3:00 P.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we have Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, who will deliver a briefing on the recently concluded G-8 and NATO summits.
Without further ado, here is Ben.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, everybody. I’ll just make some brief opening comments and then take your questions on the summits or any other issues that are on your mind. The G-8 Summit at Camp David, I think, was a very effective gathering of the 10 world leaders. It focused, as you know, on both political and security issues and economic issues.
On the political and security side, the main topics of discussion were Iran in the context of the upcoming P-5+1 negotiations; Syria, where their leaders made a point of emphasizing the need for a political transition in the context of the Annan plan; Burma, where they welcomed the recent developments, pledged continued support to the democratic reforms taking place within Burma; North Korea, where they affirmed the need for North Korea to meet its obligations and refrain from any additional provocative actions; and then a discussion around how to further include women in political and economic development around the world.
Then the second day focused principally on a range of economic and developmental issues. On the economic side, the focus was principally on the Eurozone, and you saw the statement from the leaders emphasizing the need for a balanced approach that took into account the need to move forward with fiscal reforms, but also an emphasis on growth. And of course, they affirmed their support for Greece remaining in the Eurozone in that context as well.
The energy discussion produced a statement affirming their commitment to continue monitoring disruptions in the global oil markets, and if necessary, to call upon the IAEA to take action.
They continued the President’s focus on food security. We had a commitment of several billion dollars out of a summit that we held here in Washington with private sector leaders as well as several African leaders, and we believe we’ve made good progress in advancing food security through the G-8 in general.
And then there was a discussion around both supporting the transitions in the Middle East and North Africa – the democratic transitions that are taking place – as well as the economic piece of the Afghan transition; how can we sustain an Afghan economy or help the Afghans sustain an economy as the footprint associated with the war in Afghanistan diminishes.
Then at the NATO summit, there were three principal areas. There was a package of NATO capabilities that the alliance agreed to, flowing out of the strategic concept discussions in Lisbon. And I think you saw, in the context of austerity, the alliance prioritizing a set of capabilities that are going to be important to meet new threats, and we can discuss those. Obviously, ballistic missile defense was a priority capability, other capabilities such as Baltic air policing that are important to meeting – helping the alliance meet its commitments while nations make a continued commitment to the effort in Afghanistan.
Then there was a meeting of NATO partners – and this is a particular priority of the President – how to bring in a set of capable partners around the globe who develop capabilities to work in concert with NATO and also to move towards more effective and integrated planning between NATO and our partners around the world. And then of course, principally, the focus was on Afghanistan. And with regard to Afghanistan, there were really three areas that we highlighted.
One is transition, and the alliance came together and agreed to a milestone in 2013 in which Afghan security forces would move into the lead across all of Afghanistan for combat operations. They’d still have support in potentially partnered in operations with the ISAF coalition, but they would be lead responsibility for security, on the way to a full transition at the end of 2014, when the NATO-ISAF mission will end and the Afghans will be fully responsible for their security.
The second component on Afghanistan was enduring support for Afghan security forces, and what we’ve done is work with the Afghans to identify what a sustainable security force could be, and not just past 2014 but also beyond 2017, when the surge of Afghan security forces will diminish from a peak of 350,000. And you saw a number of nations make some concrete financial commitments associated with that enduring support for Afghan security forces.
And then third was enduring partnership between NATO and Afghanistan. The United States, like NATO and many other NATO member-states, has a strategic partnership with Afghanistan that will extend beyond 2014, that ensures that the Afghans know that they’ll continue to have support and assistance from the United States going forward, even after the combat mission ends. And that could include, again, continued assistance for their security forces, continued assistance for their government institutions, as well as their economic development in the spirit of mutual commitments, because the Afghans associated with that have made their own commitments.
But we think, taken together, the main takeaway here is that the alliance and nearly 60 countries came together behind a responsible plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan while supporting Afghanistan and security forces in the long term so we can achieve our objective of, again, defeating al-Qaida, denying the safe haven, and helping the Afghans stand on their own two feet as they restore and reaffirm their full sovereignty going forward.
But with that, happy to take your questions on the summits or anything else.
MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion of the event, please state your name and publication for the transcript, and wait for the microphone, which could be coming from either side.
QUESTION: Huma Imitaz, Express News, Pakistan. Over the weekend, there was a lot of talk whether President Obama would meet with the Pakistani President Asif Zardari, and I believe that they met twice on the sidelines of the summit. Why was there no bilateral meeting scheduled considering Pakistan? Secretary and U.S. officials restate that Pakistan has an important role to play in the region. And secondly, what was discussed between the two premiers?
And my last question: What is the status in the dialogue on the NATO supply routes? Did President Obama bring it up in his meeting with – on the sidelines of President Karzai and President Zardari? Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Sure. Just on the first question, on the matter of a bilateral meeting, the President didn’t host any formal bilateral meetings except for the one with President Karzai, given the fact that there was a very busy NATO summit schedule. So it was always our intention to really focus his time on these multilateral meetings. Obviously, the meeting with President Karzai was a priority, given the fact that Afghanistan was such a focus of the summit. He was able to meet on the margins of the meetings with a handful of leaders, and that included President Zardari. They met twice around the margins of the ISAF session. These weren’t extensive talks. They were rather brief. But one of them was a one-on-one between President Obama and President Zardari, and the other one was a trilateral discussion amongst President Obama, President Zardari, and President Karzai.
I think in our conversations with Pakistan, including the President’s conversations, I think we reaffirmed a commitment to work to reset the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. There’s obviously been a period of tension for a variety of reasons. We’ve also been respectful of the process that’s been underway in Pakistan since November that led into the parliamentary review of the bilateral relationship, so we certainly wanted to see that process concluded. And since that process concluded, we started to talk at the working level about how to cooperate more effectively on a range of areas, and that includes counterterrorism, that includes supporting a stable Afghanistan and a stable South Asia more broadly. That also includes deepening economic ties between our two countries.
So I think, as he did with Prime Minister Gilani in Seoul, President Obama communicated to President Zardari a commitment to move forward with a reset of our relationship on those topics. The supply lines came up in that context. And I think the view of our government is that we’re committed to seeing these supply lines reopened. The Pakistani Government has made similar statements, so we believe that both sides share the goal of seeing a reopening of those supply lines. And what’s happening now is a set of discussions at kind of the technical level about exactly how that can get done. But I think both President Obama and President Zardari – their instruction and their commitment is to see that this issue can be resolved, and it’s one of the areas where we hope to move forward more effectively with Pakistan.
The last thing I’ll just say is one of the reasons for the trilateral discussion – again, not extensive, a brief exchange among the three leaders – is that believe that as we support a political transition in Afghanistan and an Afghan-led reconciliation process, it’s very important for Pakistan to be part of that discussion. Prime Minister Gilani had made positive statements about their support for reconciliation after President Karzai visited. And we very much want to see discussions amongst Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States and all the players in the region about we can support an Afghan-led reconciliation process. And again, we believe that Pakistan can be a part of that process. It can be part of the solution in terms of stabilizing Afghanistan in the long term. And so part of the reason for the three leaders to have those discussions was to try to continue to jumpstart that initiative, and we hope to continue to talk to the Pakistanis about that going forward.
QUESTION: Can I follow up, please? You said – you talked about a reset of the relationship that President Obama said to President Zardari. But the demand in Pakistan has repeatedly been an apology over the Salala incident. And looking forward six months later, that still hasn’t come true. Will there be an apology from the United States as Pakistan as requested on the Salala incident?
MR. RHODES: I wouldn’t have anything new to offer on that beyond what we’ve said, which we deeply regret the incident. We’ve thoroughly investigated it. We shared the results of that investigation with the Pakistanis. But again, we believe there’s a basis for us to move forward and move beyond that particular incident, to take steps to make sure that that doesn’t happen again, to be respectful of Pakistani sovereignty, and to be in, frankly, better communication in that area so that we don’t see a repeated instance on the border.
QUESTION: Ezzat Yousef, Al Ahram newspaper, Egypt. Today, the Egyptian people started voting in elections. I’m just wondering if the G-8 leaders discussed the situation in Egypt and the outcome of the different scenario for the coming elections. Second, we need to know more about the U.S. position on the outcome of the Egyptian election, especially if an Islamist won the elections. Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Sure. Just on the topic of the elections, the United States welcomes this as an historic milestone and achievement for the Egyptian people as they host these first presidential elections since the transition of power last year. It’s obviously a positive development to see Egyptians expressing their democratic aspirations, and so we very much welcome this first round of voting.
Our view is that this is a matter for the Egyptian people to decide. The United States doesn’t pick favorites. We don’t favor any particular candidate. What we favor is a process that is free and fair and responsive to the Egyptian electorate. We will work with whoever wins the Egyptian election. Egypt is a longstanding partner of the United States. We have very much supported this transition to democracy that’s been taking place. So we look forward to working with the next Egyptian president, whoever it may be. And so we’ll await those results, just like the Egyptian people.
At the G-8, Egypt did come up in the context of the Deauville Partnership. So the discussions on the Middle East, North Africa grew out of the Deauville meeting. And I think the leaders there focused on what we can do as a G-8 in supporting a democratic transition. In particular, Deauville addressed some of the economic steps that we could take to both deepen ties with countries that are going through transitions and ways in which we can support countries like Egypt, again, as they seek to create more growth and opportunity within their economy, just as they’re pursuing a democratic transition. Obviously, Egypt has its own choices to make, its own sovereign decisions to make, but there are obviously ongoing discussions both with the IMF and with some of the G-8 countries about how to enhance economic ties. So that was – the economic piece was the focus of the G-8 talks.
MODERATOR: We’re going to break away and go to New York with a question. Go ahead, New York.
QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. Paolo Mastrolilli for the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa. Thank you very much for doing this. There are discussion going on today in Europe about the technical step to take in case of a possible exit of Greece from the euro. Would you support a step like that, the Greece going out of euro? Or would you consider that a threat to the international economic stability and therefore a threat to the national interest of the United States?
MR. RHODES: Sure. Well, this grows out of, I think, the discussions that took place at the G-8. And I might add, one of the positive aspects of the G-8 was it was the first opportunity for a group of leaders to meet together. Prime Minister Monti, who’s been very effective we believe in leading Italy, as well as President Hollande, as new leaders coming in, able to meet with Chancellor Merkel, President Obama, and the other G-8 leaders at Camp David.
And frankly, I think our position coming of the G-8 is the same one we take with regard to the talks today. We very much support Europe as they deal with the crisis in the Eurozone. We believe that Europe has the capability to deal with the challenges in the Eurozone. With regard to Greece, the G-8 obviously affirmed our preference for a Greece remaining in the Eurozone. It’s certainly appropriate for the European leaders to plan for any contingency that they may so choose to plan for. We think the important thing is to demonstrate strong management of the current crisis, including steps that are put in place to prevent any potential contagion within the Eurozone.
We obviously also support some of the other steps that are being taken in both the immediate term and the longer term on the fiscal side as Europe continues to get its house in order, but also the emerging consensus around the need to take steps to catalyze growth, because we believe if there’s, again, immediate steps taken to promote growth in the Eurozone, that can help both deal with the current economic situation, but also have a positive effect to the global economic recovery so that people can see progress in their own lives, even as Europe deals with a set of structural challenges as well.
So we’re supportive of the European efforts. We’re closely monitoring it. President Obama has been in very frequent contact with Prime Minister Monti and other leaders. I expect that he will be in the days to come. Again, these are European decisions to make, but what we can offer as the United States is, again, our own experience, our own ideas based on how we dealt with our own financial crisis, and support for Europe as they take a set of very tough decisions.
MODERATOR: Down here.
QUESTION: John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. Ben, over the weekend, President Ma of Taiwan assumed his office for his second term. What is your assessment of the state of play of U.S.-Taiwan relations? What does the United States expects to achieve in terms of U.S.-Taiwan relations?
On a related matter, Senator Cornyn has been calling for the Administration to approve sales of F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan. In a letter from the White House to him, actually, the White House implied that the sales are under consideration. Do you expect a decision on the sales this year or any time, a timeframe? Thank you very much.
MR. RHODES: Sure. Well, we’ve had positive relationships – a positive relationship with President Ma over the course of the last several years. What we’d like to see is a continued strong partnership on U.S.-Taiwan relations. With respect to arms sales, we’ve obviously pursued a couple of arms sales in the course of this Administration. What we always look at is what the United States needs to do to meet its commitments to Taiwan. So we assess these questions based on our outstanding commitments to Taiwan that are longstanding associated with its security. And so I can’t say exactly when we’ll make a decision on any potential future arms sales, but we’ll certainly be looking at it in the context of what’s necessary for us to fulfill those commitments.
We’ve also welcomed President Ma’s efforts to improve cross-strait ties with the Chinese. Obviously the one China policy guides our approach to those issues, but we welcome a warming of those cross-strait ties and would support President Ma’s continued efforts to advance those relations. So I think we’re optimistic that we can continue to have a positive relationship with Taiwan in the second term. Again, we can continue to meet our security commitments even as we of course support a warming in those cross-strait talks.
QUESTION: Mr. Ben Rhodes, thank you for coming here and meeting us. My name is Chi-Dong Lee from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. On North Korea, do you think the U.S. Government can once again contemplate food aid for North Korea? If so, what’s going to be the precondition? I mean, what do they have to do?
And second, there has been – there have been press reports that a White House official visited North Korea in April. Would you please confirm the reports? Thanks.
MR. RHODES: On the first question, we have an agreement reached in principle with the North Koreans about the provision of food assistance in response – well, associated with some steps that the North Koreans were taking. I think the U.S. view of food assistance is the only way for it to successfully get to the people who need it is if the United States can trust the Government of North Korea to follow through on its own commitments.
So the reason that we halted that delivery of assistance is because when the North Korean Government nearly immediately turned around and violated its own commitments to us, we just did not think we could trust them to see that that food would go to the right people. What we wanted to do was provide food and nutritional assistance that could get to, for instance, mothers and children and pregnant women rather than simply going to elements of the regime or the military. And again, if we can’t trust the North Koreans to keep their commitments to us, we just can’t trust that they’ll keep their commitments to see that assistance reach the right people, because they don’t allow for the type of humanitarian access that would give us confidence.
So right now we’re not optimistic that there’ll be any imminent breakthrough that could lead to the provision of additional assistance. I think what’s going to be necessary is that the North Koreans have to demonstrate that they won’t take additional provocative actions. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in recent weeks is not just the failed missile launch but also some very harsh rhetoric directed at South Korea and again some – just a failure of the North Koreans to come back in good faith and try to begin a discussion with the United States and the international community.
So I think the precondition is that the North Koreans have to demonstrate that they’re going to refrain from those types of provocative actions and they’re serious about moving in a different direction. We haven’t yet seen that indication yet.
And then I have nothing to offer in terms of discussions around particular U.S. contacts with the North Koreans. Again, our view is that we’re open to discussions with the North Koreas both bilaterally and multilaterally, but what we want to see from them is a move in a different direction. And right now we’re not seeing that.
QUESTION: Thank you. Andrei Sitov from TASS, Russia. Thanks, Ben, for coming over and thanks to our friends at the FPC for hosting this, as usual. My questions are on the Camp David, where I understand the Russian prime minister gave a message from President Putin to the President. So have you had a chance to look at that? Were there any messages sent the other way? Anything you can say about that?
And on the NATO summit – do I ask both questions together?
MR. RHODES: Go for it. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. On the NATO summit, I wanted to ask you for a clarification on Secretary Clinton’s comments that it will – it was the last non-enlargement summit. So who do you see as the most promising candidates for the future in that respect? Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, Andrei. I will say there was a lot of attention, I know, at the NATO summit on the football match between Bayren Munich and Chelsea. Prime Minister Medvedev, I think, also pointed out that there was a Russian match that he was focused on as well at the time, so know that his attention was very much on Russian football even as there was that big match going on.
But in terms of an exchange of messages, he did carry a message on behalf of the Russian Government and President Putin. I think there’s been an exchange of views between President Obama and President Putin, and obviously with Prime Minister Medvedev at Camp David. And I think the baseline – the important point I’d make about what our message has been to the Russians is that we want to continue to have a positive and cooperative relationship going forward. It’s really a message of continuity, because it’s our belief that U.S.-Russian relations have been on a positive trajectory because we’ve been able to create a dynamic where we can cooperate on certain issues even as we disagree on others. So we can cooperate on Afghanistan, on Iran, on nuclear security, North Korea, nonproliferation, certainly cooperate on deeper economic ties, Russian accession to the WTO, greater commercial ties and investment. The United States, for instance, is working now to see a lift on restrictions under Jackson-Vanik so that our businesses can be fully invested in Russian markets as well. So there’s a positive side of the ledger even as we have our differences on missile defense, Syria, and some other issues.
And I think both President Putin and President Obama in their conversations and their phone calls have underscored a commitment to see a continuation of that positive dynamic, recognizing though that we’re going to continue to have real differences. And they’re both looking forward to the meeting in Mexico as the first opportunity for the two of them to sit down together and have a bilateral meeting. I think we were also glad, of course, that Prime Minister Medvedev could represent Russia at Camp David. President Obama obviously has a very good relationship with Prime Minister Medvedev and expect that he’ll continue to be somewhat engaged in the U.S.-Russia relationship as well. And of course, we recognize that he very much speaks for President Putin and the Russian Government in that context.
On NATO, I think our view has been NATO has an open door policy, so those countries that express an interest in joining NATO are welcome to do so. I think with regard to enlargement, what’s clear is that there are just a certain set of criteria that have to be met both in terms of steps that nations have to take within their own countries to prepare for NATO accession, but also the alliance has to make the – take the decision as well to welcome new members. So I think our view is that we welcome potential enlargement, we have an open door policy, but it’s clear what the criteria are to achieve that objective so we couldn't say with any certainty that one particular country is going to meet those standards or not. We’ll have to just continue to see.
So Secretary Clinton met with a number of the aspirants and discussed those issues. Obviously those four aspirants are the ones that are currently most engaged in this process. But I – we have no way of knowing for certain that any particular one of them will be the first that meets the set of criteria necessary to join NATO.
QUESTION: Yeah. I just wanted to make a – just remember the reason, of course, that Mr. Medvedev was present was not the reason – in conjunction with that visit, the White House announced that the President is not travelling to APEC. Do you know who will be travelling to APEC?
MR. RHODES: Well, first I’d say, we didn’t do that in conjunction with the –
QUESTION: Prime minister.
MR. RHODES: Yeah. We had indicated to the Russians before President Putin’s decision that President Obama wouldn’t be able to travel to APEC, candidly. Obviously, it’s in the heart of our election season. I think it’s almost concurrent with our convention, our party convention. And so he was able to share that with both Prime Minister Medvedev and President Putin.
So we regret we won’t be able to attend, because the U.S. is very committed to APEC. We know that Secretary Clinton will be able to attend and represent the United States. There may be additional representatives who accompany her, but for the moment, I think our expectation is certainly that Secretary Clinton will be going to Vladivostok.
MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to take another question from New York. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, Marta Dhanis from Portuguese TV1. One of the biggest issues in this summit was the fact that the new French president wanted its troops to leave Afghanistan this year. And from what I know, nothing changed in that sense. And I wanted to know: How do you see that fact? What does that, in practical means, change for the U.S.? And also, if for you the new French president has – will bring some sort of change in the economic strategy or future of Europe. Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Sure. Well, President Obama was able to meet with President Hollande here in Washington, and then of course continue those discussions at the G-8 and at NATO. With respect to their decision on Afghanistan, we don’t think it changes much at all. The president of France of course had a commitment to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan. Frankly, France was set to transition troops from a particular province anyway, as we look towards the end of the year. However, what France committed to is remaining a part of ISAF through 2014.
So our view is that different nations will make different decisions about their commitments. But they have different ways of contributing to ISAF. So for instance, if you withdraw your combat troops, as France is doing at the end of the year, they can, again, invest in the mission through training, through instruction for Afghan national security forces, in ways that allows them to still be a part of ISAF and to play an important role.
And frankly, as we transition increasingly from a combat mission where we’re in the lead – we, ISAF, are in the lead – to a support mission where the Afghans are, those commitments of trainers and instructors in other types of support for Afghan security forces become increasingly important.
So we certainly feel like we can effectively manage the French decision as an alliance, and we welcome the fact that even as they are keeping that commitment of President Hollande’s that they’re sticking with the mantra of in together, out together that NATO has set for Afghanistan through 2014.
On the economic side, I think President Hollande has brought a focus on growth to the debate, and that’s something that we, of course, very much welcome. The United States has been very clear for years now that we think there needs to be a focus on growth in the immediate term, even as we pursue fiscal austerity in the medium and long term.
So I think President Hollande, Prime Minister Monti, others, I think have expressed support for a growth agenda in Europe, in particular a growth pact on top of the fiscal pact that has been met, and that’s something that we certainly welcome.
QUESTION: Thank you. Minh Le from Vietnam TV. I have two question. The first question is: Could you please tell me more it is about the implementation of the agreement on launching the missile defense systems, as well as (inaudible) system, which at the UN, as in NATO summit? And the second question is, what is the U.S. view on the reacts of the Russia, on this decision? Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Sure. So on missile defense, what was decided in NATO is that the system that we’re developing will transition to an interim capability for NATO. So what the United States has been doing is developing a missile defense system that can eventually protect all of Europe and the United States from the threat of ballistic missiles. And there are going to be phases of that system coming online.
The first phase, again, is focused on protecting, in particular, Southern Europe from threats of missile defense emanating from the Middle East. Our threat assessment, of course, is that Iran’s ballistic missile program could pose a threat. And so what was agreed to in Chicago is, first of all, that we’re moving forward with the deployment of that system. So you have, for instance, a radar in Turkey associated with it; you have other nations that have committed to hosting parts of this system.
And secondly, as we move forward with the deployment of the system, it will transition from U.S. command to NATO command. So NATO will have a missile defense capability coming online. It will take many more years to complete the full deployment of the system, but we’ve taken the first step. And with the first step of this system being deployed, we’ve now transitioned it to NATO so we can declare that NATO has an interim capability for missile defense.
And again, given the assets that are currently in the region, and the assets that are being deployed, right now that principal focus starts on Southern Europe, but it will expand and increasingly cover other parts of Europe. It’s also somewhat mobile, so it’s capable of focusing on protecting different countries if necessary.
In terms of the Russian reaction, the Russians have obviously expressed strong objections to the deployment of the missile defense system. We’ve had an ongoing difference with the Russians on this issue. Our view expressed to the Russians is that this missile defense system does not pose a threat to Russia, doesn’t impose a threat to strategic stability or the Russian deterrent, that the system itself technically is not being built in a way, again, to guard against a Russian threat, it’s being built to guard against the threat of ballistic missile, particularly emanating from a nation like Iran.
We have not yet been able to reach an agreement with the Russians on that, and that has stood in the way of cooperation on missile defense. So we have a continued difference. However, President Obama’s commitment is to try to work through those differences with Russia and ultimately reach an agreement on missile defense cooperation. And while we haven’t – we weren’t able to do that last year when we were in pretty intensive discussions, I think we recently decided with the Russians that now is a period of time where them coming out of their election and us moving into our election, we weren’t going to try to reach a breakthrough on this, but rather have our technical experts continue to study the issue, share information, and see what the basis might be for an agreement going forward.
MODERATOR: Okay. We have time for one or two more questions. Let’s go down there.
QUESTION: Hi, Julian Hattem with the Japanese paper the Yomiuri Shimbun. Thanks a lot for doing this, Ben. Going back to the G-8 and on the Eurozone discussions, can you talk a little bit about the conversations between the President and Chancellor Merkel as it relates to growth, and kind of – was there a need to push or convince or what kind of conversations did that have? And I guess is it the U.S.’s position that the ECB should more – should be more proactive when it comes to growth in Eurozone?
MR. RHODES: I think the President had a lot of discussions, obviously, with Chancellor Merkel. They met in the several-hour session on the global economy in the morning. They met on the sidelines of that and then they had a bilateral meeting at the end of the day.
Obviously, Chancellor Merkel has been very focused on the fiscal pact that she provided enormous leadership in completing, and is focused very much on the need for, again, Europe to get its fiscal house in order. At the same time, I think you’ve seen an evolving debate within Europe in which there’s been a recognition that there needs to also be a focus on growth.
And if you look at, for instance, the discussion in Cannes at the G-20 versus the discussion at the G-8 at Camp David, you’d seen some evolution where growth was more on the agenda. Part of that’s because you have new leaders like Prime Minister Monti, President Hollande, and others, but part of that’s because Chancellor Merkel understands that, as she said, she’d be open to a growth pact and she’d be open to discussing some type of stimulus associated with Greece. So I think she has a recognition that there can be steps taken in the immediate term to promote growth, provided that that’s above and beyond her fiscal pact, so – or not her fiscal pact, but the European fiscal pact.
So we’re not seeking to counsel the Europeans to not pursue their fiscal reforms; they’re obviously going to go forward with that. Our view, and I think it was the view shared by all the leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, is that you can look at steps on top of that to promote growth. They discussed certain ways to do that. I think we made reference, for instance, to infrastructure projects and other types of short-term measures that could catalyze growth. Ultimately, it’s up to the Europeans to decide what works best for them, both on a national basis and on a European basis.
With regard to the ECB and some of the broader issues, that’s obviously one tool that they could explore. The other thing that we said is that even as they take those steps, there needs to be a sufficient firewall in place to prevent potential contagion within the Eurozone. So that’s another step that we’ve continually advised as an important point, because in our own experience, we dealt very aggressively with our financial crisis both in terms of recapitalizing banks and promoting growth and taking steps in 2009 to turn around an economy that was dramatically sinking, and to restoring some growth.
So they shared ideas around that. I think Chancellor Merkel, again, was of the consensus view that more can be done in this respect, but obviously the Europeans are going to have to work that out amongst themselves and the talks that are ongoing. And we believe that they have the capacity to do so, but President Obama will stay engaged in that, and we’ve offered to provide any kind of advice that we can going forward.
I can take a couple more, yeah.
MODERATOR: Okay. Gentleman right there.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Tom Ellis from [Kathimerini,] Greece, actually, the country at the center. I was just wondering if – we have elections in a month and the whole world, for the first time, is watching our elections. But are you concerned about the possibility that these elections will lead the one way instead of another?
MR. RHODES: Well, we’ve been watching Greek elections for thousands of years, right? (Laughter.) So, nothing new. But I’d say a couple of things on that. First of all, ultimately, it’s up to the Greek people to decide what they want to do. So it’s their determination as to whether they – well, who they choose as their leaders and whether they see their future in the Eurozone or not. And so we – and we respect the fact that that’s ultimately going to be a sovereign decision taken by Greeks, and they’re going to have to decide to do what’s in their best interests.
Obviously, at the G-8, there was an affirmed preference for Greece remaining in the Eurozone, and I think a continued expression of support for the agreement that Greece reached. So I think we stand, obviously, ready as the United States to support Europe in moving forward with those efforts.
I think the only other thing I’d say, though, is that President Obama, in his closing statement, I think, wanted to underscore that even as you speak in technical terms about the fact that we support Greece staying in the Eurozone provided they meet the commitments that they’ve made, that we also step back and recognize that there are incredible sacrifices being made by the Greek people. Sometimes this can seem like a stale discussion of economics, but I think when you look at the impact on people’s lives in Greece, you recognize that these are enormous sacrifices and there are enormous stakes here. And I think that’s one of the reasons why part of our point has been that even as you deal with these very difficult fiscal challenges, you have a find a way to catalyze the type of opportunity that ultimately is going to make people’s lives better.
So we recognize that Greeks have a very important decision to make. European leaders have obviously said they’re planning for whatever the results of that election will be. It’s prudent to do so. But again, we’d be respectful of the Greek people as they make that decision.
MODERATOR: Okay. In the back.
QUESTION: Kasim Cindemir, Haberturk, Turkey. What did President Obama tell his Turkish counterpart, President Gul, regarding the Reaper sales to Turkey? What’s the obstacle in the way of that sale? And there was no readout from the White House about the meeting between the two. We were wondering why.
MR. RHODES: Well, they did meet on the margins of the summit. He was able to speak to President Gul. I don’t think there was any decision not to make a formal readout. We were sharing information about those meetings with Turkish press, as there were inquiries.
Just to cover the meeting broadly, I think they discussed the situation in Syria and how the United States and Turkey can remain coordinated both bilaterally and through the Friends of Syria Group, and providing assistance to the Syrian people and helping to support the Syrian opposition as they become more organized, and also continuing to apply pressure on the Assad regime. They discussed how to deepen commercial and economic ties between the United States and Turkey. We, I think, share the belief that there can be greater economic cooperation between our two countries, and that would be beneficial. So the two leaders talked about that. They obviously discussed the NATO agenda.
But then they also discussed counterterrorism cooperation, and we obviously support Turkey’s efforts to combat terrorism, the PKK, and any other group, just as we welcome Turkey’s support for our efforts against al-Qaida. Obviously, we’re familiar with Turkey’s interests in acquiring additional assets, including unmanned aerial vehicles as a part of those counterterrorism efforts. That’s something that we have to discuss not just with Turkey, but also with our Congress. So I don’t want to – I can’t get ahead of those discussions. But obviously, it’s been an ongoing topic of consultation between us. We’re obviously supportive of Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts broadly, and we’ll have to obviously assess this particular potential support in consultation with our Congress.
MODERATOR: One final?
QUESTION: Hello, I’m Ana Coman from Radio Romania, and I’m wondering if there – regarding the contributions for Afghanistan after 2015, if there is a minimum amount expected from the allies? And also if the United States is aware of a concrete intention of Romania of contributing to Afghanistan after 2015, and if so, how do you view that intention?
MR. RHODES: First of all, I’d say that no, we don’t set out with a minimum. We recognize that with respect to the financing of Afghan security forces – well, I’d – let me separate this out, first of all.
With respect to any potential presence in Afghanistan, we have said – we, the United States, as a part of our SPA with Afghanistan, that we’d look at two distinct missions: counterterrorism and potential continued training of Afghan security forces, albeit, again, not in the combat role that we’ve been in, over the course of the last decade. We don’t expect every nation to carry forward with that type of commitment to Afghanistan. I think different nations will make their own agreements with Afghanistan and make their own commitments as it relates to any presence in the country.
Secondly, on financial commitments to Afghan National Security Forces, we don’t have a minimum. What we have is a broad target that we’d like to see allies step forward and provide some commitment going forward. So I think our focus has been on making sure that across the alliance, we’re able to meet a sufficient target so that Afghans know that they have support for their security forces in the long run, because obviously, they don’t have the budgetary capacity to maintain a sustainable security force that we’ve trained. So the United States is going to make commitments, Afghanistan has already made a commitment, and we’re in discussions with each of the individual allies about what it is that they can put forward.
Caitlin, I don’t know if we have a Romanian contribution.
MR. RHODES STAFF: I don’t know.
MR. RHODES: Yeah, so I – we’d have to check on that because I’m not aware of a specific Romanian contribution, but we can check on that and get back to you. But again, it’s – we recognize different allies have different capabilities, different resources, and so therefore, that’s why we wanted to have a package agreed to in terms of what’s the size of this security force.
So it’s peaking at 350,000 now. We believe by 2017, that’s going to have to come down to a smaller and more sustainable number, but even then, the Afghans are going to need sufficient – significant support from the alliance, and we believe, again, everybody can be a part of that, but everybody’s going to do so consistent with their own economic situation and their own resourcing requirements.
MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, everybody.
MODERATOR: This event is now concluded.
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