Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Deputy Natural Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes
W Hotel Seminyak, Bali, Indonesia
November 19, 2011
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. Love your hotel. I have with me today the National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon, who's here - he can take your questions, give you a brief summary. First he'll give you a summary of the trip and its accomplishments, and then take your questions. Ben Rhodes and I will be here, too, if you have questions that we can take that Tom wants to defer to us on.
And with that, and no further ado, Tom Donilon.
MR. DONILON: Thank you, Jay. Good to see everybody. First of all, let me say thanks for the commitment of your news organizations to cover this trip. I know it's expensive and it takes a lot of commitment on your part as well, and it's much appreciated - because this trip has obviously had a tremendous amount of coverage and thoughtful commentary. And it's just appreciated. I know in this day and age, it's a lot to do. And it's a lot to do for you and your families as well. It's much appreciated, as I said.
I was just going to make four observations about the trip. You've heard a lot from Ben and the area substance folks on our trip during the course of it and I think you're familiar with the general laydown. But I thought it might be useful for me to just take a few minutes to make four or five observations about the trip. And then I'll be glad to take your questions on the trip or anything else that you want to talk about.
Observation number one, on strategy: What we've seen in this trip is the implementation of a substantial and important reorientation in American global strategy. That is the rebalancing of our efforts towards the challenges and opportunities in Asia on the part of the United States. Now - and the President, I think, best summarized this in his Canberra speech before the Australian parliament, when he said the United States is all in. And I think that's what you've seen during the course of this trip.
This has been an effort that we've had underway, as many of you know, since our transition into office. During that transition, we had the opportunity to ask ourselves the following questions: Where are the opportunities of the future? Where are we currently, as the President comes into office, underweighted and overweighted with respect to U.S. effort?
And the conclusion that we reached, among others, is that we were substantially underweighted in terms of our engagement and resource allocation and attention to Asia. And we have been about a three-year effort to address that. And we call this rebalancing - strategic rebalancing, which I've talked to a number of you about over the course of the last three years, as we've laid this out and implemented this during the course of the President's three trips to Asia and many things in between, obviously.
Again, it was born of the observation that we were underweighted in Asia, given the importance of the region, given the economic dynamism in the region, and the strategic dynamics in the region. And we set about, through three lines of quite specific work, to address that underweighting. And they were these: First and foremost, to strengthen our alliances and security partnerships in the region.
Alliances are critical for the United States around the world. Alliances are an essential strategic asset for the United States around the world. They are very different than coalitions of the willing. And they are to be valued by the United States - and we do that, and we've done that in Europe, and we've done that in Asia. Indeed, over the last two weeks the United States has - the President has met face-to-face with each of our Asia treaty allies, and engaged in really the continuing work to strengthen those alliances.
No other nation in the world has the alliance system that the United States has around the world, and it is, I said, a strategic asset of the United States, and one that in this region and around the world we have undertaken to strengthen.
Our alliances in Asia today are as strong as they have ever been. And if you look through the state visit that President Lee and the South Koreans had in the United States, if you look through our work with Japan over the last three years, and you look at the comments from the Japanese government - if you look at the demand signal for American leadership in the region, I think it's pretty clear that the alliances are in good shape in the region - I think in the best shape they've been in in a long time - and the demand signal for U.S. leadership in the region is very high right now, for a variety of reasons that we can discuss.
The second line of work we undertook with respect to strategy in Asia was to engage intensively with the emerging power centers in the region - like China and India and Indonesia. We have been intensively engaged with these nations, and you saw that during the course of this trip. The President had has 10th face-to-face meeting - that's hard to say - the President had his 10th face-to-face meeting with President Hu Jintao in Hawaii this past week. We had, yesterday, a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Singh of India, following up on, really, the historic three-day trip that the President had a year ago this month in India. And of course, we’re hosted here by the Indonesians.
The frequency, the depth of these engagements I think have really paid off. And, again, it’s the United States presence in this region, the United States with an affirmative agenda in this region that is critical. And I think the level of engagement, really, with the emerging powers in this region is unprecedented.
The third aspect of the strategy - and you all have heard me talk about it a lot - is to participate actively and, indeed, help form up the regional multilateral institutions - the architecture, if you will - to be all in, as the President said, with respect to building up this architecture - economic, diplomatic, and security architecture in the region in order to pursue our interest, but the interest of the region as well.
And you can go through this week and have a sense of our vision for the architecture and the development of the architecture, beginning with APEC, where the President hosted 21 economies in Hawaii; the TPP, nine participating, in what we hope will be a fundamental, high-quality trade arrangement in this region, to which other countries will be attracted - and we’ve already seen, as you know, expressions of interest in coming and consulting and joining the TPP by substantial economies in the world; ASEAN - the 10 ASEAN countries, the ASEAN-United States Summit, which is the third time the President has done this since he came into office; and then, of course, the fundamental decision of the President of the United States to participate at the leader level at the East Asia Summit.
We had a debate in the administration about whether to do this. And this goes back to the first thing I said at the briefing. You can sit back and say, well, is the agenda what we want it to be? Is it really moving in the direction that we think would be most useful for the region? And you could ask those questions and never come in. Or you can decide to be all in, and to come at the summit level and help shape the agenda, and help transform this institution, we hope, into the premier institution in Asia for addressing diplomatic security and other issues in this region.
And that’s what the President did. That’s what he led on. And that was the genesis of the decision and why we are here at this meeting - and the East Asia Summit is 18 countries.
So I can talk for a long time, as a lot of you know, about the strategy here. We’ve been on this from the first day we came into office, and I’ll be glad to take any questions on it.
The second thing I wanted to comment on, though, is the scale of the trip. I think that’s important to note as well. As I said, APEC, 21 countries, at the meeting chaired by the President; the ASEAN, 10 countries, and obviously, a fast-growing part of the world; TPP, nine countries; the East Asia Summit, 18 countries all in - the President worked with during the course of this week, some 25 nations in the fastest-growing economic region in the world, had formal bilateral meetings with 10 countries. So the scale of this trip, I think, it is notable. The President’s direct activity, direct encounter with the leaders of this region on behalf of the United States, I think is notable.
The third thing I wanted to make an observation about is the President's comments on resources and the really critical statements that he made in the Canberra speech about resources. It's one thing to make a declaration on a policy basis that the United States is going to be reengaging in Asia as part of our rebalancing effort - and by the way, the rebalancing effort has other aspects to it as well - refocusing on the economy, tightening up our counterterrorism efforts to really focus on the real threats, but critically, here, in terms of regions coming into Asia - but without the resource dedication, those are just words. And without the activity of the President and the activity of the diplomatic corps and programs, those are just words. And the President went well beyond that during the course of this trip.
Indeed, in the Canberra speech, he announced that in the context of our reviewing our budget on the security side for the next 10 years, which is what we're doing now under the Budget Control Act - we're looking at the Defense Department budget and the deductions that need to be made under the Budget Control Act. And as you all know, that has a security side and a non-security side. The security side is the side that I work on. And as the President said in his Canberra speech, he has given clear guidance - one of the first decisions that he has made with respect to the defense budget over the next 10 years is a strategic decision, and that is that we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain a strong military, security presence in Asia.
And there are different ways to go about these projects of something of that scale. Essentially what we're looking at here is a $489 billion reduction over a 10-year period. You can take a percentage cut across the board, or you can engage in a deep strategic look. And the President chose the latter - to say, we're just not going to have reductions across the board on everything; we're going to make choices and we're going to decide to do the things we're going to do well. And with Asia, that means being all in, and doing the things that are required here with the resources that are necessary.
So that was my third observation. Jay told me I could only have four. I had 12 - (laughter.) He looked out - he said, based on looking out the window here, if you get past four you're going to be lucky. (Laughter.) So I'll try my best to contain myself about these things. They keep me away from you, you know, almost physically, during the course of these trips. (Laughter.)
The fourth comment or observation I wanted to make is with respect to trade and the economy. You saw really in direct, concrete terms yesterday the kinds of opportunities that are going to exist in Asia with the announcement of the commercial transactions that the President announced yesterday. We've also had a very important stretch here, notable stretch here, for trade policy generally. If you take it from the Korean U.S. Free Trade Agreement through the WTO accession for Russia, through the APEC conference, through the TPP announcement, and the announcement of a number of countries who want to come in to the TPP, it's been an extraordinary stretch in terms of trade policy - and focused on high-quality trade agreements that focus on the sectors of the future and that are fair and really models. And that's what I wanted to comment on with respect to that. There really is tremendous economic opportunity here. But you have to have an affirmative agenda and lead and put together the kinds of architectures and structures here that you've seen.
So, stopping at four points and, in sum, I think that we have seen implementation here of a critical strategic reorientation in policy by the United States, a rebalancing, if you will - all in, in Asia, for the United States. The region has been looking to it. It has a lot of elements that we can talk about in the question-and-answer period, but nonetheless, from our perspective, we've been able to positively advance each of the key goals that we had for the course of this trip. And I think that's been in the U.S. interest.
And with that - Jay - I'll take questions.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. How do you think China is looking at this rebalancing?
MR. DONILON: Well, I'd say - the question was how China is - how do we think China is looking at this. We look at this from a perspective of our overall Asia policy. And I'll get to your question in just a second. And as I said, our view here is that it's quite important for our interest and it's important for the interest of this region for the United States to put the resources in place, to continue to provide what it's provided for the last 60-plus years, which is the foundation, the platform on which you've seen this tremendous rise in economies here and social development.
And the Chinese know that. Put simply, the United States has done more with respect to the security platform that it has put in place in Asia over the last six decades - it has done more to contribute to the economic rise here than any other country. And the Chinese know that. And I think if you look at their official statements, they recognize, obviously, the United States is a principal Pacific power here.
We've also been quite direct with the Chinese about our strategy here, and I think they understand and appreciate that we are going to meet our obligations here, that we are going to meet our commitments to partners and allies, and that we think it's in the United States' interest, obviously, but it's also in the interest of the region - including, ultimately, China's interest in terms of us having a solid, stable, peaceful region that allows the kind of development I think that's China's top priority right now.
Now, are partners and allies look to us for that reassurance. They want to know that the United States is going to play the role it's played with respect to security and reassurance and balancing and stability here. But they also expect that the United States would engage, as another part of its multidimensional responsibilities in the region, to engage in a productive and constructive relationship with the Chinese. And they look to us to do that, which is why we have had - in parallel and as part of our overall Asia strategy - a deep engagement strategy with the Chinese to manage a range of issues. We have a very complicated and quite substantial relationship with China across the board.
So I think that they understand it in that context. I think that our relationship with China has, in the main, been productive and constructive. We have had economic issues with the Chinese - and, again, I don't, by the way, want to in any way discount the range of issues that we have worked on constructively with the Chinese because they are substantial and - well, in my area, and I spend as much time with the senior Chinese leadership and policymakers than anyone in our administration - and we have done a lot of work together with the Chinese.
We do have economic issues. And the President has raised them directly with President Hu. You've been briefed on the conversations that we have, and they are around the appropriate contribution that China needs to make to global growth. And that goes to currency and other kinds of policies - and the specific areas beyond currency that impair the fair access of the United States and other countries into the Chinese economy.
I think the bottom line is I think they understand our strategy. I think that they understand the importance of it for the region. We are, as I've said, just to be totally straight with you, we are in a important conversation with them about economics, which we think is important for the region and important for the United States.
The last think I'll say is this. The other priority that we've been pressing during the course of this week and leading up to this week has been one around rules and norms. And that's been an important conversation to have. And that goes not just in the economic area, but also in a conversation we've been having about the South China Sea and the necessity of having any disputes there really settled peaceably - peacefully - and in accord with international norms and rules.
QUESTION: Following on China - could you read out the President's meeting with the Premier today --
MR. DONILON: Sure, I'd be glad to do that. The meeting that the President had with Premier Wen today was a follow-on to a conversation that they began at dinner last night. And Premier Wen asked for a few more minutes today to continue that conversation. That's the backdrop to it.
They had an informal meeting this morning, and the principal focus of the meeting was on economics. And the President went through a number of the points that he had made to President Hu Jintao in Hawaii in the earlier part of the week. And they're as I described - the importance of China's currency policy to the world and the appropriate contribution that it needs to make in terms of a fairly valued currency policy; some of the specific issues around business practices - if you will, currency-plus, in terms of the discussion that they had today. It was a good engagement.
Again, the President set it out as directly as he did with President Hu. It was important, I think, to continue that conversation, because, as you know, Premier Wen is the principal economic manager in China. They briefly talked about the South China Sea and the East Asia Summit at the end of that - because it was a short meeting. And the President indicated that they would have a further conversation about it in the context of the East Asia Summit leaders’ retreat this afternoon.
That, by the way, follows on the discussion that the President had with the ASEAN leaders yesterday about the South China Sea. And a number of those countries yesterday raised that issue. And, again, the U.S. position here is a principled position. The United States is a Pacific power; it’s a trading power; it’s a maritime power. The United States has an interest in the freedom of navigation, the free flow of commerce, the peaceful resolution of disputes. We don’t have a claim. We don’t take sides in the claims. But we do, as a global maritime power, have an interest in seeing these principles applied broadly. But the conversation today, to be just totally straight with you, was a short conversation, principally focused again on economics.
QUESTION: Hang on now, I just lost my question. Here it is. I wanted to ask you a follow-on on China and the South China Sea, and then a military one, if I could.
MR. DONILON: Sure.
QUESTION: With regard to the South China Sea, what evidence does the U.S. have that China is actually a threat to the freedom of navigation or commercial access? And are there some incidents in the sea that have been increasing? Can you put a measure on it? And I’ll ask for the second after.
MR. DONILON: Sure, I’ll be glad to address that. It really isn’t about, from our perspective, about specific instances, although, there have been tensions that have risen. And you see that in the comments and the concerns that are raised by a number of ASEAN countries.
But, again, just to be totally straightforward about this - the United States interest here is in the freedom of flow in commerce. We have a big interest in it here. We have an interest in these principles around the world. So we don’t have an interest, we don’t have a claim. We don’t have - we don’t - as I said earlier, we don’t take sides in any of these claims. But we do believe that there should be developed a collaborative diplomatic process for the resolution of these claims. We do believe that they should be resolved peacefully. The United States has an interest in that, obviously. And we do believe that they should be resolved in accordance with international norm and international law.
And the United States has made this - this has been the position we have taken on this for a period of time. And it’s a position that we’ve taken directly with the Chinese. And it’s a position I said that is rooted in our global application of these principles. It’s a set of positions that I’ve actually, with the Chinese, said directly, that as they - that they should be interested in seeing applied globally as well.
And so that’s a - but again, you’ve seen the questions raised. I think that - again, I don’t want to quantify or comment on the specifics of any claim. But you have seen the comments from other countries about concerns that they have. And, again, the United States interest is not in taking side in any specific claim. The United States doesn’t have an interest in any specific claim. But the United States has an interest in the peaceful settlement of these kinds of issues. The United States has an interest in the freedom of navigation, and not being upset by disputes, and certainly not being upset by disputes that aren’t settled peacefully.
QUESTION: So the military question I wanted to ask you is a follow-on to the Australia partnership that was announced. Are there any plans to expand that? You know the way the TPP is kind of an aspirational thing for other countries to join - is there any thought that the U.S. would start rotating assets into maybe Vietnam or some other friendly Asia Pacific partnering nations?
MR. DONILON: There's certainly no decisions made along those lines. But the Australian decision I think is important again to undergird some of the things I said at the outset. It really is deepening that alliance. And what it involves for us - and obviously it’s going to take place at a very measured pace, as you know, in terms of our participation on the Australian bases and building up to working on joint exercises and engaging in some regional work.
What we’re doing here, though, again, kind of - I talked at the top about our global rebalancing - that is turning our attention to Asia and resources to Asia, mindshare, if you will, and policy attention to Asia. It’s notable, even from the outside of the administration, by the way - I should have mentioned this - that Secretary Clinton’s first trip was to Asia. That’s the first that a Secretary of State has taken his or her first trip to Asia since Dean Rusk in 1961. And that was, I think, an important signal of where we were going on this. This has been three years of work that we’ve talked to you all about in an hour, implementing here.
But within Asia, Margaret, what we’re doing also is looking at where we have our resources. And we believe that we were underweighted, as you went south, given the importance of those sea lanes, given, by the way, the important contribution we make to things like disaster relief. So that is part of kind of an internal rebalancing within Asia that the United States is making in order to be effective, efficient, cost-effective, and able to take on the challenges that we face.
But there’s no - I don’t have anything for you on any further basing announcements.
MR. DONILON: Well, I don’t really want to discuss things loosely on Canberra here. So I’ll take a pass on that.
QUESTION: - quick ones. One, as important s this trip is, obviously back in Washington you're trying to keep an eye on the super committee - most of the reports are pretty grim, that they're not going to get a deal at this point. Obviously there's still time. What is the White House’s latest on whether they're close to a deal or whether they're close to triggering the defense cuts?
MR. DONILON: That's substantially outside my lane. I don't know if you want to hold that or you want to do it now, Jay. I mean, what I can comment on is what we're doing within the current context of the Budget Control Act with respect to security, and what the United States' priorities are. But I really can't comment on the - I don't know anything about that.
MR. CARNEY: I'll just do this real quick. Ed, our position on this is what it has been. We very much hope that the super committee will fulfill its mandate, produce a proposal that is balanced and fair, that doesn't ask any sector of society to bear the burden of reducing our deficits and getting our fiscal house in order.
The President, as you know, from the very beginning of this process put forward a very detailed proposal. Somehow, someway, there are some people out there who still claim it doesn't exist. I can give you the website if you'd like, but I know you know it exists. And it is really a road map for the kind of outcome that the President believes - and not incidentally, the American people believe - this is the right way to resolve this. So we hope that in the coming days the committee will produce something that meets the principles the President laid out in his proposal.
Back to Tom.
QUESTION: I haven't had a chance to ask you about the story on Pakistan, "memogate" - and I think retired Admiral Mullen has confirmed that he at least received this memo, and it's really kind of threatened the whole Pakistani government right now. And I guess two parts: One, what do you think about the state of the Pakistani government right now, whether President Zardari may step down? But also, was anyone at the White House ever involved in these conversations with the Pakistani ambassador who's now been recalled?
MR. DONILON: Ed, I don't have a way to comment from this distance. I just don't have a way to comment on that from this distance at this point. We have obviously a critically important relationship with Pakistan. We have a critically important counterterrorism relationship with the Pakistanis that we work on every single day. We have, obviously, the support that we need for our efforts in Afghanistan that we work on each day with the Pakistanis. We work with both the civilian government and with the military, depending on the issue. But I don't have a way, from this distance, to comment on the question that you raise.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is sort of a two-part question that relates: One is, you've talked about how you've pivoted to Asia on this trip. What do you see as the next steps going forward? When do you anticipate the President returning to the region? And what are the concrete things that you think come next to make this a reality? And I'll just ask you a second part, too, because it relates, which is, you're pivoting away from the old problems, but the old problems still have a way of raising their hands for attention, such as the situation with Pakistan; obviously the war in Afghanistan is ongoing; the Middle East peace process hasn't gone away. I mean, all of these old-school problems are still there. So if you could talk about how you deal with that even as you say you're rebalancing, and what specifically is to come.
MR. DONILON: Sure, I'm glad to do that. With respect to the first question, there's a tremendous work stream, I think, that comes out of this trip, beginning on the economic side. We'll need to continue to work through the arrangements that we put out for implementation at APEC in terms of economic integration. Very importantly, TPP. We announced that we had agreement on a framework, but we set the goal of getting the actual agreement negotiated during 2012. And that's a very important - obviously a very important piece of follow-up coming out here. Because, again, it really is a significant event - the United States participating in an effort here to put together a high-quality open-trade agreement, to which other countries have been attracted. And so there will be several lines of work - Taking the framework and making that into a real agreement, but also on the consultative side, consulting with the nations who want to join the TPP going forward.
With respect to alliances, we have a tremendous amount of work that we're doing all the time with our allies in the region. I can't announce at this point when the President's next trip back is to Asia. I'd have to go back and look at the calendar and look at the dates that are assigned to various events.
The second question was with the respect to the other challenges that we have. This doesn't mean that we don’t, obviously, have intensive engagement on the other challenges. Now, we have engaged in a number of strategies here that have allowed, I think, in terms of policy attention, resources for us to turn to a number of these other challenges.
We have drawn down our troops in Iraq, and by December 31st, 2011, we'll complete that drawdown. We are engaged in a very - a much tighter and quite aggressive effort with respect to counterterrorism. We are on track to complete our drawdown of the surge forces in Afghanistan by September of next year. We'll have 10,000 that had drawn down during the course of 2011, and then another 23,000 that we'll draw down by the end of the summer - next year sometime - in September, and headed towards a more sustainable long-term relationship there.
But this doesn't - this is really a statement here about having been underweighted and bringing new energy, resources and attention here. It obviously doesn't mean that we don't have a range of other issues that we're dealing with every day. Although, as the President said, as the tide of the wars recede, we will shift our attention to those challenges that we think are critical for the coming century. And that's what we're in the process of doing.
And I think we've been pretty successful at it, frankly. It takes a - it does take, obviously, the President setting out the strategy and then our implementing it. But I think we've been pretty successful of accomplishing the goals that we set out for ourselves, and enabling us to engage, as I said, here with respect to Asia in an "all in" way on those priorities that we think needed more attention and are important for the future.
QUESTION: Does the IAEA Board of Governors' statement mean China and Russia actually believe the IAEA report now? Do you believe they believe it?
MR. DONILON: Well, I can't speak for the Chinese and Russian governments. I can just tell you what the facts are. The facts are, in the last two days that two events have taken place which I think are notable. The first is, with respect to the IAEA report, which after tremendous amount of work by the professional technical staff at the IAEA, found that in fact up to 2003 the Iranians were pursuing nuclear aspects of their nuclear efforts - weapon aspects of their nuclear efforts and that some of those elements continued after 2003. It was a thorough, professional and impartial report.
And yesterday, as you know, 32 countries voted a resolution asking the Iranians to meet their obligations. These votes took place after the President had talked directly, as you know, to President Medvedev and to President Hu. Russia, China and the United States, I can tell you, share a similar goal, and that is not seeing the Iranians move towards the development of nuclear weapons. And we share the goal of having the IAEA be an effective organization. With respect to every paragraph in the report, you'd have to talk to the Russians and the Chinese about that. But the vote yesterday was 32 yes, 2 no's - Cuba and Ecuador.
The other thing that happened yesterday was this - is that there was a United Nations General Assembly resolution put forth, principally sponsored by the Saudis but joined in, I think, by about 40 other countries, Ben, if I'm not mistaken, and passed yesterday deploring the assassination plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. That vote yesterday was 106 to nine, and notably - and this, I think, is critical - there wasn't one Arab or Muslim country that voted with the Iranians.
It indicates, I think, the isolation that Iran is undergoing right now with respect to the choices they’ve made on the nuclear program. And the degree of isolation really is unprecedented, Chuck, when you think about it. Again, 32 to 2 at the IAEA - that's a stronger vote than in the last IAEA resolution - and 106 to 9, without a single Arab or Muslim country voting against it.
And of course, the principle at stake at the U.N. was really important, and that is the safety and security of diplomats around the world, and countries meeting what is an absolutely fundamental diplomatic obligation - and that is to respect the privileges and immunities and safety of the diplomats around the world from civilized countries. This is a - so it's a notable set of events.
QUESTION: Can you speak to the fact that the Russians and the Chinese in the bilats that you participated in, in Hawaii seem to not have the same sense of urgency that they had two years ago?
MR. DONILON: Well, we have been united on this effort for three years now. And we're always going to have conversations about tactics, Chuck, with respect to how to how they go about this. But I think we share this --
QUESTION: - not disagreements over the report itself?
MR. DONILON: Well, again, you'd have to ask - I'm not going to speak for the Chinese and the Russians with respect to every paragraph in the report. What I can tell you is that the Russians and the Chinese, along with 30 other countries yesterday, at the IAEA voted for a resolution calling on Iran to meet its obligations, and commending the Secretary to the IAEA for the report.
MR. RHODES: Tom, I'd just add one thing ...
MR. DONILON: Yes.
MR. RHODES: Chuck, you were asking me about this the other day and I'd just remind you that one of the points that the President made in both of those bilateral meetings was the importance to demonstrate international unity in support of Iran meeting its obligations in the context of the IAEA report. And the President specifically raised in both meetings the Board of Governors meeting as an important opportunity for the P5-plus-1 to continue to show that unity.
So both meetings with the Russians and the Chinese, the President specifically raised the importance of this upcoming vote and the need to show that unity, and there was good follow-through on that.
MR. DONILON: Yes, and I think - and that's a very important point, Ben. And that unity is absolutely important. There is, among almost the entire world, a unified view that Iran should not go down the path towards developing nuclear weapons. And we have had, from the outset of this administration, through a lot of work - working with great powers and others around the world - a high degree of unity on this. And I think as the Iranians look out this morning, Chuck, they see themselves really wholly isolated here. Again, 32 to 2, with the Cubans and the Ecuadorians, and then the United Nations deploring an assassination plot - 106 to 9. Those are significant events with respect to Iran.
If you look, by the way, at Iran's place in the wake of the Arab Spring and the cost that they've paid for the choices and decisions their leaders have made here, not being able to assure the world that they're engaged in peaceful nuclear activities, it's been substantial - with respect to their economy, with respect to their political isolation. But that's a longer discussion.
MR. CARNEY: Tom's got time for two more.
MR. DONILON: Okay, please.
QUESTION: The President has sort of publicly given the Chinese quite a lot to think about on this trip. How would you expect them to respond in the long term? And do you think any of the sharpened U.S. tone in this rebalancing of forces could sort of have an effect on domestic Chinese politics? Could, like, sources in the PLA say to the leadership, "see, we told you all along - the U.S. is trying to isolate us and contain us"?
MR. DONILON: Of course, the - but let's go through what the President said this week as well. This has nothing to do with isolating or containing anybody. The President has publicly welcomed, as a matter of United States policy, China's peaceful rise and success. That's in the United States' interest. The President has said in his Canberra speech, and I said again here today, that the United States’ goal in the region is to have a stable, peaceful, economically prosperous region, and that’s in the interest of everyone in the region, including the Chinese.
We have been very direct with the Chinese about our plans here. And, again, if you look at the public statements of the Chinese, they have welcomes the United States presence in the region. I do think one of the things that we’ve been working on here is important to note, which is we have been working on trying to deepen military-to-military conversations so that we can even have more transparency on both sides with respect to military plans and intentions.
Third, I think that you’ve seen in China a debate that’s been quite public over the last year or so, about the extent to which China should pursue a more aggressive foreign policy. I think the current leadership has really come down squarely in the camp of not pursuing, with respect to the United States, a confrontational policy because it wouldn’t be in the interest of China.
If you look at the peaceful rise paper that was put out I think this past September - if you look at Dai Bingguo’s paper that was published a year ago, December, and public statements, you can see there is a debate, as you point out. But this leadership team I think sees it in the interest of China to continue to engage in a cooperative and positive and constructive relationship with the United States.
MR. CARNEY: Last one.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. From much of the 2000s, the focus of U.S. foreign policy seemed to be the terrorist threat - of terrorists. We haven’t heard very much about terrorism on this trip. Bali has been the scene of some terrible terrorist attacks. Have we more or less achieved many of our goals in combating terrorism to a point where we can now sort of pivot to and focus - refocus our attention on other things, like the importance of Asia?
MR. DONILON: That’s a broad question and let me address it. We work on addressing the terrorist threat every single day. And we have made progress. Indeed, we believe, as of the end of 2010 - and we said this publicly, I think, Ben - that in fact al Qaeda was in the worse shape it had been in since 2001. We obviously dealt a strategic blow to al Qaeda with the operation against Osama bin Laden in May of this year. And we have had an aggressive continuation of pressure on al Qaeda and associated entities that threaten the United States.
We work on this every single day in a targeted way. One of the most important things I think that President Obama has done is to be very clear about what the threat is, what the target is. And I think that’s enabled the United States to address it very effectively.
Is a terrorist threat defeated? No. Have we made a lot of progress? I think we have, frankly, in the last three years. But it is a priority every single day of the week for all of us in the national security team and for the President, absolutely.
QUESTION: Can I ask just one follow on Iran? Because there is a report out saying that the U.S. plans to sanction Iran’s petrochemical industry. Can you confirm that?
MR. DONILON: I can't confirm that.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, guys.
MR. DONILON: Thank you all. I really appreciate it.
MR. CARNEY: As Tom is walking, I’ll take one on the super committee. Yes.
QUESTION: On the super committee, has the President been doing any calls lately?
MR. CARNEY: We have - the President has obviously been engaged in numerous bilateral meetings and group meetings here. He has not made any other calls to leaders of Congress. But he is obviously in regular contact with his staff in Washington, including those who are monitoring the super committee’s progress and engaging with Congress on that issue.