The UAW Speech, Syrian Opposition, and Arab Allies - Today's Q's for O's WH - 2/28/2012

TAPPER: I think one of the reasons why people seem so surprised that you're saying that the UAW event wasn't political is because there were at least five specific references to Mitt Romney, although he wasn't mentioned by name. Two of them were specific quotes from an op-ed he wrote in November 2008. So I guess the question is just this dis-ingenuousness that - "No, what are you talking about? How - ""

CARNEY: Well, look, Jake, first of all, I think many individuals in our public life opposed the auto bailout. There's no question -

TAPPER: Right, but only one wrote an op-ed called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."

CARNEY: Perhaps; I didn't read every op-ed. But certainly that sentiment was shared by a number of -

TAPPER: You never read - you never read that op-ed?

CARNEY: I'm not saying - (chuckles) - I just don't - I'm not saying - I said I didn't read every op-ed. So others may have also certainly shared that sentiment, if not the same sentence.

The point is, is that you're right. This is a matter of public debate right now. And it is certainly appropriate for the president to make his policy positions known and to engage in that public debate, especially on a policy that he is so intimately involved in, which was the decision to rescue, in exchange for significant reform, General Motors and Chrysler.

I'm not denying that there are political implications to that debate. But that's the reality we live in. These were difficult policy choices that had to do with - you know, that were unpopular at the time that had to do with whether or not to allow General Motors and Chrysler essentially to liquidate, to cease to exist, and by allowing that to happen, to then let suppliers possibly go under or likely go under, and then because that happened, to see Ford struggle and possibly go under. These were big, big decisions, and they continue to reverberate three years later.

TAPPER: Right, but why quote a Republican presidential candidate but refuse to mention his name? I mean, what's the - what's the kabuki there?

CARNEY: I - look, there's no - look, you guys are - have decided that that's the most important issue.

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS NEWS: The op-ed was quoted in the president's speech.

CARNEY: Sure, but what's your point? This is a matter of debate right now. We have some people who still say it was wrong to take this action. We have a president who took that action in speaking to the UAW today, a group that was very affected by this decision, who made clear what his position was and contrasted it - and contrasted it with the - with the policy opinions of a number of critics, including the governor of Massachusetts, but not exclusively the governor of Massachusetts. I mean, that's a legitimate conversation to have.

TAPPER: OK. Anyway, moving on, the - Secretary Clinton gave a couple interviews on Sunday after the conference in Tunis, and she talked about some of the misgivings that the administration has when it comes to taking further actions with the Syrian opposition, mentioning both the support of al-Qaida to the Syrian opposition as well as Hamas.

And I guess my question is, there seemed to have been a way for the U.S. to have supported the Libyan opposition - and I know they're not directly related, I understand all the differences - but there seemed to have to been a way to support the Libyan opposition without arming some of the more nefarious parts of that opposition, the parts that maybe supplied fighters to Iraq against the U.S. or other parts.

Is the - are our intelligence services not able to distinguish between the parts of the Libyan (sic) opposition that are unsavory and affiliated with Hamas or al-Qaida, and the parts that are not? Or do we not have that ability?

CARNEY: Well, without getting into assessments of our intelligence capabilities, I would simply say that we are aware of the fact that al-Qaida and other extremists are seeking to take advantage of the situation created by Assad's brutal assault on the opposition and to try to pretend, contrary to their history, their rhetoric, their reason for being, that they are on the side of greater freedom and democracy for the people of the region - in this case, of Syria.

The - you know, it's not clear right now the extent to which al- Qaida extremists are working with the Syrian opposition.

And obviously that's something that we assess, as was the case in Libya and elsewhere, as we go on.

Our position - independent of that - well, related to, but not solely dependent on that - is that now is not the time to further militarize the situation in Syria. The - we are working, rather, with our allies through the Friends of Syria to isolate and pressure Assad and to try to get him to realize that his days are numbered and to cease the brutality that he's been waging against his own people.

But beyond - you know, in terms of assessments of what numbers or percentage or which individuals might be affiliated with extremist groups, I can't - I can't address that from here.

TAPPER: OK. And then, lastly, just to follow up on the question about Israel and Iran, what are - what is the U.S. hearing from our Arab allies in the region, which also do not want an Iran with a nuclear weapon? Obviously, what our Arab allies say in public and what they say in private sometimes can be a little bit different. And I'm wondering, what is the message, without getting into specific countries of - that we're hearing from some of our allies in the region?

CARNEY: Well, without specifying, I mean, I - certainly there are concerns about Iran's rogue behavior, its pursuit of nuclear weapons technology and nuclear weapons is not limited to the United States, Europe or Israel. It's shared by countries around the world and countries within the region.

You know, the threat that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons technology presents is clear to Israel, it's clear to the United States and its allies. But it's also clear to the countries in the regions for whom the beginning of a nuclear arms race would have terrible and unpredictable effects on those countries. So again -

TAPPER: Are they more concerned with that than they are with Israel potentially, hypothetically taking out any of the nuclear facilities?

CARNEY: Well, I wouldn't - again, I would - I would steer away from kind of engaging in that conversation. But there is certainly - the concern is not ours or Israel's or Europe's alone. It is concern that is broad and stretches across the globe as well as specifically to the region.

-Jake Tapper

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