Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes
3:11 P.M. COT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here in Cartagena, where the President is participating in the Summit of the Americas. As you know, he participated earlier today in a CEO Summit with President Rousseff of Brazil and President Santos of Colombia. He's in plenary sessions this afternoon as part of the Summit of the Americas, and then this evening there's a dinner.
I have with me Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor. He can give you more details about the meetings the President is having, as well as other issues with regard to foreign policy and national security. And I can take your questions on other matters.
I have no other opening announcements, so we can go straight to questions. Jim.
Q Jay, thanks. The Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is telling the Associated Press that close to 11 of the Secret Service agents sent home earlier this week as part of a misconduct investigation had brought women back to their hotel rooms. Does the President have a reaction to that type of behavior?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, I would refer you to — on questions regarding this matter — to the Secret Service in Washington. The President is obviously aware of the incident, but beyond that this is a matter that the Secret Service is looking into.
Q As far as the President is concerned, did the President react to this — did he condone this? Has he even brought it up with President Santos?
MR. CARNEY: This is a matter that's being looked into in an appropriate manner by the Secret Service itself. It would not be appropriate for the President to characterize something that's being looked into by the Secret Service at this time. All I can tell you is that it was — he was made aware of it. But beyond that I'm not going to characterize his reaction.
Q Has it been a distraction for him?
MR. CARNEY: It has not. I think it's been much more of a distraction for the press. He's here engaging in the business that he came here to do with the assembled leaders of the Americas. This fast-growing region of the world is vital to our economic future, to the American economic future. As he discussed in Tampa at the Port of Tampa prior to arriving in Colombia, and as you heard him talk about already at the CEO Summit and other venues, the remarkable progress that countries like Brazil and Colombia and other countries in the region have made in recent years is of great benefit to the United States, economically as well as geopolitically.
So that's what he's been focused on. That's been the substance of the conversations and meetings that he's had here. And that will continue to be the case.
Q Can I ask Ben a question?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Hugo Chavez, President Ortega, and the President of Ecuador are not here. What does that tell you about the direction the Americas summit is taking and the possibility for future summits if you start having that kind of –
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, there are — the vast majority of the leaders of the Americas are here at this summit to deal with a pressing set of issues, from economic integration to energy cooperation and citizen security. So you're talking about a very small number of countries that aren’t attending. Cuba is not attending the Summit of the Americas because they are not in line with the democratic charter of the Americas. They have not taken the necessary steps to respect the rights of their own citizens.
We have said time and again that we welcome the day in which a democratic Cuba could become a full participant in the Summit of the Americas and in the institutions of the Americas. Unfortunately, that day has not yet come.
With regard to President Chavez, who obviously attended the last Summit of the Americas, he has been battling cancer, of course, as well, and it's my understanding that he is not going to be attending.
But again, I think what you have here is leaders from across this hemisphere, north to south, east to west, from different political persuasions and backgrounds, coming together behind a common purpose. And as the President and his counterparts pointed out at the CEO Summit today, you have a remarkable trio of leaders, in terms of President Obama representing the United States, President Rousseff, someone who came out of a movement and sacrificed greatly for Brazil to become a democracy, sitting with President Santos, who has, of course, been such a part of the effort to bring security to Colombia so that they could have the kind of growth that we're seeing right here today.
So we believe that this is a tremendous forum to have conversations about the future of the region. And again, we look forward to the day when a democratic Cuba can fully join the system of the Americas.
Q Do either of you have any comment on China extending the trading ban for its currency?
MR. RHODES: Well, I'd just say initially that we've obviously over the course of the last several years pressed the Chinese to take additional steps to appreciate their currency and to come in line with international markets. They’ve made some progress. We'd like to see more movement.
We noted this announcement. We are reviewing it closely. I would expect that the Treasury Department will have more to say as well. But again, it comes in the continuum of us wanting to see the Chinese take more of these steps to see their currency appreciate and to come in line with market value.
Q China has been credited with helping this region weather the economic storm. How concerned are you about China's growing influence here, the investments that China is making?
MR. RHODES: We're not concerned at all. In fact, if you look at the numbers, the United States is by far a more significant exporter to Latin America than China. Similarly, the United States is a premier export destination for Latin America as well. So we very much believe that the United States continues to be the partner of choice when it comes to economic cooperation in the Americas.
Insofar as the Chinese are investing in this region and this region is growing its own markets and its own middle class, as the President said today, that's a positive signal for us because that means that there are greater markets for our goods here within our own hemisphere. Similarly, I think when you look at the types of trade that the Chinese have engaged in here, it's very commodities-driven, which is natural given the wealth of natural resources that you have here in Latin America.
We have a much more broad-based trade relationship with the Americas that goes from, yes, agricultural sector and commodities, but also manufacturing, services and the full — and more mature range of trade relationships. So we're very confident in our leadership in terms of the economic development and integration of the region. Insofar as the Chinese have played a role in investing and trading with some of the countries here, we see that as a potential benefit, again, if it can lead to a growing economic — growing economies here and a growing middle class.
Q And, Jay, on the Secret Service scandal, when was the President informed about the investigation?
MR. CARNEY: The President was made aware of it, of the incident in question, yesterday. The White House was informed Thursday evening.
Q Can you give us an update on the P5-plus-1 talks in Istanbul? How optimistic are you guys about the progress there?
MR. RHODES: We've been obviously tracking this closely, and the President has been getting regular updates on the talks. Obviously there would be discussions in their press readouts underway in Istanbul. But we believe, from what we understand to have taken place, that the talks today in Istanbul have been a positive first step, that there was a constructive atmosphere, that the Iranians came to the table and engaged in a discussion about their nuclear program, which of course has been the focus of the P5-plus-1 over the course of the last year — over a year that there have not been these negotiations.
There's also — my understanding — going to be a follow-on meeting in late May, which is an additional positive sign that there is room to negotiate and have additional discussions about how Iran can live up to its obligations. I think we also feel like in today's talks the P5-plus-1 was unified in sending a clear message to Iran that they need to demonstrate the peaceful intent of their program. They were also unified in reaffirming that the Non-Proliferation Treaty has got to be the foundation of the relationship between Iran and the international community with regard to its nuclear program. Currently, Iran has not been able to demonstrate that it's fully in compliance with the NPT, so it will be important for the Iranians to take steps to build the confidence of the international community.
But, again, a positive environment today in Istanbul, serious discussions about the nuclear issue, and a commitment to follow through with additional meetings at the technical level, and then an additional meeting at the end of May. We believe that all sends a very positive sign that the international community and the Iranians are serious about pursuing discussions about how they can come in line with their obligations.
Q Is the White House happy about the steps that were taken today? I mean, is it a pretty optimistic outlook forecast?
MR. RHODES: Yes, we believe that this was a positive step forward today; that, again, the right issues were on the agenda; that there was a discussion of the Iranian nuclear program; that there was a demonstration of a seriousness of purpose by the Iranians and the international community. And now what we're doing is building out the agenda going forward and a set of meetings that will include both technical meetings and then an additional meeting of P5-plus-1 and the Iranians later in May. So this is obviously not the type of issue that you resolve in one meeting, but we believe that we have set a course whereby we can give diplomacy a very serious and firm commitment as we seek to resolve this longstanding issue.
Q And on the Secret Service agents, is there anything in particular you can tell us about how many agents were pulled back to Washington and how this has sort of impacted the President's security detail?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. I will, however, refer you to the Secret Service for all the details with regards to this incident.
Q A follow-up on Iran, please.
MR. CARNEY: Let me get to Kristen, and then Mark.
Q Can you tell us who briefed the President on Friday?
MR. CARNEY: Just members of the staff that were with him just updated him on a variety of things, including this incident.
Q Was the director of the Secret Service there? And did he know any of the Secret Service personnel involved in this?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to have many answers for you on this matter. This is a matter for the Secret Service to look into. That is what they are doing.
Q There have been a lot of conflicting reports that have been coming in, so we're just trying to clarify this incident, particularly in terms of the word "personnel." Can you clarify what that means? Who were these Secret Service personnel?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would refer you for details about the incident and the personnel involved to the Secret Service because they are best suited to provide clarifications.
Q And, Jay, I've spoken to a number of people who have a lot of knowledge about the history of the Secret Service and they call this unprecedented. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: I don't. I don't have any characterization of this beyond my referral to the Secret Service for more information.
Q And, Ben, for you, there's obviously been a lot of discussion about the possibility of legalizing drugs as a way of dealing with the drug war here in Latin America. What has the discussion been on that front so far? What is the President's message and how much of that has been a part of the discussion?
MR. RHODES: Well, it's certainly part of the discussion. A key agenda item here at the Summit of the Americas is citizen security, and the biggest threat to the security of the people of the Americas in recent years, particularly in Central America and parts of South America, has been narco-trafficking, violent drug gangs. I think that when it comes to legalization, there is a diversity of views in the Americas that runs the gamut from people who favor the legalization to people who oppose to, as President Santos said, looking at steps in between those two poles of position.
The President's view is that he welcomes a discussion and a debate about what the best way forward is in terms of dealing with narco-trafficking. He certainly welcomes the fact that a discussion about legalization and our laws is going to be a part of that here in the Americas. But as it relates to our position and the position of the President and the United States, we do not believe that legalization would be the best way forward in terms of getting at the challenge from narco-traffickers. For instance, as the President said today, legalization could only serve to empower having the drug trade take over huge segments of the economy and empowering bad actors in some of these places even more than is the case today. For that and for other reasons of public health, we have opposed legalization as an answer to this question.
However, it's important for people to come and put their ideas on the table, to have a debate about it. We, again, welcome that type of discussion and what we want to do is figure out how to work cooperatively with the countries of the region to deal with this challenge. And the one thing I'd add on that is Colombia, as President Santos said today, just over a decade ago was on the verge of being a failed state, in part because of a domestic insurgency but also in large part because of the drug trade and how that fostered and empowered people who engaged in violence.
And we're sitting here today — an economy that's growing, a country that's hosting a major international summit I think is a testament to the cooperation between the United States and Colombia in dealing with this challenge, and again, the very good efforts of the Colombian government and security services to restore a greater sense of citizen security here today.
Q I have another question for Ben just following up on Iran. I'm wondering if you can provide us with some details on the report that the U.S. attempted to have a bilateral — wanted to have like a bilateral set-aside with Iran during the meetings in Istanbul, and Iran said no.
MR. RHODES: We were not particularly seeking a bilateral meeting as a part of this set of meetings in Istanbul. We have certainly indicated we are open to having a bilateral discussion with the Iranians in the appropriate venue and time, and in that context, could have had a bilateral meeting with them in Istanbul. However, we fully expected to come in today and present our views in the plenary sessions of the P5-plus-1, and that's what Wendy Sherman, the President's representative at these talks, did. We were fully able to communicate directly to the Iranians within the context of the P5-plus-1.
That's important for a number of reasons. Number one, because the Iranians were able to hear directly from the United States our views of the nuclear issue and our views of these negotiations.
Number two, because it's important that the P5-plus-1 demonstrate the unity of the international community so that the Iranians are hearing not just from one country but from a chorus of countries that they need to come in line with their obligations. That's been the basis for not just these talks but the basis for the sanctions that we've put in place on the Iranians.
Going forward, we're certainly open to continued discussions within the P5-plus-1, and in that context, we'd be open to a bilateral meeting with the Iranians. But again, our belief today is that they clearly heard our views, we clearly heard their views and had an exchange on the question of their nuclear program and how to go forward with this diplomacy, and now we believe there's space to continue that in the weeks ahead leading to the next meeting in Baghdad.
Q And what should Israel take away from what you've conveyed here and presumably to them?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think the message from Israel has been one of great concern about the Iranian nuclear program. It's a concern we share. And I think we have communicated — we, the United States along with Israel — that there needs to be a sense of urgency, that there is a time and space that exists now for diplomacy but it's not unlimited. Therefore, in these coming meetings, we want to see concrete proposals put forward about how the Iranians can build the confidence of the international community that their program is peaceful. We want to see concrete steps taken by the Iranians to demonstrate that their program is peaceful. We've indicated, along with the P5-plus-1, that we'd be open to a step-by-step process in reciprocal action if the Iranians demonstrate that seriousness.
But again, I think what the United States believes, what Israel believes and what the international community believes is that these talks have a very important role to play in resolving the issue, that there is some time and space to move forward with them, but that time is not unlimited because there is a sense of urgency around Iran continuing to be outside of their international commitments.
Q President Santos today was talking about a quite more wide-ranging discussion of the drug issue, and the President mentioned the responsibility that we have because of our consumption. And that's something that's very rarely brought up. I'm just wondering if U.S. consumption and taking responsibility for it is going to be any more a part of the discussion going forward.
MR. RHODES: I think that President Obama has, from the beginning of his time in office — at the last Summit of the Americas, on his first trip to Mexico, and in his conversations with leaders since then — made it clear that the United States has the responsibility to deal with the issue of demand for drugs within our borders and that, frankly, if we're going to have a comprehensive strategy to deal with the violence that comes from narco-trafficking in this region, that part of that strategy is going to have to include efforts to get at demand in the United States.
And we've invested a lot of resources in trying to reduce that demand, again, so that it's a part of a strategy whereby we're going after these narco-traffickers, we're also going after, frankly, both the demand for drugs in the United States and the fact that you've had flows of, in some instances, illegal weaponry to this part of the world. So some of the action that we have to take is within our borders. Some of the action that we have to take is here.
But again, as a part of that discussion that's taking place on citizen security here today, President Obama believes that we have to put forward our full set of responsibilities, and that's supporting partners in Colombia and we've invested a lot of resources in Colombia in the fight against drugs, just as we're investing a lot of resources in Mexico and Central America; identifying best practices in each of those countries so that we're empowering the right models to crack down on drug trafficking; providing training and technical assistance across the region; but then, again, also investing in programs in the United States that reduces demand for drugs, again, so that we're dealing not just with symptoms but all the sources of the problem as well.
Q You mentioned — on Iran, you mentioned that you had the chance to hear what they had to say. What did they have to say?
MR. RHODES: Well, I wouldn't characterize the Iranian views within the diplomatic negotiation. What I would say is that the Iranians have — the Supreme Leader, in fact, has stated that Iran believes it's sinful to develop nuclear weapons. Our view is if that's the case then they should be able take concrete steps that demonstrate that their program is peaceful — if that is, indeed, their policy, then they need to prove that that's their policy, because thus far they have not provided the type of access and the type of assurances that bring them in line with existing obligations that they have to the international community.
The Iranians are clearly concerned about the sanctions that are coming into place. Those sanctions are set to dramatically increase as they ramp up through the spring, particularly as you have an EU oil embargo that is set to take hold in July. However, our message to the Iranians is in order to — that frankly, that those sanctions are going to move forward if they are not in line with their international obligations, so that, therefore, the onus is on the Iranians in the context of all this pressure to take steps to build the confidence of the international community.
So, again, we understand out of this meeting that the Iranians have an expressed view in terms of their intent to develop nuclear weapons, which they say they’re not doing. We understand that they're very concerned about sanctions because, frankly, these are the toughest sanctions that we've ever seen imposed on the Iranians. But the best way for them to deal with that is to take concrete steps that can, again, make it clear they're coming into line with their international obligations and making it clear that their nuclear program is only going to be used for peaceful purposes.
Q And on the drug issue, everyone keeps talking about this issue, but has there been a point today when they actually did talk about it in terms of like kicked around various options, what if we did this, what are the upsides or the downsides? I just heard a lot about whether we should talk about it, and I'm just wondering if they really got into it.
MR. RHODES: I think they will. They're in the plenary session now, and each leader is going to be able to have their voices heard on this. And it's my full expectation that many leaders will make the drug issue a prominent part of their presentations here at this summit. President Obama will be addressing it in the context of his interventions at the summit. It will certainly come up in the multilateral meeting he's going to have with Caribbean leaders.
And again, there are a lot of concrete steps that are being taken. We have, as I said, a significant assistance relationship with Colombia, as we have over the course of the last several years. In Central America, we launched a new security initiative around the President's last trip here that invests a lot of resources from the Unites States, several hundred million dollars at best practices for strengthening security services within Central America. We want to figure out how to make that uniform across the region. And in Mexico, of course, we have a tremendous amount of assistance.
And I think what we want to hear from leaders today is, what works in getting at this problem of narco-trafficking, what are the common approaches that we can get behind, and how can we bridge some of the differences that exist in the hemisphere about how to move forward with this. So I think it will be a part of the discussions for the next two days at the summit. And again, I think President Obama has been very clear and transparent with the region about our view of this, and, frankly, very committed to providing resources, technical assistance and support for those nations like Mexico, like the Central American states, like Colombia that have taken great strides and made great sacrifices to deal with narco-trafficking.
Q You've seen the agenda. Is there a specific time that’s broken out for them to talk about this, an amount of time that’s specified? And President Santos had said he wasn't going to put a specific idea on the table, but is anyone, for instance President Perez going to put legalization directly on the table? I mean, just some more sort of specifics about how exactly this will transpire.
MR. RHODES: Well, I think what we'll have to do is get you readouts of the summit sessions. There is a plenary session this afternoon where the leaders will have an opportunity to discuss a range of these issues. Then there's a leaders retreat tomorrow.
I'm certain that leaders will put ideas on the table. As you've seen, it's the Americas — nobody is shy about making their voice heard. So what we'll endeavor to do, Jackie, is make sure that you get readouts of those discussions. Again, it's certainly going to be part of the President's interventions going forward. And I think there's a broad range of questions here, right? People focus on legalization. There's also what are the security services? What is their role in combating drug trafficking? How do we deal with issues related to border security so that we're able to interdict drugs? How do we deal with demand in our countries? And then questions around laws, and legalization is just one part of what are the types of drug laws that are most successful.
So as the summit goes forward, we'll make sure to get you those readouts. I'd add, just for people's awareness, that we also anticipate this afternoon, on the margins of the summit, the President will have an opportunity to engage some of these other leaders, and we'll get you any readouts of those meetings as they happen as well.
Q One for Ben and one for Jay. Ben, on the three-way presentation this morning, the President got an earful on currency and monetary issues from the two other Presidents that were on the dais with him there. In particular, I thought when President Santos made a comment that he essentially said the U.S. was exporting its economic problems to the rest of the region. Do you have some reaction to that? And also, when the President discusses these issues with other leaders, does he take full responsibility for the U.S.'s monetary policy. Because he doesn’t fully control the U.S.'s monetary policy.
MR. RHODES: Well, I'd say a couple of things. I think, first of all, anybody who watched the discussion this morning saw that there was a much broader basis for agreement among the leaders than there were issues of disagreement — agreement on the need for greater economic integration in the region — agreement that, frankly, there are win-win outcomes in terms of economic growth in the United States being a driver of economic growth in the region because we are the biggest export market for them — and then greater income equality and larger middle classes here in the Americas being a win-win outcome for us because we therefore have more customers and can export more goods.
On the specific issue of discussion of currency, I mean, first of all, I don’t think there was — is anything new about that type of discussion. We've been having an ongoing discussion about the global balance with regard to currency for at least the three and a half years that we've been in office. President Rousseff's views articulated this morning tracked very closely I think the views she expressed in the Oval Office when she was sitting next to the President. President Santos, his views, again, similarly I think track a belief that there needs to be balance here as well.
I'd point out what the President alluded to, which is that, frankly, as you look at something like Brazil's currency, one of the additional factors that needs to be taken into account is the effect that the Chinese currency has had on Brazil's economy, and the fact that the region as a whole would also benefit from a greater appreciation of China's currency. We certainly believe that to be the case, and that’s what we have focused on as a part of our global rebalancing effort.
So this has been an ongoing conversation with the G20, within the hemisphere. But again, I think what the President made clear this morning was, if we're pursuing pro-growth policies in the United States, that’s going to be the best thing for the region. If there is a slow-down in the U.S. economy, it makes it that much harder for nations here in Latin America that have the United States as their principal export market to grow.
So again, insofar as we are stimulating growth in the United States, we believe that’s in the interest of the hemisphere more broadly.
Q And does he take responsibility for the Fed's policies? Or how does he address that?
MR. RHODES: I mean, he obviously doesn’t set the Fed's policies. However, what he does set is the broad economic direction of the United States, and that has been — growth has been the focus of his economic policies, because growth creates not just job creation at home, but we believe that the U.S. economy has to be the engine of the global economy, given the fact that we are the world's biggest economy, the biggest market.
So insofar as he's pursued pro-growth policies, he believes that’s the right course for us and for the world. Obviously the Federal Reserve makes their own decisions.
Q Jay, if I could just follow up with you — the military announced a short time ago that five individuals have been confined to quarters here in Cartagena as a result of their alleged involvement apparently in the same incident that involved the Secret Service. Are you aware of that? Is the President aware of that? In light of the fact that this now involves two different groups here, is the White House expressing any disappointment about this episode?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are aware of that fact that you just mentioned. And to be clear, it is our understanding this is part of the same incident. And I would, as I did on issues related to Secret Service personnel, I'd refer you to the Secret Service; for Department of Defense personnel, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.
I think our focus here, the President's focus continues to be on the meetings he's having, the tremendous potential that the integration of the economies in the Americas has for expanding American exports, building American businesses and helping create American jobs. And that has been his principal focus, his sole focus in his meetings here.
Q Jay, I have a question here that flows out of this. Does the President have full confidence in the people assigned to protect him?
MR. CARNEY: The President does have full confidence in the United States Secret Service.
Q Can you state that –
MR. CARNEY: The President has had — does have confidence in the Secret Service. And I think, as Service has said — and I would point you to those reports — that this incident had no impact on the President's security.
Q Ben, I know that the (inaudible) President of Argentina. As you know, there is an ongoing dispute on trade between Argentina and the United States. The United States has presented a complaint (inaudible.) Also the USTR has (inaudible) Argentina from the (inaudible.) There is also the problem of their oil company that is going to apparently be nationalized that is in part owned by an American company. So I wanted to know if all of these subjects are going to be discussed or were discussed in the bilateral pullout with President Kirchner.
MR. RHODES: First of all, we anticipate that one of the leaders the President is going to be able to meet with on the margins of the summit later this afternoon is President Kirchner. I know that that hasn't taken place yet. I think it's going to be later on, given the fact that the plenary is ongoing. So we'll certainly get you, as soon as possible, the readout of that meeting.
I would expect that they would address a number of economic issues between our two countries, as well as issues related to the Americas more broadly.
With regard to the specific cases you mentioned, I think the position of the United States is simply that we believe that all businesses, all countries need to adhere to the clear standards articulated by international organizations like the WTO. We bring cases forward where we believe people are not abiding by those rules. But we believe that, number one, we can resolve those through the organizations that exist, and number two, that the relationship between the United States and Argentina is broad and able to prosper, even as we have our occasional differences.
The President is committed to a constructive relationship with Argentina, with President Kirchner. So even as we have our occasional differences, we don’t want that to complicate our broader cooperation on economic issues, energy issues, security issues. So we will work through those issues going forward. And we'll get you the readout as soon as the meeting between the two Presidents takes place on the margins of the summit.
Q Is that a continuation of the dialogue that (inaudible.)
MR. RHODES: Very much so. I think the President felt that it was important to meet with President Kirchner in Cannes shortly after her reelection, congratulated her on that important, historic reelection, and wanted to set a positive tone for the relations between our two countries going forward.
They addressed a lot of these issues. In addition to the ones I mentioned, I know there's particular interest among — President Kirchner for continued cooperation on science and technologies issues related to space. So I think there's a set of issues they discussed in Cannes on the economic and science and security side that they'll have an opportunity to continue talking about here today.
Q No worry about the oil company being nationalized?
MR. RHODES: Again, I think what we — insofar as we have any concerns, it's something we'd express both bilaterally. So we'll let you know if it comes up in the meeting. And then if there are broader concerns that we have about whether or not it complicates the rules of the road on these issues, we take them up in the relevant international organizations.
Q This is for you, Jay. So the Telegraph is reporting that the son of a high-profile Chinese couple who's been suspected of murdering a British businessman was taken into custody last night, but he's seeking asylum in the U.S. He lives in Cambridge — apparently he's a student at Harvard Graduate School. And I just wonder if there's any truth to that, if you know anything about that.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything on that for you, and I'll have to take the question. It sounds like it could be something for the State Department, but I'll take the question, Kate.
Q Can you just update us on the U.S. thinking about North Korea at this point? Are we headed into a situation where he's further consolidating his rule in the country? Are we possibly facing more missile launches or perhaps a nuclear test? And also, what contacts have you had with China, Russia, and others who are also involved?
MR. CARNEY: Since I have Ben here I'm going to let Ben take that.
MR. RHODES: I think — first of all, as I said yesterday, this was a failed missile launch that comes in the context of the North Koreans being under tremendous pressure from our sanctions, including sanctions on their missile program. The fact that they engaged in this launch makes it clear that we cannot, at this point, have trust and faith in any commitments that they've made. Therefore, it's impossible for us to see how we might move forward, for instance, with any food assistance as part of the agreement that was being discussed with the North Koreans in February.
In terms of next steps, we are in touch at the Security Council with the other members of the Security Council, including the Russians and the Chinese. What we believe needs to happen is a swift and clear condemnation of North Korea's actions so that they understand that pursuing provocative acts like this, even ones that end in failure, only lead to the deepening of North Korea's isolation, so that there are two choices before them: You can follow the path of provocative action and face isolation and growing consequences, or you can move in a different direction and have a different type of relationship with the international community.
If they continue to move forward with any additional provocative actions, which has been their pattern in the past — whether it was in 2006 when they tested a nuclear device, 2009 when they engaged in one of these launches and then a nuclear test — if they continue down that road of provocative actions, we believe there needs to be a growing set of consequences imposed on them by the international community. So that needs to be part of the message that they're hearing, not just from us but from the Chinese and the Russians as well.
In terms of their internal dynamic, I think the only point we would make is that they're spending money on these weapons technologies while their people starve and their country slides further and further behind the rest of the world, so that therefore if what those leaders are truly interested in in North Korea is a better future for their people and greater stability on the peninsula, the best way for them to achieve that is to shift course; again, to come in line with international law, and to have a different future that allows them to invest in people not weapons and failed missile launches.
Q For Ben or for you — I'm not sure. The President has made income inequality a central part of his campaign in the United States. It's an issue that's obviously defined by American politics for decades. How has he been received as he joins this debate by Latin American leaders? Do they find it odd that the American President is talking about inequality and an imperiled middle class when they have for so many years? And has the President himself mentioned to you anything about this?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I would simply say that one of the points I heard the President make at the CEO Summit is that some of the progress that's been made in countries like Brazil and Colombia in broadening their economies and having greater portions of their populations participate in economic progress is both a great thing for those countries and a very positive development for the United States. But beyond that I don't — Ben might have something to add.
MR. RHODES: Yes, the only thing I'd add, Scott — it's a very good question — is that I think what you saw this morning in a fairly remarkable way is a convergence of views among leaders of the North, Central and South, if you will — or at least Colombia being upper-South — about the importance of inequality as something that needs to be addressed. Because, frankly, in the context of globalization, as the President said, we all benefit the more our populations benefit from economic growth. And if economic growth is not broad-based, we're not going to be able to grow our economies. It's been an historic legacy in countries like Brazil.
I was struck by President Rousseff saying that even as they're happy about becoming the world's sixth-largest economy, they're not satisfied as long as they have these income gaps. And I think what we've seen is if they close those income gaps by lifting people out of poverty in Brazil — and you've had 50 million people lifted out of poverty in this region in recent years — that's going to be a growing middle class. That leads to more security, and it also leads to greater prosperity for the United States because we can export to this part of the world.
So I think there is an interesting convergence taking place that is the basis for the type of cooperation we're talking about, whether it's free trade agreements, again, whether it's energy partnerships that we're pursuing, whether it's educational exchanges that increase the human capital across the hemisphere. Because this region has the potential to be hugely competitive relative to the rest of the world because of the fact that you've never had significant conflicts fought within the region, at least in recent years, because of the extraordinary natural resources and resource wealth that exists in the Americas' and because of the deep people-to-people ties that exist across the hemisphere. If we can harness that human capital, lift more people out of poverty and into the middle class, it provides an enormous platform and a comparative advantage to the United States vis-à-vis China, vis-à-vis any other country and economy in other parts of the world. So we want the Americas to succeed because when they do, we're better off economically and geopolitically.
MR. CARNEY: It looks like that's all the questions you have. I want to thank you for being here and thanks for coming on this trip. We all appreciate it. And let us know if we can help you out in any way. Thanks.
Q Will you brief tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to look at the — I'm not sure what the schedule is. I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm told from the back that we currently do not have a briefing scheduled, but we can talk about that. I think there are some logistical challenges since we're also leaving tomorrow.
MR. RHODES: We can make sure that you get the appropriate readouts from people who are in the summits.
MR. CARNEY: Sound good? Thanks.
3:52 P.M. COT