Daily Archives: August 7, 2015

East Asians Attitudes Toward LGBT Rights are Rapidly Shifting. But ...

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A Christian protester against the LGBT festival in Seoul, South Korea on June 28, 2015. Credit: Jun Michael Park.

Is anal sex a human right?

On the day of South Korea’s LGBT pride parade on June 28, Evangelical protesters chanted and prayed from the other side of the police barricade. Tears streamed down the faces of some protesters, who were deeply concerned about the deteriorating fate of humanity, while Christian teenagers handed out anti-LGBT leaflets to passersby and ballerinas gracefully expressed their homophobia.

South Korea is located in a part of the world that is not friendly to LGBT rights, to put it mildly. This is interesting for a region that is perceived to be so developed, at least economically (with the exception of North Korea). In their own right, East Asian countries are economic powerhouses and key global players: South Korean smartphones dominate the market (for now); Japan is the largest maker of electronics in the world (for now); and China is the largest trading nation in the world, surpassing the U.S. in 2013.

Yet human rights isn’t catching up with the technology. Underneath the flashy exterior of development with its big, impressive numbers, intolerance persists in these three East Asian countries, where preconceived gender norms limit love to a man and a woman, without accepting love’s diverse complexities as anything other than an abnormality.

Homosexuality is sometimes illegal

In the South Korean military, where service is mandatory for men, homosexuality is punishable with a two-year imprisonment. Outside the military, homosexuality is not a criminal activity in the general South Korean society, and the same goes for Japan and China. But in all three countries, the LGBT community has no legal protection against discrimination.

How LGBT-tolerant are South Korea, Japan and China, comparatively?

There’s no absolute measurement of tolerance, and the meaning varies for different people. A commonly used measurement is whether same-sex marriage has been legalized. Just this May, a neighborhood in Tokyo became the first place in East Asia to welcome same-sex marriage, although this legalization has yet to reach the rest of Japan. In South Korea, a gay couple is currently filing a historic lawsuit against a district court in Seoul for not recognizing their marriage.

Little changes are happening in small corners of South Korea, Japan and China, where LGBT voices are just starting to gain momentum. Last December, a Beijing court stated that homosexuality is not a mental illness, marking a significant victory for LGBT activists in China by ruling in favor of a gay man who received “homosexuality-curing” electric shocks from a clinic.

In December 2014, Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto became one of the few venues in Japan to offer same-sex wedding service. Credit: shunkoinzentemple.blogspot.com

In December 2014, Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto became one of the few venues in Japan to offer same-sex wedding service. Credit: shunkoinzentemple.blogspot.com

But large hurdles remain. LGBT discussion has not entered politics in any of these countries — although Japan has a few openly gay politicians — and this is especially hypocritical for Japan and South Korea, because both states officially have supported pro-LGBT human rights resolutions at the United Nations LGBT rights resolution (China abstained).

Public opinion has the power to sway politics, but a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center indicates that tolerance in these East Asian countries is still relatively lower than European and Latin American countries.

“Should society accept homosexuality?” Credit: Equaldex.com

“Should society accept homosexuality?” Credit: Equaldex.com

Japan is relatively more progressive in LGBT rights than its closest neighbors to the west. In July, 455 members from the LGBT community filed a bid to Japan’s biggest bar association to examine the country’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages as a human rights violation. This bid won’t legalize same-sex marriage, but it’s a significant step in that direction.

In South Korea, as LGBT voices grow, so do the protests from some members of the Christian community.

“If values such as LGBT rights seep into our society, these traditional principles and our social structure [will be] torn apart,” Yoon Deuk-nam, the general secretary of the Christian Council in South Korea told BuzzFeed News.

Many Christians, who account for 25% of the South Korean population, decry homosexuality as a moral sin, often using anal sex as a rhetorical strategy to portray homosexuals as disgusting, diseased and dangerous (often as AIDS-proliferators).

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Yes to LGBT rights: “Anal sex is a human right! It is really good.” LGBT supporters on Parade Day in South Korea on June 28, 2015. Credit: Jihye Lee/BuzzFeed

A similar attachment to traditional principles — although not necessarily religion — hinder the Chinese from thinking differently about sexuality and love. Confucian ethics, exacerbated by the one-child policy, pressure people to reproduce in a conventional marriage between a man and a woman. Sham marriages are not unheard of, in which homosexual couples marry to maintain the mere appearance of a traditional family.

 LGBT community in China. Credit: Project Pengyou

LGBT community in China. Credit: Project Pengyou

South Korea, Japan and China boast some of the most impressive hardware in the world, with mega-cities like Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai, where neon lights shine all night and millions of travelers from all over the globe visit every year. But underneath, values persist that are not always consistent with the change and modernity these countries profess to own. It’s time to re-examine progress and development beyond the hard numbers of economic development.



Gunmen seize hostages in deadly attack on M…

NNA – Gunmen stormed a hotel in central Mali on Friday in an apparent attempt to kidnap Westerners, killing at least three people and seizing hostages in an ongoing standoff with the army.

Among the dead were two Malian soldiers, while the body of a white man was seen lying sprawled outside the hotel in the town of Sevare, military sources said.

The attackers launched the assault on the Byblos hotel in the early hours of Friday in what military sources and local residents said appeared to be a bid to abduct foreign guests.

Malian troops surrounded the hotel and shot dead one of the attackers who was wearing an explosive belt, the military source said.

“It is a hostage-taking,” the source said, adding that two of the soldiers surrounding the hotel had been killed and another three injured, while the body of a white man was in front of the hotel.

“It is still not over,” the source said.

At least five foreigners — three South Africans, a French national and a Ukrainian — were registered at the hotel, according to several sources.

“The Fama (Malian armed forces) have sealed off the area… and the operation is still going on,” another military source told AFP from Gao, the main town in northern Mali.

It is the third assault in just a week in the west African country, which is still struggling to restore stability despite a landmark peace deal agreed in June to end years of unrest, ethnic divisions and jihadist attacks particularly in the north.

One resident said she had been woken by the sound of gunfire and was hiding at home with her family.

“The shooting is still going on but I don’t know who is shooting,” she told AFP.

Initial reports said another hotel, the Debo, had been attacked but the military source confirmed it was the Byblos.

A number of foreigners have been kidnapped by Islamist militants in Mali in recent years and at least two are still being held hostage by Al-Qaida’s front group in the region.

“The army is trying to find (the attackers) and remove them,” a Mali army official in Bamako told AFP, saying the operation was delicate because of the presence of guests in the hotel.

“We still don’t know if the terrorists have been arrested. According to our information, they tried to kidnap Westerners but they didn’t succeed,” said another local resident contacted by phone by AFP.

Friday’s assault also came just days after 11 Malian soldiers were killed on Monday in an attack on their camp in the Timbuktu region claimed by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).

Another two were killed in an ambush on Saturday near the border with Mauritania.

AQIM was among several jihadist groups that took control of Mali’s north in 2012 before being ousted by a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

Sevare lies near the main regional town of Mopti, a key staging post to the vast north of Mali that lies more than 640 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of Bamako.

Jihadist attacks have long been concentrated in Mali’s north, but began spreading at the beginning of the year to the center of the country, and in June to the south near the borders with Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.

The United Nations maintains a mission in Mali with a force of more than 10,200 while former colonial master France has 1,350 soldiers on the ground.

Among those taken hostage in Mali, South African Stephen Malcolm McGowan and Swede Johan Gustafson were abducted in Timbuktu in November 2011 and have been held since by AQIM.

A Dutch hostage kidnapped with the pair was rescued in April in a raid by French special forces.

In June, AQIM released footage of a jihadist with an English accent parading the two hostages.

French hostage Serge Lazarevic was freed in December last year after three years in the hands of Islamist militants in Mali. —AFP


Latest from OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine based on ...

This report is for the media and the general public.

The SMM monitored the implementation of the “Package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements”. Its monitoring was restricted by the parties and security considerations*. There was a significant increase in ceasefire violations at and around Donetsk airport. An SMM-facilitated ceasefire enabled the continuation of work to repair water pipelines in Donetsk region. Some 300 people protested in front of the hotel of SMM monitors in Donetsk city.

There was a significant increase in ceasefire violations at and around “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled Donetsk airport (9km north-west of Donetsk) compared with the previous day. The SMM, from its position at the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) observation point at “DPR”-controlled Donetsk railway station (8km north-west of Donetsk city centre) heard a total of 125 explosions and intensive exchanges of small-arms and light-weapons, heavy machine-gun and automatic grenade launcher fire[1].

Repairs continued to water pipelines in Donetsk region, following works earlier this month (see SMM Daily Report, 8 July 2015). For the fourth consecutive day, the SMM facilitated a local ceasefire to enable water pipeline repairs to be carried out by Voda Donbassa workers in an area between government-controlled Maiorsk (45km north-east of Donetsk) and “DPR”-controlled Horlivka (39km north-east of Donetsk) (see SMM Daily Report, 6 August). After carrying out some demining work, “DPR” members tasked with demining were denied permission by the Ukrainian Armed Forces to continue their work closer to government-controlled Maiorsk. After negotiations between the sides, facilitated by the SMM, “DPR” members continued with demining work. At 13:48hrs, the SMM heard two single small-arms shots, outgoing approximately 1.5km north-east of its position. After consultation with both sides, it was ascertained that the firing was by “DPR” members. At 15:40hrs, the SMM heard one outgoing mortar round, approximately 5km north of its position, for which no side claimed responsibility. At 16:30hrs, the Voda Donbassa workers finished their activities for the day.

In Donetsk city, the SMM observed a protest outside the residence of SMM monitors. By 07:35hrs, approximately 300 people had gathered (some 100 young boys, 100 men and 100 women of varying ages). They displayed banners criticising the “silence and blindness” of the SMM and also protested against the conflict in Donbas. “DPR” “police” monitored the crowd from a position in front of the hotel. One vehicle blocked the secondary entrance from the hotel’s car park. Two protestors in a small truck sprayed red liquid from a hose on the ground outside the hotel. After listening to the concerns of some of the protestors, the SMM addressed the crowd and explained the mandate of the mission. Protestors loudly interrupted the SMM. Following this, the SMM invited protestors into the hotel for further discussion, an offer they declined. Protestors dispersed peacefully by 09:00hrs.

The SMM followed up on information received from “DPR” members that prison no. 57 on Voloshkaya Street in Horlivka had been shelled on 5 August at approximately 21:45hrs. The SMM went to the morgue in Horlivka, where it was told by an employee that one man had died as a result of shrapnel wounds sustained in the shelling at Akademika Belenkoho. The SMM observed the corpse of a man (aged 65-70 years old) who had soft tissue damage to the lower limbs, which may have been caused by shrapnel. The interlocutor also said that a prisoner was injured and hospitalized at hospital no. 2 in Horlivka. Hospital employees at that hospital told the SMM that a prisoner had been admitted.

In “DPR”-controlled Prymorske (39km north-east of Mariupol), 30 local inhabitants, women and men of different ages, told the SMM that shelling had taken place between 02:00 and 03:00hrs on 6 August. The SMM observed 18 craters in the village, and conducted analysis on 12. The analysis showed that the craters were caused by mortars (120mm calibre) fired from the north-west. The SMM observed at least two pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXOs). The head of the “village administration” said that the shelling had not caused fatalities or injuries. According to the residents, there has been no electricity since the shelling.

In an area north-east of government-controlled Trokhizbenka (32km north-west of Luhansk), the SMM heard four outgoing artillery rounds 4km south-west of its position.

The SMM observed damage to the power plant in government-controlled Shchastia (20km north of Luhansk). A Ukrainian Armed Forces officer explained to the SMM that shelling at approximately 22:30hrs on 5 August had damaged a high-voltage cable supplying the northern part of the region. The SMM saw a destroyed 220 kV cable. The SMM was unable to identify what had caused the damage. In Shchastia, a woman told the SMM that at around 19:30hrs on 5 August the plant was hit, leading to a power cut. According to her, the power supply was restored within a few hours.

Local “administration officials” in “LPR”-controlled Zorynsk (54km south-west of Luhansk) told the SMM of issues regarding the payment of electricity and water companies for services provided in 2014. These problems stem from July 2014, when the “LPR” established a soup kitchen and a shelter for displaced persons in the area, for which they said they would cover costs. However, according to the interlocutors, the Luhansk Electrician Union (who provided the utilities) has not been paid and has imposed fines on the owner of the premises for the delayed payment.

The SMM revisited four Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding areas whose locations comply with the respective withdrawal lines. At one Ukrainian Armed Forces site, the SMM found six more weapons (multiple launch rocket system, BM-21 Grad, 122mm calibre) than during the previous visit. At a second, all weapons were in situ. At a third site, the SMM found eight weapons, previously unidentified, which those supervising the site claimed had been there since March. The SMM found all weapons previously recorded to be absent at a fourth site, the third time in two weeks.

The SMM monitored a protest at the City Council in Morshyn (86km south of Lviv) against a significant increase in the price of water bills. Approximately 70 persons (mainly elderly people, 60% men) took part in the protest that ended peacefully. No police were present.

At the weekly press briefing of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service (DPSU) in Kyiv, attended by the SMM, it was announced that humanitarian and logistic centres will be established to process humanitarian aid and goods entering into non-government controlled areas, and prevent the passage of prohibited goods in this direction. According to a Lieutenant Colonel from the DPSU, the first such centre is under construction in Mikolaivka village in Donetsk region.

The SMM continued to monitor the situation in Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, Kherson, Chernivtsi, and Ivano-Frankivsk.

*Restrictions on SMM monitoring, access and freedom of movement:

The SMM is restrained in fulfilling its monitoring functions by restrictions imposed by the parties and security considerations, including the presence – and lack of information on the whereabouts – of mines, and damaged infrastructure. The security situation in Donbas is fluid and unpredictable and the ceasefire does not hold everywhere. Self-imposed restrictions on movement into high-risk areas have impinged on SMM patrolling activities, particularly in areas not controlled by the government. Most areas along the Ukraine-Russian Federation international border, particularly those controlled by the “LPR”, have ordinarily been placed off limits to the SMM.


  • At a Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint near government-controlled Volnovakha (53km south-west of Donetsk) the SMM was requested to open trunks of vehicles and to provide the patrol leader’s name and nationality. The SMM was delayed for approximately ten minutes.
  • At two checkpoints in “DPR”-controlled Olenivka (23km south-west of Donetsk), the SMM was delayed for 15-20 minutes and requested to provide the IDs of patrol members. “DPR” members used a mirror to check the underside of SMM vehicles and checked interiors.
  • At a “DPR” checkpoint in Donetsk city, the SMM was requested to provide the IDs of patrol members and to open the trunks of vehicles, which were thoroughly inspected. After a ten minute delay, the SMM was allowed to proceed.
  • The SMM was prevented from passing a “DPR” checkpoint near Oktiabr (26km north-east of Mariupol). The SMM attempted to pass the checkpoint 15 minutes later and was allowed to pass.

[1] For a complete breakdown of the ceasefire violations, please see the annexed table.

Remarks by the President on the Voting Rights Act

South Court Auditorium

2:27 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Everybody have a seat.  Thank you. 

First of all, I love John Lewis.  (Applause.)  And I don’t know where he gets the energy, where he gets the drive, what stores of passion he’s still able to muster after fighting the good fight for so long.  I do know that many of us would not be here in this auditorium today had it not been for the heroism and dedication of Congressman John Lewis.  So I’m so appreciative of him.  (Applause.) 

I’m proud to be joined by our Attorney General.  Loretta Lynch has already shown herself to be a champion on behalf of not just the powerful but the powerless, and is, every single day, along with her team, fighting to make sure that we are all equal in the eyes of the law, and that everybody is getting a fair shot.  And so we are very grateful for her presence here today.  (Applause.)

And I want to thank all of our partners, all the organizations, all the leadership from around the country that is represented in this auditorium but also are listening over this live feed as we reaffirm our commitment to one of the most fundamental, sacred rights of any democracy — that is the right to vote. 

As John indicated, 50 years ago today, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law to protect this precious right.  It broke down legal barriers at the state level and at the local level that were keeping African Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote.  And all of us have a great debt to not just John Lewis, but the thousands — many of them unnamed — who were courageous enough to walk up and try to register time and time again, that were threatened because of their efforts to register — sharecroppers and maids and ordinary folks.  Had it not been for them awakening the conscience of a nation, the President could not have mustered the political support that was required to ultimately get this seminal law passed. 

We had the opportunity to honor some of the sacrifices that were made earlier this year in Selma, along with 100 members of Congress — Democratic and Republican members.  It was heartening to see the bipartisan attendance.  It signified that in the abstract, at least, everybody today believes in the right to vote.  Conceptually, everybody is in favor of the right to vote. (Laughter and applause.)  You will not hear anybody defend the notion that the law can discriminate against persons because of their color, or their faith, or their ethnicity, when it comes to going to cast a ballot.  That’s huge progress, a normative shift in how we think about our democracy.  Everybody in theory is supposed to be included. 

But part of the reason we’re here today, part of the reason it’s so important for us to focus attention on this right is because in practice, we’ve still got problems.

On the ground, there are still too many ways in which people are discouraged from voting.  Some of the protections that had been enshrined in the Voting Rights Act itself have been weakened as a consequence of court decisions and interpretations of the law.  State legislatures have instituted procedures and practices that, although on the surface may appear neutral, have the effect of discouraging people from voting, may have a disproportional effect on certain kinds of folks voting. 

And if, in fact, those practices, those trends, those tendencies are allowed to continue unanswered, then over time the hard-won battles of 50 years ago erode, and our democracy erodes. And that means that the decisions that are made in the corridors of power all across this country begin to reflect the interests of the few, instead of the interests of the many.

So we’ve got serious business to attend to here.  One order of business is for our Congress to pass an updated version of the Voting Rights Act that would correct some of the problems that have arisen.  (Applause.)

And I said when I was in Selma that we’re glad you’re here, members of Congress, but we’ll be even more glad, we’ll be in an even more celebratory mood, if you go back to Washington and reaffirm America’s commitment to what was fought for here at this bridge. 

Now, so far, that hasn’t happened.  John Lewis is ready to do it.  There’s legislation pending.  There are people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle who are prepared to move it. But it keeps on slipping as a priority.  Part of the reason we’re here is to reaffirm to members of Congress, this has to be a priority.  (Applause.)  If this isn’t working then nothing is working.  We’ve got to get it done.  (Applause.)

At the state levels, we’ve got some outstanding members of state legislatures — California, Florida — who have been championing mechanisms to get more people voting:  Early voting, online registration.  But sadly, too many states are making it harder for folks to vote — instituting photo ID laws that on the surface sound good; if you poll the average American, they’ll say, yes, you have to show your photo ID.  But in practice, it turns out that for seniors and for poorer folks, that’s not always easy to do.  And by the way, it doesn’t actually address a real problem because there are almost no instances of people going to vote in somebody else’s name.  (Applause.)  It’s just not a — it turns out it’s just not a common crime.  (Laughter.)

Folks, might think about shoplifting.  Attorney General, you know more about the crime statistics than I do, but I am certain, because we’ve actually looked at the data on this, that almost nobody wakes up saying, I’m going to go vote in somebody else’s name.  (Laughter.)  Doesn’t happen.  So the only reason to pass this law, despite the reasonableness of how it sounds, is to make it harder for folks to vote.

You’ve got state legislatures that are rolling back early voting.  I don’t understand why anybody would be opposed to spreading out voting so that people can arrange to vote depending on their schedule.  Because it’s hard — if you are working the midnight shift, and got to get your kid to school, and had to travel by bus, and you’re a single mom — it may be difficult for you to be able to vote precisely in that window that’s provided. And there’s no evidence that, as a consequence of early voting, that has increased fraud; that people somehow have become less committed to democracy; they don’t feel that same sense of civic pride as they do if there’s just one day of voting.  There’s no evidence of that.  The reason to roll back early voting is because you want to make it harder for folks to vote. 

So, in theory everybody is in favor of the right to vote.  In practice, we have state legislatures that are deliberately trying to make it harder for people to vote. 

And some of them, frankly, are not that shy about saying so.  (Laughter.)  Think about that.  Think about that.  How can you rationalize making it harder for people to vote?  How can you rationalize penalizing people because they don’t have a lot of money not being able to vote?  That’s contrary to who we are.  That’s not what we believe.  That’s not what John Lewis fought for.  In the United States of America, we should have no patience and no tolerance for laws that aim at disenfranchising our fellow citizens. 

So we got to keep pushing.  At the federal level, we need a new Voting Rights Act passed.  At the state and local levels, we’ve got to fight back against efforts to make it harder to vote and we got to embrace those legislators that are prepared to make it easier to vote. 

But there’s one last aspect to this, and that is the job of citizens in actually exercising the franchise.  This isn’t always a popular thing to say in front of progressive groups — everybody is fired up, and rightly so.  But the reason that the voting rate in the last midterm election was 30-something percent is not attributable to a photo I.D. law.  The fact of the matter is that far more people disenfranchise themselves than any law does by not participating, by not getting involved.

So, yes, we have to be vigilant in pushing back against laws that seek to disenfranchise people.  Yes, we should be fighting back against laws, for example, that say ex-felons, no matter how long they’ve been living a correct life, no matter how well they’ve paid their dues, that they can never vote again in that state.  There are all kinds of battles we have to fight.  But we miss the forest for the trees if we don’t also recognize that huge chunks of us, citizens, just give away our power.  We’d rather complain than do something about it.  We won’t vote, and then we’ll talk about the terrible political process that isn’t doing anything.

And I like barber shop talk.  (Laughter.)  I like grumbling and complaining.  I can’t always do it in public.  (Laughter.)  But what I know is it doesn’t get anything accomplished.  So the groups that are here today, one of the things that we’re looking forward to is how do we mobilize, how do we galvanize, how do we get people focused not only on laws but also on our habits — our habits of citizenship?  How do we instill in people a sense of why this is so critically important? 

And that is why we are proclaiming September 22nd, National Voter Registration Day.  (Applause.)  September 22nd.  And we’re going to have groups fanning out all across the country.  And on September 22nd, we’re going to try to get everybody to register to vote.  We probably won’t get everybody, but we’re going to try. 

I want to thank so many of you who are involved in this, including the NAACP, which started their Journey to Justice — a march from Selma to Washington earlier this week — because you’re shining a light on this issue.  And I want to make sure that we are fully mobilized across the country on September 22nd.

The bottom line is everybody here has a part to play.  Members of Congress need to do the right thing.  State legislators and governors, they need to do the right thing.  Businesses — make it easier for your employees to vote.  Do the right thing.  Universities, other civic institutions — help register people to vote; provide civic education.  Do the right thing. 

Most of all, citizens — seize the power that you have.  Make this democracy work.  Do not succumb to cynicism.  Heroic things happen when people get involved.  Heroic things happen when a young man without any official title joins up with a bunch of other young and not-so-young people of every color and every persuasion and are willing to march across a bridge.  That’s the power that is in all of us.  We got to take advantage of it.

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

2:46 P.M. EDT

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/6/15

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:54 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I do not have any opening remarks, so we can go straight to questions.

Mark, would you like to get us started today?

Q    Thanks.  If I may, can we start with the debate, and can I ask if the President is planning to watch any part of the debate tonight and whether he is rooting for Donald Trump or against Donald Trump?  (Laughter.) 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think the President will have a rooting interest in the debate tonight.  I think he’ll be — to the extent that he watches it, and I’m not sure that he will — I do think, though, that he will be interested in the coverage of the debate, and I’m confident that he will be interested in the arguments that are presented in the context of the first debate on the Republican side. 

And I expect that he, like many Americans, will find the values and priorities that are articulated in that debate to be rather illuminating, particularly when you contrast them with the values and priorities that this administration has been advocating for, for coming on seven years now, and certainly when you compare them to the values and priorities that will be championed by Democrats when those candidates get together for their own debates.

Q    Is he prepared to hear his Iran deal take a beating tonight?  And is he prepared for some umbrage that, frankly, even some Democrats who have doubts about the Iran deal have expressed that the President was, in effect, calling them warmongers yesterday with his argument that there really is no alternative to this deal but a march to war?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mark, I think the President was pointing out a simple fact, and I think the President went on at some length to explain how he arrived at that conclusion.  And the fact is, if Congress were to take the unthinkable step of killing this deal, it would end up being a good deal for Iran.  What would happen is Iran would get billions in sanctions relief, but they would not be required to remove 13,000 centrifuges; they would not be required to reduce their stockpile by 98 percent; they would not be required to gut their plutonium heavy-water reactor in Arak; and they would not be required to submit to the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.

And what would happen is Iran would go back to doing what they did before when the international community was previously fractured, and that is pursuing a nuclear weapon.  And it’s not a significant leap at all — in fact, I think it follows rather logically — that there will be members of Congress who will then be calling on the Commander-in-Chief to take action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. 

And the fact of the matter is — and this is even a fact that is acknowledged by the people who would be comfortable being described as proponents of military action against Iran — they acknowledge that military action would only have the effect of setting back Iran’s nuclear program for two or three or maybe four years, when the fact is this diplomatic agreement is going to set back Iran’s nuclear program by more than 10.

So it’s not just that the President wants to try to avoid another war in the Middle East — he does; it’s that diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    Does he think those Democrats who have looked at the deal and said, you know, I think there’s still a better deal to be had out there, that they’re also pursuing a fantasy, as he put it yesterday?

MR. EARNEST:  The suggestion that there is a better deal is a fantasy.  The President stands by those remarks entirely.

Q    Let me just ask generally about the state of play.  Frankly, the speech yesterday sounded like a summing up to the jury.  And here we have Congress now, all of it out on vacation; the President is about to go on vacation.  Does the President think there’s any way of avoiding him having to use his veto?  Does he think he has the votes to sustain a veto?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mark, I have previously expressed some confidence — a lot of confidence in the ability to sustain a veto in the House of Representatives.  The reason for that is we saw back in the first week of May, a group of about 150 House Democrats — that’s enough to sustain a presidential veto — indicate that they would be supportive of a comprehensive final agreement that was consistent with the parameters that had been agreed to in the Lausanne political discussions.  And the fact is the final agreement that has been produced doesn’t just fit the parameters of the previous agreement, it actually exceeds them in a few key areas.

And I think the best way that I can document that to you is that we’ve actually seen a couple of Democrats in the House of Representatives who didn’t sign the letter the first week in May who have come out indicating their support for the final agreement and indicating that they would join an effort to sustain the President’s veto if it became necessary.  So we do have a lot of confidence that, at a minimum, that a veto could be sustained in the House.

Q    Do you really still harbor any hopes that you can avoid having to exercise that veto?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s too soon to tell at this point.

Q    Let me ask you just real briefly about a report based on satellite imagery that the Iranians have been doing some work in recent weeks in Parchin that indicates — that involve crates, trucks, construction, et cetera — that might indicate yet another attempt to cover up whatever has been going on there.  Have you guys seen that?  Can you confirm that you’re — are you troubled by it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can’t talk about any specific intelligence matters.  What I can tell you is that we know that more than a decade ago we had significant concerns about some of the activities that the Iranians were conducting at Parchin.  And for more than a decade, the Iranians have gone to great lengths to try to cover it up.  And we’re not particularly concerned that over the course of the next couple of weeks that they’re going to succeed in covering up something that they haven’t been able to cover up over the last decade.


Q    Josh, the President is going on vacation tomorrow.  Does he — will he be engaged with lawmakers during that time about Iran?  Do you have any particular —

MR. EARNEST:  I doubt it.  I doubt it.

Q    Are there any other plans generally for the administration to lobby or engage with people over the next couple weeks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if other senior administration officials — either on the President’s national security team or officials here at the White House — that they may be engaged in conversations with members of Congress.  And there has been a robust dialogue back and forth.  And there have been a number of members of Congress that have sought one-on-one briefings with senior national security officials, that have sought classified briefings, that have participated in all-member classified briefings that our negotiators have hosted on Capitol Hill.  I know a number of members participated in or closely watched open hearings in which our negotiators testified under oath about the facts of the deal.

So the administration has gone to great lengths to provide a lot of information about the substance of the agreement.  And I’m confident that those kinds of conversations and that kind of exchange of information will continue throughout the month of August.

Q    A couple weeks ago we talked in this room about a plan on Guantanamo coming shortly.  Can you give us an update on the status of that and the timing of it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, I don’t have much of an update on the timing.  The President has made clear that he is firmly committed to reducing the detainee population at the prison at Guantanamo Bay so that we can succeed in eventually closing it.  And this administration is working diligently to finish a plan to safely and responsibly close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and we’ve made a commitment to share that plan with Congress.

I would point out that Congress has left for the August recess, as you point out, and it’s unlikely that we’d be in a position to provide that plan to them when they’re not in session and in Washington D.C. 

But certainly the work on this plan continues here inside the administration.  And I’d remind you that the work on a plan like this involves consultation with the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, certainly the State Department, and other agencies that have to work in a coordinated fashion to put together and then eventually, hopefully, implement the plan.  But the work on that is ongoing, and I don’t have a specific timeline for you at this point.

Q    And lastly, a migrant ship carrying as many as 600 Syrian refuges sunk yesterday.  About at least 200 people appear to have died.  Is the White House following that?  Does it believe Europe is doing enough to make sure these types of tragedies don’t happen, and is there more the U.S. can do as well?

MR. EARNEST:  Jeff, I haven’t seen much more about this incident other than the reports that you’re citing.  I will say that it is just the latest example of the terrible humanitarian situation that’s been caused by the ongoing violence in Syria. 

And the United States has offered significant financial support to other countries that are bearing the brunt of a broader humanitarian and refugee crisis.  And it’s why the administration is redoubling our efforts to try to broker some kind of political situation — or political resolution in Syria, that even if it doesn’t bring the violence all the way to an end, to try to find a way to reduce that violence and try to reduce the terrible humanitarian tool that this conflict has already taken on the people of Syria. 

Q    Thanks.


Q    Josh, yesterday the President said that the hardliners chanting “Death to America” are making common cause with the Republicans.  Was that a little over the top?

MR. EARNEST:  Jim, I think it was a statement of fact.  That you have in Iran a group of hardliners who are strongly opposed to the deal and advocating for its defeat.  And here in the United States you have Republicans in Congress who are advocating against the deal and urging its defeat.  And in fact, you saw some of those same Republicans in Congress actually write a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran advocating for the defeat of the deal, or at least promising to do so.  So the fact is they’ve taken the same position.

Q    But they’re not working with the hardliners chanting “Death to America.”

MR. EARNEST:  Certainly not. 

Q    They don’t share that same spirit —

MR. EARNEST:  No, but they share the same position on the deal.  And there’s an element of it that’s a little ironic because one of the arguments that’s made by Republicans is that the deal will only strengthen the hand — will strengthen the hand and benefit hardliners in Iran.  The fact is, we see hardliners in Iran making the same argument that Republicans are that the deal should be defeated.  

Q    So no regret whatsoever about that?

MR. EARNEST:  And so I guess it is — somebody asked me about irony earlier.  This actually would be a pretty good definition of irony.  And the fact is, Republicans in Congress have the same position on the Iran deal as the hardliners in Iran, despite the fact that Republicans say they have that position claiming that they actually disagree with those hardliners in Iran.  But the fact of the matter is they have the same position on this.

Q    And Senator McConnell has asked that the President retract that comment.  I guess that’s not coming?  He’s not going to retract that comment.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.

Q    And how is rhetoric like that supposed to get Republicans who may be undecided on this off the fence?  Senator Jeff Flake, who accompanied the President to Africa, on that recent trip to Africa, he has said publicly that he’s undecided on this.  How is that kind of rhetoric supposed to bring him to your side?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, Senator Flake is going to make his own decision.  I know that there were some previously undecided Democrats that after the —

Q    You don’t think he’s in common cause with the hardliners, I suppose.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, he is not advocated aggressively for the defeat of the deal, as hardliners in Iran have and as some Republicans in Congress have.

But, Jim, as it relates to the impact of the speech, I leave it to Senator Flake to make a decision based on his own thinking about the agreement, and I’m confident that that’s what he’ll do. I think Democrats who are on the fence will do the same.  And I know of at least five Democrats who were on the fence before the President gave the speech and within 24 hours have announced their support for the deal.  So, apparently, at least a handful of Democrats found the President’s speech to be remarkably persuasive.

Q    And Senator Cardin said earlier this morning that he does not see a comparison between this vote on the Iran deal and the vote to authorize war in Iraq.  Might that have been a comparison that was just a bit overwrought?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, we’re hearing the same kinds of arguments from the same people.  So back in —

Q    Senator Cardin is not one of those people.  

MR. EARNEST:  Again, Senator Cardin is not actively advocating the defeat of the — he’s not actively advocating the defeat of the Iran agreement.  But those who are are suggesting things like, well, we can’t trust Iran and we shouldn’t do any kind of — engage in any kind of diplomacy with Iran.  Some of them are promising that military action against Iran would be really easy and almost painless.  There are others who suggest that we shouldn’t really worry about the fact that 99 percent of the international community is supportive of the agreement.  We should sort of neglect the concerns or opinions that are expressed by some of our closest allies in the world. 

Those are the same arguments that led us to war in 2003 in Iraq — the same arguments.  And the irony is, it’s the same people.  And that’s the argument that the President is making.  And it’s a fact. 

Q    And so what was he after then in that speech yesterday? Was he trying to convince anybody?  Or does he just think that people are in their camps, they’re not going to be moved, and that’s that?

MR. EARNEST:  Jim, as I mentioned, there were five Democrats in the House of Representatives after the President’s speech who, within 24 hours since the President gave his speech, have announced their support for the agreement.  So, again, I do think that there are at least some Democrats and one independent senator that announced their support for the deal after the President’s speech.

Q    The message to Democrats being that we don’t want to go down the road with the Iraq war, that some Democrats made the wrong choice.  The President was saying yesterday, look at the people who made the wrong choice in Iraq in 2003.  He didn’t mention the fact that his Vice President, Secretary of State, former Secretary of State, all cast votes in favor of the Iraq war.

MR. EARNEST:  Jim, I think this was a message to the country that we shouldn’t go down this path again, that we need to learn from mistakes that were made in 2003.  And when people say it’s not worth it to waste our time with diplomacy, and that military action is easy and painless, and that we should neglect and even ignore the opinions of our closest allies in the world, that’s the same argument that was made in 2003, and that’s the argument that we’re hearing from many Republicans who are advocating against the deal here in 2015.

Q    Lastly, totally different subject.  The Democratic National Committee announced that there will be six debates.  Is that enough?  The President, when he was running for President back in 2008, was involved in something like 26 or 27 debates.  It was a wild and wooly race.  This sounds like the party really doesn’t want much of a debate here — six debates and then that’s it.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I leave it to the DNC to decide the appropriate number of debates.  But I’m confident that six debates would give the candidates ample opportunity to make a direct presentation to the country and to Democratic voters across the country about what they’re values and priorities would be if they were elected President of the United States.


Q    Josh, I want to ask you some questions on two different subjects — one, on the debate.  They’re expecting a very, very large crowd to tune in tonight — in the millions, could be 15 million, give or take a few million — but around that number.

MR. EARNEST:  The phrase that comes to mind is, be careful what you wish for.

Q    I didn’t say I was wishing for it, I’m saying —

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not suggesting that you were wishing for it.  I think there might be some Republican candidates who are wishing for it. 

Q    Well, even with that, they are going to be trying to vie for attention and there are expected to be attacks on this President.  How is this White House expected to react and come back to correct what I’m sure this administration would be considering misspeak, misinterpretation of the Iran deal or ACA or anything else?  How is this administration planning on coming back to fight back after tonight’s debate?

MR. EARNEST:  April, there’s no war room or rapid-response team that’s been assembled by the White House.

Q    DNC has one.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, then you can talk to them about what they may be planning.  I suspect that they may be spending some time trying to pull the truth out of the thicket of overheated rhetoric that we can expect to see tonight.  But I’m not aware of any plan here at the White House to respond to the Republican debate tonight.

Q    And also, today, on this big day for the GOP, it’s also a huge day in this country — 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law.  Why is it still needed today?  Because originally, it was for Southern states who had obstacles in helping blacks vote.  They were trying to get the — make sure that — clearing the obstacles for blacks to vote.  Why today are we still saying, 50 years later, in 2015, that we need a Voting Rights Act?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, because I think for a couple of reasons.  The first is there are documented instances where Republicans have acknowledged that they could seek a political advantage based on the way that elections are administered.  And that certainly is not in keeping with the values that are enshrined in our Constitution or the kinds of values that make our country great.

And I would point out that even just yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that’s based in New Orleans issued a ruling raising concerns about the discriminatory impact of a Texas voting law.  That occurred just yesterday.  So that’s a case that is still going through the legal process, so I can’t talk about it too extensively other than acknowledging that this decision was handed down, and I think it’s an indication that there continues to be a need for laws that protect the right of every eligible American to vote. 

And the President — I think, as you’ll hear him say a little bit later today, but as he certainly said in the past — has been quite disappointed at the amount of energy and effort that’s been expended by Republicans to make it harder for eligible Americans to cast a vote.  And that’s why — that’s in part why you’ve seen the Department of Justice go to such great lengths to try to protect the voting rights of veterans and Spanish speakers and elderly Americans who may not have driver’s licenses — and, yes, even African Americans.  And this principle of ensuring that eligible Americans have the opportunity to vote is one that this administration has gone to great lengths to aggressively defend. 

Q    So what is the President going to do and what is he going to say about restoration?  We’ve heard him talk before — is he going to say something new today about restoring the Voting Rights Act?  Because there’s a different, I guess, problem when it comes to voting issues in this country versus 50 years ago.  What is he going to say today that’s new as it relates to voting rights?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I think you heard the President speak quite powerfully about this issue in Selma, Alabama, earlier this year.  And the President at that time used that rather significant platform to urge Democrats and Republicans — everybody who says they’re concerned about voting rights — to act together and to find common ground and advance and renew the Voting Rights Act.  And the President will repeat that call today.


Q    Thank you.  Following up on Jim’s line of questioning, do the Democrats who oppose the Iranian nuclear deal also have common cause with the Iranian hardliners?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Pam, the thing that I would say is that we have seen Republicans, even before the deal was announced, proclaim it a bad deal.  I’d point you back to Sunday, July 12 — not a particularly notable day in American political history, but it is a day when several members of the Republican congressional leadership took to the airwaves — including the airwaves on your network — to proclaim the Iran agreement a bad deal, even though the Iran agreement hadn’t been agreed to yet.  It wasn’t rolled out until two days later.  And that is consistent with the views that are even more colorfully expressed on the streets of Iran by hardliners in Iran who are strongly opposed to the deal. 

Q    But the difference is a rush to judgment — the Democrats took longer to decide they didn’t think it was a good deal?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that there are a number of Democrats who at least considered the deal and at least listened to the President and his national security team make the case.  Now, I certainly disagree with the conclusion that they’ve reached, but at least they took their responsibilities seriously and didn’t just respond out of an ideological or political or partisan opportunity to the leader of the country.

Q    The President has said that he wants members of Congress to judge the deal on its merits, on the facts.  Is that kind of rhetoric, putting Republicans in with Iranian hardliners, keeping the debate on the facts?

MR. EARNEST:  I think, Pam, the other observation I would have for you is that we haven’t had a lot — an extensive debate about the facts, that there’s been a desire on the part of opponents of this deal to not really hone in on the details of the agreement, but to make broader rhetorical arguments, in some cases, even critiquing the tone of the President’s speech about the deal — not actually raising any legitimate concerns about the substance of the deal.  I think that adds some weight to the President’s argument that there is no legitimate alternative that’s being put forward by the other side.  What’s being put forward by the other side is advocating killing a deal that would leave military action as the only alternative to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    One more.  In Selma and in his op-ed this morning, the President talked both about efforts to make it harder for some people to vote, and the fact that so many Americans choose not to vote.  Which would he say is a bigger threat to the exercise of democracy, the efforts to restrict voter rights, or the fact that people are just apathetic?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Pam, the President has made the observation that people do have a choice when they walk into the voting booth of voting for one candidate or another, and it is a choice to say that you’re not going to cast a ballot.  It certainly is not a choice that the President agrees with.  But I think that is materially different than people who expend significant time and energy, and in some cases, significant sums of money, to actually deprive eligible Americans of the right to vote.  So I would describe that as worse.

But people who choose not to engage in their democracy, that’s a problem, too.


Q    Let me start with Iran, if I could.  It does seem as if the public still, beyond the Congress, the public seems to be divided, at least according to polls — very closely divided.  And one of the key questions that seems to be out there is the administration has said that war there or an attack on Iran is not simple and, in fact, would be more difficult, and you relate it to what happened in Iraq.  But isn’t it different, and won’t people see it as different — isn’t it simple to — how different is it to, instead of — you’re not trying to overthrow a government in this case.  You would be trying to just knock out their nuclear sites, which Israel has done on occasion, and why can’t the United States do that?

MR. EARNEST:  You think that’s how they’d see it, Jim? 

Q    Pardon?

MR. EARNEST:  You think that’s how they would see it?  I think the point is I don’t think that the Iranians would see it that way.  And I think it is entirely logical and even constructive, responsible, to assume that a military action against what the Iranian regime has called a national priority would provoke a significant reaction from the Iranian regime.

The President talked about this a little bit in the conversation he had with some columnists in the Roosevelt Room yesterday, that given the significant military advantage that the United States has, it might be a little unlikely that the Iranians would respond directly by attacking the United States.  But we know that Iran and their proxies have a significant number of missiles that are aimed at Israel.  We know right now that Iran is providing at least some support to Shia militia that are operating inside of Iraq — in some cases in rather close proximity to U.S. military trainers.  So there is some vulnerability. 

And you can only imagine — the other example, we saw reports just earlier today that the Iranian military had undertaken some provocative action against U.S. military personnel that were operating in international waters around the Strait of Hormuz.  You can only imagine what the reaction in the United States will be if Iran did any one of those things or their proxies did one of those things.

And that’s where the march to war begins.  And so there are some, including Tom Cotton, Senator Cotton, who suggests that — again, as I alluded to earlier — that military action would be easy.  But that’s exactly the kind of thinking that got us in trouble in Iraq in 2003 — that the first month or so of that war did live up to the hype; that there was shock and awe, and that there was a rapid advance of U.S. forces across the desert in Iraq.  But 12 years later, we’re still dealing with the consequences of that seemingly simply military operation.  And again, I think the parallels of these two situations are undeniable.

Q    Changing the subject to the Voting Rights Act, a couple quick questions on this.  Just if you could — you’ve said that the voter I.D. laws discriminate against older people who don’t have licenses; you mentioned Spanish speakers.  What protection  — if, in fact, voter I.D. laws were to be eliminated, what protections would we have that only those who were supposed to vote would vote?  And does the President support making it easier to vote on the other end by having — by moving the election from Tuesday during the work day to days when people are not at work, or evenings, where people could vote, as is done in some other places?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, as you know, the election rules are written by states and administered by local officials.  And the goal of the Voting Rights Act was to try to provide some uniformity of access to the ballot box for many Americans.  And so in terms of the protections, we obviously are going to rely on state and local officials to put those protections in place and to enforce them.

There are a variety of ideas that people have come up with to make it easier or to somehow encourage more people to participate in the electoral process.  And I know that some who have taken a close look at this issue, for example, have found that there might be some downsides to moving Election Day to a weekend instead of a weekday.

But the President did announce a blue-ribbon commission that included political operatives and attorneys from both parties to take a look at this and to put forward some recommendations about how the process of registering to vote and casting a ballot could be made more convenient for voters.  And we certainly would encourage states to take a look at the results of that blue-ribbon commission and even implement some of those ideas.

Q    If I could just turn to immigration for a moment — does the administration believe — continue to believe that these private prisons for families, including children, are a good idea, even though a judge has said that you need to move on this? Does the administration believe it’s a good idea to be on the same side as Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who has urged you to continue to — urged the DHS to continue to fight to keep detaining women and children?  Is that a good idea?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I’m limited in what I can say about this because of the court case that you referenced.  We have acknowledged from the very beginning that this is a very complicated and even difficult policy problem to confront.  And the best way to confront this policy is to try to prevent this occurrence from happening in the first place.  And that’s why you’ve seen the administration do a variety of things with our partners in Mexico and in Central America to try to stem the flow of women and children who are seeking to illegally enter this country.

So that’s sort of where this starts.  There are some investments that we’ve made in these individual countries; there are steps that we’ve encouraged our Mexican partners to take, and to their credit, they’ve followed through on some of those commitments to try to stem the flow of undocumented workers northward.  But what’s also true is we need to enforce the laws that are on the books, and we do need to have a process for —

Q    But, Josh, the law that’s on the books says that women and children should be put in places not like prisons and, in fact, places that are certified to care for children, or with relatives.  And that’s not what the administration is doing.  That is against the law.  Does the administration feel as though — that it should change?  Wouldn’t it be better to put that money you’re spending on private prisons — millions and millions of dollars — into the court system to process these people faster and get them where they belong?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, some of these specific proposals, I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for the feasibility of implementing them.  But all I can tell you is that this is a difficult policy problem that we have worked very hard to address.  But in terms of weighing the pros and cons here, it’s hard for me to do that because that’s something that’s being done in a court of law right now.


Q    How closely do you think the American people are really paying attention to this Iran nuclear debate?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s hard to tell — particularly at this time of year.  But that’s certainly not going to stop the administration or the President himself from making the case publicly.  And it’s not going to stop the opponents of this deal from making their case to the public, as well.  And I would expect that this debate — even in a month when many Americans are not paying close attention to public policy issues like this, where I think this is a debate that will continue.

Q    Speaking about an opponent to the debate, how concerned is this administration that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be making additional overtures to defeat this bill to Congress, in fact, maybe even in person?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, I’m not aware of any plans that the Prime Minister has, but it’s difficult for me to imagine that he would have a more significant platform than he ascended back in March when he spoke to a joint session of Congress.  So he certainly has had ample opportunity to make his views of this deal known.

Q    Thank you.

MR. EARNEST:  David.

Q    Just a follow-up.  Do you feel that — the President had Jewish American groups over to the White House the other night, and he spoke publicly on the deal, and I think he’s giving an interview today for a Sunday show for Fareed Zakaria.  Does he believe that — you said he’s not going to engage with lawmakers during this two-week vacation.  Does he believe he’s gotten his arguments out now, that they’re out there, he himself has ticked off the criticisms and kind of rebutted them already — does he feel confident that he’s okay to go off on the vacation and not have to speak publicly and sell this deal for two weeks, and that he’s done all he can?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President has had ample opportunity — both in the context of the speech that he gave the morning after the deal was announced, and the news conference that he did with all of you where he spent more than an hour answering questions and taking on directly many of the criticisms of the deal, and of course, he had a sizeable platform yesterday where he delivered the speech at American University.  So the President will do an interview with Fareed Zakaria from CNN today, and I think this will be the focus of most of the interview.

Q    His opponents tonight are going to be on national television talking about their criticisms potentially of this deal, and the next two weeks maybe making other statements, and lawmakers back home hearing from their constituents.  The President doesn’t feel he has to be out there during his vacation time to weigh in on this?

MR. EARNEST:  He does not.  But I wouldn’t rule out that other senior administration officials, however, over the course of the next couple of weeks might be publicly making the case.

Q    One other thing.  This is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.  Has the President ever considered going to Hiroshima?  If so, why has he not?  If not, does he not believe that such a visit would be appropriate?  I believe there was a WikiLeaks cable a few years ago that had some discussions about U.S. diplomat John Roos talking about the Japanese feelings about such a visit.  Has the President considered it?  Is it a nonstarter at this point?  And what is his thinking about whether it’s appropriate for a sitting President to visit?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, David, I think it’s first important to reflect on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the enduring bilateral partnership that’s been built between the United States and Japan.  And today, August 6th and August 9th, remain days for somber reflection and a renewed commitment to building a more peaceful world.  The United States looks forward to continued work with Japan to advance the goal that the President himself has articulated of a world without nuclear weapons. 

You mentioned the ceremony that took place at Hiroshima today.  The United States Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, as well as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Rose Gottemoeller, attended that ceremony and they’re planning to attend the Nagasaki Peace memorial service that’s scheduled for later this week.

Q    But that didn’t answer — does the President believe it’s not appropriate for him to visit as a sitting President because it would look like some sort of apology, or sort of a contrite sort of position for — obviously a decision that killed a lot of Japanese but maybe ended the war more quickly for U.S. military?  I mean, does he think that at some point we have to get past that and maybe a visit would be appropriate at some point, whether him or a future President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule out that kind of possibility into the future.  But there has been a robust debate particularly surrounding the President’s previous visits to Japan.  He’s been there three or four times now, and I think in the context of each trip there has been sort of this public debate and discussion about the propriety of a presidential visit.  And I don’t have a lot of internal thinking to share with you. 

Q    Can you say whether the President or his advisors came down basically against it?  I mean, in Burma he’s done a lot of things to make — get past the sticking points; Cuba, and so on. Does he just come down on the other side on this one?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the fact that he didn’t go to either Hiroshima or Nagasaki on his three or four previous visits to Japan I think does give you an indication of where the President and his team ultimately came down on this.  But I think the other thing that warrants mentioning is what Prime Minister Abe said when he visited the United States earlier this year —  and I think you covered this news conference in the Rose Garden, David, where Prime Minister Abe relayed a constructive message in Washington about reconciliation and U.S.-Japan relations including his tribute to Americans who lost their lives in the war. 

And we certainly take note of Prime Minister Abe’s expression of deep remorse over the war and his reference to Japanese actions that brought suffering to people in countries throughout Asia.  And it is in the interest of all parties in that old conflict to address and transcend the lingering historical issues of that war era.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  The President in his speech yesterday saved some of his harshest criticism for people who had not — or who came out against the deal before actually reading it.  You’ve done the same thing today.  I want to ask you about Prime Minister Netanyahu.  He has been a constant opponent of the deal before the initial agreement, before the final agreement.  Do you put him in that same category as — do you believe he’s done enough to actually read the deal and make a decision based on the merits?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Toluse, I think the President — you were referring to his remarks yesterday to the fact that he respects Prime Minister Netanyahu and that he comes by his views on this topic honestly, but the President does think that he’s wrong.

And I think one illustration I would remind you of is that when an interim agreement was announced, I believe sort of at the end of November of 2013 — this was essentially the agreement that predicated Iran rolling back key aspects of their nuclear program in exchange for a limited amount of sanctions relief while broader negotiations took place to reach a final agreement. When that agreement was announced, Prime Minster Netanyahu called it a historic mistake.  And yet in the run-up to the completion to the final agreement, Prime Minister Netanyahu was actually advocating that we just leave that interim agreement in place permanently rather than trying to reach a final deal.  So something that Prime Minister Netanyahu had previously called a historic mistake 18 months later he was advocating remain in place permanently. 

So, again, I think that is why there’s been some frustration that you’ve seen from the White House and even from the President about some of the Prime Minister’s comments.  But at the same time, the President I think readily acknowledged the serious responsibility that Prime Minster Netanyahu has to provide for the national security of the nation that he leads and for the people of that country.  And that’s what he should do.

And the commitment that this President and this administration and this country feel to cooperating and even strengthening the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.  And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has described the security cooperation between United States and Israel under President Obama’s leadership as unprecedented.  And the President has made clear that his commitment to Israel’s security is as strong as ever, and that’s why he sought to engage in conversations with Prime Minster Netanyahu directly about how to even further deepen our security relationship.  And I think that’s an indication of the amount of respect that President Obama has for Prime Minister Netanyahu and for the nation of Israel despite our legitimate and vigorous disagreement about this one issue.

Q    Sort of following up on the security relationship.  The President mentioned the idea of an additional 10-year security pact.  Do you have any information about when we might hear more about that, what it might entail, and what the conversations have been so far between the U.S. and Israel on it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, mostly they’ve been pretty one-sided because the United States has indicated our desire to try to deepen that security relationship and there’s been a reluctance on the part of many of our national security team’s counterparts to engage in that discussion at this point. 

But the fact is, there is a memorandum of understanding that is in place and will remain in place through, I believe, 2018.  But the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated a desire to begin conversations about extending that memorandum of understanding when the President traveled to Israel back in 2013.

So the desire and commitment to strengthen that relationship exists on the U.S. side.  And we look forward to — and I’m confident that we’ll have at some point — constructive conversations with the Israelis to complete that agreement.

Q    One more.  The Senate went on its vacation without addressing the cybersecurity bill.  I’m wondering if you have any reaction to that.  And also sort of the idea that — for things that don’t have a deadline — cybersecurity, AUMF, different nominations — that when there’s not a hard deadline some of these things may get kicked so far down the road that we may get to a point where the President is almost out of office before those things get addressed.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think our concern is less about the President and more about the impact of Congress not taking care of business before leaving on vacation.  And I think what is true is I think we can count on that even if Congress has delayed consideration of the cyber bill that our adversaries in cyberspace aren’t going to take August off.  And even though Congress has delayed consideration of the AUMF almost indefinitely, I don’t think, unfortunately, that ISIL is going to take August off.

That being said, the administration is encouraged that the Senate has agreed to a path forward to consider important cybersecurity legislation.  And while there are still some areas of concern that we hope to address, the bill’s sponsors have made a good-faith effort to address some of our biggest concerns and have demonstrated their intent to make further important changes.

And there is no reason that cyber legislation, particularly when it comes to something as critical as information-sharing, should be a partisan issue.  We should have an opportunity to work together in bipartisan fashion.  And at least when it comes to the bill’s sponsors, there have been some constructive conversations.  And hopefully when Congress does return in September, they’ll be able to take some steps down that path forward that now has been created. 


Q    Thanks.  On Syria, the Pentagon said today that it has lost track of the 50-odd rebels it trained.  They’ve scattered since coming under attack.  Has the President been briefed?  And is he disappointed at the outcome of the mission?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Margaret, the thing that I would tell you is that the Department of Defense is responsible for this train-and-equip mission.  And we’ve acknowledged that it has been an effort that’s been quite challenging for a variety of reasons, including the need to conduct thorough background investigations on those individuals before they enter the program.  We certainly — we don’t want to be in the business of training and equipping someone who could end up on the other side of the fight.

The United States and our coalition partners has already taken military action to actively defend those individuals who have gone through the training program from aggression perpetrated by extremists inside of Syria. 

And we continue to be pleased with the important progress that’s been made in northern Syria since May — so just three months — over the course of the last three months, we’ve seen anti-ISIL forces, whose efforts have been supported by more than 2,200 coalition airstrikes, and backed by those airstrikes, they’ve made significant progress across northern Syria.  They’ve regained more than 5,300 square kilometers from ISIL.  And these are essentially forces that liberated Kobani from ISIL.  They have connected with other forces that liberated Tal Abyad from ISIL.  And just in the last month, they’ve actually cleared ISIL from the major city of Hasakah. 

So we know that scores of ISIL fighters have been killed in these airstrikes, and we know that this anti-ISIL fighting coalition has made important progress, including advancing to within 30 miles of the self-proclaimed ISIL capital of Raqqa.  We know that those significant gains have also prompted some defections from ISIL.  So that’s an indication that there is some progress that’s being made in northern Syria, despite the significant challenges that our train-and-equip operation has encountered.

Q    But when it comes to that specific train-and-equip program that the President authorized a year ago, is he getting briefed on specifically what’s happening with those rebels who were vetted, who have gone through training — millions of dollars’ worth of training — and have been in theater, now lost?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has been regularly updated on the efforts to stand up and implement this train-and-equip mission.  And we’ve been pretty forthright — particularly the Department of Defense has been pretty forthright about the significant challenges that that operation has faced.  But it has not significantly encumbered the other aspects of our strategy that are yielding important results in northern Syria.

Q    But is there anything specific to this train-and-equip mission that’s informative for the other efforts in Jordan, in Turkey, and Qatar?  I mean, how is the White House viewing this specific instance of what happened to those who’ve gone through that American program?  I mean, how is it going to change things going forward?

MR. EARNEST:  I would encourage you to ask that question to DOD because they’re the ones that are responsible for implementing the deal — or implementing this mission.  But the President certainly does have the expectation that the United States and our coalition partners learn from the significant challenges that we have encountered in trying to train, equip and empower these Syrian opposition fighters on the ground in Syria.

Q    But you wouldn’t say at this point that the White House is disappointed, that the President is disappointed with the mission thus far?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we’ve been pretty forthright about the significant challenges that they’ve encountered and I know that the Department of Defense is working to improve our performance here.

Q    Is there a decision at this point from this building at least whether there’s a responsibility to go in and rescue or account for those who have been scattered and lost, and have been through that training program?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any policy decision that’s been made on that kind of question.  I’d encourage you to check with the Department of Defense on that.  The policy decision that we have announced and that was announced I believe earlier this week is that the United States and our coalition partners would not hesitate to use military airpower to defend those anti-ISIL fighters if they come under attack from extremists that are operating in Syria.  And that is a step that the United States and our coalition partners has already taken at least once, and we’re prepared to do it again.

Q    One more on Syria, a different matter, though.  Secretary Kerry said today that the U.S. and Russia have come to an agreement on how to establish accountability for the continued use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.  And that’s going to the U.N. tomorrow.  Would the White House like to see a consequence for the use of those weapons if the U.N. does find what the United States already believes, which is that Assad is continuing to use chemical weapons?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, on a variety of occasions, has made clear his concern about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  And the administration did work effectively with the Russians to remove Assad’s declared chemical weapons stockpile.  But there are ongoing concerns based on reports that you’ve cited that are now being closely examined by the United Nations, and we certainly are supportive of that process.  And I think I can say in general that the United States, using some of our own resources and capabilities, is also monitoring those reports, as well. 


Q    Thanks, Josh.  It’s housekeeping.  I got to do it.  Give me a percent chance that the President is not going to be watching tonight.  He’s got to watch, right?  I mean a couple days ago there was a letter sent to supporters that said, “The other side is counting on folks like you sitting this one out, so I need you to say that you’ll be watching on Thursday.”  So unless this is a “do as I say and not as I do,” he’s got to be watching, right?  (Laughter.)  Can we just say he’s going to be watching?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s fair to say that the Democratic National Committee has got a lot of political junkies on their email list, and I think there will be, as a result, a lot of Democrats that are tuning into the Republican debate, even if they’re not planning to cast a vote in the Republican primary.

Again, I’d be surprised if the President spent a lot of his evening devoted to watching the debate.  But I’m confident that the highlights — or the lowlights, as you might describe them — (laughter) —

Q    You might.

Q    As you might describe them.

MR. EARNEST:  Or as I might describe them — that the President will get a chance to take a look at those, too.

Q    All right.  I appreciate that. 

Wendy Sherman told the Senate banking folks yesterday that she didn’t see the final documents on the — and I know you’ve pushed back on this example of using the phrase “side agreements” or “side deals” — how much of a concern is it to you if she didn’t even see the final documents?

MR. EARNEST:  We’re not concerned about this because the United States and our negotiating team is aware of what’s included in those agreements, and our negotiating team has taken the extraordinary step of actually convening classified sessions with the entire membership of the House and the entire membership of the United States Senate in separate sessions to describe to them the contents of those agreements. 

And that’s why members of Congress can be confident that they know what’s in those agreements.  And to the extent that that factors into their ultimate decision about whether or not to approve the deal, they have the information that they need to make that decision.

Q    But that’s information not based on the final documents, is that correct?

MR. EARNEST:  That information is based on an accurate accounting on what’s included in the agreement between the IAEA and Iran.

Q    Speaking of the IAEA and Iran, there are some reports out there that suggest that the Iranians will be able to submit their own soil samples for testing.  Doesn’t that again lend the argument — lend to the argument that perhaps we should have others on the ground to actually observe this because if they’re cleaning up past facilities, if they’re sort of cherry-picking their own soil samples and providing them to the IAEA, can you see how that would be a major concern to many on Capitol Hill?

MR. EARNEST:  Not really, principally because the IAEA is an international, impartial association of nuclear experts —

Q    They may be impartial, but if the Iranians are giving cherry-picked samples, how can they be assured of their authenticity?

MR. EARNEST:  The point is these nuclear experts know exactly what information and access they need in order to write a report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  And what the United States and our international partners have done is actually made clear to the Iranians that they need to follow through on the requests made by the IAEA for all of the information and access that they need.  And if Iran fails to do that, they will not get any sanctions relief.  And that’s why, as you point out, I’ve quibbled with the description that others have had in labeling these agreements side agreements.  The fact is no aspect of this agreement moves forward unless Iran complies with the request for information and access that the IAEA has submitted.

The other thing that the United States has done is we’ve actually — with our coalition partners — we’ve actually put a timeline on it.  We have said that this information and access has to be provided by October 15th.  And that’s what our expectation is, and if it’s not provided, all of that access and information is not provided by the deadline, Iran won’t get any sanctions relief.

Q    I want to ask you again on D.C. statehood.  I know we talked a bit about it the other day.  When you’re talking about a city with more people than two states at least, and probably a third, given the growth in this area, and yet they don’t have representation — and the President has the opportunity to really be someone who can use the platform to really not only defend but also support the idea that hundreds of thousands of American citizens don’t have the opportunity to be properly represented, and yet he hasn’t done so forcefully — and I’m just curious why.

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President has.  The President does support statehood.  The President supports home rule in D.C.  And we can pull you the examples where the President has done that.  I think you’re right, I don’t think that he’s done that recently. But certainly the President’s views on this topic have not changed.

Q    Thanks.

MR. EARNEST:  Chris.

Q    If I can follow up on that, the Iran stuff.  You talked about the robust briefings, and there’s no doubt — John Kerry has been out there, the Vice President, Wendy Sherman was on Capitol Hill yesterday.  Secretary Moniz, who is well-respected on the Hill, was involved in those classified briefings.  And yet there does seem to be an indication that this is very close.  And even though you’ve expressed confidence that you’ll hold the third — maybe uncomfortably close — it would seem to me that the options for why this is, is that either something in these extensive amount of briefings, including the President’s own speeches, is lacking; that Bibi Netanyahu and AIPAC are out-lobbying you; that the clarity that the President says he has on this deal is not so clear to a lot of other smart people, including Democrats.  Why is it at this stage that a number of Democrats who are undecided have said that it’s because they need more information?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there’s a lot there.  Let me start by saying I don’t know if the administration has been out-lobbied.  We certainly have been outspent.  And we expected that that will be true over the course of August.  That’s just a fact. And there are a lot of details in this agreement to consider.  And I’m not surprised that there are a lot of members of Congress that are taking a thoughtful approach to this, that are taking their time to consider all of the details of the agreement, to benefit from extensive briefings from senior administration officials, including those who negotiated the agreement.  I would expect that there are even some members of Congress that are taking some time to talk to some outside sources, maybe even some of their constituents about this.  That’s perfectly appropriate. 

As you’ll recall, Congress has given themselves 60 days with which to consider this agreement, and I’m not surprised to hear that it looks like some of them may take almost all of those 60 days.  That seems like an understandable approach.  We certainly welcome those who have already decided and come forward with their public view of this.  But if there are other members of Congress who say, I want to take my time and I want to look carefully at this and benefit from all the briefings and talk to my constituents, that’s perfectly appropriate as well.  And I don’t think it indicates any sort of weakness on either the President’s pitch or the substance of the deal.

Q    So how important is that final number?  If it’s breathtakingly close — for lack of a better adjective — if it’s really razor thin, what kind of message does that send?  And how much do the numbers matter to the President and to the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Not at all.  And let me tell you why.  The fact is we don’t need Congress to approve this deal; we just need Congress not to screw it up.  So Congress has an opportunity to play spoiler here, and if they fail on that effort, this deal will move forward.  It will be implemented.  And we will have taken the most important step we can — the best step we can — to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    Let me go to the debate and the questions about whether or not you will react in any way.  I know you don’t have a rapid-response team, but I wonder how the White House sees its role. Because whoever the nominee may be — and let’s assume that it is either Secretary Clinton or Vice President Biden, both of whom have, obviously, a close association with this White House, and the status of this White House and this President could play a role in how voters view them and consider their vote.  What do you see the White House role — how does the President view his role as this campaign goes on in terms of responding to attacks that are inevitable from the Republicans?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there have been a couple of occasions where you all have had the opportunity to ask questions of the President about comments that have been made by Republicans, and there are a couple of times where the President has responded quite directly and forcefully.  And there have been other times where the President has gotten those kinds of questions and waved them off.

So I think we’ll do this on a case-by-case basis.  And I think the fact is — here’s the thing that I think will — this is the other — to the extent that I have commentary in the Republican debate — this is the other thing that I think is illuminating.  I think it is — while I hesitate to speculate or predict —

Q    Come on, come on.

MR. EARNEST:  — what the debate is likely to include, I will say this.  I feel confident in saying that the Republicans candidates are going to spend more time talking about the President’s plans than they are about their own.  And that’s an indication of the political capital and influence that the President still wields not just in Washington D.C. but across the country; that there are going to be extensive discussions in the debate certainly about the Iran deal, certainly about our efforts to counter ISIL, but also about the President’s executive action to do the most significant thing we’ve ever done to try to fight the causes of climate change, or the President’s executive actions to address our broken immigration system.

There’s going to be a lot of discussion tonight — I think the debate is going to go on two hours.  But I think most of the debate is going to be about the President and the influence that he wields.

Q    — in relation to the Iran deal, just yesterday, the President gave a major speech, but in the afternoon, so most people will have only seen clips.  In the meantime, you may get 13 million or however many people they think might watch this debate tonight hearing all of it, and hearing the other side in a more extensive way.  Is that a problem, especially as members of Congress go back to their constituents?

MR. EARNEST:  If it is a problem, it’s not one that we’re worried about, primarily because I do think the American people will consider the source.

Q    And I have to ask you, finally, so if — it’s unclear exactly how much time the President might be spending watching the debate tonight.  Any interest in the happy hour debate? 

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, right, the “undercard” I think as some people have described it.  (Laughter.) 

Q    We won’t be back in there watching the undercard at 5 o’clock —

MR. EARNEST:  I doubt it.  I doubt it.

Q    More importantly, is Jon Stewart — is he going to stay up and watch that?

MR. EARNEST:  That might get the President’s attention.


Q    Thanks.  The President alluded in his speech yesterday to the millions of dollars of advertising you just mentioned — you expect to be outspent.  Is it a secret that AIPAC is the group that has formed the outlet that’s going to be running most of these ads that members will see when they’re home for August? Was he specifically talking about AIPAC?  And does he think that what they’re doing is somehow inappropriate, or that the approach they’ve taken is out of line in advocating against the deal?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, I think there are some other organizations that have pledged to spend money criticizing the deal.  I don’t think AIPAC is the only one.  But I haven’t taken a close look at this — I wouldn’t be surprised if they are the organization that’s committed to spending the most amount of money on this. 

I do think the President is disappointed that too often critically important policy issues like this get reduced to whoever can spend the most amount of money advocating for or against it.  That’s probably not the healthiest way for us to engage in this political debate.  But given the rules of our system, that’s what people are allowed to do, and I certainly wouldn’t raise questions about the right of anyone to express their views, whether they’re an office holder or merely an interested observer.  And I think the President was direct in his speech yesterday, and the President was pretty direct in the meeting that he had with Jewish American leaders here at the White House a couple of days ago.

The concerns that some of the strongest supporters of Israel have about Iran are entirely justified.  The President has those concerns.  The President is concerned about the offensive — to put it mildly — anti-Semitic rhetoric that’s propagated by the Iranian government.  He’s got deep concerns about the frequency with which Iran threatens Israel.  He’s got significant concerns about the way that Iran supports proxies in the region that threaten Israel — I’m referring to Hezbollah.  That’s why the President makes the case that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is so important and so clearly in the national security interest of Israel.

I guess that’s how it’s possible for people to have such starkly different views of the deal, but to do so respectfully — because the concerns that are expressed by many of those who are supporters of Israel are concerns that the President shares, but the fact is that leads them to different conclusions.  The degree to which Iran is able to threaten Israel is precisely why the President is pursuing what he believes is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Not the only reason.  The main reason is that he believes it’s in the national security interest of the United States.  But there is no denying that Israel’s national security is a priority for the President as well.  And that’s one of the important reasons that he’s pursuing this diplomatic agreement from preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q    But he seemed to suggest in his speech and, to some extent, in that meeting that you referenced, that he believes that the claims that are being spread by some of these groups are inaccurate — and willfully inaccurate.  Does he think that they’re lying about the deal?  Does he think that they are making charges that simply aren’t true?  Not to say whether their concept of what the deal will or will not do isn’t right, but just that they’re making false claims?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t done a specific fact check of any television ads that have run, so let me just say in general  — and I don’t have anything specific in mind when I say this — but I think, in general, there have been a significant number of criticisms lodged against the deal that don’t stand up to scrutiny, and that’s been the source of some frustration on the part of the President, there’s no doubt about that.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Another question on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  A lot of the coverage is focused on the fact that the victims — the average age is 80 years old — they are the only generation of people who have been the victims of a nuclear attack.  And this is an issue that has long been important to the President since even before he became President.  And I’m just curious if you happen to know if their stories have had any particular impact on his own conviction that nonproliferation is a very important goal?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Sarah, I would say that there are a number of American officials, including Ambassador Kennedy, that have had the opportunity to hear the experiences and testimony of survivors.  And I think to a person, each of those officials, has found those survivors’ stories to be quite moving and poignant. 

And I don’t know if the President has engaged in any of those conversations.  Presumably the possibility that he would have had to have those kinds of conversations would have come up during his trip to — one of his trips to Japan, and I don’t know if that occurred or not.

But certainly the President is a student of history, as you all know, and there has been extensive historic discussion and review about the consequences of President Truman’s fateful decision that brought the Second World War to an end.  And these are, to put it mildly, weighty issues to scrutinize and to discuss and to, in some cases, even debate, and people have been doing it for 70 years.  I suspect that people will be doing it for at least another 70.

And there’s no doubt that at least some of this has influenced the view, not just of President Obama but of many previous Presidents, to set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons.  And it certainly is a goal that this administration and this President is committed to pursuing.  The President has convened a couple of national security summits.  The first one was here in Washington D.C. and I believe there’s slated to be another one next year, and we’ll have some more details on that soon.

Q    Thank you, Josh.

Q    So do you foresee any — what’s the next step?  He laid out a very ambitious agenda in his Prague speech in 2009.  Do you see us being able to check anything else off of that?  And I have one more question also.  His peace prize — his Nobel Peace Prize was based sort of prospectively in part on that speech and other things.  And in light of securing this Iran deal, do you know if the President has gotten a chance to reflect a little more on that prize and if he feels that it’s now vindicated or anything like that?

MR. EARNEST:  In terms of our ongoing nonproliferation efforts, let me see if I can have somebody follow up with you — if you’re working on a specific story, there may be some additional facts about our record and our plans that we can share with you for that story.

As it relates to the President’s Nobel Peace Prize, I think what I can say about that is I know that the speech that the President gave when he received the prize back in December of 2009 was on his mind as he was writing the speech that he delivered yesterday, and I do think that there are some rather distinctive parallels between those two speeches. 

Rebecca, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  In his speech yesterday, the President chided opponents of the Iran deal, saying it’s easy to play on people’s fears.  But isn’t that what he’s doing in warning of war with Iran as the only realistic alternative to this deal? 

MR. EARNEST:  No.  I think what the President is actually doing is the President delivered a powerful argument to give diplomacy a chance to work, because the President believes that diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  That is, after all, why the President is pursuing this path.

And it is merely a fact that if Congress kills this diplomatic opening that a military conflict becomes much more likely and is, in fact, the only alternative to this diplomatic agreement.  And I say that because we’re now 18 days or so into this debate and we’ve yet to hear the alternative that many of our opponents swear exists but it hasn’t actually materialized.

So I don’t think it’s a stretch for the President to point out the consequences of Congress acting to kill the deal.

Okay.  Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.  Enjoy the debate. 

Q    As you.


2:07 P.M. EDT

Press Releases: Remarks on U.S.-Vietnam: Looking to the Future

Well, good afternoon and welcome, everybody. (Applause.) This is an really historic moment as we mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. And what a journey it has been. And I congratulate all those of you who have helped to make this happen.

I am really delighted by the presence of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Phan Binh Minh. Thank you so much for your partnership and efforts. We really appreciate what you do. (Applause.)

And I’m very pleased to be here with – the president just said to me, pointed to Ted Osius, our ambassador – he said, “He’s Vietnamese; he’s not American.” (Laughter.) And I said, “You’ve converted him.” But the truth is he’s one of our finest diplomats, Ambassador Ted Osius. Thank you for what you do. (Applause.)

I have to tell you that seeing Ted, I am reminded – perhaps a little bit painfully – of when we first met. It was about 17 years ago, and I was then a U.S. Senator. And I came here to participate in a bike ride with American veterans, particularly a number who had been wounded during the war, who were doing this ride. And the heat and the humidity, obviously, made it a challenging ride. But even worse, every time that I eased up on my pedals and I’d look ahead, there was Ted Osius cruising away like he was on some kind of lazy Sunday afternoon jaunt. And I later found out why he looked so good. Ted was what we in the United States would call a “ringer” – that is, someone who makes it look like he’s riding a bike for the first time, but he’s really pretty expert. And I learned that he once rode the full 1,200-miles between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – and unlike some people that I know, he cycled a great distance without falling off his bike, folks. (Laughter.)

I actually will never forget the crowd of citizens in Ho Chi Minh City that assembled at the finish line to cheer us on that day. They performed acrobatics, there was a dragon dance, there was a high-wire act. And as we left, Ted stood up and in perfect Vietnamese he thanked everybody for contributing in such a spontaneous and heartfelt way to the healing between our two countries.

And as we all know, that healing took a while and didn’t come easy for either side. It was a painstaking process that required a lot of hard work, a certain amount of courage, and some compromise. And we all know that there could have been no progress without resolving the great unanswered questions at the time surrounding the possibility of missing Americans left behind in Southeast Asia. We also knew that those of us who had set out to build a new relationship were tempting the emotions of opposition of many people in both countries.

Into that cacophonous cauldron, John McCain and I were thrown together. Some were suspicious of both of us, but together we found common ground. And I will personally never forget standing with John McCain in the very cell in the Hanoi Hilton in which he spent a number of years of his life, just the two of us, alone in that cell as I listened to him talk about the experience. I will always be grateful for his partnership in helping to make real peace with Vietnam.

And I will always be grateful especially to the Vietnamese people. They helped us to search for a few thousand of our fallen troops even as a larger number – a far larger number – of theirs remained missing. They voluntarily dug up their own rice paddies. They let us into their homes, into their history houses, into their prisons, even. And on more than one occasion, they guided us across what were quite literally minefields. In a place where there were many reasons for bitterness, there was none. And I am grateful to the leaders who had the vision to make the decisions to help us move forward.

I personally took in the vicinity of some 16 or 17 trips to the region, studied every detail of the stories behind the missing soldiers, relived my own memories of the war during the time I was here, and eventually, one of the things we are proudest of, those of us involved in this, was that this work became part – actually the creation – of the most comprehensive and exhaustive accounting of the missing and dead in all of the history of human warfare. Together, we provided answers to hundreds of waiting families in our country, and we also helped the Vietnamese to be able to find answers for their own missing, which were far larger in number than ours. What is most important: that work still continues.

So many people on both sides gave years of their lives to this effort. I particularly want to thank all those who took part in the investigation and the diplomacy that followed: My close advisors Francis Zwenig, and Nancy Stetson, and Virginia “Ginny” Foote; John McCain’s advisor Mark Salter; the investigation’s chief counsel Bill Codinha; my lifelong friend, who is here, Tommy Vallely; and steadfast partners with that effort – I know Chris Gregory, another veteran who’s also here; and then partners in the Senate – Chuck Robb, Bob Kerrey, Chuck Hagel, all veterans of the war; Congressman Pete Peterson, a former prisoner of war; General John Vessey; and Admiral Chuck Larson. On the Vietnamese side, Prime Minister Vo Van Ket; Foreign Ministers Win Maan Com and Win Ka Thaat, the father of our current deputy prime minister; Ambassador Lay Vaan Baann; Ambassador Phan who is here, who did an extraordinary job of translating; General Secretary Do Moi; and General Le Duc Anh – they were all instrumental and committed to this effort and made difficult decisions.

Standing here today, I am reminded now of conversations that I have had recently with people who talk almost casually about the prospect of war with one country or another. And I am tempted to say: You don’t have the first idea of what you are talking about.

For sure, there are times when one may have no choice but to go to war, but it is never something to rush to or to accept without exploring every other available option. The war that took place here half a century ago divided each of our countries and it stemmed from the most profound failure of diplomatic insight and political vision. Looking back, we honor the bravery of those who fought on both sides, and we will never cease to mourn those who were lost or injured.

Let me be clear: The process of moving on and healing and restoring our diplomatic ties is not about forgetting. If we forget, we cease to learn. And the tragedy of what happened here should be a constant reminder of the horror and the suffering that war inflicts.

But neither are we here to dwell on the past. For many years, I have looked forward to the time when Americans would hear the word “Vietnam” and think more of a country, not a conflict. I believe I can say – again without failing to honor past sacrifice and service – that we have reached that point now.

As reflected by General Secretary Trong’s visit to Washington last month, our leaders are deeply engaged on a wide range of economic and security issues. Our citizens are getting to know each other better through student exchanges, business deals, tourism, family ties. More and more Americans of Vietnamese descent are now building new ties to the land that they or their parents and their grandparents left – another important part of our healing process. As a Senator, I used to point out that the generation at that time, when I was working with people to normalize – at that time, the generation at that time was born after the war. Well, today, the young adults of America and Vietnam were born after the normalization of relations, let alone the war. What was extraordinary to my generation could not be more routine or natural to this generation.

So the time has come to look ahead, and to understand that the United States-Vietnam agenda is no longer shaped primarily by what was. We are not still in the process of reconciliation. The big news today is that the United States and Vietnam have reconciled.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at the transformation that has taken place. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 60,000 annual American visitors to Vietnam. Today, there are nearly half a million. Twenty years ago, there were fewer than 800 Vietnamese students studying in the United States. Today, there are 17,000. Twenty years ago, bilateral trade between us in our goods was only $451 million. Today, it’s more than 36 billion. These aren’t just statistics. They are a measure of one of the most remarkable transformations in history.

In 2013, President Obama and President Sang launched a comprehensive partnership between our governments, a partnership that also extends more broadly to our peoples. Today, we are strengthening our ties in a host of areas – education, the environment, science, technology, high-tech, the Internet, and even military-to-military cooperation. We also have a priceless opportunity to achieve a breakthrough on trade.

The negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement began more than five years ago. They involve a dozen nations along the Pacific Rim, and they would elevate trade among the countries representing nearly 40 percent of the globe’s economic output. When we complete this agreement, we will have built an unprecedented regional platform on which to support innovation and create jobs, enhance the environment, improve working conditions, and strengthen commercial ties from Hanoi and Tokyo to Santiago and Washington D.C. It’s no wonder that surveys show strong support for this landmark agreement in both of our countries. More trade with higher standards – including the right to form independent labor unions – is a critical milestone on the path to a shared and sustainable future.

Now for sure, the true measure of our partnership is not just whether our economies grow. It is also how they grow. We know that rising sea levels, increasingly frequent and intense typhoons, poorly planned dams, and drought and saltwater intrusion pose a terrible threat to the Mekong Delta, with its heavily populated, low-lying areas.

Many of you know that I was introduced to the Lower Mekong and to the Mekong Delta years ago under different circumstances, and to me it has a special meaning. I spent some time in that delta decades ago, when I was in the United States Navy, and I got to know the canals and the rivers very well – the incredible panorama of children, rice paddies, water buffalo; the incredible fish and the natural beauty everywhere that you look. But natural beauty is only part of the Mekong’s story. The River Basin is also the economic lifeblood of an entire region, helping to sustain the lives, pay the bills, and fill the stomachs of more than 70 million people.

Who would have thought when I was patrolling around on a boat on the Mekong River in 1968 and ‘69 that nearly half a century later, I would have a chance to create an initiative to help save that very river? But that is what we are doing with our partners – Cambodia, Thailand, Laos PDR, Vietnam, Myanmar, and a group of donor friends. Through the Lower Mekong Initiative, we are working to improve the country’s resilience to the effects of climate change. And the United States is focusing assistance on clean energy and the development of sustainable infrastructure and ecosystem resource management. We have seen the warnings, my friends, and we are committed to translating our mutual concern into action.

We have learned through years of mistakes that a healthy environment and a healthy economy go hand in hand. So does a high performing system of education. Vietnam is one of the youngest countries in the world – 23 million people – a quarter of the country – below the age of 15. So it is good that the commitment to education in Vietnam is strong, with literacy rates above 90 percent and more than 160 colleges and universities. But here, as in many countries – including in the United States – there is often a gap between what students learn in the classroom and the skills that are required in the workplace.

To succeed in today’s global economy, graduates must know more than what to think. They must also know how to think and they must have the incentive to innovate and to pursue new ideas. One way to ensure that is to create partnerships between top academic institutions, which is exactly the course that we are on. The Institute of International Education has sponsored a series of partnerships between U.S. universities and Vietnam. The University of Hawaii offers an Executive MBA program that is accredited in the United States and in Vietnam. And thanks to the hard work and vision of people like Tommy Vallely – and an endorsement from the government here – we’re moving ahead with the founding of Fulbright University in Ho Chi Minh City. In fact, just last month, Vietnam issued a license for construction to begin on the school, which is affiliated with Harvard and will emphasize academic freedom and an awareness of what the global marketplace demands.

Two decades ago, when the United States and Vietnam normalized relations, we did share a vision that our two countries would one day cooperate on education, the environment, the economy. But the fact is that something far less predictable – indeed, less imaginable – has now become the new normal – because today we are cooperating on security issues as well.

For example, Vietnam is a partner in America’s Global Peace Operations Initiative. Last year, it began contributing to UN peace operations in a small way, but with plans to send engineering, medical, and other specialized units in the near future. Together with the United Kingdom and the United States – our country is helping personnel from this country to be able to prepare for those specialized kinds of deployments.

During General Secretary Trong’s visit to Washington, we also signed a memorandum of understanding as part of our Global Health Security Agenda to help build capacity to prevent and respond to the spread of epidemic disease. And as we have all been reminded in recent times, a threat to public health anywhere is a danger everywhere, and so countries need to work together if we’re going to safeguard the wellbeing of our citizens. It requires cooperation – diseases that know no border, diseases that can spread around the world with the global marketplace, threaten everybody and we all need to build the capacity to be able to respond.

Our two governments also share an interest in freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea. The United States has made it clear that we do not favor one set of claims over another – but we do support a process through which disputes can be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law. International law treats all countries equally; it does not recognize spheres of influence or the right of large nations to impose their will on smaller neighbors simply because they can; it tells us that the resolution of disputes should depend on who has the better argument, who has the law on their side – not who has the bigger army. That is a core tenet of America’s foreign policy in this region as it has been in other regions over the years. Whether big or small, all countries should refrain from provocative acts that add to tensions or might further militarize the sea.

Finally, today relations between the United States and Vietnam are, as I noted, comprehensive. Even as we focus on the future, we continue our joint recovery operations to answer every question regarding the possible fate of Americans or Vietnamese still unaccounted for, and this is something we have continued to do in the rest of Southeast Asia. It is perhaps notable that in our quest to resolve the issues of POW/MIA, together with Cambodia and Laos PDR, the United States and Vietnam created this extraordinary, most comprehensive and exhaustive effort to account for missing and lost, and I believe that is a fundamental and important statement about the values of our two countries. That quest will continue for as long as there are leads.

We’ve also reached a milestone in our ability to be able to reclaim the soil that was contaminated by dioxin in Vietnam, particularly in the vicinity of Danang Air Base, and to find and remove explosives that remain from the war. It is worth remembering that it was our mutual effort to develop an understanding on these very issues – issues that came directly out of the bitter conflict – that first began to break down the barriers of mistrust that separated our countries.

The barriers of mistrust and misunderstanding are continuing to fall, and I hope on other issues that our governments have debated over the years, that we will continue to be able to make progress. I am happy, for instance, that we have established such an honest, substantive, and increasingly productive dialogue on human rights and democratic freedoms.

The freedom to speak, the freedom to worship, to travel, to acquire knowledge and information, and to take part in decisions that affect one’s life – these are essentials. Every country and culture is unique, and we respect the differences of basic structures of governance. But this idea of freedom is universally recognized. It is rooted in our fundamental human need to be accorded dignity and to be treated with respect.

Here in Vietnam, your new constitution speaks of democracy and pledges to protect human rights. And in my conversation today with President Sang, he couldn’t have been more clear about how important it is to the leaders of Vietnam to respect to the rights of their people. They do and want to. Your government has committed to make Vietnam’s domestic laws conform to that new constitution and to international human rights standards. Independent surveys have shown consistently that the Vietnamese people have a deep admiration for democratic institutions and values – a trait that they certainly have in common with the citizens of the United States. And so even as we respect the different political systems, we also have grounds for discussion about the implementation of constitutional protections, about political prisoners, the role of journalists, legal reform, and what it means to observe in practice what our commitments require in principle.

The United States recognizes that only the Vietnamese people can determine their political system. And we speak with some humility on these matters, because as you can read and see, we are working hard to perfect our own system. But there are basic principles that we will always defend: No one should be punished for speaking their mind so long as they are peaceful; and if trading goods flow freely between us, so should information and ideas. And we believe that progress in upholding these basic human rights will absolutely serve Vietnam’s interests in several ways.

First, international norms and standards protect Vietnam; Vietnam rightly appeals to them when its interests are threatened. It is important, therefore, as your government has recognized, to respect those standards and norms without exception.

Second, giving people peaceful outlets for expressing grievances – whether it’s a blogger who exposes corruption or a farmer who complains about a land grab – it decreases the chance that people will resort to violence and get their message across. And it will help the government to keep up with changes that are already happening as the world at large changes. After all, millions of people in Vietnam are already freely expressing themselves on Facebook; many thousands of Vietnamese workers are already freely associating to defend their interests – even though it is sometimes risky. Giving full recognition to these rights in the law will increase trust between citizens and their state, and between workers and their employers. It will strengthen social cohesion and stability.

Finally, progress on human rights and the rule of law will provide the foundation for a deeper and more sustainable strategy and strategic partnership between the United States and Vietnam. Only you can decide the pace and the direction of the process of building this partnership. But I am sure you have noticed that America’s closest partnerships in the world are with countries that share a commitment to certain values. The more we have in common, the easier it will be to convince our people to deepen the bonds and make the sacrifices on each other’s behalf.

Vietnam and our shared journey from conflict to friendship crosses my mind frequently as I grapple with the complex challenges that we face in the world today – from strife in the Middle East to the dangers of violent extremism with Daesh, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and dozens of other violent extremists, and also even the dangers of the march of technology with cyber intrusion and potential of cyber warfare.

That we are standing here today celebrating 20 years of normalized relations is proof that we are not doomed merely to repeat the mistakes that we have made in the past. We have the ability to overcome great bitterness and to substitute trust for suspicion and replace enmity with respect. The United States and Vietnam have again proven that former adversaries really can become partners, even in the complex world that we face today. And as much as that achievement matters to us, it is also a profound and timely lesson to the rest of the world.

When President Clinton announced America’s decision in 1995, he did so with a clear mission. Echoing the words of the scriptures, he said: “Let this moment…be a time to heal and a time to build.”

It took us 20 years to normalize ties. It took us 20 more years to move from healing to building. Think of what we can accomplish in the 20 years to come.

I told you at the start about our ambassador’s bicycling adventures. Well, this spring, he joined our Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and officials from Vietnam’s foreign ministry in scaling Vietnam’s highest peak, Mt. Fansipan. He tells me it was a tough climb, through rain and cloud, and then down in darkness when the party almost lost its way. But they made it together – together. And so it is with us.

There are steep hills yet to climb, and hard choices to make for our partnership in order to reach its full potential. But we know that the sky above us is the limit; given what we have achieved, and our people’s common aspirations, anything – and everything – is possible.

That is a testament to the grit and determination of both Americans and Vietnamese, and a powerful sign that – although ever mindful of the past – we are dedicated to a future of prosperity, peace, and freedom for all. Thank you. (Applause.)

East Asia and the Pacific: Remarks With Vietnamese Deputy Prime ...

FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) Secretary John Kerry, members of the press and media, first of all, I would like to welcome Mr. Secretary John Kerry back to Vietnam on his official visit. Your visit take place at very important moment when our two countries celebrate the 20th anniversary of our establishment of diplomatic relations. During the talks between myself and Mr. Secretary, we have discussed way and means to deepen and promote the (inaudible) interests of the two countries, enhancing the cooperation for the benefits of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.

With regard to bilateral relations, we talk about the implementations of the outcomes which, during the high-level visits, especially the visit by our general secretary in which we talked to the U.S. with the issuance of the Joint Vision Statement between Vietnam and the U.S., we also talk about measures to promote trade, investment, and economic cooperation so that U.S. will become number-one investor in Vietnam. We also talk about measures to remove the war legacies and enhance people-to-people contact.

On global issues, we talked about different directions and orientations to resolve global issues, including climate change. We discussed measures to promote the roles of regional arrangements in the maintenance of peace, security, and development in the Asia Pacific, including maintaining peace, stability, and security in the East Sea. We share a lot of interest in promoting our bilateral relations. We share responsibilities as well in maintaining a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Asia Pacific. We agree to enhance our cooperation in economic linkages at both regional and global levels, including early conclusions of TPP negotiations.

I agree – I believe that the positive outcomes of Mr. John Kerry’s visit will contribute significantly to the enhancement of our bilateral cooperation in the near future. I’m more than willing to cooperate with you for these noble goals.

And now I would like to invite Mr. Secretary to take the floor.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister. I really appreciate a very generous welcome here. It’s already been a memorable visit, and I’m very, very grateful (inaudible) government for receiving us and for the distinguished leaders who were a part of the transformation of the last 20 years and were able to join us over here today.

In the past two decades, the wisdom of the process of normalizing our relationship has been amply proven. In fact, it really made possible today my meetings with President Sang and Deputy Prime Minister Minh during which we had very candid discussions about how our relationship has developed and about how we can build on the progress that we have already made. I look forward to my meeting with Secretary General Trong this afternoon.

As the deputy prime minister said, the Trans-Pacific Partnership – TPP as it’s called – is a very important part of our agenda, but it’s not all of our agenda. It’s just one part. If approved, it will be a very significant follow-on to our landmark bilateral trade agreement in 2001, which has already caused trade between our countries to increase exponentially. When we began this process, our trade was not more than $451 million. Today, it’s $36 billion, and jobs have been created both in the United States and here in Vietnam. We have seen a growth of some more than five times the original levels of capital incomes – of per-capita income here in Vietnam.

TPP will expand on this success and it will promote regional economic integration. It will improve worker standards – this is very important. It will create greater opportunity for the people of all of the member countries.

And the deputy prime minister and I also discussed our security cooperation, particularly in the maritime domain. At the ASEAN Regional Forum this week, several claimants agreed to halt further land reclamation, construction, or militarization on the occupied features within the South China Sea or East Sea, as Vietnam calls it. And that is a very positive step. And my government urges China to join in this initiative while the claims are being resolved under a legal process.

As I noted in my speech that I was privileged to give earlier today, the United States and Vietnam are also working together to promote regional and global security. The United States welcomes Vietnam’s participation in United Nations peace operations. This is critical, because regrettably worldwide the need is great, and it continues to rise. The United States is helping Vietnam, in fact, to prepare for its deployment, and we’re cooperating as well on improving humanitarian aid and disaster relief assistance capabilities.

We talked also about climate change, as the minister said. Climate change is a major priority of President Obama and this Administration – and indeed the global community, as we lead into the negotiations that will take place in Paris in December. So we are focusing our assistance here in Vietnam on adaptation, on clean energy and sustainable development in order to address Vietnam’s vulnerability to this global threat. Vietnam is without question one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to the impacts and effects of climate change.

We also discussed education, and we had a wonderful education event celebrating the possibilities of a new university, the Fulbright University of Vietnam, which with some effort over the course of the next months will come to life with a new permit that has been granted by the Government of Vietnam to begin construction.

Education is a critical bridge between our two countries. The median age in Vietnam is close to the world average, but the country still has about 23 million people – about a quarter of the country – under the age of 15. So the better the education that that generation receives, the better able Vietnam will be to prosper in the global economy. So one of the main themes of my visit – it has been our partnership in academics.

Years ago I had the pleasure, together with a lifetime friend named Tom Vallely, and Frances Zwenig, my then chief of staff, to help launch the Fulbright Program here in Vietnam. And I was pleased that this grew to be at one point the largest Fulbright Program in the world. I was very pleased earlier today to share with young people in a video conference with people in Ho Chi Minh City as well as with young members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders organization. We shared thoughts about how we can all contribute to the founding of this Fulbright University of Vietnam. And these young people expressed their hopes and desires to be doctors, to contribute to the medical and healthcare delivery system in Vietnam; to be able to be entrepreneurs, to start a business, to take an idea and make it into a viable product or delivery of service. I was excited listening to them, and it gave me extraordinary confidence about the future of Vietnam, and indeed, because of the future of Vietnam, the future of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam.

We need to remember that normalization between our two countries became possible not because of a desire to avoid hard issues, but because of our willingness together to confront them. So even as our bilateral cooperation has increased, America’s support for human rights and political openness remains unchanged.

And during my meetings today, we discussed the need for progress on human rights. Looking back, I am struck by how many times the leaders that I worked with in those years of normalizing, those leaders who were committed to the normalizing process – Vietnamese and Americans, civilian and military leaders – all of them made difficult but the right choices. There were huge obstacles to reconciliation, and it took goodwill and vision on both sides to remove those obstacles. But the result today is clear. Where once we fought, now we visit, study together, do business together, and walk together in peace. And I think we all agree that peace is better.

For Americans now, Vietnam is no longer just a conflict or even just another country. It’s a partner and a friend, it’s a relationship, and it will grow. That is our shared legacy and one that we hope to strengthen in the years to come.

So in closing, let me again thank the deputy prime minister, his government, and all the people of Vietnam for their hospitality. You have made me and my entire delegation feel very welcome here, and I thank you for that.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Secretary John Kerry. And now comes the Q&A session. May I introduce my co-MC, the Spokesman of Department of State John Kirby. I would like to invite Vietnam news agencies.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is (inaudible). I am from Vietnam News Agency. I – a question to Mr. Kerry. I have a question to Secretary John Kerry. In the last week, the meeting of the trade representatives of countries participating in TPP in Hawaii failed to reach a final agreement. Could you give an assessment on the prospects of TPP conclusion of negotiation in the coming time?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m happy to do so. I think a lot of progress was made at the last round of talks. I think there are a few remaining issues; we discussed them today. There is one or so with respect to Vietnam, and I think another couple of countries had some issues which they weren’t able to resolve in the final hours but which I am confident will be resolved in the next days. And I think we are hoping very much that over the course of the next couple of months, before the end of the year, TPP can be completed.

And I think what’s important for people to focus on is that TPP is an opportunity to raise the business standards of the entire region. And we believe that what it will create is a movement to the top, rather than the bottom, of business practices and of engagement between countries. We are very confident about the commitment of countries to this effort, but it’s always difficult to work through one particular sector of an economy or another. I’m very, very confident that the TPP is going to boost trade, improve worker standards, improve environment standards, have a consequence of really raising the standards of business for 40 percent of the global economy. And for that reason, I’m absolutely confident that ultimately it is not only going to be agreed to among the nations, but it will be accepted and ratified by the participating countries.

MR KIRBY: The next question will come from Agence France-Presse.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, you laid out this morning in your speech that progress on human rights could lead to better ties between the two countries. But what specific steps do you want Vietnam to take in order to improve its human rights? And would it be a condition on lifting further the U.S. arms embargo? And finally, what could be the strategy partnership you were talking about this morning?

And Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, could you tell us what your government is prepared to do to improve its human rights situation? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me begin by saying that, first of all, the United States and Vietnam have engaged in a very regular and I might say extremely candid discussion on human rights from the beginning of our normalization process. And today the president of Vietnam, President Sang, when I raised the issue of human rights with him, turned to me and looked at me and said, “Look, human rights is something we want to provide for our people, and we need to make improvements and make changes.” And he committed that this is something that is of concern and that regardless of TPP or anything else, it is something that he intends to address.

Now, we have seen some positive steps on human rights in Vietnam over the past year. Vietnam recently ratified the Convention against Torture and it released some 12 prisoners of conscience in 2014 and already one this year. And we’ve raised the issue of additional individuals with regard to this year. There are also – Vietnam is in the process right now of amending and passing new laws in order to implement its 2013 constitution and obligations – and to meet obligations under international conventions agreements and law. And we have had a discussion about those steps that need to be taken to do that. That includes amendments to its penal code and to its criminal procedure code.

So Vietnam is undergoing a legal reform process even as I stand here and speak now. And we have urged Vietnam to eliminate or significantly revise the national security and other vague portions of the penal code that have occasionally been used to prosecute folks. I might also add that TPP actually brings with it additional rights in that it will allow for labor organizing and for individual union organizing, and that is a significant increase in human rights.

Now, is there still room for improvement going forward? Yes, profoundly so; yes there is. And we will continue to urge Vietnam to reform certain laws that may have been used to arrest or convict somebody for expressing a peaceful point of view. That’s something that we obviously believe should not occur.

Now, with respect to the lethal weapons – the answer is yes. Any further steps, obviously, are tied to further progress, and that’s been made clear.

And finally, with respect to a strategic relationship, we have great interests in the region. They begin, of course, with the current tensions over the South China Sea. The United States is deeply concerned about unilateral efforts of reclamation or militarization, and we believe that the issues of the South China Sea – the East Sea – need to be resolved through rule of law, need to be resolved through either the arbitration process or negotiation or through The Hague or through the Law of the Sea. There are plenty of options available, and we think it’s very important that those be adhered to.

But there is much more beyond that in terms of our strategic relationship. Vietnam has agreed to take on peacekeeping responsibilities in the world. That is a very significant step forward in an age where many countries have been destabilized, where the United Nations is struggling to provide people to help keep peace to keep states from failing. And I think Vietnam’s willingness to step up and assume responsibilities in that regard is a very important part of a larger transformation that I spoke of earlier.

We will, as we go forward, talk about other ways in which we can cooperate. Another example of strategic cooperation is on the area of maritime security, emergency provision of assistance, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the response to catastrophes of weather – a typhoon or other – floods and so forth. There are many ways in which countries can come together and strategically cooperate, and also on the issue of refugees. Recently we’ve seen vast numbers of refugees driven to sea – not just here but in the Mediterranean and elsewhere – the Rohingya, who were obviously driven and took refuge from Myanmar and from Bangladesh, elsewhere.

So there are many places and ways in which countries can cooperate together. And as our relationship matures, as it grows, we envision trying to figure out the ways in which on a strategic basis we can contribute to the security and the stability and the prosperity of the region.

FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) On human rights, from Vietnam’s perspective, I would like to talk about a number of efforts to ensure human rights in Vietnam. Human rights are the focal point of our policies. It shows that in Vietnam we pay great interest and is our priority to promote human rights. In recent years, one of the activities that we have done is to improve our legal system to ensure human rights. For example, the amended constitution 2013 have a whole chapter on human rights. It is a new aspect in the constitution of Vietnam (inaudible) with such constitution Vietnam have adopted new laws, amended our existing law to ensure the rights enshrined in the constitution as well as in the international conventions that Vietnam is a member so that all citizens in Vietnam can enjoy human rights.

At the moment, we are now amending the penal code and drafting new laws, such as the law on associations. Vietnam is a country that acceded to most of the international instruments on human rights. As Mr. Secretary mentioned, we ratified CAT, Convention against Torture; the Convention on People with Disabilities; and Vietnam is among one of the countries in the world that joined most of the conventions on human rights. It shows that in Vietnam it is our priority to promote human rights.

Between Vietnam and other countries, human rights have universal aspects. But I think human rights also have special characters depending on the context of each countries and including the cultural context. Vietnam is willing to negotiate, to talk about, to have dialogues on human rights with many countries, including the U.S. Vietnam is more than willing to discuss differences on human rights with other countries so that we can improve our policies and do a better job in protecting human rights.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) I would like to invite another question from Vietnamese press. VietNamNet, please.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) My name is (inaudible), VietNamNet. The question is for both Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Secretary John Kerry. Mr. Kerry talk about Fulbright University project in Vietnam, and it is considered an important hallmark in our bilateral cooperation. Could you please tell us what are the concrete steps to fulfill or to realize this project so that the university soon be put in operation? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Well, one of the most important steps has already been taken, which is the granting of a license, a permit, by the Government of Vietnam for the beginning of construction on the university. The president of the university, who we met with earlier today, very articulately talks about the three different components of this university, one of which will be a sort of management school and business; the other which will be focused on science, technology, engineering; and the last will be a sort of liberal arts college which will focus on critical thinking, history, social studies, and so forth.

But the main tenet of this university is really, as she described it, not to compare this university to other colleges and universities that exist in Vietnam today, but to compare it to leading universities in the world and to make that the target. So what this university hopes to achieve is a level of teaching affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it will work very diligently to take education into a autonomous and exciting new path which will stimulate students to engage in a way that they would if they went away to school in another country, which a lot of Vietnamese students wind up doing.

We also talked about this university reportedly being able to have scholarships so that you don’t have to have money and be wealthy in order to attend it, but anybody in Vietnam who is motivated and obviously academically qualified would have an opportunity to take part in this special educational moment.

And I’d finally just say that one of the things that will distinguish this university is that it will have autonomous management. It will make its decisions about academic pursuits and about the courses and the professors, and it will live within a framework of full academic freedom. That is a fundamental concept that is embraced in this university. And I think it’s very, very exciting, frankly, that Vietnam is excited about this university, and the government has licensed it and looks forward to its beginning to teach as soon as it is obviously physically possible in terms of its construction and hiring.

MR KIRBY: The last question today from (inaudible). The New York Times.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Sorry. I’m sorry, sir.

FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) Cooperation, education, and training is an important area in the relations between Vietnam and the U.S., and it is an area that both countries have needs. Vietnam have a very big need for education and training cooperation, and cooperation on human resource development. In U.S., we – there are 17,000 Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. So it is very important that we have an international standard university of the U.S. in Vietnam and it meets the needs for human resource development of Vietnam so that we can fulfill our goal to become an industrialized country in the coming years or Vietnam actively integrate into the world.

Fulbright University in Vietnam has attracted a lot of interest in Vietnam. And there is a project that was mentioned in the Joint Vision Statement during General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to the U.S. In 2013, the joint statement during President Truong Tan Sang to U.S. also mentioned this project. It shows that Vietnam gave a lot of priority and importance to the project of an international standard Americans university in the Vietnam. And the secretary of party committee of Ho Chi Minh City himself granted the license of the certificate to Mr. Thomas Vallely, and it shows our keen interest.

And indeed, this project is very important in education and training cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S.

MR KIRBY: Okay. Last question, New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, President Obama in his recent speech said that congressional rejection of the Iran nuclear accord that you negotiated would leave war as the only option if a future U.S. administration wanted to prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. And in your speech here today, you yourself suggested that critics of the agreement have talked too loosely about the option of military action. Senator Schumer, the future Democrat Senate leader, has announced that he’s going to vote against the agreement, as has Representative Engel. What is your response to their decision to vote against the agreement? Do you really think that these lawmakers favor another war in the Middle East? And in explaining his decision, Mr. Engel said that he had been told by U.S. officials earlier during the negotiations that ending the ban on the transfer of ballistic missiles and conventional arms was not on the negotiating table, but this compromise only emerged at the tail end of the talks. Is he right about that?

And for Deputy Prime Minister: Sir, Secretary Kerry talked about the importance of a strategic relationship between Vietnam and the United States. What sort of strategic relationship would you like to see, particularly in the security sphere? Would you like to see more lethal assistance? And what would Vietnam be prepared to do in return in the human rights sphere to receive that? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, look, I have great respect for Eliot Engel and great respect for Chuck Schumer. Chuck Schumer’s a friend; we served in the Senate together. And senators will make up their own minds, and members of Congress. I obviously – I profoundly disagree with the judgment made that – I think he said something to the effect about only 10 years. Because if you have 25 years of uranium tracking, which we have, and 15 years at 300 kilograms of stockpile, and a limit on enrichment with open inspections 24/7, it is physically – physically – impossible to build a bomb.

So I disagree with the judgment about the latter years in which Iran has to live under what is known as the Additional Protocol, and the modified Code 3.1, which requires even additional inspections. So the inspection and access is literally unique, unlike any other country in the world. And we are deeply convinced by the Intelligence Community, by the Energy Department, which has responsibility for nuclear weapons, of the ability to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And I think President Obama laid it out very, very thoroughly in his speech.

Now, what the President said in his speech was not war; he said “some kind of war,” which means perhaps limited, perhaps not. But he and I share the view that if all you do is refuse this deal and say no, this agreement – if you just say no, there is no other alternative to the fact that Iran will begin to enrich, will pursue its program, we will lose international support, we will lose the sanctions, we will wind up in a situation where we do not have the ability to inspect or to check their program, and therefore there will be a (inaudible) about Iran’s continued activity, and that will lead people to put pressure on military action since the United States would have walked away from the diplomatic solution.

So it’s a question of eliminating options in a realistic way. And I would respectfully suggest that rejection is not a policy for the future. It does not offer any alternative. And many people in arms control and others have actually pointed that out. So while I completely respect everybody’s individual right to make a choice, I obviously differ and disagree with the choice made, and I don’t think the facts bear out that in fact there is a 10-year limit or otherwise here.

FOREIGN MINISTER MINH: (Via interpreter) With regard to your question, at the moment, we – Vietnam and U.S. have comprehensive partnership set in 2013. And we hope that the relations will be built on political trust, exchange of visits between leaders, high-level leaders. On trade and economic cooperation, we hope that the economic cooperation between Vietnam and the U.S. will grow further and the U.S. will become number-one trading partner of Vietnam as well as number-one investor in Vietnam. In scientific cooperation and education and training, we hope we will enjoy further cooperation, and we really expect our stronger cooperation in advanced scientific cooperation so that Vietnam could become an industrialized and modernized country in the future.

In defense and security cooperation, U.S. haven’t fully lifted their embargo on the sale of lethal weapons imposed on Vietnam. And we hope that the U.S. will eventually fully lift the embargo on the sale of lethal weapons. As Mr. Secretary mentioned, in both multilateral or bilateral cooperation, we attach great importance to the role that the U.S. play in maintaining peace and security in the region. Thank you.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) The press conference has now come to an end. I would like to thank Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Secretary John Kerry.

PRESS RELEASE: Participation of the IGAD Plus Peace Process


Addis Ababa, August 7, 2015: The members of IGAD PLUS express their collective commitment to the inclusivity of the South Sudan peace process. In this regard, we express our concern that invited representatives of South Sudanese political parties have reportedly been prevented from traveling to Addis Ababa to participate in the IGAD PLUS peace process, which resumed yesterday. We call on the Government of South Sudan to immediately allow these and all invited representatives to travel and participate fully. We appreciate their cooperation in this regard.

Members of IGAD PLUS

Representatives of IGAD (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda)

Representatives of AU 5 (Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa)

The African Union Commission

The People’s Republic of China

The European Union

The Co-Chair of IGAD Partners Forum

The Kingdom of Norway

United Kingdom

United States of America

The United Nations

Related Document

Statement by the Envoys

For further information, please contact:

Mr. Hailemichael Gebreselasie | Communications Officer | Office of the IGAD Special Envoys for South Sudan E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | Tel: +251.924.909.948

For updates, please visit http://southsudan.igad.int