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Thai Army Demanded To Show Proof Of Safety Of Detained Red Shirts

— Red Shirt Legal Counsel Robert Amsterdam Calls for International Action in Response to Illegal Military Coup
LONDON, May 23, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Following the declaration of an illegal military coup by the Royal Army of Thailand on Thursday, legal…

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Posted in Industry

Press Releases: Remarks at CleanTech Challenge

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Muy buenas noches a todos. (Inaudible.) (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) What an enormous pleasure for me to be here. I’m really delighted to be able to join you, and I hope everybody can hear me. Can you all hear? Okay?

AUDIENCE: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: (Inaudible) can hear? (Inaudible.)

Dr. Aguirre-Torres, thank you very, very much. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for bringing everybody together here. And I’m particularly happy to be able to be here as we launch the final round of the 2014 CleanTech Challenge. I’m very grateful to Dr. Torres for the visionary leadership that he has shown, and I’m grateful to all of you who are part of this incredibly important exercise, and I’ll talk a little more about that in a minute. But you all have turned the CleanTech Challenge into the top green business plan competition in all of Latin America, and I think you ought to be very, very proud of that. It’s a pleasure to be joining so many contestants, judges, mentors, innovators, and it’s clear that you are not only lifting Mexico’s economy, but with the successes that are achieved, you are designing things that have the ability to lift other people’s economies.

I had a chance just a little while ago to feast briefly – unfortunately, too briefly – on the historic central square with Diego Rivera’s remarkable murals. And I suppose from the prehistoric[1] palaces of the Aztecs to the Zocalo’s towering cathedral to this museum that we are gathered in today, Mexico has always had a very, very special sense of history, a very special commitment to culture and an extraordinary (inaudible). As much as we admire that past, I am not here to talk about the past, nor are you. Every single person here is fixated on the future, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.

And that’s appropriate. Because today, our global economy is more interconnected than it has ever been or than perhaps any of us might have imagined it might have become as fast as it has. I want to emphasize, the work of diplomacy is not just about our shared security and thinking about borders and terrorism and narcotics and all of those kinds of things. That’s not all that is at stake. It is about creating shared prosperity. And no society is going to survive unless it has a strong foundation of shared prosperity. There are many places in the world, including in my country, where the divide between people at the top and people struggling to get to the middle even is much too big. The way we’re going to deal with this is not through political speeches; it’s going to be through innovation, through hard work, through research, through education, and creating the kind of opportunity that creates the products of the future.

I want to emphasize to everybody here, from the day that I became Secretary of State, President Obama and I have been on a mission to emphasize to people that economics is not some separate component of policy. Foreign policy is economic policy and economic policy is foreign policy. And when you look at the world today, with millions of young people, whole countries where 60, 65 percent in a few cases, but many cases 55 and 60 percent of the young people are under the age of 30, 50 percent are under the age of 21, and 40 percent are under the age of 18. And if we don’t provide jobs and opportunity and education that is the entryway to those jobs and opportunity, we’re all going to have a much tougher time making the world safer. It’s just the bottom line.

So what we’re here to do is now us, together, through the green business design and the planning, is celebrate the idea that you can do things that are good for the broad society even as you do well for yourselves. You can make money and make life better.

I know people who only invest on that basis. They always make a judgment about their investment as to what it’s going to create in terms of community and society. So that’s why competitions like this are really so important. A few minutes ago, I had an opportunity with Aguirre to be able to go in and look at the table that had a few successes on it. And it’s incredible what people are able to do with their imagination in the context of today’s challenges.

So President Obama and I – and this is the part that I want to convey in coming here to Mexico City today – we are deeply committed to elevating our partnership with Mexico on innovation, entrepreneurship, and clean energy.

USAID is a very proud sponsor of the CleanTech Challenge, and our challenge is clear: in the past, we used to trade together. Today, due to trade relationships, we build together. In the future, we want to innovate and invent together. And we believe in the possibilities of a Mexico-U.S. strength with respect to that. If any nation has an ability to be able to drive towards that horizon, we believe it is Mexico. And if there’s one person – I mean, I’ll give you an example. Why do I believe that? Well, go look at the table that I just looked at up there. One of the inventions up there is made by a young man, or comes from the mind of a young man, by the name of Gerardo Patino.

Many of you know Gerardo. He won this competition last year, and his story should be an inspiration to everybody. He grew up in the small mountain town of Tepoztlan. But from an early age, he always had a big idea. And he was – Gerardo wanted to protect the environment. So he left the mountains just south of here and he worked really hard to get a first-class education. And when he graduated, he didn’t just cash in, he didn’t just take the easy path. He was prepared to take risks. He wanted to give back, even if that meant traveling a difficult road.

So he founded Terra Humana – Humans for the Earth. And his goal was to reinvent the way that we use water. Gerardo worked with engineers to develop a new technology that treats water so that plants can absorb it better for agricultural irrigation. And his device was really groundbreaking. But guess what? A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s not an easy thing to take it from a head to the shelf. It’s not easy always to get it out there into the marketplace. And Gerardo will tell you that, that getting farmers to adopt it was like asking them to believe in magic, he says. He literally had to go door to door, show each farmer, farm to farm, to sell his device. But guess what? Now he’s in the sixth year. His invention has moved from generation to generation, year to year. And it can cut agricultural water use by up to 30 percent.

Gerardo, his story, puts a human face on something that is pretty profound and pretty fundamental: The United States and Mexico are growing clean and growing green together. And never forget that what you’re doing is not hypothetical. It’s not a theory. It’s real. And it matters to the lives of real people.

It absolutely matters that the CleanTech Challenge in Mexico has produced nearly 200 clean technology businesses. It matters that the CleanTech Challenge has created more than 2,500 green jobs. It matters that the hundreds of companies that are engaged in this competition – entrepreneurs just like Gerardo – are on track to slash nearly 22 million metric tons of CO2, greenhouse gases, over the next five years.

Now, there’s an old saying in Mexico, and it’s not one that I know because I’ve been here a long time, but I know it. And I think it’s more appropriate for this occasion: “Aquel que no mira hacia adelante, se queda atras” – “If you don’t look ahead, you’re going to be looking behind.” And I look out at all of you and I think that’s accurate.

The question now is not just whether you’re looking ahead. It’s whether or not you can look ahead and translate what you see into something real that people will be able to use. And the secret to that is the meeting we had earlier this morning with your education leaders and our education leaders. The secret is three words: education, innovation, and conservation.

Now, this morning, we talked a lot about that and we are looking to you, the next generation, for the next big idea. But ideas alone are clearly not going to be enough to be able to get things to the market. You need to link the idea to the market and to a viable business plan, and ultimately find the capital, the finance to be able to go out and take it to the marketplace.

So I think that what we’re building between the U.S. and Mexican educational institutions, through the Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research, is the foundation to be able to take this idea of green business planning and actually turn it into a bigger reality for all of us.

Now, let me just say to all of you, through the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council – MUSEIC – we are bringing together people from the private sector and the public sector in order to test new ideas. And we’re creating an environment where innovation hopefully can flourish. We’re going to create boot camps for young Mexican entrepreneurs and conferences that connect Latin diaspora communities in the United States with entrepreneurs in Mexico.

This is an important effort. And as part of this commitment, we are going to make a $400,000 grant to the University of Texas in Austin so that it can host four technology startup boot camps. And guess what? One of them is going to take place right here in Mexico. We’re also providing $100,000 to bring the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps model to Mexico. And this is going to help provide entrepreneurship training to Mexican scientists and support their efforts to build cutting-edge technology startups.

I’m also particularly proud of our Peace Corps program here in Mexico, which is focused on science, technology, and the environment. I think we have some of our volunteers here, do we? Raise your hands. Peace Corps volunteers, thank you very much for what you are doing. We deeply appreciate it. (Applause.)

So let me try to make this as real as I can. We are educating and innovating. But we really have an urgency about this. Just before I came down here, I caught about 10 minutes in my hotel room and happened to see CNN, and I saw the temperatures around the world right now – the flooding in Serbia, and the incredible storms that are taking place in France and elsewhere. Thirty-four degrees centigrade in Vietnam today, in May. Twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-two, thirty-three in places all around Europe. Unprecedented. Breaks every record that’s ever been seen. What we are seeing around the world is what scientists have predicted. They’re not telling us that we may see global climate change. We are seeing it, and we’re seeing the impacts now. And we are closer and closer to a time where the tipping point that they’ve warned us about is going to be reached. It’s becoming more and more dangerous. All you have to do is look at the last two reports, and particularly the IPCC report of the United Nations, with 97 percent of the scientists of the world warning us about the devastating impact of global climate change if we don’t take action — and take serious action – soon.

Now, I’d just say to all of you: What is the solution to climate change? It’s very simple. It’s energy policy. Energy policy is the solution to climate change. We have to stop providing energy to buildings, to automobiles, airplanes, houses, electricity plants, with fuel that we know is creating more and more of the problem in a compounded fashion. Fossil fuel coal-fired power plant, so forth.

And I ask you just to think about the possibilities. The marketplace that made America particularly wealthy in the 1990s – a lot of people don’t focus on this. The United States got wealthier in the 1990s than we got during the Gilded Age, during the Rockefellers, Morgans, Pierponts, Fricks, all of that period of no taxes. People got wealthier in the 1990s. And they did it with a $1 trillion market that served 1 billion users – one and one.

The energy market that we are staring at today is right now, today, a $6 trillion market with 4 to 5 billion users, and it’s going to grow to 9 billion users by about 2035, with about $17 trillion of expenditure and maybe more – who knows? So the bottom line is this: The countries, the people, the individuals who design the means of providing that clean, alternative, renewable, sustainable energy are the people who are going to help save the Earth, life itself, as well as help their countries to do enormously better.

And I would just close by saying to all of you, there’s still a debate in some places about why we ought to do it or whether it’s real – amazingly. But let me ask you something. If we do what you know you can do as entrepreneurs, as scientists, as innovators, if we do it, and if we were wrong about the science – which I don’t believe we are, but if we were – and we move to new and sustainable energy, what is the worst thing that could happen to us? The worst thing is we would create millions of new jobs; we would transition to cleaner energy, which hopefully would be homegrown, which makes every country much more secure; we would have cleaner air, which would mean we have less hospitalization for children for asthma and people with particulates causing cancer; and we would have greater energy security for everybody and independence as a result. That’s the worst that could happen.

What’s the worst that happens if the other guys are wrong, the people who don’t want to move in this direction? Catastrophe. Lack of water. Lack of capacity to grow food in many parts of the world. Refugees for climate. People fighting wars over water. Devastation in terms of sea-level rise. We’re already seeing it in the Pacific.

So I’d just close by saying to all of you, this is an important meeting. This is an important initiative. This is how we have a chance to define the future, and this is how Mexico and the United States can do it together – by innovating, conserving, and educating. This is one big challenge.

It was the great Mexican novelist Octavio Paz who said: “Deserve your dream.” Well, I think everybody here deserves it. The question is now: Are we going to go get it? Are we going to live it? That’s what this is about. And I hope, together, we’re going to redefine the future.

Thank you all very, very much.



[1] pre-Hispanic

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Posted in Uncategorized

Asians Want To See Official Retirement Ages Rise — Manulife Survey

Retirement age increases needed to mitigate impact of aging populations
Greatest public support in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines; opposition in China
Official retirement ages rising in Asia, but some left behind amid region-wid…

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Posted in Governance

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/20/14

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 20, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:13 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here on yet another beautiful spring day — or so it seems.  I don’t have any announcements at the top, so I’ll go straight to Jim Kuhnhenn.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Two topics.  White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was on the Hill today and met privately with House Democrats and the authorization bill was a topic of discussion.  And the Congressman who came out — John Yarmuth — later told reporters that Denis said, “If there’s no bill that’s fine, we can live with that.”  I’m wondering whether, with still having the consequences of sequestration, does having no bill still leave you in a similarly bad place in terms of —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Jim, I’m not going to confirm secondhand quotations from the Chief of Staff in a private meeting.  I can obviously —

Q    Does it reflect the White House position that having no bill is fine?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, obviously, we prefer legislation that effectively funds the necessary priorities and the President’s priorities and that achieves all of the priorities that the President has set forth.  But I don’t have, again, a readout for you or a confirmation or even guidance on a private conversation between the Chief of Staff and members of Congress.
 
Q    This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend and the President has made it a tradition to go to Arlington and deliver an address.  This year, can we expect him to address this issue of the Veterans Affairs and the troubles that are facing that agency?

MR. CARNEY:  Jim, I don’t have a preview for the President’s schedule on Memorial Day, but he will certainly, as he has every year as President, convey the nation’s everlasting appreciation to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country.  Beyond that, I ask you to wait until the day itself.

Q    Jay, what is the White House’s reaction to the Thai military declaring martial law? 

MR. CARNEY:  We are obviously monitoring events and are aware of reports that Thailand’s army has declared martial law.  As the State Department said last night, the United States remains very concerned about the deepening political crisis there, and urges all parties to respect democratic principles, including to honor its commitment to make — sorry — including respect for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

We expect the army to honor its commitment to make this a temporary action to prevent violence, and not to undermine democratic institutions.  The U.S. firmly believes that all parties must exercise restraint and work together to resolve differences through peaceful dialogue to find a way forward.  This development underscores the need for elections to determine the will of the Thai people.

Q    Whom is the United States speaking to in terms of the government there?  Are you speaking to the caretaker government?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the government remains in place.  There is a caretaker government or a caretaker prime minister, as I understand it.  And the Thai military, which has been reported has declared martial law, has also made a commitment to make this a temporary action and not to undermine the country’s democratic institutions.  And we expect the army to honor that commitment.

Q    On another topic, has Rob Nabors given any kind of an update to the President since going over to the VA?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you about Mr. Nabors is that he has been dispatched to the VA at the Secretary’s suggestion — a suggestion that was endorsed strongly by the President.  The President is focused on the review that Secretary Shinseki has announced and has launched of the allegations regarding waiting lists and disclosure of waiting lists and wait times when it comes to getting benefits and services.

I can tell you that Rob is on his way to Phoenix to visit the Phoenix Veterans Affairs medical facility to meet with its acting director as part of this review.  The President looks forward to the results both of the review and of the independent investigation that is underway and is being conducted by the inspector general.

Q    What is the President’s expectation in terms of the timetable for that review? 

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the VA for a timetable.

Q    What is his expectation?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President’s expectation is for it to be comprehensive and for it to elucidate what happened, and for it to contain within it a clear indication of how to make improvements where they are necessary.  He also awaits the independent investigation of the inspector general.

The President is focused on, in this matter, making sure that we know all the facts and that we act on those facts to better serve our veterans who so deserve the benefits that are granted to them through the VA.

Q    He hasn’t set a deadline for when he’d like to hear back?

MR. CARNEY:  The President obviously wants both of these two inquiries to proceed efficiently and quickly, but to be comprehensive and effective.  So he’s not setting an arbitrary deadline.  He expects both of them — or hopes that both of them will be, again, comprehensive and effective. 

I refer you to the VA where I think the Secretary and others have indicated, or at least provided more detail about the review and what their expectations of it are.  But what I would like to note to you is that Rob Nabors is on his way or will be traveling to Phoenix on Wednesday evening.  He’ll meet with leadership there at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, including Interim Chief Steve Young, who was appointed following U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs Eric Shinseki’s decision to place the director and two other employees there on administrative leave.  Nabors will also conduct a site visit of the facility and meet with local veteran service organizations as part of his trip. 

Today, Rob Nabors is also engaging with several VSOs in Washington, D.C., including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America — all of these meetings taking place ahead of his visit to Phoenix.  

Q    To be clear, is that Wednesday or —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry.  He will be on his way to Arizona Wednesday evening.  He is having these meetings prior to his departure for Phoenix. 

Q    So those meetings are going to take place on the day of Wednesday or the day of Thursday?

MR. CARNEY:  Today, he is having these meetings.

Q    Here?

MR. CARNEY:  Here in Washington, D.C.

Q    And the Phoenix meeting will take place when?

MR. CARNEY:  He leaves tomorrow evening. 

Q    And they will happen also tomorrow?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, my understanding on how the clock works it will probably happen Thursday if he is leaving tomorrow evening.

Q    Well, they are three hours behind us, so it could also happen when he lands.

MR. CARNEY:  Why don’t I refer you to the VA for the minute-by-minute schedule.

Jim.

Q    Jay, the folks over at the American Legion have emailed out to reporters a memo dated April 26, 2010 — and I think this memo came up at the Senate hearing last week on the VA issues — and it talks about certain facilities adopting use of inappropriate scheduling practices, sometimes referred to as gaming strategies.  And the memo goes on to warn facilities not to use these strategies to conceal the wait times.  It seems as though — looking at this memo and the fact that it was brought up at a hearing last week — that this has been going on for years, this concealing of wait times.  How is it — is the President satisfied that he had not heard of this until these news reports?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me be clear, because there was a misunderstanding and a lot of misreporting about this specific topic.  Yesterday, I was asked I think by you when did the President learn of the specific allegations, or at least that’s what I understood your question to be — of the specific allegations contained first, I believe, in a CNN report about the Phoenix facility.  The President, as we all know, we’ve discussed it here, has been talking about the issues and challenges facing the VA since he was a candidate.  And it was precisely those problems that had been identified and were discussed in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that he spoke about as a candidate and that led him to commit to increased resources available to the VA so that we could better serve our veterans and to deliver on that commitment every year since he’s been President. 

So, no, this is not a new issue to the President.  That’s why he has been focused on it since he has been President.  That’s why he has been so focused on improving service and care for our veterans.  That’s why he has directed his administration to take the steps that it has taken to expand access for our veterans to the important benefits that they have earned and deserve.  That’s why he has directed his administration and the VA to create a presumption of acceptance for disability claims when it comes to those exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam conflict, and to those who have suffered from PTSD — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Again, that greatly expands —

Q    He’s known about the long wait times for several years, but the issue of the concealing of those wait times, the practices that were being implemented at certain facilities around the country to hide the wait times to make their records I guess look better in terms of how long veterans would have to wait — that is something that the President did not know about until just a few weeks ago?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, we can repeat this, and I apologize if there was a lack of clarity on my part yesterday.  I was responding to a question about, I understood, from CNN about CNN’s report about allegations, including that some veterans had died as a result of these issues in the Phoenix facility.  That matter is under independent investigation by the IG.  The IG himself has made some statements about that investigation and the results of it so far.  The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, has also launched his own review of those allegations and others that have emerged in the wake of that reporting.

And we, the President and the rest of us, await the results of those two inquiries.  And he is not at all pleased with some of the allegations and will be extremely unhappy if some of them prove to be true.  But he will wait for the facts and the investigations, as we all should, and then insist that action be taken and people be held accountable.

Q    So how long has the President known about the concealing of these wait times?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, Jim, I would urge you to wait for the investigation. 

Q    How long has the Secretary known about these wait times?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Veterans Affairs Department.

Q    You just don’t know that at this point?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer for questions about the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to the VA.

Q    And how would you respond to the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor — he said earlier this morning that — and I’m paraphrasing here — that the President seems to keep learning about these scandals through news reports.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, that’s a product of perhaps my lack of clarity yesterday and some I think reporting inaccuracies.  I was responding specifically to a CNN report that I think people learned when they either saw it on CNN or heard the report about it.  The President has been discussing these issues and pressing Congress to tackle these issues since he was a candidate for this office. 

And again, we can go over the record of support for our veterans since President Obama took office, the request for additional funding that the President has made every year he’s been in office for the VA, the expansion of services that he has directed take place through the VA on his watch, and the overall commitment that he has to our veterans.  And I’m happy to go through that record with you again if you like.

Our focus on — the President’s focus isn’t on glib rejoinders.  It’s on getting results and finding out exactly what happened and making sure people are held accountable for any malfeasance or misdeeds that may have taken place.  Before we know that, we have to wait for these investigations, which is the right way to go about it.

Q    The President still plans to comment on this soon?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any updates on the President’s schedule.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks.  The President was meeting this morning with business leaders and it got us thinking about the trade agreements.  Do you know if trade agreements were discussed this morning, T-TIP or TPP?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President had an excellent meeting with CEOs from a variety of companies — I think 11 all told, foreign and domestic — focused on his SelectUSA initiative.  It is aimed at encouraging companies to invest here in the United States where the economy has been stronger than in many places around the world, where energy prices are low and where we have a highly productive workforce.  That has been the focus so far this week of the President’s time and attention, and will continue to be as he proceeds through the week.  And he’ll obviously make that a focus of his remarks when we’re at Cooperstown on Thursday because tourism is an important source of foreign direct investment in the United States.

I don’t have a readout on all the topics of conversation that were discussed today in the meeting except to say that the President found it excellent and he found a lot of receptivity among this group, because this is a group of individuals who represent corporations who have either brought back operations to the United States or have made new investments in the United States, reflecting a trend that is very positive for the U.S. economy and for U.S. workers.

Q    In those business people there was one Canadian who has invested in North Carolina.  What kind of message do you send to foreign businessmen, not just the Americans who bring back employees and jobs, but also the other ones — what kind of message —

MR. CARNEY:  We’re in a global economic competition, and the President believes that we, the United States, have to do the best job we can of making clear to multinational corporations and foreign corporations that the United States is a very attractive place to invest, to build and to hire.  So he absolutely welcomes foreign direct investment.  It’s a piece of what drives our economy and the kind of investment that we seek from foreign companies is the kind that brings high-paying, quality jobs to the shores of the United States.  And that’s good for the American economy and good for American workers.

Q    To follow up on this topic, Senator Levin, of course, introduced a bill this morning that would ban or make it harder to do corporate inversions.  Is that a bill that if it reaches the President’s desk the President would support?

MR. CARNEY:  We haven’t obviously reviewed any legislation at this point yet.  On the general principle that we should have a tax code that does not reward companies for moving their operations and jobs overseas but instead encourages them to invest here in the United States and to build businesses and jobs here in the United States is one that is reflected in the President’s budget.  And he encourages Congress, especially Republicans in Congress, to approach tax reform in a way that keeps this issue very much high on the priority list.  We need to reform our tax code in a way that makes investment in the United States attractive, that creates incentives for companies to invest here, instead of a tax code where, as currently exists, there are loopholes that companies can exploit to avoid the taxes they owe on U.S. income.  Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of resistance to that proposition from Republicans, but we hope they’ll change their opinion.

Alexis.

Q    Jay, how does the President want Rob Nabors to function as he conducts the review, so that —

MR. CARNEY:  As he always has, professionally and effectively.

Q    — observers are not concerned that the President is putting a political thumb on the scale while an independent investigation by the IG is underway?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ll let others evaluate the politics of this or who’s injecting politics in it.  The President sent Rob Nabors over there because Rob Nabors is a professional and is one of his most trusted advisors.  And he expects Rob to work with the Secretary and others at the VA on this review so that we can get to the bottom of these issues, find out what happened, take remedial action where necessary and hold people accountable where necessary. 

Q    And let me just follow up.  If the President sends an aide, a top advisor to interview, or to take a site visit and, in effect, talk to the same individuals that the IG wants to interview, is there a perception that the White House is trying to do more than review, but is maybe trying to influence the outcome?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the VA and to the IG.  Obviously the VA has called for, requested the independent inspector general’s investigation, and I’m sure they have no interest in, in any way, doing anything but helping that investigation move forward and get to a conclusion.

The President is very interested in finding out what happened and instituting and completing this review that Secretary Shinseki initiated.  That’s why he asked one of his most trusted advisors to be assigned temporarily to the VA to take on this assignment and to help the Secretary conduct the review.

But we are very interested in, from the President on down, the completion of both these inquiries — both the review and the IG’s investigation.

Q    Yes, on Ukraine, Jay — we’re a few days out from the presidential elections that is this coming weekend.  The OSCE issued a report saying, the rest of the country, fine, they’re ready to go, the election mechanism is in place, et cetera, but in the eastern and southern areas that the turmoil has been happening in, there’s been widespread intimidation of polling workers, not free and fair campaigning.  At this point, is there any way Russia avoids sectoral sanctions, or is that a given now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly don’t have any announcements to make on potential additional sanctions at this time.  We have made clear that if Russia chooses to undermine the May 25th elections in Ukraine there will be consequences; there will be additional costs, and they will be imposed not just by the United States but our allies and partners, as they have also made clear.

What I would point you to is that the OSCE thus far has said that in the vast majority of the country they anticipate that the election will go forward and will be free and fair.  There is no question that in Donetsk and Luhansk and some other areas, separatists have taken steps that seek to undermine the effective carrying out of the election.  And we call on Russia to use its influence to persuade those separatists to stand down and to allow the Ukrainian people to express their will freely.

What I would also note, and I think others would note, including those from international bodies, is that it is fully possible for Ukraine to conduct an election even as there are some relatively small pockets of problem areas.  That is not to say that we condone or countenance the kind of activities that the separatists have engaged in, in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, Ukrainian law, or the efforts that the Russians have engaged in in supporting the separatists.  What we hope is that Russia will use its influence in a positive way to allow these elections to take place so that the Ukrainian people can choose for themselves who their president will be. 

And in the meantime, as they have already been doing, the Ukrainian government has begun the process of engaging Ukrainians from across the country, including in the east and the south, in roundtable discussions about constitutional reform and changes that can be made to empower regions and create more autonomy for regions as it relates to the center of the country in Kyiv.  And that’s very positive.  And they have kept their word in conducting those roundtables and holding those dialogues.  And I think that, again, sends a positive signal about the intentions of the central government in this process and their willingness to resolve these issues peacefully, in a way that’s consistent with Ukrainian law and with the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Q    So in the areas where they’re having trouble you have not seen any sign of the Russians doing what you have repeatedly called on them to do?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I didn’t say that — oh, you mean in terms of using their influence to — we have yet to see any significant sign that Russia is effectively persuading separatists to vacate buildings, for example, return property to local and regional governments, and to allow the elections to take place.

Now, there have been statements out of Moscow relating to the disposition of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine that if carried out would be positive.  We have yet to see any indication that Russian troops are withdrawing from the Ukrainian border.  But we will monitor that closely and certainly hope that the statements of today and yesterday from President Putin and the Russian Defense Minister end up being more than just statements, but presage actual movement by Russian troops away from the Ukrainian border.  That would be a positive development.

Major.

Q    A couple things on VA before I take on a couple of other issues.  Yesterday you said the administration was supportive of the goals of this piece of legislation before the House this week, the Veterans Management Accountability Act. Shinseki is against that, says he has all the authority he needs to punish and deal with those who do not perform up to standards of the Veterans Administration.  Does this indicate the White House and the Secretary disagree on what needs to be done as far as accountability within the VA?

MR. CARNEY:  No, what I said yesterday and what remains true is that the administration shares Congress’s concern about ensuring accountability and effectiveness at the VA and is working to address the problems that have surfaced.  And we will closely look at the bill that you mentioned, and as I said, we share the goals and we’ll work with Congress to address some concerns that we have with the details of the bill.  But the overall issue of —

Q    — more does need to be done to give the VA more authority.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I mentioned yesterday, the President has already directed Secretary Shinseki to make sure that the VA is making maximum use of its existing authority when it comes to making sure people are held accountable, and also that they’re assessing whether or not they need additional tools.  So we think this is an important issue.  We share the concerns that are at the heart of this proposed legislation.  We also will work with Congress to address some of the concerns we have with the details of the legislation.  But the overall issue of making sure that there are tools in place to hold people accountable at the VA is one that we share.

Q    You’ve mentioned many times the need for these investigations to succeed.  I was on the phone with Chairman Miller of the Veterans Committee today.  He said that he sent a letter right after the news reports in Phoenix surfaced urging the VA to send a cease-and-desist order about the destruction of any documents related to this investigate, and it was eight days before the VA actually sent that order out to the Phoenix office. He’s concerned there and at other places where investigations are underway that the VA is slow to tell people:  Preserve all evidence so facts can be determined and accountability can be assessed and carried out.  Will you say on behalf of the President that the VA needs to move on this faster, and that in every case where there’s an investigation, a cease-and-desist order about not destroying evidence and maintaining everything that the investigators need to see should be done?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, I’m not aware of the specific order that you’re referencing.  It is certainly our view and it is Secretary Shinseki’s view that the VA and its offices needs to cooperate and will cooperate with both the review that Secretary Shinseki has initiated and the investigation that the IG has launched.  And that’s absolute appropriate.

The President wants to know what happened.  The President wants to make sure that any bad behavior is surfaced and that people are held accountable if the problems and the allegations that we’ve seen out there prove to be true.

Q    — are expressing fears that evidence is being destroyed, will be destroyed.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again —

Q    That goes to the center of what you’re trying to do, if you say these investigations are —

MR. CARNEY:  If that’s true, that will be, I expect, a focus of both the review and the independent investigation.  I don’t know that to be true.  I know that Secretary Shinseki has acted immediately to begin the review.  He suspended, as I mentioned, the three people in the Phoenix office, the Phoenix facility.  We’ve dispatched the White House Deputy Chief of Staff to assist in the review there, I think which reflects the President’s focus and concern about this.  And the Secretary himself called for the IG to launch an independent investigation. 

So we eagerly await the results of both inquiries.  And again, the President expects results and he expects the information that he and the rest of the administration needs in order to ensure that we’re taking all the necessary steps to provide the best service we can to our veterans, and to hold accountable any individuals who might have acted poorly. 

Q    Two other quick topics.  The House made clear the ENLIST Act will not be on the floor this week or any other time this year.  Does that suggest to this White House that all hopes for any even incremental movement on immigration bills out of the House that could form the basis of a conference with the Senate bill are now over?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say a couple of things.  The fact that there is discussion in the House about any element of immigration reform is something we view as a positive.  But a bill like that would not in any way fix our broken immigration system or tackle the heart of the problem.  We continue to make clear our view that the House should follow the Senate’s lead here, take up comprehensive immigration reform either in whole or in pieces as long as the pieces add up to comprehensive immigration reform, and get this done.

Q    But if they can’t get the piece that you don’t think moves in that direction, they can’t even do that, doesn’t that signal to you this is all but over? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we remain hopeful that there is a window of opportunity.

Q    Realistically hopeful?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to say the odds are overwhelming.  I mean, we’re talking about House Republicans, and they have had a great deal of difficulty confronting this issue. But leaders in the House have noted the importance of addressing immigration reform, noted the importance of the issue to our economy and to matters related to security and accountability.  And we remain hopeful that they decide to act and act this year, because the benefits of comprehensive immigration reform are so clear. 

And what we hope is that — I mean, we know they won’t act because the President wants them to act, but they might act because so many others that support comprehensive immigration reform are encouraging them to act.  And that includes the business community and law enforcement community and the faith-based community.  There are just so many good reasons to do this from so many different political angles, if you will, that we hope that that concentration of energy will compel House Republican leaders to take this up and take advantage of this rare consensus. 

Q    Last topic — the combatant commanders were here yesterday, and there was a rather large, multi-stakeholder meeting today on Afghanistan.  Where is the President on deciding ultimate post-2014 troop strength?  And where does it stand on the bilateral security agreement in the aftermath of the Afghan elections?  These things will soon be coming to a head.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ll certainly well into 2014, and our position is what it was and as I discussed in the past, which is that we will evaluate our options when it comes to a post-2014 troop presence dependent upon actions taken by the government in Kabul to sign the BSA.  I don’t have any updates on that process. It’s obviously something that remains under discussion.  When the President —

Q    Is this a decision week?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to give any timetable for it except to point you to what I said in the past about the options available, the narrow purpose for any remaining — should there be a remaining troop presence in Afghanistan, what the mission would be, which would be to continue to train and assist Afghan forces and to assist in counterterrorism operations.  The military conflict, the war that U.S. forces have engaged in will come to an end at the end of this year.  And the decisions about a potential force that would continue in Afghanistan are dependent on a number of issues including the BSA. 

Ed.

Q    Jay, on the VA, Tammy Duckworth is, as you know a wounded war veteran, served in the VA Department earlier in this administration as a Democrat.  She said today to The Washington Post, “It’s hard, because Mrs. Obama has done so much, Mrs. Biden has done so much, and I see that as part of the President’s push on this overall issue.”  And then she went on to say, “I think he has relied on Secretary Shinseki, but we could use his personal attention at this point.”  You have a Democrat from the President’s home state saying we haven’t had his personal attention.  How do you react to that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that the President has provided his personal attention.  He has personally instructed that we provide additional resources to the VA.  He has personally overseen the —

Q    Democrats are not buying it.  Even Democrats are saying we need to see him.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not sure that the quote you read backs up what you’re saying. 

Q    “We could use his personal attention.”

MR. CARNEY:  And what I’m telling you is the personal attention is there.  And as I just noted, his senior aide is going to Phoenix tomorrow evening as part of his assignment to assist Secretary Shinseki with that review, which reflects the President’s focus and attention on this issue.  And we share concerns that have been raised around some of the allegations that have surfaced in recent days.  And that’s why the President wants the Secretary and the IG to conduct their inquiries completely and thoroughly and effectively and quickly, so that we can get to the bottom of what happened, get the results of those inquiries and take action accordingly. 

Q    You continue to call it “allegations,” and there are some, but on the other hand, that memo that Jim Acosta was mentioning before from 2010, an internal VA memo said, “The purpose of the memorandum is to call for immediate action to review current scheduling practices to identify and eliminate all inappropriate practices.”  So four years ago, they were saying it’s not just allegations, but a top VA official had determined this was going on and they had to immediately take care of it.  So will you admit at least that it’s not all allegations, that, in fact, some of this has happened?  The VA said it. 

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I have made clear that some of the allegations that have emerged in these reports, including the most sensational ones, are under investigation.  And we’ll wait to see the results of that.  I think it’s an important place to start that no one in this building or anywhere else in the administration, including over at the VA, holds a position that all the challenges that the VA was confronting in 2008 and 2009 have been solved.  Far from it.  And that’s why the President, as a candidate, spoke about the problems at the VA, spoke about the need to provide necessary resources to the VA. 

Q    So why didn’t he send Rob Nabors there in 2010 or 2011?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, Ed, this is under investigation and the President wants results.

Q    But a memo in 2010 said it was going on — four years ago.

MR. CARNEY:  You’re talking about an internal VA memo.  I would refer you to the VA. 

Q    They didn’t share it with anyone over here?
MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the VA about their internal memos.  What I can say is that the President insists that these investigations go forward and that they come to a conclusion and produce results so that we can evaluate what happened and what action needs to be taken.  And I would point to all of those who have, as the President does, a concern about our veterans and the need to provide them the services and benefits that they deserve; to the effort that we have taken and that Congress has responded to in providing the additional funding over and above what was provided in the previous administration  — substantial increases year by year — and to the steps that, under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership and the President’s leadership, have been taken to expand the benefits provided to our veterans, expand significantly the number of veterans who are availing themselves of benefits through disability claims and through the Veterans Health Administration, and to say simply that more work needs to be done.  And that is absolutely the President’s focus.

Q    That’s what — when you say the President is focused on this, has personal attention on it — next week, you’re having a White House summit on youth sports safety, which is obviously important, dealing with concussions, et cetera.  Why not next week around Memorial Day have a White House summit on veterans benefits, veterans issues, deaths at hospitals?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would posit a couple of things.  One, the President is actively engaged in the effort to find out what happened related to these allegations in the VA.  As I just noted, his top advisor is heading to Phoenix, working with the VA as part of that review.  And we continue to proceed on a lot of fronts when it comes to veterans’ benefits and veterans’ affairs. It is also the case, when it comes to the summit on concussions, that this is a matter of interest to and concern to millions of families across the country.  So it’s entirely appropriate to focus some attention on that issue.

Let me move up and back — Zeke.

Q    In terms of the scope of Rob Nabors’ investigation at the VA, is he solely focused on these specific allegations that have come up, or is he looking at the broader, longstanding issues at the VA as well?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me just clarify that Rob is not independently investigating.  He is helping the Secretary conduct the review that the Secretary initiated.  So for the scope of that review, I’d refer you to the VA.

Q    So Rob is not going over there to deal with any of the other existing issues at the agency, the still long wait times for veterans going back, regardless of whether or not there’s an attempt to sort of change how those wait times —

MR. CARNEY:  I mean, I think those are fair questions, but I would refer you to the VA, which is obviously the organization we’re talking about here and the review that’s being conducted is one that has been directed by the Secretary of VA.

Q    And in the case of the IRS, the President put in sort of a — he had a window I think when they went over there and in terms of when he wanted a report back in terms of those specific allegations.  Does the President — has he given the VA a timetable in when he wants to see —

MR. CARNEY:  I think I was asked that and I’m not aware of the specific timetable.  I believe Secretary Shinseki has addressed this question and I would refer you to him and to the VA.

Jon.

Q    Jay, I don’t know if you saw a Politico story today about the midterm elections, quoting anonymous Democrats saying that the President had what they called “electoral detachment.”  The President has set up no meetings with his political staff and does little beyond headlining events to activate big donors. There’s no strategic direction.  The story put this in contrast to Bill Clinton who has had meetings with the DSCC and the DCCC. So my question is, how engaged is the President in the Democratic strategy for these midterm elections?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is focused on what he can do to help Democrats in this midterm cycle.  And there are three areas where he can help and where he has been helping and where I think Democrats would attest to the fact that he’s been helping.  And that’s ensuring that campaigns and the committees have the financial resources they need — and I think if you talk to Democrats, they will tell you that he has devoted a significant amount of time to that effort. 

He is leveraging his grassroots network — a network that made him the first person since President Eisenhower to get 51 percent of the vote twice — and all of the data and technology that comes with it available to 2014 candidates.  And of course he is focused on turnout.  Midterms, as all you expert political reporters know, are about turnout, getting the base out.  And no one is better at doing that than President Obama, at least in the Democratic Party, and so he’ll be focused on that.

Beyond that, what the President, and I think I would say any President, would do in this situation is help set the terms of the debate.  And what you see the President doing — whether it’s talking about the urgent need to invest in our infrastructure so that we can create jobs today and an economic foundation for the future, which is what he was focused on last week, to what he is focused on this week when it comes to attracting foreign investment into the United States, which helps create high-paying jobs here in the U.S. — the President is focused on issues that matter to the American people and where, unfortunately often there is a stark contrast with the other party’s economic agenda in particular — an agenda that, as we’ve seen from the budget that emerged yet again in the House, is focused on providing additional tax cuts to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, that would hike taxes on middle-class families, strip away benefits, voucherize Medicare — I mean, an economic plan that is not just unpopular but highly dubious as policy.  And that’s the kind of contrast that I think the President can point out when he is talking about the issues that matter most to the American people.

Q    So how intensely focused is he on the midterms?  How much time is he going to be devoting to this?  This mentions supposedly no meetings with political staff.  I mean, is that true?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President — I don’t have a detailed accounting of his time.  The President is primarily focused on the issues and the opportunities related to advancing his agenda on behalf of expanding opportunity for the American people.  He strongly believes that setting the terms of the debate on these issues and moving the ball forward, down the field, if you will, when it comes to expanding opportunity, is both good policy and good politics.  And that is helpful for Democrats when Republicans choose to oppose some of these very initiatives that help expand the middle class, help grow the economy, reward hard work and provide opportunity.

Additionally, the President is doing the things that I talked about when it comes to making sure that candidates and committees have the financial resources that they need, and providing to them the pretty extraordinary grassroots network that the President amassed in his two campaigns.

Q    And then, just two quick ones.  One, there’s reporting today that the First Lady is vowing to fight an effort by Republicans in Congress to roll back some of her healthy school lunch initiatives.  How active do we expect the First Lady will be in fighting this legislation?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the First Lady has from day one made the health of our children a top priority.  And that means keeping the pressure on to ensure that school nutrition standards already implemented by 90 percent of our schools stay intact.  The First Lady and this administration believe that every decision we make should be guided by sound science and hard evidence, not politics or special interests, particularly when it comes to the health of our children.

So these issues around the health of our children, nutrition issues, have obviously been a top priority for the First Lady since she came here.  And she’ll continue to work very hard on those and make clear where our priorities should be, which is on our kids’ health and not on politics. 

Q    And then, a last little bit of housekeeping.  The President last year was to give back 10 percent of his — sorry, 5 percent of his salary to express some solidarity with those who had cutbacks because of the sequester.  Has he returned that money to the Treasury yet?  Has that happened?

MR. CARNEY:  I believe the answer to that is yes.  But I’ll check for you. 

Peter.  Didn’t I call on you already?

Q    Not yet.  I was just trying to confirm some dates.

MR. CARNEY:  It seemed like he asked me a question.  (Laughter.) 

Q    — honest answer. 

MR. CARNEY:  What do you guys think?

Q    General Motors today announced I think 2.4 million more cars to be recalled.  I think the total year to date is now something like 15 million-plus.  Should the U.S. people be disappointed in the lack of transparency by General Motors given the fact that the U.S. people helped bail it out?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, these are — as I think we talked about earlier this week, these are enforcement actions, and I would refer you to DOT and the Highway Safety Transportation Administration for the actions they’ve taken with regards to penalties.  In terms of decisions by GM itself to recall vehicles, I think, again, that would something that DOT might better address.

Q    I guess given the fact that a lot of these issues sort of bubbled up during the government oversight process when they were considering a bailout, what does it say about the government’s ability in terms of its oversight that none of these things came up during that time?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’re asking pretty technical questions about the Highway Safety Transportation Administration.  I would refer you to them.  What I think is absolutely important as a general principle is that every automobile manufacturer, foreign or domestic, be held accountable when it comes to safety matters. But in terms of enforcement of these issues and decisions around recalls, I’d have to refer you to DOT and to the companies themselves.

Q    Can you give us a sense of how often the President is updated in terms of the breadth of what’s going on at General Motors right now?  The U.S. has been paid back all the money, so I’m just trying to get a sense that given $15 million — it’s a massive number and that the U.S. was behind the bailout —

MR. CARNEY:  I just don’t have — I haven’t had that conversation with him.

Lesley.

Q    Jay, Congressman Lewis yesterday came out against the nomination for Judge Michael Boggs in Georgia.  I’m just wondering if the White House is still behind his confirmation.  Have you changed anything?  And how much — or how much work can be done with Democrats who have been unhappy with the nomination?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, Lesley, because I think we talked about it a lot last week, it is important to understand the process by which nominations come into being.  And I explained in some detail how this nomination arose.  We have been trying to fill these judicial vacancies for more than three years, but two of the President’s nominees were blocked for nearly 11 months and were returned at the end of 2011.  So our choice is and was clear:  Do we work with Republican senators to find a compromise, or do we leave seats vacant? 

Four of these vacancies are judicial emergencies, and we believe it would be grossly irresponsible for the President to leave these seats vacant.  Judge Michael Boggs was recommended to the Republican by Senators Isakson and Chambliss as part of a compromise to fill a total of six judicial vacancies in Georgia. The two senators have now also agreed to support the President’s nomination of Leslie Abrams to fill a seventh vacancy.  So, again, this is a recommendation from the two senators.  It is our view that he is qualified for this post.  His track record as a state trial and appellate court judge demonstrates that he is qualified for the federal bench, and we obviously support his nomination. 

But it is important, again, when you report on the general picture here about this nomination and how the process works and the compromises come about, that you have all the details.

Jon-Christopher.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Again, with the elections coming up in Ukraine in five days, do you have any insight at all as to who or what entities may, in fact, on election day be at the polls, for example, monitoring the procedures?

MR. CARNEY:  The OSCE has, as I understand it, dispatched or will dispatch quite a number of election monitors.

Q    — international entities, do you think?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  The OSCE, I believe — I don’t have the demographic breakdown, but individuals from a variety of different countries.  I think a relatively small percentage of them are Americans.  But it’s all overseen by the OSCE.

Q    And are there NGOs perhaps involved?

MR. CARNEY:  You would have to ask them, but I think it’s a substantial number.  And they have been monitoring the prelude to the election and the preparatory work the Ukraine has done, and they have given reports on that work and generally very positive reports about work that’s been undertaken by the Ukrainian government to ensure that there is a free and fair election on May 25th.  And they have also reported back, as I think one of your colleagues mentioned earlier, on problems in places like Donetsk and Luhansk, and the impact that separatists have had under the influence of and, unfortunately, with the support of Russia.  We continue to call on Russia to use its influence for good, if you will, to allow all Ukrainians the opportunity to vote in a free and fair democratic election on May 25th.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Bill, last one.

Q    Jay, back to judicial nominations.  As you know, David Barron is also held up in the Judiciary Committee.  The White House has released the one memo related to the Alawi drone attack.  Does the White House plan to release, as some senators have suggested, any and all memos written by David Barron, drone related?

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you is a couple of things.  First of all, David Barron is enormously qualified for this judicial post.  He’s a respected member of the Harvard Law School faculty, a former acting assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, and a former Supreme Court clerk.  The administration is working to ensure that any remaining questions members of the Senate have about Mr. Barron’s legal work at the Department of Justice are addressed. 

Last year, as you know, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee had access to the memo you referred to, and I would note that in his committee vote, Mr. Barron received unanimous Democratic support, and we’re confident that he will be confirmed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals and will serve with distinction.

I would also note that questions have arisen regarding what materials the administration has made available as the Senate evaluates Mr. Barron’s current nomination.  The administration has made available unredacted copies of all written legal advice issued by Mr. Barron regarding the potential use of lethal force against U.S. citizens in counterterrorism operations.  And anticipating any question about public release, I would refer you to the Justice Department.  All written legal advice issued by Mr. Barron has been made available to members of the Senate as part of their deliberation. 

Q    — the use of drones against U.S. citizens — have those members been released or will they be released as well?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think you’re using “release” a little loosely, but I —

Q    Made available to the Senate is what I mean, senators.

MR. CARNEY:  What I can tell you is that all written legal advice issued by Mr. Barron on the issue of potential use of lethal force against U.S. citizens in CT operations has been made available.  For more information, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

Q    On the public release —

MR. CARNEY:  I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.  There was obviously a Second Circuit opinion and Justice is evaluating that opinion.

Thanks, everybody.

END   
2:03 P.M. EDT

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East Asia and the Pacific: The FY 2015 Budget Request for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Faleomavaega, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to testify on the President’s FY 2015 budget request for East Asia and the Pacific alongside USAID Acting Assistant Administrator Denise Rollins. I would also like to thank the Committee for its leadership in supporting and promoting engagement with the Asia-Pacific region and advancing U.S. interests there. I look forward to continuing to work with you to build on our current strategic priorities in the region.

The rebalance is built on a simple premise: the Asia-Pacific is integral to United States growth and stability. For that reason, our continued engagement must not and will not waver. Secretary Kerry recently submitted to Congress a report on State Department and USAID’s strategy in support of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region that clearly articulates that the future security and prosperity of our nation will be significantly defined by developments in the region. The economies of East Asia and the Pacific are home to nearly a third of the world’s people and a quarter of global economic output. The region also boasts some of the fastest growing economies, which collectively accounted for over 40 percent of the growth in global GDP in 2013, steadily increasing this region’s impact on the global economy.

At a time when the region is building a more mature security and economic architecture to promote stability and prosperity, sustained U.S. commitment is essential. U.S. leadership will strengthen that architecture and pay dividends for our security and prosperity well into this century.

Recent Progress on Rebalance Strategy

During the first term of the Obama Administration, the President laid out a vision for the Asia-Pacific rebalance based on America’s stake in a prosperous and stable region. In the second term, the Administration is continuing to build on those commitments to modernize our alliances, expand trade and investment, strengthen regional institutions and respect for rule of law, promote respect for human rights, and deepen our engagement with emerging powers such as Indonesia, Vietnam and China.

We have made significant progress. Our success is reflected by the strong support for U.S. engagement by our partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific. U.S. treaty alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand form the strong foundation of our strategic position in the Asia-Pacific, ensure regional stability, leverage U.S. presence, and enhance our regional leadership. The President recently visited three of our five regional treaty allies—Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the Philippines—where he advanced our efforts to strengthen our security ties to meet key traditional and non-traditional security challenges of the 21st century. We also continue to develop our longstanding partnership with Singapore, deepen our comprehensive partnerships with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and expand ties with longtime friends such as Taiwan and New Zealand.

The President’s April trip was part of a continuum of U.S. Government engagement that demonstrates the comprehensive nature of our rebalance, including an economic agenda for the region that combines expansion of trade and investment with greater regional economic integration. Negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement remains the centerpiece of our economic strategy in the region. The completion of TPP will significantly advance our efforts to foster an open and inclusive economic order that will expand opportunities for U.S. firms to compete in the most dynamic regional market in the world.

The United States is also playing an active role in shaping a regional architecture comprised of robust regional institutions and multilateral agreements. The goal of these initiatives is to strengthen a rules-based regional order where principles, rules, and norms, not size, shape the behavior of all states. Enhanced and multifaceted engagement with regional groupings such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), APEC forum, the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), and the Pacific Islands Forum reinforces America’s role as a strategic partner and provides additional venues to pursue cooperation with partners in the region.

We are deepening our relationships with emerging powers.. We are seeking greater cooperation with China on the range of bilateral, regional, and global issues and constructive management of our differences. In the past year, President Obama launched Comprehensive Partnerships with Vietnam and Malaysia. These formalized partnerships provide overarching frameworks for advancing our bilateral relationships. At the same time, we continue to work to realize Indonesia’s potential as a global partner. As a member of the G-20 and a large, majority-Muslim democracy, Indonesia is an increasingly important emerging power in the broader Asia-Pacific alongside China and India. We also are investing in developing our relationship with China, where we seek to expand tangible and practical cooperation on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, while also constructively managing our differences.

As we deepen our engagement with members of the region, we continue to urge them to embrace reforms that improve governance, protect human rights, and advance political freedoms. Across the Asia-Pacific region, the United States is joining with its partners to promote democratic practices, which are essential to regional prosperity and security.

Resourcing the Rebalance

At the outset of the President’s first term, the State Department, in conjunction with our partners at USAID, looked at how U.S. Government resources were distributed and realized that the distribution of resources did not match the growing importance of the region and our goals there. The distribution was out of balance. Over the last five-plus years, in close coordination with Congress, we have worked to rebalance this distribution of resources.

These resources fund critical efforts that directly advance U.S. economic and security interests in the region. Within public diplomacy, for example, our programs with an English focus are paying great dividends across the region. There are 100 Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETA) placed throughout Malaysia. A recent survey revealed that these ETAs have directly engaged over 88,000 Malaysian youth, teachers, and community members.

Our Lower Mekong Initiative employs an innovative development-diplomacy model that advances U.S. policy goals in the region and supports a well-integrated ASEAN. LMI builds key relationships among senior officials, promoting regional stability and enabling governments to tackle contentious issues such as the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River.

With programs in Asia and the Pacific, a modest amount of money can go a long way. With an annual budget of less than $2 million, the Lao-U.S. International and ASEAN Integration program (LUNA), managed by USAID played a significant role in Laos’ accession to the WTO. A new follow on program (LUNA-II) will strengthen trade-related economic governance by helping Laos fulfill the requirements for the Laos-WTO Accession Package and agreements in support of the 2015 ASEAN Economic Community. In the Pacific, funding for initiatives such as our Climate Change Adaptation Program for the Pacific is helping 12 Pacific islands nations cope with the impacts of climate change, which disproportionately threatens their future.

The Secretary’s December 2013 announcement in Vietnam of expanded regional maritime capacity building assistance reflects our commitment to assist our ASEAN partners. The planned region-wide funding support for maritime capacity building exceeds $156 million for the next two years. In Vietnam, for example, the United States intends to provide more than $18 million in new assistance to enhance the capacity of coastal patrol units to deploy rapidly for search and rescue, disaster response, and other activities. The Secretary’s announcement builds upon the longstanding U.S. commitment to support the efforts of Southeast Asian nations to enhance security and prosperity in the region, including in the maritime domain. Existing programs include efforts to combat piracy in and around the Malacca Strait, to counter transnational organized crime and terrorist threats in the tri-border region south of the Sulu Sea between the southern Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and to expand information sharing and professional training through the Gulf of Thailand initiative.

FY 2015 Budget Overview

The FY 2015 budget request reflects our interests in the Asia-Pacific region, by sustaining key investments made throughout the President’s first and second terms in office and investing in new initiatives to expand and deepen our commitment across the region. The overall FY 2015 request for East Asia and the Pacific is $1.2 billion, which includes bureau-managed diplomatic engagement funds and foreign assistance and reflects a 5 percent increase from FY 2013. Our budget request was crafted in full recognition of current budgetary constraints. We have also been mindful of the expectation by the American people that their government use their tax dollars wisely to meet clear foreign policy objectives and advance U.S. interests. The overall budget increase for the Asia-Pacific region was reached through considered analysis and entails difficult tradeoffs. It sends a clear signal of the importance of the rebalance and America’s commitment to advancing our interests in the region.

Foreign Assistance to the Region

The request expands foreign assistance funding to the Asia-Pacific region to $810.7 million, from $741.1 million in FY 2013, reflecting a $69.6 million (9 percent) overall increase. Our foreign assistance request sustains and expands funding for the region in six areas aligned with our broader rebalance policy: (1) strengthening regional security cooperation; (2) enhancing economic integration and trade; (3) expanding development in the lower Mekong region; (4) addressing transnational challenges such as climate change; (5) supporting democratic development; and (6) addressing war legacies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The State Department and USAID began expanding funding in these priority program areas in our FY 2014 budget. Today, I would like to focus on some specific examples of where the FY 2015 request further augments investments made to date.

Under regional security, for instance, the FY 2015 request of $12.5 million for International Military Education and Training (IMET) reflects a $4 million, or 46.7 percent, increase over FY 2013. The IMET request would straight-line or increase funding for efforts throughout the region. As we seek to build ties and influence in the Asia-Pacific, there is arguably no better program than IMET to ensure the United States is positioned for strong relationships with the next generation of military leaders. Our FY 2015 request recognizes that providing valuable training and education on U.S. military doctrine and practices promotes democratic values, builds capacity in key areas, increases the professionalization of the forces, and creates lasting military-to-military relationships.

The request also supports our maritime capacity building by increasing Foreign Military Financing (FMF) in the Philippines to $40 million, a $14.5 million (57 percent) increase over FY2013 levels. This assistance will expand our support for the Philippines’ efforts to improve its maritime security and maritime domain awareness, which is a U.S. priority.

On the development side, the FY 2015 budget expands funding for key economic governance programs. For example, the request further expands funding for the Governance for Inclusive Growth program in Vietnam, which was announced by Secretary Kerry in December 2013 in Ho Chi Minh City as a key program that will help Vietnam implement the important commitments it undertakes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The budget provides $88.45 million to support Burma’s political and economic transition, a $26.5 million (43 percent) increase over FY 2013 levels, to help to strengthen institutions, sustain reforms, and address challenges prior to and following national elections in 2015. Assistance programs in Burma, which Acting Assistant Administrator Rollins will discuss further in her testimony, provide an opportunity for the United States to help shape Burma’s transition by promoting democratic values, stability, and development to secure the country’s future as a responsible member of the international community after decades of isolation. Success in Burma depends on building the capacity of Burmese institutions to govern and on the strength of Burma’s efforts to resolve existential ethnic, religious, and cultural identity questions. Assistance will continue to advance human rights and Burma’s democratic transition by opening space for and strengthening civil society, ensuring broader participation by the people of Burma to shape and direct these reforms, and furthering reconciliation and an inclusive national identity.

The FY 2015 request for Burma also seeks funding and authorities to support measured and calibrated engagement with the Burmese military through Expanded IMET (E-IMET) training. This training will focus on reform-focused topics to support the peace process, civilian control, professionalization, accountability, transparency, and the protection of human rights. Voices from across Burmese society – opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the National League for Democracy, ethnic minorities, former political prisoners, members of the 88 Generation Student group, and credible reformers within and close to the government – have urged the United States to engage with the Burmese military to improve its respect for human rights and help make it a stakeholder in the success of democratic reforms.

Finally, since Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall near Tacloban, the United States has stood closely with our friends in the Philippines to offer assistance.

President Obama is committed to continuing to stand by the Philippines through the recovery process as it faces the many challenges associated with reconstruction. The FY 2015 request reflects this commitment by providing an additional $20 million in Development Assistance to support mid- to long-term recovery efforts in the Philippines. These targeted investments in our development and security assistance build on our full cadre of programming in the region to support our crucial policy goals.

Diplomatic and Public Diplomacy Programs

In addition to foreign assistance, the FY 2015 request also provides essential funds for additional personnel, operations, and public diplomacy to meet growing demands driven by our intensified focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Our nation benefits from additional resources to strengthen people-to-people ties with the region through expanded outreach and education and cultural exchanges, particularly with ASEAN countries.

Our FY 2015 Diplomatic Engagement request provides additional program and support costs for EAP, including funding to add three new positions to our existing 1,014 positions in order to fill critical needs at our embassies. These positions will support the Public Diplomacy operations and will be assigned to Jakarta, Indonesia; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; and Guangzhou, China. This increase comes on top of the 24 new positions requested in FY 2014 for the Asia rebalance. These resources must be accompanied by an increase in Educational and Cultural Exchanges funding for cultural and educational programs to reach a greater number of people throughout the region.

While the FY 2015 budget reflects a renewed commitment to the Asia-Pacific, it builds upon our active and enduring presence in the region as a Pacific nation. Our economic, diplomatic, and strategic ties in the region are stronger now than at any time in history. We look forward to building on that momentum in the months and years ahead.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting me to testify today on our FY 2015 budget request. I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.

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Spin Master Sues Character Options Ltd/Brix N’ Clix and Starfly Factory in China for Infringement of Flutterbye(R) Flying Fairy

TORONTO and LOS ANGELES, May 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Spin Master Ltd., Canada’s largest children’s toy and entertainment company and the world leader in flying toys, announced today that it has issued civil High Court proceedings against Character Opt…

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/19/2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 19, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:20 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Happy Monday to you all.  Before I take your questions, I have a couple of things to say at the top.

First of all, as some of you may have seen, today we announced that the President will host the fourth White House Science Fair next Tuesday, May 27th.  This year’s fair will focus on girls and women who are excelling in STEM fields, and will highlight this administration’s continued commitment to helping more women enter into STEM fields as part of our efforts to expand opportunity for all.

The White House Science Fair will feature about 100 students from more than 30 states representing different STEM competitions that recognize the talents of our next generation of scientists, engineers, inventors and innovators. 

Secondly, I’d like to let you know that, on Wednesday, President Obama will host an event at the Department of the Interior where he will sign a proclamation establishing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in south central New Mexico.  By establishing the monument, the President will permanently protect more than 496,000 acres to preserve the prehistoric, historic and scientific values of the area for the benefit of all Americans.  A recent independent study found that a new national monument could generate $7.5 million — $7.4 million in new economic activity annually from new visitors and business opportunities, while preserving access for sportsmen, ranchers and recreational users. 

This signing is part of our larger week-long focus on helping businesses invest here in America to further grow our economy and create jobs.  The President will discuss this more at a meeting here at the White House tomorrow with business leaders and at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Thursday.

And now to your questions.  Julie Pace.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Could you give us a sense of what the House’s role was either in signing off or approving these cyber espionage charges against these military officials?

MR. CARNEY:  Julie, as you know, law enforcement actions taken by the Justice Department, the filing of criminal charges, are something that are appropriately handled as a law enforcement manner — as a law enforcement matter.  It is also the case that President Obama has made cybersecurity a high priority for his administration, and it is specifically the case that the President has expressed publicly and directly with his Chinese counterparts our concerns over government-sponsored, cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets and other sensitive business issues — business information for commercial gains.

So this is an issue that has been brought up by President Obama with President Xi in their meetings as recently as in March as a general problem that we have seen, and reflects the President’s overall concern about cybersecurity.  We have consistently and candidly raised these concerns with the Chinese government.  And today’s announcement reflects our growing concerns that this Chinese behavior has continued.

Now, we remain committed to developing a constructive and productive relationship with China and are ready to work with China to prevent this activity from continuing.

Q    Even though it’s DOJ that may actually be levying the charges, has there been any conversation with the Chinese on more of the national security/foreign policy front about why these charges are being levied?  And any concerns you may have about Chinese retaliation?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as a routine matter, we will often coordinate with foreign countries on law enforcement issues to request their assistance.  And that is true in this case as well.

Q    Does that mean coordinate with the Chinese in order to identify these individuals?

MR. CARNEY:  We coordinate with them and ask for their assistance in connection with this case.  I don’t have anything more detailed for you than that.  But suffice it to say that, as I mentioned at the top, the President has conveyed his general concern about this issue to President Xi.  We have made it a top-line topic of conversation in our interactions with our Chinese counterparts.  The overall challenge posed by cybersecurity matters is one that this President has made a top priority for his administration, and we’re going to continue to do that.

As a broader matter, I think that the President would like to see — and has made this clear, too, to his Chinese counterparts — cooperation and coordination on issues of cybersecurity rather than disagreement on matters like this.

Q    So do you feel that this is an example where you have received cooperation from the Chinese?  Have you worked with them to identify these officials?  I’m just a little confused on the  —

MR. CARNEY:  No, I didn’t mean to say that we have worked with them to identify these officials, but that we seek their cooperation and assistance on matters like this, which would be routine in dealing with a foreign government and foreign nationals.  What I mean is that there is and has been an opportunity for cooperation and coordination on cybersecurity issues with the Chinese, and that is certainly what we have sought and continue to seek.  But let’s also be clear that the President has identified this as a challenge.  He has made clear all along that when there are threats posed to our cybersecurity, to our government as well as our businesses, that he expects action to be taken and for there to be accountability. 

And this action, while on a specific matter, reflects the President’s commitment and focus on making sure that cybersecurity is a priority and that people are held accountable when there are compromises to it.

Q    And if I could just ask on Russia, the Kremlin says that Putin is going to be pulling troops back from the border of Ukraine.  Obviously we’ve heard statements similar to this before.  I’m wondering if the U.S. sees any sign that this time they may actually be following through on this.

MR. CARNEY:  We’ve seen reports of President Putin’s orders for some Russian troops who were deployed for exercises on the Ukrainian border to return to their permanent bases.  We’ve been clear about our call for the Russian military to deescalate the tension there, so such a withdrawal would be welcome.  At this point, we see no indication of any movement, which has been the case, as you note, several times before.  I think it’s fair to say that we would know and would be able to confirm for you if the Russian military had, in fact, moved back, deployed away from the Ukrainian border, but we have not yet seen any indication that that’s the case.

Mark.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  On China, this comes as tensions have also risen in the South China Sea.  Do these charges point to any broader deterioration of relations with China?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that it reflects the clear-eyed nature or the clear-eyed approach that we take to our relations with China and other nations where we have matters where we disagree, but also areas where we can cooperate.  And when it comes to making sure that we take action on cybersecurity, we’re not going to sugarcoat our disagreements with any other nation on these issues, nor are we going to forego opportunities where we can find ground for cooperation and coordination.  And we’ll continue to do that.

Q    On the Veterans Affairs issue, does the White House see any risk that there’s a need for criminal charges in these cases?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, Mark, there is an independent inspector general investigating this matter, and it is up to the IG, in this case, to include or refer to the Department of Justice for potential action on — potential criminal action — potential criminal behavior.  So I would refer you to the IG and to the Department of Justice for that. 

It is absolutely the case that the President strongly supports Secretary Shinseki’s request to the IG to investigate the allegations that have emerged around initially the Phoenix office and have spread elsewhere because he insists that we do everything we can to ensure that our veterans are getting the care that they deserve and that they’re getting it in a timely fashion. 

As you know, the Secretary is undertaking his own review.  The President signed off on transferring one of his top advisors here from the White House in order to increase the capacity over at the VA for this review.  Rob Nabors is now over there in place working with the Secretary and his team on the review of these allegations.  And he expects there to be an efficient and effective review of the situation and for remedial action to be taken if necessary.

Q    On one of the Sunday talk shows, the President’s Chief of Staff seemed to stop short of a full-throated expression of confidence in Secretary Shinseki.  Is the President’s confidence in him still unwavering at this point?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would disagree with that characterization.  The President believes that Secretary Shinseki has in his tenure at the VA overseen significant progress on a number of fronts, overseen the increase in appropriations for the VA over the previous administration, significantly, at the President’s request –- included in his budget request; has overseen an increase in the services provided to our veterans, even as we have increased dramatically the number of veterans that are provided service because of the two wars that have been fought -– major wars, long wars — one that has come to an end, another that is coming to an end; has overseen substantial progress in reducing the backlog in disability claims, even as Secretary Shinseki has overseen new policies instituted by this administration that allow for those who have illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange from the Vietnam War to have a presumption of a claim when they ask for a disability claim through the VA, and for those who suffer from PTSD as a result of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan to have the same presumption. 

This has put significant stress on the system but it is absolutely the right thing to do, and that is why Secretary Shinseki from the time he came into office at Veterans Affairs has made these issues a priority.

Mr. Shear.

Q    Can I just follow up and try to clarify on Julie’s questions on China?  You said we coordinated with them and asked for their assistance in connection with this case.

MR. CARNEY:  I said that as a general matter –- this is basically in response to the question about whether or not we would raise this issue with China before the announcement that you saw was made.  And I would say, as a routine matter, we coordinate with foreign countries on law enforcement issues to request their assistance, and that is true in this case. 

But, again, it is true in the sense that it is routine to notify and request the assistance of a foreign country when this kind of situation arises and an announcement like this is going to be made. 

Q    So my question is only — who is the “them” in that sentence?  I mean, is there —

MR. CARNEY:  The Chinese government.

Q    So generally no — you can’t be any more specific about —

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to Justice and State.  But as I understand it, the Chinese government.

Q    And the kind of assistance that —

MR. CARNEY:  Both here and in Beijing, in terms of the request to the government, both here and in Beijing — here, obviously, through the embassy — for their assistance in connection with this case.

Q    But you can’t be any more specific about what kind of assistance that would be?

MR. CARNEY:  I cannot.  You may direct your questions to the Justice Department.  I think what you’re seeing here are individuals identified and charged.  And the assistance you would seek from a foreign government in that matter may be self-evident.

Yes.

Q    What about this announcement on Friday that the Under Secretary of Health over at Veterans Affairs, Robert Petzel, was leaving that department?  It’s been reported that he was already scheduled to leave the VA later on in the year, so how is that really any kind of accountability over at the VA?  And might we see other officials who were in charge in this area of overseeing veterans care and these wait times, might we see other officials leave that Department?

MR. CARNEY:  On the issue of Dr. Petzel, I would hope that you had noted that the top official in charge — he was — of the veterans health system was requested to resign by the American Legion, and he did so the day that — one day after his Senate testimony.  The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel’s resignation as a “step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.”  So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development. 

On the broader issue of accountability, we are of the view that the kinds of allegations that we have seen need to be investigated rigorously.  And once we know all the facts, it is absolutely appropriate that accountable individuals ought to be held to account.

But we are not of the view, as a general matter, that the latter comes before the former.  The investigation needs to continue and needs to be completed, and then we can assess what the facts are.  I would point you to the testimony by the inspector general that included an update on the progress he had made on some of the allegations, including those in reports by your network, and that there is still much to be learned about what happened in Phoenix.  And we eagerly await the results of that investigation.

Q    And just to follow up on that, when was the President first made aware of these problems, of these fraudulent lists that were being kept to hide the wait times?  When was he first made aware of those problems?  And when did other White House officials, top White House officials become aware of these problems?

MR. CARNEY:  When you say “these problems,” the fact that there have been bureaucracies —

Q    The delays have been known for some time, but the fraudulent —

MR. CARNEY:  If you mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your network out of Phoenix, I believe we learned about them through the reports.  I will double-check if that’s not the case.  But that’s when we learned about them, and that’s when, as I understand, Secretary Shinseki learned about them and immediately took the action that he has taken, including instigating his own review — or initiating his own review, but also requesting that the inspector general investigate.

And I think, again, I would point you to his testimony as well as the inspector general’s testimony last week.

Q    And so do you think that these allegations just died at the VA?  Because it seems as there is just a whole crop of whistleblowers surfacing at all these different facilities around the country.  I mean, it just seems logical that these allegations, these accusations would at some point have made their way to the VA, and they would have been taken so seriously that they would have been addressed over here at the White House or at least brought to the attention of people here.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think you’re confusing two things here.  I was responding to the question about when folks here found out about the Phoenix allegations.  For broader questions about reporting of potentially fraudulent waiting lists and other matters that have been raised in recent days and weeks, I would refer you to the Veterans Affairs Department.

Q    Let me follow up on that — because putting the fraudulent lists and the hiding of wait times aside, this issue of delays, inadequate care, this has been going on for a long time.  The President talked about this when he was running for President in August of 2007.  He said, “When we fail to keep faith with our veterans, the bond between our nation and our nation’s heroes becomes frayed.  When a veteran is denied care, we are all dishonored.”

And so does the President feel at this point that we’ve all been basically dishonored by these allegations?

MR. CARNEY:  He certainly stands by what he said then, and that is why when he was elected to this office, having said what he did about the care we need to provide to our veterans, he actively pursued significant increases in our budgets for veterans care — substantially increasing the amount that we spend in order to take care of our veterans; substantially increasing the availability of services to veterans and availability of disability claims to veterans on his watch because of that sacred trust that he’s talked about.

There is no question that a lot more work needs to be done. And Secretary Shinseki would be the first to tell you that, as he did last week when he testified.  And he expects —

Q    But he also said that “building a 21st century VA to serve our veterans will be an equal priority to building a 21st century military to fight our wars.”  Clearly, that 21st century Veterans Affairs has not been built if something like this is occurring.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Jim, I don’t want to quibble with your assessments.  I’m not at all suggesting that the allegations we have seen are not serious, which is why you’ve seen the response from the administration that you’ve seen. 

I think it is important to allow the investigations — investigation and review to come to a completion so we can see what the facts are, and you can see the actions that Secretary Shinseki and others at the VA take in response to any revelations that are contained within the results of that investigation and that review.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  I’m trying to understand what really the U.S. wants to accomplish with Eric Holder’s announcement regarding criminal cyber spying charges filed against five Chinese military.  Mr. Holder said this case serves as a “wake-up call to the seriousness of the ongoing cyber threat.”  But the Chinese clearly don’t need any wake-up calls since they are doing so.  So what is the wake-up call for?  And what is the U.S. hoping to see —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to obviously the comments by the Attorney General who spoke specifically about this matter and is the head of the Department of Justice, which is pursuing the case. 

I think as a broader matter, the issue of cybersecurity, and the threats posed by those who would compromise cybersecurity here in the United States, are real and growing.  And a case like this only highlights that fact.  I believe that’s what the Attorney General was referring to in those comments.

We need to make sure that it is clear to everyone that we won’t tolerate the kind of government-sponsored, cyber-enabled espionage, if you will, or threats against either our government cyber systems or our private sector cyber systems.  And that’s what the — that is the view that the President has taken from the beginning, and he’s been very blunt about it in his conversations with his Chinese counterparts, and that bluntness has been reflected in the conversations that others in this administration have had with their counterparts.

As I noted earlier, we strongly believe that we should be able to cooperate and coordinate with China on these matters, but we’re also going to continue to be very clear and blunt about the kinds of problems that we’ve seen that this case reflects.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks.  Can you confirm reports that Shaun Donovan is going to be leaving HUD and going over to OMB?

MR. CARNEY:  As I think you might expect, I don’t have any personnel announcements to make at this time.  When we have personnel announcements to make, we make them in the usual fashion.

Jessica.

Q    Two questions.  First of all, given what we’ve heard from Mr. Snowden about U.S. involvement in intelligence-gathering, what is the difference between the U.S. spying on Siemens and Mercedes-Benz and the like and what these five Chinese men are being accused of?

MR. CARNEY:  First of all, without addressing any specific allegation that may have been made through the so-called disclosures revelations, there is no comparison here.  Since well before these recent disclosures, we have made clear that our signals intelligence programs serve a specific national security mission, and that does not include providing a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. economic interests.  In other words, we do not do what those Chinese nationals were indicted for earlier today — period.  So there is a significant and important distinction between the gather of intelligence for national security reasons, which the United States does and surely China does and virtually every other nation on Earth does, and the gathering of economic data for the purpose of providing a competitive advantage to companies in your own country.  That is not something that the United States does.

Q    So you can assure us that any information gathered from Mercedes-Benz and Siemens in that case was not used —

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to address any specific allegation that you may be citing.  I’m going to say that, yes, I can assure you we do not gather intelligence for the benefit of U.S. companies.

Q    And just a question on the fallout — because the Chinese Foreign Ministry has already said that it has pulled out of the U.S.-China Cyber Working Group.  And if that becomes a trend, some of the very platforms for the U.S. government to engage with China and cooperate with China over these issues will disappear.  So what’s the preparation at the White House to continue to cooperate given this announcement today?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we believe that open and frank dialogue with China and our allies and key international cyber actors is crucial to building trust and developing common rules of the road on this emerging strategic issue.  We will continue to engage China on areas of cooperation such as network defense and law enforcement investigations, as well as challenges such as military doctrine and cyber-enabled economic espionage.  We hope to see reciprocal efforts from Beijing. 

As I was saying earlier, we believe there are ample and important areas where we can and should be able to cooperate with China on issues related to cybersecurity, but it is also very important that the rules of the road are established and that they’re followed.  And I think that’s the general principle that the President attaches to these issues as it relates to China and other nations.

April.

Q    Jay, I want to follow up on Cheryl and another topic real fast.  What does this administration do when it comes to vetting a possible candidate for an open position that could be coming up soon, what have you, in this environment right now?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t think our processes are any different than previous administrations.  I don’t have a detailed checklist for you for how that process works.

Q    As we quickly approach 2016, is the possibility of running for President something —

MR. CARNEY:  Not that quickly I hope.

Q    Well, okay.  But is the process of running for President something that could strike out a candidate for any position that could be open in the future?

MR. CARNEY:  When the President seeks to appoint individuals to significant positions in his administration, he looks for their qualifications, obviously, and seeks to appoint the very best people to the positions that are open.  But I’m not aware of any criteria related to the issue you just raised.

Q    So what do you think about Mayor Castro?

MR. CARNEY:  You probably remember that President Obama asked Mayor Castro to deliver the keynote address at the President’s convention in 2012.  I think that reflects the high regard that President Obama holds — in which President Obama holds Mayor Castro.  He’s mayor of a significantly sized city and has done an excellent job in that position.  How’s that?

Q    That’s great.  I want to ask you the next question.  (Laughter.)  There’s a report that a New Hampshire policeman said some very negative things about this President.  People are calling for him to resign.  What is this White House saying about that?  And does the President know about this story?

    MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken about it with him and I really don’t have a comment.

Jon.

Q    Jay, in terms of General Shinseki, I understand the vote of confidence right now, but if this mess regarding wait times isn’t cleaned up soon, are General Shinseki’s days numbered as VA Secretary?

MR. CARNEY:  Jon, our position on this is that Secretary Shinseki has presided over a VA that has significantly increased the access that veterans have to disability claims, significantly increased the number of veterans who are provided benefits, including health benefits, and has committed himself from the moment he was sworn into office to addressing the huge challenges that our growing population of veterans and the services that they need create for this country.  He has aggressively implemented policies that reflect the President’s high priority  — the high priority the President associates with providing benefits to our veterans, and that is reflected in the way that is often the case here in Washington with the fact that the President has sought every year significant increases in the VA budget when he has submitted his budgets.  And that focus will continue.

What the President wants is for the review and the investigation to be completed and for action to be taken to address any problems that are identified by the review and the investigation, and for individuals to be held accountable if that is appropriate.  But before we make that determination we need to see what the results of the investigation and the review are.

Q    So, Jay, are you suggesting, regarding Dr. Petzel, that he was forced to resign because of this controversy?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to previous statements made by Secretary Shinseki and others, and leave it at that.  What I would say is that he did resign.  He was identified as somebody that the American Legion thought should be held responsible, and I would point you to what the American Legion said. 

Having said that, I do believe it is important, as I noted earlier, that this investigation and this review be allowed to be conducted and completed, and for us to make judgments about exactly what did happen in Phoenix and elsewhere and what didn’t, and what the causes of what happened were and who’s responsible for what happened, and whether or not anybody should be held accountable for what happened.

Q    But, Jay, how can you suggest that his resignation comes as accountability when the VA put out a press release on September 20th saying he was leaving?  That’s almost eight months ago.

MR. CARNEY:  Jon, I would refer you to what the American —

Q    In fact, his predecessor was nominated two weeks ago.  I don’t care what the American Legion has to say.  I’m asking what you have to say.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would point you to the American Legion, which obviously has deep interest in this matter and has been reported on significantly by your network and others in terms of what they’ve said about this issue, and note that they look at Dr. Petzel’s resignation as “a step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.”  I’ll leave it at that.  Those are the words that they said.

Q    Is there any concern that the person that has been nominated to take over Dr. Petzel had responsibility over one of the hospitals at the center of this scandal?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that, as you know, the Secretary invited the independent IG to investigate the situation and we won’t presuppose the outcome of that investigation, although we eagerly await its results.  Let’s be clear, if the investigation finds any instances of wrongdoing, any individuals involved will be held accountable. 

When it comes to Jeffrey Murawsky, the President’s nominee to be the Under Secretary for Health for the Veterans Health Administration, as required by law, he was one of the finalists recommended by a formal commission that included outside health experts and researchers, as well as representatives from veteran service organizations. 

And with that, I’ll go to Roger.

Q    Jay, from your response to Jon and to Mark on Shinseki, I conclude that the President no longer has confidence in him.  Is that right?

MR. CARNEY:  You completely misinterpret and falsely conclude —

Q    Did you say the President —

MR. CARNEY:  The President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki.

Q    Thank you.  On another subject, on China, on the hacking activity — does the administration think that this might slow down the Chinese hacking temporarily as it did when the report came out in February?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Department of Justice in terms of the actions they’ve taken specifically on this matter.  What the actions do represent or reflect is the President’s keen interest in cybersecurity, and that interest will not diminish at all. 

What we certainly expect is to continue to discuss with the Chinese our concerns around these matters, as well as our belief that there is opportunity for cooperation and coordination when it comes to cybersecurity.

Q    And one other thing.  How would five people from China ever consider coming over here to stand trial in an American courtroom? 

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would refer you to the Department of Justice and perhaps the Department of State on issues like that. I think the implication of the question is that individuals shouldn’t be charged in that case, which I don’t think is the way that anyone here would view these matters when it comes to making sure that justice is served.

Q    I’m asking why they wouldn’t — why would they come to America —

MR. CARNEY:  You’d have to ask them.

Q    Jay, on VA — when you say repeatedly that the White House is waiting for the results of the VA investigation, how do you respond to the Washington Times reporting that they have documents from the 2008 presidential transition that warned the administration that there were problems of VA hospital wait times?  If you knew about it almost six years ago, why are you still waiting for the results of this investigation?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I would say is, the fact that, as I think someone noted earlier — the fact is, then-candidate Obama, then-senator Obama identified problems within the VA and committed himself, should he be elected, to making sure that we enhance the budgets that we provided to the Veterans Affairs Department so that we could better serve our veterans.  And what you have seen since he took office is a commitment to just that: increases in the budget authority every year over what had been the case under the previous administration. 

I think that reporting that you cite also noted that there had been essentially no change in the previous years in terms of these issues.  And what you have seen, as a broader matter, in this administration and under the leadership of Secretary Shinseki, is an incredibly aggressive attack on the problem of the huge backlog in disability claims, one that was exacerbated for the right reasons by this administration because we committed to veterans who suffer from illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange, that they would have a presumption of acceptance should they submit a disability claim related to that.  And the same is the case with those who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who were veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — again, making the decision that was the right decision for our veterans and those who were suffering from conditions related to their service that, in turn, put more stress on the system and then making sure that we committed the resources necessary to attack the challenges created.

That doesn’t mean that they’re all solved, Ed.  We would never suggest that.  Secretary Shinseki made clear that he doesn’t view it that way and that he is, to quote him, “mad as hell” at the allegations that have arisen out of the Phoenix office and elsewhere.  But we believe that the right thing to do is to fully investigate, fully review, take action to fix the problems that are identified, and make sure that the services are being provided to our veterans.

Q    But if the administration was warned about at least hospital wait times in the 2008 transition, it would suggest two things.  One, this problem predated this administration, correct? That there were problems with hospital wait times in 2008 that were made in 2006, 2007, and that’s why Senator Obama mentioned it in 2007, right?  That the previous administration had this problem, too.

MR. CARNEY:  That is evident, yes.

Q    That would be evident.  So the second part that would be evident is if you were warned about it in the transition, wouldn’t you do something in 2009, 2010, 2011?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely — which is that we asked for and received from Congress significant increases in the Veterans Affairs budget.  In the meantime, we saw an increase obviously in the number of veterans demanding services from the VA because of the long wars in Afghanistan and —

Q    So you’re saying you threw more money at it, which is great.

MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no, I think that’s —

Q    But it’s not getting to the veterans.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s simply not the case.  Again, you have more veterans being served through health centers around the country.  You have more veterans having the availability of disability claims approved through that process; remember there are two separate processes overseen by the VA.  And those two facts put additional stress on the system; require additional support and funding from the administration, from the government, from Congress.  And what we will undoubtedly see as a result of this investigation and review — at least probably, if not undoubtedly — is the need to take some other action to ensure that our veterans are getting the care they deserve.

And where there is wrongdoing, the President will insist that those responsible for the wrongdoing are held accountable.

Q    But if all these great things are happening, why do you keep saying and Denis McDonough is saying the President is mad as hell —

MR. CARNEY:  He’s mad as hell at hearing —

Q    And where is he?  Why is he not expressing that to us?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, I’m sure you’ll hear from him at some point on this issue soon.  And he did speak to this I think in response — I can’t remember if it was to your question or somebody else’s — when these allegations first arose. 

What he has also done is acted.  He has strongly supported the action taken by Secretary Shinseki.  He has sent over one of his most trusted advisors from the White House, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to assist in that review.  And he expects results from the review and he hopes for results from the independent investigation.

Q    One other thing on a different topic, health care.  The Washington Post had a story over the weekend suggesting that there’s a major problem with the subsidies that are going to approximately 1 million Americans, that they may be getting more subsidy than they deserve based on income.  It’s suggesting it’s a major problem, number one.  And number two, you have some of the President’s allies on the left saying there needs to be a CEO brought in to help implement this law.  How do you react to all that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, on the first question about so-called inconsistencies, an inconsistency does not mean there is a problem with a consumer’s enrollment.  It means that the consumer has attested that they have more information to provide to support their application for coverage, and CMS is working through those cases.  We’re all individuals, like consumers are, consumers experience regular changes in income, they get married, divorced or get a new job or a raise, some of you maybe have gotten one.  So it’s not surprising that there are some times when they’d have more recent information than the data source checked at the time of their application.

In many cases, it means that the consumer has experienced a change in income since filing their 2012 tax returns.  Again, not unusual, and CMS is working through these issues. 

On the other issue of personnel matter, look, the President is absolutely committed to both learning the lessons that we all had to learn when the website functioned so poorly at the beginning of the rollout in October, and is very focused on ensuring that we have effective implementation of the ACA going forward.  I think you’ve seen that in some of the personnel announcements that we’ve made here at the White House, and I think you’ll — we’re, as a general matter, open to suggestions when it comes to ensuring that this law is implemented in a way that makes sure that all the Americans, the millions of Americans who seek quality, affordable health insurance who have signed up for quality and affordable health insurance get it and are properly served.

Chuck.

Q    You seem very eager to rely on the American Legion’s statement on Dr. Petzel’s resignation but not —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m simply pointing that on the issue —

Q    — but not on what the American Legion wants with General Shinseki.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ve made clear our view on Secretary Shinseki and the service he’s provided.  I would refer you to what Secretary Shinseki has said about Dr. Petzel and what the American Legion has said about Dr. Petzel, because these questions are asked in large part in response to those who have called for personnel actions in response to some of these allegations.  We’re focused on —

Q    Well, why should we view this as sort of window dressing — sort of politically advantageous because you know he was already leaving so it looks like you’re taking action.

MR. CARNEY:  You can view it any way you like.  I would refer you to what the American Legion has said.  And I would simply say, as I said earlier, that the Secretary and the President eagerly await the results of the independent investigation.

Q    Well, then why is Dr. Petzel gone?  If you’re eagerly awaiting the investigation — I mean, that’s where this sort of feels like a chasing-our-tail here.  Either you want this to be seen as taking immediate action you want over here, but we’ve got to wait for an investigation.

MR. CARNEY:  Chuck, I would suggest to you that I was answering a question; I’m not proactively pushing this out.  I simply pointed to what the American Legion said and to what others have said about his resignation.  I would note that, as a general matter, we believe that the investigation ought to be completed and the results examined.  We eagerly await the results of that investigation as we do the results of the review that —

Q    So you didn’t push Dr. Petzel out, that’s what you’re trying to say here?  That nobody pushed him out?  This is not a firing.

MR. CARNEY:  I think the VA has addressed this, so I would refer you to the VA.

Q    But you guys — should we characterize this as a firing or not?

MR. CARNEY:  Chuck, you’ve got to make some editorial decisions on your own.  I am simply referring you to what the VA said and what the American Legion said.

Q    All right, I want to ask you, on China.  Just 11 months ago the President came out with President Xi, you guys talked about working through this issue together.  A month later, there was a working group, you guys hear the President reiterate it — concerns about this, but welcome joint efforts to develop rules, norms, behavior in cyberspace.  It’s clear this has fallen apart. We had a diplomatic crisis with China on the issue of cybersecurity.  How would you characterize it?  I mean, is diplomacy dead on this issue?

MR. CARNEY:  We certainly don’t think so.  We certainly think there is ample opportunity for cooperation and coordination on these issues.  What today’s announcement reflects is our growing concerns that the behavior that’s been identified by China has continued, and it’s not acceptable. 

Government-sponsored, cyber-enabled theft of trade secrets and other sensitive business information for commercial gain is not something we can tolerate.  And that’s been the President’s position all along.  He has been extremely candid, both publicly and privately, about this matter as it relates to China and other nations, and will continue to be so.

Q    Are you concerned this is going to — the entire sort of — this bilateral economic, every six months — this diplomatic situation you guys set up so that every six months you guys have this working group, that it could destroy the whole working group?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think that it is in the interest of both nations to pursue cooperation and coordination on these issues.  And we will continue to work toward that end in our engagement with China.

We have a tremendously broad relationship with China, and it is both economic and political and military, security-related.  And we will pursue our interests across the board in our engagement with China.  And we believe that there are numerous areas where our interests coincide and where there is opportunity for cooperation and coordination, and an opportunity to deepen our ties with China and our strong and important relationship with China.

But where we see significant problems, where we see a failure to play by the rules, we’re not going to shy away from discussing that directly or publicly, or taking the kind of action that today’s announcement reflects.

Q    Is there going to be any punishment for Syria or for Russia for failure to eradicate all the — get rid of the chemical weapons by June 30th?  There just seems to be pessimism that it’s not going to happen — that they’re hiding the last 7.5 percent, they’re not being forthcoming, inspectors can’t seem to get their hands on it.  They clearly are not going to turn this over by June 30th, so what’s the punishment?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say two things.  One, we believe they can and should meet the deadline. 

Q    But you acknowledge they’re not trying right now.

MR. CARNEY:  92.5 percent of — based on your 7.5 percent figure — 92.5 percent of the Syrian regime’s chemical stockpiles that were identified have been removed for destruction.  We are absolutely, as our partners are, concerned about the Assad regime keeping its commitment to allow for the removal of the remaining 7.5 percent.  And it is certainly, as I —

Q    — that’s the most dangerous part.  I mean, we talk about percentages — this is the worst part.

MR. CARNEY:  — as I spoke about from this podium earlier, the precursors associated with that 7.5 to 8 percent are very serious, and we expect Syria to keep its commitment.  We expect Russia, which essentially vouched for Syria in this matter, to keep its commitment.

And finally, I would say that today is May 19th, and June 30th is still a number of weeks away.  We want to see action by Syria to fulfill its commitment to remove the remaining chemical weapons from that country for destruction.

Q    Will there be repercussions should they —

MR. CARNEY:  We will certainly — we certainly expect Syria to comply, and we expect Russia to ensure that Syria complies.

Q    Will there be repercussions if either side doesn’t?

MR. CARNEY:  We’ll see —

Q    You can’t say that publicly, that any repercussions —

MR. CARNEY:  I think we want to see action now, and we take this matter very seriously and will continue to press for the complete removal of the chemical weapons stockpile.

Major.

Q    Would you say that under the President’s watch the VA system has gotten better — better funded, provides better care than it did when he first started — and that these problems are a result of — the word you’ve invoked many times today –“stresses” in the system and not rampant mismanagement and/or fraud?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the specific problems that have been identified and the allegations associated with the problems that have been identified are under investigation and review.  And in terms of what was the cause and nature of those problems and whether or not these allegations — either some or in total — are, in fact, proven true we’ll have to wait until we see the results of the investigation what we can actually say conclusively about that.

I think as a general matter, there is no question that this administration has asked for and received and overseen the disbursement of and implementation of enhanced funding for our veterans through the VA because of the President’s commitment to improved services for our veterans.  And you have seen the decisions that this administration has made to expand the care and expand the access to disability claims that veterans have reflected in the policies overseen by Secretary Shinseki at the VA. 

There is no question that there are challenges that still need to be met at the VA, and Secretary Shinseki addressed those challenges in his testimony last week.

Q    Is it possible that some of the stresses in the system are the inadvertent and unexpected result of some of the policy decisions this administration has made to expand and give presumptions of care to certain things that were not given the presumption before?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that when I say that adding to the disability claim backlog by expanding access to those who seek disability claims, I think I’m saying the answer is yes to that.  There’s no question that when you increase the population of people who have access to disability claims and you therefore add to the disability claim backlog, you’re adding stress to the system.  But it was the right thing to do.  And that is why Secretary Shinseki has taken the lead — and the White House has been keenly interested in his efforts in this area — at attacking the size of the disability backlog.  And it has been reduced fully 50 percent in just the last year. 

Still work to be done.  Still too many people waiting too long for their claims to be processed.  But it reflects the commitment that the President has, that Secretary Shinseki has, and that others here have to our veterans and to making sure that they get the care that they deserve, that they earned.

Q    What is the administration’s position on this bill the House will take up later this week, the Veterans Administration Management Accountability Act, which in its writing is supposed to give senior managers more authority to punish and fire those who perform or do not meet — underperform or do not meet expectations?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the administration shares Congress’s concerns about making sure that there is accountability and effectiveness at the VA, and we’re working to address the problems that have surfaced.  We’ll look closely at the bill.  We certainly share the goals that the bill represents — ensuring accountability at the VA.  And while working with Congress to address some of the concerns we have with the details — as we work with Congress to address some of the concerns we have with the details of the bill, I want to make clear that we share its goal of enhanced accountability.

We’ve also directed — the President has — Secretary Shinseki to make sure that the VA is maximizing its use of existing authorities to ensure accountability so that all the tools already available under the law to the VA to hold people accountable are being used even as we assess this bill.

Q    And on Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said today he thought it might be time to rethink Russia’s relationship with the OSCE and NATO.  And if you take the third announcement now from Russia that it might be moving troops back, you have the upcoming elections on the 25th, can you give us an appraisal of the environment you see around this issue and if it is improving, or if some of the long-term expectations this administration had about sustained application of diplomatic and economic pressure are actually bearing fruit?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, unless and until Russia takes concrete and verifiable action to assist in the stabilization of Ukraine and to allow for the effective electoral process to take place on May 25, I think the jury is out.  As of now, Russia continues to be unhelpful in this process.  Certainly it is a welcome announcement from President Putin or through his spokesman that Russia will draw down some of its troops from the Ukrainian border.  But as you know, we have heard that promise before and have yet to see any indication that it’s been fulfilled.

We remain very clear in our position that not only has Russia been extremely unhelpful in its efforts to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine, but that its so-called annexation of Crimea was and is illegal, and will not and has not been recognized by the United States or the international community. 

What we are focused on now is the presidential election on May 25th.  And it is very important that the Ukrainian people be allowed to make their own choice about their country’s future and their country’s leader.  And we call upon Russia to use its influence with separatists in eastern and southern Ukraine to ensure that those separatists don’t take action to undermine the electoral process in Ukraine, because we would view that very dimly indeed.  And we have made clear, as have our European partners, that should Russia take steps to undermine those elections, or that election, that there will be additional costs imposed on Russia by the United States and by our partners.

Q    Jay, after these charges to the Chinese, this move from the DOJ, does the Vice President bring a message of anti-cybercrime when he goes to Romania, which is a European hotbed of cybercrime, when he goes this week?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a specific agenda for the Vice President’s trip to go over with you.  I would refer you to his office.  Certainly the issue of cybersecurity is a matter that is of great concern to the United States in our relations not just with China, but other countries.  But I would refer you to the office of the Vice President for more on his trip and the agenda associated with it.

Q    And when the President golfed on Saturday with Joe O’Neill, who is the president and CEO of Public Strategies Washington, does that violate or tarnish somewhat the President’s promise to limit access for lobbyists to the White House?

MR. CARNEY:  I think he played a game of golf, Jared.

Julia.

Q    Jay, on the VA again, just a couple quick questions.  Can you shed any more light on what Rob Nabors is doing over at the VA?  Give us a sense of either his schedule, how he’s operating, anything like that — what he’s focused on?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any specifics beyond noting that he was dispatched at Secretary Shinseki’s request and with the full support of the President and the Chief of Staff here to work with the Secretary on the review that the Secretary is undertaking.  For specifics on Rob’s schedule, which I’m sure is full, I’d refer you to the VA.

Thanks, everybody.

END
2:14 P.M. EDT

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Press Releases: Remarks at Yale College Class Day

Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think Winston Churchill said the only reason people give a standing ovation is they desperately seek an excuse to shift their underwear. (Laughter.) So certainly before I’ve opened my mouth, that’s true. (Laughter.)

Anyway, President Salovey and faculty members, parents, siblings who came here under the false impression there would be free food (laughter); Handsome Dan, wherever you are, probably at some fire hydrant somewhere (laughter); members of the 2013 NCAA champion men’s ice hockey team (cheers and applause); distinguished guests and graduates, graduates of the Class of 2014, I really am privileged to be able to be here and share the celebration of this day with you, especially 48 years after standing up right here as a very intimidated senior wondering what I was going to say.

You are graduating today as the most diverse class in Yale’s long history. Or as they call it in the NBA, Donald Sterling’s worst nightmare. (Laughter and applause.)

Nia and Josh: Thank you for such a generous introduction. What Josh didn’t mention is that he interned for me at the State Department last summer. (Cheers and applause.) Well, hold on a minute now. (Laughter.) I learned that he’s not afraid to talk truth to power, or semi-truth. (Laughter.) On his last day he walked up to me at the State Department and he was brutally honest. He said, “Mr. Secretary, JE sucks.” (Laughter and cheers.)

No, actually, on the last day at the State Department, he asked if I would come here today and deliver a message his classmates really needed to hear. So here it goes: Jarred Phillips, you still owe Josh money from that road trip last fall. (Laughter and applause.)

I have to tell you, it is really fun for me to be back here on the Old Campus. I’m accompanied by a classmate of mine. We were on the soccer team together. We had a lot of fun. He served as ambassador to Italy recently, David Thorne. And my daughter Vanessa graduated in the Class of 1999, so I know what a proud moment this is for your parents. But my friends, the test will be if they still feel this way next May if you live at home. (Laughter.)

Now, I’m really happy you made it back from Myrtle Beach. (Cheers and applause.) As if you hadn’t already logged enough keg time at “Woads”. (Cheers.) Just remember, just remember: 4.0 is a really good GPA, but it’s a lousy blood-alcohol level. (Laughter.)

I love the hats. We didn’t have the hats when I was here. I love the hats. They are outrageous. They’re spectacular. This may well be the only event that Pharrell could crash and go unnoticed. (Laughter and applause.)

I’ve been looking around. I’ve seen a couple of Red Sox, a few Red Sox hats out there. (Cheers.) I’ve also seen a few of those dreaded interlocking N’s and Y’s. (Cheers.) But that’s okay: I said diversity is important. (Laughter.) It’s also an easy way for me to tell who roots for the Yankees and who’s graduating with distinction. (Laughter and cheers.)

So here’s the deal, here’s the deal: I went online and I learned in the Yale Daily comments that I wasn’t everyone’s first choice to be up here. (Laughter.)

When Yale announced that I’d be speaking, someone actually wrote, “I hope they give out Five-Hour Energy to help everyone stay awake.” (Laughter.) Well don’t worry folks: I promise not to be one minute over four hours. (Laughter.)

Someone else wrote I haven’t “screwed up badly as Secretary of State … yet.” (Laughter.) Well, all I can say is, stay tuned. (Laughter.)

But my favorite comment was this: “I’m really proud that a Yalie is Secretary of State.” I should have stopped reading right there because he or she went on to write, “but he is butt ugly.” (Laughter.) So there go my dreams of being on “Yale’s 50 most beautiful” list. (Cheers and applause.)

It really is a privilege for me to share this celebration with you, though I’m forewarned that no one remembers who delivers their graduation speech. All I really remember about our speaker in 1966 is that he was eloquent, insightful, really good looking. (Laughter.) Anyway, one thing I promise you, one thing I promise you: I will stay away from the tired cliches of commencement, things like “be yourself,” “do what makes you happy,” “don’t use the laundry room in Saybrook”. (Cheers and applause.) That’s about all I’ll say about that. (Laughter.)

So right after we graduated, Time Magazine came out with its famous “Man of the Year” issue. But for 1966, Timedidn’t pick one man or one woman. They picked our entire generation.

And Time expressed a lot of high hopes for us. It not only predicted that we’d cure the common cold, but that we’d cure cancer, too. It predicted that we’d build smog-free cities and that we’d end poverty and war once and for all. I know what you’re thinking – we really crushed it. (Laughter.)

So fair question: Did my generation get lost? Well, that’s actually a conversation for another time. But let me put one theory to rest: It’s not true that everyone in my generation experimented with drugs. Although between Flomax, Lipitor and Viagra, now we do. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, I did have some pretty creative classmates back then. One of my good friends, very close friends in JE – (cheers) – I’m going to set it right for you guys right now. (Laughter.) One of my good friends in JE had at least two hair-brained ideas. The first was a little start-up built on the notion that if people had a choice, they’d pay a little more to mail a package and have it arrive the very next day. Crazy, right? Today that start-up is called FedEx. And by the way, it was created in JE, which therefore means JE rules. (Cheers and applause.)

Now, his other nutty idea was to restart something called the Yale Flying Club. And admittedly, this was more of a scheme to get us out of class and off the campus. So I basically spent my senior year majoring in flying, practicing take-offs and landings out at Tweed Airport. Responsible? No. But I wouldn’t have missed it.

And one of the best lessons I learned here is that Mark Twain was absolutely right: Never let school get in the way of an education.

Now, I didn’t know it at the time, but Yale also taught me to finish what you start. And that’s one thing that clearly separates us from Harvard. (Laughter.) After all, a lot of those guys don’t even graduate. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Matt Damon – what the hell have they ever amounted to? (Laughter.)

For all I ever learned at Yale, I have to tell you truthfully the best piece of advice I ever got was actually one word from my 89-year-old mother. I’ll never forget sitting by her bedside and telling her I had decided to run for President. And she squeezed my hand and she said: “Integrity, John. Integrity. Just remember always, integrity.” And maybe that tells you a lot about what she thought about politics.

But you should know: In a complicated world full of complicated decisions and close calls that could go either way, what keeps you awake at night isn’t so much whether or not you got the decision right or wrong. It’s whether you made your decision for the right reasons: Integrity.

And the single best piece of advice I ever received about diplomacy didn’t come from my international relations class, but it came from my father, who served in the Foreign Service. He told me that diplomacy was really about being able to see the world through the eyes of someone else, to understand their aspirations and assumptions.

And perhaps that’s just another word for empathy. But whatever it is, I will tell you sitting here on one of the most gorgeous afternoons in New Haven as you graduate: Listening makes a difference, not just in foreign ministries but on the streets and in the souks and on the social media network the world over.

So Class of 2014, as corny as it may sound, remember that your parents aren’t just here today as spectators. They’re also here as teachers – and even if counter-intuitive, it’s not a bad idea to stay enrolled in their course as long as you can.

Now for my part, I am grateful to Yale because I did learn a lot here in all of the ways that a great university can teach. But there is one phrase from one class above all that for some reason was indelibly stamped into my consciousness. Perhaps it’s because I spent almost 30 years in the United States Senate seeing it applied again and again.

One morning in the Law School Auditorium, my Professor, John Morton Blum, said simply: “All politics is a reaction to felt needs.” What I thought he meant is that things only get done in public life when the people who want something demand nothing less and the people who make it happen decide tht they can do nothing less.

Those “felt needs” have driven every movement and decision that I’ve witnessed in politics since – from South Africa a couple of decades ago to the Arab Spring a few years ago to our own communities, where same-sex couples refuse to be told by their government who they can love.

In 1963, I remember walking out of Dwight Hall one evening after an activist named Allard Lowenstein gave the impassioned and eloquent plea that I had ever heard. He compelled us to feel the need to engage in the struggle for civil rights right here in our own country.

And that’s why, just steps from here, right over there on High Street, we lined up buses that drove students from Yale and elsewhere south to be part of the Mississippi Voter Registration Drive and help break the back of Jim Crow. Ultimately we forced Washington to ensure through the law that our values were not mere words. We saw Congress respond to this “felt need” and pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and life in America did change.

Not only did landmark civil rights advances grow out of the sit-ins and marches, but we saw the EPA and the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act and all of it come out of Earth Day in 1970. We saw women refusing to take a back-seat, force institutions to respond, producing Title IX and a Yale University that quickly transformed from a male bastion of 1966. Citizens, including veterans of the war, spoke up and brought our troops home from Vietnam.

The fact is that what leaps out at me now is the contrast between those heady days and today. Right or wrong, and like it or not – and certainly some people certainly didn’t like it – back then institutions were hard pressed to avoid addressing the felt needs of our country.

Indeed, none of what I’ve talked about happened overnight. The pace of change was different from today. The same fall that my class walked in as freshmen, Nelson Mandela walked into prison. It wasn’t until 30 years later, when my daughter walked through these gates for the first time, that Mandela was his country’s president.

When I was a senior, the debate over the growing war in Vietnam was becoming all consuming. But it took another seven years before combat ended for our country, and more than 25,000 lives. And it wasn’t until the year 2000 that we finally made peace and normalized relations. Now, amazingly, we have more Vietnamese studying in America – including some in your class – than from almost any other country in the world.

What’s notable is this daring journey of progress played out over years, decades, and even generations. But today, the felt needs are growing at a faster pace than ever before, piling up on top of each other, while the response in legislatures or foreign capitals seems nonexistent or frozen.

It’s not that the needs aren’t felt. It’s that people around the world seem to have grown used to seeing systems or institutions failing to respond. And the result is an obvious deepening frustration if not exasperation with institutional governance.

The problem is today’s institutions are simply not keeping up or even catching up to the felt needs of our time. Right before our eyes, difficult decisions are deferred or avoided altogether. Some people even give up before they try because they just don’t believe that they can make a difference. And the sum total of all of this inaction is stealing the future from all of us.

Just a few examples, from little to big: a train between Washington and New York that can go 150 miles-per-hour – but, lacking modern infrastructure, goes that fast for only 18 miles of the trip; an outdated American energy grid which can’t sell energy from one end of the country to the other; climate change growing more urgent by the day, with 97 percent of scientists telling us for years of the imperative to act. The solution is staring us in the face: Make energy policy choices that will allow America to lead a $6 trillion market. Yet still we remain gridlocked; immigration reform urgently needed to unleash the power – the full power of millions who live here and make our laws in doing so both sensible and fair.

And on the world stage, you will not escape it – even more urgency. We see huge, growing populations of young people in places that offer little education, little economic or political opportunity. In countries from North Africa to East Asia, you are older than half their population. Forty percent of their population is younger than Yale’s next incoming class.

If we can’t galvanize action to recognize their felt needs – if we don’t do more to coordinate an attack on extreme poverty, provide education, opportunity, and jobs, we invite instability. And I promise you, radical extremism is all too ready to fill the vacuum left behind.

What should be clear to everyone – and it’s perhaps what makes our current predicament, frankly, so frustrating – is that none of our problems are without solutions. None of them. But neither will they solve themselves. So for all of us, it’s really a question of willpower, not capacity. It’s a matter of refusing to fall prey to the cynicism and apathy that have always been the mortal enemies of progress. And it requires keeping faith with the ability of institutions – of America – to do big things when the moment demands it. Remember what Nelson Mandela said when confronted by pessimism in the long march to freedom: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

One thing I know for sure – these and other felt needs will never be addressed if you, we fall victim to the slow suffocation of conventional wisdom.

On Tuesday I sat in the State Department with some young Foreign Service officers at the State Department, and one of them said something to me that I’ve been thinking about, frankly, all week. He wasn’t much older than any of you. He said: “We’ve gone from an era where power lived in hierarchies to an era where power lives in networks – and now we’re wrestling with the fact that those hierarchies are unsettled by the new power.”

Every one of you and your parents have mobile devices here today. They represent a lot more than your ability to put a picture on Facebook or Instagram. They are one of the powerful new instruments of change that makes hierarchies uncomfortable because you can communicate with everybody, anywhere, all the time – and that’s how you beat conventional wisdom.

That’s what makes me certain that felt needs are not just problems. They are opportunities. And I am convinced if you are willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, which you should be after this education, you can avoid the dangerous byproducts of indifference, hopelessness, and my least favorite: cynicism.

It is indifference that says our problems are so great, let’s not even try. We have to reject that. It’s hopelessness that says that our best days are behind us. I couldn’t disagree more.

It’s cynicism that says we’re powerless to effect real change, and that the era of American leadership is over. I don’t believe that for a second, and neither does President Obama. We refuse to limit our vision of the possibilities for our country, and so should you. Together we have to all refuse to accept the downsizing of America’s role in a very complicated world.

I happen to love T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” one of my favorite poems. And I respectfully challenge you to never wind up fretfully musing as Prufrock did: “Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Class of 2014: Your job is to disturb the universe.

You have to reject the notion that the problems are too big and too complicated so don’t wade in. You don’t have the luxury of just checking out. And it doesn’t matter what profession you wind up in, what community you live in, where you are, what you’re doing, you do not have that luxury.

One of the greatest rewards of being Secretary of State is getting to see with my own eyes how much good news there actually is in the world – how many good people there are out there every single day courageously fighting back. The truth is that everywhere I go I see or hear about an extraordinary number of individual acts of courage and bravery, all of which defy the odds – all by people who simply refuse to give up, and who start with a lot less opportunity than you do.

You can see this in the lonely human rights activist who struggles against tyranny and against a dictator until they are defeated. You see it in the democracy activist who goes to jail trying to ensure an election is free and transparent. You see it in the civil rights lawyer who suffers scorn and isolation for standing against bigotry, racism, and intolerance.

I am literally in awe of the courage that ordinary, anonymous people demonstrate in the most difficult circumstances imaginable – in a dank African jail, a North Korean gulag, a prison in Syria or Central Asia, facing the cruelest persecution and lonely isolation.

Many of these people just quietly disappear. They lose their lives. They never become an international cause or a global hero. Courage is not a strong enough word for what they do every day, and all of us need to think about that.

What all these people have in common – and what I hope they have in common with you – is that they refuse to be complacent and indifferent to what is going on around them or to what should be going on around them.

And that’s the most important lesson I hope you will take with you when you leave Yale. The fact is that for those of you who have loans are not the only burden you graduate with today. You have had the privilege of a Yale education. No matter where you come from, no matter where you’re going next, the four years that you’ve spent here are an introduction to responsibility. And your education requires something more of you than serving yourself. It calls on you to give back, in whatever way you can. It requires you to serve the world around you and, yes, to make a difference. That is what has always set America apart: our generosity, our humanity, our idealism.

Last year I walked through the devastation of the typhoon that hit the Philippines. The U.S. military and USAID and regular volunteers got there before countries that lived a lot closer. We went there without being asked and without asking for anything in return. And today Americans are helping to bring that community back to life.

In Nigeria, when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls, the government didn’t turn to other powerful countries for help – and by the way, they’re not offering.

As Josh and Nia mentioned, it was my privilege to stand here 48 years ago at Class Day. Before coming here, I did re-read that speech. A lot of it was about Vietnam, but one line jumped out at me. In 1966 I suggested, “an excess of isolation had led to an excess of interventionism.” Today we hear a different tune from some in Congress and even on some campuses and we face the opposite concern. We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade.

I can tell you for certain, most of the rest of the world doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about America’s presence – they worry about what would happen in our absence.

Without arrogance, without chauvinism, never forget that what makes America different from other nations is not a common bloodline or a common religion or a common ideology or a common heritage – what makes us different is that we are united by an uncommon idea: that we’re all created equal and all endowed with unalienable rights. America is not just a country like other countries. America is an idea and we – all of us, you – get to fill it out over time.

Tomorrow, when President Salovey grants you those diplomas, listen to what he says. He won’t say what is said at most schools – that your degree admits you to all its “rights and privileges.” At Yale, we say your degree admits you to all its “rights and responsibilities.” It means we need to renew that responsibility over and over again every day. It’s not a one-time decision. Participation is the best antidote to pessimism and ultimately cynicism.

So I ask you today on a celebratory afternoon as you think about the future: Remember what happened when the Founding Fathers had finished their hard work at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and Ben Franklin, tired, end of day, walked down at night, down the steps of the hall. A woman called to him. She said, “Tell us Dr. Franklin: What do we have, a monarchy or a republic?” And he answered: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Class of 2014: We know what you have – a world-class education – if you will use it.

Congratulations to you, good luck, and God bless. (Cheers and applause.)

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PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 17, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:18 P.M. EDT

     MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Happy Friday.  Before I take your questions, I have something at the top here.  As I think some of you, or most of you saw, on Thursday, May 29, President Obama will host a summit at the White House on youth sports safety and concussions, where he will be joined by stakeholders, including young athletes, parents, coaches, experts, professional athletes, and military servicemembers. 

     At the White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, the President will announce new commitments by both the public and private sectors to raise awareness about how to identify, treat and prevent concussions, and conduct additional research in the field of sports-related concussions that will help us better address these problems.

     As both a parent and an avid sports fan, the President appreciates the role that sports play in the lives of young people.  And this administration is committed to helping ensure that children continue to be active and play sports safely.

     And now I’ll go to your questions.  Jim.

     Q    Thanks, Jay.  On immigration, Valerie Jarrett was quoted in Las Vegas as saying that there’s a window between now and August to get immigration overhaul done.  And she says, “We have a commitment from Speaker Boehner, who’s very frustrated with his caucus.”  Now, the Speaker’s office has denied that there’s a commitment.  And in a tweet today, Valerie herself said that this was lost in translation and that she actually meant that it was a commitment to trying.  But I guess the question is — a commitment to trying what and when?

     MR. CARNEY:  Speaker Boehner, other House Republican leaders and leading Republicans outside of the House of Representatives have all expressed deep interest in moving forward on immigration reform.  And we have found those comments and that interest to be encouraging and indicative of some movement among Republicans in the House towards support for comprehensive immigration reform.

     What the President has said and others have said is that the opportunity before us is something very rare and we ought to seize it here in Washington, all of us.  The House ought to follow the Senate’s lead and pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In the Senate, a comprehensive bill passed with Democratic and Republican support. 

Republicans across the country, business leaders across the country, faith leaders and law enforcement leaders across the country are behind this effort.  They recognize that passing comprehensive immigration reform will provide a huge boost to our economy, to our security, to principles of fairness.  And for those reasons we ought to move forward, and what we hope is that the House will move.  And that’s a message that Valerie was carrying and that we have all been carrying for some time now.

Q    Is the suggestion here that if doesn’t happen by August, or at the end of August — have an August recess — that the President will take matters into his own hands, he has some authority to do some things — that we do something beyond just tweaking the margins?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to speculate about the future.  What we have always said will always remain true, which is comprehensive immigration reform requires action by Congress.  The President is always interested in moving the ball forward on his agenda where he can, even if Congress refuses to act.  But there are some things that require congressional action, and this is one of them.

So the Senate acted in this Congress, and has put a bill forward that enjoys broad bipartisan support across the country in communities and among interest groups that don’t often get together behind the same priority.  And we hope that Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Chairman Ryan and others hear all the voices of support, including traditional Republican voices, traditional conservative voices for comprehensive immigration reform and move forward with it.  That’s what Valerie was talking about.  That’s what the President has talked about and I have talked about and others.

We should get this done for our economy.  We should get this done for our security.  We should get this done because it will allow us to innovate more here in this country in ways that will build our economy and create high-paying jobs in this country.  So the opportunity is there for the taking, and we hope that the Speaker and other Republican leaders in the House avail themselves of the opportunity.

Q    A question on Ukraine — reports today of pro-Russian insurgents pulling out of buildings, government buildings in the city of Mariupol.  And this is because steelworkers employed by one of the wealthiest men in Ukraine are patrolling the streets with police officers.  I’m wondering, is that a welcome development at the White House?  Or is there a concern that the government in Kyiv is relying on oligarchs to essentially run the government in these tense regions?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not sure that’s how I would interpret the story that you’re referring to.  We certainly welcome any indication that separatists that have seized buildings, who have set up roadblocks, stockpiled weapons, are vacating buildings and ceasing the kinds of activities that have only destabilized the situation in Ukraine and led to confrontations and violence.  So that would certainly be a good development.

And the fact that significant portions of the population in Ukraine, including in eastern Ukraine, do not support the agenda of Russian-backed separatists but support a united Ukraine and support a process by which decisions around constitutional reform and devolution of power from the center are made in an appropriate way — that’s a good thing.  These are the kinds of issues that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv has promised will be discussed in dialogue with Ukrainians from all parts of the country at roundtables that are facilitated by the OSCE.  That’s a good thing.

And all of this comes as we move closer now to a presidential election on May 25.  And our focus and the focus of the OSCE and the Ukrainian government and all of our partners in this effort is on ensuring that those elections are able to go forward.  And the OSCE has reported that the preparations, the technical preparations for the elections are proceeding well. 

Separatists have disrupted preparations in some isolated areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, but in the vast majority of the country, as you know, Jim, the situation is calm and preparations are on track.  And that’s certainly a good thing and a welcome development.

Jeff.

Q    Jay, General Motors was assessed a $35 million fine today over its ignition switch issues.  Does the President believe that fine is enough?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t discussed it with him.  I would refer you to obviously the agency involved here, the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety and Traffic — NTSB, whatever that acronym stands for.  (Laughter.)  But they’re the bodies that you should address questions about it to.

Q    Has he been following that issue?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he’s certainly broadly been following it.  It’s been an issue that’s received a lot of attention, understandably.  But in terms of that process, that’s not something that I would have a lot to say about.

Q    Two quick foreign policy questions.  You’ve talked a lot about the issue with China and Vietnam, and wanting that to be resolved in a way that is diplomatic and without provocation.  Do you want China to move the oil tanker?

MR. CARNEY:  Here’s what I’d say about that — and I appreciate the question.  First of all, we’re closely following, out of our mission to Vietnam, the protests in Vietnam around this issue.  But regarding the broader issue of China’s unilateral decision to introduce an oil rig accompanied by numerous government vessels for the first time in waters disputed with Vietnam, we would say what we have said repeatedly, which is this is a provocative act and it raises tensions in the region, and by raising tensions makes it more difficult to resolve claims over disputed territory in a manner that supports peace and stability in the region.

So we consider that act provocative and we consider it one that undermines the goal that we share, which is a peaceful resolution of these disputes and general stability in the region.  We’re very concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by government-controlled assets operating in this area.  And we call on all parties to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner to preserve freedom of navigation and overflight, to exercise restraint, to take steps to lower tensions, and to address competing sovereignty claims peacefully and in accordance with international law.

As you know, sovereignty over these islands, the Paracel Islands, is disputed.  This is occurring in waters claimed by both Vietnam and China near those islands.  These events highlight the need for claimants to clarify their claims in accordance with international law and to reach agreement on appropriate behavior and activities in disputed areas. 

As I’ve said before, the United States does not take a position on these competing sovereignty claims, but we do take a position on the conduct of the claimants who must resolve their disputes peacefully, without intimidation, without coercion, and in accordance with international law.

Q    Thank you.  And one last foreign policy question.  Do you have a reaction to the election in India?

MR. CARNEY:  I do.  First of all, we congratulate India and the people of India on an historic national election, which saw more voters cast their ballots freely and fairly than in any election in human history.  We congratulate Narendra Modi and the BJP on winning a majority of seats in this historic election.  Once the government is formed, we look forward to working closely with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to advance our strong bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values.  We would also like to thank Prime Minister Singh for the role he played in transforming our strategic partnership during his 10 years in office.

     Q    Thank you, Jay.  Mr. Narendra Modi was banned the U.S. visa for the last 10 years.  Do you think that was a step which could not have been taken — was not the right step in the direction at the time?

     MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry, the question — I understand about the visa, but what’s the question?

     Q    Do you think that was a wrong step taken by the previous administration, or do you stand by that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer you to the State Department for general answers to questions about the issuance of visas.  I can tell you that the Prime Minister of India will be welcomed to the United States.  And I would also note that U.S. officials, including Ambassador Powell, have met with Mr. Modi so he is certainly not unknown to us.

     Q    And does the President have any plans to call him?

     MR. CARNEY:  The President does plan to reach out to Mr. Modi, and I’m sure we’ll let you know when that’s happened.

     Q    Just a follow-up, quickly?

     MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Goyal.

     Q    One — if the President preparing to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House.  And second, if you can confirm if the President has received a farewell letter from outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -– Dr. Manmohan Singh.

     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything on any correspondence the President may have received, and I think it’s a little early to talk about a visit.  The President will be reaching out to Mr. Modi and, as I noted, we congratulate him and the BJP on winning a majority of seats in these historic elections.  So, again, this is an important relationship, a strong, bilateral partnership, and the President looks forward to building on the progress we’ve made with Prime Minister Singh in our relationship, in our bilateral relationship with the next Prime Minister.

     Q    And finally, the entire President’s administration, all these eight years, Mr. Modi was banned from coming to the U.S. — because there were several occasions when he was going to attend several functions in the U.S.  Do you think there’s a bitterness there between the two countries because of this?  And now there is a landslide victory by the BJP and Mr. Narendra Modi, and the sweep-out of the outgoing government.  What is the future of the U.S.–India relationship?

     MR. CARNEY:  I think the future is bright.  We have long said that we look forward to working with whomever the Indian people choose in these elections.  And the U.S.–India partnership enjoys broad support across party lines in both of our countries.  And I am confident that we will continue our successful and productive partnership with the new Indian government.  The President looks forward to speaking with Mr. Modi and to working with the new government once it is formed.

     Let me move on.

     Q    A follow-up on that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Let me get to –- I promise I’ll get to you.

     Jon.

     Q    Jay, a follow-up on the immigration question.  I’m just wondering where the White House stands now on the issue in what is acceptable and what is not.  Is it essential still to the White House that whatever finally emerges from Congress include a path to citizenship?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s the President’s position.  It is elemental to the principles that he put forward.  It is reflected in the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate.  And the President strongly believes that it needs to be a part of comprehensive immigration reform. 

     We have long said that the House would necessarily pursue its own path in the construction of an immigration reform package, but comprehensive immigration reform is essential because the whole works together in a way that achieves all of the important benefits to the economy and to the country that we are looking for with the passage of this legislation.  So I’m not going to get into a lot of parsing of “what ifs” because we haven’t seen a thing out of the House yet, and we’re looking forward to the House acting on the urges we’ve heard expressed and the interest and desire that we’ve heard expressed by Republicans, including Republican leaders on this matter. 

And we want to see comprehensive immigration reform.  We want to see comprehensive immigration reform that meets the test set by the President when he laid out his principles a number of years ago.  And those principles are reflected in the Senate bill, as I’ve said many times.  That bill does not exactly mirror what the President would have written if he were to write a bill and see it pass through Congress, and he doesn’t expect that what emerges from the House, if the House has the courage to act on this, to match word for word what he would prefer.  But what he does insist is that comprehensive immigration reform adhere to the principles he laid out in the beginning.

     Q    So whatever the legislative process, not parsing that, the final bill that he would sign into law must include a path to citizenship?  I just want to be —

     MR. CARNEY:  We’ve said all along that comprehensive immigration reform needs to include a path to citizenship.

     Q    And he will not sign a law that is short of that? 

     MR. CARNEY:  Not sign a law — there are just so many different —

     Q    He will not sign a bill that does not include a path to citizenship — that’s my question.

     MR. CARNEY:  He signs a lot of bills that don’t include paths to citizenship.  (Laughter.)

     Q    You know what I mean.

     MR. CARNEY:  I know what you mean, too, but what I’m not going to do is -–

     Q    So you’re saying — so he’s open to signing an immigration bill that falls short of a path to citizenship?  Is that still —

     MR. CARNEY:  His position, unlike the position of others, has been absolutely consistent from beginning to end — or to this point.  Unfortunately, we’re not at the end yet, and I don’t expect it to change.

     Q    Okay.  And then on the VA, I’ve heard you and I’ve heard others at the White House talk about the VA as having a good record on dealing with the backlog of claims and actually praising the VA on this issue.  In light of the way this — as we learn more about problems and not just in the Arizona office, but in other parts of the country, are you still saying you think that the Veterans Administration has done a good job in dealing with the backlog of claims?  I mean, are you still going to say that?

     MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question, Jon, and I think it’s important to note — and I tried to the other day when this came up — you’re conflating two separate things.  The disability claims, the backlog and disability claims — this is a specific problem and challenge that the VA and the White House and others in the administration have been aggressively attacking.  And that is where you have seen a 50 percent reduction in the size of the backlog year over year, from this point to a year ago.  And that has been important progress. 

And the size of that backlog increased significantly when this administration, because our veterans deserve it, made the decision that there would be a presumption of acceptance of a claim if you were a veteran claiming problems associated with exposure to Agent Orange.  That’s the first time that’s ever been done; that’s what this administration did.  If you were a veteran of the first Gulf War and you felt that you were a victim of problems associated with exposure in that war, and if you were a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan and you experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, again, your claim would clear a hurdle automatically under this process that we established in this administration because we believe our veterans deserve it.  That immediately increased the population of people who had disability claims added to the backlog, and that backlog has been a focus of intense work and attention by the VA and the administration in general.

     On the matter of the absolute requirement that our veterans get the health care and services that they deserve and they get that in a timely fashion, the revelations or at least the allegations that have emerged from the situation in Phoenix I think have been greeted, in terms of reaction in the manner that Secretary Shinseki suggested yesterday, with a great deal of anger and frustration.  And if they prove to be true, people will be held accountable. 

But these are matters — and other issues that have been discussed in the wake of those allegations — that are properly under review at the order of Secretary Shinseki, under investigation at the recommendation of Secretary Shinseki by the independent inspector general.  And as you know, the President and Chief of Staff here have responded to Secretary Shinseki’s recommendation by sending one of the President’s most trusted aides over to VA to help with that review, to work with Secretary Shinseki on that review.

So I think that reflects the seriousness with which we approach this matter, our concern about some of the allegations that have been made.  But I just wanted to make sure that it was understood that there is a — that the disability claims issue is not the same issue that is being discussed when we talk about the allegations in Phoenix. 

     Q    I think part of the confusion is when you and others have been asked about the problems in terms of veterans getting the health care that they need and deserve, you’ve answered with talking points on the disability claim backlog.  So are you really — I mean, are you suggesting that this is a problem that is limited to the Phoenix office?

     MR. CARNEY:  I think that there is an active review, as well as an investigation by the IG that will determine both what happened in Phoenix and, I’m sure, what happened elsewhere if some of the other allegations that we’ve seen merit investigation. 

What I’ve been saying is that under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership there has been a firm dedication to providing the kind of services that our veterans deserve.  It’s reflected in some of the decisions that were made to increase access to disability claims and to health care.  We have under his leadership reduced veterans homelessness by 24 percent.  We’ve provided Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to more than 1 million students.  And we have decreased the disability claims.

     My point is that when I talk about the progress that has been made, I have been referring to questions about Secretary Shinseki and his leadership of the Veterans Affairs Department, and that progress has come on his watch and he certainly deserves credit for it.

     Q    Do you think it sounds strange, though, that given the evidence that we’re seeing coming out and suggestions that veterans have actually died waiting to get health services —

     MR. CARNEY:  I think the word you used is essential because you said the “suggestion.”  And this matter is under investigation — I would point you to what the IG said yesterday.

     Q    But here you are praising the VA for all the things that have been done under Shinseki’s leadership.  There seems to be a —

     MR. CARNEY:  Let me just explain the way you just asked that question.  You’re saying there’s a suggestion that something terrible happened in Phoenix — and that’s under investigation.  All we know is that it’s a suggestion.

     Q    But you don’t think there’s evidence that there has been a real problem with the quality of health care that our veterans are getting?  You don’t think that this is going to be — we still need to study this further?  You don’t think there’s enough to act on right now to say that our veterans aren’t getting the care that they need?

     MR. CARNEY:  We are acting on the allegations and the suggestions that you pointed out, and I would point you to what the IG said yesterday about his ongoing investigation into the  —

     Q    — you’re going to investigate more?

     MR. CARNEY:  You’re saying we shouldn’t?  We should just accept allegations as true without investigating them?  I don’t think that would be a normal procedure.  Meanwhile, we are moving aggressively in a host of areas to ensure that our veterans are getting the services and the care that they deserve.  And that’s reflected not least in the fact that the President has requested increases in the budget for the VA every year he has been in office in a time of very tight budgets.  And he has insisted when it came to the serious matter of the disability backlog that we attack that problem with aggression and with substantial resources, and that’s resulted in the reduction in the backlog.  And that reduction needs to be eliminated — I mean, the backlog has been reduced, but it needs to be eliminated, and that’s an important part of making sure that our veterans are being taken care of.

     Let me move around a little bit. 

     Q    To follow-up on what Jon was asking, if General Shinseki is “mad as hell” about what went on, why is it the White House position that it’s just allegations and suggestions?  It seems to me he has made a conclusion in his mind that something bad happened.

     MR. CARNEY:  I think I would refer you to his testimony.  The fact is, if what has been alleged is true, that would be an outrage.  And that is an opinion shared by the President, by Secretary Shinseki, and I think everyone else who has looked at this matter and works on these issues.

     Q    Why hasn’t he expressed it?

     MR. CARNEY:  The President was asked about the allegations and answered forthrightly and expressed his concern about it.  The actions that we’ve taken reflect the concern that we have about it.  And the fact that he has sent one of his most trusted and top aides from the White House over to the VA to assist the Secretary in his review reflects the seriousness with which we take this matter. 

But, again, I would simply say that it stands to reason that when allegations are made, it’s important that they are investigated to find out the truth behind the matter before we just assume that what happened or what’s said to have happened is true.  I’m not in any way prejudging, because I don’t think we ought to prejudge.  I do think that it’s a matter of enough concern that the actions that Secretary Shinseki has taken and the actions that the President and the White House have taken are merited, and we’ll continue to aggressively tackle this problem.

     Q    Should the American people be able to trust — the President says he’s — you said the President is sending over one of his most trusted aides to oversee this.  Wasn’t General Shinseki one of his most trusted aides?  Why should the American public look at that and say, well, that’s the right thing to do instead of bringing somebody in from the outside perhaps to look at what’s going on at the VA?

     MR. CARNEY:  Jon, what I can tell you is the President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki, someone with an incredibly admirable record in the military and in service to our veterans.  And, again, under Secretary Shinseki there has been significant progress.  There remains a lot of work to do when it comes to making sure that our veterans get the services and care that they deserve, but Secretary Shinseki is aggressively tackling the challenges that we face on these matters. 

And when we see revelations like or accusations like what we’ve seen with regards to the office in Phoenix, it was certainly our view when Secretary Shinseki suggested it to our Chief of Staff that it was the right thing to do to add capacity, if you will, in order to make the effort more intense and more rapid to Secretary Shinseki’s team by sending Rob Nabors over to the VA.

     Ed.

     Q    Jay, on that point about the President speaking out — today, for the second time this week alone, he talked about transportation funding, infrastructure funding because it’s a priority for him.  If fixing this VA problem is a priority for him, why have we not heard from him since April 28th?  A lot has happened since he spoke out at that news conference.

     MR. CARNEY:  Right, a lot has happened.  There have been allegations.  The Veterans Affairs administration has responded to those allegations by launching a review and suggesting and recommending and soliciting that the independent IG investigate.  The President has asked his Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, one of his most trusted advisors, to temporarily take an assignment over at the VA to assist Secretary Shinseki in that effort.  And Secretary Shinseki, as you know, was testifying on Capitol Hill just yesterday about this.

     This is something that, again, the President cares deeply about when it comes to our veterans and ensuring that we provide for them in a way that honors the service they provided us.

     Q    Why is he not speaking directly to veterans on this and saying, this is how much it matters and we’re going to fix it?  Your words are important, but if you’re — on transportation funding, for example, he doesn’t just have you do it; he gets out there and says, Congress has to move on this.  Why is he not out directing veterans on this?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, he is taking action, Ed.  He has responded to this.  He has spoken about it.  I’m sure there will be an opportunity for him to speak about it again.  I think you would be the first to say that if — and maybe you would, since Congress isn’t acting yet on transportation — that speaking alone does not get the job done; acting gets the job done.  When it comes to transportation —

     Q    Sure, but you push them along.  But he pushes them along.  He doesn’t give up if Congress hasn’t done. 

     MR. CARNEY:  If I may, Ed, when it comes to transportation funding, that requires action by Congress so to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Americans aren’t thrown off the job come August.  When it comes to taking the actions that we’ve taken as an administration in response to allegations, that’s something we can do and that’s something that the President is directing.

     Q    How do you react directly to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor?  He put out a statement yesterday saying he believes there’s a pattern at the White House where the Cabinet Secretaries take all the heat and the President ultimately is just not held accountable.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that this briefing suggests otherwise.  I would say —

     Q    It’s you, it’s not the President.  A briefing is not -– the point is that the Cabinet Secretaries —

     MR. CARNEY:  I think that in the time that since those allegations emerged in the press, the President has given four or five press conferences, so I think he has had the opportunity to address this and has been asked about it.  I think there will be other opportunities for him to address this.  But what he has also done is acted on it and so has Secretary Shinseki.

     Q    Last one is — you were talking about immigration earlier and that the clock is ticking, and minimum wage, a lot of other important priorities that the President has been pushing –- transportation funding as well.  Is there any fear at all with Congress having hearings, that IG is having an investigation, there was talk yesterday that the FBI may get involved because there may be criminal charges in the VA scandal if, in fact, people did die because of this.  My question being is there any fear that this is a big –- I struggle to use the word distraction because it’s an important issue that veterans get their health care, but is this something that overshadows the attention of Congress right now so you can’t get immigration and other stuff done?

     MR. CARNEY:  I would simply say that it’s an important matter and that the resources necessary to tackle it so that we are providing the services and benefits that veterans deserve are merited, and the attention that is paid to it by those who are concerned about the problem as opposed to politics is absolutely appropriate.  That’s how the President views it.

     Bill.

     Q    Does the government have any confidence, this administration have any confidence that the Nigerians can ever retrieve the young women, particularly in light of today’s news that President Jonathan was supposed to go to the village from which they were kidnapped and decided at the last minute not to go?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that, first of all, a couple of things.  There is no question that the Nigerian people, the Nigerians face a real threat in Boko Haram.  Boko Haram has demonstrated it has no regard for human life and it has demonstrated an increased ability to conduct attacks, and those attacks have increased in frequency and lethality.  So this organization poses a serious threat in that country.

     When it comes to the efforts undertaken by the Nigerian government to find these girls, we’ve made clear that, in our view, time is of the essence and that we can and are assisting the Nigerian government in the search, but the Nigerian government has the lead and needs to act accordingly.  Now, we are -–

     Q    But they don’t seem to be making any progress.

     MR. CARNEY:  You mean the girls haven’t been found?  I mean, I think what we — I think the —

     Q    No, signs from Nigeria are not encouraging.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think a circumstance — I mean, I think that it was important — and I tried to do this when we first started talking about the assistance the United States was going to provide — to understand that despite the expertise we have, the capacities we have, and the kind of assets that we can bring to bear in this, that this is a tremendous challenge.  We’re talking about fewer than 300 people who are being searched for in an area at least the size of West Virginia, portions of which are very densely forested, as I understand it.  So this is a difficult challenge. 

And, again, this is a population of kidnapped girls that we hope remains intact and together, but obviously if they have been separated that makes the challenge even greater — which doesn’t mean that we won’t provide all the assistance and assets that we can in that effort in helping Nigeria conduct this search, but it is certainly a challenge.

     Q    But the security situation is apparently so bad that the President of the country cancelled a visit to the area today.

     MR. CARNEY:  Is that a question?  I think the fact that the security situation, because of Boko Haram, is real is one that is self-evident and which I discussed moments ago.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t and that they can’t conduct a search, and that’s certainly what’s happening.  We’ve already, as I discussed earlier this week, launched both manned and unmanned aircraft as part of the reconnaissance effort, and we have a team of personnel assisting the Nigerian government in a variety of ways.  Other nations have lent their support to the effort and we hope that it will bear fruit and we will find the girls. 

     Q    Jay, has President Obama spoken to President Goodluck Jonathan, or does he plan to?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any conversations to read out. 

     Q    Did he have a reaction to canceling his trip?

     MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken to him about it.

     Q    And Nigerian officials, U.S. officials, officials from Britain and France are going to meet over the weekend and discuss their strategy moving forward.  What is the anticipation on the part of this White House about the tangibles that might come out of that meeting — the series of meetings?

     MR. CARNEY:  I think that we are focused on assisting the Nigerians in developing a concrete plan and a concrete approach to finding out where the girls are and recovering them so that they can be returned to their families.  And that requires coordination and it requires strategy.  And I assume that these conversations will be focused on that effort. 

     Q    Going back to Bill’s line of questioning, you have Alice Friend, who’s the Director of African Affairs, talking about some of her frustrations, frustrations on the part of the United States with the Nigerian government’s “slow to adapt with new strategies and new tactics.”  Can you flesh out what some of the other frustrations are that the U.S. feels in terms of working with the government of Nigeria?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, I think that the challenge that Nigeria faces from this group is a serious one, and there are all sorts of issues that she and others have identified that make the challenge even greater and that we try to address as a friend of Nigeria in the assistance that we provide. 

That’s why we provide security assistance, to increase Nigeria’s capacity to meet the threat, including by helping professionalize its military and helping it carry out responsible counterterrorism operations.  It’s why we provide law enforcement assistance, to help Nigeria bring those responsible for attacks on civilians to justice.  It’s why we support programs and initiatives that are aimed at combating violent extremist ideology, including by creating economic alternatives for those vulnerable to being recruited by terrorist organizations. 

     So we have a coordinated effort that is designed to help strengthen Nigeria’s ability to respond responsibly and effectively to these challenges in a way that ensures civilians are protected and human rights are respected.  And responding responsibly and effectively is important because that’s, in effect, how you provide support for and reassurance to the population that is also having to deal with the threat posed by an organization like Boko Haram.

     Q    Just one on Rob Nabors.  Is there a timeline for the review that he is conducting?  Has the President said, I want you to —

     MR. CARNEY:  For questions like that, I would refer you to the VA.  They are obviously conducting the review.  So I don’t have a timeline on Rob’s stay over at the VA except to say that it is temporary and he will be coming back and returning to his responsibilities as Deputy Chief of Staff here when that assignment is finished.

     Michelle.

     Q    The White House has repeatedly expressed confidence in Shinseki’s leadership, progress under his watch.  But the way that this all came out — even if you’re going to keep calling them all allegations and they seem to be more widespread than one hospital — doesn’t that in itself indicate a major shortfall in his oversight and leadership of the administration?

     MR. CARNEY:  Michelle, I think I’ve addressed this question. What we have seen in response to the allegations that have been reported is a review instigated by the Secretary, one that we are now providing a senior White House official to assist —

     Q    My question is the way it came out, that this was all

— all of these problems that have been built up and widespread, it all came out through reporting by the press, that some of this wasn’t even known about.  So doesn’t that, in and of itself, indicate a major shortfall there?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’d say a couple of things about that.  First of all, there are active reviews and investigations into what happened, and I think, again, I’m not going to pass judgment on what happened until we’ve seen the conclusion of an investigation.  And I think that’s generally a wise approach to take. 

     Separately, should some of these allegations prove to be true, Secretary Shinseki has made clear that he would be outraged by that and angry by that — the President certainly would be — and he would expect people to be held accountable.  That’s why there’s an investigation.  That’s why there’s a review. 

     On the role of the press, I think the press, in general — and again, I’m not going to pass judgment on whether or not the allegations are true because we don’t know, but the role of the press is important in general as a — on matters like this and in so many other areas.  So I wouldn’t sell the press short when it comes to the important role they play.

     Q    And on Iran, these reports that have come out this week that Iran is actively pursuing ballistic missiles, what is the White House’s view of that and the possibility of eventually reaching a nuclear deal?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, on the question of ballistic missiles, we have made clear that all issues of concern are on the table during the P5-plus-1 negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement.  And we’re not going to get into details of specific items of negotiations because negotiating in public wouldn’t serve the goal here, but I would point you to the fact that the Joint Plan of Action lays out very clearly the elements for a comprehensive agreement and it talks about all concerns needing to be addressed, and it talks about making sure that we know that, in fact, this is an entirely peaceful program.  It also talks about U.N. Security Council resolutions needing to be addressed, including provisions relating to ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

     So ballistic missiles fall into the topics under discussion that would need to be part of a comprehensive resolution of this dispute and this challenge.  So that’s the view we take.  Without sort of teasing out any individual item and talking about how that concern would have to be addressed in the final product, what we will do is point you to those U.N. Security Council resolutions, the fact that the Joint Plan of Action explicitly calls for those concerns to be resolved, and make clear that everything in the JPA is on the table and has to be resolved for a comprehensive agreement to be reached.

     Alexis.

     Q    Jay, I have two questions.  On the Ukraine elections, a statement that the Vice President put out this week used the word, “delegitimize” in the statement, that Russia would face additional costs should it disrupt or delegitimize the election results.  My question is a follow-up on a question earlier, which is who is the arbiter for the results of the election, whether they’re disrupted or delegitimized, since sectoral sanctions would be so important to determine a range.  Who decides that?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, there will be international observers organized by the OSCE who will be able to make judgments about the conduct of the election and any efforts to undermine the election or delegitimize it.  The United States and the rest of our partners in the international community who have taken one side on this matter, and Russia, which has taken another side, I think will make judgments about how the elections proceed. 

President Putin, back when he also said or suggested that the so-called referenda should not be held on May 11, also said that the May 25 election might be a good step.  And we certainly agree with that — not just might be, but a necessary and important step — for the Ukrainian people because it would — successful implementation of that election would allow the Ukrainian people to freely express their will when it comes to choosing their leader, their president.  And we are very focused on ensuring, with our partners, that the election takes place.

     Q    This is a small matter, but the President has a minor cold.  I’m not suggesting that he’s ill, but here’s the question — I can’t find any public record that the President has had his full medical workup, his usual exam, since before the election.  And maybe I missed it.  Can you tell us, update us when —

     MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take the question.  I haven’t looked into that.

     Zeke.

     Q    Hey, Jay.  Yesterday the FCC voted to create what they call Internet “fast lanes.”  I’m wondering, the President, as candidate in 2007, 2008, said he would oppose such efforts.  Is the President disappointed by the FCC decision, or is he contemplating going back on his campaign promise from six years ago?

     MR. CARNEY:  The President has made clear since he was a candidate, Zeke, that he strongly supports net neutrality and an open Internet.  As he has said, the Internet’s incredible equality of data, content and access to the consumer is what has powered extraordinary economic growth and made it possible for once tiny sites like eBay and Amazon to compete with brick-and-mortar operations. 

     The FCC is an independent agency, as you know, and we will carefully review their proposal.  The FCC’s efforts were dealt a real challenge by the Court of Appeals in January, but Chairman Wheeler has said his goal is to preserve an open Internet, and we are pleased to see that he is keeping all options on the table.

     We will be watching closely as the process moves forward in hopes that the final rule stays true to the spirit of net neutrality.  The President is looking at every way to protect a free and open Internet and we will — and he will consider any option that might make sense.

     Q    Does the rule that was passed yesterday meet the President’s standards for net neutrality?

     MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think the rule — what was passed yesterday was something that kept options on the table.  And that’s what —

     Q    That’s not a yes or no, though.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, if you have all options on the table, then the President will be looking very closely to see that the outcome of this results in a final rule that stays true to the spirit of net neutrality, which he supports.

     Q    I’ve got a couple questions.  Yesterday, Secretary Johnson said on PBS Newshour that you might be looking at changes — or the President might be looking at changes to the Secure Communities program that’s part of reforming the deportation policy.  Does the White House have anything on that?

     MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t see that comment.  What I think you know is that the President asked Secretary Johnson to address — to review procedures when it comes to enforcement, and that review is underway.  I would refer you to the department for any status update they might have.

     Q    And also this week, there were some documents released to Judicial Watch through FOYA — a lawsuit — that did appear that the Washington office of IRS did have more to do with targeting some of the tea party groups in this.  Does that —

     MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t see that report, so I don’t have a response.

     Q    Okay.  Well, does the White House still believe that this was entirely out of the Cincinnati office, as the President said during the Super Bowl interview?

     MR. CARNEY:  Our position hasn’t changed and I certainly haven’t seen any facts that suggest otherwise.  But I haven’t seen the report that you mentioned.

     Scott.

     Q    Thanks, Jay.  I’m just curious about this sports concussion event.  It will be a public event?

     MR. CARNEY:  Yes.

     Q    And what is the President hoping to get out of it?  Will there be a list of recommendations?

     MR. CARNEY:  We hope to see and expect to see some public and private commitments made towards the study of and education  about this problem.  I think the President, as a father who also has on his staff others who are parents, knows that this is a topic that a lot of families are discussing right now as more and more information is provided about the problems associated with concussions in sports, especially for our young.  And we have the ability here, because it’s the White House and because he’s the President, to help elevate this issue and help draw attention to it and support for efforts to make progress on it so that we can ensure that our kids are being able to get all the benefits that come from participating in sports but are able to do so in as safe a way as possible.

     Q    Was Roger Goodell invited?  Will he be attending?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a list of attendees at this time.  What I can tell you is we aren’t prepared to announce participants or commitments at this time, but the President recognizes that raising awareness of and better protecting children and student athletes from concussions, and better identifying and treating them when they do occur requires a team approach.  And professional sports leagues, including the NFL, are certainly vital members of that team. 

     So this is an effort that a lot of people can be involved in and should be involved in.  And this is something that is often talked about within the context of football.  I have a son who’s expressing interest in playing tackle football, so it’s something that I’m particularly interested in, but it doesn’t limit itself just to football.  Obviously we’ve seen a lot of reports about concussions in other sports, including soccer.  So this is something that I think a lot of families spend a lot of time worrying about and want to know as much as they can about, and want to be sure that they’re taking all the precautions they can on behalf of their children so their children can get all the great experiences that come from participating in sports.

     Q    And last question on this.  How does he prepare for an event like this?  Is he reading books?  There’s been some good ones — League of Denial.  Frontline has done some documentaries.  I’m curious about how he prepares for —

     MR. CARNEY:  I know that it’s something that he has addressed when asked a couple of times in interviews where he’s noted that if he had a son he would have to think twice about saying yes to having him play football.  There have been — obviously the report that came out last fall that helped spark this conversation, and there’s a lot of research that’s been done within the government, including within the military, on some of these issues.

     So I don’t have specific reading lists, but I know that it’s a topic of conversation here just like it is around the country.

     Tejinder.

     Q    I have two follow-ups.  The first one is the ambassador already has retired and is expected to leave during this month.  Who is going to be the top diplomat in Delhi?  You’re sending somebody from here to start the dialogue?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any personnel announcements to make.  It’s obviously a very important post, but when the President has an announcement to make he’ll make it. 

     Q    Are you sending somebody from here, one of your diplomats, to start?  Because if you see the baggage of nearly 10 years of visa denial, just a statement welcoming him may not bring him here.  So will the U.S. go beyond?

     MR. CARNEY:  You would have to speak to him about his views on this matter.  First of all, I think we’ve made clear that we congratulate the Indian people and Mr. Modi and his party on their victory.  We await the formation of a government, and we absolutely look forward to continuing all the progress that we have made in our bilateral relationship, and fully expect to be able to do so.

     Q    But just looking at the personal level, will it be kind of a hiccup, and if we are ready to do something to address that on a personal level?

     MR. CARNEY:  Again, the Prime Minister of India will receive a visa to travel to the United States.  We look forward to working with the new government and the new Prime Minister, and we congratulate Mr. Modi and his party on their victory.  I don’t anticipate any problem in that regard.  What we do anticipate is moving forward with the new government and strengthening a relationship that has already been strengthened significantly over the past years with Prime Minister Singh at the helm in India. 

     Q    Thank you, Jay.  Do you have any result on the President’s call today to President Erdogan regarding the mine disaster?

     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a readout for you.  When we do we’ll get it to you.

     Justin.

     Q    Thanks, Jay.  Earlier this week, Secretary Hagel said that he was open to a review of the military’s ban on transgender servicemembers.  I was wondering if the President would back that review and whether or not he’s had any conversations with the Defense Secretary about that issue.

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President speaks with Secretary Hagel regularly, meets with him weekly.  I don’t have a readout on all his conversations, but I would certainly point you to what Secretary Hagel said and certainly we support his efforts in this area.

     Q    And the President I don’t think has ever spoken out on this issue before.  Does he think that that ban should eventually be lifted?

     MR. CARNEY:  I would simply at this point leave it to Secretary Hagel’s comments.  I haven’t spoken to him directly about this issue, but I would note what Secretary Hagel said and that we support him.

     Jessica.

Q    Does the White House agree with Chinese PLA General Fang who said yesterday that the Asia rebalance strategy has emboldened Vietnam in its territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea?

     MR. CARNEY:  No.  I would simply say what I said earlier about the need for parties to these disputes to address them in a peaceful and diplomatic way, in keeping with international norms and international law.  I would note what I said about the unilateral decision and provocative one when it came to the — when it comes to the oil rig and our calling on all sides to restrain — refrain from taking actions that inflame tensions, as opposed to actions that calm the situation and allow for peaceful dialogue about it and resolution about the dispute.

     Q    Week ahead?

     MR. CARNEY:  Week ahead, Jim, you’re right.

     Q    Jay, before you give us the week ahead, can you just  —

     MR. CARNEY:  You got breaking news on your device?

     Q    No, no, this is not breaking news.  Can you give us the President’s reflections as we approach the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education?  He’s obviously meeting with some of the family members of the plaintiffs today.

     Q    And maybe tell us why that event is closed to press.

     MR. CARNEY:  It’s a private meeting that the President is having with families.  I would note that the First Lady will be speaking publicly about the anniversary of this landmark Supreme Court decision this evening in Topeka, Kansas.  The President feels, as I think so many people do around the country, that this decision was historic, that it enabled millions of Americans to get a better education.

     There was a good story this morning about the First Lady and how that decision affected her life, which I think speaks to why it is so appropriate for her to be speaking on it tonight.  We have more work to do, and that’s why the President has the aggressive education agenda that he has.  That’s why he is focused on making pre-kindergarten education available to all in this country, because that early start is so essential for a child’s future. 

So I think that we’ve come a long way in 60 years, and this is an important anniversary to note.  But the President’s views are that that is true and that also we need to keep moving forward when it comes to ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to provide a quality education to all of our kids.

     Let me give you the week ahead.  On Monday, the President will have lunch with combatant commanders.  In the evening, the President will attend a DCCC event. 

On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House. 

On Wednesday, the President will participate in an ambassador credentialing ceremony in the Oval Office.  At this event the President will receive the credentials from foreign ambassadors recently posted in Washington.  The presentation of credentials is a traditional ceremony that marks the formal beginning of ambassador’s service here.  Afterward, the President will welcome the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks to the White House to honor the team and their Super Bowl victory. 

On Thursday, the President will travel to Chicago to participate in two events for the DSCC.  The President will remain in Chicago overnight.

On Friday, he will return to Washington from Chicago.

     And I would be remiss in noting — in not noting as I leave here that today is Kathy Ruemmler’s last day, and we at the White House will all miss her wisdom and good humor.  And we wish her well. 

 

     Thanks, everybody. 

 

END                     2:15 P.M. EDT

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Ceremonyonreceivingandannouncingthe1827BrusselsWorldAtlasthataffirmsVietnam’ssovereigntyovertheHoangSa(Paracel)andTruongSa(

Số liên hệ: Vu Thi. Nhung
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Attending the ceremony were Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son; representatives of Central Propaganda Department; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment; Ministry of Public Security; Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development …; representatives of Embassies: People’s Democratic Republic of Laos; Indonesia; Philippines; Cambodia; Thailand; Republic of France; South Korea; India; etc.
 
In 1827, Philippe Vandermaelen (1795-1869), the remarkable geographer, member of the Paris Geography Association, published the World Atlas that comprises 6 volumes with 7 general maps of five continents, 381 detailed maps, 40 pages of statistics and a lot of information on natural, political and mineral geography. The Asian volume has 111 maps, mainly arranged in volume two of the Atlas. Vietnam was introduced at that time through the maps number 97,105, 106 and 110. Partie de la Cochinchine is the map 106 where the central coast line was drawn from the 12th Parallel to the 16th Parellel. In the high sea, Paracels (Hoang Sa) was drawn in detail and preciseness from about the 16th latitude to the 17th latitude and from the 109th longitude to the 111th longitude. The Paracels archipelago in the map has Pattles and Duccan islands in the west; Tree and Lincol, Rocher au desus de l’eau in the east and Triton in the southwest, right below the 16th latitude; Investigateur is deep to the south at about 14.5th latitude. Apart from the area determined as the Paracels, the map has also another map which introduces in short the Empire of An Nam.

The Partie de la Cochinchine is the first map that mapped out in an absolutely precise manner the position (latitude and longitude), geographical characteristics, the Western name of the biggest and most important island in the Hoang Sa archipelago. The map placed in the Cochinchine region was an organic and inseparable part of Empire An Nam. It proves clearly and precisely Vietnam’s sovereignty over the internationally recognized Paracels.

The World Atlas of Philippe Vandermaelen in general and the Partie de la Cochinchine in particular can be considered in all aspects as the priceless document that not only raises the standard scientific value of the propaganda and education of sovereignty over islands and sea, but also is the convincing, true and effective evidence and international legal value for the struggle to defend the sacred sovereignty over islands and sea of the Fatherland of Vietnam.

Mr. Ngo Chi Dung, General Director of the ECO Pharmaceuticals Company has funded for carrying out the survey of 5 sets of Atlas in the national libraries in France and Belgium, the Geographical Library of Royal Belgium, the library of Paris University; having discussion and unanimous assessment of the geographical experts, topographers, historians, lawyers and librarians in Paris and Bruxelles so as to be able to have the foundation to determine the World Atlas of the ancient Bookstore Sanderus, No. 32, Nederkouter, Gent City, Belgium, as the original in Bruxelles in 1827. After having important information, he decided to buy the complete set of 6 World Atlas to help make fuller historical and legal evidences concerning Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Paracels.

Speaking at a ceremony, Minister Nguyen Bac Son said the situation in the East Sea was complicated by China’s illegal placement of rig Haiyang Shiyou – 981 in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. However, Vietnam was persistently abiding by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC). The minister described the Atlas as a valuable document, and thanked scientists, organisations and individuals for their efforts in collecting the maps. According to the Minister, within its functions and tasks, Ministry of Information and Communications in the future would continue to promote collections, evaluations, publications of documents, maps and other publications related to Vietnam’s sovereignty over islands and sea.

Chú thích Hình ảnh: On behalf of Ministry of Information and Communications, Minister Nguyen Bac Son received the World Atlas, published in Brussels in 1827
ShortDescription: On May, 13th, 2014, Ministry of Information and Communications held a ceremony on receiving and announcing the World Atlas, published in Brussels in 1827, including a number of valuable maps contribute significantly to confirm the sovereignty of Vietnam over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos.
NewsSource: V.H
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