November 13th, 2010
05:21 AM ET

Final briefing on President's trip to Asia

Delivered by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes at the Yokohama Bay Sheraton Press Filing Center in Yokohama, Japan

MR. RHODES: Thanks, Mike. Thanks, everybody. We had a good morning this morning with bilateral meetings with Japan and Australia. The President has gone into APEC leaders meetings, and the rest of today he'll have APEC leaders meeting this afternoon; then there’s a cultural program tonight, followed by a dinner that the President will attend.

Then tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m., we'll have a bilat with Russia, President Medvedev - expected to talk about the progress that's been made between the United States and Russia in terms of pursuing Russia’s aspirations to join the WTO, our ongoing cooperation on issues such as Iran, where Russia has been a critical partner in putting in place the sanctions regime and enforcing sanctions against Iran, as well as, of course, our ongoing cooperation on a broad variety of strategic issues - nonproliferation, nuclear security, Afghanistan, transit of our materials into Afghanistan.

Then the President will conclude his APEC meetings later that morning. He will also convene a meeting of the TPP - Trans-Pacific Partnership - midday. This, of course, is part of our trade agenda in the region, as is, of course, our engagement in APEC.

And then we will conclude the program with a visit to the Buddha nearby that the President had referenced he visited before as a child.

I'll just add a couple quick points. In case people missed the readout last night, the President continues to monitor the situation in Iraq around government formation and the progress that's been made towards an inclusive, broad-based government there, which we've been working with the Iraqis to foster for some time, supporting their efforts.

He called, on the flight into Japan, Prime Minister Maliki, and separately called President Barzani of the Kurdish regional government, to again congratulate them on the progress that's been made and to underscore the importance of finalizing a government that is broad-based and reflects the will of the Iraqi people. So that's something he continues to monitor.

With that, Tom can I think come up and lay down the overarching frame of the trip. And then we can take some questions.

MR. DONILON: Thanks, Ben. And thank you all for the time, attention, energy, resources that you and your organizations have put into covering this trip. It’s very much appreciated. I know it’s - you all have really been working 24 hours a day and again, much appreciated. Secondly, I’m going to announce - I think we’re going to add three or four stops. (Laughter.) It’s my second week as National Security Adviser. I thought we’d try to get off to a good start here. (Laughter.) It was Hammer’s idea of a joke. (Laughter.)

So, thanks. Let me do two or three things to start and I’d be glad to take your questions.

First of all, as some of you who were on Air Force One coming into India heard, I laid out the importance of Asia to the United States and to the Obama administration’s global strategic strategy - global strategy.

When we came into office, we had the opportunity obviously to survey the world and to ask ourselves where the United States should apply its resources, time and attention, and where, as we came in, we might be not applying enough time, resources and attention. And Asia stood out as the region of the world that we thought most in need of additional time, attention and resources. And we raised it up as a strategic priority for this administration.

That manifested itself in a number of ways - direct engagement with leaders and the peoples of Asia - and we’ve seen that on this trip obviously with the President meeting a range of leaders in Asia and obviously engaging hundreds of millions of people in Asia during the course of this trip.

That's been the case, though, since the outset of the administration. This trip is kind of the next stage of that and obviously, a very important stage of that. But as I said to some folks earlier, even from the outset here, Hillary Clinton’s first trip as Secretary of State was to Asia. That's the first time a Secretary of State has taken his or her first trip to Asia since Dean Rusk in 1961. And we’ve carried this on in terms of engagement.

An example of that also is China, for example. The President yesterday had his seventh face-to-face meeting with President Hu Jintao of China. Again, a steady engagement - and obviously engaged on economic issues - and I’ll talk about this in a minute, too - but engaged on issues across the relationship important to both countries.

Last week - I was mentioning to Robert Gibbs on the way over - we had - at one point last week the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury were all in Asia, in different parts of Asia simultaneously - I think, again, indicative of the level of engagement between the United States and this region.

We’ve also engaged in terms of reinvigorating our alliances, key alliances in the region, which have been the foundation, really, of security and the platform out here on which the economic miracles have been built, which is stability and security provided by United States presence.

A core of those alliances obviously are the Republic of Korea and Japan - and you heard Prime Minister Kan today quite directly say that United States’ engagement and presence in the region is more important now than ever - and I’ll talk about that, again, in a second. We certainly agree with that.

We also, third, have been engaging new partners in the region and building out partnerships to advance our interests and the interests of the region, and obviously India and Indonesia on this trip were very important examples of that. But we’ve had really what I think, when you look back on it, will be seen historically as seminal visits by a United States President to these countries.

I think the - again, I think when historians look back on the trip to India and Indonesia, again, it’s hard to see or feel it in its full historical impact when you’re working 24 hours a day covering it, but I do think when historians look back it will be one of those seminal moments, one of those iconic moments in the relationship between countries when historians look back on it.

And fourth, we’ve been engaged in building out the institutional architecture of this region in ways that really were not the case, I think, at the beginning of President Obama’s administration. Indeed, several years ago there was talk in this region about building out institutions and architecture and pushing the United States out. You don’t hear that anymore. The United States really is at the ground floor working with institutions in this region - ASEAN, we’re at the ground floor of working on the East Asian Summit Organization that’s being put together here; APEC, obviously where we’re visiting today.

So bottom line here, though, as I start my briefing, is if you take that as our strategic priority - and we’ve been, again, articulating this and acting on this from the few days of the administration - and you look at the sweep of this trip from the first day in Mumbai to today in Japan, I think that the United States has dramatically advanced its critical goals and its strategic interest in the region.

Three or four reflections generally - specifically - on this trip, which I think came across pretty powerfully. Number one, there is a tremendous desire to increased United States engagement and leadership in Asia. At every stop that we’ve been on, on this trip, you had an increased demand for U.S. leadership and engagement across the range of dimensions - security, diplomacy, counterterrorism, and economics.

The United States, like I said earlier, has been a reliable and important partner here. We’ve provided security and balance for a half a century. But, again, as you heard from President [sic] Kan today, there’s a desire in this region for increased and enhanced U.S. presence and engagement in the region.

The second point which I think came across pretty powerfully is that every nation on the trip and at the various conferences that you attended with us has made very clear - indeed, they’re counting on a strong United States and a strong United States economy. Robust economic growth - absolutely critical to these nations. And you heard that very powerfully stated by Prime Minister Singh when we were at the press conference in Delhi the other day.

And third, the region and the nations of this region are looking quite directly to the United States for leadership - leadership of its institution, leadership in setting the agenda, leadership in terms of providing, as I said, reassurance and balance in the region. And we’ve seen this I think, again, at the individual stops that we made, but we see it at the G20, too, and you’ll see it at APEC in the next two days. And I wanted to talk about the G20 in just a minute.

So if you go through the trip, with respect to India, we’ve said that the United States’ relationship with India was indispensible and we said at the outset that we would fully embrace the rise of India, and we did during the course of this trip. It was a very big success - again, as I said, a seminal moment in the United States-India relations; concrete deliverables; broad range of new initiatives; a very successful parliament speech in which our embrace of India as a permanent member of a reformed United Nations Security Council really kind of crystallized that full embrace of India as a partner and that full embrace of India as a major player on the international stage.

We strengthened our economic ties with India, announcing transactions across a range of sectors, totaling nearly $10 billion and resulting in an estimated 54,000 U.S. jobs. We discussed a range of security diplomatic issues with India, and again, I think brought India-U.S. relations to a new level - continuing, by the way, the progress that the United States has made on a bipartisan basis, from President Clinton’s trip to India in 2000, to President Bush’s trip in 2006, and now President Obama’s trip in 2010 - taking the India relationship in terms of deepening it bilaterally, now rising up to a global partnership - again, I think symbolized most clearly by the United States’ embrace of India as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in a reformed Security Council.

In Indonesia, we laid out a Comprehensive Partnership with Indonesia, again, across a range of issues. It’s a very important country, obviously. It’s a regional leader in Southeast Asia, taking on the leader of ASEAN in the coming year; it will host the East Asian summit. And again, I think there - and Ben can talk about this in more detail - from a public diplomacy perspective, in terms of the first point I made about how we're executing our strategy in Asia, engaging leaders and peoples of Asia, a very big success for the United States. And obviously President Obama brings a set of characteristics and ability to engage the peoples of Asia which were on full display I think in Indonesia.

On the G20, I wanted to talk about the G20 from the perspective of - kind of a broader perspective of it as an institution and to try to, again, kind of take a look at the sweep of its short history, really, as an institutionalized organization - being the organization principally to manage economic cooperation.

President Obama really institutionalized the G20 at the leaders level as the principal international economic coordination mechanism. And that was on full display obviously in April 2009, in London. And the organization has been quite successful since then, really managing the global economy through the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Why did President Obama advocate the G20 as being the principal economic management mechanism? The reason is that the prior mechanisms were inadequate to the task. You could have a conversation with five, six, or seven countries and decide on a number of initiatives, but it wouldn't have really been effective or relevant in a global economy. It wouldn't have been effective and relevant in terms of addressing the problems that we faced and that we had really kind of seen that were the source of the economic crisis.

And so the G20 organization, weighing in developed nations, developing nations - indeed, 85 percent of the global GDP represented in that room - was the most effective way President Obama saw to manage the challenges that we faced as a global economy.

This organization, of course, has met four times since President Obama became President. That's about every six months - again, every six months with the leaders of countries representing 95 percent of the global GDP, at the table, talking to each other about challenges. From an institutional perspective, that's an absolutely important initiative here and a really important accomplishment I think of the Obama administration.

And as I said, it’s been effective. If you look again, the arc of the history of the organization, moving through the economic crisis in a coordinated way, and I think preventing what I think most economists and observers would tell you would have been a much more serious downturn and perhaps global depression, and moving through their meetings in Korea, where, again, a number of perspectives, mechanisms, principles were established on a consensus basis. And that consensus and that direction is really important to underscore, I think.

Again, from an institution’s perspective, thinking about this - an I'm more familiar with security institutions, obviously - but thinking about institutions that meet regularly, where leaders talk face to face to each other, where threats are identified, common principles are established, monitoring mechanisms are put in place - the effectiveness I think historically for these kinds of organizations has been very, very important, and the G20 is proving itself to be that kind of organization.

And the agenda for the G20, in addition to it having been established - as Prime Minister Singh said, President Obama is the father of the G20 - having been established by the United States, institutionalized by the United States, the substantive agenda is driven in each case by the United States, moving forward here. And again, I think what’s remarkable about the outcome - and again, you're going to have disagreements. Countries have interests. There are countries at different levels of development represented. There are countries with different systems represented, different perspectives, different politics represented.

I think the extraordinary thing is the degree of consensus that has been established and was on display in Seoul. We had an agreement on the balanced growth framework, where it was established as a matter of principle that surplus countries and deficit countries both had obligations in terms of a balanced, growing economy; an agreement that you would address those imbalances through a range of mechanisms - structural, physical - and for the first time, currency put on the agenda as a piece of the policy mix that should be used in working through imbalances should they arise; agreeing to establish indicia or indicators for - warning signs, if you will, for when imbalances are occurring; and having a monitoring mechanism, a reporting mechanism for dealing with those.

We had - an entire section of the meeting decided important decisions on Basel III, if you will, the capital standards for banks - incredibly important achievement, I think. It took seven or eight years, I think, for Basel II to come into being. But with this organization that, again, has 85 percent of the global GDP, they were able to move on bank capital standards in a year and a half, which is quite notable.

IMF reform, again, moved quite quickly here. And in it, an initiative that had been on the table for a long time - reallocating, again, part of our institutional and architecture initiatives, reallocating the quotas and the board system at the IMF. So moving beyond the details, I think the most important point to understand is as an organization - and again, from a person who looks at security organizations, tries to think about the long arc of these things, it’s been a very important organization and I think quite successful, driven by, in the first instance, the United States establishment, and in each meeting since then, U.S. agenda and leadership.

So rather than being an example I think of a place where you had any sort of unnecessary disagreements, I think the real story there is U.S. leadership, a U.S. agenda, and actual achievement and progress in putting in place, by the way, those mechanisms, agreeing on those principles which are exactly the principles and mechanisms to agree on to prevent the next crisis.

I can then take any questions that you might have, or I can go on for another half hour. (Laughter.) Your choice.

Q You were talking about the Asian countries looking to the United States as a balance, it seemed like you were -

MR. DONILON: For balance and security - yes.

Q Can you talk about where China fits in, in that context?

MR. DONILON: Yes, of course. The United States has a long history, obviously, of relationships, alliances in the region. The United States is seen by its partners and allies in the region as an important source of security, and the United States will continue to meet those expectations and meet those obligations. And as I said, Prime Minister Kan said there’s an important and I think continuing demand for that kind of leadership in the region.

On the other hand, obviously the United States as a principal Asian power is also - has an important relationship and a very large relationship, multifaceted relationship, with China. And I think that the region looks to the United States with respect to China to engage in a positive, constructive relationship with China. We obviously pursue our interest; they pursue their interest. But I think the region looks to us to engage that relationship and manage that relationship in a positive and constructive way.

So if you will, the United States has multiple dimensions to its leadership responsibilities I think in the region - working with our partners and allies around the region. But at the same time, those same partners and allies look to us to manage in an effective and constructive way the China relationship. So we have the deepened relationship with, again, our allies and partners - ASEAN, India, Indonesia, up into Northeast Asia - but at the same time we have pursued pretty aggressively a constructive and positive relationship with the Chinese government.

That’s manifested itself, again, as I said, through our approach, which has not been to deal with China-U.S. issues at summits every year or two, but rather to deal in a kind of consistent way with the top leadership of China through seven face-to-face meetings between President Hu Jintao and President Obama.

I spent a lot of time with the Chinese leadership - probably as much time with the senior China’s leadership as anybody in our administration. And it’s - there’s a breadth to this relationship which is absolutely important for U.S. interests that we pursue on a regular basis. And if you look at it from the outset of the administration, working with China very constructively at the G20 meeting into 2009 to effectively manage the global crisis, through the last few months working with the Chinese, for example, on addressing the Iranian nuclear program at the United Nations - we have a full range of issues that we discuss with them and work with them on a regular basis.

So it’s that multidimensional aspect to our responsibilities, leadership responsibilities in Asia, which I think answers your question.

Q So much of the narrative of this trip has been the President comes to Asia to try to broaden markets for U.S. goods to create jobs back at home. Did you get a sense - and you touched on this a little bit - but did you get a sense that these world leaders feel like they’re getting something out of this relationship as well?

MR. DONILON: Well, as I said, and, Dan, there’s a real, I think, expectation for increased engagement in the region and these relationships obviously are two-sided. And the President has described it I think very eloquently - he did that in India, for example. It’s an economic relationship for which there are benefits for India and benefits for the United States.

With respect to the overall thrust of the effort here, though, again from day one of the trip, the range of transactions that we entered into in India - again, supporting some 54,000 jobs - the trade discussions that we’re having here - as Ben said, we’re going to be meeting with this emerging trade organization of nine countries tomorrow - and indeed in Korea, the KORUS, the free trade agreement with Korea - the President deciding this year to engage with the Koreans on that. It’s a trade deal that had not been going anywhere since 2007 when it was entered into by the Bush administration. We’re working at it, we’re working on it, trying to improve it.

It wasn’t ready at the time of the visit, but I think that the most important thing is, again, the commitment of the two leaders to continue to work on it and try to come to fruition, come to completion on it, in a very short timeframe here. And the most important thing, obviously, is getting it done and getting it done in a way which is a high-quality deal that works both for Korean and for U.S. companies and workers.

So, again, to go directly to your question, countries here I think in this region look to the United States, again, for economic relationships, security relationships, counterterrorism relationships. And each of these relationships are two-sided, I think with benefits obviously going both ways.

Q Thanks for doing this. Back on China. There have been kind of conflicting reports about what the one-on-one - were you in the room for the one-on-one meeting -

MR. DONILON: The meeting with President Hu Jintao?

Q Yes.

MR. DONILON: Yes.

Q There have been conflicting reports on what that meeting was like, and some of them suggesting it was a good deal more tense than had initially - and there was some lecturing back and forth on the currency issue. Could you give us a little more idea of what that meeting was like on the currency issue? And moving forward, is the President satisfied with the direction China is going and do you have any kind of timeline for what’s going to happen on the currency issue?

MR. DONILON: Let me say two or three things about that. With respect to the tone or temperature in the meeting, I didn’t find anything being any more heated than I had seen in prior meetings, frankly. So I don't think that there was any kind of lecturing back and forth. It was a good discussion back and forth about a range of issues.

And, indeed, the President, with respect to the currency issue, has had a number of discussions with President Hu Jintao about the importance of getting balanced growth, a framework in place - about the importance of China contributing to that by increasing their domestic demand and appreciating their currency.

The Chinese have indicated that this is their plan. They made their currency announcements last June. They have announced in their own economic planning their desire to move towards a more domestic, demand-driven growth model for their own interests, to empower their people to buy more goods, and to have a more sustainable growth path going forward.

These are discussions that the President has had with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen on a number of occasions back and forth.

As the President said in his press conference after the G20, I guess yesterday, the Chinese have indicated this is the direction that they want to go in. Now, the pacing of this is obviously a sovereign decision by them. But we will certainly be looking to see the direction and the progress that is made - importantly, by the time of President Hu Jintao’s visit in January I think will be an important time to look at exactly what the quantum of progress has been on this. But the United States would like to see, as the President laid out in his press conference after the G20, he’d like to see China proceed apace on these reforms because it’s important we think to China, but it’s important to the world in terms of a stable economic path forward.

But to answer your question quite directly, Chip, there was not any kind of heated exchanges on any of these issues. I mean, there have been lively debates in past meetings, but this was not - this was a meeting also that included a range of other issues. Currency was probably one of seven or eight issues that were discussed between the United States side and the Chinese side during the meeting that we had with President Hu.

Q Can I follow up on the currency issue?

MR. DONILON: Yes.

Q Is it your sense that the Chinese are - that pressure from the President is moving them any more quickly than they would otherwise go? Or are they simply responding to what’s in China’s benefit given what’s going on in the world?

MR. DONILON: Well, I think that the Chinese have certainly heard not just U.S. concern but global concern about their currency and about getting back in balance here, and about their pursuing a more demand-led economy. So it has been a global discussion. And indeed, it was a discussion at the G20 meeting in the last couple days. So it’s not just the United States. It’s global economic partners of China having a conversation with them about this. And I also think, importantly, it’s been our position - I think it’s true - that it’s in their own interest to move ahead. At the end of the day, China has a huge interest in seeing a sustainable global recovery. China has a very big interest in seeing a strong and robust U.S. economy.

MR. HAMMER: Savannah.

Q Maybe you just answered it, but if you don't see China appreciating its currency with all due course by January, what potentially are the consequences? I mean, what do you do about it when it’s a sovereign nation?

And then, secondly, the President has been hitting on this theme a lot on this trip about how things are changing and Americans need to save more and not have such a consumer-driven economy. And how do you square that with the concept that consumer spending is two-thirds of our economy and spending is what this economy actually needs right now?

MR. DONILON: The latter I’m not qualified to answer. You need to talk to Larry Summers or Tim Geithner about that. And if I began to comment on domestic economic policy, I’d be probably looking for another job, and appropriately so.

So with respect to the first part of the question, again, I don't think it’s constructive for me to get into that kind of discussion. We have been pursuing a comprehensive and positive and constructive relationship with the Chinese across a range of issues. We’ve been working together with the Chinese on a range of issues, global issues and regional issues. We’ve made clear, as have a number of other economic - important economic players in the globe, the importance of bringing the global economy back into balance. The G20 statement, the communiqué lays that out as an agreed-upon principle.

The Chinese have indicated that they agree with that and would like to move towards that. The pace? We would like to see them - we’d have that kind of indicator of the trend and the pace going forward here. The Chinese currency has appreciated since September. But again, I don't think it’s constructive for me to get into kind of a back-and-forth about “what if’s,” frankly.

MR. HAMMER: Scott.

MR. DONILON: Hi, Scott.

Q Hi, Tom. Thanks for doing this. Two quick questions. The first is, could you address a paradox that the President raised yesterday: In empowering these emerging countries, it gives them more voice; the United States faces more resistance at times. How - he says that - and that's a healthy thing, he said yesterday. How is that a healthy thing for U.S. interests?

And the second is, the President has described himself and has on this trip also as a person of the Pacific. I’m wondering if you think the President’s biography that proved so inspiring overseas his first year in office holds that same power for overseas audiences.

MR. DONILON: With respect to the first, I think it goes to what I was talking about earlier, which is that if you want to have an organization that is relevant and effective in addressing economic issues and challenges on a global basis, you need to have the right countries in the room.

I think that's the straightforward answer. You need to have those countries in the room which actually make up the bulk of economic activity. And the - now, there obviously, as I said earlier, comes with that more complexity. When you’ve got, again, 20-something countries that represent 85 percent of the global GDP, you’re going to have countries pursuing their interests, pursuing their perspectives on things.

But the benefit of that at the end of the day is when you have a consensus around a set of principles such as came out of Seoul around responsibilities for surplus countries and deficit countries, and you put in place mechanisms for moving on that, that's effective. As opposed to just being an oratory statement by a smaller group of countries, this is actually a group of countries that can do something about that.

Similarly, when you have a set of countries this broad and deep that agree on IMF reform, you’ve had a full perspective here. You’ve had a debate about moving some of the governance ability from developed to developing countries. You can actually get that done now. You’ve had an important discussion about that. You’ll be able to move it forward. Same on Basel.

So the bottom line is, yes, it does add complexity, Scott. But if you're talking about revising global cooperation architectures, these are a group of countries that can actually make a difference once a decision is made and the value of the consensus reached in terms of actual impact is much greater.

What was the second one - Pacific, yes.

MR. HAMMER: Ben is our public policy -

MR. RHODES: Yes, let me just - on the second one, Scott, I think I’ll just say a number of things. First of all, if you look at the indices we have, which are the view of the United States in these countries, they’ve all gone up dramatically under President Obama and stayed that way - if you look at Pew Global Attitudes for each of these four countries.

Secondly, just to the specific nature of his biography, he spoke to over a billion people in India and Indonesia. And part of what captivated them was his biography. In Indonesia, the personal connection he has with the place kind of validated our relationship in a way that we’ve never had before.

In India, if you look at the coverage, the connection of the President on that second day to young people in India is part of what really made this such a successful visit. Similarly, the connection that, frankly, they just draw from Gandhi to the civil rights movement to the President is something that had huge resonance in India.

So I think in each of those instances of India and Indonesia, in particular - emerging countries, again, countries with huge populations - this particular President was able to connect with audiences there in a way that, frankly, no other American President would have been able to do just because of his unique background.

And that has concrete gains. You heard President Yudhoyono - here’s an emerging power that's - you all saw Jakarta. This is a growing city. It’s on the move, a rapidly growing economy. And you heard President Yudhoyono say that President Obama’s understanding of Indonesia makes it easier for us to cooperate, makes it easier for us to build the kind of partnership that we’re building on a host of issues.

You heard Prime Minister Singh say that President Obama has helped captivate the imaginations of the Indian people, and that was reflected in the press coverage coming out of the visit.

So I think very much the allure of the President’s Pacific background, the allure of his personal story has huge resonance on this trip - again, particularly in India and Indonesia. But if you look at the speech to Parliament and you look at the speech in Indonesia, again, he’s speaking to over a billion people essentially in a few days. It was quite a remarkable piece of public diplomacy. And frankly - and I have that responsibility in the NSC that I can’t - I just don’t think there’s a trip that - in which we were trying to accomplish so much through the President - with the possible exception of Cairo - through just his personal engagements, from his speeches to his interactions with Indians at the town hall, at the Diwali celebration.

And then, again, I’d just point out that it’s hard to remember the esteem with which American leadership was held in this part of the world in many countries. It was far lower when we came to office. And we can - there’s independent data that points to the fact that there’s simply a greater respect for and support for American leadership. And that, again, that opens the doors to deeper partnerships, as you’ve heard these leaders say.

So I think very much so is - it’s very much the case that President Obama maintains that unique ability I think to communicate with foreign audiences and that his efforts to restore America’s standing in the world is directly relevant to our leadership.

Q Is there any comparison between this G20 summit and the climate summit last year when China was at the kind of head of a group of nations that resisted binding targets on emissions? It seems in this case that China was at least in the vanguard of nations that wanted to keep the talk about imbalances and currencies at a principles’ level rather than a level of action. And what does that say about how the U.S. interacts with China in this global forums?

MR. DONILON: I don’t think there really is a comparison here because of the degree of consensus here around the core issues. I mean, there was, as I said earlier, a range of things that were agreed upon here that were at the core of the next steps towards a safer and more stable economic system. At the climate change summit, those were the core issues that were being discussed. Here, to the extent there were disagreements, they were very much to the side of or really not around the core principles here.

So I think the difference - and a very dramatic difference I think is you had 20 countries here who agreed in a consensus way on the kind of core principles and really the framework and taking new steps here on a consensus basis in terms of recognizing what the potential problems could be going forward - that is, imbalances - and what the range of steps that should be taken, policy steps that could be taken, including currency. And China agreed to that for the first time.

And then really, again, any disagreements were around timing and around whether or not you wanted - really kind of not at the core. So I think that’s the major difference.

Q Just to follow up, whereas a year ago things happened a little bit more quickly because of the pressure of the crisis, is it going to take three or four summits over the next three years to get to where you would like some of these countries to go?

MR. DONILON: Well, we’ll have to see how it develops. Again, the leaders set a time frame for looking at establishing these indicators, these so-called early warning signals,

and that time frame is during the French presidency of the G20, which is in the course of over the next year.

Q I just had a quick follow, actually, on Scott’s question, and this may be more of a Ben question than one for you, but it did seem that the President was more effective in putting forth his economic message - when he was engaging with ordinary people and also when he had the First Lady with him, as was the case in India and Indonesia. And I just wonder if you could talk about your choices in the second half of this trip, in Japan and - here in Japan and also in South Korea, where he had mostly business meetings and little of that sort of personal engagement with the population that seemed to afford him better reception.

MR. RHODES: I mean, I’d just say a couple things. There - obviously, the nature of the visit was one in which India was a period of time where we had several days and were able to build a broad program of events. And when you look at a schedule like that where you have time, you’re able to build in interactions like the President’s and the First Lady’s where, again, they were both able to get out, interact with ordinary people, take questions from young Indians, speak to not just leaders but to the populace of that country.

And I think that spoke to the goal of that visit, because the goal of that visit, as we’ve said, was to elevate the relationship. And that demands leader-to-leader involvement but it also demands engaging the people so that they have an understanding of where President Obama wants to take this relationship.

And I think by the end of that visit - and it was interesting to watch the President in India each day because it broke through steadily with each day, and by the end of the visit I think it was clear that he had communicated to a very broad range of the Indian people about where he wanted to take this relationship and, again, why it was mutually beneficial. So we’re talking about economic growth supported back home, but we’re also talking about the United States essentially being an active supporter of India playing a bigger role on the world stage.

Q - if he had that kind of engagement with the people of South Korea?

MR. RHODES: Well, I’ll get to that, but I think - so just to get - I’ll get to Korea, but I just want to walk through the schedule. In Indonesia, the same thing in terms of - it was a much truncated visit, but he obviously wanted to do both leader and people engagements. And, look, Korea and Japan are both built around summits and built around leader engagements. And I think, frankly, the kinds of issues that we are working on here are ones that are very much focused at the leader-to-leader level.

I think that President Obama has had opportunities, for instance, last year in his trip to Japan, to speak to a broader audience of the Japanese people. And Korea, I think we were able to fold into the speech he gave on Veterans Day a message about Korea’s rapid growth and the alliance that dates back to the Korean War, and the friendship that was demonstrated by those Korean War veterans sitting next to their Korean counterparts - American Korean War veterans sitting next to their Korean counterparts.

So, no, I don’t think - I think if you look at, again, crude statistics, the United States is hugely popular in Korea right now - President Obama is, at least - and it’s certainly far more than his predecessor. So I don’t think there’s a correlation there because, frankly, there is broad-based support in Korea for the relationship, for the President. I think what the President was focused on is making sure we get the best deal for the American worker and for our economy.

And so that’s - it’s a different set of issues than when you have a goal like we had in India and Indonesia of reaching a broad populace that we haven’t spoken to before. Remember we’ve been to both of these countries, Japan and Korea, before.

Q Do you wish that Michelle Obama had stayed on where she could have done some of that sort of soft diplomacy for you that the President wasn’t able to fit into his schedule?

MR. RHODES: Well, I’ll say a couple things about that. Obviously the First Lady had to return home. The family obviously comes first. I think what you saw on this trip and, frankly, a lot of the - again, a lot of what we’ve been doing here is summit business.

But I do want to say that on this trip I think her ability on the world stage I think was an enormous takeaway for us. I think in India the events that she did in many instances were among the most successful events of this trip. She clearly reached the Indian people through her direct interactions with young Indians. I think just from a public diplomacy standpoint, those events of her interacting with people from various backgrounds and literally directly engaging young people, hearing from them about their concerns, it sends a very powerful message that we’re not just speaking to the Indian elite; we’re speaking to the broad Indian populace - that she’s hearing directly from them. If you look at the comments that they made coming out of some of those interactions, they were taken aback by the opportunity they had to have that kind of face-to-face and very personal interaction with her.

So I think her star power and her ability to send a positive message about America to the world was a real key takeaway of the Indian trip. But again, since we’ve gotten here, it’s really shifted to a lot of summit activity and that’s what the President has been focused on.

MR. HAMMER: Tom has time for a couple more questions.

MR. DONILON: On the Michelle question, it’s an interesting question, but the trips to India and Indonesia were state visits, visiting the leaders and peoples of those countries. And really - and this was an extraordinarily ambitious schedule that we had as it is. And these - and really in Korea and here has been around the summit, around the summit and these major organizations.

I would second what Ben said about the First Lady’s impact, which was really tremendous on behalf of the United States. It all goes, by the way, to the question Scott asked earlier, which is that one of our principal responsibilities since coming into office has been to restore United States authority, influence, and power in the world. And I think this trip has really made a tremendous contribution to that.

Q When the President says that these summits don’t all - can’t all be home runs, sometimes he’s only going to hit a single, does that kind of lower expectations for all of these summits that you’ve added on an annual basis - East Asia coming up, some of these others? And also, in terms of - Ben talked a lot about the coverage. Over and over again American stories have written up the word “failure” - failure to get the South Korean deal finished, failure to get stronger specific language about China. Are there no failures that you acknowledge in terms of at least short-term goals for this trip?

MR. DONILON: The first part of your question was - I was focusing on the -

Q Lowering the bar by saying -

MR. DONILON: Yes, lowering - yes, I’ll talk about that. Well, I think that the business before the trips is the business before them. But I do think having established them - and it will depend on the context - having established these organizations such as the G20 and setting out a fundamental framework and agendas, that part of the work going forward will be moving forward step by step in a persistent way on that and trying to meet the metrics that get set out, and putting in place and accomplishing the goals set.

So it will depend on the context. If you’re in April of 2009 in the middle of a global economic crisis, when a fundamental set of choices have to be made about coordinating an approach to recovery, that will be - those will be fundamental steps that have to be taken. Well, it’s important to do.

But I wouldn’t underestimate, though, the importance of the steps that were achieved in Seoul, though. These are big decisions by these countries. These are sovereign nations talking about how they’re going to manage their economies and what steps they’re going to take, and coming up with a common assessment of what the threats are to the global economy and what kinds of policy steps should be on the table - what is fair for other countries to comment on, frankly, going forward. And that will be part of this - kind of this peer review kind of conversation. Savannah asked earlier about kind of enforcement kinds of things. Well, the enforcement here is around agreeing, putting in place mechanisms, and then kind of peer conversations across the table.

And frankly, that’s a much more effective place to be. Even if you are sometimes not hitting a home run and sometimes hitting a single, that’s a much more effective place to be - again, from my experience in security organizations –to be, than not having those sessions; than not having this kind of regular interaction; than not having kind of trying to reach agreement on what’s going on here, where are the imbalances maybe in this case - we talk about the economic - where are the imbalances maybe emerging? What should we do about that? What message should we send to X or Y or Z country or countries?

Those mechanisms are very important to put in place. And, frankly, if that flaw in the economic system - and it was a flaw - had been recognized in earlier years and such a mechanism existed, we might not have ended up where we ended up.

Now, on the last part of your question, I’d have to say that my perspective on the G20 I’ve given you, which is I think that any disagreements were really around the margin of this and it seems to me have gotten exaggerated. And I think, by the way, if I were here with one of my Chinese counterparts, I think he would say the same thing - that there were discussions and you want to have discussions, you’re going to have discussions around the table of leaders of these countries. These are big decisions for a country. And you’re going to have perspective. Countries have histories. Countries have politics. So I do think that there was an exaggerated sense, frankly, of disagreement.

Now, part of this was - I forget who asked the question, maybe it was Dan, about the quantitative easing question, for example - a tremendous amount of coverage on the outside - I mean, I’m not the press person and I am inside - I don’t see natural daylight for weeks at a time. (Laughter.) So from what I understand, there was a lot of coverage around the quantitative easing issue. But, again, that wasn’t the core of the discussion that was going on in the room, which was tightly focused on what was in the G20 communiqué.

With respect to the Korea free-trade agreement, again, the United States made a judgment that it was more important to get an effective agreement, one that worked and one that could be submitted with a good chance of passage by the Congress, than it was to get it done on that day.

Now, I understand that there’s going to be commentary on tactics and what gets done, what doesn’t get done on any given day. But again, a fundamental judgment was made that it was more important in the long haul, given that this is going to be a very important trade agreement of a very substantial nature - it was more important to get it right, it was more important to have it in place in terms of access for important American - access for American workers and American companies than it was to try to rush it or force it at that point.

And I think, frankly, if we look back in a short period of time and it’s accomplished, then I think it will turn out to have been the right decision.

MR. HAMMER: One last question. Tom has got to go. We’re going to have to wrap this up.

MR. DONILON: Yes, I got to go.

Q All right, good, thanks. A couple of quick questions looking ahead of the meeting tomorrow on Russia. An AP colleague of mine is reporting that the administration is offering billions of dollars for the U.S. nuclear stockpiles as a means to get Republican support for the START Treaty. Can you comment on the thinking behind that move, and also comment on the message that President Obama plans to give President Medvedev about whether Congress - I’m sorry, the Senate is going to be able to get this done?

MR. DONILON: The START Treaty - yes, okay. With respect to the former, I haven’t seen your colleague’s report. I assume this is around modernization of the nuclear infrastructure. And that is an important priority for the administration. We’ve been clear on that as an administration. Again, I haven’t seen the details, Ben, so I don't know - and we have laid out in our Nuclear Posture Review published by this administration, and in our budget submissions, our commitment to really addressing what had been a real shortfall in funding for maintaining and enhancing the nation’s nuclear infrastructure. So this has been a priority of the administration from early on.

It’s expressly addressed in our Nuclear Posture Review and in our budget submissions. But I haven’t seen the specific story.

Second question was on -

Q New START -

MR. DONILON: Oh, on New START, yes. As the President said, the ratification of the New START Treaty is a priority for the lame duck Congress for this administration. It’s important on the merits in terms of the arms control aspects of the treaty. It’s important for U.S. leadership in the world in the nonproliferation agenda. And it’s important for the U.S.-Russia relationship. So we are obviously very much - it’s a very important priority for us.

Q Is he ready, though, to be able to tell President Medvedev we’re going to get this done?

MR. DONILON: Well, he’ll indicate to President Medvedev what I just said, which is that the administration will be pursuing this as a priority in the lame duck session. Absolutely.

MR. HAMMER: All right, thank you.

MR. DONILON: Okay, thank you all.


Topics: APEC • Asia • Japan • Press Briefing • The Vault

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