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  • Mr. Earnest: Good afternoon everybody.

  • Now that Ed straightened his collar, I think we can start.

  • (laughter)

  • Mr. Earnest: We're alays watching.

  • Let me begin with a quick statement here,

  • and then we'll get started with your questions.

  • On Friday, September 12, the President will deliver remarks

  • at a nationwide AmeriCorps Pledge ceremony on the South

  • Lawn of the White House to mark the 20th anniversary

  • of the national service program.

  • This event will kick off a year of service for

  • 75,000 AmeriCorps members from coast to coast,

  • and recognize the 900,000 Americans who have served

  • through AmeriCorps over the last two decades.

  • Additional details on the President's participation

  • in the ceremony will be released as soon

  • as they become available.

  • So that will be something to look forward to here

  • in a couple weeks.

  • Nedra, do you want to get us started?

  • The Press: I will.

  • Thanks, Josh.

  • Now that the President has met with Secretaries Hagel

  • and Kerry, can you give us an update on the timeline

  • for his thinking on Syria?

  • Is there a decision imminent?

  • Mr. Earnest: Well, Nedra, I'm not in a position

  • to read out those meetings.

  • The President does on a regular basis meet with his Secretary

  • of Defense and Secretary of State when they're in town.

  • He does that weekly.

  • But there are obviously a couple of things that

  • they are discussing.

  • The President and his team are closely watching the situation

  • in Iraq and monitoring the ongoing military activities --

  • U.S. military activities against ISIL in Iraq to protect

  • American citizens and interests in that country.

  • We're also carefully watching the efforts of Iraq's

  • political leaders to form an inclusive government.

  • It's important for the Iraqi people and for Iraq's political

  • leaders to unite that country to face down the threat

  • that's posed by ISIL.

  • We have said all along that that is a key component

  • of the comprehensive strategy that the President is going

  • to put in place, and has put in place, to deal

  • with this situation.

  • There is not -- while this obviously is something that

  • drives news coverage and captures the attention

  • of the public, military action alone will not

  • sufficiently confront ISIL and deal with that threat

  • on a sustainable basis.

  • Certainly there's a very important role for the American

  • military to play and they can make a substantial contribution

  • to stabilizing the security situation in that country.

  • But for us to have a sustainable solution it's critically

  • important for Iraq's political leaders to unite the country

  • so that they can have a united front as they confront ISIL.

  • That will allow them to have an integrated,

  • sophisticated security force -- both an Iraqi

  • security force and a Kurdish security force that can

  • be on the ground fighting ISIL.

  • The United States is also deeply engaged in conversations

  • with regional governments who obviously have a very clear,

  • vested interest in the outcome.

  • The United States is also in touch with our partners

  • in Western Europe and around the globe to engage

  • the international community in this effort.

  • So all of that is ongoing.

  • And the President, in the course of the conversations that he had

  • with the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense over

  • the last couple of days, talked about this ongoing effort.

  • But I'm not in a position at this point to give you with

  • a whole lot of detail much insight into the kind

  • of specific guidance that the President has received,

  • or specific updates that the President has received

  • on this situation.

  • The Press: Because he does often talk about wanting

  • an international coalition, does he want to have a decision

  • on Syria before he goes to NATO to discuss it with

  • other world leaders?

  • Mr. Earnest: Well, I would anticipate -- without previewing

  • the meeting, I would anticipate that the threat that's posed

  • by ISIL will be a topic of some conversation at that meeting.

  • There obviously will be leaders of some countries

  • that have a vested interest in that outcome.

  • We also will have the leaders of some countries that

  • we believe can and have already demonstrated their willingness

  • to play a constructive role in dealing with this challenge.

  • But I would not, at this point, set up a time frame

  • for a presidential decision.

  • The Press: Has the President seen the video that Steven

  • Sotloff's mother made appealing to ISIL?

  • Mr. Earnest: I don't know if the President has seen that video.

  • It popped shortly before I came out here.

  • I have seen the video and I've seen the news reports

  • about the video.

  • And obviously the thoughts and prayers of everybody here

  • at the White House and the Obama administration

  • are with the Sotloff family as they endure this

  • very tragic situation.

  • As you know, this administration is deeply engaged and doing

  • everything we can to seek the return of every American

  • who is currently being held in that region.

  • But I don't have an update in terms of the President's --

  • whether or not the President has seen

  • the specific video in question.

  • The Press: Do you know if she ran that by anybody in the U.S.

  • government, and if so, if she was discouraged or encouraged

  • to do that?

  • Mr. Earnest: Well, I know that the members of this

  • administration have been in touch with the Sotloff family

  • on a regular basis, but I don't have anything to share in terms

  • of guidance that was offered to them about the wisdom

  • of doing a video like this.

  • The Press: Do you think it was wise for her to do this,

  • or could this put her son in more danger?

  • Mr. Earnest: I wouldn't venture an analysis on that question.

  • She obviously, as is evident from the video,

  • feels desperate about the safety and well-being of her son,

  • and understandably so.

  • And that is why our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sotloff's

  • family at this very difficult and trying time.

  • Roberta.

  • The Press: You talked about engaging -- the United States

  • government engaging regional governments and governments

  • in Western Europe and around the globe on ISIL.

  • I'm wondering if you can give us a list of countries

  • that that U.S. has approached to be part

  • of the coalition.

  • Mr. Earnest: Well, there are a large number of countries that

  • the United States has engaged.

  • We are obviously in regular conversation with many of our

  • allies around the globe.

  • We have been in touch with them on this particular issue over

  • the last several weeks.

  • The thing that I would point out is that the Department

  • of Defense just yesterday named seven different

  • Western countries who are providing urgently

  • needed arms and equipment to the Kurds.

  • So that's one example of how our allies have been enlisted

  • in this effort.

  • There are a number of other countries both in the region

  • and around the world that have made pledges

  • of humanitarian support.

  • There obviously is a very dire humanitarian situation in Iraq,

  • a large number of displaced persons within that country.

  • There are some religious and ethnic minorities in that

  • country that are still at very grave risk from the violent

  • extremists in ISIL.

  • So there are a lot of ways in which countries around

  • the world and countries in the region can contribute

  • to solving this problem.

  • I think the other important role that I should point out here

  • is there is an opportunity for some of the regional governments

  • that do have some influence over the Sunni tribes

  • in western Iraq that can be enlisted and engaged

  • in the effort to beat back the threat that's posed by ISIL.

  • And we certainly are interested in those governments in the

  • region using their influence with Sunni tribal leaders

  • in western Iraq to engage them in this effort.

  • There also is an opportunity for regional governments,

  • as many of them have already, to step up and lend some support

  • to moderate members of the Syrian opposition who are

  • fighting ISIL forces in Syria.

  • So there are a large number of ways that countries around

  • the world can contribute to this effort, and the United States,

  • as the indispensable nation in the world,

  • is playing a leading role in engaging countries around

  • the world on this topic.

  • The Press: Has the United States commenced

  • surveillance flights over Syria?

  • Mr. Earnest: I'm not in a position to talk about

  • the operational details of the United States' surveillance

  • and intelligence programs.

  • What I think I mentioned yesterday is that there

  • is an entire wing of the Pentagon that is responsible

  • for developing contingency plans for the Commander-in-Chief

  • if and when he should need them.

  • Those plans are based on a number of things,

  • including the analysis of intelligence.

  • But aside from pointing out those facts,

  • I'm not in a position to discuss or confirm reports of specific

  • operational details related to America's intelligence programs.

  • The Press: Lastly, the President met with

  • his economic advisors this morning.

  • Can you tell us a little bit about -- more about that?

  • Mr. Earnest: The President did convene a meeting

  • in the Roosevelt Room earlier today with members

  • of his economic team.

  • This included members of the Cabinet as well

  • as senior economic advisors who work here at the White House.

  • They discussed a broad range of things,

  • including some of the broader trends that we're seeing

  • as it relates to our economy.

  • They discussed, among other things,

  • the labor participation and some of things that we can

  • do to address the labor participation rate as well

  • as the long-term unemployment rate.

  • These are a couple of the issues that are perceived by some who

  • know a whole lot more about economics than I do that this

  • is worthy of some attention.

  • And there was a discussion of some policy options for dealing

  • with and trying to mitigate some of the negative impacts

  • that things like long-term unemployment are having

  • on the economy.

  • But in terms of specific policy proposals or details,

  • I'm not in a position to discuss them.

  • Nadia.

  • The Press: Josh, you stated that the U.S.

  • policy is not to pay ransom for any terrorist organizations.

  • Can you explain to us what's the difference between that and your

  • negotiating with the Taliban to secure the release

  • of a U.S. soldier in return for other people being

  • accused of terrorism?

  • Mr. Earnest: I assume you're referring to the case

  • of Sergeant Bergdahl?

  • The Press: Right.

  • Mr. Earnest: Let me say a couple of things about that.

  • The first is that it is the policy of the United States

  • of America that we do not pay ransom or make concessions

  • to terrorist groups to secure the release of hostages.

  • That is a policy that has been put in place for

  • a couple of reasons.

  • The first is it's well documented that many extremist

  • terrorist organizations use the revenue stream

  • of ransoms to finance their broader operations.

  • In some cases, that's actually the lifeblood of their

  • organization -- is being able to collect these ransoms

  • and to roll that money into broader operations.

  • Secondly, routinely paying ransoms only puts other innocent

  • American citizens at risk of being kidnapped

  • and held for ransom.

  • And the last thing that we'd want to do is heighten

  • the risk even more for innocent American citizens.

  • Now, in the case of Sergeant Bergdahl,

  • the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief

  • and he has a commitment to an unimpeachable value,

  • which is ensuring that we do not leave men and women in uniform

  • behind enemy lines in the hands of the enemy.

  • And the President engaged in an effort that is typical

  • of the end of armed conflicts for there

  • to be prisoner exchanges.

  • And that's what we saw in this case.

  • In this case, Sergeant Bergdahl was returned to the U.S.

  • in exchange for a handful of detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

  • The Secretary of Defense certified that steps had been

  • taken to sufficiently mitigate the threat that was posed

  • by the release of those detainees from Guantanamo Bay,

  • and therefore that transaction was executed and resulted

  • in the safe return of Sergeant Bergdahl,

  • whose safe return we celebrate and are certainly pleased by.

  • That said -- and I'll just finish up with this -- our