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 &

Read More

Salva Kiir Comes to His Sense (Sorta)

Kiir has come under enormous pressure, including the threat of international sanctions. And now, it looks like he’ll sign a peace deal. But will he actually abide by it? “South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has finally agreed to sign a peace deal and power-sharing accord to end a 20-month civil war, his spokesman said Tuesday…Sources in IGAD also confirmed plans for the deal to be signed in Juba on Wednesday, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin due to attend. An IGAD official said rebel leader Machar would not be there because security provisions were not yet in place.” (AP http://yhoo.it/1JjKIMQ)

Whither Accountability? A UN report details horrific abuses committed by South Sudanese government soldiers. “The U.N. experts found that a government offensive in oil-producing Unity State between April and July this year had been “intent on rendering communal life unviable and prohibiting any return to normalcy following the violence.” “The intensity and brutality of violence aimed at civilians is hitherto unseen, in what has been so far — without a doubt — an incredibly violent conflict, where civilians have been targeted by all parties to the conflict,” the experts wrote in the interim reported submitted to U.N. Security Council members. Under a so-called “scorched earth policy” government-allied forces razed entire villages, sometimes with people inside their homes, raped women and abducted children, the experts said.

Water Used As Weapon in Syrian War…Disturbing new report from UNICEF. “In recent months, up to five million people living in cities and communities across the country have suffered the consequences of long and sometimes deliberate interruptions to their water supplies.In the northern city of Aleppo, where fighting has crippled the main pumping station for months at a time, UNICEF has recorded 18 deliberate water cuts this year alone. Taps in some communities were left dry for up to 17 days in a row – and for over a month in some areas of the city.” (UNICEF http://uni.cf/1NSPoKC)

Quote of the day: “Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay,” Francois Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. (AP http://yhoo.it/1hZdBF3)

Africa

A teenage suicide bomber detonated an explosive device strapped to her body in the northeastern Nigerian city of Damaturu early on Tuesday, killing six people and wounding about 30, police said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1LuZr8l)

Around 1.5 million Zimbabweans are predicted to go hungry this year after a dramatic fall in maize production, the World Food Programme said on Tuesday. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1LuZmSc)

Cameroon says it is banning and destroying cheap vegetable oil imported from Indonesia and Malaysia to protect its home industries. The central African nation says thousands of workers may lose their jobs if the country continues to import cheaper vegetable oil. (VOA http://bit.ly/1EhFzGp)

The chairman of Nigeria’s corruption-fighting Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is appearing before the Senate to answer accusations that he diverted billions of dollars. (AP http://yhoo.it/1NRUerq)

Pest experts from across Africa have recommended vast vaccination and pest eradication programs to stop trans-border animal diseases that claim between 10 percent and 20 percent of the continent’s animals yearly. The experts are gathered in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, under the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s program. (VOA http://bit.ly/1LuZ91l)

Gangs of children are roaming the streets of Ivory Coast’s biggest city. Known as “les microbes” (French for “the germs”), they are accused of violent robberies — and have become the scourge of Abidjan, where they are spreading terror among residents. (GlobalPost http://bit.ly/1V7lMNX)

Hundreds of movie lovers gathered in front of a giant outdoor screen in Nairobi’s Mathare slum on Monday at the start of the Slum Film Festival, which aims to challenge perceptions of shanty towns as dens of crime and squalor. (TRF http://bit.ly/1LuZrW9)

MENA

Unidentified gunmen raided the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Yemeni port city of Aden on Monday, holding staff at gunpoint and stealing cars, cash and equipment, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1NRUd71)

Saudi Arabia has executed at least 175 people over the past 12 months, on average one person every two days, according to a report released Tuesday by Amnesty International. (AP http://yhoo.it/1NRU6Z2)

Around 5,300 migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa, were rescued in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast last week, EU border agency Frontex said Tuesday. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1Nzhiyb)

Asia

Nepal police shot dead a protester as fresh clashes erupted in the country’s southern plains Tuesday, a day after an 18-month-old boy and seven officers died during demonstrations against a new constitution. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1NRUaYX)

The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Tuesday it received substantive amounts of information from Iran aimed at quelling concerns its nuclear past had military elements, although it was too early to say whether any of it is new. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1NRUcjl)

India and the United Nations appealed for all parties to seek peace in Nepal, where hundreds of security forces on Tuesday were patrolling a western town after ethnic protesters demanding statehood attacked police a day earlier, leaving 11 people dead and many injured. (AP http://yhoo.it/1NzhhdJ)

An intensifying El Nino may bring the worst drought in 20 years to Papua New Guinea, the country’s prime minister said, raising fears that production of the country’s critical agricultural commodities may drop. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1NzhfTd)

The “waterman of India” will walk across five continents to raise awareness for his campaign to have the human rights to river water and access to nature recognised by the UN. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1EghjnC)

The Americas

U.S. stocks jumped at the open after China’s central bank cut interest rates to support its economy. (AP http://yhoo.it/1ETvtGf)

Gay rights activists in Panama presented a bill to lawmakers that would make hate crimes against gays, lesbians and transsexuals illegal — and punishable by up to a year in jail. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1NRU9UW)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed to extend a crackdown on illegal migrants from neighboring Colombia he blames for rampant crime and widespread shortages, while authorities across the border struggled to attend to droves of returning. (VOA http://bit.ly/1Eghorr)

Colombia has condemned deportations of its citizens after Venezuela closed its border with its western neighbour last week. The crossings were shut after an attack by smugglers left three soldiers and a civilian injured. (BBC http://bbc.in/1EhFdQ6)

…and the rest

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says nearly 300,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean Sea this year. Most went to Italy and Greece. The UNHCR warns the situation is not sustainable and is calling for a comprehensive solution. (VOA http://bit.ly/1LuZ9yv)

As demand for water grows, the world must focus on how the precious resource will be shared among farmers, the energy sector and cities if it is to achieve the United Nations’ new development agenda, a World Bank expert said. (TRF http://bit.ly/1V7qaws)

Photo essay: The race to beat Hungary’s border fence (IRIN http://bit.ly/1JwKgMH)

Opinion/Blogs

Do we still care about the F word? (IRIN http://bit.ly/1LuY21C)

Confessions of a humanitarian: ‘The life of a veggie aid worker is no bed of kale’ (Guardian http://bit.ly/1EhFhiN)

Thailand, One Week After the Bombings. Is Another Free Speech Crackdown Coming? (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1JtIGXu)

Development under conflict: How to react to a crisis (Devex http://bit.ly/1MRrpyv)

Buying condoms won’t make you Africa’s “HERO” (WhyDev http://bit.ly/1ETD0VD)

China bashing: American campaign ritual or harbinger of tougher policy? (The Interpreter http://bit.ly/1ETD0oK)

5 trends that explain why civil society space is under assault around the world (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1Ub771W)

A U.S. Court Jeopardizes Corporate Transparency Rules, in the Name of Free Speech (Global Anticorruption Blog http://bit.ly/1JtILun)

Rwanda’s gender gap: banks must stop failing female entrepreneurs (Guardian http://bit.ly/1V7mfQd)

Why the New Sustainable Development Goals Won’t Make the World a Fairer Place (The Conversation http://bit.ly/1Lv0LIz)

Discussion

comments…

Read More