TAPPER: Vice President Biden gave an interview in which he said the Taliban per se is not our enemy. We're fighting the Taliban right now, as I know I don't need to tell you. Can you explain a little bit more?
TAPPER: Does he regret using that language?
CARNEY: Not at all. I think - and I think it's important - I know you've written about this - to understand what most Americans, I think, know, which is that we didn't invade Afghanistan - we did not send U.S. military personnel into Afghanistan because the Taliban were in power. They had been in power. We sent - we went into Afghanistan because al-Qaida had launched an attack against the United States from Afghanistan.
And what the vice president was reflecting is that - and this is related to the reconciliation process that I was just discussing - is that the Taliban per se - while we are fighting them, it is not the elimination - the elimination of the Taliban is not the issue here. The objective that the president laid out when he laid out his Afghanistan strategy made clear that the number one principle here is to defeat, dismantle - or disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al-Qaida as well as help stabilize Afghanistan.
And that's what we're doing.
Part of that process is our support for the Afghan-led reconciliation talks. The conditions for reconciliation for the Taliban are very clear, but reconciliation has to be a part of the long-time - the long-term process in Afghanistan if Afghanistan is going to evolve into a peaceful country.
TAPPER: I understand that. It's just obviously, there isn't much of an al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan. Leon Panetta, when he was CIA director, told me a year or two ago that there were less - fewer than a hundred al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. We've been devoting a great deal of blood and treasure focused almost entirely on defeating Taliban insurgents, Taliban fighters. And I understand that ultimately, there's going to have to be some sort of reconciliation. I just wonder if the language was regrettable at all. They certainly -
CARNEY: Well, it's only regrettable when taken out of context that I just explained - that it's regrettable to present it out of context because the - it is a simple fact that we went into Afghanistan because of the attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001. We are there now to ultimately defeat al-Qaida, to stabilize Afghanistan and stabilize it in part so that al-Qaida or other terrorists who have as their aim attacks on the United States cannot establish a foothold to begin in that country.
So what is also completely clear is that Afghanistan's future has to include within it reconciliation. And that's why we support the Afghan government-led effort there.
TAPPER: I have a follow-up on North Korea, if I could.
CARNEY: Mmm hmm.
TAPPER: There's - President Lee has experienced some criticism in his country for what is perceived to be a belligerent attitude towards North Korea, which some say has exacerbated tensions. I'm wondering if you're - if - the White House's take on that. And also, there are - there are intelligence analysts within the administration who speculate that one of the reasons for all those attacks - the torpedo on the South Korean naval vessel and then the shelling of the island - are because of the new president of South - of North Korea, rather, joining the military, trying to earn his stripes.
Is that proven? Is that - do we have intelligence about that? Or is that speculation?
CARNEY: Well, as you can expect, I'm not going to discuss intelligence from here. But - and then I would add to that that it's - it really is premature to make assessments of the new leader or at least the one who's been designated by succession, that was already in the works. And we will judge North Korea - the North Korean government as we always have: by its actions and by its actions with regard in particular to upholding its commitments regarding denuclearization. So we'll continue to do that.
I think, stepping back, it does - we - it does make sense to give this process a little bit of time before me make judgments about the new leadership or the disposition of North Korea going forward.
TAPPER: And President Lee? Do you think that -
CARNEY: Well, President Lee's a very close ally. South Korea is a very close ally. And this president works very closely with them. The rest of the government does.
TAPPER: Is there any take that maybe in his attitude and the way he's treated North Korea has exacerbated tensions?
CARNEY: Not that I've heard here.
TAPPER: Does - in terms of those paychecks, there's a logistical question going on here. I got a letter as - and I forwarded it to you before this briefing so that you would be prepared to answer the question - it was that the National Payroll Reporting Consortium has expressed - has wrote a letter to members of Congress - Democrats, Republicans; this is a nonpartisan group, it does not advocate one way or the other - about the - about the legislation.
And they feel that this cannot be implemented properly, they said, that it would be fair to - he told - the president told me it'd be fair to characterize his letter as saying the two-month payroll tax holiday cannot be implemented properly. He said, the concern is that it could create potential problems, confusion and costs affecting a significant percentage of U.S employers and employees. It's tactical, but the point is, they just don't think there's enough lead time to do this, and because it's only two months and not a year, that makes it a lot more difficult.
CARNEY: Well, I appreciate that, and thank you for sending it to me ahead of time. The - two points.
One, again because Congress was so slow to get its work done, last year this was an issue when the payroll tax cut was extended - that it was so late in the year that it had - it created complications, A. But it - those were worked out.
B, you know, this president is committed to make sure that his administration - the Treasury Department and his administration works with American businesses to ensure that this tax cut is extended for American taxpayers, wage earners, people who get a paycheck, 160 million. You know, he would far rather ask this administration to work overtime during the holidays to make that happen than ask Americans to spend the holidays worrying how they're going to make ends meet with a thousand dollars less in their pockets.