Are you hoping that there will be a formal declaration that Russia is no longer a part of the G8 and it’s now the G7? And is there some way to measure how well the discussion goes by trying to get a sense of what you’re hoping the seven nations actually agree to coming out of it tonight?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, what I think we’d like to see coming out of it is, again, a foreshadowing of what economic sanctions Russia will be faced with if it continues down this course; a commitment to provide support to the Ukrainian people that’s going to lead to concrete outcomes — an IMF package, economic assistance that reaches the people and government of Ukraine — reassurance for the allies here in Europe who are eyeing very warily the events in Ukraine; continued political isolate of Russia.

 

And with respect to the future of the G7, that’s something that the leaders will discuss tonight. Our view is simply that as long as Russia is flagrantly violating international law and the order the G7 has helped to build since the end of the Cold War, there’s no need for the G7 to engage with Russia. And so I’m sure that that’s a topic that the leaders will take up as well.

 

Q Not to put too fine a point on this, but are you saying that the President will be seeking expulsion of Russia from the G8? Is that what you’re saying? I know you’re saying you don’t want to get ahead, but it sure sounds like that’s what you’re suggesting.

 

MR. RHODES: I don’t want to suggest — what we’re looking at is how we engage with Russia in the coming months and years. The G7 is an entity. If there came a point where Russia would deescalate the situation and abide by international law, we would not want to foreclose the potential that the G7 would engage with them. So I’m speaking more about how do we engage with Russia going forward here in the context of the crisis in Ukraine.

 

Again, the door is open for Russia to deescalate the situation, to abide by international law, to come back in line with the international community. I think the message is, so long as they don’t do that, they’re outside the rules of the road.

 

And I’d just note one other thing, which is that people speak of a new Cold War. The fact is Russia is leading no bloc of countries. There’s no ideological entity, like communism, that Russia is leading that has global appeal. There’s no bloc of nations, like the Warsaw Pact, that they’re leading. They’re isolated in what they’re doing in Ukraine. And I think that’s very much the message that we want to send at the G7, with the EU, with NATO over the course of the next several days.

 

Q On flight 370, Malaysia flight 370 — has the Malaysian government communicated anything to the White House in terms of what has happened to that flight? What have you heard?

 

MR. RHODES: Yes, we’ve been in very regular contact, as you know, with the Malaysian government. We have teams on the ground that are working with them on a daily basis. The Prime Minister’s announcement today tracks with, frankly, where we’ve dedicated our assets, which is in the Indian Ocean, in pursuit of recovering the flight. So we feel like we have very good lines of communication with the Malaysians. We’re going to continue to support them. We have resources dedicated, as we speak, not just to the investigation, but also to the recovery of the plane if we can locate it. And we’re focused, as the Prime Minister said, on that southern corridor.

 

Q How concerned are we about the Russian military movement on the border with Ukraine? The comments from NATO military commander, concern about what they may be doing. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister yesterday said he thinks chances of all-out war with Russia are higher than they have ever been. And there was also the suggestion out of NATO that Russia may reposition itself to move into Moldova. What is our current sense of how concerned we are about Russia’s next step?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, again, our current sense is that we are deeply concerned about Russian movements along that border. We are watching it very closely, as is NATO, as is the Ukrainian government. And again, we believe that Russia stands an enormous amount to lose in terms of economic pressure, international isolation should they take this escalatory step of moving into Ukraine. There is a pathway to deescalate, but if they don’t want to take that they’re going to be faced with growing pressure, condemnation, sanctions from the international community.

 

With respect to Moldova, similarly, the President met with the leader of Moldova recently at the White House. So did the Vice President. We’ve expressed our support for their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we believe that there, too, we would strongly stand up for the principle that Moldova should be able to make determinations about its own future. Again, that’s further down the line. We have not seen actions taken yet that directly compromise Moldova’s security, although we would note that we watch very closely the situation in Transnistria and our position is going to be very clear in support of Moldova and its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

 

Q — an army preparing to invade or is it consistent with the Russians’ plan, which is military exercises?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, the Russians have claimed a lot of things in recent days that didn’t bear out. So they’ve said that these are for the purposes of exercises. We’ll see whether or not the troop movements are consistent with military exercises. We believe that there’s every reason to be skeptical of Russian assertions, which is why we’re watching the situation very closely, as are the Ukrainians.

 

I’d note that to date the Ukrainians have shown extraordinary restraint in how they’ve responded to the situation in Crimea, in particular, but also more broadly. And that continues today with the manner in which they are pulling back their forces in Crimea.

 

Q This is the first time a lot of these leaders have gotten together since the crisis in Crimea, and I wonder — any atmospherics in the sense of either shock or dismay about what Russia has done, and if the President is bringing to this meeting a sense of urgency about what’s at stake for all the things he’s talked about, like collective security and international law, taking a stand against Russia. Is he using this as an opportunity to identify this as a huge turning point, potentially? And is that working?

 

MR. RHODES: Absolutely, we come here, Major, with a sense of urgency. And it’s not just because these are things the President has spoken about. These are things that all of these institutions have built over many years in terms of respect for international law, respect for nations to make their own decisions, leaving behind the days in which major powers made decisions about the futures of other countries over their heads. That’s what the EU is about. That’s what NATO is about. That’s, frankly, what the United Nations is about.

 

And so what Russia has done is in violation of that entire international order that has been built up over many decades. And it’s for that purpose that we are focusing on this issue here. We have the right people at the table to have that discussion at the G7 here today, and on Wednesday in Brussels, the President will meet with leaders of the European Union, with the leaders of NATO, to underscore that message. And we do feel that leaders are coming to the table with a sense of urgency because this is a matter of not just European security, it’s a matter of whether the international order that all of us are so invested in can stand up to this Russian aggression.

 

And as I said, what’s different about the past, what’s different about now versus the Cold War, is that Russia is finding itself totally alone. It does not have some bloc of nations that is standing with it in support of its position in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. They are isolated among these nations that are gathered here at the Nuclear Security Summit and they are going to find themselves more isolated if they do not take steps to de-escalate this crisis and engage in dialogue with the government in Kyiv and to pull back their forces.

 

Q Quickly back to the plane. I just wanted to specifically try — the Malaysian Prime Minister also said that he believes all lives have been lost on that plane based on the new analysis they’ve had. I just wonder, specifically, has the President been briefed on that piece of information either by the Malaysians or by White House officials, and does that assessment square with what the U.S. believes about the flight?

 

MR. RHODES: Ed, we’ll have to get our own independent confirmation on that. We obviously noted the Malaysian Prime Minister’s statement. They are very much in the lead for this investigation. We’re sharing information. But I don’t want to indicate that we have independent confirmation of the fate of the passengers on that plane. What we are focused on is the same southern corridor space where we’ve dedicated our resources in trying to recover the plane. And so that’s where our current focus is.

 

The President is briefed on a daily basis about our efforts to support the Malaysian government and to locate the airliner. We’ll continue to do that.

 

Q This is on Ukraine. Mitt Romney went on CBS yesterday and claimed that he believes the President is naïve on Ukraine and Russia. Dick Durbin, another Democrat, pushed

back on that, but I wonder if the White House wants to weigh in.

 

MR. RHODES: Well, look, we’ve been very clear-eyed about our Russia policy from when we came into office, which is that we will cooperate when we have common interests and we can form common positions, but we’ll be very clear when we have differences. And it was the right thing to do to pursue cooperation in the beginning of the administration that helped us put in place Iran sanctions; that helped us supply our troops in Afghanistan; that helped us reach the New START Treaty; and frankly, helped us to advance in some of the nuclear security objectives we were talking about here at the summit, like the removal of highly-enriched uranium from a number of countries.

 

At the same time, we’ve stood up to Russia when we’ve had differences. And there’s nothing new about the United States and Russia having differences. I would note that, as we’ve said before, we’ve heard this criticism that somehow the President’s inaction in terms of taking military — using military force in Syria has anything to do with the situation in Crimea or Ukraine. When George Bush was President we went to war in Iraq, we went to war in Afghanistan; that did not in any way deter Russia from going into Georgia in 2008.

 

So time and again, we have seen the Russians push the boundaries of international law, particularly when it relates to countries that are near their borders. And what we’re doing is standing up to that aggression and mobilizing the entire international community to stand up to that aggression. And, frankly, in terms of the steps that we’ve outlined and the steps that we’re taking, they go far beyond any previous steps that have been taken in response to Russian aggression.

 

In terms of the sanctions that you saw not just on Russian officials but on members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, in terms of designating for potential sanction sectors to the Russian economy, that goes well beyond any response, for instance, to the incursion into Georgia.

 

So we believe we have a record of standing up for our interests. Again, that means working with countries when we have overlapping interests, which was the case with Russia earlier in the administration. But, increasingly, as Russia has taken a different turn, particularly under President Putin, that involves standing up and mobilizing the international community to isolate Russia when they take the types of steps that they’ve taken.

 

Q Hey, Ben, I want to go back to your readout on China. When you were asked specifically if China would participate in any of the sanctions, you essentially said, no, that they’d talked about the importance of sovereignty. And then you said before that everybody that’s attending this summit is basically of the position of isolating Russia. Is there something substantial that China is going to do vis-à-vis Russia in punishing them in some way or participating in this isolation, beyond this readout? Is there something tangible that you can point to?

 

MR. RHODES: Look, I think it matters — Russia cares a lot about its standing in the world, its world position. And it matters if traditional friends of Russia cannot express support for their position, and indeed — or express support for the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity that Russia is currently violating.

 

We’ve said that the costs that Russia is going to face run across the board. A big piece of those, and the most significant thing we can do, frankly, is impose economic costs on Russia. And that’s what we’re doing with our sanctions, and those are already sinking in. We’ve said we can politically isolate them by separating them from institutions like the G7; by cancelling the types of engagements that the U.S. and the EU traditionally has with Russia. But also, it’s a blow to their international standing when they are not able to look and find support for their positions. That’s what happened at the United Nations.

 

So that is a consequence for Russia. It is going to lead to an erosion of Russia’s position in the world. And I think the reason is, is because they’re in violation of the international order. And as I said, China, as they speak to their own national security interests, has always put front and center this notion of sovereignty and territorial integrity when you look at different regions of China, like Tibet. And so it’s very much in their interests to stand up for the notion that a nation should make decisions about its own future and not have external actors come in and make those decisions for them. And that’s the conversation we’ll continue to have with China going forward.

 

Q So you’re saying because China is not supporting the Russian government in their move in Crimea, that that in itself is significant?

 

MR. RHODES: I would say that if you look at the pattern, Chuck, just of voting at the U.N. Security Council, generally China and Russia are aligned. Generally, they’re aligned on political and security issues on the world stage. And it says something when Russia is completely isolated as they were at the United Nations Security Council. And it, I think, foreshadows a future that Russia is going to face if they continue down this course where they can’t even look at traditional places for full support for their positions. And they’re just going to face continued isolation if they don’t take this opportunity to deescalate the situation.

 

Q (Inaudible.)

 

MR. RHODES: We are — the way — we are in the sense that when you target certain individuals and entities, it has a chilling effect on the broader economy. So I think it’s important to understand that when we sanction individuals with significant resources who are in President Putin’s inner circle, when we sanction a bank that is associated with one of those individuals, not only does that have a direct impact on them, but it has a broader chilling effect on the Russian economy that makes investors think twice about putting their money into Russia. That has an effect, a knock-on effect on the ruble, on the Russian market in ways that sanctioning me does not have on the U.S. market and the U.S. currency.

 

Q I know we talked a lot about the possibility still of de-escalation, but can you give us a sense, even a general sense, of what de-escalation would be at this point? Because wouldn’t you agree that there’s really no way Russia is going to leave Crimea at this point?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, again, the path to de-escalation is open to Russia in part because the government in Ukraine has indicated a willingness to have a discussion about how to ensure that ethnic Russians, for instance, are protected within their territory. For instance, the government of Ukraine has indicated an openness to having a dialogue on constitutional reform. As a part of that, they could look at autonomy for regions like Crimea. They can look at different solutions to provide an assurance that people in different regions and people of different ethnicities are being protected.

 

But, frankly, they should not have that conversation in the context of military threats and coercion. So what we’ve said to the Russians is: Deescalate the situation; put it back onto a political and diplomatic track; pull back your forces; engage in a discussion directly with the government in Kyiv — not over their heads. The international community will support that process. And precisely because the government of Ukraine has indicated a willingness to pursue constitution reform, and precisely because they have an election coming up in the spring, there is a pathway that could be taken that could lead to a de-escalation of the situation.

 

We have not seen Russia take that pathway yet, which is why we’ve pivoted to the pressure that we’ve applying, but we’ve kept the diplomatic lines open and we’ll continue to urge the Russians to engage in that dialogue directly with the Ukrainian government.

 

Q Just one quick question, Ben. There are 58 leaders here; is the President going to try to build consensus among them so that maybe something can be written up against what Russia has done in Crimea? Something will appear in the declaration or on the side of the declaration?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, I think we’re engaging with enough nations and entities that we can send that message through the outcome of the G7 meeting, through the U.S.-EU Summit that is upcoming on Wednesday, through the meeting with NATO on Wednesday, and some of the President’s bilateral engagements.

 

The Nuclear Security Summit is going to remain focused on the agenda at hand, which is securing nuclear materials so they can’t fall in the hands of terrorists. We had some important announcements today, including Japan taking an historic step to get rid of an enormous quantity of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium. We want to continue to encourage other nations to take similar steps and build up their security practices.

 

I’d note that Ukraine was one of the countries that showed leadership in recent years in getting rid of its highly-enriched uranium as well. So the Nuclear Security Summit is going to continue to tackle that agenda, but if you look at all the President’s other engagements with the relevant transatlantic and European security and political entities, as well as his bilateral engagements on the margins of the summit, we will be able to touch a broad representation of that leadership that is here at the summit in The Hague, and I think sent a clear message on where we are in Ukraine.

 

Q I want to talk real quick on the plane crash. Is the announcement by the Malaysian Prime Minister today — and I know Malaysia is handling the investigation primarily, but does the announcement this afternoon give you guys any more clarity on what presumably happened to this plane, whether it was a mechanical failure or something more sinister?

 

MR. RHODES: I don’t want to get ahead of that determination yet. I think the Malaysian Prime Minister was speaking above all to the location in which they’re focused now in the southern corridor. So I don’t think determinations have been made about the cause. But we’ll continue to support them as they work to locate the plane and also to try to make a determination on the cause.

 

Q Is the FBI still investigating?

 

MR. RHODES: The FBI is still working with the Malaysians, as is the NTSB, the FAA, and all our other entities.

 

Q Are you facing any reluctance from the Europeans to go along with the sort of wide sanctions that you’re wanting to do against Russia — financial sector, energy sectors?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, look, clearly, we know that those have an enormous impact. And as the President said in his own statement, those would be an impact on the global economy; those would have an impact on the European economy. But we believe it’s necessary to be prepared to use that leverage and to impose those costs on Russia. And we’ve had, frankly, good talks with the Europeans about it. Their announcements, again, the other day tracked roughly what we were announcing in terms of political isolation, individual designations, but also an indication that we would move towards broader consequences for the Russian economy going forward. So I think they get it.

 

Obviously, they are critical in making that cost higher for Russia, given the interconnection between the European and Russian economy. But we believe we’ve had good cooperation. The President has talked to Chancellor Merkel about this, Prime Minister Cameron, President Hollande. We believe that they are moving with us in lockstep in terms of how we’re looking at sanctions.

 

We’re also looking at things like energy cooperation in terms of how we deal with the current situation. And the President has designated Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz to engage in a dialogue with Russia — sorry, with Europe about how they can continue to diversify some of their energy sources, which could be a mitigating factor in terms of their concerns about the sanctions that may be imposed on Russia, including on the Russian energy sector. So we’ll continue that side of the dialogue as well in the days to come.

 

Q In stressing economic sanctions to Ukraine you’re still facing a problem with Congress in trying to get that package through, and reluctance from House Republicans to accept the IMF quota reforms. Is the administration willing to decouple those two in order to get this through quickly and to provide an example to the rest of the Europeans?

 

MR. RHODES: The fact is, Jim, that you can’t decouple the IMF quota reform from the support package to Ukraine because it has a direct impact on the ability of the IMF to provide a more robust assistance package to the Ukrainian government on the order of several billion in additional funds that could be available in an IMF package.

 

So we believe that the bill that is making its way through the Senate is, frankly, the right approach, because it couples, again, both punitive measures on the Russian government, $1 billion in loan guarantees and additional technical assistance for the Ukrainian government, but also that quota reform, which is going to allow for a substantially larger IMF package for the Ukrainian government.

 

So people in the House who talk about supporting Ukraine can’t decouple the IMF piece from what the Ukrainians need because, frankly, the best thing that could happen for the Ukrainian economy today is for a very robust IMF package to be put in place. That would stabilize their economy. That would strengthen the government in Kyiv. That would allow them to move forward with reform. That would allow them to meet the basic needs of their people and strengthen them vis-à-vis any Russian attempt to destabilize the government.

 

So our message is clear to Congress: If you want to support the Ukrainian government, you need to support this IMF package as well as the loan guarantee program that is making its way through the Senate.

 

Q Hey, Ben, it’s Julie.

 

MR. RHODES: Double AP here.

 

Q Double AP. You guys have glossed over this a little bit, including in Michelle’s question here — but is Crimea gone? Can you just lay that out for us?

 

MR. RHODES: If you look at the nations of the world, there is a broad rejection of the referendum. So the United States doesn’t recognize the results of the referendum; Europe doesn’t recognize the results of the referendum. I think if you look across Asia, Africa and the Americas, there are not a lot of takers for recognizing an illegal annexation of a part of another country. So, in that regard, we’re just not going to recognize a new status quo that allows for the annexation of one piece of Ukraine over the heads of the Ukrainian government.

 

Q If the U.S. and other countries don’t recognize it, does that change anything for Russia? Is Russia going to in any way change the treaty that they signed for annexation?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, what I will be candid about, Julie, is that clearly we have to affect the calculus of the Russian government here over time. And the tools that we are giving ourselves with these sanctions have the ability to do that. And, frankly, what has to happen is the Russian leadership needs to see that ultimately this is leading into a dead-end for them of greater economic pain, of greater international isolation.

 

But we see Crimea as part of that. To be clear, we’ve already taken steps based on what they’ve done in Crimea. So while we’re deeply concerned about escalation into eastern and southern Ukraine, which would be a very dangerous and destabilizing move by the Russian government, our concerns about what they’ve already done in Crimea stand.

 

Q Just to go back to the readout of the meeting with President Xi, are China and the United States on the same page regarding Russia and Ukraine, or is there a difference there? How would you describe that half of the meeting?

 

MR. RHODES: Look, Jeff, candidly, obviously the United States in general is far more willing to move towards the use of aggressive, punitive actions like sanctions not just with respect to the situation in Ukraine, but with respect to other international issues — precisely because, by the way, the Chinese have a principle of respecting the sovereignty of other countries. So, clearly, we are going to go farther in terms of the punitive measures that we’re going to impose on Russia.

 

Where we want to be on the same page is on this principle that sovereignty and territorial integrity and the independence of nation states is the abiding principle of the international system and needs to be the abiding principle that deescalates and resolves the situation in Ukraine.

 

And there we believe the Chinese have been very clear in their expressions of support for de-escalation, a political resolution, and their general commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nation states, including Ukraine.

 

Carol.

 

Q (Inaudible.)

 

MR. RHODES: I don’t have any update on that. You will have to go to State on that.

 

Q Can you talk about how (inaudible) Russia’s ability to veto efforts on other issues like Iran and Syria? In the President’s interview, he said that it was Russia’s responsibility to (inaudible) on chemical weapons in Syria. So you have to acknowledge the power that Russia has of — its ability to (inaudible) transition in Syria. So do you anticipate or have you seen any change in their posture (inaudible) in terms of Iran or Syria?

 

MR. RHODES: Well, if you look at the Syria chemical weapons issue, that’s actually moving in very good pace, and we’re about at the 50-percent milestone in terms of Syrian chemical weapons being removed from the country, taken into the custody of the international community. So on the chemical weapons issue we’ve seen continued cooperation. Russia has invested a lot in that project. Frankly, they have nothing to gain from seeing that project go off the rails, in large part because there are extremists in Syria that Russia doesn’t want to have — gain access to chemical weapons who might pose a risk to them. So on the chemical weapons issue we’ve had good cooperation.

 

Frankly, more broadly, Russia has not been cooperative on Syria in general in terms of the political resolution, in terms of some of the humanitarian access that we sought. So we’ll continue, again, to try to pursue those ends, but it’s not as if we were dealing from a position of very strong cooperation from Russia on non-chemical weapons-related issues in Syria.

 

Similarly, on Iran, Russia has no interest in destabilization or nuclear proliferation or conflict in the Persian Gulf. That’s why they’ve been invested in the P5-plus-1 talks. To date, we’ve seen no change in their posture in those talks. The political directors just met last week in Vienna. So we haven’t seen a change.

 

And, frankly, Russia would only be isolating themselves from the world further if they were to walk away from an entity like the P5-plus-1 that they’ve been a part of for several years now. And the last thing I’d say on this is that the Iranians, they have an interest in gaining access to the global economy, to European and other markets. So the incentive for them is to not just make some agreement with Russia. The incentive for Iran in these discussions is to reach a comprehensive resolution with all of the parties that are at the table. Ultimately, that’s what’s going to bring the sanctions relief that they’re seeking.

 

Q Ben, you just mentioned the Russian interests, and you’ve been telling us about how this really upended a lot of the architecture that’s been in place and a lot of assumptions made about Russia based on their behavior. Ambassador McFaul argues that Putin pivoted away from his strategy, becoming more integrated in the world economy by doing this. And I’m wondering if you have a clear sense anymore for what their interests are, and if the interests are the same of what you thought they’d be in a place like Iran or anyplace else.

 

MR. RHODES: Well, I think Ambassador McFaul made a number of good arguments that, frankly, represent the type of analysis that we’ve had, which is that clearly by doing what he’s done in Ukraine, President Putin and the Russian leadership is acting with the knowledge that they’re going to face pressure from the international community and the United States. Frankly, we believe that we can over-perform in terms of the types of sanctions that we put on Russia. We believe that the types of sanctions that we put in place last week, for instance, went far beyond anything that Russia has faced in the post-Cold War era. So they’re in new territory here, too.

 

The question is, to what lengths will President Putin and the Russian government go to, particularly in the countries that are on their borders, what lengths will they go to and at what cost to them in terms of international isolation and economic pressure. Ultimately, what we’ve said very clearly since the Cold War is that we want to integrate Russia into the global economy, that Russia has a place in the community of nations and a significant place, given their role in the world. However, that’s got to be based on them playing by the rules. So they can’t have one set of rules in the former Soviet states and another set of rules in the rest of the world.

 

And I think that’s what’s at stake right now — is that the same rules that apply in any country in the world have to apply in Ukraine, have to apply in Moldova; certainly apply in NATO allies like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. And that’s really what’s at stake in this conflict. And I think President Putin needs to understand over time that the costs to him are going to be extraordinary in terms of Russia’s international standing and its economic position.

 

So we’ll have the G7 meeting this evening. And then the President has dinner hosted by the King and with the other leaders here at the summit. And we’ll get you additional readouts of those meetings to come.

 

MR. CARNEY: Thanks, everybody. Thanks to everyone in the filing center.

 

END 4:40 P.M. CET

 

 

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