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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
November 11, 2014
10:56 A.M. CST
MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. It’s nice to see you all. You don’t look nearly as bleary-eyed as I expected. I’m joined today by Ben Rhodes, the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, and Ambassador Mike Froman, who is the United States Trade Representative.
Ambassador Froman has, as you would expect, primarily focused on the aspects of the President’s trip that’s focused on the economy and strengthening the American economy and expanding economic opportunity for Americans back home. That is, as you would expect, a core component of the President’s agenda while he out here so Mike has got a couple of things to talk to you about.
Then we’ll turn it over to Ben, who will do a review of some of the other aspects of the agenda that the President has been discussing in the context of these APEC meetings but also what we’ll be focused on in the context of the President’s bilateral meetings with President Xi that will begin later on this evening.
And then after that, the three of us will be up here to take questions you have on any topic. We’ll do this for 45 minutes or so. All right, Ambassador Froman, would you like to start us off?
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Well, thanks, Josh, and I’d like to start with an announcement on an important breakthrough we had in our negotiations with China on the Information Technology Agreement, or ITA, and that’s news that the President just shared with his other APEC leaders at the leaders summit.
Last night, we reached a breakthrough in our ongoing efforts to expand the Information Technology Agreement. This is a WTO agreement that eliminates tariffs on high-tech products among 54 economies, including the U.S. and China. And to give you some idea of the importance of this agreement, the last time the WTO agreed to eliminate tariffs on IT products was in 1996 when most of the GPS technology, much of the medical equipment software, high-tech gadgetry that we rely on in our daily lives didn’t even exist. In fact, since that time, global trade in these types of high-tech products have reached $4 trillion annually. And despite the explosion of trade, the coverage of the ITA of products has never been expanded.
And so that’s why for the last two years, we’ve been working to –- very intensively –- with our global partners to expand the Information Technology Agreement. But unfortunately, during the summer of 2013, those talks broke down due to disagreements over the scope of coverage -– what list of products would be covered by the agreement, with most countries, led by the U.S., working to achieve an ambitious outcome.
Since that time, the United States and China have been working to close our differences but without a breakthrough sufficient to resume the plurilateral negotiations in Geneva. And that finally changed here last night with an agreement between the U.S. and China that we expect will pave the way for the resumption of ITA negotiations in Geneva and their swift conclusion. And that will be the first major tariff-cutting agreement in the WTO in 17 years. At a time when there have been a lot of FTAs and other regional arrangements, the WTO hasn’t actually cut tariffs in 17 years and the ITA presents the first opportunity to do that.
This is encouraging news for the U.S.-China relationship. It shows how the U.S. and China work together to both advance our bilateral economic agenda but also to support the multilateral trading system. And it also underscores the importance of institutions like APEC — regional organizations — APEC actually gave birth to the ITA back in 1996. It’s always been a key part of the ITA –- APEC leaders have always called for swift conclusion of the ITA so this is another indication of the utility of forums like this.
Industry estimates have concluded that successfully concluding the ITA would eliminate tariffs on roughly $1 trillion of global sales of IT products. It would contribute to global GDP $190 billion and would support up to 60,000 additional U.S. jobs in technology and manufacturing. And by also boosting productivity around the world and particularly in developing countries.
So we’re going to take what’s been achieved here in Beijing back to the Geneva and work with our WTO partners. And while we don’t take anything for granted, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to work quickly to bring ITA to a successful conclusion, and that will help support good-paying jobs in the United States, where we lead the world in creating and selling made-in-America high-tech products that the world is hungry to buy.
Let me conclude just about — a word perhaps about TPP, which has obviously been another area of major focus while we’re here. As you all know, President Obama convened the TPP leaders yesterday. They had a very productive conversation. It was a good opportunity to take stock of where we were in the negotiations, to provide political impetus and guidance in terms of resolving the remaining issues. All the leaders made clear in that joint statement that we’ve narrowed many of the gaps.
There’s still work to be done, but the end of these important negotiations is coming into focus, and that’s awfully important to the United States from a number of perspectives — it’s with 40 percent of the global economy covered by TPP, some of the fastest-growing markets in the world successfully concluding TPP will help support jobs, promote growth, strengthen the middle class in the United States. It’s a key part of our rebalancing strategy, it underscores how the U.S. is embedded in this region and how the economic wellbeing of this region is integrally related to the wellbeing of the economy in the United States.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to Ben.
MR. RHODES: Great, I’ll just give a brief preview of the President’s upcoming meetings here in China, and then we can take your questions on Mike’s issues or any other issues in foreign or domestic policy.
With respect to the bilateral visit here to China, the two issues that we’ve highlighted over the course of the last two days I think are the key priorities that we were able to get down and closed out around this bilateral visit: That is the visa announcement that was made yesterday, and then the bilateral understanding on ITA that was reached today.
I think what speaks to the significance and dynamism of the U.S. economic — U.S.-China economic relationship. Today at APEC that is clearly going to be broadened out into a discussion in regional issues related to trade and economic cooperation, as well as a number of other areas.
But as you know, tonight the President will have a dinner with President Xi Jinping of China to kick off the state visit portion of our time here in Beijing. And then tomorrow, the two leaders will have bilateral meetings, as well.
In addition to discussing and marking the progress that’s been made on these bilateral economic issues, they’ll also discuss a range of other bilateral and global issues that are of mutual interest to the United States and China.
Specifically I’d expect there to be a discussion around our cooperation on clean energy and climate change as our two countries prepare for the ongoing international climate negotiations heading into next year.
We’ll have a discussion of a number of regional security issues, among them our shared commitment to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the security environment in the broader Asia Pacific region, including our interest in maritime security and the situation in the South and East China Sea. We’ll discuss our military-to-military relationship and what we can do to develop greater dialogue and cooperation and confidence-building measures working together.
There will certainly be a discussion of the ongoing talk in Iran with Iran over its nuclear program. And Secretary Kerry will be joining the President from Oman, where he’s been in a trilateral dialogue with the Foreign Minister of Iran and Cathy Ashton from the European Union.
Cybersecurity, of course, will be an important focus for the President given some of our concerns related to cybersecurity and the theft of intellectual property. Afghanistan is an area where we are looking to cooperate with China. We very much welcomed President Ghani visit here to Beijing earlier in the year and believe that China can be a partner in promoting development and stability in Afghanistan going forward.
Global issues like Ebola and ISIL will certainly be a part of the discussion. And we’ve worked with China to enlist them in the effort to fight the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. And then, of course, as is always the case when we meet with China we’ll have a discussion around areas where we have differences — not just cybersecurity, but issues related to human rights and universal values.
So there will be a very broad agenda. I think we’ve already had very good progress on our leader economic priorities heading into the visit with the ITA and visa understandings that were reached. I think that shows an ability to identify areas of practical cooperation with China even as we’re, of course, going to have differences on a range of other political, economic and security issues.
And so tomorrow we’ll have those believe meetings. And then the President will be hosted at a lunch here. He’ll have a chance to meet with a range of Chinese officials before leaving for the EAS and ASEAN summits in Naypyidaw.
So with that, we’ll move to questions.
MR. EARNEST: Let’s get started. Julie, do you want to take us up?
Q I have one two for Mike and one for Ben also. Mike, can you say exactly what the U.S. and China agreed to that led to the breakthrough? And, Ben, with the Obama and Xi bilat starting, the President has invested a lot of personal time in trying to build a relationship with Xi. At the same time, China continues to be provocative on cyber and maritime issues. How do you see their personal relationship at this point? And how does that affect their conversations over the next two days?
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Sure, so the ITA is basically a list of tariff lines that are to be covered by tariff elimination. And we now have agreed to more than 200 tariff lines representing about a trillion dollars of trade to be covered by the ITA. And some of the — for the last six months we’ve been focused not just on the quantity of the lines, but the quality of the lines. And the lines that have the greatest potential, for example, for U.S. exports, where the U.S. plays a leading role, areas of expected future growth. So things like high-end semiconductors where there are tariffs up to 25 percent currently. We already export over $2 billion of high-tech, high-end semiconductors even with 25 percent tariffs. Eliminating those tariffs will obviously expand that trade significantly. It’s an area where we have a comparative advantage, and where we can support a lot of good well-paying American jobs.
Same thing on medical equipment, MRIs, CAT scans. We export more than $2 billion of those products a year, and they face high tariffs around the region — 8 percent in some places, as well as tariffs elsewhere. This will eliminate those tariffs and allow us to expand our exports.
Same is true on some of the high-tech instruments that have become components in advanced manufacturing that we’re very much involved in. So those were some of the issues that we had a breakthrough on that will allow the negotiations now to move forward in Geneva.
MR. RHODES: Sure, Julie, on your second question, the President has invested a good deal of time and energy in his relationship with President Xi. I think if you look at the breadth of the agenda, it’s clearly, as Secretary Kerry said, the most consequential bilateral relationship in the world. And what they were able to do at Sunnylands is cover this whole spectrum of issues. And, in fact, actually the ITA came up at Sunnylands so this was an area of focus on our trade agenda.
And I think what the President was able to do is convey in that meeting his thinking on all these issues, both strategically and at a tactical level, and he was able to hear the same from President Xi. Again, Xi Jinping has clearly established himself as a strong and assertive leader here in China. And the way we look at the relationship is there, at any given time, are going to be areas where we can identify ways to make progress and then there are going to be areas where we’re going to have differences.
And I think we’ve been opportunistic in saying, okay, where do we have an agreement that we can drive the relationship forward on something like visas or ITA. But on, frankly, the global security issues like Iran and North Korea, the Chinese have been constructive partners. In the Iran negotiations, they have played a constructive role in being unified with the P5-plus-1, in pressing Iran to take this opportunity to demonstrate that their program is peaceful. In North Korea, they’ve taken a very strong line to support the notion that denuclearization has to be the goal of any discussions with North Korea.
When we look at the global issues, we’ve encouraged China to play a more assertive role on things like Ebola. We want them to be stepping up to the plate and kicking in more resources so we welcome the desire from China that is clearly on display here at this summit to play a role in the international community commensurate to its economic and political standing, and its standing as the world’s most populous nation.
At the same time, we’re going to be very clear when we believe that China’s actions are actually pushing outside the boundaries of what we believe to be the necessary international norms that govern the relations between nations and the ways in which we resolve disputes. And so when we see things on cyber security where we have Chinese actions that disadvantage U.S. businesses or steal intellectual property, we’re going to be very candid about that.
On maritime security, what we’ve said is we’re not a claimant, but there cannot be a situation where a bigger nation is simply allowed to bully smaller nations. There has to be a means of resolving disputes through international law and international cooperation through discussion between China, for instance, and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea, dialogue between China and Japan on issues related to the Senkakus. And to that end, actually, we welcomed the meeting yesterday between President Xi and Prime Minister Abe as an opportunity to reduce the tensions between those two countries.
So I think the benefit of the personal relationship is that they know where they’re coming from. There’s no mystery in our position on these issues, there’s no mystery on the Chinese position. What we need to do is find when there’s an opening, we take it, and we run through that opening, we work together. And when there’s a difference, we’re just going to keep raising it repeatedly with China, raising it in international forums like this and try to find ways to encourage China to work within an international system that ultimately is going to be the best way of delivering stability, prosperity, security to this part of the world and also dealing with global challenges.
Q One for Ambassador Froman and one for Ben. Ambassador, what are the remaining sticking points when it comes to TPP? And you say the end of negotiations are coming into focus –- what specifically does that mean? Do you have a timeline in your head for when there might be an actual deal? And, Ben, can you talk a little bit about what, if any, specific asks President Obama will have on Ebola and ISIS when he meets with President XI?
MR. EARNEST: Okay, so just to repeat –- I’ll try to repeat the questions just so everybody can hear them. So the question about TPP –- final sticking points and timeline for completion, and then any requests that President Obama will make related to ISIS -– ISIL and Ebola. So, Mike, do you want to go first?
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Well, with TPP, it’s a two-track negotiation. There’s market access and then there are the rules. In market access, we’ve made very significant progress with most countries, including Japan, on agriculture and on autos we’ve made progress. We’re not done yet, there are still outstanding issues, but we have made quite good progress there in recent weeks.
On the rules issues, we’re working to close out issues and narrow differences on the remaining. I’d say areas that there are still issues we need to work through include intellectual property rights, state-owned enterprises, the environment –- those are three examples of areas where we’re paying particular attention to, to try and further narrow the differences and find appropriate landing zones.
In terms of the end coming into focus, these negotiations are an ongoing reiterative process. And at every stage, we close out issues, we narrow differences, we try and find landing zones, and then we try and build consensus around them. And I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer what the final landing zones might look like, but we still have some work to do, both to define them and then build support for them.
Q But can you put any type of timeline —
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: We’re going to complete it as soon as we achieve the ambitious, comprehensive high standards we set out for ourselves and we’re all working very hard to do that. There’s a lot of momentum, all the countries are very focused on doing that, but we want to make sure that we get it right.
MR. RHODES: Kristen, I think on Ebola we’ve encouraged the Chinese and they have made commitments, both financial commitments in the provision of health care workers and support for health care infrastructure in West Africa. So I think we’ve welcomed those commitments. We are always encouraging nations to consider ways to do more, but also to galvanize international action — as we head into the G20, for instance. So I think at the G20 this will be a topic among the countries in Brisbane. And China obviously has a key role to play there. So I don’t want to suggest that it’s kind of the lead item on the agenda but I think given the focus that we have on Ebola right now, we want to make sure we’re understanding what the Chinese contributions are, and then how we can work together on a collaborative basis heading into the G20 to get the international community to continue to step up and provide resources.
On ISIL, with respect to China, we obviously wouldn’t anticipate them playing a role in the military coalition. I think all the countries here in the Asia Pacific region share the concern about foreign fighters going to and from Iraq and Syria, so we can have a discussion around those issues. I think regionally, too, of course we’ve made clear that any lasting solution is going to have to deal with the political situation inside of Syria. So it’s an opportunity to exchange views about how to bring about the type of transition that could ultimately end the civil war in Syria.
So I think more likely that they’re going to spend a lot of their time on some of the other issues that I mentioned –- Iran, North Korea, cyber, mil-mil relations, Asia Pacific –- but we want to make sure China is invested on the global agenda that we’re focused on and I think Ebola and ISIL clearly plays into that, particularly on the Ebola front where they can kick in significant resources.
And Ebola is an area where what we said to the Chinese is, there’s both the commitments you can kick in here on Ebola with respect to money and health care workers and infrastructure but also how we’re thinking about infectious disease going forward, and how we have the Global Health Security Initiative where nations are anticipating what’s going to be needed if there are additional outbreaks of different diseases. And we’ve seen airborne diseases here in the Asia Pacific region. So I think we want to make sure that when we talk about China playing a bigger role ono the world stage, it’s exactly those types of issues where they can bring resources and expertise to bear in fighting not just Ebola but future infectious disease.
Q Ambassador Froman, please. What about the TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement? There was hope that maybe some steps ahead could have been done also on that subject within the WTO. Also do you think that you could every close quickly the TPP without a TPA? And thirdly, what about the development bank for investment in infrastructure that China is building up? Is the U.S. now open to have it and maybe to participate in it?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll just repeat the questions. The Trade in Services Agreement in the context of the broader trade negotiations. A question about TPA and — what was the last one? The development bank.
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Well, we’ve had quite good progress over the course of this year on the Trade In Services Agreement negotiations. Several rounds and countries putting on the table offers. And we have a robust work program going into next year as well. So there is a lot of work being done on that. But I would just put in the context of today’s announcement. I think that the ITA announcement is a significant step in terms of showing the vitality of these plurilateral agreements where countries – likeminded countries can come together and make progress in trade liberalization, whether it’s in Geneva, the WTO, or elsewhere. So ITA, we took a major step forward today. TISA is well on its way, the Trade In Services Agreement. And we have a very good work program ahead. And earlier this year, we launched the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiation, which also includes China and we hope to work well with China and the other parties in the Environmental Goods Agreement to make progress on that in the coming year or so as well.
On TPP and TPA, our view has always been that the President has made clear that of course he would like to get a Trade Promotion Authority, he’d like to finish TPP consistent with it being an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard agreement as soon as possible. And we are working in parallel tracks on that, that ultimately the only guarantee that a trade agreement earns the support of Congress is that we bring back a good agreement. And our focus is on bringing back an agreement that meets those standards.
On the infrastructure front, obviously the U.S. is very active in the G20 and a variety of other forums, including here at APEC, in talking about the importance of infrastructure and financing for infrastructure. We have been a strong supporter of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. And we think it’s important that whatever mechanisms are put in place, they live up to the high standards of the multilateral development banks in terms of procurement practices, environmental practices; that they have the very highest standards that exist for international lending.
Q For Ben. Ben, before you left on the trip, I think you met with NGOs that were doing work on human rights and democracy in Burma. What message were they giving to you? And how do you respond to them when they say, as they maybe have to journalists, it’s not a bump in the road on the reforms when you have the violence going on in some parts of the country. I think the violence — you have to do more to stand up to — how did you talk to them about that? And also, how do you carry that message forward in Burma? What notes will you strike so that the United States doesn’t look like they’re maybe lecturing but rather trying to encourage further —
MR. EARNEST: Just to repeat the question for everybody else in the room. Question about how you respond to concerns that have been raised by human rights advocates about the slow pace of progress in Burma, and how does that impact the message that you’ll deliver to Burmese officials when the President is there later this week.
MR. RHODES: Well, David, I did meet with a number of NGOs, human rights advocates, a number of Burmese separately from that as well who are engaged in civil society there. I also talked to a lot of the congressional staff that is focused on these issues, given Congress’s interest. And I think our message is – let me just step back here. On the one hand, what we’ve seen in the last five years in Burma is transformational. The opening of a country that had been completely closed off for decades, the opening of some political space, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the release of political prisoners, and the initiation, really, of a kind of politics in Burma that just didn’t exist several years ago. But it’s a country with enormous challenges and enormous needs. It has a lot to do.
And you don’t complete those types of transitions quickly or easily. This is going to take years to work through all the different issues that have to be addressed inside of Burma. However, I think we need to be practical about the timelines associated with those transitions. When we look at, for instance, Indonesia, the President met with the newly elected President of Indonesia yesterday. It took many years for them to work through elections and constitutional reforms and dealing with different ethnic groups in the country. So we’re taking a view here in Burma that this is enormous opportunity for the people inside the country, enormous opportunity for democratization. However, I think that we are concerned about areas where we do not see progress and where we see significant challenges. And I think there are really three broad categories that we’re going to be focused on heading into this visit. One is the ongoing process of political reform in the country.
And, again, what I said to the people I met with is that we share the same objective here –- we share the objective of there being a credible election next year in the parliamentary elections in which the Burmese people can choose their leadership but we also share the objective of supporting the process of constitutional reform inside of Burma. One election isn’t going to fix all the problems. There needs to be constitutional reform that enables there to be a fuller transition from military to civilian rule, that enables Burma to choose their own leaders. And the President will definitely be discussing the progress in planning for those elections but also the progress on, and the need for constitutional reform. And that’s something that he’ll talk to Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi about.
Secondly, there is the issue in Rakhine State. And here I think is we’ve seen the most troubling difficulties with the humanitarian situation deteriorating in Rakhine State. A very specific issue having to do with the treatment of the Rohingya population there. And there, too, I think we share the same objective of the human rights community. We want to see better humanitarian access to the Rohingya, to help alleviate the humanitarian situation. We would like to see a long-term plan, an action plan that does not rely on camps but rather allows people to settle in communities and pursue development within the country. And we would like to see a process where the Rohingya can become citizens of Burma without having to self-identify as something other than who they are, which is citizens of –- prospective citizens of Burma.
So We’ve been working very hard in the country, working with other countries to try to bring a focus on the situation in Rakhine State, and it will certainly be front and center in the President’s discussions.
Then the third area is the ethnic insurgencies and the ceasefires that have been reached. Here, I think the government has made a good deal of progress. They have reached individual ceasefires with many of the different ethnic group. The Kachin is one that we’ve been particularly focused on of late. But they’re working to translate that into a nationwide ceasefire that can lead into a process of reconciliation that addresses the underlying issues of ethnic political participation, of economic development in the ethnic areas, and the role of the military as well.
And we believe that there’s a real opportunity here for the government to move forward with this plan. But again, it has to be one that doesn’t just put a lid on things, but addresses the underlying challenges and works towards the type of federal union that I think has been contemplated in many of the discussions with the ethnic groups.
So we’re coming at a time where a lot of these are in flux. But the fact of the matter is they can be dealt with through politics — and that’s new in Burma. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it means that people are going to get around the table; there’s going to be a process for reviewing the constitutional amendments. There’s going to be elections. There are going to be talks ongoing with the ethnic groups. And so we want this opening to continue to move forward. We want the trajectory to continue to be one of progress.
And the United States can best — I think to sum up my message, the United States can best move that forward by engagement. If we disengage, frankly I think that there’s a vacuum that could potentially be filled by bad actors. But when we’re at the table, when we’re pressing these issues, we’re bringing more attention to the situation in Rakhine State. We are working to bring the parties together in the political process. We can help facilitate and support through development assistance the implementation of the nationwide ceasefire.
So I covered a lot of ground there, but the bottom line here is I think that we share the same objectives with the advocacy community here. We are pursuing those objectives through engagement, and we’re clear-eyed about where there’s been progress and where there needs to be more. And we believe we can best move that along by the President raising this with Thein Sein, with Aung San Suu Kyi. But you’ll notice he’s also meeting with civil society, he’s meeting with young people. We’re sending the message that we’re engaging very broadly in this country because we care deeply about its future and we see a real opportunity, but that opportunity can only be seized if they continue moving in the right direction and don’t let some of the recent very significant challenges through the reform off course.
MR. EARNEST: Carol.
Q I have one for each of you actually. On the ITA, can you explain what the difference this one is going to make to the tech industry given that — and how it will impact consumers, and if China got any concessions in this breakthrough? And then, Ben, you mentioned that Obama and Xi are going to talk about military-to-military cooperation. Can you guys talk on those building measures? And have you guys reached agreements on notifying each other about military activities and on a code of conduct for encounters in sea and air?
Josh, on the net neutrality announcement, can you talk about why you guys did that now and what you’re trying to accomplish, and what sort of pushback can you expect from the new Congress? And whether or not the President has talked to Comcast about it?
MR. EARNEST: Mike, I’ll let you go first. Do you want to repeat the question for — I think I lost track by the end.
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: The benefits of ITA.
Q Right. (Off mic) and how it’s going to affect consumers.
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Well, in these tariff reduction agreements, it obviously benefits both the producers who can now sell more of their product, but also the consumers — because they’ll see access to products more easily. And when you’re talking about medical devices, for example — medical equipment, like MRIs and CAT scans, and a whole variety of implantable devices — that means better health care for people all over the world.
The tariffs range as high as 25 percent for some of the next generation semi-conductors; 30 percent for loud speakers; 30 percent for certain software media; 30 percent for video game consoles. So some of the tariffs are in the 5 to 8 percent range, some are in the 25 to 30 percent range. And right now the trade in these cover lines is about $1 trillion, and we’d expect it to grow significantly for the benefit of consumers and the benefits of producers, including a lot of products made in the United States. We export over a billion dollars of these products right now, even with these barriers in place, and that will help support more jobs in the United States.
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: In trade negotiations there’s always issues of how the obligations are phased in over time, and that will be part of what’s discussed in Geneva.
MR. RHODES: Sure, on the specific nature of the confidence-building measures with the Chinese and mil-mil ties. I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions, but we’ve certainly been focused on both just simply the lines of communication with China, but also how to address some of the challenges we’ve seen recently, for instance, with respect to circumstances where we certainly came a little too close for comfort between the United States and Chinese military assets. And so we’re looking at what practical things can be done to build confidence and have more transparency. So we’ll keep you updated on that. I don’t want to get ahead of the leaders.
But the bottom-line principle is, first of all, it’s incredibly important that we avoid inadvertent escalation and that we don’t find ourselves having an accidental circumstance lead into something that could precipitate conflict. So there’s enormous value in that type of dialogue.
And the second point I think is it’s good for the region if the United States and China are able to have greater transparency between our militaries. I think that will ultimately promote stability. And we’ve encouraged that type of transparency across the region — whether it’s an ASEAN code of conduct or whether it’s the type of dialogue that President Xi and Prime Minister Abe had yesterday. This is something that we’ve been encouraging all of our partners to do — to be more transparent, to build confidence, develop practical means to avoid an inadvertent escalation.
So it will be an important topic of their meeting, and we’ll keep you updated on it.
Q So just the two things that —
MR. RHODES: I mean, there are those and then there’s just the broader nature of our military-to-military relationship and how we interact, how we have exchanges. So I think we’ll have more to say on this, but I don’t want to get ahead of the leaders.
MR. EARNEST: And then before we move on to — just on the net neutrality question that you raised earlier, Carol — I know that there are members of Congress on both sides of this issue who have made their views known. The White House has been in touch with the business community on a variety of issues, as we always are. And I know that this is something that, again, on both sides of this issue they are very strongly held views.
The position that the President articulated in the statement that was released today is consistent with the President’s previously expressed strongly held views about the important of an open Internet; that the Internet has been the source of innovation, that it’s been good for the economy, in particular in the United States. And putting in place a regulatory regime that does not allow some of those companies to sort of extend some preferential treatment to some content is an important way that we can protect the freedom and openness that’s associated with the Internet that will ensure that it continues to be a space that’s open to innovation and progress.
But again, this is something that has been — has engendered strongly held views on both sides, so I would anticipate this will continue to be a pretty robust debate in the political sphere back home in the United States.
I will say that in terms of the timing of this announcement, it is not related to this specific trip; that there are some regulatory decisions that are due. And the President felt like this was an appropriate time to, again, reiterate his views about the important principle that’s at stake here.
Q Ben, I had a question about Putin in terms of — I know it was just a brief conversation so far. But can you say anything that happened there? But also more importantly moving forward what you hope to accomplish, what message you hope to send to Putin because we’ve heard again and again that sanctions are working against Russia. And certainly we’ve seen the ruble in the last couple days — there’s been an economic impact. But the administration put out a statement a day or two ago saying that heavy artillery and tanks are being sent to the front line basically by Russia. And that’s your own assessment. So doesn’t that suggest that the sanctions are not stopping them from this heavy influence inside Ukraine?
MR. EARNEST: The question is about the exchange between the President — President Obama and President Putin yesterday and the impact of sanctions on influencing Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Ben, you want to take that.
MR. RHODES: Sure. Well, first of all, their interaction, as I think we said last night, it was very brief. The leaders greeted each other as the President greeted many leaders. They did not have the substantive exchange that they do today on the margins of APEC, where I think there’s a lot more time. We’ll certainly let you know.
But, Ed, I think — first on the message and then on the situation in Ukraine specifically, on Ukraine, we continue to be deeply troubled by Russia’s activities. And I guess to take your question head-on, the sanctions are clearly succeeding and having an impact on the Russian economy. There’s no question that if you look at every metric from the status of the ruble, to their projections for growth, that the Russian economic picture is grim and getting grimmer because of the sanctions.
The sanctions have yet to sufficiently affect Russia’s calculus as it relates to Ukraine. That’s why we continue to impose them. That’s why we continue to be very clear about where we need to see better Russian action, specifically, as you said, we’ve seen the continued provision of support to the separatists, including heavy weapons that are in complete violation of the spirit of the Minsk agreement. And what our message is to Russia is there’s an agreement that you reached with the government in Kyiv, and you just abide by that agreement. The separatists must abide by that agreement. And escalating the situation by providing these types of weapons into Ukraine is clearly not in service of that process.
And what Russia will find is, if they continue to do that, it’s a recipe for isolation from a broad swath of the international community. It’s a recipe for the type of economic disruption they’ve seen from the sanctions going forward.
So our message is one of resolve in insisting upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. It’s a message that there is a road map here through the Minsk agreement that should be followed. And the President will certainly I think express that view publicly and privately in the coming days and weeks.
I think more broadly with Russia, I think at the same time we’ve had differences with them on Ukraine, we’re working to pursue an Iran agreement. We’re working in a range of areas where we can make progress together. But clearly what we’ve seen is a troubling focus from President Putin on the situation in Ukraine that is going to demand a response from the international community going forward, just as it has the last several months. And the United States is going to be committed to leading that response.
MR. EARNEST: Mark.
Q Thank you. Just a question for Mike and then a question either for Mike or Ben — if more appropriate.
On the trade talks, Mike, I’m paraphrasing, but you said earlier the best way to get Congress to pass a TPP deal is to bring them a very good agreement. And some trade analysts say that that sort of has it backwards, that you sort of need to get the TPA authority first because that allows you to obtain concessions from trading partners.
I’m wondering sort of whether you think you can get those concessions without the President having TPA, and whether foreign leaders have pressed the President in the wake of the elections to try to get that authority from Congress.
And then secondly on cyber, the working group that Secretary Kerry set up on the cybersecurity issues obviously stopped working after the charges were brought against the Chinese military officers for hacking. Will President Obama in his talks with President Xi encourage him, ask him to resume the dialogue of that working group?
MR. EARNEST: So just to restate the two issues on the microphone, the second question was about the cybersecurity working group and the relationship between the U.S. and China and how the President will raise that with President Xi when they discuss it tomorrow.
And then the first question was related to does the Ambassador feel as if he can reach a good agreement with other countries without having TPA authority first, right? Okay.
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Well, our approach has always been to pursue both in parallel and to make clear that ultimately, again, as I said the only guarantee that agreement gets the support of Congress is that it is a good agreement and meets that ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard outcome that we have sought to achieve.
I think — we have an ongoing discussion with our trading partners. They follow our political system very closely, and we have made clear — and I think they understand — that every country has its domestic processes to go through on trade agreements. And we’re responsible for ours, and they’re responsible for theirs. And as the President has made clear that he wants to work with leaders in Congress, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, to advance the trade agenda, that has allowed our negotiations to continue. So we’re continuing to work in parallel to close out the TPP negotiations consistent with the high standard that we’ve set for ourselves. And we’re continuing to work with Congress to achieve trade promotion authority with as broad bipartisan support as possible.
MR. EARNEST: Ben, do you want to do the cyber?
MR. RHODES: Yes, Mark, it’s certainly the case that after those charges were brought we did see a chill in the cyber dialogue. I think the fact that we pursued those cases demonstrates that we’re not going to simply stand idly by. If we see activity that we don’t like, that we can call out, we’re going to do that.
At the same time, though, we do believe that it’s better if there’s a mechanism for a dialogue where we can raise concerns directly with one another. So I think President Obama will highlight the importance of having a means to have a cyber-dialogue so that our governments can share information. We can be direct about areas of concern. We can try to find ways to build confidence in that space, as well.
So it is something where we’ve been very firm in our position. We did see a Chinese reaction to those charges. Again, we’re going to continue to call out behavior as we see it. But I think the message in the bilat today, and has it has been going forward, is better for us to have a means to have a dialogue, just as we do on a whole host of other issues through the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, so that we can be more transparent.
MR. EARNEST: Major.
Q Ben, on Ukraine, I’m just trying to get a sense, if the President wants to use this venue for the G-20 as an opportunity to engage Putin directly and say, what’s happening in Ukraine right now? Which seems to be an escalation after several months of relative calm, to protest in a very specific way, and to convey that message to him directly.
Secondarily, can you in any way shape or form provide any clarity on the status al-Baghdadi?
MR. EARNEST: So just to repeat the two questions. The first is does the President plan to raise directly with President Putin the concerns that the United States has about their actions on Ukraine either while we’re here at APEC or in the context of the G-20 meetings.
And then an update on the latest assessment about the strike against ISIL that may have had impact on al-Baghdadi.
Ben, do you want to —
MR. RHODES: Well, Major, I think our position on Ukraine is well known, and it’s manifested in our sanctions and our policy. So I don’t think we’re necessarily looking to focus to make this a — to go out of our way to try to make the focus of these multilateral Ukraine in the way that we did when we were in Europe, when it was obviously a more natural venue.
That said, I think if the President has the opportunity to talk President Putin, I know he’ll be expressing the need to highlight and get back to the Minsk agreement and express concern over these latest reports.
I also know that other leaders share those concerns, as well. And yesterday, for instance, with Prime Minister Abbott, we discussed the situation in Ukraine. He’s obviously very focused on the MH17 investigation and the need for there to be justice for Australian families. So it’s not simply the United States. You have a number of leaders — Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Abbott, a number of other European leaders — Prime Minister Cameron — who share our concerns.
And so this is not just simply a U.S. view. I think it’s probably held among many of our friends and allies. And so I can’t predict exactly what will happen except to say that I know where different nations stand, and I know that that’s what they’ve been saying to the Russians.
Q Is it fair to interpret, Ben, then that you don’t consider what’s happening right now to be particularly alarming?
MR. RHODES: We do consider it to be particularly alarming. That’s why we’ve spoken out about it. I guess what I’m saying is our position is very clear on this, and the pathway out of this is very clear. It’s to get back to the Minsk agreement. And the pattern of imposing consequences on Russia when we see an escalation is also established, as well.
So again, I could anticipate knowing how these meetings go that as the President has an opportunity to engage with leaders like Chancellor Merkel, for instance, on the margins of the G-20, this will certainly come up. And again, I was just highlighting that President Putin knows full well where we stand. And we’ve made that clear through not just our words, but our policies, our sanctions. And that’s go to continue to be our approach here.
On Baghdadi, we cannot confirm his status at this point. As you know, we did take a strike that successfully hit a number of ISIL vehicles that we assessed was associated with ISIL leadership. We obviously take time to do due diligence to get an understanding of what the impact was.
The message I think is very clear, though, which is that we’re not going to allow for a safe haven for ISIL and its leadership and its fighters in Iraq or Syria. And they had for months. They were able to operate freely. And I think what they’re finding now — whether it’s outside of Kobani, whether it’s in Anbar province, whether it’s in northern Iraq, whether it was that strike outside of Mosul — that if they move, we’re going to hit them.
Q Just to clarify — you’re saying you don’t —
MR. RHODES: I don’t have an update on his status. No.
MR. EARNEST: Josh.
Q Two for Ben. The first one on Indonesia and the second one in China. At the meetings yesterday, were there any — meeting yesterday between the President and President Widodo, was there any discussion of Hambali, the terrorist suspect that’s been locked up at Guantanamo for more than 10 years. I think President Bush at one point promised to return him to Indonesia for trial. Regardless of whether it came up, what’s going to happen to that individual? Is there any plan to do anything with him or just keep him at Guantanamo indefinitely?
And then on the Chinese front, given the concerns about press freedom in China, can you explain the President’s decision to do a written interview with the Xinhua Agency, since the Chinese leaders have been criticized in the past for insisting on sort of canned interviews with American news outlets?
MR. EARNEST: The two questions. Did the President discuss with the Indonesian leader the status of an Indonesian terror suspect that’s being held at Guantanamo? And the decision-making behind the President’s decision to do a written interview with Xinhua.
Ben, do you want to take those?
MR. RHODES: Yes. Well, on the first question, it did not come up in the discussion. Counterterrorism did, ISIL did. We discussed ways to share information. And we have a good relationship with Indonesia on information sharing related to counterterrorism. And so those issues were addressed.
But on his specific status, I’ll have to check, Josh, on exactly what the status of his case is. As you know, we’ve reviewed each one and have a very rigorous process to determine who is cleared for transfer, who is not. So we can get back to you on that.
On the second question, look, it’s very — when we go on trips, this is something we do everywhere. As you know from covering us, we tend to do written interviews with outlets when we arrive in a country.
Our view is on the one hand, we need to engage. And the more the President’s voice can be heard in a country the better because people understand where we come from. So we do engage Chinese media. We engage CCTV in the Briefing Room every day. We engage Xinhua.
At the same time, we’ll raise issues of press freedom. And the President has raised it directly with President Xi in their believe meetings. We’ve raised our concerns about the status of some U.S. media organizations and the treatment — the adjudication of their visas. We’ve raised, again, our concern on having more free access to information here — not just as it relates to the news media, but as it relates to Internet.
So these are things that we will consistently raise, but again, I think better for the President’s voice to get out and to be heard in a country. We use those interviews as important venues to address different issues. But in no way does that diminish the fact that we have concerns about the press freedom here in China, just as we do in a range of other countries that we’ve visited who have — who are on a spectrum of how they treat the press.
MR. EARNEST: Mr. Acosta.
Q Yes, just to follow up on that with Ben. What does the President see as his legacy with China? Is it more engaging with China, but not changing China’s behavior? Because I was struck by something the President said yesterday with Prime Minister Abbott that press freedoms he likes, that those are U.S. values. But he does not expect China to have those traditions, to follow those traditions. Why not? Why not publicly with Xi push the Chinese to adopt a more American value system on press freedoms and human rights?
MR. EARNEST: To repeat the question again. Jim’s question is about who aggressively the President pushes the Chinese on some of the human rights concerns that the President himself has spoken about pretty publicly.
Q And how that fits into his legacy?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, and how that fits into his legacy, with that relationship.
MR. RHODES: Yes, so I’ll start with the human rights piece. Jim, the President doesn’t just see these as American values. There are certain things that are universal values. They’re embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations. And they should be able to take root in any society. When you talk about freedom of speech, freedom of association, again, America has championed those values, but we believe that they are universal.
I think what the President is speaking about is the fact that China is at a different stage of development. Obviously, it has different traditions. But we do raise these issues. And we do believe that certain things are universal, the right to, again, speak your mind, access information, to freedom of assembly. And so it’s something that we’re going to press. It’s something that comes up in every meeting. It’s something that we raise publicly, as well. And at the end of the day, again, I think the people of China are going to determine the future of their country. But we want to make sure that just as we want China to live up to the rules of the road, we want them to live up to the rules of the road on universal values.
In a place like Hong Kong, that involves respect for freedom of assembly. It also involves the people of Hong Kong being able to select their own leaders, as was agreed to, to choose their own leadership, again, which was the one county, two systems notion.
In terms of the President’s legacy, I think there’s — what did we get done with China. On a bilateral basis to, again, improve the American economy, to save the global economy — and coordinated action with China was critical to that — to take the steps we’ve taken on this trip that will promote U.S. exports, promote more tourism and investment in the United States. All that will have a positive economic impact for America and the American people.
Then I think, however, we want to look at where do we enlist China in regional and global efforts. Because, again, we want them to play a bigger role. We want them to be a part of international climate negotiations because you can’t deal with climate change unless China is coming to the table in a serious way.
We want them to be a part of settling disputes and resolving disputes around maritime security in the region. We want them to be part of pursuing an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. So China kind of fits into the type of international order we’re trying to build in which nations are invested in solving problems.
And that very much speaks to rebalance, the signature Asia Pacific policy of the President’s. We want to see this region more prosperous, more cooperative; again, a place of robust American engagement in ways that support our economy; support the security of our allies and the civility of the region; support the values we care about in a place like Burma where we have an ongoing transition. And that mitigates the risk of conflict that could derail the extraordinary progress we see here.
So again, when we look at his legacy, it’s going to be where do we move the ball forward bilaterally in ways that benefit the American people? How do we embed China, working with them, in an international system that can solve problems like climate change and maritime security? And how is this region a more stable, prosperous and secure place which has robust American engagement. They’re critical to all those things. And human rights in our view is a part of the international norms that we uphold.
So just as we care about maritime security and cybersecurity, we care about universal values. And that’s going to be a part of how we judge the status of the relationship.
Q You mentioned Iran a couple of times. If I could just follow up on that. November 24th is coming up very quickly. Do you foresee a scenario where that deadline might be put back a little bit? And you’ve seen Netanyahu’s comments, where he seems to be pretty upset about Khamenei tweeting about the (inaudible) and what do you make of that?
MR. EARNEST: Can you repeat the question?
MR. RHODES: Yes, so the question. Was the states of the Iran negotiations heading to the 24th and the Israeli Prime Minister’s comments on the Supreme Leader’s tweet.
On the first question, what we’ve been focused on is driving towards what progress can we make towards an agreement for the 24th. We have not focused on discussions with Iran on extending those discussions because we want to keep the focus on closing gaps.
Secretary Kerry was meeting into the night in Oman. He’s currently on a plane, set to arrive in Beijing. He will give the President an update on where things stand and what progress he made, so President Obama will hear directly from him about the status of the talks.
And then there are negotiations scheduled in Vienna where we’ll see where we can get by the 24th, and we’ll keep people posted on where things stand.
With respect to the — first of all, the sentiments expressed by the Supreme Leader’s office in that tweet. They’re obviously outrageous. It’s the type of rhetoric we’ve seen from the Iranian leadership for years. We completely reject it, of course.
The fact of the matter is what we’ve always said is even as we pursue this effort around diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear program, that’s about addressing a security concern of the United States and Israel and the international community. If we can prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that’s in all of our interests.
At the same time, it doesn’t lessen our concern over other Iranian behaviors, including the virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric that has been a part of their political tradition. So we’ll continue to speak out against that.
With respect to the agreement itself, though, what we would say is, again, if we can verifiably discern that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon, that it’s program is for peaceful purposes, that’s a good thing. That’s far better than an outcome where Iran is back to trying to accumulate more stockpile, enriching at a higher percent and getting more breakout capacity. So we’ve already frozen their nuclear — the progress of their nuclear program. We’ve rolled back the stockpile just during these negotiations.
If we can get a comprehensive agreement, we would say that would be in the interest of American national security and also the security of our friends and allies.
MR. EARNEST: We’re nearing the one-hour mark here, so we’ll just do two more. Ching-Yi and then Jim Avila, I’ll let you wrap up. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, thank you, Josh. First question is to Ambassador Froman. According to interview with Xinhua, President Obama say our summit will also be an opportunity to make progress toward ambitious bilateral investment treaty. So what kind of progress? What kind of breakthrough that we can expect about the VIT?
And also the second question is to Ben. Other than ITA and the visa, what else deliverables that the U.S. is looking forward to reaching this time. Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Repeat the question so everybody can hear. Ambassador Froman, an update on progress related to the VIT negotiations. And, Ben, what other deliverables do you anticipate out of the meetings between President Obama and President Xi.
AMBASSADOR FROMAN: Well, as you may recall it was about a year and a half ago that China agreed to negotiate a bilateral investment treaty on the basis of what we call a negative list, which is to open up their economy but for specific carve-outs that they negotiate with us. And that was a major step forward, as were some of the other provisions that we agreed to then.
Since that time we’ve had very good discussions in the bilateral investment treaty channel. We’ve had a series of rounds to walk through our model of it and to talk about how it would be applied in the case of China. We have further work to do. Next year, early next year, China has agreed to give us their first version of their negative list. And it will be very important if we’re to achieve early progress in these negotiations that that list be as short and as focused, as narrowly tailored as possible. And we’re encouraging our Chinese counterparts, including while we’re here for this visit and around this summit to focus on making that list as narrow and as short as possible so that we can proceed with negotiations and make progress next year.
MR. RHODES: I, of course, will let the leaders speak to the specific deliverables. I think we certainly focused on the visa issue and ITA in these first couple of days because of the economic theme of APEC and the venue of the CEO forum. So again, I think the President’s meeting will certainly address economic issues. But I think we’ll also d