Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/26/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:51 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I appreciate you accommodating the change in the time to the briefing today.  We wanted to make sure that all of you had the opportunity to see the President welcome the WNBA champions, Phoenix Mercury, to the White House.  

But now that we are all assembled, let’s get started.  Nancy, do you want to start us off?

Q    Yeah, thanks.  What was the President’s reaction to the Roanoke shooting?

MR. EARNEST:  I did not have the opportunity to speak to the President about the tragic shooting that occurred earlier today in Virginia.  Obviously the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House are with the families of those who were injured or killed in that terrible incident.  The precise details of that incident continue to be under investigation.  

But as you’ve heard me say in the past, this is another example of gun violence that is becoming all too common in communities large and small, all across the United States.  And while there is no piece of legislation that will end all violence in this country, there are some common-sense things that only Congress can do that we know would have a tangible impact in reducing gun violence in this country.  And Congress could take those steps in a way that would not infringe on the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.  And the President has long advocated Congress taking those steps, and the President continues to believe that they should do so.

Q    Can you say what role federal officials will have in the investigation?

MR. EARNEST:  I do know that officials from the FBI and the ATF were involved in responding and tracking down the individual who is believed to have been responsible for this violence.  And I would anticipate that federal officials will be working to support state officials who will conduct the investigation.

Q    Also, do you have any comment on the signing of the peace agreement in South Sudan, and what the prospects are for lasting peace there?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that was just reported within the last few hours.  What I would say is that the administration believes that President Kiir made the right decision to sign the peace agreement today.  But we should be just as clear that the United States and the international community does not recognize any reservations or addendums to that document.  And President Kiir and the government of South Sudan should abide by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development agreement that was signed today, and they should work toward ending the conflict and rebuilding the country.

Nancy, you’ll recall that the President had the opportunity to meet with leaders of other countries in the region in discussing trying to broker some peace in South Sudan.  So this is an issue that the President has not just been following but been actively engaged in.  And you heard him note that South Sudan is a country that has been wracked by terrible violence in recent years, and the United States and other countries in the region have been trying to act in coordinated fashion to broker some peace there.  So this is something that we’re going to continue to monitor as the situation moves forward.

Roberta.

Q    Has the White House raised its sights on the Iran vote?  And is the White House now trying to get enough votes to — actively trying to get enough votes to block a motion of disapproval?

MR. EARNEST:  Roberta, what our strategy is focused on right now is building as much support as possible in both the House and the Senate for the agreement.  As I’ve noted before, the appropriate congressional role here, as described and codified by Congress, is not to sign off on the agreement, but Congress does have a role in evaluating the agreement.  And essentially, the role that Congress would play at this point is spoiler.  Congress does have the capacity to kill this agreement.  

This is an international agreement between the United States and several other countries and Iran.  And our legislative efforts are focused on building enough support for the agreement to prevent Congress from spoiling, and that’s what we will continue to do.  That effort has included a variety of lobbying efforts.  This has included presidential phone calls.  Other senior members of the President’s national security team have reached out to members of Congress and their staff members to advocate for the agreement.  And you’ll note that later this afternoon the President will conduct a handful of interviews with television anchors from across the country, and this will be among the issues that will be up for discussion.  And it’s the President’s view and it’s the view of his team that the more that we elevate this discussion and the more that the American people have the opportunity to hear the arguments in favor of this agreement, the more likely they are to support it.  And that’s the reason that the President will do those interviews today.  It’s part of our ongoing effort to build as much support for the agreement in Congress as possible.

Q    So does the White House feel that it’s possible — feasible at all to get 41 votes of support in the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the last I saw, I think that there are 26 or 27 senators who support the agreement.  There are only two Democrats that have come out in opposition to it.  That’s an indication that we’ve got a lot of momentum built up in terms of building support for this agreement.  But what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get as many members of the Senate as possible — and as many members of the House as possible — to back the agreement.

I would note that there was a letter that was signed by about 150 House members prior to the completion of the comprehensive agreement back in July indicating their support for an agreement that was consistent with the aims that the President had identified for a final agreement.  And the essence of the final comprehensive agreement does fulfill that criteria, and so we are optimistic that we will be able to earn the support of those who sign that letter — we’re still hard at work in that effort.  But what’s notable is that there are several Democrats in the House of Representatives who declined to sign that letter, but yet have announced their support for the final agreement.

So there are several indications that we are succeeding in our efforts to build sufficient support for the agreement in the Congress, but we certainly want to collect as many votes as possible.  

Q &

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Boko Haram: More EU funds to help the affected populations

In response to the growing humanitarian consequences of the Boko Haram attacks, the European Commission is providing €21 million to help the populations in Nigeria and the neighbouring countries who are affected by the violence inflicted by the militant Islamist group.

These new funds will provide immediate support, including clean water, food, shelter, health care and protection to the displaced and the host communities in the north-east Nigeria, as well as to Nigerian refugees and returnees in the neighbouring countries.

EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides, who is visiting Nigeria to assess the humanitarian situation, said: “More than 1.7 million people have been displaced by the terror of Boko Haram. Many of them live in precarious conditions in other parts of Nigeria or the neighbouring countries where they have fled. Meeting some of them today, I saw with my own eyes the immense needs that the conflict is causing among civilians. We are stepping up our humanitarian response to the call of those in the greatest need“.

€12.5 million of the funding will be used to tackle the humanitarian challenges in Nigeria, and €8.5 million will go to supporting refugees in Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

This new aid comes on top of the relief the Commission has provided to the most vulnerable people affected by food insecurity and malnutrition throughout Nigeria and its neighbouring countries. In 2014 and 2015, the Commission has allocated more than €107 million and €123 million, respectively, to provide humanitarian assistance to people in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Background

The violent conflict in North-East Nigeria, with indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population, has displaced 1.5 million people within the country and forced over 230 000 to flee to Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

The displaced people in Nigeria live in precarious conditions and are in need of basic services. In addition, the security situation often prevents humanitarian organisations from reaching those in need and deliver basic supplies.

In the neighbouring countries, the newly-arrived refugees put additional strain on the resources of the host communities which already suffer from the consequences of successive food crises and extreme poverty.

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EU boosts humanitarian aid to those displaced by Boko Haram violence

The European Commission is providing €21 million to help the populations in Nigeria and the neighbouring countries that are affected by the violence inflicted by Boko Haram.

EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides, who is visiting Nigeria to assess the humanitarian situation, said: “More than 1.7 million people have been displaced by the terror of Boko Haram. Many of them live in precarious conditions in other parts of Nigeria or the neighbouring countries where they have fled. Meeting some of them today, I saw with my own eyes the immense needs that the conflict is causing among civilians. We are stepping up our humanitarian response to the call of those in the greatest need”.

The Commissioner also expressed his grave concern over the lack of humanitarian access to the people who need help. “There are restrictions of access in many areas, in particular along Lake Chad. All possible efforts should be made to ensure that humanitarian organisations can be there for those who need their help,” Commissioner Stylianides said.

The new EU funding will provide immediate support, including clean water, food, shelter, healthcare and protection to the displaced and the host communities in the north-east of Nigeria, as well as to Nigerian refugees in the neighbouring countries. €12.5 million of this funding will be used to tackle the humanitarian challenges in Nigeria, and €8.5 million to support the refugees in Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

This new aid comes on top of relief that the Commission is providing to the most vulnerable people affected by food insecurity and malnutrition throughout Nigeria and its neighbouring countries. In 2015 and 2014, the European Commission has allocated more than €123 million and €107 million, respectively, to provide humanitarian assistance in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Commissioner Stylianides is in Nigeria to assess the humanitarian consequences of the Boko Haram terror activities. He is meeting with displaced persons and relief organisations and discussing how EU aid can be put to the best use despite the difficult circumstances. Tomorrow, the Commissioner will hold meetings with Government representatives and civil society organisations.

Background

The violent conflict in North-East Nigeria, with indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population, has displaced 1.5 million people within the country, and forced over 230 000 people to flee to neighbouring Niger, Cameroon, and Chad.

The displaced people in Nigeria live in precarious conditions and are in need of basic services. In addition, the security situation often prevents humanitarian organisations from reaching those in need to deliver basic supplies.

In the neighbouring countries, the newly arrived refugees put additional strain on the resources of the host communities which already suffer from the consequences of successive food crises and extreme poverty.

For more information

ECHO Factsheet:

http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/nigeria_en.pdf

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The EU engagement with the Central African Republic

The challenges facing the Central African Republic (CAR) are so complex and interlinked that only a comprehensive approach focused on security, humanitarian aid, stabilisation and development cooperation will help make a difference. This is the approach of the European Union (EU).

The EU is the country’s main development partner and the main provider of humanitarian assistance. It has committed more than €360 million of new funding to respond to the crisis in CAR since it started in 2013. Over the years, the EU has also given development assistance to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable people. Just last year, the first ever EU Trust Fund, calledBêkou, was established together with France, Germany and the Netherlands to better support projects that link humanitarian and development actions in CAR and to pave the way for its recovery.

The EU is active in the international efforts to stabilise the country, support the transition process and help put the country on track towards a sustainable recovery. The EU supports the transition authorities in their efforts to find a political solution to the crisis. This political process should be broad-based, inclusive and locally-led to make a difference and to pass the test of time. The EU maintains regular dialogue with the CAR authorities, in close coordination with its international partners.

EU priorities in the Central African Republic

The EU’s comprehensive approach covers the following priorities:

1) Security

Security is essential in order to restore a more stable government in CAR.

The EU supported the African-led mission MISCA under the African Peace Facility (APF). The EU’s contribution (€ 125 million) covered the cost of allowances, accommodation and feeding the troops deployed in the field. The salaries of civilian MISCA personnel and operational costs such as transport, communication and medical services were also supported by the Facility. This assistance was essential for the functioning of the mission ahead of the transfer of authority to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), which took place on 15 September 2014.

Furthermore, the military operation deployed by the European Union – EUFOR RCA – contributes to the international efforts to provide a secure environment and protect the populations most at risk. Deployed in the Bangui area and for a period of nine months between April 2014 and March 2015, it creates the conditions for the provision of humanitarian aid. The overall cost of the operation was estimated at € 38 million.

Since March, a new EU military Advisory Mission (EUMAM CAR) has been deployed in CAR. In parallel, on 28 April a Security Council Resolution), renewed the mandate of MINUSCA for one year.

2) Humanitarian assistance

The Central African Republic is in the worst humanitarian crisis since its independence. More than half of the 4.6 million population are in immediate need of humanitarian assistance. There are more than 436 000 internally displaced people, including over 44 000 in the capital. The crisis has forced over 220 000 people to flee to Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo since December 2013. There are over 461 000 Central African refugees in neighbouring countries. In addition to protection from violence, the priority needs are food, healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene, shelter and basic household items.

The European Union is the largest humanitarian donor to CAR. The European Commission and Member States have substantially scaled up their humanitarian engagement in light of the evolving needs (from €20 million in 2012, to over €130 million in 2014). These funds support protection, access to health care, food and nutrition assistance, drinking-water distribution, sanitation services, logistics and humanitarian coordination. Life-saving assistance is provided to those in need within CAR as well as to refugees in neighbouring countries. In addition, the EU has organised repeated airlifts of life-saving items and aid personnel into CAR to help the victims in 2014.

In 2015 and to date, more than €47 million have already been committed by the EU (Commission and Member States) of which €14 million by the European Commission as a response to the most urgent needs in CAR.

A team of European humanitarian experts is closely monitoring the situation in the field, assessing the needs and overseeing the use of EU funds.

3) Stabilisation

The EU pays special attention to the fight against impunity and the re-establishment of rule of law. It is funding projects aimed at the restart of a basic criminal justice system in Bangui. It also supports the reinstatement of police and gendarmerie capacities for community policing as well as riot control, restoration of the joint operational command centre, reinforcement of the judiciary, and the rehabilitation of prison facilities.

Through a 2013 €12 million stabilisation package, with the EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the EU provides support to restore police missions in Bangui, to support independent media in CAR, to promote community dialogue and peace, supports the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for missions in CAR and promotes the rejection of armed violence at community level.

Communities at risk also benefit from EU support to retain their ethnical and religious diversity (with €4 million, also through the IcSP). Operated in the few areas of Bangui where co-habitation continues, this pilot project is helping maintain a basis for the reconciliation process. Given its successful implementation in Bangui’s most sensitive areas, the project will be extended to critical zones in the provinces, with an additional budget boost of €10 million.

The €4.65 million IcSP project offers support to the transition process in CAR. In order to facilitate political dialogue it provides support to the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD). In addition, as Housing, Land and Property (HLP) rights of those affected by the displacement will inevitably be a major concern, the project provides support through the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and seeks to strengthen HLP rights with local authorities, humanitarian actors and community leaders, ,while also organising an information campaign for those affected.

A €3 million IcSP action is currently being launched. It aims, on the one hand, to provide support to the civic education of civil society organisations and build their capacity for election observation, and, on the other hand, to support the initial steps of implementing the security sectorial reform.

Overall IcSP contribution to stabilise CAR amounts to € 32.5 million.

4) Resilience and sustainable recovery

Although the EU’s development cooperation has slowed down considerably due to the security and institutional situation, it continues. EU engagement for development in the CAR aims to foster economic recovery, create livelihoods and help restore state presence.

Between 2008 and 2013, around €225 million were allocated through the different financial instruments (€160 million through the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) and €65 million through the EU budget).

The EU is also working on the transition from emergency response towards longer-term development assistance through an approach linking relief, rehabilitation and development.

On 9 July 2014 the EU adopted a support package of €119 million, including: Restoration of basic social services in the CAR: education and health (€27 million), support for the 2015 electoral process in the Central African Republic (€20 million) and support for the preservation and consolidation of the Central African Republic state (€33M).

The Bêkou Trust Fund

Moreover, in July 2014 the first EU Trust Fundwas established with three Member States (France, Germany and the Netherlands). The Bêkou Trust Fund, (which means hope in the Sango language received an original total amount of €74 million (€51 million from the European Commission, €10 million from France, €10 million from Germany, €3 million from the Netherlands), it provides more flexibility to the EU’s work in this specific and complex context of the CAR.

As of today, six projects have been approved by the Trust Fund’s Operational Committee, on health (€15 million), urban rehabilitation (€4.5 million), gender (€1.5 million), food security (€10 million), on limiting the effects of the CAR crisis in the region, focusing on refugees in the east of Cameroon (€4.5 million) and on a program to promote the independence of economic actors and economic re-launch (€11 million). The first contracts were signed at the beginning of 2015 and activities have already started, benefiting more than 1 million people.

Currently a State Building Contract 2015-2016 is under preparation for a total amount of €40 million, out of which, if agreed by the Member States, €25 million will be disbursed in 2015 and €15 million in 2016.

Under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the EU Delegation in CAR is currently finalising a project with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) for a total of €1.2 million, for 2014 and 2015. The project’s objective is to document human rights violations and international crimes, accompany and support victims of international crimes before national and international courts, mobilise states, the international community and the civil society to fight against impunity, respect for human rights and democratic principles.

5) Regional impact of the crisis

In order to mitigate the regional impact of the CAR crisis on neighbouring countries, the EU has been active to provide targeted humanitarian assistance for CAR refugees in border regions in Chad, Cameroon and DRC (€ 14 million in 2014 and so far additional €5,3 million in 2015). Through an ongoing IcSP-funded project in Chad, it also facilitates the integration of returnees/refugees in host communities and helps prevent potential radicalisation (€12 million). A similar initiative is under preparation for Cameroon (€4 million).

For more information

The EU boosts its support to recovery and development in the Central African Republic:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5040_en.htm

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