White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed on Thursday that President Obama opposes a controversial anti-gay law in Russia, but he said a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics isn’t on the table for the administration.
Under questioning from ABC News’ Jon Karl, Carney said Obama has made clear that he opposes anti-gay laws in other countries that persecute LGBT people.
“The president absolutely opposes and has made clear in other countries laws that discriminate against individuals, whether for race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation,” Carney said.
Pressed by Karl on whether that specifically includes the anti-gay law in Russia that makes pro-LGBT propaganda a crime, Carney replied, “Yes. Sure, yes.”
On Tuesday, Obama expressed opposition to the anti-gay law in Russia during a pre-taped appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” when he said he has “no patience” for laws that discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
The next day, the White House announced Obama canceled a planned bilateral summit in Russia between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. An administration official told the Blade recent events regarding LGBT people were a factor.
In response to another question from Karl on whether the president is concerned about the persecution of LGBT athletes during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Carney referred to Obama’s remarks from earlier in the week.
“What I think the president made clear the other night is that it is in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Olympics are a success,” Carney said. “And that’s certainly true of other host countries when they have the privilege of hosting an Olympics. And he would expect them to take the necessary measures to ensure their success.”
In response to further questioning from Sky News’ Jon-Christopher Bua on the point at which Obama would support a boycott of the Olympics akin to what happened in 1980 when Moscow hosted the summer games, Carney said “that’s a conversation we’re not having.”
“The president was very clear about his views on the issues of gay rights, LGBT rights, and concerns that have been raised internationally about laws in Russia, and his expectation that, as host of the Olympics, Russia will conduct them in a way that shines a favorable light on them as well as ensures the absolutely necessary and proper treatment of delegations and athletes,” Carney said.
Carney said he has no knowledge of whether the administration has engaged with talks in Russia over the anti-gay law and deferred those questions to the State Department. Last week, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told the Washington Blade during another news briefing she had no conversations to predict or read out between the United States and Russia on this issue.
The transcript between reporters and Carney follows:
ABC News: Jay, I want to ask you about the so-called homosexual “propaganda” law in Russia. Of course, the President was asked by Jay Leno about this, and he said, “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.” So my question is, does the President condemn this Russian law?
Jay Carney: The President absolutely opposes and has made clear in other countries laws that discriminate against individuals, whether for race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
ABC News: Jay, with due respect, I’m asking specifically this law. Does the President condemn this law?
Carney: Yes. Sure, yes.
ABC News: And are you concerned that American delegations going over to the Olympics could face prosecution under this law for so-called promoting homosexuality?
Carney: What I think the President made clear the other night is that it is in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Olympics are a success. And that’s certainly true of other host countries when they have the privilege of hosting an Olympics. And he would expect them to take the necessary measures to ensure their success.
ABC News: And has this issue been raised directly with the Russians, both in terms of condemning this law and for ensuring that American citizens traveling to the Olympics, including the athletes, won’t be detained?
Carney: You would have to direct that question to the State Department. I don’t know the answer to that.
ABC News: You don’t know if the administration has brought this issue up with the Russians?
Carney: I would ask you to address that question to the State Department. I don’t personally know whether those conversations have been held. It’s our clear position that we oppose laws like that in any country, and that includes Russia.
ABC News: And what do you say to those who say that there should be a boycott of the Olympics over this issue?
Carney: I would refer you to the President’s remarks, which clearly stated his views and our position, and our expectation that it’s in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Olympics are a success.
ABC News: This is a basic human rights issue. It’s a pretty clear —
Carney: Yes, Jon, I think I’ve answered the question. The President answered it on television. The Olympics are not for a while. I think that our view is clear. And we certainly expect the host of any Olympics to ensure that they are a success, and that includes ensuring that delegations and athletes are all treated appropriately and with respect.
ABC News: And there’s a movement to — for those who say it shouldn’t be boycotted, but the position should be made clear that American athletes, athletes everywhere should wear symbols expressing displeasure and condemnation of this law, and that that’s something the American delegation should do. What does the White House say about that?
Carney: I haven’t heard that. I can tell you what our views are, what the President’s views are, which he himself expressed, and what our expectations are.
Sky News: May I just add another quick question? In 1980, President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics, brought 64 other nations along with him, including China and Japan, West Germany and Canada. What would be the tipping point for the President to go down this road? Is there any one thing that would —
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I think that that’s a conversation we’re not having. The President was very clear about his views on the issues of gay rights, LGBT rights, and concerns that have been raised internationally about laws in Russia, and his expectation that, as host of the Olympics, Russia will conduct them in a way that shines a favorable light on them as well as ensures the absolutely necessary and proper treatment of delegations and athletes.