Amb Susan Rice briefing on President Obama’s visit: “does he [president] think that [Ethiopia’s election] was democratic?” – “Absolutely — 100 percent”!

24 Jul

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/22/2015

Excerpt: Compare

    “Q Can you speak a little bit more broadly to the security concerns on this trip? Are they higher than normal for a presidential trip, given the countries that he’s visiting and the situation like this? And also, to just follow up on what Christi was saying, does the President consider the presidents of Kenya and Ethiopia democratically-elected Presidents?

    AMBASSADOR RICE: First of all, you mean — okay, let me come to the second one. The short answer is, on the security side, Isaac, I think I should refer you to Secret Service for any detailed questions. But obviously we wouldn’t be taking this trip if we thought that security conditions precluded us doing so. But it is important to note that Kenya in particular — Ethiopia less recently — has been the victim of terrorism, primarily perpetrated by al-Shabaab.

    We are very concerned for the people of Kenya and for the region, that this threat remains a real one. And that’s why we’ve cooperated so actively not only with the African Union force in Somalia, which is countering al-Shabaab, but also in a bilateral way with the government of Kenya, the government of Ethiopia, and Uganda and others in the region that have experienced the threat from al-Shabaab.

    So it’s something that obviously, given their history and given the strong counterterrorism cooperation we have with the countries in the region, that we take seriously.

    The democrat role — first of all, yes, I think we would say that the President of Kenya was democratically elected. That was a competitive process. I think the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was just elected with 100 percent of the vote, which I think suggests, as we have stated in our public statements, some concern for the integrity of the electoral process — at least if not in the outcomes then in some of the mechanisms that supported the process, the freedom for the opposition to campaign.

    Q So is that — but does he think that that was a democratic election?

    AMBASSADOR RICE: Absolutely — 100 percent.”

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President Obama : …& contrast

BBC Africa Live updates from Kenya

    “The president also admitted that some African governments, including Kenya’s, needed to improve their records on human rights and democracy. However, he defended his decision to engage with and visit those governments.

    “Well, they’re [Ethiopian and Kenyan governments] not ideal institutions. But what we found is, is that when we combined blunt talk with engagement, that gives us the best opportunity to influence and open up space for civil society.”

    Mr Obama will become the first US president to address the African Union when he travels on to Ethiopia on Sunday.”

 
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MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I brought a special guest to discuss with you the President’s upcoming trip to Africa. Susan Rice is the President’s National Security Advisor. She has her own extensive personal experience in dealing with policy in Africa, and she obviously will be accompanying the President on that trip.

She’ll make some opening remarks at the top. And what I would like to do is to try to take as many questions on the Africa trip to satisfy your interest and hear directly from Ambassador Rice on those issues. She’s agreed to stick around and take a couple of questions on other topics as well. So we’ll just try to keep it moving.

But let’s do the Africa questions first. So we’ll do a little stage management here, and then I’ll turn it over to Susan.

Thank you, Eric.

AMBASSADOR RICE: Thank you, gentlemen. (Laughter.) Good afternoon, everyone. It’s good to see you. As we prepare to depart for Africa — and I know many of you may be leaving as early as later today — I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a preview of what you can expect. First, some general points.

As you know, President Obama, tomorrow evening, will travel to Kenya and Ethiopia for bilateral meetings, for additional meetings at the African Union, and he will attend as well the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

This will be the President’s fourth trip to Africa — the most of any sitting American President. It will also be the first time that a sitting American President travels to Kenya, the first time a sitting American President travels to Ethiopia, and the first time a sitting American President addresses the African Union.

The upcoming travel will go a long distance, as well, to advance our trade and investment relationship with Africa, as well as our continued work to help African governments strengthen their business environment and their capacity for regional and global trade.

In this regard, the President will lift up the recent 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which we’ll also celebrate here tonight at the White House. And we’ll note what a strong signal that sends to our African partners that we’re serious about expanding and sustaining U.S.-Africa trade, including by helping to create new customers for U.S. businesses overseas.

Congress’s bipartisan support for this legislation allowed us to secure AGOA’s renewal. And the President, as he has on past trips, has invited a number of House and Senate members to join him. We’re cognizant that Africa’s economic growth will support increased demand for U.S. exports, which, in turn, will help create U.S. jobs at home, and provide valuable investment opportunities for American businesses.

And that’s why we’re intensifying our efforts to create an environment that enables greater trade and investment through encouraging regional integration, legal reforms that allow for the free flow of goods and services, greater transparency, and anti-corruption measures.

The President will highlight our continued efforts to support young African leaders, as well as to increase access to electricity, to deepen our partnerships on food security and global health, which are delivering results by reducing hunger and under-nutrition, improving child survival, and helping move people out of poverty.

The President will also stress the importance of strong, democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, fighting corruption, and our support for open and accountable governance, and respect for human rights across the continent.

This trip is an opportunity to voice strong support for the vital role played by civil society, as well as to call attention to other important issues, such as the global campaign to combat wildlife trafficking and to stress the importance of equal opportunities for women and girls.

I’ll spend a couple minutes discussing the themes for each stop, before running through the itinerary.

When it comes to his time in Kenya, the President will honor the strong, historical ties between the United States and Kenya. Choosing Kenya as the destination for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit underscores the fact that the United States — excuse me, that Africa, and Kenya in particular, has become a center for innovation and entrepreneurship. The Global Entrepreneurship Summit will highlight the President’s commitment to promoting entrepreneurship globally, particularly opportunities for women and girls.

Our time in Kenya will also underscore Nairobi’s strong leadership on regional security issues, its impressive record of economic growth and competitive democratic system, as well as the challenges that Kenya obviously still faces in countering violent extremism, ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

As we move on to Ethiopia, the President’s visit will reflect the fact that we have a longstanding, strong bilateral relationship with Ethiopia. Among our shared interests are facilitating peace in South Sudan, countering al-Shabaab in Somalia, and advancing Ethiopia’s growth and development, as well as promoting regional stability.

And just as we work closely together in many arenas, we also regularly conveyed to Ethiopia’s leadership our concerns in such areas as press freedom, transparency, space for civil society, and the political opposition. So this trip is also an opportunity for to continue our frank discussions and to urge progress in these areas.

While in Ethiopia, the President will meet with the leadership of the African Union, and speak to the whole continent from the African Union headquarters. The African Union is a leader on a broad array of global issues, including peace and security, health and agriculture. And we have come to work very closely with the African Union on this broad spectrum of issues.

Finally, this trip comes a year after the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which resulted in $33 billion in new commitments to support trade and investment across Africa, as well as tangible U.S. and African efforts to improve security, promote human rights and good governance, and provide opportunities for Africa’s sizeable youth population.

Our upcoming engagements will advance our trade and investment relationship with Africa, as well as our continued work to help African governments strengthen their business environments and capacity for regional and global trade.

So before I take your questions, let me just tell you a little bit about each day on the trip.

On Saturday, the 25th of July, the President’s trip will start in earnest on Saturday morning, where he’ll open up the 6th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by the U.S. and Kenya. I expect the President will have an opportunity also to pay tribute to the victims and the survivors of the 1998 embassy bombings, which targeted our embassy not only in Nairobi, but also in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Saturday, the Kenyan government will host the President for a bilateral program, including a meeting and press conference and state dinner.

On Sunday, the President will deliver remarks to the Kenyan people. We’ll have additional details on the thrust of his remarks in the coming days. But you can expect him to speak to the broad themes in our relationship with Kenya and its people.

The President will also take part in a civil society event to highlight civil society’s contributions to development, prosperity and democratic institutions in Kenya. And he will open the event with remarks and engage in a discussion with civil society participants, primarily around the topics of wildlife trafficking, girls’ education, and countering violent extremism. And late in the day on Sunday, we’ll head to Ethiopia.

On Monday, in Ethiopia, the President will take part again in a bilateral program with the government of Ethiopia, including an arrival ceremony, bilateral meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, as well as a press conference with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and a state dinner. I also expect that the President will take part in a summit meeting with a handful of regional leaders on shared priorities, particularly the crisis in South Sudan and regional counterterrorism issues.

On Tuesday, our final day, the President will participate in a civil society roundtable, and he will speak before the African Union, which, as you know, is headquartered in Addis.

The President will hold a bilateral meeting with the chairwoman of the African Union Commission and during that day will also have the opportunity to highlight some of our sustainable development initiatives, including in food security, as well as the work we’re doing to deepen economic and trade cooperation with Ethiopia in the broader region.

So obviously this will be a busy several days, but we — the President, his entire national security team — are very much looking forward to the opportunity to build on the momentum from last year’s African Leaders Summit and to advance our strong and growing ties with the African continent.

So with that, let me take a few questions on the Africa trip.

MR. EARNEST: Chris, do you want to start?

Q Thanks. And thanks for doing this, Susan. As you know, when the President was elected, there was a lot of high expectations raised about what the President could do for the African continent and Kenya, in particular. And there are a lot of people — and much has been written about the fact that he has not realized those expectations. And I wonder how you would respond to that. They say — they often refer to what President Bush did in terms of AIDS being transformative that this President has not yet done anything transformative. How would you respond to that? And what’s the goal of this trip in terms of the overall picture of him and the final legacy he will have in terms of his relationship with the African continent?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, Chris, let me say that President Obama is building on what has been a strong bipartisan tradition of U.S. support for Africa. I recall back to the Clinton administration when President Clinton was the first President to take a trip that was broad-ranging and covered the African continent. We have been steadily building — including through the Bush administration with President Bush’s obvious strong commitment to Africa — a foundation that is growing. And each brick is layered on the last one.

President Obama, obviously, has been unique. First of all, this will be his fourth trip to Africa, more than any other sitting President. Never before had we had an African Leaders Summit with the leadership from across the entirety of the continent here in Washington for several days, engaging in the most important issues of concern between us.

The trade and investment relationship between the United States and Africa has never been stronger. Never have we had $33 billion in U.S. commitments driven by public-private partnerships, which this administration has galvanized. The food security initiative, Feed the Future, and the new Alliance for Food Security are Obama administration initiatives that we launched at the G7 and have pursued in partnership with our G7 — at that time G8 — partners, which have brought unprecedented new agricultural opportunities and growth to the African continent.

We have built on PEPFAR, President Bush’s initiative in the AIDS space, to launch and sustain a global health initiative both in Africa and then broadly a global health security initiative, which was something we started before the Ebola epidemic, but now we’re pursuing both in Africa and around the world, which will bring increased ability to detect and prevent epidemics and bring health to the people of Africa.

Across the spectrum, we are building and deepening our relationship with Africa. Power Africa, which like PEPFAR, is building up in strength and capacity, will double the amount of power to the African continent. This is going to take time, as PEPFAR did. But it will be itself a very transformative initiative. And when combined with the programs I’ve described in the health sector and the agriculture sector and trade and investment, I think President Obama’s record on Africa will not only match that of his predecessors, but I predict with confidence we’ll exceed it.

MR. EARNEST: April.

Q Ambassador Rice, I have a couple of questions to ask you. For Kenya and Ethiopia, particularly on issues of human rights, there are concerns about human rights issues when it comes to peaceful assembly in Ethiopia as well as silencing journalists and bloggers. And then when we talk about Kenya, Kenya in particular with the issue of same-sex couples, how is the President approaching these human rights issues as he travels and makes this historic visit? And also, on a personal note, you’ve known this President since he was Senator Barack Obama and you know personally his story. Does this trip for him bring him full circle? And I speak of traveling to Kenya and thinking of the book “Dreams of My Father”, thinking about his real-life story and going home to — well, going to his father’s home of Kenya. And basically, does he make peace with his life story with his father? I mean, I’m asking you because you know him.

AMBASSADOR RICE: You’re trying to get me to psychoanalyze the President? I’m not going to do that. (Laughter.) How dumb do I look, April? (Laughter.)

Q Not at all, you’re a good friend.

AMBASSADOR RICE: For free, yes. (Laughter.) Let me address your first question first. I think as you all know well, we go to many places in Asia and Africa and the Middle East where we engage with countries and leaders with whom we have some questions and concerns about their human rights record, their respect for democracy and the rule of law. So there is nothing unique about this in the African context, but what is consistent is that wherever we go, whether it’s in Africa or elsewhere in the world where we have such concerns, we raise them directly and clearly, both in public and in private. And we will do that as we always do when we visit Kenya and Ethiopia.

Each of these are different countries with different contexts. Obviously, in Ethiopia in particular, we have consistently expressed concern about the treatment of journalists, among other issues. We noted that recently the Ethiopian government did release five journalists, which is a welcome step but they have a long way to go. And I think we have been very clear in our dialogue with them on this and other issues related to democracy and governance that we believe they can and should do more and better. And we look forward to engaging with them on this topic and similarly with the concerns that you raise that are specific to Kenya.

But both these countries are very important longstanding U.S. partners with whom we have a broad range of issues, not just in the governance — in the interests, not just issues. But in the governance space and the security space, in the economic space, we have a lot that we can do and are doing cooperatively and productively with these countries, and our aim is to be forthright about the concerns where we have them and strengthen and deepen cooperation in our mutual interests where we can. So that’s how we’ll approach it.

I won’t speak for the President. I think you’ll have an opportunity to hear from him during the course of the trip about his personal ties to Kenya. I do know that he is very much looking forward to both the stops on this trip. And obviously when you go to a country where you have familial ties and you’re a sitting President, it’s a different deal than when you’re going as a private citizen or even as a United States senator. So there are certain constraints not only of time but of logistics that limit what he might do in a different context. But I’m quite confident that he’s looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to spend some time in private with some of his relatives.

MR. EARNEST: Anita.

Q Hi. I’m actually just going to follow up on that. You said he would be spending some time with relatives. Can you just expand on that? Will they come visit him? Will he go somewhere? Will he go to his family’s village?

Q Will the bear be on the loose? (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR RICE: I’m not going to get into details on the logistics except to say that I do believe he’ll have an opportunity to spend some time privately with members of his family. I think some members of his family will also be invited to some of the public events, or the larger state-sponsored events, including perhaps the dinner.

It is a fact that he is not going to be able to visit the village most closely associated with his family for a combination of time and logistical reasons, among others. But nonetheless, I know that he looks forward to having the opportunity to reach out to and have some time with family, as any of us would.

MR. EARNEST: Suzanne.

Q It’s come to light that Kenyan Airlines has actually published the President’s schedule in detail regarding the two major airports, both arrival and departure, not only among its staff but also it’s been published on Facebook. Is this a breach in security protocol? Is there any concern about security measures in light of this kind of widespread information that is now out to the public regarding very specifically his schedule?

AMBASSADOR RICE: My understanding, Suzanne, is that Secret Service is well aware of this. It has in no way affected our approach to or plans for the trip. And it’s also my understanding that oftentimes some of this information turns out to be not entirely accurate. But I don’t think it in any way is disturbing our plans.

MR. EARNEST: Christi.

Q Thank you. A question on timing. Kenya obviously is a place of great personal significance for the President. For reasons that you’ve acknowledged already, there were reasons not to go prior to now. But I just wonder if you can talk a little bit about why he didn’t go before now, why he is going now. What’s the reason? Why is this a good time to go?

AMBASSADOR RICE: He’s going now because we are the co-chair of the 6th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit which Kenya is hosting. So every year there is such a summit; the President hasn’t been able to make every one of them but he’s gone to several. The Vice President has gone to some.

And so this is an opportunity not only to support the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is something the President is deeply committed to as an initiative that has resonance around the world, but it’s also an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our relationship to Africa — which, as we discussed with Chris, has been a centerpiece of the President’s foreign policy.

Q Was he waiting for the ICC charges against President Kenyatta to be resolved before he took his trip?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I think, Christi, the real hook for the timing was the entrepreneurship summit.

Q Will he appear or meet with the deputy who still is facing charges before the ICC?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I don’t think he has any plans for any separate engagements with him. He is a member of the government, so I imagine that he may be present at some of the events.

MR. EARNEST: Isaac.

Q Can you speak a little bit more broadly to the security concerns on this trip? Are they higher than normal for a presidential trip, given the countries that he’s visiting and the situation like this? And also, to just follow up on what Christi was saying, does the President consider the presidents of Kenya and Ethiopia democratically-elected Presidents?

AMBASSADOR RICE: First of all, you mean — okay, let me come to the second one. The short answer is, on the security side, Isaac, I think I should refer you to Secret Service for any detailed questions. But obviously we wouldn’t be taking this trip if we thought that security conditions precluded us doing so. But it is important to note that Kenya in particular — Ethiopia less recently — has been the victim of terrorism, primarily perpetrated by al-Shabaab.

We are very concerned for the people of Kenya and for the region, that this threat remains a real one. And that’s why we’ve cooperated so actively not only with the African Union force in Somalia, which is countering al-Shabaab, but also in a bilateral way with the government of Kenya, the government of Ethiopia, and Uganda and others in the region that have experienced the threat from al-Shabaab.

So it’s something that obviously, given their history and given the strong counterterrorism cooperation we have with the countries in the region, that we take seriously.

The democrat role — first of all, yes, I think we would say that the President of Kenya was democratically elected. That was a competitive process. I think the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was just elected with 100 percent of the vote, which I think suggests, as we have stated in our public statements, some concern for the integrity of the electoral process — at least if not in the outcomes then in some of the mechanisms that supported the process, the freedom for the opposition to campaign.

Q So is that — but does he think that that was a democratic election?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Absolutely — 100 percent.

MR. EARNEST: Byron.

Q Could you say what lawmakers will be traveling?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I can’t give you a list. I can tell you that there are a good number, House and Senate, bipartisan. And one of the most gratifying things about working on Africa policy is that, for many decades now, U.S.-Africa policy has been something that has been executed on a bipartisan basis. So there is a broad cross-section of members that are excited about coming on this trip, and we look forward to hosting them.

MR. EARNEST: Byron, we’ll try to get you a list tomorrow.

Q Okay. Could you say why the First Lady and the First Daughters aren’t going on this trip?

AMBASSADOR RICE: For no other reason, I think, in that they all have things they’re doing for their summer, especially the girls.

Q And one last one. What are the administration’s concerns about Islamic State’s presence in Africa? And will this be a focus of any of the bilats and multilats?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Counterterrorism will certainly be a focus of both the bilats and the multilateral discussions that we have. We’re going to East Africa where, thus far, the Islamic State has had less of a footprint and a presence than some of al Qaeda-related affiliates.

In West and North Africa, obviously we have seen ISIL become an increasing presence, particularly in the Maghreb, but also in Nigeria. So yes, we’ll be talking about counterterrorism. Not to exclude ISIL from that discussion, but in East Africa the focus is principally on other groups.

MR. EARNEST: Cheryl.

Q Do you expect to announce any new trade initiatives or business partnerships while you’re there?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I think we’ll announce them when we announce them. But trade and investment has been and will remain, as you could tell from my opening comments, a centerpiece of our engagement with Africa. And we’ll have the opportunity both through the Entrepreneurship Summit, through bilateral events in Ethiopia, as well as through discussions with business executives to point to the opportunities in Africa and the support that’s available particularly with the 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act for increased trade and investment between the United States and Africa.

MR. EARNEST: Jim.

Q I want to ask about Cuba. Can I do that now?

MR. EARNEST: Well, after questions that — April, do you have another one? Then Toluse, and then we’ll go to — okay.

Q See, how often do we get to talk about Africa? (Laughter.) Come out more often Ambassador Rice. Nigerian girls. I want to ask you, there is a concern — every Wednesday on Capitol Hill, the leaders still wear red to bring back the girls. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson believes that the girls are still alive and still in a large group together being held for leverage. Boko Haram wants to use them as leverage. Is that your feeling? And what are the efforts still to work on bringing the girls back?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, I wish I could give you a definitive answer to the question of what our best information is about the disposition of the girls. The fact of the matter is, none of us are able to say with certainty what the circumstances of the Chibok girls are today.

We’ve been working intently with the government of Nigeria and with other partners both in the region and from outside the region, including the British and the French, to provide whatever support we could to help locate the girls.

And our cooperation in terms of information-sharing and helping to provide the Nigerians with additional capacity to counter Boko Haram has been a critical thrust of our relationship with Nigeria, and one that expect will intensify now that President Buhari is in office and we are better able to address some of our concerns about human rights and command and control, and support for the Nigerian military, which we are keen to step up.

And as we do so, the search for the girls will continue to be for the Nigerian people and for the American people a very heartfelt priority. But I don’t have any good information on leads as to their whereabouts and their disposition.

MR. EARNEST: Toluse.

Q You mentioned South Sudan a couple of times, and I wanted to ask about that. The U.S. has invested a lot of money over the last decade in the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan. What’s your reaction to sort of seeing things fall so far into disrepair there? And what can the President do specifically during this trip to address that?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, obviously all of us who celebrated the independence of South Sudan after a very long-fought struggle are deeply disappointed. And I have personally said I’m heartbroken by the horrific violence and civil conflict and human rights abuses that have characterized South Sudan in the last 18 months.

We have worked long and hard in partnership with the countries in the region to try to broker a lasting peace agreement in South Sudan. Thus far, the sides have put their own personal power and wealth ahead of the interests of their people and have refused to accept numerous rational proposals for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. It’s for that reason that when the President has the opportunity to meet with a handful of leaders in Addis, in a summit format, that South Sudan will be among the important topics that they take up, including what more we can do at this critical moment as the circumstances on the ground continue to deteriorate to galvanize a peaceful outcome and to hold the leaders accountable on both sides. And should it prove impossible to get them to come to an agreement, we will be talking about what other steps we might take collectively to impose consequences.

Q And just one more. Do you expect the President to interact with Robert Mugabe while he is in —

AMBASSADOR RICE: No.

MR. EARNEST: Jeff.

AMBASSADOR RICE: There’s not — no. Where? We’re not going to Zimbabwe and he’s not coming to the African Union.

MR. EARNEST: Jeff.

Q Ambassador, you addressed already a little bit of the issue of human rights. Some aid groups have said that a presidential trip gives the White House a lot of leverage to press Ethiopia and Kenya on rights. Do you feel you’ve used that leverage? And do you expect any additional announcements of journalist release or other things along those lines from the Ethiopian government?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I can’t speak for the Ethiopian government, Jeff. I can say that we always — not just in Africa, but around the world — when we are traveling to countries where we have concerns about the rule of law, human rights, corruption, whatever, democratic governance, we make those concerns known, publicly and privately. And we have done so continuously in the case of these two countries, and we’ll continue to do so. I think our interest is not in some gesture necessarily tied to the trip but in lasting change, which is sustained over time that benefits the people of these countries.

MR. EARNEST: Darlene.

Q It’s kind of astounding that no American President has visited Kenya before now.

AMBASSADOR RICE. Sitting, yes.

Q Yes, sitting President. How do you —

AMBASSADOR RICE: Or Ethiopia, which is the largest — one of the largest countries in East Africa and on the continent.

Q But you hear a lot about the historic relationship between the U.S. and Kenya. So what can you say about why that is that no one —

AMBASSADOR RICE: I can’t answer that question.

Q Why didn’t Bill Clinton go?

AMBASSADOR RICE: I’m not sure why we didn’t go to Ethiopia or Kenya. I think one strong thing about Ethiopia that was less the case back then is the African Union, which back then was the Organization of African Unity, has come into its own and become a very strong force for unity and progress, frankly, on the continent. And so our partnership with the African Union has definitely strengthened and deepened. It’s been under this administration that we appointed an ambassador to the African Union. And in many ways, the strength and importance of that relationship has changed. We’ve always had an interest in Ethiopia’s progress, particularly after the end of the Derg. And we had Secretaries of State in the Clinton administration who went to Ethiopia and to Kenya, of course. But we did not have the opportunity for President Clinton to go. He took two trips to Africa, as you’ll recall. First one in 1998, where he went to I think six countries, and then a subsequent one where he — it was a shorter trip where he just went to two.

MR. EARNEST: Steve.

Q I just want to come back to the lawmakers for a moment. Do you see these invitations to them as a way to advance your policy goals on Africa? And what specifically might you be asking Congress to do in the area of Africa legislation in the coming months?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, obviously we want to strengthen and sustain what I’ve referred to repeatedly as a strong bipartisan consensus around support for Africa, Africa’s development, peace and security there. The biggest piece of legislation that we were focused on related to Africa was, of course, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was renewed last month in the context of other trade legislation.

But obviously we have many, many issues that are important that we need Congress’s support on — legislation that will support and codify some of the most significant initiatives, including in the health and agriculture and power sectors, as well as we have a nominee on the Hill that very much needs to be confirmed for USAID administrator. So that is not something solely for Africa, it’s for the whole world, and for our leadership as the world’s biggest provider of humanitarian assistance at a time when the world is having many humanitarian crises. But there are many, many ways in which Congress’s role is necessary to, and contributes to, on a bipartisan basis our support for Africa and other developing parts of the world.

MR. EARNEST: Suzanne, why don’t you do one last Africa one, and then we’ll get to Jim’s question. We’ll probably take one more and then I got to let Susan go.

Q It was just yesterday that Kenya’s President said that gay rights was a non-issue in his country, and that it was definitely on the agenda with the President. It was two years ago in Senegal, President Obama was very forceful about protecting gay rights. There are already warnings from inside Kenya from politicians, media outlets, for the President not to address it as bluntly or as openly as he did before. Is it on the agenda? Is it something that he is thinking about in terms of the balance between recognizing the sovereignty of Kenya and also promoting gay rights?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, Suzanne, I think, as you know, this is not for us an issue of Africa or any country in Africa, this is an issue of universal human rights. And President Obama feels very strongly, as do all of us in the administration, that gay rights are human rights. And whether we’re in Washington, D.C. or in somewhere in Asia or in Africa, that is something that we do not shy away from underscoring, as the President did during his last trip to Africa, and many other parts of the world. So this is not something that we think is a topic we reserve for certain parts of the world and not others. If appropriate, I have no doubt that the President will feel perfectly free to raise his concerns.

MR. EARNEST: Jim.

Q On Cuba, Ambassador Rice, if I could. I know the NSC has been a driving force in this new relationship, and I was wondering — there are three things I would like to ask you about. The first is, were you surprised at all by the Foreign Minister’s sort of aggressive stance while he was here, the Foreign Minister of Cuba, when he, standing next to John Kerry at the State Department, pressed on the issue of Guantanamo Bay and the embargo against Cuba in that setting?

Number two, is Guantanamo Bay — Guantanamo Naval Air Station still, in this period of time, important to the United States as far as national security? Is it something that is non-negotiable because it’s important to our military?

And third, I wanted to ask you about Radio and TV Martí, which is still spending millions of dollars putting out anti-Castro articles. In fact, I saw two today against Castro — anti-Castro — when President Obama said in Panama, when you were there, that we’re no longer in the business of regime change. Is that a waste of money, and is that contradictory to what our current foreign policy is?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, Jim, I think the unifying theme of your questions is, has everything changed overnight or not? And I think the answer is, look, we have made a historic change in the nature of our diplomatic relationship with Cuba. I think if I’d been here a year and a half ago having this discussion, few of you would have envisioned that we’d be talking about the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. So obviously that’s been an important milestone, and we think it is the right thing to advance our mutual interest, as well as our deep interest in the evolution of democracy and respect for human rights in Cuba.

But that doesn’t mean that everything has changed overnight. And the issues that have been irritant in the bilateral relationship up and until now have miraculously gone away? No. So it doesn’t, frankly, surprise me that the Foreign Minister would reprise some themes that are frequent themes of him and other prominent Cuban diplomats, including the disposition of Guantanamo and their opposition to the embargo.

When I was up in New York as U.N. Ambassador, those were themes that I became very accustomed to hearing, and so maybe they are a bit more familiar to me than they are to others. But it doesn’t surprise me.

We’ve been clear that we’re not, at this stage, at all interested in changing the nature of our understanding and arrangements on Guantanamo. And they may choose to raise it, but we’ve been equally clear that, for us, that’s not in the offing at the present.

And with respect to TV Martí, I think that’s in the same vein. We will — we have and we will continue to say and do what we think is appropriate to advance our interests in human rights and democracy in Cuba. And it doesn’t surprise us if — we’re not going to change just because the Cuban government may wish that we did otherwise.

Q One on Iran? A pair of Republican lawmakers, Senator Cotton of Arkansas and Congressman Pompeo of Kansas, each a member of his chamber’s Armed Service Committee, have released a press release in which they allege that in their recent visit last week to Vienna and to the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, they were told directly by IAEA officials that two so-called side deals were forged with Iran by the agency, relating to inspections at Parchin and to the resolution of still other questions surrounding the possible military dimension to the Iranian nuclear program.

A, are you aware of any side deals between Iran and the IAEA? And B, are there any codicils, side deals, annexes, pieces of paper, documents, understandings that were forged as part of these talks and the final agreement that are not being share with the United States, the American people, or the Congress? Any deals at all?

AMBASSADOR RICE: So let me be very clear: From our vantage point, as we’ve said repeatedly, this is a good and strong deal that will verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And we think it serves our interest and that of the region and the international community. And when Congress has the opportunity to review it in detail, we think that they will come to the same rational conclusion.

Now, we have provided Congress with all of the documents that we drafted or were part of drafting, and all documents that have been shared with us by the IAEA. So there is nothing that we are holding in our possession that we had either any role in crafting or were given to us that has not been given to Congress.

On the issue of PMD — possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program — there’s no secret. Iran and the IAEA, as is the custom and is the expectation — this has always been an issue between Iran and the IAEA — negotiated and concluded an agreement to deal with this issue of PMD, which was one of the major sticking points in our dealings with Iran in the context of the P5+1. You’ll recall there was some question as to whether this issue would be adequately addressed.

The IAEA and Iran did reach an understanding. As is always the case, that is an understanding between the country in question and the IAEA. These documents are not public. But, nonetheless, we have been briefed on those documents. We know their contents. We’re satisfied with them. And we will share the contents of those briefings in full in classified session with the Congress.

So there’s nothing in that regard that we know that they won’t know.

MR. EARNEST: Bob, I’ll give you the last one, then Susan has got to go.

Q Madam Ambassador, let me ask you a gut question now. You spent how many weeks in Vienna offhand, other places negotiating this deal. What is it like when you hear a lot of Republicans up on Capitol Hill wholesale ripping it apart?

AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, frankly, I didn’t, myself, spend all those weeks in Vienna. Out of deference to those who did, I don’t want to claim that same badge of honor. But, in seriousness, obviously we were all working very intently on this. This is a good deal. It does what we set out to do.

Let’s recall what the objective was. The objective was, if possible, through negotiations, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That was the critical threat from the United States’ point of view that we were most concerned about. That’s what Israel maintained was an existential threat to Israel and countries around the world were agreed on was the priority.

So against that backdrop we painstakingly built a sanctions regime over many, many years that involved the entirety of the international community to put unprecedented economic and other pressure on Iran with the express aim of getting Iran to the negotiating table, and if we could get Iran to the negotiating table, to use that economic pressure to obtain a verifiable, strong agreement that prevented Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That’s exactly what we did. So the goal was set; the means were put in place; the outcome was achieved.

And to the extent that people may have questions or concerns about particular aspects of the deal, we are at their disposal to address them. But as somebody who has been thick in this and studied it very carefully and participated in its creation, we could not have reasonably achieved through the imposition of sanctions and diplomacy a more effective means of preventing Iran verifiably from achieving a nuclear weapon.

There is unprecedented transparency, unprecedented inspections, 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities, the dismantling of their heavy-water facility at Arak, the reduction by 98 percent of their uranium stockpile, two-thirds of their centrifuges are gone — and all in the context of the United States and the international community having full knowledge and transparency about what they’re doing.

That’s, in our view, the definition of what we set out to accomplish, and we’re gratified that that deal has been achieved.

Thank you.
 

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