The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
January 26, 2015
BY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST,
SECRETARY OF COMMERCE PENNY PRITZKER,
DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR BEN RHODES,
COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT JOHN PODESTA
AND CEO OF MASTERCARD AJAY BANGA
New Delhi, India
2:01 P.M. IST
MR. EARNEST: Let me just outline the top for you and then we’ll get started with the substance. We’re going to start with a quick briefing on some of the efforts that we have undertaken in the context of this visit to further engage the U.S. and India business communities.
I have with me the Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, and the CEO of MasterCard, Ajay Banga, who are both going to talk to you about some of the activities that are associated with this event today.
The second part of our program will be John Podesta, who will be here to talk to you a little bit about the announcement that we made back in the U.S. last night, which is some news related to ANWR. So he’ll have some details on that. He’ll be able to take your questions on that.
And then Ben Rhodes and I will stand together and be able to answer your questions on a variety of other topics that may be on your mind today. So we’ll try to keep all of this to an hour or so, so we’ll try to be efficient.
So with that, why don’t I turn it over to Secretary Pritzker. She and Ajay will have some comments at the top before they take your questions.
SECRETARY PRITZKER: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you. It’s been an honor to be here in India with President Obama, and meeting with Prime Minister Modi both yesterday and then today for Republic Day.
Our relationship with India has been a central component of America’s rebalance to Asia, and in the last two days have demonstrated that over the years India and the United States have systematically forged an indispensable partnership that’s about shared values and shared interests.
But we have a lot of work to do, and we’ve committed to confronting the political and economic challenges together. In particular, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama recognize the importance of deepening the economic and commercial ties that bind the people of our two great nations together.
To mark this moment of renewed partnership, the United States and India are expanding the U.S-India Strategic Dialogue, which will now become the U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, or S&CD. For the United States, this effort will be led by Secretary Kerry and me.
This agreement establishes a framework that will strengthen our relationship and create new avenues of cooperation between our governments, our businesses and our peoples. The new commercial element of our most important bilateral dialogue will focus on our shared priorities of growing our economies, creating good jobs, and strengthening our middle class.
While we use this dialogue to produce concrete results, we will also use the dialogue to ensure that the United States and Indian businesses — small, medium and large — are in a position to capitalize on abundant opportunities that exist in both of our countries. We’ll also use the dialogue to promote more trade and investment between our two nations. We’ll also use the dialogue to identify new opportunities for economic and commercial cooperation that will improve the lives of both our peoples. And we’ll continue to use this dialogue to address the many strategic and political challenges that the U.S. and India must face together in the years ahead.
Prime Minister Modi and President Obama share the view that enhancing our commercial ties is critical to making our long-term vision of a comprehensive U.S.-India partnership a reality. And that work begins today.
Later today, we will have the U.S.-India CEO Forum. And I know Ajay will talk a little bit about that. But we’ve also, in planning for this trip, put together something called the Infrastructure Collaboration Platform. This is a mechanism that we’re using. As you know, India has put a huge priority in developing 21st century infrastructure. And this is an opportunity and a platform by which American companies will get early awareness of projects, and that the Indian government will help our American businesses and facilitate their way through the bidding process so that our bids don’t get lost on the shelf, if you will.
The other thing that we’ve done is Prime Minister Modi asked the U.S. to have our companies focus on three smart cities, and we signed MOUs for three smart cities. That will allow planning to begin to outline the specific opportunities in each of these cities. We’re also going to resume discussions about how to approach the Bilateral Investment Treaty.
All of these are indicative of a new day in the commercial relationship between India and the United States.
Before I turn it over to Ajay, I thought you might be interested in knowing who the U.S. CEOs are that are participating in the forum.
We have Dave Cote, who’s the CEO of Honeywell; Mary Andringa, who’s the President and CEO of Vermeer; Ajay, who will speak with you in a few minutes; Sanjay Bhatnagar, who’s the President and CEO of Waterhealth International; Ahmad Chatila, who’s the President and CEO of SunEdison; Robert A. Iger, who’s the Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company; Frank Islam, who’s the Chairman and CEO of FI Investment Group; Indra Nooyi, who’s the Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo; Deven Parekh, who’s the Managing Director of Insight Venture Capital; Vivek Ranadive, who’s the owner of the Sacramento Kings and also in the IT business; Daniel Roderick, who’s the President and CEO of Westinghouse; and Arne Sorenson, who’s the President and CEO of Marriott.
We also have a number of Indian companies, including Cyrus Mistry, who’s the Chairman of Tata Group; Anand Mahindra, who’s the Chairman of Mahindra Group; Cyrus Mistry, Chairman, Tata Group; Dr. Vishal Sikka, who’s the CEO of Infosys Limited. And there’s a larger list that we can have the White House give you.
MR. BANGA: Thank you, Secretary Pritzker. And good afternoon, everybody. So what I’m going to try and explain to you is what I see as what’s going on with this relationship. And if you go back to six months, which is when the first visit happened with Secretary Pritzker and Secretary Kerry, and then we had the Prime Minister come to the United States, and now this trip. So in a relatively short time, I think you’ve made a lot of progress, from the perspective of a business person.
We’ve got the DSA sorted out. We’ve got new announcements on foreign direct investment, on railways, defense and insurance. We’ve got the beginnings of land and labor reform that are critical to expanding for all American companies. And all those are great signs of the progress and the importance of the chemistry and the strategic relationship that she just talked about. So that’s good for us.
What we’re going to try and do in the CEO forum this afternoon is don’t expect that they’re going to come out there and make some large announcements of one company dealing with another company, or another business project here. That’s not the idea. The idea is to be able to use the dialogue among these 25, 30 people in the room to help advance what could be stumbling blocks and what could be opportunities that this newly formed strategic dialogue that we are creating on not just the strategy but also the commercial aspect — that’s going to provide the vehicle for us to reach out on both sides of this methodology to both governments and both businesses, and make sure we make progress on the issues and really nail down the opportunities.
So that’s the idea of the forum. It’s not meant to make a specific announcement. Having said that, investor mood around what’s going in the U.S.-India relationship is much stronger than it was. And my own company, MasterCard, in the last year has invested close to a quarter of a billion dollars in picking up two companies in this country. More than 10 percent of my workforce is now in this country. I do an enormous amount of development for mobile payments and for networking engineering and the like, out of this country. And so that’s happened in the last year.
And I think the opportunities ahead of that, not just for my company, but for all the other colleagues whom you heard the Secretary talk about, are tremendous. So that’s what I’m here for — to help you understand that. But there’s work to be done, and I think she said that very well. And in my other hat as chair of the USIBC, we talk about the issues. There’s no hiding from issues, but there’s a lot of progress in a very short period of time.
MR. EARNEST: We have time for three or four questions, if there are any out there. Julie, do you want to start?
Q Yes, I had a question for each of you. You mentioned, sir, in the meetings and talking through what some of the stumbling blocks may be (inaudible). Can you just talk from a business perspective what potential stumbling blocks might be?
And, Secretary Pritzker, have you had any opportunity to talk to the CEO of Westinghouse or other companies that might be affected by the announcement on the civil nuclear agreement yesterday and how they view this, or do they think that was done yesterday is enough?
SECRETARY PRITZKER: I have not spoken yet with the CEO of Westinghouse, so I can’t give you any insight into his reaction. We’ll have further opportunity for that conversation later this afternoon.
MR. EARNEST: So Ben will be up here to answer some questions on this a little bit later. Westinghouse I know has put out a statement today on this to talk about the deal.
Ajay, do you want to take this?
MR. BANGA: Sure, a quick commentary. The fact is that there’s basic starting point impediments. The first one is on taxation issues. It’s not really about — the fact that they’ve said they’re unlikely to get new retrospective tax actions is a very good sign. We take that well. But there’s a whole lot of pending cases. And for a CEO and an investor having hundreds of millions of dollars of pending cases in your balance sheet is not a nice place to be.
So we’d love to get some resolution on those, love to see progress on the transfer pricing agreement and the general sales tax, the GST, which unifies all the taxes across the country, making it easier, by the way, not just for us but for Indian investors and Indian companies to do business in India. It’s useful for everybody.
So I think there’s progress happening in all of those and that’s one of them. The next big one is to move on with a conversation that’s actually going to get covered through the intellectual property area. And there’s a lot of discussions going on between parties on both sides, governments and individuals, on how to make progress. And India is looking at a new IT policy, and all we’re saying is consult with investors and companies so when you do produce your policy it represents the best of both sides and the best of both ways of thinking.
Then there’s other stuff a little further. This Prime Minister got elected on the idea of creating a million jobs a month and improving the quality of life of his people, and we think there are three ways to do that. And U.S. companies bring capital, technology and IT people to help in all three: manufacturing, tourism, and infrastructure.
And you’ll see from the list that Secretary Pritzker announced, the list of attendees at the CEO forum are actually a pretty good representation of all three of those areas in a way to advance that conversation.
Q I just wanted to ask the reservations the U.S. had on the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal, have they all been addressed? And is the deal completely —
MR. EARNEST: We’ll get to the civil nuclear deal when Ben comes up here near the end of the briefing, okay?
Any other questions?
Q I’d like to get from both of you, if I may. There’s been a number of different numbers that have been put out there, speculation about where this relationship can go and what it can mean for the U.S. economy. Can I get some sense from both of you of what you think of this new direction; you think it could — what it might mean in terms of investments, in terms of jobs? What’s the tangibles that may come out of this?
SECRETARY PRITZKER: Today you’ve got I think about $100 billion of investment in — Indian companies in the United States employ about 43,000 people, about $11 billion of investment. And the opportunity in terms of investment in the United States is significant. So tomorrow morning, for example, we’ll have a SelectUSA event where we’re meeting solely with Indian companies to talk about their interest and their impediments to investing in the United States. Today, the conversation is really a two-way conversation about investment of American companies into India, as well as Indian companies into the United States.
I’ll just say I’ve spent 27 years in the private sector before I took this job; been in this job about 18 months. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to I think 27 or 28 countries around the world. The momentum that has happened in the last four months between the United States and India as it relates to the commercial sector is really something very rare and seen maybe in one or two other countries around the world where we’re interfacing. And the intention of the leadership — and you see it not just in the Prime Minister but also in the ministers who have to actually execute — their enthusiasm, their focus, and then even in the areas of, for example, infrastructure. Infrastructure is ultimately local. And in dealing with the chief ministers, which are the equivalent of our governors — I’ve met with several of them in cities where we’re engaging in the smart city activities — they are very focused on what can get done quickly.
And they’re also focused on the impediments, which is right now the financing. We need to work on how there’s greater municipal financing. In fact, the Department of Commerce has offered to provide commercial law development programs to deal with issues like insolvency and other legal issues so that a municipal finance system can be put in place.
But there is enormous momentum and action happening. And you hear it, as Ajay talks about what’s happened, you hear us — we talk about in very short order we’ve been able to put in place mechanisms for us to identify actual projects. And there’s a real focus on deliverables as opposed to just dialogue.
MR. EARNEST: Ajay, do you have anything to add?
MR. BANGA: Yes, I could give you a couple of numbers to add to what the Secretary just said. The first one is that when the Prime Minister was in D.C. in September, we had polled the member companies of the U.S.-India Business Council. Only 25 percent of them is what we polled; just didn’t have the time to get to the others. Those 25 percent came back with between $40 and $42 billion of investment plans for the next three to five years in India. Just one number as a sense of magnitude.
The second one is current two-way trade between the countries is $100 billion. And, yes, that’s up a great deal, and defense is a shining star in that number, but I think that you could be looking at a really ambitious opportunity which could multiply it four or five times over the next decade. And that would make us real trading partners of size, volume and quality.
And that’s why the BIT conversation is so important. India is going to become a large exporter of capital over the next few years. It’s not just us bringing capital to India, it’s going to be both ways. That BIT is in the interest of both sides of investment for making it work for both avenues of how we invest in each other’s countries.
MR. EARNEST: Michelle, I’ll give you the last one.
Q One thing we didn’t hear very much during this trip was on intellectual property. I think you touched upon it there, but how much did that figure into the discussion, especially as it regards the pharmaceutical industry?
SECRETARY PRITZKER: That will be part of the conversations that occur tomorrow. I’ll actually have a number of meetings with my counterparts tomorrow to begin to lay out an agenda, specific agenda.
Intellectual property is definitely on the agenda, tax is on the agenda, land ownership is on the agenda. There’s a number of things that we need to deal with. And the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue now creates a vehicle for us to really address and resolve these issues. One of the things we’re looking to this afternoon from the U.S. and India CEO forum is really to help fill out that agenda.
MR. EARNEST: I promised the Secretary she wouldn’t be late for the CEO forum, so thank you for coming. Mr. Banga, thank you for your time today.
Up next, John Podesta, who is Counselor to the President, will talk about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge announcement that we made earlier today.
MR. PODESTA: We’ll change places in the world here for a second. Sunday morning, East Coast time last night, the President announced via video that he intends to ask Congress to designate 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Wilderness and Four Rivers — in the Refuge and Wild and Scenic Rivers program.
In connection with that announcement, the Department of Interior released a comprehensive conservation plan for the entire refuge after more than four years of extensive research, planning and public consultation. This is the first time a President has called for the Coastal Plains within the refuge to be designated as wilderness.
Since 1980, under the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, oil and gas development is prohibited in the refuge. But for more than 30 years, we’ve seen repeated efforts and political battles over the Coastal Plain of the Arctic, in particular to open the area for oil and gas leasing.
The 19.8 million acre National Wildlife Refuge is home to the most diverse wildlife in the Arctic, including caribou, grizzly, polar and black bears, gray wolves and musk oxen, more than 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species, and 42 species of fish call the vast refuge home. Lagoons, beaches, salt marshes, tundra and forest make up the remote and undisturbed wild area that spans five distinct ecological regions.
Simply put, the Coastal Plains, known by Alaska natives as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” is too precious not to protect. And while it is currently administration policy to prohibit the development in the Coastal Plains, President Obama believes that those protections should extend in perpetuity through a wilderness designation, the highest level of public land protection in the United States.
Currently, less than 40 percent of the 19.8 million acres of the refuge are designated as wilderness. That requires congressional legislation, and that’s what the President is asking the Congress to do. The United States today, of course, is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. We’re importing less oil than we have at any point in almost three decades. The administration continues to support oil and gas development, but there are some places, as I said, that are just too precious not to protect.
So we’re taking these actions administratively through the conservation plan, and we’ll be seeking legislation to make those areas of the refuge that I mentioned permanently designated as wilderness.
So I’ll take any questions on this.
Q So, John, is that carried through the President’s administration at least if Congress does not act and then the next President would decide? Or how does that designate —
MR. PODESTA: Yes, the conservation plan will certainly carry through and will be in place. The last time a full conservation plan was put in place was in 1988, so you do the math; it takes a while to do the studies and management tasking at the Department of Interior to create a new conservation plan. That’s what they’ve been up to since 2010 and 2011. And they’re issuing their final EIS in conjunction with this announcement. That will be final through a record of decision in 30 days. It is open now to the public that those documents will be released, or will be released on Monday in Washington.
MR. EARNEST: Roberta.
Q Republican senators have vowed to fight this, and I guess I’m just wondering how confident you are that what you’re proposing or what you’re doing is going to withstand that kind of political challenge.
MR. PODESTA: Well, I think that, as we’ve seen, a number of the administrative actions, executive actions that the President has taken under existing laws and authorities that he has — and I mentioned a couple — have been opposed by Republicans in Congress. I was hoping that a more balanced reaction would be forthcoming from some of the people who have commented on this.
This is being done in conjunction with an aggressive — for example, an aggressive leasing program in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska over the last several years under the President’s direction. The Interior Department has leased out for oil and gas exploration available tracts in that area, which is to the west of the Coastal Plains of the refuge. The latest example of that was in November when 3 million acres and 270 tracts were leased for oil and gas development. Conoco expects to start producing at a place called Colville Delta and the National Petroleum Reserve later this year.
So we’ve tried to work with producers, including Shell, which is drilling offshore in the Arctic. But the Coastal Plain, with its magnificent wildlife and its important place in the ecosystem — it’s the birthing grounds for the porcupine caribou — is just a place that should be off-limits to oil and gas drilling.
So we hope that we can find cooperation so that that wilderness designation ultimately can go through in the Congress. But we don’t think that the reaction that particularly Senator Murkowski had to this announcement was warranted. And we will continue to work to try to find balance so that there will be drilling — continued drilling in Alaska, and it’s done in conjunction with the Alaska state lands that are being leased for oil and gas exploration, continued exploration in the Arctic on the offshore side. But again, we feel very strongly that the Coastal Plains should be protected.
MR. EARNEST: Angela, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks. On a more local environmental topic — the air quality, as we all know from breathing it for the last few days, is very poor right now in New Delhi. Was that a concern at all about bringing the President here where the air quality is so poor? And then on a bigger-picture note on that, is he optimistic that any of the changes that he and the Prime Minister agreed to yesterday will affect a change for the better in air quality whenever he comes back to India?
MR. PODESTA: I think we also saw this when we visited Beijing and made the joint announcement in Beijing. But specifically with respect to coming here — no, I think the President has traveled to many places where the air is bad for one reason or another. I think in Delhi, I think particularly at this time of the year, the air quality deteriorates. But I think we weren’t concerned about bringing the President here for these meetings.
Look, this has become an important topic — the effect of pollution, including from the burning of fossil fuels, on the public health of citizens all across the globe, and it is true here in India. I think the aggressive program that the Prime Minister announced and that we talked about, and talked about our ability to partner with India to help produce 100 gigawatts of solar power between now and 2022, is part of a shift across the globe towards cleaner forms of energy, which has benefits with respect to the climate and protecting against climate change, but they have enormous public health benefits as well.
We also announced a new partnership that will be led by EPA to try to improve, through their megacity program, to try to directly work with the Indian government and the Indian people to both monitor the air quality in major cities in India and to try to begin to mitigate the effects of pollution. So I think the shift, again, from dirtier forms of energy to cleaner forms is on its way across the globe, and it is being done in conjunction with tackling the problem of climate change.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, John. So I just want to do two other pieces of housekeeping with you before I turn it over to Ben to do an overview of the visit here to India. And then he and I will both remain up here to take your questions for a few minutes here.
The first piece is that, earlier this morning, the President was briefed on the winter storm that is intensifying and approaching the northern Mid-Atlantic and New England. The President received that briefing. I can tell you that White House officials have been in touch with state and local officials up and down the Eastern Seaboard to ensure that they have the resources necessary to prepare for and then immediately respond to the storm.
I can tell you that, as usual, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-positioned assets in the region so that they can assist state and local government officials who will be responsible for the immediate response. I know that they also have already been in touch with these counterparts and the local emergency officials in many of these communities. And the President has directed FEMA to keep him apprised of the ongoing situation, and to make sure that the resources that are necessary to respond to the storm can be provided, again, as I said, to the state and local officials who are responsible for that response.
The second piece — many of you have been asking about the logistics for tomorrow. The President will give a speech here in India, as previously scheduled. He also is scheduled to do an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN. After that interview, that President will fly to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as all of you know.
The President’s schedule on the ground in Saudi Arabia is something that we’re still working through with our Saudi counterparts. We are working to make sure that there will be some press access to those activities for the pool that is traveling with the President. We would not anticipate that there will be any sort of coverage opportunities in an open press setting, but we are working to make sure that there is some access that is afforded to the travel pool.
After the President’s activities in Riyadh, we’ll fly out to Germany where we’ll refuel and then return back to Washington — not all that much later than had previously been scheduled.
So we’ll have a lot more details on the schedule, probably not by the end of the day today, but hopefully by tomorrow or prior to departure.
With that, Ben, do you want to do a little overview of the India trip and then we’ll take some questions?
MR. RHODES: Well, we covered some of this yesterday, but I think it’s worth stepping back and just going through the meetings and discussions that the President had with Prime Minister Modi yesterday. They essentially spent the entire afternoon and evening together, and were together today at the Republic Day festivities as well.
With respect to the meetings yesterday, just to go through the key elements of the discussion, the first working lunch focused really on strategic issues and where we can build cooperation. An important topic of conversation was the Asia Pacific region. India has an Act East Policy that intersects very well with our Asia rebalance policy. And the two leaders talked about how we can cooperate more effectively in the Asia Pacific behind issues like strengthening rules of the road; resolving territorial disputes consistent with international law; strengthening cooperation among countries like the United States and India, but also working multilaterally with partners like Japan and Australia and the ASEAN countries. And they discussed the relationship with China.
Following that discussion, they focused on the security cooperation between the United States and India on a bilateral basis. That includes the important announcements that were made yesterday about our defense relationship — a 10-year renewal of our defense framework; also the initiation of, for the first time, for joint production projects. Again, this will draw us closer together; increase joint exercises, exchanges. Again, increased cooperation, both in terms of acquisitions and tangible cooperation on the defense sphere. So we see the defense relationship as one that is growing here in this part of the world. And also, the United States has an important export relationship and defense with India.
In that context, the two leaders also discussed cybersecurity, and this was identified as an area where there can be increased cooperation. Michelle had the question about intellectual property. The cyber discussion came up specifically in that context with the need to protect intellectual property.
Counterterrorism issues were discussed and the continued intelligence-sharing relationship that we have, and the law enforcement and intelligence cooperation that is very important to both countries.
The situation in Afghanistan, the leaders reviewed, including India’s continued commitment to the Afghan government. They discussed the Iran negotiations. And India has been a partner in the sanctions regime and has taken steps recently to ensure they’re in line with their reduced Iranian oil purchases.
And they discussed the support for democracy and human rights that are so fundamental to the U.S.-India relationship, and what we can do to lead by example and also to advocate for those values around the world.
Then, in the economic sphere, they discussed a range of issues. Of course they welcomed the breakthrough that was achieved on the civil nuclear issue. They discussed climate change and clean energy, which John dealt with. And they discussed ways to continue to bolster our trade and commercial ties. And they discussed the ongoing discussions around immigration reform in the United States where there are so many Indian-American and Indian immigrants.
So it was a very broad discussion. I probably didn’t cover every single issue, but I think those were the key elements. And again, we leave here tomorrow very pleased with both the tangible progress on issues like the civ-nuc agreement, the defense agreements, the clean energy cooperation, but also I think feeling as if space is open for a much broader U.S.-Indian collaboration on regional and global issues and on trade and commercial relations.
The signal that is being sent from President Obama and Prime Minister Modi into their own respective governments I think is going to catalyze a lot of activity, and we’re going to see where we can take this relationship. It also sends a message to the world, I think, that the U.S. and India are going to be closer partners going forward. And that’s entirely consistent with the President’s focus on the Asia Pacific region and building closer relations with emerging powers, particularly the world’s largest democracy here in India.
I’ll stop there and take questions.
MR. EARNEST: Jim.
Q Ben, a couple things. On this relationship, can you talk to us a little bit about what role chemistry plays in foreign policy? Is it really that important that they like each other?
MR. RHODES: It’s critically important, Jim. I think that — I’ll put it this way: The U.S.-India relationship is something that people have looked at for many years and thought this is a relationship that should go to a different level; that we have a lot of overlapping interests in counterterrorism and economic growth in the region. We have a shared sense of values as democracies. And yet, it was hard to get out of the old habits of mistrust, some of which are embedded in our own respective systems. And it was hard, frankly, with all the other priorities that each country has in the world, to put in the time and energy into improving the relationship.
And I think what’s happened here is Prime Minister Modi came to office and made a very deliberate decision to say the American relationship is a priority for me. And then when the two leaders were able to spend time together in Washington and have very extensive discussions, I think they found that they had a meeting of the minds about where they were trying to go here; that a lot of the things that they’re trying to do in their foreign policies and within their own countries overlaps. And so that opens up a space for cooperation.
And I think what you get out of the personal relationship is, frankly, leaders say we can’t kind of accept the status quo anymore, that we have to get things done together. And they send that signal down into their systems, and that allows you to I think make the type of progress we did on the civil nuclear side, but also it creates a new conversation and a new space for trying to envision what the U.S. and India can do together.
Again, when you talk about a much broader defense and security relationship in the Asia Pacific region, when you talk about how to overcome some of the economic irritants that have been a ceiling on the relationship, and when you talk about, frankly, what’s going to have to be a very difficult process leading into Paris of trying to achieve a climate change agreement, the ability to reach out and go leader to leader is ultimately what breaks logjams. And having that close, personal relationship, that proves to be an important asset.
Q And just to follow, was the President at all uncomfortable at this parade for a couple of reasons? Number one, he has a Nobel Peace Prize and in front of him was parading an hour’s worth of weaponry. And number two, those weapons were largely Russian and very few United States — anything from the United States. Did that make him uncomfortable in any way?
MR. RHODES: Well, on your latter part, the United States is quickly moving towards surpassing Russia as a defense exporter to India. So that balance has shifted over years. India obviously has a longstanding defense relationship with Russia, but our relationship is on the upswing. And so we’re very confident in the increasing defense ties, even though we recognize there’s a longstanding and legacy relationship with Russia. Which, by the way, is part of that context — right? It’s a Cold War context. That has been in the past part of the source of difference and mistrust between our two countries. We’re moving beyond that.
But in terms of the President’s view, look, I think what’s important is not so much what is the particular float or military item that goes past the President in a parade; it is what is the system that is embraced by the country that the President is visiting. And here in India you have the largest democracy in the world; they just had the largest democratic election that’s ever been held. And so they set an example to the world that you can be strong and you can have a growing economy and you can lift tens, if not hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through a democratic system. And I think that’s what ultimately is important.
Lots of countries have big militaries; lots of countries have military parades. I think what the President is comfortable with is the fact that this is a democracy and that its strength, India’s emerging strength is buttressed by those democratic values. And that was part of their discussion yesterday, the fact that in today’s world, the ability for two democracies of our size to be cooperating together sets a positive example.
Q Just one for Josh, if I could. Just before you came in, Josh, there were local reports in Washington, D.C. that a drone — a small drone — penetrated the White House and the grounds. Do you know about that? And at this point, are any members of the First Family at the White House?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of those reports, Jim. We’ll have to follow up with you in terms of —
Q What was the question?
MR. EARNEST: The question was about there were reports that a small drone may have penetrated some of the areas around the White House, and so Jim was asking about the wellbeing and whereabouts of some members of the First Family.
I don’t have any reason to think at this point, Jim, that the First Family is in any danger. But we can certainly follow up on those reports based on what you’ve asked.
Yes, ma’am, you asked about the civilian nuclear agreement. Would you like to repeat that question now?
Q Yes. Just to get a sense of the breakthroughs you talked about. Are they only in terms of the conversations and the reservations that you have had, or an actual deal has been worked out over the next concrete steps of the agreement?
MR. RHODES: No, I think it’s the latter. The two governments have reached an understanding, they’ve reached an agreement about how to resolve the issues that have been I think a break and a logjam for the last several years. So when you look at the administrative arrangement that we’ve reached an understanding on, this will provide for the necessary information sharing and contact between the two governments, for us to feel like we can move forward in implementing the 123 Agreement.
And then on the issue of liability, the Indians have put forward an approach in which they’re creating an insurance pool, and committed financial resources to that pool that will mitigate risk for companies that are doing business here in India.
So in terms of the two governments, we believe that we have reached an understanding on these critical issues that have been an impediment to moving forward in the last several years. At the same time, it’s ultimately up to U.S. companies to make their own determinations about whether and when to invest in India and to move forward. I think you saw statements from Westinghouse, GE welcoming this step forward. Again, we’ll be consulting with them; the Indian government will as well.
But in terms of the work that the governments have done together through a contact group the two leaders empowered here, we believe that this was a significant breakthrough and we now have the framework to move forward in implementing the 123 Agreement.
Q Ben, what is the agenda in Saudi Arabia? Is it just to pay respect? Does the President want to have a bilateral conversation with the new King that is substantive and on points — specifically Yemen, but other regional issues? And can you describe — what is the understanding on information-sharing with tracing civil nuclear material that comes into India? That was a huge stumbling point. The United States wanted to be able to track it; the Indians, for sovereignty reasons, did not. They wanted it to be a more international construct. What is the understanding on that particular point?
MR. RHODES: Major, the understanding is that the U.S. and India, through this contact group, have discussed mechanisms for information sharing so that the Indians are providing us with information and that we have lines of communication open that meet our concerns that we will have a sufficient understanding of how India is approaching nuclear security, how it is managing nuclear materials. And again, we believe that that is sufficient for us to move forward with the agreement.
Q Okay. And what’s up in Saudi Arabia?
MR. RHODES: So with respect to Saudi Arabia, principally, of course, the United States delegation, led by the President, is going to pay respects to the memory of King Abdullah, a longstanding partner of the United States, and also to meet with the new King, King Salman. And I think, principally, I think this is to mark this transition in leadership and to pay respects to the family and to the people of Saudi Arabia. But I’m sure that while we’re there they’ll touch on some of the leading issues where we cooperate very closely with Saudi Arabia.
And clearly, that would include the continued counter-ISIL campaign where the Saudis have been a partner and have joined us in military operations in Syria; of course, also the situation in Yemen, where we have coordinated very closely with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries in trying to support stability inside of Yemen; and other regional issues in which the United States and Saudi Arabia often coordinate.
So I think they’ll touch on those issues and it will be a chance for us to make sure that we’re in good alignment going forward where we have overlapping interests. I think you saw the King send a signal that he’s committed to continuity in terms of Saudi Arabia’s approach to those issues. But again, I think we’re well placed to continue cooperation. And frankly, we also have very good relations with Prince Muqrin and Mohammed bin Nayef, two other members of the Royal Family who are a part of the succession plan.
Q Just to follow up, Ben — on Yemen, the President said counterterrorism operations are continuing. How does that work as a practical matter? We no longer have a government providing intelligence or any kind of coordination on counterterrorism strikes, particularly drones in Yemen.
MR. RHODES: Well, first of all, just to echo the President, counterterrorism operations will continue. We’ve made clear that we’ll take direct action inside of Yemen against AQAP targets. That’s something we’ve done in the past. I’d anticipate us doing that in future. And we’ve done so in coordination with Yemen.
And I guess the way I’d put it, Major, is, first of all, we have significant ability to develop intelligence and to try to track down terrorist targets that has built up for many years, and that, yes, draws on cooperation with Yemen and also our own intelligence assets.
What I would also indicate is that we continue to have a broader relationship in Yemen that includes the security forces who we’ve collaborated with in the past, as well as the political leadership. And I think what we want to see going forward is a political process that can restore stability. And again, the United States is well acquainted with many of the different actors inside of Yemen. And we’re confident that if we can get the relevant factions in Yemen into a discussion about restoring stability and a political process, that we’ll be able to maintain the type of cooperation we’ve had with Yemen and its security forces in recent years.
MR. EARNEST: Anita.
Q Two questions. First is, (inaudible) — have you see the reports about what they’re saying in China on Chinese state television about that this trip is superficial. You’ve probably seen it, so I won’t go through it all. But I’m wondering if you could sort of respond to that, that they’re kind of mocking this three-day, quick visit that’s not going to be very (inaudible).
MR. RHODES: Well, it’s notable that they should feel like they have to go out of their way to comment on this visit. So I think — what I’d say in response is I think the way in which the United States and India approach the issue in the Asia Pacific is very similar in the sense that nobody is aiming for confrontation with China or even to contain China. Both the United States and India have very close relations with China in many different fields.
At the same time, I think what you see in that the United States and India are committed to a rules-based order in this part of the world. And what we’ve always said in terms of how the United States approaches this issue is that we just want to make sure that all countries are following the rules of the road so that if there are maritime disputes, those are resolved peacefully, in line with international law. And you saw that reaffirmed in the joint statement yesterday from the United States and India that we want to see not an escalation in the maritime space, but rather ways of resolving disputes consistent with the law of the sea and other international conventions.
With respect to trade and cyber issues, the United States has made very clear that we want China to play by the same rules as everybody else. And again, so these are not policies that are directed at China or aimed at holding China down, it’s about what type of order all nations can thrive under in this part of the world.
Q Okay. And then secondly, I just wanted to go back to the question you were asked about the parade. The President wasn’t uncomfortable with the parade. Did he enjoy it? Two hours is a long time for him to be sitting outside. And then he had the tea with the Prime Minister. Did they have other — I know they had negotiations, but that sort of personal time, was he surprised that the Prime Minister showed up at the airport I don’t think he was supposed to be at? So just anything you could shed on the personal interactions they’ve had.
MR. RHODES: Well, they’ve essentially spent most of the last certainly 24 hours together. You saw them yesterday. I guess one thing I’d say is they spent a lot more time one on one together yesterday than we originally had budgeted. When they had tea and they spent some time walking together, they sat next to each other at the dinner last night, at the parade today. So they’ve been having an ongoing conversation over the course of the last two days — in their meetings, when they had their tea, at dinner last night, at the parade this morning. And Prime Minister Modi will be at the CEO event this evening as well.
And look, they’ve established a good rapport. They also taped this joint radio address yesterday in which they took questions via social media from different people across India. And they actually were able to discuss their backgrounds and where they came from, and the fact that it’s unlikely that either of them would have ended up in the positions that they’re currently in. And they discussed, again, how that informs their approach to governing.
I think they’ve continued their discussions about their respective inspirations, whether it’s from Dr. King or Mahatma Gandhi here in India and that common history, that common space that the two nations share. But also I think putting forward their different world views and looking at the future of the Asia Pacific, the future of democracy, and how the United States and India can truly align with one another in support of those common interests and common values. I think they have a lot in common in terms of their personal stories, but they also have a common view of where they want to take the relationship. And I think that is what has opened the door to such progress going forward.
Q A couple questions, Ben, on Denis McDonough’s appearances yesterday on the Sunday shows. In one of them, I think on ABC, he appeared to accidentally name an American hostage being held by ISIS. How did that happen? Has the government, has the administration apologized to the family? How has he dealt with it?
MR. RHODES: Well, as you know, Ed, we are in regular contact with the families of Americans who are taken hostage overseas, so I think you can count on the fact that this is a very regular and ongoing series of conversations that we have with any families. I don’t want to read out any individual conversation. But again, we always go to every length that we can to make sure that families understand what we’re doing to try to bring their loved ones home.
We do not comment on specific Americans because what we’re most focused on is how can we best ensure that we are doing everything we can to bring hostages home rather than seeking to highlight an individual case, for instance. So that will continue to be our practice going forward. We’ve said that there are still a very small number of Americans who are hostage, but we’re not going to publicly identify and comment on individual cases. That’s going to be our practice going forward.
Q On CBS, Denis said that we’re at war with al Qaeda. I thought — in almost every time you come before a microphone, and when the President talks about this, he says we’re trying to get off a war footing. He also repeatedly said al Qaeda was on the run, core al Qaeda has been decimated. Are we at war with al Qaeda?
MR. RHODES: Absolutely, Major. You’ve heard us for years say that we are at war with al Qaeda and its affiliated groups.
Q I think you called me — I’m not laughing — you called me Major, I think.
MR. RHODES: FOX News. (Laughter.) You know you’ve been in these jobs too long when I used to answer questions from Major when he was at FOX. If I call Michelle “Ed,” then I know we’ve got a real problem. (Laughter.)
Q We all look the same.
MR. RHODES: So, no, look we’ve always said that we’re at war with al Qaeda and its affiliated networks, that that’s been an ongoing effort. That’s, frankly, rooted also in the AUMF that was passed after 9/11.
And look, we have made great progress against al Qaeda core, and we’ve made this distinction many times that while we have decimated leadership ranks of al Qaeda core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that what you’ve seen is the emergence of different affiliates, particularly AQAP. That’s one that we’ve been uniquely focused on the last several years. So that is how we approach it.
I think in terms of the permanent war footing though, part of this gets at what is the model and the approach that we’re using to go after terrorist networks. And what the President does believe is that we can do this in a way that does not involve the significant deployment of American ground forces. And there, I think, we have moved off the type of war footing we were on when we took office and we had 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That number is now under 15,000.
But when you’re still using force against terrorist networks, you’re still using drones and air power against terrorist networks, and we still continue to train and advise and assist partners as we are doing in Afghanistan, this is still very much a war against this network.
Q Back on the civil nuclear agreement. Mr. Roderick is here today for the CEO summit. Did he travel with the President? Has he been part of any meeting? Commerce Secretary Pritzker says she hadn’t talked to him. Has anybody else talked to him in the last 24, 48 hours? Because this whole agreement is predicated basically on his company and one other company finding what you’ve done to be satisfactory.
MR. RHODES: So over the course of the contact group negotiations, we do regularly have contact with industry to include GE and Westinghouse just so we have an awareness of their concerns and they have an awareness of the types of discussions we’re having. So I’d describe it as a regular series of contacts with industry.
Again, that doesn’t mean that they were at the table in the negotiation. This was a government-to-government set of understandings. And we’ve made very clear that we understand that each company will make its own decisions.
In terms of contact with him in the last 24 hours, I’m not aware of any, but clearly we’ll have the ability to see — ability to see him tonight. Their initial statement, again, welcomed this progress. And look, I think what they’re going to want to see is that there’s follow-through, what does this insurance pool look like, and what is the investment environment here. And we’ll continue to share that information with them and to ensure that we are doing our best to advocate for our businesses.
At the end of the day, it won’t surprise you to know that we believe that GE and Westinghouse would be a tremendous asset here in India, that there’s no better companies for the production of nuclear energy, and that that can be a win-win for the United States and India in developing their nuclear energy sector but also supporting American industry.
Q Just to be clear that he didn’t travel with the President or with anybody from America? He came independently?
MR. RHODES: Yes, he did not travel with us, he came independently.
Q So just to follow up on Major or whatever that guy’s name is on Saudi — (laughter) — could you talk a little bit about why it’s important for the President to go to Saudi this time when we don’t — he doesn’t typically go when foreign leaders or former foreign leaders pass away, with obviously the exception of Mr. Mandela. What’s different about this that stands out?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think there are a number of things that are different, Peter. First of all, there actually have not been — I’m hard pressed to think of many close partners of the United States who have passed away in office. The King was the serving head of state of Saudi Arabia, and so that is different than other circumstances where people who are former leaders may have passed away.
So this is both marking King Abdullah’s life and his partnership with the United States, but it’s also a period of succession in Saudi Arabia in which there’s a new leader who’s taken power. And so this is an opportunity for the President to both pay respects for the life of King Abdullah, who he worked very closely with, but also to meet the new leader of Saudi Arabia and his team.
And then of course we have many varied ongoing projects and initiatives with Saudi Arabia that are very important, including the counter-ISIL campaign, for instance. So this is an area and a time where we’re cooperating very closely with the Saudis. And of course, the President was going to be in this part of the world. And again, given that he knew he was going to be here in India already, it was certainly appropriate for him to stop in Saudi Arabia on his way back to the United States.
Q Has he met with King Salman before? Have they met a lot?
MR. RHODES: They met. So they’ve certainly met in the past, but certainly not at the same extent as King Abdullah. And so this is a good opportunity for them to sit down and exchange views and initiate the relationship as a leader-to-leader context.
MR. EARNEST: I thought of one example actually. Remember the President — was it the President or Prime Minister of Poland that was killed in the plane crash —
MR. RHODES: Yes.
MR. EARNEST: — early in the President’s tenure. And we did make plans for the President to attend that funeral but couldn’t because of the volcanic ash cloud.
MR. RHODES: That’s right. That’s a good example, yes.
MR. EARNEST: So there is a precedent of world leaders dying while they’re in office and the President at least making the effort to try to participate in their memorial service.
MR. RHODES: That’s right. That was a — I forgot about the volcanic — yes.
MR. EARNEST: Isaac.
Q I have a couple of things on Saudi Arabia. Was the President the one who made the decision to go to Saudi Arabia? Was that his call?
MR. RHODES: It was the President’s decision, yes.
Q Well, but he wasn’t involved in the Paris decision, so this was his decision?
MR. RHODES: Well, but, again, I understand the comparison people have drawn to this. But first of all, I think we’ve made clear that we regret that we were unable to send somebody of a more senior level than was represented in Paris.
And at the same time, here I think what you see is it’s a different type of circumstance and that you have a turnover of a government, and you have I think a period of time where different leaders are able to pass through Saudi Arabia to pay their respects and to meet the new King. So there is a difference, although it doesn’t change the fact that we made very clear that we believe it would have been good to send someone of a more senior rank.
Q And just two issues I’m wondering if they will come up when the President meets with the King. First of all, Iran and the negotiations going on over the nuclear program, and the floggings of the blogger Raif Badawi. Is that something that the U.S. is going to pressure Saudi Arabia to stop? Or is that — are either of those on the agenda do you think for tomorrow’s meeting?
MR. RHODES: I don’t think we have a set agenda as we would if it was a bilateral summit. As a general matter, we regularly consult with our Gulf partners — Saudi Arabia and the UAE and others — about the ongoing negotiations of Iran’s nuclear program. So I would expect — it’s certainly likely that the topic of Iran will come up.
And separately, human rights is a topic that we raise regularly with Saudi Arabia, so generally that is something that is on our bilateral agenda. Without knowing exactly what the extent of the meetings and consultations will be and what the precise agenda will be, I can’t speak to individual cases. But I think it will certainly be the case that human rights will be on the agenda with Saudi Arabia going forward, and we raise these types of individual case with Saudi Arabia on a regular basis.
Q Can I just ask one last one? Following up on Ed’s question about Denis McDonough yesterday, did he make a mistake by saying the hostage’s name? Was that the Chief of Staff making a mistake?
MR. RHODES: Look, I think it’s fair to say that we do not believe that it helps for the names of individual hostages to be in public. I don’t want to speak for Denis, but I mean, I think we’re being very forthright in saying that we don’t think that’s constructive to securing their release. And that’s going to guide us on this going forward.
The only other thing I’d say is that we do take a very personal interest in these people in the White House. We know who they are. In some instances people are in touch with their families. And this is true not just in ISIL cases but with respect to Americans detained in other countries. And so I think sometimes people have a personal interest in those issues and that, I think, informs how their thinking about them at any given time.
Q Just very quickly on the Civil Nuclear Agreement — being able to get past one of the big points of the impasse, the tracking of nuclear materials, would you say that was more of a movement on the Indian side in providing more information that we wanted, or more movement on the U.S. side in accepting what they were offering? And on ISIS, is there a chance that India would ever join the coalition? And if not, why not?
MR. RHODES: So on the first question, I think the Indians certainly came to the table with increased information-sharing and exchanges that met our concerns. Again, I don’t think this is a contest of wills, but I do think that it was important for these additional understandings to be worked out in terms of increased information-sharing and understanding of how information will be provided, and also this insurance pool that could mitigate risk. I think these are concepts that were fleshed out over the course of the last three meetings of this contact group.
So we appreciate the leadership that Prime Minister Modi showed in getting this done, building on the work of the previous government but, again, enabling us to get over the hurdle. But we also wanted to find a way through this. And so we wanted to reach an understanding that was acceptable to both countries to allow us to move forward with the agreement and our broader relationship.
In terms of the ISIL campaign, the fact of the matter is, number one, I think given ISIL’s location, we’ve principally been focused on — certainly in our military operations — Europe and Arab partners who can contribute. In terms of our cooperation with India, it has been very focused in this part of the world and the different terrorist organizations that operate here in South Asia, be it al Qaeda, be it LeT, or others.
That said, we do think there is space for cooperation with India on issues like foreign fighters, on issues like terrorist travel and financing. That could be very relevant to the ISIL campaign. So when you look at our broader counterterrorism cooperation and how we’re tracking the flow of fighters and terrorist financing, there I do think we want to find space for cooperation. That will look very different from a country that is providing military resources or training forces on the ground, but it’s still a valuable contribution in terms of counterterrorism.
Q Ben, you said the President and the Prime Minister talked about immigration reform in the U.S. So one of the things that Indian firms want — (inaudible) — is that something that the two of them talked about? What else did they talk about on that issue? And on the nuclear issue, there have been some reports that the insurance pool would be in $122 million. Is that true?
MR. RHODES: I’m not aware that we put a specific dollar amount on the insurance pool so let me — we’ll follow up with you on that if we can confirm a specific number. But again, this would be a substantial amount of resources that would have support from the Indian government and other entities here within India.
With respect to — your first question was immigration reform. So the Indian government raised the issue, as they regularly do. And that does include — it usually does include the H-1B visa issue. And Indians are working in the high-tech sector in the United States, as well as broader India presence in the United States, people who are there on a temporary basis working. And I think what the President indicated is this is the type of issue that we have approached through the context of comprehensive immigration reform and so, given his ongoing efforts to work with Congress in pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform, we would be incorporating these types of issues in that process and would be in touch with the Indian government as that moved forward.
MR. EARNEST: We’ll go to Chris and Roberta, and we’ll wrap it up.
Q I want to follow up on what you said about the signals that was sent to respective governments in a world by this relationship. We know that Prime Minister Modi puts a lot of stock in some of these symbolic things and there was a lot of commentary in Indian media today. And I wonder if in particular there was a particular signal that you think that these last 24 hours, 36 hours have sent to Russia and China, in particular? And if I can ask Josh, since Jim asked the question — I saw you checking your BlackBerry — are you aware of anything about these reports of the drone? Do you know if something has landed at the White House?
MR. EARNEST: Why don’t you answer the first one, Ben. I’ll check my BlackBerry again. (Laughter.)
MR. RHODES: So, look, I think the signal that is important in the region, and Asia broadly, is that, number one, the United States and India are committed to increasing our cooperation and elevating our relationship. And that’s a very deliberate decision that has been taken by both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi, and that will manifest itself in different areas — defense, economic, political cooperation.
Secondly, I think that both leaders I think are very clear that that cooperation is going to be focused in the Asia Pacific region. So you saw yesterday a joint vision statement related to the Asia Pacific. That’s the only region that we addressed in that nature. And, again, we’ve articulated a rebalanced Asia; India has articulated an Act East policy, which is very similar, integrating them in Asia.
I’ll give you actually an anecdote I think that illustrates this. Prime Minister Modi said yesterday to the President, when we look to America we don’t look to the West, we look to the East. And I think the point is that he sees us more present in this region and he sees this as a space where we’re going to cooperate.
And again, the fact of the matter is the purpose of that cooperation is to ensure stability in this part of the world, to ensure balance in this part of the world, so that all nations feel like there’s a level playing field,; that trade disputes can be resolved fairly; that maritime disputes can be resolved fairly and peacefully, in line with international law; that you don’t have a situation where bigger nations can bully smaller ones, but you’re working cooperatively.
And for instance, when President Obama took office, the East Asia Summit that he attends did not exist. This is a grouping that brings together not just the United States and the 10 Southeast Asia nations and China and Japan, but also, importantly, it brings in India. Because we want India at the table. We believe that the region is more stable when the United States and India are at the table with the different Asian countries working through these issues.
So I think the signal is that we’re going to be present here, were going to be cooperating with India here. We share a set of common interests and values in this part of the world. And again, with respect to China, I think that signal — it’s not a hostile approach, but it’s rather one in which we have two very big countries that are committed to upholding a rules-based way of doing business here in Asia, and I think that can be a stabilizing force going forward.
With respect to Russia, again, India has a longstanding relationship with Russia. I think the signal — the most important signal that can be sent is that democracy ultimately delivers benefits for people; that the United States and India, as the two largest democracies in the world, have thriving economies, have a very bright future, and that ultimately if you’re playing by the rules internationally and respecting the rights of your citizens, that’s how you succeed and get ahead.
And what we’ve seen in Russia, unfortunately, is the opposite, whereby you have a nation that is violating the rules of the road, that is violating the sovereignty of its neighbor, and that too often is not upholding those rules of the road.
Again, India will continue to have relations with Russia, but we believe that it’s important for us to be representing democratic values. And again, we’re proud that we’re increasing our cooperation with India in a lot of areas, but we’re not doing that in an effort to push anybody else out of India. We’re doing that because we believe it’s in our interest and in India’s interest.
MR. EARNEST: Just on your question about the device. There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House. Early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat right now to anybody at the White House. But as the Secret Service has more information about their investigation about what they’ve been able to learn about this they’ll share more information on this.
Q You don’t have any information about what that device is specifically, or where it was, or —
MR. EARNEST: I know these are all legitimate questions, and we’ll see if we can work with the Secret Service to provide more information to you on it.
Q — on the grounds of the White House, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: That’s my understanding.
Roberta, I promised you the last question.
Q You mentioned Russia and the importance of following the rules of the road and respecting the sovereignty of neighbors. Did President Obama bring that up to Prime Minister Modi and sort of make the case that maybe you should be more supportive or be supportive of the sanctions that we have against — that the United States and its allies have against Russia?
MR. RHODES: They touched on the issue of Ukraine. The President I think did articulate the importance of upholding the basic principles of the international system — respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. But he did not seek India’s support for sanctions, for instance.
We recognize it’s generally not an approach that India has taken to not just its relations with Russia but generally to foreign relations in terms of joining those types of sanctions efforts. Although, on Iran, they have been helpful. We focus much more on cooperation with our European allies on that front.
Q I’m trying to see if the two leaders agreed to cooperate on specific initiatives to work on that specifically, like increased presence in the region in the waters, or more training exercises?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think, principally, when we look at things like exercises and that type of collaboration, we’ve been focused on the Indian Ocean. But the South China Sea came up in the context of our support for resolving maritime disputes peacefully. That includes ASEAN’s negotiation of a code of conduct with China on the South China Sea. It also includes the way in which claims are resolved. And you saw I think the leaders express support for the notion that claims should be resolved consistent with international law like the Convention on the Law of the Sea. So that I think the broader context for the South China Sea disputes came up.
I think the other thing that came up was the importance of cooperation with different important countries in the region. I mentioned before about, for instance, the ability of the United States and India and Japan and Australia to work together on these sorts of issues. So they discussed the context for many of the tensions in the region, including the South China Sea. I think with respect to joint exercises, the Indian Ocean has been a focal point.
MR. EARNEST: Thanks, everybody, for your time.
3:16 P.M. IST