Full Text Political Transcripts November 16, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey about Paris Terror Attacks Transcript



Press Conference by President Obama — Antalya, Turkey

Source: WH, 11-16-15

Kaya Palazzo Resort
Antalya, Turkey

4:42 P.M. EET

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking President Erdogan and the people of Antalya and Turkey for their outstanding work in hosting this G20 Summit. Antalya is beautiful. The hospitality of the Turkish people is legendary. To our Turkish friends — çok teşekkürler. (Laughter.) I’ve been practicing that.

At the G20, our focus was on how to get the global economy growing faster and creating more jobs for our people. And I’m pleased that we agreed that growth has to be inclusive to address the rising inequality around the world.

Given growing cyber threats, we committed to a set of norms — drafted by the United States — for how governments should conduct themselves in cyberspace, including a commitment not to engage in the cyber theft of intellectual property for commercial gain. And as we head into global climate talks, all G20 countries have submitted our targets, and we’ve pledged to work together for a successful outcome in Paris.

Of course, much of our attention has focused on the heinous attacks that took place in Paris. Across the world, in the United States, American flags are at half-staff in solidarity with our French allies. We’re working closely with our French partners as they pursue their investigations and track down suspects.

France is already a strong counterterrorism partner, and today we’re announcing a new agreement. We’re streamlining the process by which we share intelligence and operational military information with France. This will allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often — because we need to be doing everything we can to protect against more attacks and protect our citizens.

Tragically, Paris is not alone. We’ve seen outrageous attacks by ISIL in Beirut, last month in Ankara, routinely in Iraq. Here at the G20, our nations have sent an unmistakable message that we are united against this threat. ISIL is the face of evil. Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.

As I outlined this fall at the United Nations, we have a comprehensive strategy using all elements of our power — military, intelligence, economic, development, and the strength of our communities. With have always understood that this would be a long-term campaign. There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were a terrible and sickening setback. Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can’t lose sight that there has been progress being made.

On the military front, our coalition is intensifying our airstrikes — more than 8,000 to date. We’re taking out ISIL leaders, commanders, their killers. We’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can and is pushed back. So local forces in Iraq, backed by coalition airpower, recently liberated Sinjar. Iraqi forces are fighting to take back Ramadi. In Syria, ISIL has been pushed back from much of the border region with Turkey. We’ve stepped up our support of opposition forces who are working to cut off supply lines to ISIL’s strongholds in and around Raqqa. So, in short, both in Iraq and Syria, ISIL controls less territory than it did before.

I made the point to my fellow leaders that if we want this progress to be sustained, more nations need to step up with the resources that this fight demands.

Of course, the attacks in Paris remind us that it will not be enough to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq alone. Here in Antalya, our nations, therefore, committed to strengthening border controls, sharing more information, and stepping up our efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. As the United States just showed in Libya, ISIL leaders will have no safe haven anywhere. And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology.

On the humanitarian front, our nations agreed that we have to do even more, individually and collectively, to address the agony of the Syrian people. The United States is already the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people — some $4.5 billion in aid so far. As winter approaches, we’re donating additional supplies, including clothing and generators, through the United Nations. But the U.N. appeal for Syria still has less than half the funds needed. Today, I’m again calling on more nations to contribute the resources that this crisis demands.

In terms of refugees, it’s clear that countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — which are already bearing an extraordinary burden — cannot be expected to do so alone. At the same time, all of our countries have to ensure our security. And as President, my first priority is the safety of the American people. And that’s why, even as we accept more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.

We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.

Finally, we’ve begun to see some modest progress on the diplomatic front, which is critical because a political solution is the only way to end the war in Syria and unite the Syrian people and the world against ISIL. The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding. With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward — negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.

These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.

What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, as I said, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions. And I will begin with Jerome Cartillier of AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. One hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in Paris on Friday night. ISIL claimed responsibility for the massacre, sending the message that they could now target civilians all over the world. The equation has clearly changed. Isn’t it time for your strategy to change?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what we have been doing. We have a military strategy that is putting enormous pressure on ISIL through airstrikes; that has put assistance and training on the ground with Iraqi forces; we’re now working with Syrian forces as well to squeeze ISIL, cut off their supply lines. We’ve been coordinating internationally to reduce their financing capabilities, the oil that they’re trying to ship outside. We are taking strikes against high-value targets — including, most recently, against the individual who was on the video executing civilians who had already been captured, as well as the head of ISIL in Libya. So it’s not just in Iraq and Syria.

And so, on the military front, we are continuing to accelerate what we do. As we find additional partners on the ground that are effective, we work with them more closely. I’ve already authorized additional Special Forces on the ground who are going to be able to improve that coordination.

On the counterterrorism front, keep in mind that since I came into office, we have been worried about these kinds of attacks. The vigilance that the United States government maintains and the cooperation that we’re consistently expanding with our European and other partners in going after every single terrorist network is robust and constant. And every few weeks, I meet with my entire national security team and we go over every single threat stream that is presented, and where we have relevant information, we share it immediately with our counterparts around the world, including our European partners.

On aviation security, we have, over the last several years, been working so that at various airports sites — not just in the United States, but overseas — we are strengthening our mechanisms to screen and discover passengers who should not be boarding flights, and improving the matters in which we are screening luggage that is going onboard.

And on the diplomatic front, we’ve been consistently working to try to get all the parties together to recognize that there is a moderate opposition inside of Syria that can form the basis for a transition government, and to reach out not only to our friends but also to the Russians and the Iranians who are on the other side of this equation to explain to them that ultimately an organization like ISIL is the greatest danger to them, as well as to us.

So there will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work. But as I said from the start, it’s going to take time.

And what’s been interesting is, in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing. The one exception is that there have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.

And keep in mind that we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisors that that would be a mistake — not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface — unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.

And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?

So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained. And the strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.

And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those.

Margaret Brennan, CBS.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. A more than year-long bombing campaign in Iraq and in Syria has failed to contain the ambition and the ability of ISIS to launch attacks in the West. Have you underestimated their abilities? And will you widen the rules of engagement for U.S. forces to take more aggressive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, we haven’t underestimated our abilities. This is precisely why we’re in Iraq as we speak, and why we’re operating in Syria as we speak. And it’s precisely why we have mobilized 65 countries to go after ISIL, and why I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters, and why we’ve been putting pressure on those countries that have not been as robust as they need to in tracking the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq.

And so there has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.

But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.

Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris.

And that’s what we did with al Qaeda. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that al Qaeda no longer possess the capabilities of potentially striking the West. Al Qaeda in the Peninsula that operates primarily in Yemen we know has consistently tried to target the West. And we are consistently working to disrupt those acts. But despite the fact that they have not gotten as much attention as ISIL, they still pose a danger, as well.

And so our goals here consistently have to be to be aggressive, and to leave no stone unturned, but also recognize this is not conventional warfare. We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.

These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.

Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.

Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the days and weeks before the Paris attacks, did you receive warning in your daily intelligence briefing that an attack was imminent? If not, does that not call into question the current assessment that there is no immediate, specific, credible threat to the United States today?

And secondly, if I could ask you to address your critics who say that your reluctance to enter another Middle East war, and your preference of diplomacy over using the military makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, every day we have threat streams coming through the intelligence transit. And as I said, every several weeks we sit down with all my national security, intelligence, and military teams to discuss various threat streams that may be generated. And the concerns about potential ISIL attacks in the West have been there for over a year now, and they come through periodically. There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need — that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves.

But typically the way the intelligence works is there will be a threat stream that is from one source, how reliable is that source; perhaps some signal intelligence gets picked up, it’s evaluated. Some of it is extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and there’s no clear timetable. Some of it may be more specific, and then folks chase down that threat to see what happens.

I am not aware of anything that was specific in the sense — that would have given a premonition about a particular action in Paris that would allow for law enforcement or military actions to disrupt it.

With respect to the broader issue of my critics, to some degree I answered the question earlier. I think that when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.

Now, there are a few exceptions. And as I said, the primary exception is those who would deploy U.S. troops on a large scale to retake territory either in Iraq or now in Syria. And at least they have the honesty to go ahead and say that’s what they would do. I just addressed why I think they’re wrong. There have been some who are well-meaning, and I don’t doubt their sincerity when it comes to the issue of the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, who, for example, call for a no-fly zone or a safe zone of some sort.

And this is an example of the kind of issue where I will sit down with our top military and intelligence advisors, and we will painstakingly go through what does something like that look like. And typically, after we’ve gone through a lot of planning and a lot of discussion, and really working it through, it is determined that it would be counterproductive to take those steps — in part because ISIL does not have planes, so the attacks are on the ground. A true safe zone requires us to set up ground operations. And the bulk of the deaths that have occurred in Syria, for example, have come about not because of regime bombing, but because of on-the-ground casualties. Who would come in, who could come out of that safe zone; how would it work; would it become a magnet for further terrorist attacks; and how many personnel would be required, and how would it end — there’s a whole set of questions that have to be answered there.

I guess my point is this, Jim: My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. And if there’s a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it. I don’t think I’ve shown hesitation to act — whether it’s with respect to bin Laden or with respect to sending additional troops in Afghanistan, or keeping them there — if it is determined that it’s actually going to work.

But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.

We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.

Jim Acosta.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wanted to go back to something that you said to Margaret earlier when you said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world. How is that not underestimating their capabilities? And how is that contained, quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is — and if you’ll forgive the language — is why can’t we take out these bastards?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add. I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason, as I said, Jim, is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.

Ron Allen.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I think a lot of people around the world and in America are concerned because given the strategy that you’re pursuing — and it’s been more than a year now — ISIS’s capabilities seem to be expanding. Were you aware that they had the capability of pulling off the kind of attack that they did in Paris? Are you concerned? And do you think they have that same capability to strike in the United States?

And do you think that given all you’ve learned about ISIS over the past year or so, and given all the criticism about your underestimating them, do you think you really understand this enemy well enough to defeat them and to protect the homeland?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, so this is another variation on the same question. And I guess — let me try it one last time.

We have been fully aware of the potential capabilities of them carrying out a terrorist attack. That’s precisely why we have been mounting a very aggressive strategy to go after them. As I said before, when you’re talking about the ability of a handful of people with not wildly sophisticated military equipment, weapons, who are willing to die, they can kill a lot of people. And preventing them from doing so is challenging for every country. And if there was a swift and quick solution to this, I assure you that not just the United States, but France and Turkey, and others who have been subject to these terrorist attacks would have implemented those strategies.

There are certain advantages that the United States has in preventing these kinds of attacks. Obviously, after 9/11, we hardened the homeland, set up a whole series of additional steps to protect aviation, to apply lessons learned. We’ve seen much better cooperation between the FBI, state governments, local governments. There is some advantages to geography with respect to the United States.

But, having said that, we’ve seen the possibility of terrorist attacks on our soil. There was the Boston Marathon bombers. Obviously, it did not result in the scale of death that we saw in Paris, but that was a serious attempt at killing a lot of people by two brothers and a crockpot. And it gives you some sense of, I think, the kinds of challenges that are going to be involved in this going forward.

So again, ISIL has serious capabilities. Its capabilities are not unique. They are capabilities that other terrorist organizations that we track and are paying attention to possess, as well. We are going after all of them.

What is unique about ISIL is the degree to which it has been able to control territory that then allows them to attract additional recruits, and the greater effectiveness that they have on social media and their ability to use that to not only attract recruits to fight in Syria, but also potentially to carry out attacks in the homeland and in Europe and in other parts of the world.

And so our ability to shrink the space in which they can operate, combined with a resolution to the Syria situation — which will reduce the freedom with which they feel that they can operate, and getting local forces who are able to hold and keep them out over the long term, that ultimately is going to be what’s going to make a difference. And it’s going to take some time, but it’s not something that at any stage in this process have we not been aware needs to be done.

Q (Off-mic) — Mr. President?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, go ahead.

Q Should I wait for the microphone?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I can hear you.

Q Okay, thank you so much. (Inaudible.) I want to ask a question (inaudible). These terrorist attacks we’ve seen allegedly have been attacks under the name of Islam. But this really takes — or upsets the peaceful people like countries like Turkey. So how can we give off that (inaudible) this is not really representative of Muslims?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is something that we spoke a lot about at the G20. The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism over the last several years, and certainly the overwhelming majority of victims of ISIL, are themselves Muslims. ISIL does not represent Islam. It is not representative in any way of the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. This is something that’s been emphasized by Muslim leaders — whether it’s President Erdogan or the President of Indonesia or the President of Malaysia — countries that are majority Muslim, but have shown themselves to be tolerant and to work to be inclusive in their political process.

And so to the degree that anyone would equate the terrible actions that took place in Paris with the views of Islam, those kinds of stereotypes are counterproductive. They’re wrong. They will lead, I think, to greater recruitment into terrorist organizations over time if this becomes somehow defined as a Muslim problem as opposed to a terrorist problem.

Now, what is also true is, is that the most vicious terrorist organizations at the moment are ones that claim to be speaking on behalf of true Muslims. And I do think that Muslims around the world — religious leaders, political leaders, ordinary people — have to ask very serious questions about how did these extremist ideologies take root, even if it’s only affecting a very small fraction of the population. It is real and it is dangerous. And it has built up over time, and with social media it has now accelerated.

And so I think, on the one hand, non-Muslims cannot stereotype, but I also think the Muslim community has to think about how we make sure that children are not being infected with this twisted notion that somehow they can kill innocent people and that that is justified by religion. And to some degree, that is something that has to come from within the Muslim community itself. And I think there have been times where there has not been enough pushback against extremism. There’s been pushback — there are some who say, well, we don’t believe in violence, but are not as willing to challenge some of the extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel oppressed. And I think those ideas have to be challenged.

Let me make one last point about this, and then unfortunately I have to take a flight to Manila. I’m looking forward to seeing Manila, but I hope I can come back to Turkey when I’m not so busy.

One of the places that you’re seeing this debate play itself out is on the refugee issue both in Europe, and I gather it started popping up while I was gone back in the United States. The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans. And it is very important — and I was glad to see that this was affirmed again and again by the G20 — that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.

In Europe, I think people like Chancellor Merkel have taken a very courageous stance in saying it is our moral obligation, as fellow human beings, to help people who are in such vulnerable situations. And I know that it is putting enormous strains on the resources of the people of Europe. Nobody has been carrying a bigger burden than the people here in Turkey, with 2.5 million refugees, and the people of Jordan and Lebanon, who are also admitting refugees. The fact that they’ve kept their borders open to these refugees is a signal of their belief in a common humanity.

And so we have to, each of us, do our part. And the United States has to step up and do its part. And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

When Pope Francis came to visit the United States, and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted. He didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit to those who were of the same religious faith. He said, protect people who are vulnerable.

And so I think it is very important for us right now — particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard — not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.

I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. And whether you are European or American, the values that we are defending — the values that we’re fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them. And we don’t feed that kind of notion that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war.

And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 5:43 P.M. EET

Full Text Obama Presidency October 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference Transcript



Press Conference by the President

Source: WH, 10-2-15

State Dining Room

3:55 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m going to take a couple of questions from the press.  But first, a few additional pieces of business.

First of all, we learned today that our businesses created another 118,000 new jobs in September, which means that we now have had 67 straight months of job creation; 13.2 million new jobs in all — and an unemployment rate that has fallen from a high of 10 percent down to 5.1 percent.  These long-term trends are obviously good news, particularly for every American waking up each morning and heading off to a new job.

But we would be doing even better if we didn’t have to keep on dealing with unnecessary crises in Congress every few months. And this is especially important right now, because although the American economy has been chugging along at a steady pace, much of the global economy is softening.  We’ve seen an impact on our exports, which was a major driver of growth for us particularly at the beginning of the recovery.  And so our own growth could slow if Congress does not do away with some of the counterproductive austerity measures that they have put in place, and if Congress does not avoid the kind of manufactured crises that shatter consumer confidence and could disrupt an already skittish global economy.

On Wednesday, more than half of Republicans voted to shut down the government for the second time in two years.  The good news is that there were enough votes in both parties to pass a last-minute bill to keep the government open and operating for another 10 weeks before we can get a more long-term solution.  But keep in mind that gimmick only sets up another potential manufactured crisis just two weeks before Christmas.

And I’ve said this before, I want to repeat it — this is not the way the United States should be operating.

Oftentimes I hear from folks up on Capitol Hill, “the need for American leadership,” “the need for America to be number one.”  Well, you know what, around the globe, part of what makes us a leader is when we govern effectively and we keep our own house in order, and we pass budgets, and we can engage in long-term planning, and we can invest in the things that are important for the future.  That’s U.S. leadership.

When we fail to do that, we diminish U.S. leadership.  It’s not how we are supposed to operate.  And we can’t just keep on kicking down the road without solving any problems or doing any long-term planning for the future.  That’s true for our military; that’s true for our domestic programs.  The American people, American families deserve better.  And we can grow faster and the economy can improve if Congress acts with dispatch.  It will get worse if they don’t.

That’s why I want to be very clear:  I will not sign another shortsighted spending bill like the one Congress sent me this week.  We purchased ourselves 10 additional weeks; we need to use them effectively.

Keep in mind that a few years ago, both parties put in place harmful automatic cuts that make no distinction between spending we don’t need and spending we do.  We can revisit the history of how that happened — I have some rather grim memories of it.  But the notion was that even as we were bringing down the deficit, we would come up with a sustainable, smart, long-term approach to investing in the things that we need.  That didn’t happen.  And so now these cuts that have been maintained have been keeping our economy from growing faster.  It’s time to undo them.  If we don’t, then we will have to fund our economic and national security priorities in 2016 at the same levels that we did in 2006.

Now, understand, during that decade, between 2006 and 2016, our economy has grown by 12 percent.  Our population has grown by 8 percent.  New threats have emerged; new opportunities have appeared.  We can’t fund our country the way we did 10 years ago because we have greater demands — with an aging population, with kids who need schools, with roads that need to be fixed, with a military on which we are placing extraordinary demands.

And we can’t cut our way to prosperity.  Other countries have tried it and it has not worked.  We’ve grown faster than they have because we did not pursue these blind, unthinking cuts to necessary investments for our growth.  And by the way, because we’ve grown faster than them, we’ve brought our deficits down faster than they have.

I want to repeat this because the public apparently never believes it.  Since I took office, we’ve cut our deficits by two-thirds.  The deficit has not been going up; it has been coming down — precipitously.  We’ve cut our deficits by two-thirds.  They’re below the average deficits over the past 40 years.

So the bottom line is, Congress has to do its job.  It can’t flirt with another shutdown.  It should pass a serious budget.  And if they do, and get rid of some of these mindless cuts, even as we’re still prudent about maintaining the spending that we need but not spending we don’t need and is not working, their own non-partisan budget office estimates we’re going to add an extra half-million jobs to our economy next year alone.  We can immediately put half a million more people back to work if we just have a more sensible budget.

And in these negotiations, nobody is going to get everything they want.  We have to work together, though, even if we disagree, in order to do the people’s business.  At some point we have to want to govern, and not just play politics or play to various political bases.  At some point, we need to pass bills so that we can rebuild our roads, and keep our kids learning, and our military strong, and help people prepare for and recover from disasters.  That is Congress’s most basic job.  That’s what our government is supposed to do — serve the American people.

So with that, let me take some questions.  And I’ll start with Julie Pace of AP.

Hang in there, kids.  (Laughter.)

Q    It will be over soon.  Thank you, Mr. President.  There have been several developments in Syria that I wanted to ask you about, starting with Russia’s involvement.  You met with President Putin earlier this week, and I wonder if you think he was honest with you about his intentions in Syria.  If Russia is targeting groups beyond the Islamic State, including U.S.-aligned groups, does the U.S. military have an obligation to protect them?  And on the situation in Syria more broadly, there have obviously been failures in the U.S. train-and-equip program.  Do you believe that that program can be fixed or do you have to look at other options?  Would you, in particular, be willing to reconsider a no-fly zone, which several presidential candidates, including your former Secretary of State, are now calling for?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first and foremost, let’s understand what’s happening in Syria and how we got here.  What started off as peaceful protests against Assad, the president, evolved into a civil war because Assad met those protests with unimaginable brutality.  And so this is not a conflict between the United States and any party in Syria; this is a conflict between the Syrian people and a brutal, ruthless dictator.

Point number two is that the reason Assad is still in power is because Russia and Iran have supported him throughout this process.  And in that sense, what Russia is doing now is not particularly different from what they had been doing in the past — they’re just more overt about it.  They’ve been propping up a regime that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Syrian population because they’ve seen that he has been willing to drop barrel bombs on children and on villages indiscriminately, and has been more concerned about clinging to power than the state of his country.

So in my discussions with President Putin, I was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive — that keeps the state intact, that keeps the military intact, that maintains cohesion, but that is inclusive — and the only way to accomplish that is for Mr. Assad to transition, because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians.  This is not a judgment I’m making; it is a judgment that the overwhelming majority of Syrians make.

And I said to Mr. Putin that I’d be prepared to work with him if he is willing to broker with his partners, Mr. Assad and Iran, a political transition — we can bring the rest of the world community to a brokered solution — but that a military solution alone, an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire.  And it won’t work.  And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.

I also said to him that it is true that the United States and Russia and the entire world have a common interest in destroying ISIL.  But what was very clear — and regardless of what Mr. Putin said — was that he doesn’t distinguish between ISIL and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Mr. Assad go.  From their perspective, they’re all terrorists.  And that’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s one that I reject.

So where we are now is that we are having technical conversations about de-confliction so that we’re not seeing U.S. and American firefights in the air.  But beyond that, we’re very clear in sticking to our belief and our policy that the problem here is Assad and the brutality that he has inflicted on the Syrian people, and that it has to stop.  And in order for it to stop, we’re prepared to work with all the parties concerned.  But we are not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior.

Keep in mind also, from a practical perspective, the moderate opposition in Syria is one that if we’re ever going to have to have a political transition, we need.  And the Russian policy is driving those folks underground or creating a situation in which they are de-capacitated, and it’s only strengthening ISIL.  And that’s not good for anybody.

In terms of our support of opposition groups inside of Syria, I made very clear early on that the United States couldn’t impose a military solution on Syria either, but that it was in our interest to make sure that we were engaged with moderate opposition inside of Syria because eventually Syria will fall, the Assad regime will fall, and we have to have somebody who we’re working with that we can help pick up the pieces and stitch back together a cohesive, coherent country.  And so we will continue to support them.

The training-and-equip program was a specific initiative by the Defense Department to see if we could get some of that moderate opposition to focus attention on ISIL in the eastern portion of the country.  And I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to, Julie.  And I think that the Department of Defense would say the same thing.  And part of the reason, frankly, is because when we tried to get them to just focus on ISIL, the response we’d get back is, how can we focus on ISIL when every single day we’re having barrel bombs and attacks from the regime?  And so it’s been hard to get them to reprioritize, looking east, when they’ve got bombs coming at them from the west.

So what we’re doing with the train-and-equip is looking at where we have had success — for example, working with some of the Kurdish community in the east that pushed ISIL out — seeing if we can build on that.  But what we’re also going to continue to do is to have contacts with and work with opposition that, rightly, believes that in the absence of some change of government inside of Syria we’re going to continue to see civil war, and that is going to turbocharge ISIL recruitment and jihadist recruitment, and we’re going to continue to have problems.

Now, last point I just want to make about this — because sometimes the conversation here in the Beltway differs from the conversation internationally.  Mr. Putin had to go into Syria not out of strength but out of weakness, because his client, Mr. Assad, was crumbling.  And it was insufficient for him simply to send them arms and money; now he’s got to put in his own planes and his own pilots.  And the notion that he put forward a plan and that somehow the international community sees that as viable because there is a vacuum there — I didn’t see, after he made that speech in the United Nations, suddenly the 60-nation coalition that we have start lining up behind him.

Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment. The rest of the world makes up ours.  So I don’t think people are fooled by the current strategy.  It does not mean that we could not see Mr. Putin begin to recognize that it is in their interest to broker a political settlement.  And as I said in New York, we’re prepared to work with the Russians and the Iranians, as well as our partners who are part of the anti-ISIL coalition to come up with that political transition.  And nobody pretends that it’s going to be easy, but I think it is still possible.  And so we will maintain lines of communication.

But we are not going to be able to get those negotiations going if there is not a recognition that there’s got to be a change in government.  We’re not going to go back to the status quo ante.  And the kinds of airstrikes against moderate opposition that Russia is engaging in is going to be counterproductive.  It’s going to move us farther away rather than towards the ultimate solution that we’re all — that we all should be looking for.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Julie, throughout this process, I think people have constantly looked for an easy, low-cost answer — whether it’s we should have sent more rifles in early and somehow then everything would have been okay; or if I had taken that shot even after Assad offered to give up his chemical weapons, then immediately things would have folded, or the Assad regime would have folded, and we would have suddenly seen a peaceful Syria.

This is a hugely, difficult, complex problem.  And I would have hoped that we would have learned that from Afghanistan and Iraq, where we have devoted enormous time and effort and resources with the very best people and have given the Afghan people and the Iraqi people an opportunity for democracy.  But it’s still hard, as we saw this week in Afghanistan.  That’s not by virtue of a lack of effort on our part, or a lack of commitment.  We’ve still got 10,000 folks in Afghanistan.  We’re still spending billions of dollar supporting that government, and it’s still tough.

So when I make a decision about the level of military involvement that we’re prepared to engage in, in Syria, I have to make a judgment based on, once we start something we’ve got to finish it, and we’ve got to do it well.  And do we, in fact, have the resources and the capacity to make a serious impact — understanding that we’ve still got to go after ISIL in Iraq; we still have to support the training of an Iraqi military that is weaker than any of us perceived; that we still have business to do in Afghanistan.  And so I push — and have consistently over the last four, five years sought out a wide range of opinions about steps that we can take potentially to move Syria in a better direction.

I am under no illusions about what an incredible humanitarian catastrophe this is, and the hardships that we’re seeing, and the refugees that are traveling in very dangerous circumstances and now creating real political problems among our allies in Europe, and the heartbreaking images of children drowned trying to escape war, and the potential impact of such a destabilized country on our allies in the region.  But what we have learned over the last 10, 12, 13 years is that unless we can get the parties on the ground to agree to live together in some fashion, then no amount of U.S. military engagement will solve the problem.  And we will find ourselves either doing just a little bit and not making a difference, and losing credibility that way, or finding ourselves drawn in deeper and deeper into a situation that we can’t sustain.

And when I hear people offering up half-baked ideas as if they are solutions, or trying to downplay the challenges involved in this situation — what I’d like to see people ask is, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do, and how would you fund it, and how would you sustain it?  And typically, what you get is a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

So these are hard challenges.  They are ones that we are going to continue to pursue.  The topline message that I want everybody to understand is we are going to continue to go after ISIL.  We are going to continue to reach out to a moderate opposition.  We reject Russia’s theory that everybody opposed to Assad is a terrorist.  We think that is self-defeating.  It will get them into a quagmire.  It will be used as a further recruitment tool for foreign fighters.

We will work with the international community and our coalition to relieve the humanitarian pressure.  On refugees, we are working with the Turks and others to see what we can do along the border to make things safer for people.  But ultimately, we’re going to have to find a way for a political transition if we’re going to solve Syria.

Jon Karl.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.


Q    Back in July you said that the gun issue has been the most frustrating of your presidency, and we certainly heard that frustration from you last night.


Q    So in the last 15 months of your presidency, do you intend to do anything differently to get Congress to act or to do something about this gun violence problem?

And I have to get you to respond to something that Jeb Bush just said, and to be fair to Governor Bush I want to read it directly.  Asked about the drive to take action in light of what happened in Oregon, he said, “Look, stuff happens.  There’s always a crisis.  And the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not always the right thing to do.”  How would you react to Governor Bush?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t even think I have to react to that one.  (Laughter.)  I think the American people should hear that and make their own judgments, based on the fact that every couple of months, we have a mass shooting, and in terms of — and they can decide whether they consider that “stuff happening”.

In terms of what I can do, I’ve asked my team — as I have in the past — to scrub what kinds of authorities do we have to enforce the laws that we have in place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  Are there additional actions that we can take that might prevent even a handful of these tragic deaths from taking place?  But as I said last night, this will not change until the politics change and the behavior of elected officials changes.

And so the main thing I’m going to do is I’m going to talk about this on a regular basis, and I will politicize it because our inaction is a political decision that we are making.

The reason that Congress does not support even the modest gun safety laws that we proposed after Sandy Hook is not because the majority of the American people don’t support it.  I mean, normally, politicians are responsive to the views of the electorate.  Here you’ve got the majority of the American people think it’s the right thing to do.  Background checks, other common-sense steps that would maybe save some lives couldn’t even get a full vote.  And why is that?  It’s because of politics.  It’s because interest groups fund campaigns, feed people fear. And in fairness, it’s not just in the Republican Party — although the Republican Party is just uniformly opposed to all gun safety laws.  And unless we change that political dynamic, we’re not going to be able to make a big dent in this problem.

For example, you’ll hear people talk about the problem is not guns, it’s mental illness.  Well, if you talk to people who study this problem, it is true that the majority of these mass shooters are angry young men, but there are hundreds of millions of angry young men around the world — tens of millions of angry young men.  Most of them don’t shoot.  It doesn’t help us just to identify — and the majority of people who have mental illnesses are not shooters.  So we can’t sort through and identify ahead of time who might take actions like this.  The only thing we can do is make sure that they can’t have an entire arsenal when something snaps in them.

And if we’re going to do something about that, the politics has to change.  The politics has to change.  And the people who are troubled by this have to be as intense and as organized and as adamant about this issue as folks on the other side who are absolutists and think that any gun safety measures are somehow an assault on freedom, or communistic — or a plot by me to takeover and stay in power forever or something.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there are all kinds of crackpot conspiracy theories that float around there — some of which, by the way, are ratified by elected officials in the other party on occasion.

So we’ve got to change the politics of this.  And that requires people to feel — not just feel deeply — because I get a lot of letters after this happens — “do something!”  Well, okay, here’s what you need to do.  You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue.  And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them.  And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side.

And that’s going to take some time.  I mean, the NRA has had a good start.  They’ve been at this a long time, they’ve perfected what they do.  You’ve got to give them credit — they’re very effective, because they don’t represent the majority of the American people but they know how to stir up fear; they know how to stir up their base; they know how to raise money; they know how to scare politicians; they know how to organize campaigns.  And the American people are going to have to match them in their sense of urgency if we’re actually going to stop this.

Which isn’t to say stopping all violence.  We’re not going to stop all violence.  Violence exists around the world, sadly.  Part of original sin.  But our homicide rates are just a lot higher than other places — that, by the way, have the same levels of violence.  It’s just you can’t kill as many people when you don’t have easy access to these kinds of weapons.

And I’m deeply saddened about what happened yesterday.  But Arne is going back to Chicago — let’s not forget, this is happening every single day in forgotten neighborhoods around the country.  Every single day.  Kids are just running for their lives, trying to get to school.  Broderick, when we were down in New Orleans, sitting down with a group of young men, when we were talking about Katrina, and I’ve got two young men next to me, both of them had been shot multiple times.  They were barely 20.

So we got to make a decision.  If we think that’s normal, then we have to own it.  I don’t think it’s normal.  I think it’s abnormal.  I think we should change it.  But I can’t do it by myself.

So the main thing I’m going to do, Jon, is talk about it.  And hope that over time I’m changing enough minds — along with other leaders around the country — that we start finally seeing some action.  I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight.

Cheryl Bolen.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  To go back to your opening remarks, you said that you won’t sign another short-term CR.  But as you know, yesterday Secretary Lew announced that the government’s borrowing authority would run out around November 5th.  Would you recommend negotiating an increase in the debt ceiling as part of these budget negotiations on spending caps?  And also does the Speaker’s race complicate these negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sure the Speaker’s race complicates these negotiations.  (Laughter.)  That was a rhetorical question. (Laughter.)  It will complicate the negotiations.  But when it comes to the debt ceiling, we’re not going back there.

Maybe it’s been a while, so let me just refresh everybody’s memory.  Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more, it simply authorizes us to pay the bills that we have already incurred.  It is the way for the United States to maintain its good credit rating — the full faith and credit of the United States.

Historically, we do not mess with it.  If it gets messed with, it would have profound implications for the global economy and could put our financial system in the kind of tailspin that we saw back in 2007-2008.  It’s just a bad thing to do.  So we’re not going to negotiate on that.  It has to get done in the next five weeks.  So even though the continuing resolution to keep the government open lasts for 10 weeks, we have to get the debt ceiling raised in five.  You’ve got a shorter timetable to get that done.

But here’s the bottom line:  Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, myself, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid — we’ve all spoken and talked about trying to negotiate a budget agreement.  And, yes, Speaker Boehner’s decision to step down complicates it.  But I do think that there is still a path for us to come up with a reasonable agreement that raises the spending caps above sequester to make sure that we can properly finance both our defense and nondefense needs, that maintains a prudent control of our deficits, and that we can do that in short order.  It’s not that complicated.  The math is the math.

And what I’ve encouraged is that we get started on that work immediately, and we push through over the next several weeks — and try to leave out extraneous issues that may prevent us from getting a budget agreement.

I know, for example, that there are many Republicans who are exercised about Planned Parenthood.  And I deeply disagree with them on that issue, and I think that it’s mischaracterized what Planned Parenthood does.  But I understand that they feel strongly about it, and I respect that.  But you can’t have an issue like that potentially wreck the entire U.S. economy — any more than I should hold the entire budget hostage to my desire to do something about gun violence.  I feel just as strongly about that and I think I’ve got better evidence for it.  But the notion that I would threaten the Republicans that unless they passed gun safety measures that would stop mass shootings I’m going to shut down the government and not sign an increase in the debt ceiling would be irresponsible of me.  And the American people, rightly, would reject that.

Well, same is true for them.  There are some fights that we fight individually.  They want to defund Planned Parenthood, there’s a way to do it.  Pass a law, override my veto.  That’s true across a whole bunch of issues that they disagree with me on, and that’s how democracy works.  I got no problem with that.

But you have to govern.  And I’m hoping that the next Speaker understands that the problem Speaker Boehner had or Mitch McConnell had in not dismantling Obamacare, or not eliminating the Department of Education, or not deporting every immigrant in this country was not because Speaker Boehner or Mitch McConnell didn’t care about conservative principles.  It had to do with the fact that they can’t do it in our system of government, which requires compromise.  Just like I can’t do everything I want in passing an immigration bill, or passing a gun safety bill.  And that doesn’t mean, then, I throw a tantrum and try to wreck the economy, and put hardworking Americans who are just now able to dig themselves out of a massive recession, put them in harm’s way.  Wrong thing to do.

Peter Alexander.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You addressed — I want to follow up on Jon’s questions about the issue that’s obviously deeply personal and moving to you — that is the gun issue.  Apart from Congress’s inaction, apart from the desire for new laws and, beyond that, apart from the gun lobby, as you noted, the pattern is that these perpetrators are angry, aggrieved, oftentimes mentally ill young men.  Is there something that you can do with the bully pulpit, with your moral authority, with your remaining time in office to help reach these individuals who believe that gun violence is the way out?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  I think I can continue to speak to the American people as a whole and hopefully model for them basic social norms about rejecting violence, and cooperation and caring for other people.  But there are a lot of young men out there.  And having been one myself once, I can tell you that us being able to identify or pinpoint who might have problems is extraordinarily difficult.

So I think we, as a culture, should continuously think about how we can nurture our kids, protect our kids, talk to them about conflict resolution, discourage violence.  And I think there are poor communities where, rather than mass shootings, you’re seeing just normal interactions that used to be settled by a fistfight settled with guns where maybe intervention programs and mentorship and things like that can work.  That’s the kind of thing that we’re trying to encourage through My Brother’s Keeper.

But when it comes to reaching every disaffected young man, 99 percent of — or 99.9 percent of whom will hopefully grow out of it — I don’t think that there’s a silver bullet there.  The way we are going to solve this problem is that when they act out, when they are disturbed, when that particular individual has a problem, that they can’t easily access weapons that can perpetrate mass violence on a lot of people.

Because that’s what other countries do.  Again, I want to emphasize this.  There’s no showing that somehow we are inherently more violent than any other advanced nation, or that young men are inherently more violent in our nation than they are in other nations.  I will say young men inherently are more violent than the rest of the population, but there’s no sense that somehow this is — it’s something in the American character that is creating this.  Levels of violence are on par between the United States and other advanced countries.  What is different is homicide rates and gun violence rates and mass shooting rates.  So it’s not that the behavior or the impulses are necessarily different as much as it is that they have access to more powerful weapons.

Julia Edwards.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You just said that you reject President Putin’s approach to Syria and his attacks on moderate opposition forces.  You said it was a recipe for disaster.  But what are you willing to do to stop President Putin and protect moderate opposition fighters?  Would you consider imposing sanctions against Russia?  Would you go so far as to equip moderate rebels with anti-aircraft weapons to protect them from Russian air attacks?  And how do you respond to critics who say Putin is outsmarting you, that he took a measure of you in Ukraine and he felt he could get away with it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, I’ve heard it all before.  (Laughter.) I’ve got to say I’m always struck by the degree to which not just critics but I think people buy this narrative.

Let’s think about this.  So when I came into office seven and a half years ago, America had precipitated the worst financial crisis in history, dragged the entire world into a massive recession.  We were involved in two wars with almost no coalition support.  U.S. — world opinion about the United States was at a nadir — we were just barely above Russia at that time, and I think potentially slightly below China’s.  And we were shedding 800,000 jobs a month, and so on and so forth.

And today, we’re the strongest large advanced economy in the world — probably one of the few bright spots in the world economy.  Our approval ratings have gone up.  We are more active on more international issues and forge international responses to everything from Ebola to countering ISIL.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin comes into office at a time when the economy had been growing and they were trying to pivot to a more diversified economy, and as a consequence of these brilliant moves, their economy is contracting 4 percent this year.  They are isolated in the world community, subject to sanctions that are not just applied by us but by what used to be some of their closest trading partners.  Their main allies in the Middle East were Libya and Syria — Mr. Gaddafi and Mr. Assad — and those countries are falling apart.  And he’s now just had to send in troops and aircraft in order to prop up this regime, at the risk of alienating the entire Sunni world.

So what was the question again?  (Laughter.)

No, but I think it’s really interesting to understand.  Russia is not stronger as a consequence of what they’ve been doing.  They get attention.  The sanctions against Ukraine are still in place.  And what I’ve consistently offered — from a position of strength, because the United States is not subject to sanctions and we’re not contracting 4 percent a year — what I’ve offered is a pathway whereby they can get back onto a path of growth and do right by their people.

So Mr. Putin’s actions have been successful only insofar as it’s boosted his poll ratings inside of Russia — which may be why the beltway is so impressed, because that tends to be the measure of success.  Of course, it’s easier to do when you’ve got a state-controlled media.

But this is not a smart, strategic move on Russia’s part.  And what Russia has now done is not only committed its own troops into a situation in which the overwhelming majority of the Syrian population sees it now as an enemy, but the Sunni population throughout the Middle East is going to see it as a supporter, an endorser, of those barrel bombs landing on kids — at a time when Russia has a significant Muslim population inside of its own borders that it needs to worry about.

So I want Russia to be successful.  This is not a contest between the United States and Russia.  It is in our interest for Russia to be a responsible, effective actor on the international stage that can share burdens with us, along with China, along with Europe, along with Japan, along with other countries — because the problems we have are big.  So I’m hopeful that Mr. Putin, having made this doubling-down of the support he has provided to Mr. Assad, recognizes that this is not going to be a good long-term strategy and that he works instead to bring about a political settlement.

Just as I hope that they can resolve the issues with Ukraine in a way that recognizes Russian equities but upholds the basic principle of sovereignty and independence that the Ukrainian people should enjoy like everybody else.  But until that time, we’re going to continue to have tensions and we’re going to continue to have differences.

But we’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.  That would be bad strategy on our part.  This is a battle between Russia, Iran, and Assad against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people.  Our battle is with ISIL, and our battle is with the entire international community to resolve the conflict in a way that can end the bloodshed and end the refugee crisis, and allow people to be at home, work, grow food, shelter their children, send those kids to school.  That’s the side we’re on.

This is not some superpower chessboard contest.  And anybody who frames it in that way isn’t paying very close attention to what’s been happening on the chessboard.

All right, last question.  Major Garrett.

Q    Mr. President, good to see you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good to see you.

Q    And for the children there, I promise I won’t take too long.  So you’ve been very patient.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve been boring them to death, I guarantee it.  (Laughter.)  But there have been times where I’ve snagged rebounds for Ryan when he is shooting three-pointers so he has got to put up with this.  (Laughter.)

Q    Understood.  Mr. President, I wonder if you could tell the country to what degree you were changed or moved by what you discussed in private with Pope Francis?  What do you think his visit might have meant for the country long term?  And for Democrats who might already be wondering, is it too late for Joe Biden to decide whether or not to run for President?  And lastly, just to clarify, to what degree did Hillary Clinton’s endorsement just yesterday of a no-fly zone put her in a category of embracing a half-baked answer on Syria that borders on mumbo jumbo?

THE PRESIDENT:  On the latter issue, on the last question that you asked, Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems.  She was obviously my Secretary of State.  But I also think that there’s a difference between running for President and being President, and the decisions that are being made and the discussions that I’m having with the Joint Chiefs become much more specific and require, I think, a different kind of judgment.  And that’s what I’ll continue to apply as long as I’m here.  And if and when she’s President, then she’ll make those judgments.  And she’s been there enough that she knows that these are tough calls but that —

Q    — that she should know better?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, that’s not what I said.  That’s perhaps what you said.  What I’m saying is, is that we all want to try to relieve the suffering in Syria, but my job is to make sure that whatever we do we are doing in a way that serves the national security interests of the American people; that doesn’t lead to us getting into things that we can’t get out of or that we cannot do effectively; and as much as possible, that we’re working with international partners.

And we’re going to continue to explore things that we can do to protect people and to deal with the humanitarian situation there, and to provide a space in which we can bring about the kind of political transition that’s going to be required to solve the problem.  And I think Hillary Clinton would be the first to say that when you’re sitting in the seat that I’m sitting in, in the Situation Room, things look a little bit different — because she’s been right there next to me.

I love Joe Biden, and he’s got his own decisions to make, and I’ll leave it at that.  And in the meantime, he’s doing a great job as Vice President and has been really helpful on a whole bunch of issues.

Pope Francis I love.  He is a good man with a warm heart and a big moral imagination.  And I think he had such an impact in his visit here — as he has had around the world — because he cares so deeply about the least of these, and in that sensea expresses what I consider to be, as a Christian, the essence of Christianity.  And he’s got a good sense of humor.  (Laughter.)  Well, I can’t share all his jokes.  They were all clean.  (Laughter.)

And as I said in the introduction in the South Lawn when he appeared here at the White House, I think it’s really useful that he makes us uncomfortable in his gentle way; that he’s constantly prodding people’s consciences and asking everybody all across the political spectrum what more you can do to be kind, and to be helpful, and to love, and to sacrifice, and to serve.  And in that sense, I don’t think he’s somebody where we should be applying the typical American political measures — liberal and conservative, and left and right — I think he is speaking to all of our consciences, and we all have to then search ourselves to see if there are ways that we can do better.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It did.  I think that when I spend time with somebody like the Pontiff — and there are other individuals, some of whom are famous, some of whom are not, but who are good people and deeply moral — then it makes me want to be better, makes me want to do better.  And those people are great gifts to the world.  And sometimes they’re just a teacher in a classroom. And sometimes they’re your neighbor.  And sometimes they’re your mom, or your wife.  Sometimes they’re your kids.  But they can encourage you to be better.  That’s what we’re all trying to do.

And that’s part of the wonderful thing about Pope Francis, is the humility that he brings to do this.  His rejection of the absolutism that says I’m 100 percent right and you’re 100 percent wrong; but rather, we are all sinners and we are all children of God.  That’s a pretty good starting point for being better.

All right.  Thank you, guys, for your patience.  You can now go home.  (Laughter.)



4:53 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts September 25, 2015: Speaker John Boehner’s Press Conference Announcing Resignation Transcript



Speaker Boehner: “It’s Been An Honor To Serve”

Source: Speaker Boehner’s Press Office, 9-25-15

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today held a news conference to discuss his decision to resign from the Speakership and his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  You can watch the entire news conference here.  Following are Boehner’s opening remarks:

“My mission every day is to fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government.  Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children.  We’re now on track to cut government spending by $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years.    We’ve made the first real entitlement reform in nearly two decades.   And we’ve protected 99 percent of Americans from permanent tax increases.

“We’ve done all this with a Democrat in the White House.  So I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.

“But more than anything, my first job as Speaker is to protect the institution.  A lot of you now know that my plan was to step down at the end of last year.  I decided in November of 2010 when I was elected Speaker that serving two terms would have been plenty.  But in June of last year, when it became clear that the majority leader lost his election, I frankly didn’t believe it was right to leave at the end of last year.  So my goal was to leave at the end of this year.  So I planned, actually on my birthday, November 17th, to announce that I was leaving at the end of the year. 

“But it’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.   So this morning, I informed my colleagues that I would resign from the Speakership and resign from Congress at the end of October. 

“Now, as you’ve often heard me say, this isn’t about me.   It’s about the people, it’s about the institution.  Just yesterday, we witnessed the awesome sight of Pope Francis addressing the greatest legislative body in the world.  And I hope that we will all heed his call to live by the Golden Rule.  But last night, I had started to think about all this. Then this morning, I woke up, said my prayers, as I always do.  And I decided, you know, today’s the day I’m going to do this, as simple as that.

“That’s the code I’ve always lived by: if you do the right things for the right reasons, the right things will happen.  And I know good things lie ahead for this House and this country.  I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I’m especially proud of my team.  This is my 25th year here, and I’ve succeeded in putting a staff together and a team together, many of which have been  with me for a long time.  Without a great staff, you can’t be a great member, and you certainly can’t be a great Speaker.

“I want to thank my family for putting up with this all these years. My poor girls, who are now 37 and 35. Their first campaign photo was in July of 1981, and so, they’ve had to endure all this.  It’s one thing for me to have to endure it. I’ve got thick skin. But, you know, the girls and my wife, they had to put up with a lot over the years.

“Let me express my gratitude to my constituents, who’ve sent me here 13 times over the last 25 years. You can’t get here without getting votes. But — I say this often. People ask me, what’s the greatest thing about being speaker, or about being an elected official? And I said, well, it’s the people you get to meet.  You know, I have met tens of thousands of people in my own congressional district that I would have not met, other than the fact I decided to ran for Congress.  Over the years, as I traveled on behalf of my colleagues and the party, I’ve met tens of thousands of additional people all over the country. And you meet rich people, you meet poor people, you meet interesting people. Probably a few boring ones along the way.

“But I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the people I meet on the road, anywhere, could not be — could not be nicer than they’ve been. It’s been — really, it’s been wonderful.

“It’s been an honor to serve in this institution.”

– See more at: http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-it-s-been-honor-serve#sthash.ylte48wm.dpuf

Full Text Political Transcripts July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama scolds CBS News’ Major Garrett on Iran hostages question at press conference



Obama scolds CBS News’ Major Garrett on Iran hostages question at press conference

Source: CBS News, 7-15-15

Transcription of exchange between CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett and President Obama over Iranian hostages.

Major Garrett: As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran – three held on trumped up charges according to your administration, one, whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all of the fanfare around this [nuclear] deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for, in relation to these four Americans?

And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It was perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations, making the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry. Could you comment?

President Obama: I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content, as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails – Major, that’s nonsense. And you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody’s content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals – makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal. And by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing just as hard to get these folks out. That’s why those issues are not connected, but we are working every single day to try to get them out and won’t stop until they’re out and rejoined with their families.

With respect to the Chairman’s testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol. We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles. As I just explained, not only do we keep in place for five years the arms embargo this particular new UN resolution, not only do we maintain the eight years on the ballistic missiles under this particular UN resolution, but we have a host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities – whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now.

So, we have not lost those legal authorities, and in fact part of my pitch to the GCC countries, as well as to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is we should do a better job making sure that Iran’s not engaged in sending arms to organizations like Hezbollah, and as I just indicated, that means improving our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity with our partners.

Full Text Obama Presidency July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama’s press conference on the Iran nuclear deal Transcript



Full text: Obama’s news conference on the Iran nuclear deal

Source: WH, 7-15-15

Press Conference by the President

East Room

1:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Yesterday was a historic day.  The comprehensive, long-term deal that we achieved with our allies and partners to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon represents a powerful display of American leadership and diplomacy.  It shows what we can accomplish when we lead from a position of strength and a position of principle, when we unite the international community around a shared vision, and we resolve to solve problems peacefully.

As I said yesterday, it’s important for the American people and Congress to get a full opportunity to review this deal.  That process is now underway.  I’ve already reached out to leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle.  My national security team has begun offering extensive briefings.  I expect the debate to be robust — and that’s how it should be.  This is an important issue.  Our national security policies are stronger and more effective when they are subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands.

And as I said yesterday, the details of this deal matter very much.  That’s why our team worked so hard for so long to get the details right.  At the same time, as this debate unfolds, I hope we don’t lose sight of the larger picture — the opportunity that this agreement represents.  As we go forward, it’s important for everybody to remember the alternative and the fundamental choice that this moment represents.

With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program — a nuclear weapons program, and Iran’s nuclear program will be under severe limits for many years.  Without a deal, those pathways remain open; there would be no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb.

With this deal, we gain unprecedented, around-the-clock monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities and the most comprehensive and intrusive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated.  Without a deal, those inspections go away, and we lose the ability to closely monitor Iran’s program and detect any covert nuclear weapons program.

With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences.  Nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place.  Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel, with little ability to re-impose them.

With this deal, we have the possibility of peacefully resolving a major threat to regional and international security.  Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East, and other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world.

As I said yesterday, even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran — its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East.  Therefore, the multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain in place for an additional five years, and restrictions on ballistic missile technology will remain for eight years.  In addition, the United States will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.  And we’ll continue our unprecedented security cooperation with Israel and continue to deepen our partnerships with the Gulf States.

But the bottom line is this:  This nuclear deal meets the national security interests of the United States and our allies.  It prevents the most serious threat — Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would only make the other problems that Iran may cause even worse.  That’s why this deal makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.  It’s why the alternative — no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, no inspections, an Iran that’s closer to a nuclear weapon, the risk of a regional nuclear arms race and a greater risk of war — all that would endanger our security.  That’s the choice that we face.  If we don’t choose wisely, I believe future generations will judge us harshly for letting this moment slip away.

And no one suggests that this deal resolves all the threats that Iran poses to its neighbors or the world.  Moreover, realizing the promise of this deal will require many years of implementation and hard work.  It will require vigilance and execution.  But this deal is our best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.  And, from the start, that has been my number-one priority, our number-one priority.  We’ve got a historic chance to pursue a safer and more secure world — an opportunity that may not come again in our lifetimes.  As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I am determined to seize that opportunity.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions.  And let me see who I’m starting off with.  Here you go.  I got it.  (Laughter.)

Andrew Beatty, AFP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday, you said the deal offered a chance at a new direction in relations with Iran.  What steps will you take to enable a more moderate Iran?  And does this deal allow you to more forcefully counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region quite aside from the nuclear question?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Andrew, if you don’t mind, just because I suspect that there’s going to be a common set of questions that are touched on — I promise I will get to your question, but I want to start off just by stepping back and reminding folks of what is at stake here.  And I already did in my opening statement, but I just want to reiterate it because I’ve heard already some of the objections to the deal.

The starting premise of our strategy with respect to Iran has been that it would be a grave threat to the United States and to our allies if they obtained a nuclear weapon.  And so everything that we’ve done over the last six and a half years has been designed to make sure that we address that number-one priority.  That’s what the sanctions regime was all about.  That’s how we were able to mobilize the international community, including some folks that we are not particularly close to, to abide by these sanctions.  That’s how these crippling sanctions came about, was because we were able to gain global consensus that Iran having a nuclear weapon would be a problem for everybody.

That’s the reason that Iran’s accounts got frozen and they were not able to get money for the oil sales that they’ve made.  That’s the reason that they had problems operating with respect to international commerce — because we built that international consensus around this very specific, narrow, but profound issue — the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

And, by the way, that was not simply my priority.  If you look back at all the debates that have taken place over the last five, six years, this has been a Democratic priority, this has been a Republican priority, this has been Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priority.  It’s been our Gulf allies’ priority — is making sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

The deal negotiated by John Kerry, Wendy Sherman, Ernie Moniz, our allies, our partners, the P5+1 achieves that goal.  It achieves our top priority — making sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.  But we have always recognized that even if Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, Iran still poses challenges to our interests and our values, both in the region and around the world.

So when this deal gets implemented, we know that we will have dismantled the immediate concerns around Iran’s nuclear program.  We will have brought their stockpiles down to 98 percent.  We will have significantly reduced the number of centrifuges that they operate.  We will have installed an unprecedented inspections regime, and that will remain in place not just for 10 years but, for example, on the stockpiles, will continue to 15 years.

Iran will have pledged to the international community that it will not develop a nuclear weapon and now will be subject to an Additional Protocol, a more vigorous inspection and monitoring regime that lasts in perpetuity.  We will have disabled a facility like Arak, the Arak facility, from allowing Iran to develop plutonium that could be used for a bomb.  We will have greatly reduced the stockpile of uranium that’s enriched.  And we will have put in place inspections along the entire supply chain so that if uranium was diverted into a covert program we would catch it.

So I can say with confidence but, more importantly, nuclear experts can say with confidence that Iran will not be in a position to develop a nuclear bomb.  We will have met our number-one priority.

Now, we’ll still have problems with Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism; its funding of proxies like Hezbollah that threaten Israel and threaten the region; the destabilizing activities that they’re engaging in, including in places like Yemen.  And my hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave.  But we’re not counting on it.  So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.  It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy.

It solves one particular problem, which is making sure they don’t have a bomb.  And the point I’ve repeatedly made — and is, I believe, hard to dispute — is that it will be a lot easier for us to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests, if they don’t have a bomb.

And so will they change their behavior?  Will we seek to gain more cooperation from them in resolving issues like Syria, or what’s happening in Iraq, to stop encouraging Houthis in Yemen?  We’ll continue to engage with them.  Although, keep in mind that unlike the Cuba situation, we’re not normalizing diplomatic relations here.  So the contacts will continue to be limited.  But will we try to encourage them to take a more constructive path?  Of course.  But we’re not betting on it.

And in fact, having resolved the nuclear issue, we will be in a stronger position to work with Israel, work with the Gulf countries, work with our other partners, work with the Europeans to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran around those issues that remain of concern.

But the argument that I’ve been already hearing — and this was foreshadowed even before the deal was announced — that because this deal does not solve all those other problems, that that’s an argument for rejecting this deal, defies logic.  It makes no sense.  And it loses sight of what was our original number-one priority, which is making sure that they don’t have a bomb.

Jon Karl.

Q    Mr. President, does it give you any pause to see this deal praised by Syrian dictator Assad as a “great victory for Iran,” or praised by those in Tehran who still shout “death to America,” and yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it “a mistake of historic proportions”?  And here in Congress, it looks like a large majority will vote to reject this deal.  I know you can veto that rejection, but do you have any concerns about seeing a majority of the people’s representatives in Congress saying that this is a bad deal?

And if I can just ask you quick political question, a very quick one.

THE PRESIDENT:  Jon, I think —

Q    Donald —

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me answer the question that you asked.  It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear.  That’s what politicians do.  And that’s been the case throughout.  I mean, you’ll recall that during the course of these negotiations over the last couple of months every time the Supreme Leader or somebody tweeted something out, for some reason we all bought into the notion, well, the Obama administration must be giving this or capitulating to that.  Well, now we have a document so you can see what the deal is.

We don’t have to speculate, we don’t have to engage in spin, you can just read what it says and what is required.  And nobody has disputed that as a consequence of this agreement Iran has to drastically reduce its stockpiles of uranium, is cut off from plutonium; the Fordow facility that is underground is converted; that we have an unprecedented inspections regime; that we have snap-back provisions if they cheat.  The facts are the facts.  And I’m not concerned about what others say about it.

Now, with respect to Congress, my hope — I won’t prejudge this — my hope is, is that everyone in Congress also evaluates this agreement based on the facts — not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring to Congress as opposed to a Republican President, not based on lobbying, but based on what’s in the national interest of the United States of America.

And I think that if Congress does that, then, in fact, based on the facts, the majority of Congress should approve of this deal.  But we live in Washington and politics do intrude.  And as I said in an interview yesterday, I am not betting on the Republican Party rallying behind this agreement.  I do expect the debate to be based on facts and not speculation or misinformation.  And that I welcome — in part because, look, there are legitimate real concerns here.  We’ve already talked about it.  We have huge differences with Iran.  Israel has legitimate concerns about its security relative to Iran.  You have a large country with a significant military that has proclaimed that Israel shouldn’t exist, that has denied the Holocaust, that has financed Hezbollah, and as a consequence there are missiles that are pointed towards Tel Aviv.

And so I think there are very good reasons why Israelis are nervous about Iran’s position in the world generally.  And I’ve said this to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I’ve said it directly to the Israeli people.  But what I’ve also said is that all those threats are compounded if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.  And for all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu, or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative.

I’m hearing a lot of talking points being repeated about “this is a bad deal” — “this is a historically bad deal,” “this will threaten Israel and threaten the world and threaten the United States.”  I mean, there’s been a lot of that.

What I haven’t heard is, what is your preferred alternative?  If 99 percent of the world community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say, this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and you are arguing either that it does not, or that even if it does it’s temporary, or that because they’re going to get a windfall of their accounts being unfrozen that they’ll cause more problems, then you should have some alternative to present.  And I haven’t heard that.  And the reason is because there really are only two alternatives here:  Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.  Those are the options.

Now, you’ll hear some critics say, well, we could have negotiated a better deal.  Okay.  What does that mean?  I think the suggestion among a lot of the critics has been that a better deal, an acceptable deal would be one in which Iran has no nuclear capacity at all, peaceful or otherwise.  The problem with that position is that there is nobody who thinks that Iran would or could ever accept that, and the international community does not take the view that Iran can’t have a peaceful nuclear program.  They agree with us that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.

And so we don’t have diplomatic leverage to eliminate every vestige of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran.  What we do have the leverage to do is to make sure they don’t have a weapon.  That’s exactly what we’ve done.

So to go back to Congress, I challenge those who are objecting to this agreement, number one, to read the agreement before they comment on it; number two, to explain specifically where it is that they think this agreement does not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and why they’re right and people like Ernie Moniz, who is an MIT nuclear physicist and an expert in these issues, is wrong, why the rest of the world is wrong, and then present an alternative.

And if the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so.  And that will be an honest debate.

All right.

Q    Mr. President, if I can —


Q    Prime Minister Netanyahu said that you have a situation where Iran can delay 24 days before giving access to military facilities —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m happy to — that’s a good example.  So let’s take the issue of 24 days.  This has been I think swirling today, the notion that this is insufficient in terms of inspections.

Now, keep in mind, first of all, that we’ll have 24/7 inspections of declared nuclear facilities — Fordow, Natanz, Arak, their uranium mines; facilities that are known to produce centrifuges, parts.  That entire infrastructure that we know about we will have sophisticated, 24/7 monitoring of those facilities.

So then the issue is, what if they try to develop a covert program?  Now, one of the advantages of having inspections across the entire production chain is that it makes it very difficult to set up a covert program.  There are only so many uranium mines in Iran.  And if, in fact, we’re counting the amount of uranium that’s being mined and suddenly some is missing on the back end, they got some explaining to do.

So we’re able to track what’s happening along the existing facilities to make sure that there is not diversion into a covert program.  But let’s say that Iran is so determined that it now wants to operate covertly.  The IAEA, the international organization charged with implementing the non-proliferation treaty and monitoring nuclear activities in countries around the world — the IAEA will have the ability to say, that undeclared site we’re concerned about, we see something suspicious.  And they will be able to say to Iran, we want to go inspect that.

Now, if Iran objects, we can override it.  In the agreement, we’ve set it up so we can override Iran’s objection.  And we don’t need Russia or China in order for us to get that override.  And if they continue to object, we’re in a position to snap back sanctions and declare that Iran is in violation and is cheating.

As for the fact that it may take 24 days to finally get access to the site, the nature of nuclear programs and facilities is such, this is not something you hide in a closet.  This is not something you put on a dolly and kind of wheel off somewhere.  And, by the way, if we identify an undeclared site that we’re suspicious about, we’re going to be keeping eyes on it.  So we’re going to be monitoring what the activity is, and that’s going to be something that will be evidence if we think that some funny business was going on there that we can then present to the international community.

So we’ll be monitoring that that entire time.  And, by the way, if there is nuclear material on that site, high school physics will remind us that that leaves a trace.  And so we’ll know that, in fact, there was a violation of the agreement.

So the point is, Jonathan, that this is the most vigorous inspection and verification regime by far that has ever been negotiated.  Is it possible that Iran decides to try to cheat despite having this entire inspection verification mechanism?  It’s possible.  But if it does, first of all, we’ve built in a one-year breakout time, which gives us a year to respond forcefully.  And we’ve built in a snap-back provision so we don’t have to go through lengthy negotiations at the U.N. to put the sanctions right back in place.

And so really the only argument you can make against the verification and inspection mechanism that we’ve put forward is that Iran is so intent on obtaining a nuclear weapon that no inspection regime and no verification mechanism would be sufficient because they’d find some way to get around it because they’re untrustworthy.

And if that’s your view, then we go back to the choice that you have to make earlier.  That means, presumably, that you can’t negotiate.  And what you’re really saying is, is that you’ve got to apply military force to guarantee that they don’t have a nuclear program.  And if somebody wants to make that debate — whether it’s the Republican leadership, or Prime Minister Netanyahu, or the Israeli Ambassador or others, they’re free to make it.  But it’s not persuasive.

Carol Lee.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to ask you about the arms and ballistic missile embargo.  Why did you decide — agree to lift those even with the five- and eight-year durations?  It’s obviously emerging as a sticking point on the Hill.  And are you concerned that arms to Iran will go to Hezbollah or Hamas?  And is there anything that you or a future President can do to stop that?

And if you don’t mind, I wanted to see if you could step back a little bit, and when you look at this Iran deal and all the other issues and unrest that’s happening in the Middle East, what kind of Middle East do you want to leave when you leave the White House in a year and a half?

THE PRESIDENT:  So the issue of the arms embargo and ballistic missiles is of real concern to us — has been of real concern to us.  And it is in the national security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from sending weapons to Hezbollah, for example, or sending weapons to the Houthis in Yemen that accelerate a civil war there.

We have a number of mechanisms under international law that give us authority to interdict arms shipments by Iran.  One of those mechanisms is the U.N. security resolution related to Iran’s nuclear program.  Essentially, Iran was sanctioned because of what had happened at Fordow, its unwillingness to comply with previous U.N. security resolutions about their nuclear program.  And as part of the package of sanctions that was slapped on them, the issue of arms and ballistic missiles were included.

Now, under the terms of the original U.N. resolution, the fact is that once an agreement was arrived at that gave the international community assurance Iran didn’t have a nuclear weapon, you could argue just looking at the text that those arms and ballistic missile prohibitions should immediately go away.

But what I said to our negotiators was given that Iran has breached trust, and the uncertainty of our allies in the region about Iran’s activities, let’s press for a longer extension of the arms embargo and the ballistic missile prohibitions.  And we got that.  We got five years in which, under this new agreement, arms coming in and out of Iran are prohibited.  And we got eight years with respect to ballistic missiles.

But part of the reason why we were willing to extend it only for five, let’s say, as opposed to a longer period of time, is because we have other U.N. resolutions that prohibit arms sales by Iran to organizations like Hezbollah.  We have other U.N. resolutions and multilateral agreements that give us authority to interdict arms shipments from Iran throughout the region.  And so we’ve had belts and suspenders and buttons, a whole bunch of different legal authorities.  These legal authorities under the nuclear program may lapse after five or eight years, but we’ll still be in possession of other legal authorities that allow us to interdict those arms.

And truthfully, these prohibitions are not self-enforcing.  It’s not like the U.N. has the capacity to police what Iran is doing.

What it does is it gives us authority under international law to prevent arms shipments from happening in concert with our allies and our partners.  And the real problem, if you look at how, for example, Hezbollah got a lot of missiles that are a grave threat to Israel and many of our friends in the region, it’s not because they were legal.  It’s not because somehow that was authorized under international law.  It was because there was insufficient intelligence, or capacity, to stop those shipments.

So the bottom line is, Carol, I share the concerns of Israel, Saudis, Gulf partners about Iran shipping arms and causing conflict and chaos in the region.  And that’s why I’ve said to them, let’s double down and partner much more effectively to improve our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity so that fewer of those arms shipments are getting through the net.

But the legal authorities, we’ll still possess.  And obviously, we’ve got our own unilateral prohibitions and sanctions in place around non-nuclear issues, like support for Hezbollah.  And those remain in place.

Now, in terms of the larger issues of the Middle East, obviously that’s a longer discussion.  I think my key goal when I turn over the keys to the President — the next President — is that we are on track to defeat ISIL; that they are much more contained and we’re moving in the right direction there.  That we have jumpstarted a process to resolve the civil war in Syria, which is like an open sore in the region and is giving refuge to terrorist organizations who are taking advantage of that chaos.  To make sure that in Iraq not only have we pushed back ISIL, but we’ve also created an environment in which Sunni, Shia and Kurd are starting to operate and function more effectively together.  And to be in a conversation with all our partners in the region about how we have strengthened our security partnerships so that they feel they can address any potential threats that may come, including threats from Iran.  And that includes providing additional security assurances and cooperation to Israel, building on the unprecedented cooperation that we have already put in place and support that we’ve already put in place.  It includes the work that we’ve done with the GCC up at Camp David, making sure that we execute that.

If we’ve done those things, then the problems in the Middle East will not be solved.  And ultimately, it’s not the job of the President of the United States to solve every problem in the Middle East.  The people of the Middle East are going to have to solve some of these problems themselves.  But I think we can provide that next President at least a foundation for continued progress in these various areas.

The last thing I would say — and this is a longer-term issue — is we have to address the youth in the region with jobs and opportunity and a better vision for the future so that they are not tempted by the nihilistic, violent dead-end that organizations like ISIL offer.  Again, we can’t do that entirely by ourselves, but we can partner with well-intentioned organizations, states, NGOs, religious leaders in the region.  We have to do a better job of that than we’ve been doing so far.

Michael Crowley.

Q    Thank you.  You alluded earlier to Iran’s role in Syria, just to focus on that for a moment.  Many analysts and some former members of your administration believe that the kind of negotiated political settlement that you say is necessary in Syria will require working directly with Iran and giving Iran an important role.  Do you agree?  And is that a dialogue you’ll be actively seeking?

And what about the fight against ISIS?  What would it take for there to be explicit cooperation between the U.S. and Iran?

THE PRESIDENT:  I do agree that we’re not going to solve the problems in Syria unless there’s buy-in from the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, our Gulf partners.  It’s too chaotic.  There are too many factions.  There’s too much money and too many arms flooding into the zone.  It’s gotten caught up in both sectarian conflict and geopolitical jockeying.  And in order for us to resolve it, there’s going to have to be agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield.  So Iran is one of those players, and I think that it’s important for them to be part of that conversation.

I want to repeat what I said earlier.  We have not — and I don’t anticipate any time in the near future — restored normal diplomatic relations with Iran.  And so I do not foresee a formal set of agreements with Iran in terms of how we’re conducting our counter-ISIL campaign.

But clearly, Iran has influence in Iraq.  Iraq has a majority Shia population.  They have relationships to Iran.  Some are natural.  We expect somebody like Prime Minister Abadi to meet with and negotiate and work with Iran as its neighbor.  Some are less legitimate, where you see Iran financing Shia militias that in the past have killed American soldiers and in the future may carry out atrocities when they move into Sunni areas.

And so we’re working with our diplomats on the ground, as well as our military teams on the ground to asses where can we appropriately at least de-conflict, and where can we work with Prime Minister Abadi around an overall strategy for Iraq to regain its sovereignty, and where do we tell Abadi, you know what, what Iran is doing there is a problem, and we can’t cooperate in that area, for example, unless you get those folks out of there because we’re not going to have our troops, even in an advisory or training role, looking over their shoulders because they’re not sure of what might happen to them.  And those conversations have been ongoing.  I think they will continue.

The one thing you can count on is that any work that the U.S. government does, or the U.S. military does in Iraq with other partners on the ground is premised on the idea that they are reporting to — under the chain of command of the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces.  If we don’t have confidence that ultimately Abadi is directing those soldiers, then it’s tough for us to have any kind of direct relationship.

Major Garrett.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran — three held on trumped-up charges, according to your administration; one, whereabouts unknown.  Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?

And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons.  It is perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations.  Many in the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry.  Could you comment?

THE PRESIDENT:  I got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions.  The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.

I’ve met with the families of some of those folks.  Nobody is content.  And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates.  Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.  It makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal.  And, by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out.  That’s why those issues are not connected.  But we are working every single day to try to get them out, and won’t stop until they’re out and rejoined with their families.

With respect to the Chairman’s testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol.  We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles.  As I just explained, not only do we keep in place for five years the arms embargo under this particular new U.N. resolution, not only do we maintain the eight years on the ballistic missiles under this particular U.N. resolution, but we have a host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now.

So we have not lost those legal authorities.  And in fact, part of my pitch to the GCC countries, as well as to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is we should do a better job making sure that Iran is not engaged in sending arms to organizations like Hezbollah.  And as I just indicated, that means improving our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity with our partners.

April Ryan.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to change the subject a bit.  Earlier this year, on the flight to Selma, you said, on matters of race, as President your job is to close the remaining gaps that are left in state and federal government.  Now, how does criminal justice reform fit into that equation?  And what gaps remain for you towards the end of your presidency?  And also, what does it mean to travel to Kenya, your father’s homeland, in the next couple of weeks as President to the United States?  And lastly, would you revoke the Medal of Freedom from Bill Cosby?

THE PRESIDENT:  You stuffed a lot in there, April.  (Laughter.)

Q    I learned from my colleagues.

THE PRESIDENT:  Say, who did you learn from?  Jonathan Karl?  Is that what you said?  (Laughter.)

Q    On criminal justice reform, obviously I gave a lengthy speech yesterday, but this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot; been working first with Eric Holder, now with Loretta Lynch about — we’ve been working on along with other prosecutors of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  It’s an outgrowth of the task force that we put together, post-Ferguson and the Garner case in New York.

And I don’t think that the criminal justice system is obviously the sole source of racial tension in this country, or the key institution to resolving the opportunity gap.  But I think it is a part of the broader set of challenges that we face in creating a more perfect union.

And the good news is, is that this is one of those rare issues where we’ve got some Republican and Democratic interest, as well as federal, state, and local interest in solving the problem.  I think people recognize that there are violent criminals out there and they’ve got to be locked up.  We’ve got to have tough prosecutors, we have to support our law enforcement officials.  Police are in a tough job and they are helping to keep us safe, and we are grateful and thankful to them.

But what we also know is this huge spike in incarcerations is also driven by non-violent drug offenses where the sentencing is completely out of proportion with the crime.  And that costs taxpayers enormous amounts of money.  It is debilitating communities who are seeing huge proportions of the young men in their communities finding themselves with a criminal record, rendering them oftentimes unemployable.  So it compounds problems that these communities already have.

And so I am very appreciative of folks like Dick Durbin and Cory Booker, alongside Mike Lee and Rand Paul and other folks in the House who are working together to see if we can both reduce some of these mandatory minimums around non-violent drug offenses.  Because again, I tend not to have a lot of sympathy when it comes to violent crime.  But when it comes to non-violent drug offenses, is there work that we can do to reduce mandatory minimums, create more diversion programs like drug courts?  Then, can we do a better job on the rehabilitation side inside of prisons so that we are preparing these folks who are eventually going to be released to reenter the workforce?  On the back end, are we doing more to link them up with reentry programs that are effective?

And this may be an area where we could have some really significant bipartisan legislation that doesn’t eliminate all the other challenges we’ve got.  Because the most important goal is keeping folks from getting in the criminal justice system in the first place, which means early childhood education and good jobs, and making sure that we’re not segregating folks in impoverished communities that have no contact with opportunity.

But this can make a difference.  I met these four ex-offenders, as I said, yesterday, and what was remarkable was how they had turned their lives around.  And these were some folks who had been some pretty tough criminals.  One of them had served 10 years; another was a repeat offender that had served a lot of time.  And in each instance, somebody intervened at some point in their lives — once they had already been in the criminal justice system, once they had already gotten in trouble — and said, you know what, I think you can live a different way, and I’m willing to help you.

And that one person, an art teacher, or a GED teacher, or somebody who was willing to offer a guy a job — I want to give a shout-out to Five Guys, because one of the guys there was an ex-felon, and Five Guys gave him a job.  And he ended up becoming a manager at the store and was able to completely turn his life around.  But the point was, somebody reached out to that person and gave him a chance.

And so part of our question should be, how about somebody reaching out to these guys when they’re 10, or 11, or 12, or eight, as opposed to waiting until they’ve already gone through a criminal justice program.  That’s part of why we’re doing My Brother’s Keeper.  But this is an area where I feel modestly optimistic.

I think in the meantime we’ve got to stay on top of keeping the crime rate down, because part of the reason I think there’s a conversation taking place is violent crime has significantly dropped.  Last year, we saw both incarcerations and the crime rate drop, and this can always turn if we start seeing renewed problems in terms of violent crime.  And there’s parts of the country where violent crime is still a real problem, including my hometown of Chicago, and in Baltimore.

And part of what I’ve asked Attorney General Lynch to do is to figure out how can we refocus attention.  If we’re going to do a package of criminal justice reforms, part of it would be actually having a greater police presence and more law enforcement in the communities that are really getting hit hard and haven’t seen some of the drops in violent crime that we’ve seen in places like Manhattan, for example.

With respect to the visit to Kenya, it’s obviously something I’m looking forward to.  I’ll be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as President because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center.  And just the logistics of visiting a place are always tough as President, but it’s obviously symbolically important.  And my hope is, is that we can deliver a message that the U.S. is a strong partner not just for Kenya, but for Sub-Saharan Africa generally; build on the progress that’s been made around issues of health and education; focus on counterterrorism issues that are important in East Africa because of al-Shabaab and some of the tragedies that have happened inside of Kenya; and continue to encourage democracy and the reduction of corruption inside that country that sometimes has held back this incredibly gifted and blessed country.

And with respect to the Medal of Freedom, there’s no precedent for revoking a medal.  We don’t have that mechanism.  And as you know, I tend to make it a policy not to comment on the specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, then civil issues involved.

I’ll say this:  If you give a woman — or a man, for that matter — without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape.  And I think this country — any civilized country — should have no tolerance for rape.

All right.  Have we exhausted Iran questions here?  I think there’s a helicopter that’s coming.  But I really am enjoying this Iran debate.  Topics that may not have been touched upon, criticisms that you’ve heard that I did not answer?  Go ahead.  I know Josh is getting a little stressed here — (laughter) — but I just want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stones unturned here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  I’ll be brief.  The argument has been made that Iran now has a cash windfall, billions to spend.  Your people seem confident they’re going to spend it at home.  Why are you confident they’re not going to spend it on arming Hezbollah, arming Bashar al-Assad, et cetera?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think that’s a great question and I’m glad you brought it up.  I think it is a mistake to characterize our belief that they will just spend it on daycare centers, and roads, and paying down debt.  We think that they have to do some of that, because Rouhani was elected specifically on the premise of improving the economic situation inside of Iran.  That economy has tanked since we imposed sanctions.

So the notion that they’re just immediately going to turn over $100 billion to the IRGC or the Quds Force I think runs contrary to all the intelligence that we’ve seen and the commitments that the Iranian government has made.

Do we think that with the sanctions coming down, that Iran will have some additional resources for its military and for some of the activities in the region that are a threat to us and a threat to our allies?  I think that is a likelihood that they’ve got some additional resources.  Do I think it’s a game-changer for them?  No.

They are currently supporting Hezbollah, and there is a ceiling — a pace at which they could support Hezbollah even more, particularly in the chaos that’s taking place in Syria.  So can they potentially try to get more assistance there?  Yes.  Should we put more resources into blocking them from getting that assistance to Hezbollah?  Yes.  Is the incremental additional money that they’ve got to try to destabilize the region or send to their proxies, is that more important than preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?  No.  So I think — again, this is a matter of us making a determination of what is our priority.

The other problem with the argument that folks have been making about, oh, this is a windfall and suddenly Iran is flushed with cash, and they’re going to take over the world.  And I say that not tongue-in-cheek, because if you look at some of the statements by some of our critics, you would think that Iran is, in fact, going to take over the world as a consequence of this deal — which I think would be news to the Iranians.

That argument is also premised on the notion that if there is no deal, if Congress votes down this deal, that we’re able to keep sanctions in place with the same vigor and effectiveness as we have right now.  And that, I can promise you, is not true.  That is absolutely not true.  I want to repeat:  We’re not writing Iran a check.  This is Iran’s money that we were able to block from them having access to.  That required the cooperation of countries all around the world, many of whom really want to purchase oil from Iran.  The imposition of sanctions — their cooperation with us — has cost them billions of dollars, made it harder for them.  They’ve been willing to do that because they’ve believed we were sincere about trying to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, and they considered that a priority — a high enough priority that they were willing to cooperate with us on sanctions.

If they saw us walking away, or more specifically, if they saw the U.S. Congress effectively vetoing the judgment of 99 percent of the world community that this is a deal that resolves the Iranian weapons program — nuclear weapons program in an equitable way, the sanctions system unravels.  And so we could still maintain some of our unilateral sanctions, but it would be far less effective — as it was before we were able to put together these multilateral sanctions.

So maybe they don’t get $100 billion; maybe they get $60 billion or $70 billion instead.  The price for that that we’ve paid is that now Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon.  We have no inspectors on the ground.  We don’t know what’s going on.  They’re still getting some cash windfall.  We’ve lost credibility in the eyes of the world.  We will have effectively united Iran and divided ourselves from our allies.  A terrible position to be in.

I’m just going to look — I made some notes about any of the arguments — the other arguments that I’ve heard here.

Q    What about — (off-mic) — the end of the deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, yes, that’s a good one.  The notion —

Q    At the end of the deal they could go back —

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.  Well, so let’s address this issue of — because that’s the other big argument that’s been made.  All right, let’s assume that the deal holds for 10 years, Iran doesn’t cheat.  Now, at the end of 10 years, some of the restrictions have been lifted — although, remember, others stay in place for 15 years.  So for example, they’ve still got to keep their stockpiles at a minimal level for 15 years.  The inspections don’t go away; those are still in place 15, 20 years from now.  Their commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not go away; that’s still in place.  The additional protocol that they have to sign up for under this deal, which requires a more extensive inspection and verification mechanism — that stays in place.

So there’s no scenario in which a U.S. President is not in a stronger position 12, 13, 15 years from now if, in fact, Iran decided at that point they still wanted to get a nuclear weapon.  Keep in mind, we will have maintained a one-year breakout time, we will have rolled back their program, frozen their facilities, kept them under severe restrictions, had observers.  They will have made international commitments supported by countries around the world.

And — hold on a second — and if at that point they finally decided, you know what, we’re going to cheat, or not even cheat — at that point, they decide openly we’re now pursuing a nuclear weapon — they’re still in violation of this deal and the commitments they’ve made internationally.

And so we are still in a position to mobilize the world community to say, no, you can’t have a nuclear weapon.  And they’re not in a stronger position to get a nuclear weapon at that point; they’re in a weaker position than they are today.  And, by the way, we haven’t given away any of our military capabilities.  We’re not in a weaker position to respond.

So even if everything the critics were saying was true — that at the end of 10 years, or 12 years, or 15 years, Iran now is in a position to decide it wants a nuclear weapon, that they’re at a breakout point — they won’t be at a breakout point that is more dangerous than the breakout point they’re in right now.  They won’t be at a breakout point that is shorter than the one that exists today.  And so why wouldn’t we at least make sure that for the next 10, 15, years they are not getting a nuclear weapon and we can verify it; and afterwards, if they decide if they’ve changed their mind, we are then much more knowledgeable about what their capabilities are, much more knowledgeable about what their program is, and still in a position to take whatever actions we would take today?

Q    So none of this is holding out hope that they’ll change their behavior?


Q    Nothing different —

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  Look, I’m always hopeful that behavior may change for the sake of the Iranian people as well as people in the region.  There are young people there who are not getting the opportunities they deserve because of conflict, because of sectarianism, because of poor governance, because of repression, because of terrorism.  And I remain eternally hopeful that we can do something about that, and it should be part of U.S. foreign policy to do something about that.  But I’m not banking on that to say that this deal is the right thing to do.

Again, it is incumbent on the critics of this deal to explain how an American President is in a worse position 12, 13, 14, 15 years from now if, in fact, at that point Iran says we’re going to pull out of the NPT, kick out inspectors and go for a nuclear bomb.  If that happens, that President will be in a better position than what happened if Iran, as a consequence of Congress rejecting this deal, decides that’s it, we’re done negotiating, we’re going after a bomb right now.

The choices would be tougher today than they would be for that President 15 years from now.  And I have not yet heard logic that refutes that.

All right.  I really have to go now.  I think we’ve hit the big themes.  But I promise you, I will address this again.  All right?  I suspect this is not the last that we’ve heard of this debate.

2:33 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency December 19, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at his Year-End Press ConferenceFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript



Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year.

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people.

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off.

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come.

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.

And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels.


Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way.
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair.

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed.

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important.

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind.

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.

And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people.

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.

THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not.

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important.

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.)

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had.

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.)

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress.

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree.

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done.

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills.

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.

All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.

Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.

Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.

And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that.

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision.

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion.

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions.

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

2:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency November 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the End of the G20 Summit in Brisbane Australia — Transcript



Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference | November 16, 2014

Source: WH, 11-16-14 

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Center
Brisbane, Australia

4:19 P.M. AEST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Thank you, everybody.Please have a seat.Good afternoon.I want to begin by thanking Prime Minister Abbott, the people of Brisbane, and the people of Australia for being such extraordinary hosts for the G20.All the arrangements were terrific and, as always, the people of Australia could not have been friendlier and better organized.So I very much appreciate everything that you have done.

We had a lot of good discussions during the course of the G20, but as our Australian friends say, this wasn’t just a “good old chinwag.”I really love that expression.(Laughter.)It was a productive summit.And so I want to thank Tony for his leadership, and the people of Brizzy truly did shine throughout this process with their hospitality.

This is the final day of a trip that has taken me across the Asia Pacific — a visit that comes against the backdrop of America’s renewed economic strength.The United States is in the longest stretch of uninterrupted private sector job growth in its history.Over the last few years, we’ve put more people back to work than all the other advanced economies combined.And this growing economic strength at home set the stage for the progress that we have made on this trip.It’s been a good week for American leadership and for American workers.

We made important progress in our efforts to open markets to U.S. goods and to boost the exports that support American jobs.We continue to make progress toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership.Our agreement with China to extend visas for business people, tourists and students is going to boost tourism, grow our two economies and create jobs for Americans and Chinese alike.We also agreed with China to pursue a bilateral investment treaty, as well as agreeing on an approach to the Information Technology Agreement that is estimated would support some 60,000 American jobs.And here at the G20, China committed to greater transparency on its economic data, including its foreign exchange reserves.And this is a step toward the market-driven exchange rate that we’ve been pushing for because it would promote a level playing field for American businesses and American workers.

Here in Brisbane, all the G20 countries announced strategies to increase growth and put people back to work, including a new initiative to support jobs by building infrastructure.Our nations made commitments that could bring another 100 million women into our collective workforce.We took new steps toward strengthening our banks, closing tax loopholes for multinational companies, and stopping tax evaders and criminals from hiding behind shell companies.And these were all very specific provisions.These were not just goals that were set without any substance behind them.We have made very concrete progress during the course of the last several G20 sessions in preventing companies from avoiding the taxes that they owe in their home countries, including the United States, and making sure that we’ve got a financial system that’s more stable and that can allow a bank to fail without taxpayers having to bail them out.

Meanwhile, the breakthrough the United States achieved with India this week allows for a resumption of talks on a global trade deal that would mean more growth and prosperity for all of us.

This week, we also took historic steps in the fight against climate change.The ambitious new goal that I announced in Beijing will double the pace at which America reduces its carbon pollution while growing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening our energy security, and putting us on the path to a low carbon future.Combined with China’s commitment — China for the first time committed to slowing and then peaking and then reversing the course of its emissions — we’re showing that there’s no excuse for other nations to come together, both developed and developing, to achieve a strong global climate agreement next year.

The $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund that I announced yesterday will help developing nations deal with climate change, reduce their carbon pollution and invest in clean energy.I want to commend, by the way, Prime Minister Abe and Japan for their $1.5 billion pledge to the Fund.And following the steps we’ve taken in the United States, many of the G20 countries agreed to work to improve the efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles, which would be another major step in reducing emissions.

And finally, I’m pleased that more nations are stepping up and joining the United States in the effort to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.Coming on the heels of our Global Health Security Agenda in the United States, the G20 countries committed to helping nations like those in West Africa to build their capacity to prevent, detect and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics.

So from trade to climate change to the fight against Ebola, this was a strong week for American leadership.And the results will be more jobs for the American people; historic steps towards a cleaner and healthier planet; and progress towards saving lives not just in West Africa, but eventually in other places.If you ask me, I’d say that’s a pretty good week.The American people can be proud of the progress that we’ve made.I intend to build on that momentum when I return home tomorrow.

And with that, I am going to take a few questions.I’ve got my cheat-sheet here.And we’re going to start with Matt Spetalnick of Reuters.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.Some of your fellow G20 leaders took an in-your-face approach with President Putin.You had conversations —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I’m sorry, with President —

Q With President Putin.


Q Took a kind of confrontational approach to him.You had brief discussions with him at APEC.How confrontational or not were those encounters?Did you have any further exchanges with him here?What, if any, progress did you make with him on the Ukraine issue?And, of course, you’ve now just met with EU leaders.Did you agree on further sanctions?

One other question, sir, on a domestic subject.Are you prepared to state unequivocally that if Congress does pass a Keystone pipeline bill, that you would veto it if it comes to your desk?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I had naturally several interactions with President Putin during the course of the APEC Summit and then here at G20.I would characterize them as typical of our interactions, which are businesslike and blunt.And my communications to him was no different than what I’ve said publicly as well as what I’ve said to him privately over the course of this crisis in Ukraine, and that is Russia has the opportunity to take a different path, to resolve the issue of Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and is consistent with international law.That is our preference, and if it does so then I will be the first to suggest that we roll back the sanctions that are, frankly, having a devastating effect on the Russian economy.

If he continues down the path that he is on — violating international law; providing heavy arms to the separatists in Ukraine; violating an agreement that he agreed to just a few weeks ago, the Minsk Agreement, that would have lowered the temperature and the killing in the disputed areas and make providing us a pathway for a diplomatic resolution — then the isolation that Russia is currently experiencing will continue.

And in my meeting with European leaders, they confirmed their view that so far Russia has not abided by either the spirit or the letter of the agreement that Mr. Putin signed — or agreed to, and that as a consequence we are going to continue to maintain the economic isolation while maintaining the possibility of a diplomatic solution.

It is not our preference to see Russia isolated the way it is.We would prefer a Russia that is fully integrated with the global economy; that is thriving on behalf of its people; that can once again engage with us in cooperative efforts around global challenges.But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles.And one of those principles is, is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.

Q Did you discuss or agree with them on further sanctions?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:At this point, the sanctions that we have in place are biting plenty good.We retain the capabilities, and we have our teams constantly looking at mechanisms in which to turn up additional pressure as necessary.

With respect to Keystone, I’ve said consistently — and I think I repeated in Burma, but I guess I’ve got to answer it one more — we’re going to let the process play itself out.And the determination will be made in the first instance by the Secretary of State.But I won’t hide my opinion about this, which is that one major determinant of whether we should approve a pipeline shipping Canadian oil to world markets, not to the United States, is does it contribute to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

Q What were your comments on the pipeline —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Matt, I got to move on, man.Everybody wants to go home.All right?Other people have questions.Jim Acosta, CNN.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.I wanted to ask you about the climate deal that you agreed to with Chinese President Xi, and on that front but also adding in your expected executive action on immigration, that you’re taking executive actions on a multitude of fronts.And I wanted to ask you, sir, what is stopping a future Republican President, or even a Democratic President, from reversing your executive orders?And are you expanding the powers of the presidency in ways that could potentially backfire on your agenda down the road?

And on the battle against ISIS — your Joint Chiefs Chairman, Martin Dempsey, is in Iraq right now, but at a congressional hearing last week he said he could envision a scenario in which ground forces could be engaged in combat in Iraq alongside Iraqi security forces.I know you’ve ruled out the possibility of having ground forces — U.S. ground forces engaged in combat going house to house and so forth.Has your thinking on that changed somewhat, and might General Dempsey be able to convince you otherwise?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Okay.With respect to the climate agreement, the goal that we’ve set — a 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025 — we shaped that target based on existing authorities rather than the need for additional congressional action.

And I want to be clear here, Jim, that that’s based not on particular executive actions that I’m taking, but based on the authority that’s been upheld repeatedly by this Supreme Court for the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to be able to shape rules to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases.

Obviously it’s supplemented by a bunch of stuff that we’re doing that nobody suggests isn’t within our authority.For example, the doubling of fuel-efficiency standards on cars is something that we negotiated with the car companies and with labor groups, and is working really well and we’re selling a lot of American cars domestically as well as internationally.And they are more fuel-efficient cars and, as a consequence, more popular cars.

With respect to executive actions generally, the record will show that I have actually taken fewer executive actions than my predecessors.Nobody disputes that.What I think has changed is the reaction of some of my friends in Congress to exercising what are normal and, frankly, fairly typical exercises of presidential authority.

You are absolutely right that the very nature of an executive action means that a future President could reverse those actions.But that’s always been true.That was true when I came into office; if President Bush had a bunch of executive actions that he had signed, it was part of my authority to reverse them.That’s why, for example, on immigration reform it continues to be my great preference to see Congress pass comprehensive legislation, because that is not reversed by a future President, it would have to be reversed by a future Congress.That’s part of the reason why I’ve argued consistently that we’re better off if we can get a comprehensive deal through Congress.That’s why I showed extraordinary patience with Congress in trying to work a bipartisan deal. That’s why I was so encouraged when the Senate produced a bipartisan immigration deal and why I waited for over a year for Speaker Boehner to call that bipartisan bill in the House.

But as I’ve said before, I can’t wait in perpetuity when I have authorities that, at least for the next two years, can improve the system, can allow us to shift more resources to the border rather than separating families; improve the legal immigration system.I would be derelict in my duties if I did not try to improve the system that everybody acknowledges is broken.

With respect to Syria, Chairman Dempsey I think has consistently said in all his testimony, and I would expect him to always do this, to give me his best military advice and to not be constrained by politics.And he has not advised me that I should be sending U.S. troops to fight.What he said in testimony, and what I suspect he’ll always say, is that, yes, there are circumstances in which he could envision the deployment of U.S. troops.That’s true everywhere, by the way.That’s his job, is to think about various contingencies.And, yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy U.S. ground troops.

If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending U.S. ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.So the question just ends up being, what are those circumstances.I’m not going speculate on those.Right now we’re moving forward in conjunction with outstanding allies like Australia in training Iraqi security forces to do their job on the ground.

Q — your thinking on that has not changed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:My thinking has not changed currently.

Ed Henry of Fox.

Q Thank you.One question, I promise.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:That’s great.(Laughter.)

Q At your Burma town hall a couple days ago you tried to inspire young leaders by saying governments need to be held accountable and be responsive to the people.I wonder how you square that with your former advisor, Jonathan Gruber, claiming you were not transparent about the health law?Because in his words, the American people, the voters are stupid.Did you mislead Americans about the taxes, about keeping your plan, in order to get the bill passed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No, I did not.I just heard about this.I get well briefed before I come out here.The fact that some advisor who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters, is no reflection on the actual process that was run.

We had a year-long debate, Ed.I mean, go back and look at your stories.The one thing we can’t say is that we did not have a lengthy debate about health care in the United States of America, or that it was not adequately covered.I mean, I would just advise all of — every press outlet here:Go back and pull up every clip, every story, and I think it’s fair to say that there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent.

Now, there were folks who disagreed with some of these various positions.It was a tough debate.But the good news is — and I know this wasn’t part of your question — but since some folks back home who don’t have health insurance may be watching, open enrollment just started, which means that those who did not take advantage of the marketplaces the first time around, they’ve got another chance to sign up for affordable health care; they may be eligible for a tax credit.

So far, there were over half a million successful logins on the first day.Healthcare.gov works really well now — 1.2 million people using the window-shopping function since Sunday.There were 23,000 applications completed in just the first eight hours, and tens of thousands more throughout the day.

Health care is working.More than 10 million people have already gotten health insurance; millions more are eligible.And contrary to some of the predictions of the naysayers, not only is the program working, but we’ve actually seen health care inflation lower than it’s been in 50 years, which is contributing to us reducing the deficit, and has the effect of making premiums for families lower that they otherwise would have been if they have health insurance.

All right?Kristen Welker.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.I’d like to ask you again about Syria.When you were recently asked about the U.S. campaign against ISIS, you said, “It’s too early to say whether we are winning.”You went on to say, “This is going to be a long-term plan.”There are now reports that you have ordered a review of your entire Syria policy.So I’d like to put the question to you today:Are you currently recalibrating your policy in Syria?And does that include plans to remove President Bashar al-Assad?And was it a miscalculation not to focus on the removal of Assad initially?Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:We have a weekly meeting with my CENTCOM Commander, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with all our diplomatic personnel related to the region, as well as my national security team, and Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, intelligence teams, to assess what kind of progress are we making both in Iraq and in Syria with respect to ISIL.And I will be having weekly meetings as long as this campaign lasts, because I think it’s very important for us to get it right.

We have not had a comprehensive review of Syria.We’ve had a comprehensive review of what are we doing each and every week — what’s working, what’s not.Some of it is very detailed at the tactical level.Some of it is conceptual.We continue to learn about ISIL — where its weaknesses are; how we can more effectively put pressure on them.And so nothing extraordinary, nothing formal of the sort that you describe has taken place.

Certainly no changes have taken place with respect to our attitude towards Bashar al-Assad.And I’ve said this before, but let me reiterate:Assad has ruthlessly murdered hundreds of thousands of his citizens, and as a consequence has completely lost legitimacy with the majority of the country.For us to then make common cause with him against ISIL would only turn more Sunnis in Syria in the direction of supporting ISIL, and would weaken our coalition that sends a message around the region this is not a fight against Sunni Islam, this is a fight against extremists of any stripe who are willing to behead innocent people or kill children, or mow down political prisoners with the kind of wanton cruelty that I think we’ve very rarely seen in the modern age.

And so we have communicated to the Syrian regime that when we operate going after ISIL in their air space, that they would be well-advised not to take us on.But beyond that, there’s no expectation that we are going to in some ways enter an alliance with Assad.He is not credible in that country.
Now, we are looking for a political solution eventually within Syria that is inclusive of all the groups who live there — the Alawite, the Sunni, Christians.And at some point, the people of Syria and the various players involved, as well as the regional players — Turkey, Iran, Assad’s patrons like Russia — are going to have to engage in a political conversation.

And it’s the nature of diplomacy in any time, certainly in this situation, where you end up having diplomatic conversations potentially with people that you don’t like and regimes that you don’t like.But we’re not even close to being at that stage yet.

Q But just to put a fine point on it — are you actively discussing ways to remove him as a part of that political transition?


Major Garrett.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.As you well know, the continuing resolution expires on December 11th.Many things you’ve talked about on this trip are related to that:funding for coalition operations in Iraq and Syria, the Ebola outbreak, not to mention day-to-day government operations.What are the odds the country will see itself in a shutdown scenario?How much do you fear the government will shut down?And to what degree does your anxiety about this or your team’s anxiety about this influence the timing of your decision on immigration and executive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I take Mitch McConnell at his word when he says that the government is not going to shut down.There is no reason for it to shut down.We traveled down that path before.It was bad for the country, it was bad for every elected official in Washington.And at the end of the day, it was resolved in the same way that it would have been resolved if we hadn’t shut the government down.So that’s not going to be productive, and I think that Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner understand that.

But this goes to a broader point that I’ve made previously and I’ll just reiterate:It is in the nature of democracy that the parties are going to disagree on certain issues.And in our system, because we don’t have a parliamentary system, it means that you can have a Congress of one party and a President of another, and they disagree on some really fundamental issues.And the question then is, how do you deal with that?Well, the sensible way to deal with it is to say here are the issues we don’t agree on, and we’ll fight like heck for our position and then we’ll work together on the issues that we do agree on.And that’s how it’s always been; that’s how it was with Ronald Reagan when he was dealing with a Democratic Congress.There was no — at no point did the Democrats say, well, because we don’t agree with Ronald Reagan on X,Y,Z issue, then we can’t work with him on Social Security reform or tax reform or other issues.He said, okay, we’ll fight on that, we’ll join together on that, and as a consequence the co
ntry will make progress.

And I would expect that same attitude in this instance.I understand that there are members of the Republican Party who deeply disagree with me and law enforcement and the evangelical community and a number of their own Republican colleagues about the need for immigration reform, I get that.And they’ve made their views clear and there’s nothing wrong with them arguing their position and opposing legislation.But why they would then decide we’re going to shut down the government makes about as much sense as my decision to shut down the government if they decide to take a vote to repeal health care reform for the — is it 53rd or 55th time?I mean, I understand that there’s a difference there, but let’s keep on doing the people’s business.

Q Does the shutdown anxiety in any way affect your timing at all on immigration action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No, I think the main concern I have is making sure that we get it right, and that’s what we’re focused on at this point, because any executive action that I take is going to require some adjustments to how DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, operates where it’s deploying resources, et cetera; how are folks processed; what priorities are set up.And so I want to make sure that we’ve crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s — that that’s my main priority.

And we are going to close with Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.Following up on immigration — in 2010, when asked by immigration reform advocates to stop deportations and act alone on providing legal status for the undocumented, you said, “I’m President, I’m not king.I can’t do these things just by myself.”In 2013, you said, “I’m not the emperor of the United States.My job is to execute laws that are passed.”Mr. President, what has changed since then?And since you’ve now had a chance to talk since July with your legal advisors, what do you now believe are your limits so that you can continue to act as President and not as emperor or king?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed.When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress.And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities.There are certain things I cannot do.There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws.

And what we’ve continued to do is to talk to Office of Legal Counsel that’s responsible for telling us what the rules are, what the scope of our operations are, and determining where it is appropriate for us to say we’re not going to deport 11 million people.On the other hand, we’ve got severe resource constraints right now at the border not in apprehending people, but in processing and having enough immigration judges and so forth.And so what’s within our authority to do in reallocating resources and reprioritizing since we can’t do everything.And it’s on that basis that I’ll be making a decision about any executive actions that I might take.

I will repeat what I have said before:There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much executive authority.Pass a bill I can sign on this issue.If Congress passes a law that solves our border problems, improves our legal immigration system, and provides a pathway for the 11 million people who are here working in our kitchens, working in farms, making beds in hotels, everybody knows they’re there, we’re not going to deport all of them.We’d like to see them being able, out in the open, to pay their taxes, pay a penalty, get right with the law.Give me a bill that addresses those issues — I’ll be the first one to sign it and, metaphorically, I’ll crumple up whatever executive actions that we take and we’ll toss them in the wastebasket, because we will now have a law that addresses these issues.

Q But in those five months, sir, since you said you were going to act, have you received the legal advice from the Attorney General about what limits you have -–


Q — and what you can do?


Q And would you tell us what those are?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No.(Laughter.)I will tell them when I make the announcement.But it’s a good try, though.That was a good angle.(Laughter.)Jim and I go way back, although he was famous, I was not.He used to be a broadcaster in Chicago, so I used to watch him on TV.You’ve aged a little better than I have.(Laughter.)

All right.The people of Australia, thank you again for your wonderful hospitality.(Applause.)

4:51 P.M. AEST

Full Text Obama Presidency September 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the NATO Summit



Remarks by President Obama at NATO Summit Press Conference

Source: WH, 9-5-14

Celtic Manor Resort
Newport, Wales

4:50 P.M. BST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon.  Let me begin by thanking my great friend, Prime Minister Cameron — and his entire team — for hosting this NATO Summit and making it such a success.  And I want to thank the people of Newport and Cardiff and the people of Wales for welcoming me and my delegation so warmly.  It’s a great honor to be the first sitting U.S. President to visit Wales.

We’ve met at a time of transition and a time of testing.  After more than a decade, NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end.  Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.  In the Middle East, the terrorist threat from ISIL poses a growing danger.  Here at this summit, our Alliance has summoned the will, the resources and the capabilities to meet all of these challenges.

First and foremost, we have reaffirmed the central mission of the Alliance.  Article 5 enshrines our solemn duty to each other — “an armed attack against one…shall be considered an attack against them all.”  This is a binding, treaty obligation.  It is non-negotiable.  And here in Wales, we’ve left absolutely no doubt — we will defend every Ally.

Second, we agreed to be resolute in reassuring our Allies in Eastern Europe.  Increased NATO air patrols over the Baltics will continue.  Rotations of additional forces throughout Eastern Europe for training and exercises will continue.  Naval patrols in the Black Sea will continue.  And all 28 NATO nations agreed to contribute to all of these measures — for as long as necessary.

Third, to ensure that NATO remains prepared for any contingency, we agreed to a new Readiness Action Plan.  The Alliance will update its defense planning.  We will create a new highly ready Rapid Response Force that can be deployed on very short notice.  We’ll increase NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe with additional equipment, training, exercises and troop rotations.  And the $1 billion initiative that I announced in Warsaw will be a strong and ongoing U.S. contribution to this plan.

Fourth, all 28 NATO nations have pledged to increase their investments in defense and to move toward investing 2 percent of their GDP in our collective security.  These resources will help NATO invest in critical capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and missile defense.  And this commitment makes clear that NATO will not be complacent.  Our Alliance will reverse the decline in defense spending and rise to meet the challenges that we face in the 21st century.

Fifth, our Alliance is fully united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and its right to defend itself.  To back up this commitment, all 28 NATO Allies will now provide security assistance to Ukraine.  This includes non-lethal support to the Ukrainian military — like body armor, fuel and medical care for wounded Ukrainian troops — as well as assistance to help modernize Ukrainian forces, including logistics and command and control.

Here in Wales, we also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences.  Today, the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors.  At the same time, we strongly support President Poroshenko’s efforts to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict in his country.  The cease-fire announced today can advance that goal, but only if there is follow-through on the ground.  Pro-Russian separatists must keep their commitments and Russia must stop its violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Beyond Europe, we pay tribute to all those from our ISAF mission, including more than 2,200 Americans, who have given their lives for our security in Afghanistan.  NATO’s combat mission ends in three months, and we are prepared to transition to a new mission focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.  Both presidential candidates have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would be the foundation of our continued cooperation.  But, as we all know, the outcome of the recent election must be resolved.  And so we continue to urge the two presidential candidates to make the compromises that are necessary so Afghans can move forward together and form a sovereign, united and democratic nation.

Finally, we reaffirmed that the door to NATO membership remains open to nations that can meet our high standards.  We agreed to expand the partnership that makes NATO the hub of global security.  We’re launching a new effort with our closest partners — including many that have served with us in Afghanistan — to make sure our forces continue to operate together.  And we’ll create a new initiative to help countries build their defense capabilities — starting with Georgia, Moldova, Jordan and Libya.

I also leave here confident that NATO Allies and partners are prepared to join in a broad, international effort to combat the threat posed by ISIL.  Already, Allies have joined us in Iraq, where we have stopped ISIL’s advances; we’ve equipped our Iraqi partners, and helped them go on offense.  NATO has agreed to play a role in providing security and humanitarian assistance to those who are on the front lines.  Key NATO Allies stand ready to confront this terrorist threat through military, intelligence and law enforcement, as well as diplomatic efforts.  And Secretary Kerry will now travel to the region to continue building the broad-based coalition that will enable us to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

So, taken together, I think the progress we’ve achieved in Wales makes it clear that our Alliance will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure our collective defense and to protect our citizens.

So with that, let me take a few questions.  I’ll start with Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to go back to the situation in Ukraine.  If this cease-fire does take effect and appears to be holding, would you and your European counterparts back away from these sanctions that you say you’ve prepared?  Or do you feel that it’s important to levy these sanctions regardless of this cease-fire agreement?  And if I could go back to the Rapid Response Force, can you say specifically what U.S. contributions will be in terms of troop numbers and equipment?  Is it beyond the agreement that you announced — or the proposal you announced in Warsaw?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to the cease-fire agreement, obviously we are hopeful, but based on past experience also skeptical that, in fact, the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  So it has to be tested.

And I know that the Europeans are discussing at this point the final shape of their sanctions measures.  It’s my view that if you look at President Poroshenko’s plan, it is going to take some time to implement.  And as a consequence, for us to move forward based on what is currently happening on the ground with sanctions — while acknowledging that if, in fact, the elements of the plan that has been signed are implemented — then those sanctions could be lifted is a more likely way for us to ensure that there’s follow-through. But that’s something that obviously we’ll consult closely with our European partners to determine.

I do want to point out, though, that the only reason that we’re seeing this cease-fire at this moment is because of both the sanctions that have already been applied and the threat of further sanctions, which are having a real impact on the Russian economy and have isolated Russia in a way that we have not seen in a very long time.

The path for Russia to rejoin the community of nations that respects international law is still there, and we encourage President Putin to take it.  But the unity and the firmness that we’ve seen in the Transatlantic Alliance in supporting Ukraine and applying sanctions has been I think a testimony to how seriously people take the basic principle that big countries can just stomp on little countries, or force them to change their policies and give up their sovereignty.

So I’m very pleased with the kind of work that’s been done throughout this crisis in Ukraine, and I think U.S. leadership has been critical throughout that process.

With respect to the Rapid Response Force and the Readiness Action Plan that we’ve put forward, in Warsaw I announced $1 billion in our initiative.  A sizeable portion of that will be devoted to implementing various aspects of this Readiness Action Plan.

We’ve already increased obviously rotations of personnel in the Baltic states, for example.  We have the air policing.  We have the activities that are taking place in the Baltic and the Black Sea.  But this allows us to supplement it.  It allows us to coordinate it and integrate it further with additional contributions from other partners.  And what it signifies is NATO’s recognition that, in light of recent Russian actions as well as rhetoric, we want to make it crystal clear:  We mean what we say when we’re talking about our Article 5 commitments.  And an increased presence serves as the most effective deterrent to any additional Russian aggression that we might see.

Angela Keane, Bloomberg.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  What are your specific expectations for what regional actors like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan can legitimately provide to a coalition against Islamic State?  Is there a role there for Iran, as well?  As you know, Secretary Kerry today said that he expects the Allied countries to coalesce around a specific plan by the end of September.  Do you agree with the timeline that he set out?  And what concrete commitments, if any, are you leaving this summit with from the other nations that were here?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me start with a general point.  There was unanimity over the last two days that ISIL poses a significant threat to NATO members.  And there was a recognition that we have to take action.  I did not get any resistance or pushback to the basic notion that we have a critical role to play in rolling back this savage organization that is causing so much chaos in the region and is harming so many people, and poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of NATO members.  So there’s great conviction that we have to act as part of the international community to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And that was extremely encouraging.

Beyond that, what we have already seen is significant support from a variety of member states for specific actions that we’ve been taking in Iraq.  Keep in mind, we’ve taken already 100 strikes in Iraq that have had a significant impact on degrading their capabilities, and making sure that we’re protecting U.S. citizens, critical infrastructure, providing the space for the Iraqi government to form.  Our hope is that the Iraqi government is actually formed and finalized next week.  That, then, allows us to work with them on a broader strategy.

And some of the assistance has been in the form of airlift or humanitarian assistance.  Much of it has been providing additional arms to the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces.  There’s been logistical support, intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance support.  And so a variety of folks with different capabilities have already made a contribution.  I’m confident that we’re going to be able to build on that strong foundation and the clear commitment, and have the kind of coalition that will be required for the sustained effort we need to push ISIL back.

Now, John Kerry is going to be traveling to the region to have further consultations with the regional actors and the regional players.  And I think it is absolutely critical that we have Arab states, and specifically Sunni majority states, that are rejecting the kind of extremist nihilism that we’re seeing out of ISIL that say that is not what Islam is about, and are prepared to join us actively in the fight.  And my expectation is, is that we will see friends and allies and partners of ours in the region prepared to take action, as well, as part of a coalition.

One of our tasks, though, is also going to be to build capability.  What we’ve learned in Iraq is, yes, ISIL has significant capabilities, and they combine terrorist tactics with traditional military tactics to significant effect, but part of the problem also is, is that we haven’t seen as effective a fighting force on the part of the Iraqi Security Forces as we need.  And we’re going to have to focus on the capable units that are already there, bolster them, bolster the work that the Peshmerga has done.  We can support them from the air, but ultimately we’re going to need a strong ground game, and we’re also going to need the Sunni tribes in many of these areas to recognize that their future is not with the kind of fanaticism that ISIL represents so that they start taking the fight to ISIL, as well.  And that’s going to require the sort of regional partnerships that we’re talking about.

In terms of timetable, we are working deliberately.  If you look at what we’ve done over the last several months, we’ve taken this in stages.  The first stage is to make sure that we were encouraging Iraqi government formation.  Second stage was making sure that, building on the intelligence assessments that we have done, that we were in a position to conduct limited airstrikes to protect our personnel, critical infrastructure and engage in humanitarian activities.

The third phase will allow us to take the fight to ISIL, broaden the effort.  And our goal is to act with urgency, but also to make sure that we’re doing it right — that we have the right targets; that there’s support on the ground if we take an airstrike; that we have a strong political coalition, diplomatic effort that is matching it; a strong strategic communications effort so that we are discouraging people from thinking somehow that ISIL represents a state, much less a caliphate.  So all those things are going to have to be combined.

And as I said, it’s not going to happen overnight, but we are steadily moving in the right direction.  And we are going to achieve our goal.  We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaeda, and the same way that we have gone after the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia where we released today the fact that we had killed the leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia, and have consistently worked to degrade their operations.

We have been very systematic and methodical in going after these kinds of organizations that may threaten U.S. personnel and the homeland.  And that deliberation allows us to do it right.  But have no doubt, we will continue and I will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people.  And ISIL poses a real threat, and I’m encouraged by the fact that our friends and allies recognize that same threat.

Julie Davis.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to follow up on what you were saying about ISIL and ask, if you think that the objective here is to destroy and degrade them, are those the same thing in your mind?  Is the goal to ultimately — Secretary Kerry said that there’s no containing them, so is the goal to ultimately annihilate them?  And also, you talked about the importance of expertise on the ground and building up capacity on the ground.  Do you think since airstrikes are not going to do it here, if ultimately action is needed in Syria, can you realistically expect the Free Syrian Army to do what’s needed on the ground to really destroy, not just push back, ISIL?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women.  The goal has to be to dismantle them.

And if you look at what happened with al Qaeda in the FATA, where their primary base was, you initially push them back.  You systematically degrade their capabilities.  You narrow their scope of action.  You slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control.  You take out their leadership.  And over time, they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could.

As I said I think in my last press conference, given the nature of these organizations, are there potentially remnants of an organization that are still running around and hiding and still potentially plotting?  Absolutely.  And we will continue to hunt them down the same way we’re doing with remnants of al Qaeda in the FATA or elements of al-Shabaab in Somalia, or terrorists who operate anywhere around the world.

But what we can accomplish is to dismantle this network, this force that has claimed to control this much territory, so that they can’t do us harm.  And that’s going to be our objective.  And as I said before, I’m pleased to see that there’s unanimity among our friends and allies that that is a worthy goal and they are prepared to work with us in accomplishing that goal.

With respect to the situation on the ground in Syria, we will not be placing U.S. ground troops to try to control the areas that are part of the conflict inside of Syria.  I don’t think that’s necessary for us to accomplish our goal.  We are going to have to find effective partners on the ground to push back against ISIL.  And the moderate coalition there is one that we can work with.  We have experience working with many of them.  They have been, to some degree, outgunned and outmanned, and that’s why it’s important for us to work with our friends and allies to support them more effectively.

But keep in mind that when you have U.S. forces, other advanced nations going after ISIL and putting them on the defensive and putting them on the run, it’s pretty remarkable what then ground forces can do, even if initially they were on the defensive against ISIL.

So that is a developing strategy that we are going to be consulting with our friends, our allies, our regional partners.  But the bottom line is, we will do what is necessary in order to make sure that ISIL does not threaten the United States or our friends and partners.

One last question.  Colleen Nelson, Wall Street Journal.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Some say that Democrats who are facing tough races in November have asked you to delay action on immigration.  How have the concerns of other Democrats influenced your thinking?  And do you see any downside at this point to delaying until after the election?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have to tell you that this week I’ve been pretty busy, focused on Ukraine and focused on ISIL and focused on making sure that NATO is boosting its commitments, and following through on what’s necessary to meet 21st century challenges.

Jeh Johnson and Eric Holder have begun to provide me some of their proposals and recommendations.  I’ll be reviewing them.  And my expectation is that fairly soon I’ll be considering what the next steps are.

What I’m unequivocal about is that we need immigration reform; that my overriding preference is to see Congress act.  We had bipartisan action in the Senate.  The House Republicans have sat on it for over a year.  That has damaged the economy, it has held America back.  It is a mistake.  And in the absence of congressional action, I intend to take action to make sure that we’re putting more resources on the border, that we’re upgrading how we process these cases, and that we find a way to encourage legal immigration and give people some path so that they can start paying taxes and pay a fine and learn English and be able to not look over their shoulder but be legal, since they’ve been living here for quite some time.

So I suspect that on my flight back this will be part of my reading, taking a look at some of the specifics that we’ve looked at.  And I’ll be making an announcement soon.

But I want to be very clear:  My intention is, in the absence of action by Congress, I’m going to do what I can do within the legal constraints of my office — because it’s the right thing to do for the country.

Thank you very much, people of Wales.  I had a wonderful time.

5:15 P.M. BST

Full Text Obama Presidency August 18, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on the Unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over Michael Brown’s Shooting and Update on Iraq Airtrikes and Recapture of Mosul Dam — Transcript



Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-18-14 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:27 P.M. PDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Earlier today I received an update from my team on two separate issues that I’ve been following closely — our ongoing operation in Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

With respect to Iraq, we continue to see important progress across different parts of our strategy to support the Iraqi government and combat the threat from the terrorist group, ISIL. First, our military operations are effectively protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq.  Over the last 11 days, American airstrikes have stopped the ISIL advance around the city of Erbil and pushed back the terrorists.  Meanwhile, we have urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines.

Today, with our support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul.  The Mosul Dam fell under terrorist control earlier this month and is directly tied to our objective of protecting Americans in Iraq.  If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would have threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad.  Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination.  So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together in taking the fight to ISIL.  If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.

Second, we’re building an international coalition to address the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq.  Even as we’ve worked to help many thousands of Yazidis escape the siege of Mount Sinjar, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by ISIL’s violence and many more are still at risk.  Going forward, the United States will work with the Iraqi government, as well as partners like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia, to get food and water to people in need and to bring long-term relief to people who have been driven from their homes.

Third, we will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region and beyond.  Over the last week, we saw historic progress as Iraqis named a new Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, and Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Maliki agreed to step down.  This peaceful transition of power will mark a major milestone in Iraq’s political development, but as I think we’re all aware, the work is not yet done.

Over the next few weeks, Dr. Abadi needs to complete the work of forming a new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government, one that develops a national program to address the interests of all Iraqis.  Without that progress, extremists like ISIL can continue to prey upon Iraq’s divisions.  With that new government in place, Iraqis will be able to unite the country against the threat from ISIL, and they will be able to look forward to increased support not just from the United States but from other countries in the region and around the world.

Let’s remember ISIL poses a threat to all Iraqis and to the entire region.  They claim to represent Sunni grievances, but they slaughter Sunni men, women and children.  They claim to oppose foreign forces, but they actively recruit foreign fighters to advance their hateful ideology.

So the Iraqi people need to reject them and unite to begin to push them out of the lands that they’ve occupied, as we’re seeing at Mosul Dam.  And this is going to take time.  There are going to be many challenges ahead.  But meanwhile, there should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry out the limited missions that I’ve authorized — protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Erbil and Baghdad, and providing humanitarian support, as we did on Mount Sinjar.

My administration has consulted closely with Congress about our strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to do so in the weeks to come, because when it comes to the security of our people and our efforts against a terror group like ISIL, we need to be united in our resolve.

I also want to address the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Governor Nixon, as well as Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill.  I also met with Attorney General Eric Holder.  The Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown.  They are on the ground and, along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation.  The Attorney General himself will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation, and he will receive an update from them on their progress.  He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson.

Ronald Davis, the Director of the DOJ’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services — or COPS — is also traveling to Ferguson tomorrow to work with police officials on the ground.  We’ve also had experts from the DOJ’s Community Relations Service working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among local stakeholders and reduce tensions among the community.

So let me close just saying a few words about the tensions there.  We have all seen images of protestors and law enforcement in the streets.  It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting.  What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not.  While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos.  It undermines rather than advancing justice.

Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these.  There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully.  Ours is a nation of laws for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.

So to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other.  Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.  As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment — the potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.

I’ve said this before — in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.  In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.  Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality.  And already we’re making some significant progress as people of goodwill of all races are ready to chip in.  But that requires that we build and not tear down.  And that requires we listen and not just shout.  That’s how we’re going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another.  We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead.  That’s how we bring about justice, and that’s how we bring about peace.

So with that, I’ve got a few questions I’m going to take.  I’m going to start with Jim Kuhnhenn of AP.

Q    Right here, Mr. President.  The incident in Ferguson has led to a discussion about whether it’s proper to militarize the nation’s city police forces, and I’m wondering whether you wonder or do you think that — you see that as a factor regarding the police response in Ferguson.  And also, do you agree with the decision by the Governor to send in the National Guard?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement.  That helps preserve our civil liberties.  That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction.  And that has to be preserved.

After 9/11, I think understandably, a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack, and I think people in Congress, people of goodwill decided we’ve got to make sure that they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities.  And some of that has been useful.  I mean, some law enforcement didn’t have radios that they could operate effectively in the midst of a disaster.  Some communities needed to be prepared if, in fact, there was a chemical attack and they didn’t have HAZMAT suits.

Having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred.  That would be contrary to our traditions.  And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.

With respect to the National Guard, I think it’s important just to remember this was a state activated National Guard and so it’s under the charge of the Governor.  This is not something that we initiated at the federal level.  I spoke to Jay Nixon about this, expressed an interest in making sure that if, in fact, a National Guard is used it is used in a limited and appropriate way.  He described the support role that they’re going to be providing to local law enforcement, and I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson.

Steve Holland, Reuters.

Q    Thank you.  How do you avoid mission creep in Iraq?  And how long do you think it will take to contain ISIL?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat.  We’re not the Iraqi military.  We’re not even the Iraqi air force.  I am the Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces, and Iraq is going to have to ultimately provide for its own security.

On the other hand, we’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them — that a group like that is contained, because ultimately they can pose a threat to us.

So my goal is, number one, to make sure we’ve got a viable partner.  And that’s why we have so consistently emphasized the need for a government formation process that is inclusive, that is credible, that is legitimate, and that can appeal to Sunnis as well as Shias and Kurds.  We’ve made significant progress on that front, but we’re not there yet.  And I told my national security team today and I will say publicly that we want to continue to communicate to politicians of all stripes in Iraq, don’t think that because we have engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now is the time to let the foot off the gas and return to the same kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally.

Dr. Abadi has said the right things.  I was impressed in my conversation with him about his vision for an inclusive government.  But they’ve got to get this done, because the wolf is at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people they’re going to have to put behind some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government.

When we see a credible Iraqi government, we are then in a position to engage when planning not just with the Iraqi government but also with regional actors and folks beyond the Middle East so that we can craft the kind of joint strategy — joint counterterrorism strategy that I discussed at West Point and I discussed several years ago to the National Defense College University**.  Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground.  And if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely.

Typically what happens with mission creep is when we start deciding that we’re the ones who have to do it all ourselves.  And because of the excellence of our military, that can work for a time — we learned that in Iraq — but it’s not sustainable.  It’s not lasting.  And so I’ve been very firm about this precisely because our goal here has to be to be able to build up a structure not just in Iraq, but regionally, that can be maintained, and that is not involving us effectively trying to govern or impose our military will on a country that is hostile to us.

Q    How long to contain ISIL then?  It sounds like a long-term project.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think, Steve, at this point I’m prepared to provide a blanket answer to that.  A lot of it depends on how effectively the Iraqi government comes together.  I think that you will see if, in fact, that government formation process moves rapidly and credibly that there will be a lot of actors in the region and around the world that are prepared to help and to step up assistance — many of whom may have been reticent over the last several years because the perception was, at least, that Baghdad was not being inclusive and that it was going to be self-defeating to put more resources into it.

I think you’ll see a lot of folks step up; suddenly now Iraq will have a variety of partners.  And with more folks unified around the effort, I think it’s something that can be accomplished.  It also means that there’s the prospect of Sunni tribes who are the primary residents of areas that ISIL now controls saying, we’ve got a viable option and we would rather work with a central government that appears to understand our grievances and is prepared to meet them rather than to deal with individuals who don’t seem to have any values beyond death and destruction.

I’m going to take the last question from somebody, who after 41 years, I understand has decided to retire — Ann Compton, everybody here knows is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know.  I was proud to be able to hug her grandbaby recently.  And I suspect that may have something to do with her decision.  But I just want to say publicly, Ann, we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here.  (Applause.)

Q    Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ann Compton.  I suspect you may get some cake at some point.  (Laughter.)

Q    Let me ask you, this is an interesting time in your presidency.  And one of the things that you have so emphasized in the last few months, the last year or so, is this reach out to brothers — My Brother’s Keeper and to a generation that doesn’t feel that it has much chance.  Sending the Attorney General to Ferguson is a step.  Has anyone there — have you considered going yourself?  Is there more that you personally could do not just for Ferguson but for communities that might also feel that kind of tension and see it erupt in the way it has in Ferguson?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Ann, obviously, we’ve seen events in which there’s a big gulf between community perceptions and law enforcement perceptions around the country.  This is not something new.  It’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young.

I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed because, although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and when they’re conducting an investigation I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.  So it’s hard for me to address a specific case beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.

But as I think I’ve said in some past occasions, part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind, who, as a consequence of tragic histories, often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects.  You have young men of color in many communities who are more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college.  And part of my job that I can do I think without any potential conflicts is to get at those root causes.

Now, that’s a big project.  It’s one that we’ve been trying to carry out now for a couple of centuries.  And we’ve made extraordinary progress, but we have not made enough progress.  And so the idea behind something like My Brother’s Keeper is can we work with cities and communities and clergy and parents and young people themselves all across the country, school superintendents, businesses, corporations, and can we find models that work that move these young men on a better track?

Now, part of that process is also looking at our criminal justice system to make sure that it is upholding the basic principle of everybody is equal before the law.

And one of the things that we’ve looked at during the course of where we can — during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there are patterns that start early.  Young African American and Hispanic boys tend to get suspended from school at much higher rates than other kids, even when they’re in elementary school.  They tend to have much more frequent interactions with the criminal justice system at an earlier age.  Sentencing may be different.  How trials are conducted may be different.  And so one of the things that we’ve done is to include the Department of Justice in this conversation under the banner of My Brother’s Keeper to see where can we start working with local communities to inculcate more trust, more confidence in the criminal justice system.

And I want to be clear about this, because sometimes I think there’s confusion around these issues and this dates back for decades.  There are young black men that commit crime.  And we can argue about why that happened — because of the poverty they were born into and the lack of opportunity, or the schools systems that failed them, or what have you.  But if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety.  And if you go into the African American community or the Latino community, some of the folks who are most intent on making sure that criminals are dealt with are people who have been preyed upon by them.

So this is not an argument that there isn’t real crime out there, and that law enforcement doesn’t have a difficult job and that they have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement.  But what is also true is that given the history of this country, where we can make progress in building up more confidence, more trust, making sure that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities, where training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who may just need more information in order to avoid potential disparity — all those things can make a difference.

One of the things I was most proud of when I was in the state legislature, way back when I had no gray hair and none of you could pronounce my name, was I passed legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions and I passed legislation dealing with racial profiling in Illinois.  And in both cases, we worked with local law enforcement.  And the argument was that you can do a better job as a law enforcement official if you have built up credibility and trust.  And there are some basic things that can be done to promote that kind of trust.  And in some cases, there’s just a lack of information, and we want to make sure that we get that information to law enforcement.

So there are things that can be done to improve the situation.  But short term, obviously, right now what we have to do is to make sure that the cause of justice and fair administration of the law is being brought to bear in Ferguson.  In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe longstanding grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior — and tossing Molotov cocktails, or looting stores.  And that is a small minority of folks and may not even be residents of Ferguson, but they are damaging the cause; they’re not advancing it.

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.

4:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 1, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Pre-August Recess Press Conference on the Domestic & Foreign Policy, Slams Republicans



Press Conference by the President

Source: WH, 8-1-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Friday.  I thought I’d take some questions, but first, let me say a few words about the economy.

This morning, we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July.  That’s on top of about 300,000 new jobs in June.  So we are now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month.  That’s the first time that has happened since 1997.  Over the past year, we’ve added more jobs than any year since 2006.  And all told, our businesses have created 9.9 million new jobs over the past 53 months.  That’s the longest streak of private sector job creation in our history.

And as we saw on Wednesday, the economy grew at a strong pace in the spring.  Companies are investing.  Consumers are spending.  American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos — all are booming.  And thanks to the decisions that we’ve made, and the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve recovered faster and come farther from the recession than almost any other advanced country on Earth.

So the good news is the economy clearly is getting stronger. Things are getting better.  Our engines are revving a little bit louder.  And the decisions that we make right now can sustain and keep that growth and momentum going.

Unfortunately, there are a series of steps that we could be taking to maintain momentum, and perhaps even accelerate it; there are steps that we could be taking that would result in more job growth, higher wages, higher incomes, more relief for middle-class families.  And so far, at least, in Congress, we have not seen them willing or able to take those steps.

I’ve been pushing for common-sense ideas like rebuilding our infrastructure in ways that are sustained over many years and support millions of good jobs and help businesses compete.  I’ve been advocating on behalf of raising the minimum wage, making it easier for working folks to pay off their student loans; fair pay, paid leave.  All these policies have two things in common:  All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure, and all of them so far have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress.  That’s why my administration keeps taking whatever actions we can take on our own to help working families.

Now, it’s good that Congress was able to pass legislation to strengthen the VA.  And I want to thank the chairmen and ranking members who were involved in that.  It’s good that Congress was able to at least fund transportation projects for a few more months before leaving town — although it falls far short of the kind of infrastructure effort that we need that would actually accelerate the economy.  But for the most part, the big-ticket items, the things that would really make a difference in the lives of middle-class families, those things just are not getting done.

Let’s just take a recent example:  Immigration.  We all agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved in a portion of our southern border.  And we even agree on most of the solutions.  But instead of working together — instead of focusing on the 80 percent where there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans, between the administration and Congress — House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate and that if it were to pass the Senate I would veto.  They know it.

They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem.  This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today — just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month.  And this is on an issue that they all insisted had to be a top priority.

Now, our efforts administratively so far have helped to slow the tide of child migrants trying to come to our country.  But without additional resources and help from Congress, we’re just not going to have the resources we need to fully solve the problem.  That means while they’re out on vacation I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge — with or without Congress.

And yesterday, even though they’ve been sitting on a bipartisan immigration bill for over a year, House Republicans suggested that since they don’t expect to actually pass a bill that I can sign, that I actually should go ahead and act on my own to solve the problem.  Keep in mind that just a few days earlier, they voted to sue me for acting on my own.  And then when they couldn’t pass a bill yesterday, they put out a statement suggesting I should act on my own because they couldn’t pass a bill.

So immigration has not gotten done.  A student loan bill that would help folks who have student loan debt consolidate and refinance at lower rates — that didn’t pass.  The transportation bill that they did pass just gets us through the spring, when we should actually be planning years in advance.  States and businesses are raising the minimum wage for their workers because this Congress is failing to do so.

Even basic things like approving career diplomats for critical ambassadorial posts aren’t getting done.  Last night, for purely political reasons, Senate Republicans, for a certain period of time, blocked our new ambassador to Russia.  It raised such an uproar that finally they went ahead and let our Russian ambassador pass — at a time when we are dealing every day with the crisis in Ukraine.

They’re still blocking our ambassador to Sierra Leone, where there’s currently an Ebola outbreak.  They’re blocking our ambassador to Guatemala, even as they demand that we do more to stop the flow of unaccompanied children from Guatemala.  There are a lot of things that we could be arguing about on policy — that’s what we should be doing as a democracy — but we shouldn’t be having an argument about placing career diplomats with bipartisan support in countries around the world where we have to have a presence.

So the bottom line is this:  We have come a long way over the last five and a half years.  Our challenges are nowhere near as daunting as they were when I first came into office.  But the American people demand and deserve a strong and focused effort on the part of all of us to keep moving the country forward and to focus on their concerns.  And the fact is we could be much further along and we could be doing even better, and the economy could be even stronger, and more jobs could be created if Congress would do the job that the people sent them here to do.

And I will not stop trying to work with both parties to get things moving faster for middle-class families and those trying to get into the middle class.  When Congress returns next month, my hope is, is that instead of simply trying to pass partisan message bills on party lines that don’t actually solve problems, they’re going to be willing to come together to at least focus on some key areas where there’s broad agreement.  After all that we’ve had to overcome, our Congress should stop standing in the way of our country’s success.

So with that, let me take a couple of questions.  And I will start with Roberta Rampton of Reuters.

Q    Thanks.  I want to ask about the situation in the Middle East.  And why do you think Israel should embrace a cease-fire in Gaza when one of its soldiers appears to have been abducted and when Hamas continues to use its network of tunnels to launch attacks?  And also, have you seen Israel act at all on your call to do more to protect civilians?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think it’s important to note that we have — and I have — unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third almost minutes after a cease-fire had been announced.  And the U.N. has condemned them as well.

And I want to make sure that they are listening:  If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible.

I have been very clear throughout this crisis that Israel has a right to defend itself.  No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities and people having to rush to bomb shelters every 20 minutes or half hour.  No country can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.

And so, not only have we been supportive of Israel in its right to defend itself, but in very concrete terms — for example, in support for the Iron Dome program that has intercepted rockets that are firing down on Israeli cities — we’ve been trying to cooperate as much as we can to make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens.

Now, at the same time, we’ve also been clear that innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them.  A cease-fire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and to try to resolve some of the underlying issues that have been building up over quite some time.  Israel committed to that 72-hour cease-fire, and it was violated.  And trying to put that back together is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts.

And let me take this opportunity, by the way, to give Secretary John Kerry credit.  He has been persistent.  He has worked very hard.  He has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism simply to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed.

We’re going to keep working towards that.  It’s going to take some time.  I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.

And it’s not particularly relevant whether a particular leader in Hamas ordered this abduction.  The point is, is that when they sign onto a cease-fire they’re claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions.  And if they don’t have control of them, and just moments after a cease-fire is signed you have Israeli soldiers being killed and captured, then it’s hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a cease-fire can actually be honored.

I’m in constant consultation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Our national security team is in constant communication with the Israel military.  I want to see everything possible done to make sure that Palestinian civilians are not being killed.  And it is heartbreaking to see what’s happening there, and I think many of us recognize the dilemma we have.  On the one hand, Israel has a right to defend itself and it’s got to be able to get at those rockets and those tunnel networks.  On the other hand, because of the incredibly irresponsible actions on the part of Hamas to oftentimes house these rocket launchers right in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, we end up seeing people who had nothing to do with these rockets ending up being hurt.

Part of the reason why we’ve been pushing so hard for a cease-fire is precisely because it’s hard to reconcile Israel’s legitimate need to defend itself with our concern with those civilians.  And if we can pause the fighting, then it’s possible that we may be able to arrive at a formula that spares lives and also ensures Israel’s security.  But it’s difficult.  And I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.

Bill Plante.

Q    Mr. President, like that cease-fire, you’ve called for diplomatic solutions not only in Israel and Gaza but also in Ukraine, in Iraq, to very little effect so far.  Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world?  Have you lost yours?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, this is a common theme that folks bring up.  Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on Earth, still does not control everything around the world.  And so our diplomatic efforts often take time. They often will see progress and then a step backwards.  That’s been true in the Middle East.  That’s been true in Europe.  That’s been true in Asia.  That’s the nature of world affairs.  It’s not neat, and it’s not smooth.

But if you look at, for example, Ukraine, we have made progress in delivering on what we said we would do.  We can’t control how Mr. Putin thinks.  But what we can do is say to Mr. Putin, if you continue on the path of arming separatists with heavy armaments that the evidence suggests may have resulted in 300 innocent people on a jet dying, and that violates international law and undermines the integrity — territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, then you’re going to face consequences that will hurt your country.

And there was a lot of skepticism about our ability to coordinate with Europeans for a strong series of sanctions.  And each time we have done what we said we would do, including this week, when we put in place sanctions that have an impact on key sectors of the Russian economy — their energy, their defense, their financial systems.

It hasn’t resolved the problem yet.  I spoke to Mr. Putin this morning, and I indicated to him, just as we will do what we say we do in terms of sanctions, we’ll also do what we say we do in terms of wanting to resolve this issue diplomatically if he takes a different position.  If he respects and honors the right of Ukrainians to determine their own destiny, then it’s possible to make sure that Russian interests are addressed that are legitimate, and that Ukrainians are able to make their own decisions, and we can resolve this conflict and end some of the bloodshed.

But the point is, though, Bill, that if you look at the 20th century and the early part of this century, there are a lot of conflicts that America doesn’t resolve.  That’s always been true.  That doesn’t mean we stop trying.  And it’s not a measure of American influence on any given day or at any given moment that there are conflicts around the world that are difficult.  The conflict in Northern Ireland raged for a very, very long time until finally something broke, where the parties decided that it wasn’t worth killing each other.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on even longer than you’ve been reporting.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t think at any point was there a suggestion somehow that America didn’t have influence just because we weren’t able to finalize an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

You will recall that situations like Kosovo and Bosnia raged on for quite some time, and there was a lot more death and bloodshed than there has been so far in the Ukrainian situation before it ultimately did get resolved.

And so I recognize with so many different issues popping up around the world, sometimes it may seem as if this is an aberration or it’s unusual.  But the truth of the matter is, is that there’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there and there are going to be conflicts.  And our job is to just make sure that we continue to project what’s right, what’s just, and that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests but also the interests of the world as a whole.

Q    Do you think you could have done more?

THE PRESIDENT:  On which one?

Q    On any of them?  Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well look, I think, Bill, that the nature of being President is that you’re always asking yourself what more can you do.  But with respect to, let’s say, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, this administration invested an enormous amount to try to bring the parties together around a framework for peace and a two-state solution.  John Kerry invested an enormous amount of time.  In the end, it’s up to the two parties to make a decision.  We can lead them to resolve some of the technical issues and to show them a path, but they’ve got to want it.

With respect to Ukraine, I think that we have done everything that we can to support the Ukrainian government and to deter Russia from moving further into Ukraine.  But short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be their long-term interests.

Right now, what we’ve done is impose sufficient costs on Russia that, objectively speaking, they should — President Putin should want to resolve this diplomatically, get these sanctions lifted, get their economy growing again, and have good relations with Ukraine.  But sometimes people don’t always act rationally, and they don’t always act based on their medium- or long-term interests.  That can’t deter us, though.  We’ve just got to stay at it.


Q    Mr. President, Republicans point to some of your executive orders as reason, they say, that they can’t trust you to implement legislation that they pass.  Even if you don’t buy that argument, do you hold yourself totally blameless in the inability it appears to reach agreement with the Republican-led House?

THE PRESIDENT:  Wendell, let’s just take the recent example of immigration.  A bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate, co-sponsored by not just Democrats but some very conservative Republicans who recognize that the system currently is broken and if, in fact we put more resources on the border, provide a path in which those undocumented workers who’ve been living here for a long time and may have ties here are coming out of the shadows, paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English — if we fix the legal immigration system so it’s more efficient, if we are attracting young people who may have studied here to stay here and create jobs here, that that all is going to be good for the economy, it’s going to reduce the deficit, it might have forestalled some of the problems that we’re seeing now in the Rio Grande Valley with these unaccompanied children.

And so we have a bipartisan bill, Wendell, bipartisan agreement supported by everybody from labor to the evangelical community to law enforcement.  So the argument isn’t between me and the House Republicans.  It’s between the House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and House Republicans and the business community, and House Republicans and the evangelical community.  I’m just one of the people they seem to disagree with on this issue.

So that’s on the comprehensive bill.  So now we have a short-term crisis with respect to the Rio Grande Valley.  They say we need more resources, we need tougher border security in this area where these unaccompanied children are showing up.  We agree.  So we put forward a supplemental to give us the additional resources and funding to do exactly what they say we should be doing, and they can’t pass the bill.  They can’t even pass their own version of the bill.  So that’s not a disagreement between me and the House Republicans; that’s a disagreement between the House Republicans and the House Republicans.

The point is that on a range of these issues, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s reducing the deficit, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure, we have consistently put forward proposals that in previous years and previous administrations would not have been considered radical or left wing; they would have been considered pretty sensible, mainstream approaches to solving problems.

I include under that, by the way, the Affordable Care Act.  That’s a whole other conversation.

And in circumstances where even basic, common-sense, plain, vanilla legislation can’t pass because House Republicans consider it somehow a compromise of their principles, or giving Obama a victory, then we’ve got to take action.  Otherwise, we’re not going to be making progress on the things that the American people care about.

Q    On the border supplemental — can you act alone?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m going to have to act alone because we don’t have enough resources.  We’ve already been very clear — we’ve run out of money.  And we are going to have to reallocate resources in order to just make sure that some of the basic functions that have to take place down there — whether it’s making sure that these children are properly housed, or making sure we’ve got enough immigration judges to process their cases  — that those things get done.  We’re going to have to reallocate some resources.

But the broader point, Wendell, is that if, in fact, House Republicans are concerned about me acting independently of Congress — despite the fact that I’ve taken fewer executive actions than my Republican predecessor or my Democratic predecessor before that, or the Republican predecessor before that — then the easiest way to solve it is passing legislation. Get things done.

On the supplemental, we agreed on 80 percent of the issues. There were 20 percent of the issues that perhaps there were disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.  As I said to one Republican colleague who was down here that I was briefing about some national security issues, why wouldn’t we just go ahead and pass the 80 percent that we agree on and we’ll try to work to resolve the differences on the other 20 percent?  Why wouldn’t we do that?  And he didn’t really have a good answer for it.

So there’s no doubt that I can always do better on everything, including making additional calls to Speaker Boehner, and having more conversations with some of the House Republican leadership.  But in the end, the challenge I have right now is that they are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are, and they’re not able to work and compromise even with Senate Republicans on certain issues.  And they consider what have been traditionally Republican-supported initiatives, they consider those as somehow a betrayal of the cause.

Take the example of the Export-Import Bank.  This is an interesting thing that’s happened.  This is a program in which we help to provide financing to sell American goods and products around the world.  Every country does this.  It’s traditionally been championed by Republicans.  For some reason, right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this — which means that when American companies go overseas and they’re trying to close a sale on selling Boeing planes, for example, or a GE turbine, or some other American product, that has all kinds of subcontractors behind it and is creating all kinds of jobs, and all sorts of small businesses depend on that sale, and that American company is going up against a German company or a Chinese company, and the Chinese and the German company are providing financing and the American company isn’t, we may lose that sale.

When did that become something that Republicans opposed?  It would be like me having a car dealership for Ford, and the Toyota dealership offers somebody financing and I don’t.  We will lose business and we’ll lose jobs if we don’t pass it.

So there’s some big issues where I understand why we have differences.  On taxes, Republicans want to maintain some corporate loopholes I think need to be closed because I think that we should be giving tax breaks to families that are struggling with child care or trying to save for a college education.  On health care, obviously their view is, is that we should not be helping folks get health care, even though it’s through the private marketplace.  My view is, is that in a country as wealthy as ours, we can afford to make sure that everybody has access to affordable care.

Those are legitimate policy arguments.  But getting our ambassadors confirmed?  These are career diplomats, not political types.  Making sure that we pass legislation to strengthen our borders and put more folks down there?  Those shouldn’t be controversial.  And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of where I wouldn’t welcome some reasonable efforts to actually get a bill passed out of Congress that I could sign.

Last question, Michelle Kosinski.

Q    You made the point that in certain difficult conflicts in the past, both sides had to reach a point where they were tired of the bloodshed.  Do you think that we are actually far from that point right now?  And is it realistic to try to broker a cease-fire right now when there are still tunnel operations allowed to continue?  Is that going to cause a change of approach from this point forward?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind that the cease-fire that had been agreed to would have given Israel the capability to continue to dismantle these tunnel networks, but the Israelis can dismantle these tunnel networks without going into major population centers in Gaza.  So I think the Israelis are entirely right that these tunnel networks need to be dismantled.  There is a way of doing that while still reducing the bloodshed.

You are right that in past conflicts, sometimes people have to feel deeply the costs.  Anybody who has been watching some of these images I’d like to think should recognize the costs.  You have children who are getting killed.  You have women, defenseless, who are getting killed.  You have Israelis whose lives are disrupted constantly and living in fear.  And those are costs that are avoidable if we’re able to get a cease-fire that preserves Israel’s ability to defend itself and gives it the capacity to have an assurance that they’re not going to be constantly threatened by rocket fire in the future, and, conversely, an agreement that recognizes the Palestinian need to be able to make a living and the average Palestinian’s capacity to live a decent life.

But it’s hard.  It’s going to be hard to get there.  I think that there’s a lot of anger and there’s a lot of despair, and that’s a volatile mix.  But we have to keep trying.

And it is — Bill asked earlier about American leadership.  Part of the reason why America remains indispensable, part of the essential ingredient in American leadership is that we’re willing to plunge in and try, where other countries don’t bother trying.  I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that in all these crises that have been mentioned, there may be some tangential risks to the United States.  In some cases, as in Iraq and ISIS, those are dangers that have to be addressed right now, and we have to take them very seriously.  But for the most part, these are not — the rockets aren’t being fired into the United States.  The reason we are concerned is because we recognize we’ve got some special responsibilities.

We have to have some humility about what we can and can’t accomplish.  We have to recognize that our resources are finite, and we’re coming out of a decade of war and our military has been stretched very hard, as has our budget.  Nevertheless, we try.  We go in there and we make an effort.

And when I see John Kerry going out there and trying to broker a cease-fire, we should all be supporting him.  There shouldn’t be a bunch of complaints and second-guessing about, well, it hasn’t happened yet, or nitpicking before he’s had a chance to complete his efforts.  Because, I tell you what, there isn’t any other country that’s going in there and making those efforts.

And more often than not, as a consequence of our involvement, we get better outcomes — not perfect outcomes, not immediate outcomes, but we get better outcomes.  And that’s going to be true with respect to the Middle East.  That’s going to be true with respect to Ukraine.  That’s going to be certainly true with respect to Iraq.

And I think it’s useful for me to end by just reminding folks that, in my first term, if I had a press conference like this, typically, everybody would want to ask about the economy and how come jobs weren’t being created, and how come the housing market is still bad, and why isn’t it working.  Well, you know what, what we did worked.  And the economy is better.  And when I say that we’ve just had six months of more than 200,000 jobs that hasn’t happened in 17 years that shows you the power of persistence.  It shows you that if you stay at it, eventually we make some progress.  All right?

Q    What about John Brennan?

Q    The Africa summit — Ebola?

THE PRESIDENT:  I thought that you guys were going to ask me how I was going to spend my birthday.  What happened to the happy birthday thing?

Q    Happy birthday.

Q    What about John Brennan?

Q    Africa summit?

THE PRESIDENT:  I will address two points.  I’ll address —

Q    And Flight 17?

THE PRESIDENT:  Hold on, guys.  Come on.  There’s just —

Q    And Africa.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re not that pent up.  I’ve been giving you questions lately.

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan.  I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff.  And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled.  Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.  We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened.  I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.  And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.  And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.  And that’s what that report reflects.  And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.  And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line.  And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted.  And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

Q    Mr. President —

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, I gave you a question.

Q    All right.

Q    The summit — the U.S.-Africa —

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got a U.S.-Africa Summit coming up next week.  It is going to be an unprecedented gathering of African leaders.  The importance of this for America needs to be understood.  Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents in the world.  You’ve got six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in Africa.  You have all sorts of other countries like China and Brazil and India deeply interested in working with Africa — not to extract natural resources alone, which traditionally has been the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world — but now because Africa is growing and you’ve got thriving markets and you’ve got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there.

And Africa also happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular and people feel a real affinity for our way of life.  And we’ve made enormous progress over the last several years in not just providing traditional aid to Africa, helping countries that are suffering from malnutrition or helping countries that are suffering from AIDS, but rather partnering and thinking about how can we trade more and how can we do business together.  And that’s the kind of relationship that Africa is looking for.

And I’ve had conversations over the last several months with U.S. businesses — some of the biggest U.S. businesses in the world — and they say, Africa, that’s one of our top priorities; we want to do business with those folks, and we think that we can create U.S. jobs and send U.S. exports to Africa.  But we’ve got to be engaged, and so this gives us a chance to do that.  It also gives us a chance to talk to Africa about security issues — because, as we’ve seen, terrorist networks try to find places where governance is weak and security structures are weak.  And if we want to keep ourselves safe over the long term, then one of the things that we can do is make sure that we are partnering with some countries that really have pretty effective security forces and have been deploying themselves in peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts in Africa.  And that, ultimately, can save us and our troops and our military a lot of money if we’ve got strong partners who are able to deal with conflicts in these regions.

So it’s going to be a terrific conference.  I won’t lie to you, traffic will be bad here in Washington.  (Laughter.)  I know that everybody has been warned about that, but we are really looking forward to this and I think it’s going to be a great success.

Now, the last thing I’m going to say about this, because I know that it’s been on people’s minds, is the issue of Ebola.  This is something that we take very seriously.  As soon as there’s an outbreak anywhere in the world of any disease that could have significant effects, the CDC is in communication with the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies to try to make sure that we’ve got an appropriate response.

This has been a more aggressive Ebola outbreak than we’ve seen in the past.  But keep in mind that it is still affecting parts of three countries, and we’ve got some 50 countries represented at this summit.  We are doing two things with respect to the summit itself.  We’re taking the appropriate precautions.  Folks who are coming from these countries that have even a marginal risk or an infinitesimal risk of having been exposed in some fashion, we’re making sure we’re doing screening on that end — as they leave the country.  We’ll do additional screening when they’re here.  We feel confident that the procedures that we’ve put in place are appropriate.

More broadly, the CDC and our various health agencies are going to be working very intently with the World Health Organization and some of our partner countries to make sure that we can surge some resources down there and organization to these countries that are pretty poor and don’t have a strong public health infrastructure so that we can start containing the problem.

Keep in mind that Ebola is not something that is easily transmitted.  That’s why, generally, outbreaks dissipate.  But the key is identifying, quarantining, isolating those who contract it and making sure that practices are in place that avoid transmission.  And it can be done, but it’s got to be done in an organized, systematic way, and that means that we’re going to have to help these countries accomplish that.

All right?  Okay.

Q    Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go, April.  (Laughter.)  That’s what I was talking about — somebody finally wished me happy birthday — although it isn’t until Monday, you’re right.

Thank you so much.

END                3:34 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts June 11, 2014: Eric Cantor’s news conference on primary loss and resignation as House Majority Leader



Transcript: Eric Cantor’s news conference on primary loss

Source: WaPo, 6-11-14

Transcript: Eric Cantor’s news conference on primary loss

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spoke about his political future…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency April 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on Reaching 8 Million Obamacare Enrollees and the Crisis in Ukraine



Press Conference by the President, 4/17/14

Source: WH, 4-17-14


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with asterisks.

3:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Before I begin I just want to express on behalf of the American people our deepest condolences to the Republic of Korea and the families of all those who’ve seen their loved ones lost when a ferry sank within the last couple of days.

Obviously, information is still coming in.  We know that many of the victims of this terrible tragedy were students.  And American Navy personnel and Marines have already been on the scene helping the search and rescue.  As one of our closest allies, our commitment to South Korea is unwavering in good times and in bad, and that’s something I’ll underscore during my visit to Seoul next week.

Before I take questions I’d also like to say a few words about how the Affordable Care Act is now covering more people at less cost than most would have predicted just a few months ago.

The first open enrollment period under this law ended a little over two weeks ago.  And as more data comes in, we now know that the number of Americans who’ve signed up for private insurance in the marketplaces has grown to 8 million people — 8 million people.  Thirty-five percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.  All told, independent experts now estimate that millions of Americans who were uninsured have gained coverage this year — with millions more to come next year and the year after.

We’ve also seen signs that the Affordable Care Act is bringing economic security to more Americans.  Before this law added new transparency and competition to the individual market, folks who bought insurance on their own regularly saw double-digit increases in their premiums.  That was the norm.  And while we suspect that premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades, we also know that since the law took effect health care spending has risen more slowly than at any time in the past 50 years.

In the decade before the Affordable Care Act, employer-based insurance rose almost 8 percent a year.  Last year, it grew at half that rate.  Under this law, real Medicare costs per person have nearly stopped growing.  The life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by 10 years.  And the independent Congressional Budget Office now expects premiums for plans on the marketplace to be 15 percent lower than originally predicted.

So those savings add up to more money that families can spend at businesses, more money that businesses can spend hiring new workers.  And the CBO now says that the Affordable Care Act will be cheaper than recently projected.  Lower costs from  coverage provisions will shrink our deficits by an extra $100 billion.

So the bottom line is, under the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs is down.  Hundreds of millions of Americans who already have insurance now have new benefits and protections from free preventive care to freedom from lifetime caps on your care.  No American with a preexisting condition like asthma or cancer can be denied coverage.  No woman can be charged more just for being a woman.  Those days are over.  And this thing is working.

I’ve said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our health care system.  We know we’ve got more work to do.  But we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more — which is why, as I’ve said before, I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been.

They still can’t bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working.  They said nobody would sign up; they were wrong about that.  They said it would be unaffordable for the country; they were wrong about that.  They were wrong to keep trying to repeal a law that is working when they have no alternative answer for millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who would be denied coverage again, or every woman who would be charged more for just being a woman again.

I know every American isn’t going to agree with this law.  But I think we can agree that it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about — and that continues to be the economy.  Because these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost.  The 50 or so votes Republicans have taken to repeal this law could have been 50 votes to create jobs by investing in things like infrastructure or innovation.  Or 50 votes to make it easier for middle-class families to send their kids to college.  Or 50 votes to raise the minimum wage, or restore unemployment insurance that they let expire for folks working hard to find a new job.

The point is the repeal debate is and should be over.  The Affordable Care Act is working.  And I know the American people don’t want us spending the next two and a half years refighting the settled political battles of the last five years.  They sent us here to repair our economy, to rebuild our middle class, and to restore our founding promise of opportunity — not just for a few, but for all.  And as President, that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing as long as I’m in this office.

With that, I’ll take some questions.  Let’s see who we got.  Kathleen Hennessey of the LA Times.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  It sounds like there’s been some development in the Ukraine talks in Geneva.  I’m just wondering if you could describe your level of confidence in what this agreement is and how you can be sure that Russia will follow through, given some of the remarks from President Putin this morning.

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think we can be sure of anything at this point.  I think there is the possibility, the prospect that diplomacy may deescalate the situation and we may be able to move towards what has always been our goal, which is let the Ukrainians make their own decisions about their own lives.

There was a meeting in Geneva — representatives of the Ukrainian government, the Russian government, the EU, as well as the United States.  It was a lengthy, vigorous conversation.  My understanding is, is that the Ukrainian Prime Foreign** Minister gave a detailed and thorough presentation about the reforms that they intend to introduce, including reforms that provide assurances for Ukrainians who live in eastern and southern Ukraine that they will be fully represented, that their rights will be protected, that Russian speakers and Russian natives in Ukraine will have the full protection of the law.  And my understanding, based on what I’ve heard, is that there was an acknowledgement within the meeting that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv had gone out of its way to address a range of the concerns that may have existed in southern and eastern Ukraine.

There was a promising public statement that indicated the need to disarm all irregular forces and militias and groups that have been occupying buildings.  There was an offer of amnesty to those who would willingly lay down their arms, evacuate those buildings, so that law and order could be restored in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The Russians signed on to that statement.  And the question now becomes will, in fact, they use the influence that they’ve exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward with the decentralization reforms that they’ve proposed, stabilize their economy, and start getting back on the path of growth and democracy and that their sovereignty will be respected.

We’re not going to know whether, in fact, there’s follow-through on these statements for several days.  And so today I spoke with Chancellor Merkel; later on in the day I’m going to be speaking to David Cameron.  We’re going to be consulting with our European allies.  Over the last week, we have put in place additional consequences that we can impose on the Russians if we do not see actual improvement of the situation on the ground.  And we are coordinating now with our European allies.

My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days.  But I don’t think given past performance that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

If, in fact, we do see improvements, then that will obviously be a positive.  In the meantime, we’re going to make sure that we continue to help the Ukrainian government — working with the IMF, the Europeans and others — to stabilize their economy and to start reforming it.  We’re going to continue to work with our NATO allies to make sure that they are assured that we’re going to meet our Article 5 obligations and that they are secure.

And as I’ve said before — I think I had an interview with Major yesterday in which I mentioned this whole exercise by the Russians is not good for Russia either.  There are, I think, a number of articles today indicating the degree to which an economy that was already stuck in the mud is further deteriorating because of these actions.

And in my conversations with President Putin, I’ve emphasized the same thing, that we have no desire to see further deterioration of the Russian economy.  On the other hand, we are going to continue to uphold the basic principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity for all countries; and that there’s a way for Ukraine to be independent, to be sovereign, and to have positive relationships with both the West and the East, with both its European neighbors and its Russian neighbors.  And that’s our primary concern.

Maria Peña, La Opinión.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ve got a hot spot for you here in the U.S.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said — or claimed that you haven’t learned how to work with them.  And he’s angry that you’re attacking the GOP on the lack of movement on immigration reform.  So I was wondering how you respond to that.

And the second part to that, right now you have hunger strikers across the street demanding relief for undocumented immigrants.  And I was wondering if you can dispel the rumors or if there’s a leak from the White House that you will make some sort of announcement in the coming weeks to expand that relief for the undocumented.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday.

Q    Really?

THE PRESIDENT:  I did.  (Laughter.)  You’re always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation.  I wished him happy Passover.  And what I said to him privately is something that I would share with him — that I’ve said publicly, which is there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform.  It would strengthen our economy, it would help with our security, and it would provide relief to families who — many of whom have lived here for years and who have children and family members who are U.S. citizens; and that Congress should act; and that right now what’s holding us back is House Republican leadership not willing to go ahead and let the process move forward.

So it was a pretty friendly conversation.  I think in his press release, I gather he was referring to the observation that we’d made a day earlier that it had now been a year since the Senate had passed a strong bipartisan bill, and that although we had heard a lot of talk about the House Republicans being interested in doing something, nothing had happened yet, and suggesting that we need some urgency here.  I still feel the same way.

I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do.  I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this.  But what I also know is that there are families all across the country who are experiencing great hardship and pain because this is not getting resolved.  I also know that there are businesses around the country that could be growing even faster, that our deficits could be coming down faster, that we would have more customers in our shops, if we get this thing resolved.

We know what the right thing to do is.  It’s a matter of political will.  It’s not any longer a matter of policy.  And I’m going to continue to encourage them to get this done.

As far as our actions, Jeh Johnson, our new head of the  Department of Homeland Security, has been talking to everybody  — law enforcement, immigrant rights groups — to do a thorough-going review of our approach towards enforcement.  And we’re doing that in consultation with Democrats and Republicans and with any interested party.

I do think that the system we have right now is broken.  I’m not alone in that opinion.  The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action.  We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could.  We’re going to review it one more time to see if there’s more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn’t be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding.

And so let me —

Q    Do you have a time?

THE PRESIDENT:  I won’t get into timing right now because Mr. Johnson is going to go ahead and do that review.

Tamara Keith.

Q    So you — regarding the Affordable Care Act, I think you —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, let’s talk about that.  (Laughter.)

Q    Since you brought it up.  (Laughter.)  I think everyone agrees that it has flaws.  But Democrats have been sort of reluctant in Congress to reopen the conversation, and Republicans have been more than happy to reopen the conversation but in a different way.  Now that, as you say, it’s here to stay, there are so many people that signed up, in this environment is it possible to do the kind of corrections that the business community and many others would like to see — sort of small, technical corrections?

THE PRESIDENT:  It is absolutely possible, but it will require a change in attitude on the part of the Republicans.

I have always said from the outset that on any large piece of legislation like this, there are going to be things that need to be improved, need to be tweaked.  I said that I think the day I signed the bill.  And I don’t think there’s been any hesitation on our part to consider ideas that would actually improve the legislation.  The challenge we have is, is that if you have certain members in the Republican Party whose view is making it work better is a concession to me, then it’s hard in that environment to actually get it done.

And I recognize that their party is going through the stages of grief — anger and denial and all that stuff — and we’re not at acceptance yet.  But at some point, my assumption is, is that there will be an interest to figure out how do we make this work in the best way possible.

We have 8 million people signed up through the exchanges.  That doesn’t include the 3 million young people who are able to stay on their parents’ plan.  It doesn’t include the 3 million people who benefited from expansions to Medicaid.  So if my math is correct, that’s 14 million right there.  You’ve got another 5 million people who signed up outside of the marketplaces but are part of the same insurance pool.  So we’ve got a sizable part of the U.S. population now in the first — for the first time in many cases, in a position to enjoy the financial security of health insurance.

And I’m meeting them as I’m on the road.  I saw a woman yesterday — young woman, maybe 34, with her mom and her dad, and she’s got two small kids and self-employed husband, and was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And this isn’t an abstraction to her.  She is saving her home.  She is saving her business.  She is saving her parents’ home, potentially, because she’s got health insurance, which she just could not afford.

And the question now becomes if, in fact, this is working for a lot of people but there are still improvements to make, why are we still having a conversation about repealing the whole thing, and why are we having folks say that any efforts to improve it are somehow handing Obama a victory?  This isn’t about me.  And my hope is, is that we start moving beyond that.  My suspicion is that probably will not happen until after November because it seems as if this is the primary agenda item in the Republican political platform.

But here’s what I know:  The American people would much rather see us talk about jobs, would much rather see us talk about high college costs, would much rather see us discussing how we can rebuild our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure and put people back to work.  They’d much rather see us talk about how we’d boost wages and boost incomes and improve their individual family bottom lines.

And if the Republicans want to spend the entire next six months or year talking about repealing a bill that provides millions of people health insurance without providing any meaningful alternative, instead of wanting to talk about jobs and the economic situation of families all across the country, that’s their prerogative.  At some point I think they’ll make the transition.  That’s my hope, anyway.  If not, we’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing, which is making it work for people all across the country.

I’m sorry, I’m going to say one last thing about this, just because this does frustrate me:  States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite.  You’ve got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states — zero cost to these states — other than ideological reasons.  They have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.  That’s wrong.  It should stop.  Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.

Isaac, from Politico.  Where are you, Isaac?  There you are.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Given all that you were just saying about the Affordable Care Act, do you think it’s time for Democrats to start campaigning loudly and positively on the benefits of Obamacare?  Will you lead that charge?

And on Ukraine, you’ve said in other situations — Iran, for example — that the military option remains on the table even as talks go on.  Is the military option on the table with Russia?  And if so, would that be through NATO forces, through lethal aid to Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, keep in mind I think I’ve been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.  What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.  They move forward with reforms that meet the interests of the various groups within Ukraine, they move forward with elections, and they start getting their economic house in order.  That’s what’s going to solve the problem.

And so obviously, Russia right now still has its forces amassed along the Ukrainian-Russian border as a gesture of intimidation.  And it is our belief — and not ours alone — but I think broad portions of the international community believe that Russia’s hand is in the disruptions and chaos that we’ve been seeing in southern and eastern Ukraine.  But there is an opportunity for Russia to take a different approach.  We are encouraging them to do so.

In the meantime, we’re going to prepare additional responses should Russia fail to take a different course.  We’ve already had an impact on their economy that is well documented.  It could get significantly worse.  But we don’t have an interest in hurting ordinary Russians just for the sake of it.  Our strong preference would be for Mr. Putin to follow through on what is a glimmer of hope coming out of these Geneva talks.  But we’re not going to count on it until we see it.  And in the meantime, we’re going to prepare what our other options are.

With respect to the Affordable Care Act, my point is that we’ve been having a political fight about this for five years.  We need to move on to something else.  That’s what the American people are interested in.  I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact that millions of people like the woman I just described who I saw in Pennsylvania yesterday we’re helping because of something we did.  I don’t think we should apologize for it, and I don’t think we should be defensive about it.  I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell.

I think what the other side is doing and what the other side is offering would strip away protections from those families and from hundreds of millions of people who already had health insurance before the law passed, but never knew if the insurance company could drop them when they actually needed it, or women who were getting charged more just because they were a woman.  I’m still puzzled why they’ve made this their sole agenda item when it comes to our politics.  It’s curious.

But what I intend to talk about is what the American people are interested in hearing:  Our plans for putting people back to work; our plans for making sure our economy continues to innovate; our plans to make sure that, as I discussed yesterday, we’re training people for the jobs that are out there right now and making better use of our community colleges and linking them up with businesses; and how we’re going to continue to bring manufacturing back the way we have over the last several years; and how we’re going to put more money in the pockets of ordinary people.

So if they want to — if Republicans want to spend all their time talking about repealing a law that’s working, that’s their business.  I think what Democrats should do is not be defensive, but we need to move on and focus on other things that are really important to the American people right now.

David Jackson.

Q    Yes, sir.  Thank you.  One reason the Republicans talk about it is there are people who object to the law who said they’ve had problems with the law, and there are a significant number of opponents of the law.  I guess my question is, what makes you think a significant majority of the American people, of voters, will accept this law?  Or are we destined to see health care as a 50/50, red state/blue state argument for years to come?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think you’re mixing up two things here, David.  You said there are people who have seen problems with the law.  That’s not 50 percent of the American people.  There may have been folks who have been affected in ways that they weren’t happy about — by the law.  That is a far smaller number than the millions of people who’ve been signed up.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about it.  That’s an area where, as I said to Tamara, we should be open to other ways that we can make it even better.  So that’s objective facts and real problems out there.

The other side of it is just polling, right, what’s the general opinion of the law — which is attached to general opinions about me or about Democrats and partisanship in the country generally.

My view is that the longer we see the law benefiting millions of people, the more we see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked — as some of you in the press have done — and the more the average American who already has health insurance sees that it’s actually not affecting them in an adverse way, then it becomes less of a political football — which is where I want it to be.  This shouldn’t be a political football.  This should be something that we take for granted, that in this country you should be able to get affordable health care regardless of how wealthy you are.

Now, the larger issue about whether we can move past the polarization and sort of the bitter political debates between Democrats and Republicans, of which Obamacare is just one small part, that’s going to take more time.  But it’s not for lack of trying on my part.  And I think that I speak for all Democrats in saying we would much prefer a constructive conversation with the Republicans about how do we get some stuff done, and let’s focus on some areas that the American people really care about.

On jobs, we know that infrastructure would put people back to work right now and it would improve our economy for the long term.  It didn’t used to be a partisan issue.  Why aren’t we coming up with a way to make sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges, and improving our air traffic control system?  There’s no reason that has to be political.  There really isn’t any ideological disagreement on that.  And I guarantee you after this winter, if you look at the potholes that are the size of canyons all across big chunks of the United States, that people would like to see an infrastructure bill.  Let’s get it done.

Q    How long before health care ceases to become a political football, do you think?  Are we talking years?  Months?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s hard to say.  It’s interesting, I spoke at the LBJ Library the other day, and most of us weren’t around to pay real close attention to those debates, or they’re pretty distant now in the past.  Apparently it took several years before people realized, hey, Medicare actually works and it’s lifting a lot of seniors out of despair and poverty.

So we’ve been through this cycle before.  It happens each and every time we make some strides in terms of strengthening our commitments to each other and we expand some of these social insurance programs.

There’s a lot of fear-mongering and a lot of political argument and debate, and a lot of accusations are flung back and forth about socialized medicine and the end of freedom.  And then it turns out that, you know what, it’s working for a lot of folks, and we still live in a free-market society and the Constitution is intact.  And then we move on.  And I don’t know how long it’s going to take.  But in the meantime, how about us focusing on some things that the American people really care about?

Thank you, everybody.

4:13 P.M. EDT


Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2014: President Obama, President Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper’s Press Conference at Three Amigos Summit



Press Conference by President Obama, President Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper

Source: WH, 2-19-14

President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside of President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the North American Business, Civil Society and Education leaders during the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico.President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to North American business, civil society, and education leaders during the North American Leaders’ Summit in Toluca, Mexico, Feb. 19, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Patio Central
Palacio de Gobierno
Toluca, Mexico

7:25 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  Members of the media.  Your Excellency, President of the United States of America Barack Obama; Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper.  Once again, I would like to welcome you to our country.

It is a great honor to have hosted you for the North American Leaders Summit here in the State of Mexico, and Toluca, its capital city — a state that I had the great honor of being the governor of before I took office with the greatest honor in the world of politics, and that is to lead the course of my country.

That is why I am very glad that we have had the opportunity of having this meeting.  And I’d like to congratulate myself for creating a space where we have had dialogues, where we have outreach to our countries, and where we have strengthened our friendship.  I can be certain that the warm space where we have met is very different from what the teams of men and women representing Mexico in Sochi are having in Russia.  They are in very cold weather and fighting hard to win a medal.  So be welcome to this very warm weather.

I would like to summarize for the media and for your delegations the scope of our meetings.  I would like to share with you that we have two highlights in our meetings.  First we had a bilateral with President Barack Obama and with his delegation and their counterparts from Mexico to address the following, and I would like to share this with you.

First of all, we assessed the breakthroughs related to the agreements made during President Obama’s past visit in May to our country, and now during his fifth visit — and I must note that Mexico ranks top of the list of the most visited countries by President Obama during his term.  And we were able to identify the level of progress of the agreements made back then; how much we have advanced the exchange between high level officials to precisely boost the trade and commercial relationship that Mexico and the U.S. have.

We have also analyzed the possibility of setting forward new mechanisms to build and fund strategic projects.  We have agreed to work on a proposal that would help us find different mechanisms to fund projects so that we can give a new life to our infrastructure, to have more agile and have safer commercial transactions between our countries.

Specifically, we talked about education.  We have set the task to have more academic exchanges so that more Mexican students can study in the United States and, reciprocally, students from the United States come to Mexico to study.  The number of students so far is somehow low, considering the potential that we have.  And out of the 14,000 students from Mexico that go to the United States to study, we have set a goal and that is to increase year by year this figure and reach 100,000 students a year that visit the United States, and 50,000 students from the U.S. coming to Mexico to study.

We have revised our security agenda and we have agreed to maintain a strategic dialogue, to coordinate efforts so we can face a common issue — security in both of our countries and, specifically, security at the border.

On the other hand, I would like to refer to the outcome of the North American Leaders Summit.  Therefore, I would like to share with you highlights in terms of the agreements reached in this framework.  We have worked on four main topics.  The first one is to foster shared and inclusive prosperity.  We have agreed to work on a plan to boost competitiveness.  We also have agreed to work on a North America transport plan which would give us better infrastructure in our three countries to make the commerce that happens between our three nations thrive.

We also agreed to standardize and expedite all the procedures that take place in our customhouses.  We have also agreed to enable the movement of individuals, and by this have Trusted Travelers Programs.  We have, each one, a program of this nature with a purpose in mind that all the travelers that are part of the Trusted Travelers registers in our countries are considered as a vetted traveler in North America.

Additionally, in terms of the second topic, we have addressed areas of opportunity.  And I must insist, in terms of our binational agenda with the United States, we have added up Canada to work on a program to train professionals by increasing our academic exchanges and ensuring mobility of students between our three countries.

We have also agreed to foster sustainable development, working towards the mitigation of the effects of climate change. And in the area of sustainability, we have also agreed to work on the preservation of the Monarch butterfly.  It is a landmark species in North America.  This is a species present in our three countries, and we have agreed to work a taskforce with a presentation from our three countries to preserve the Monarch butterfly.

Then, another topic is citizen security and regional topics. We have agreed to give privilege to the exchange of information, and we have also privilege to coordinate efforts between law enforcement authorities.  We will reinforce the measures aimed to fight money laundering and illicit financial flows.  And for that purpose we need to integrate our financial systems further.

We have also restated our commitment to support and cooperate with the Central America region as well as the Caribbean because they are partners in this hemisphere.  We have committed to foster development, economic growth and citizen security as well.

Basically, I have summarized the commitments made during the summit.  And fourthly, we have committed, the three of us, to give follow-up to all the agreements made.  Besides making agreements, we have committed to give follow-up to each one of those agreements and we have committed to make them happen.

Finally, I would like to share with you that in order to reach our goals we need to identify that North America is quite valuable.  The Free Trade Agreement executed 20 years ago and the intense dialogue that we have between our three countries in the North American region is very valuable and every exchange is based on trust.  And we share a very good relationship between all of us who lead our countries.

This North America Leaders Summit has been a very good opportunity to specify what our commitments will be and what are the tasks for the future.  And it has also served as a space to restate our friendship, the good relationship that we have and the respect that we pay to each other.  And we have committed to work hard to make a significant contribution, to make North America a more competitive region — I would dare to say the most competitive region in the world.  And this is a region that has a true call for prosperity.  And we will work to provide better well-being to the citizens of our countries.

We have made great strides.  We create plenty of jobs due to the economic relationship that we have managed to achieve, but we want more.  We want more development.  We are aware of the potential that we find in North America.  And I make a pledge so that the seventh summit of leaders of North America serves its purpose.

Once again, we welcome, and I would like to say that I hope you have had a very pleasant stay in Toluca and I hope that this visit has been very fruitful.  And I hope that we have been able to build an even stronger relationship.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas noches to President Peña Nieto.  To the people of Toluca and the people of Mexico, thank you so much for your extraordinary hospitality.  Thank you again, Enrique, for welcoming us to your hometown and home state, which — like the beautiful surroundings tonight — reflects Mexico’s proud history as well as the economic dynamism of today’s Mexico.

I want to thank President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper for their partnership in deepening the extraordinary ties between our countries — especially the trade that supports good jobs for our people.  For the United States, Canada and Mexico are two of our largest trading partners with trade that supports millions of American jobs.  Thanks in part to our efforts to boost U.S. exports, American exports to Canada and Mexico continue to grow faster than our exports to the rest of the world.

Together, our countries have strengths that give North America a tremendous competitive advantage — the skills of our workers, manufacturing that’s growing, and new sources of energy. So we have to take advantage of these competitive advantages, and we need to do it together.  All of this positions us to be a powerhouse in the global economy.  And that’s why we’re here, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to be more competitive and create more jobs in Canada, in Mexico, and in the United States.

First, we’re focused on making it easier to trade.  Earlier today, I signed a new executive order to make it easier for companies that want to export and import.  Instead of dealing with dozens of different federal agencies and long paper forms, we’re going to create a one-stop shop online, so companies can submit all their information in one place and save themselves time and money.  We’re going to keep investing in infrastructure — like roads, bridges, border crossings — so our goods are getting to market faster.  We’ve agreed to keep working to make it easier for our businesspeople and tourists to trade and travel.  And we’re going to step up our efforts to streamline and eliminate regulations or the red tape that can sometimes stifle trade and job creation.

We’ve agreed to keep working to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including strong protections for our workers and the environment, so that we can compete in the fast-growing markets of the Asia Pacific.  And because it will grow the U.S. economy and make the United States more attractive to investment — and because we have to do right by our families and our values — I’ve reiterated that immigration reform remains one of my highest priorities.

I’m also very pleased that we’ve agreed to keep expanding educational partnerships, as Enrique mentioned, so our young people develop the skills they need to succeed in the global economy.  And this builds on my initiative that we call 100,000 Strong in the Americas.  We want more students from the United States studying throughout the hemisphere, and we want more students from places like Mexico and Canada studying in the United States — so that they’re developing familiarity and partnerships and friendships that will serve them and serve our countries well for decades to come.

Second, we continue to deepen our clean-energy partnerships, which create jobs and combat climate change.  Yesterday, I announced that the United States will develop new fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks — standards that reduce carbon pollution.  And today, all three of our nations have agreed to work together to meet high fuel standards for these heavy-duty trucks.

And more broadly, we agreed to join with our Central American and Caribbean partners on a regional energy strategy.   And this builds on the commitment I made in Central America last year to help our partners across the region reduce their energy costs and become more competitive.  On a global level, we agreed to keep standing together as we push for an international agreement to phase down the production and consumption of dangerous hydrofluorocarbons.

Number three, we know that realizing our full potential as individual countries and as a region means confronting the criminals and narcotraffickers who unleashed so much violence on our citizens.  Here in Mexico, the security forces and the Mexican people continue to make enormous sacrifices in that fight, and our three nations are united against this threat.  In the United States, we continue to be committed to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and we’ll continue our unprecedented efforts to combat the southbound flow of illegal guns and cash.

And, finally, given our shared commitment to democratic values and human rights, I want to take this opportunity to address the situation in Venezuela and Ukraine, and the unacceptable violence in those two countries, which the United States strongly condemns.

In Venezuela, rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States, the government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people.  So, along with the Organization of American States, we call on the Venezuelan government to release protestors that it’s detained and engage in real dialogue.  And all parties have an obligation to work together to restrain violence and restore calm.

With regard to Ukraine, along with our European partners, we will continue to engage all sides.  And we continue to stress to President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government that they have the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we’ve seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity and move the country forward.  And this includes progress towards a multiparty technical government that can work with the international community on a support package and adopt reforms necessary for free and fair elections next year.

Ukrainians are a proud and resilient people who’ve overcome extraordinary challenges in their history, and that’s a pride and strength that I hope they draw on now.  Meanwhile, I’ve urged the military in Ukraine to show restraint and to let civilians pursue the dialogue necessary for progress.  We’ve obviously seen reports of a truce between the government and the opposition.  If the truce is implemented, it could provide space for the sides to resolve their disagreements peacefully.

And going forward, we’ll continue to do whatever we can to support Ukrainians as they seek a peaceful resolution and respond to the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a strong, unified democracy that’s fully integrated into the international community.

So, again, I want to thank Enrique and the people of Mexico, and the people of Toluca, for their wonderful hospitality.  If we stay focused on our shared vision — a North America that’s more integrated and more competitive — then progress in each of our countries will mean more prosperity and opportunity for everyone.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  (As interpreted.)  Allow me to start out by thanking President Peña Nieto for his generous hospitality.  We have had a wonderful stay in this wonderful country, in Mexico, and we are eager to come back soon.

Today, I had fruitful meetings and dialogues with my commercial partners from Mexico in regard to services, information, and also shared and fundamental values and, of course, a democratic and peaceful world.

Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of NAFTA.  As time can tell us, this treaty was successful, and it started guaranteeing prosperity from one extreme to the other of the hemisphere.  The volume of exchanges is fourfold now, and is over $30 billion.  And we have now seen exponential growth and can hope for exponential growth in years to go.

We are in agreement to say that we can still grow the success of NAFTA, to implement new ways, for instance, in regard to the Trans-Pacific alliance.  And so these negotiations should be for the best.  We need to create employment.  This is the key to revitalize the economy and to foster prosperity not only for the Canadian populations, but for our populations at large.

That’s why our government will keep on working and expanding the free trade and commerce with our main partners in North America, as well as with Asia Pacific region and worldwide, since we want to have access on the other side of the Atlantic, since we have subscribed to the free exchange agreement with Europe.

Today, President Obama, President Peña Nieto and myself have discussed and have delved into many topics, especially the state of the world economy at a local, regional level, and competiveness — North American competitiveness.  We are truly enthusiastic to collaborate, with this idea of collaborating together.  We shall keep on working together with my homologues [counterparts] and to take a profit of all the occasions for the well-being of our populations.  And we will host the forthcoming population of the summit in Canada.

And I would like to add a word in regard to the situation in Ukraine.  There’s been a truce, but it is essential that we take action.  And at the end of the day, the Ukrainian government has to be held responsible for settling this situation.  The Ukrainian government took actions — actions that were not only unpopular, but actions that put at risk nature and the aspirations of becoming an independent nation.

(In English.)  My sincere thanks to President Peña Nieto and the Mexican people for their generous hospitality.  We’ve had a wonderful time here in beautiful Mexico, and I look forward to returning again soon.

Today we had productive meetings with Canada’s closest friends and trading partners — partners with whom we share goods, services and information, and also fundamental values and a vision for a democratic and peaceful world.

This year we mark the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  And as only time can reveal, the agreement — statistics alone — has been overwhelmingly successful and is responsible for creating prosperity from the bottom to the top of the continent.  There has been a fourfold growth in trilateral trade over the last 20 years that now exceeds a trillion dollars. And it is estimated that the NAFTA marketplace will continue to expand exponentially in the decades to come.

We all agree that there is enormous potential to build on the success of NAFTA in new ways, for example, most notably through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We’re therefore focused on bringing those negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Developing trade is one of the keys to job creation.  It is a key to economic vitality, and it is a key to long-term prosperity not just for the Canadian people, but for all of our peoples.  That’s why our government will continue to work to expand trade with our two core trading partners in North America, in the Asia Pacific region more generally, and around the world  — just as we did last year, when we expanded our access across the Atlantic through the conclusion of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

In our meetings today, Presidents Peña Nieto, Obama and I discussed a range of topics as have already been detailed by my colleagues, including the state of the global economy, international regional security, and North American competitiveness.  We share a genuine enthusiasm for closer collaboration.

The Presidents and I will continue to work together to address the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the many promising opportunities that the future holds for our peoples.  And I do look forward to hosting the next North American Leaders Summit in Canada.

And I’d also just like to conclude with a word on the situation in Ukraine.  We obviously are encouraged to hear the news of a truce.  While this is good news, this kind of news, these kinds of words are only meaningful if they are put into action.  And ultimately, it is the regime that is responsible for resolving the current situation.  It is the regime that created this situation — not by taking decisions that were merely unpopular, but by undertaking decisions that went against the very nature and aspirations of Ukraine as an independent state.  And for that reason, we hold the government responsible and urge them to take all the steps necessary to resolve the situation and to put Ukraine back on the democratic and Euro-Atlantic path that the Ukrainian people desire.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  (As interpreted.)  We will have a round of questions.  Jason McDonald will introduce the Canadian journalist asking the question.

MR. MCDONALD:  Omar Sachedina from CTV News.

Q    Mr. President, good evening to you.  Canada has offered to work with the United States on joint rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.  You’ve said the Keystone XL pipeline won’t be approved if it significantly worsens climate change.  The State Department report has concluded that Keystone will not have a significant effect on climate change.  So my question to you is, what more needs to be done on both sides of the border for this project to go ahead?

And, Prime Minister, I’d love for you to be able to weigh on this as well.  Et en français aussi, s’il vous plaît.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as I’ve stated previously, there is a process that has been gone through, and I know it’s been extensive, and at times I’m sure Stephen feels a little too laborious.  But these are how we make these decisions about something that could potentially have a significant impact on America’s national economy and our national interests.

So the State Department has gone through its review.  There is now a comment period in which other agencies weigh in.  That will be evaluated by Secretary of State Kerry, and we’ll make a decision at that point.

In the meantime, Stephen and I, during a break after lunch, discussed a shared interest in working together around dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.  And this is something that we have to deal with.  I said previously that how Keystone impacted greenhouse gas emissions would affect our decision, but, frankly, it has to affect all of our decisions at this stage, because the science is irrefutable.  We’re already seeing severe weather patterns increase.  That has consequences for our businesses, for our jobs, for our families, for safety and security.  It has the potential of displacing people in ways that we cannot currently fully anticipate, and will be extraordinarily costly.

So I welcome the work that we can do together with Canada.  One of the wonderful things about North America is we have this amazing bounty of traditional fossil fuels, and we also have extraordinary businesses that are able to extract them in very efficient ways.  And that’s something that we should welcome because it helps to promote economic growth.  But we only have one planet, and so I believe that ultimately we can both promote economic development and growth, recognizing that we’re not going to immediately transition off of fossil fuels, but that we do have to point to the future and show leadership so that other countries who will be the main emitters fairly soon — China, India, other emerging markets — so that they can look at what we’re doing and we have leverage over them in terms of them improving their practices as well.

So this will be a joint effort.  I’m very eager to consult with Stephen around those issues.  And Keystone will proceed along the path that’s already been set forth.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  Let me just say a couple of things. First of all, obviously, President Obama and I had an exchange on this.  My views in favor of the project are very well known.  His views on the process are also equally well known.  And we had that discussion and will continue on that discussion.

I would just say two things about the process.  First, on the issue of climate change, which is a shared concern, Canada and the United States have similar targets at the international level.  We already cooperate in several sectors in terms of emissions reductions.  But in terms of climate change, I think the State Department report already was pretty definitive on that particular issue.

The other thing I’d just draw attention to, just because I think it’s useful to point out the benefits to Canada, is the reform that we had done of environmental review and assessments of projects in Canada.  As you know, a couple years ago we moved to reform our system so that we have a single review wherever possible — a single review, a multi-dimensional review that happens over a fixed timeline.  And I think that is a process that is tremendously useful in giving investors greater certainty in terms of the kind of plans they may have in the Canadian economy.

(As interpreted.)  And now I shall repeat my comments in French.  (Speaks in French.)

MODERATOR:  From the traveling U.S. press, goes to Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press.

Q    Señor Presidente, muchas gracias.  Ha sido un placer.  Prime Minister — do you worry that longstanding opposition to trade deals in the U.S. from both the President’s party and some Republicans pose a threat to the Trans-Pacific Partnership?  And do you — in your mind, is it essential that Congress approve it, or at least give the President fast track authority this year, or can it wait until after the U.S. elections in November?

Mr. President, if you’d like to chime in on that as well — you mentioned parochial interest today; I’d be interested in how you intend to bring your Democrats along.  But I had a question for you on something else that you raised.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  How many questions do you got, Jim?

Q    Just one, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay.  (Laughter.)  Because you know I’ve got to answer that one, too, right?  That was a pretty slick move.  (Laughter.)

Q    The common denominator in the strife in Ukraine and Syria is the support that those two governments get from Russia, and I’m wondering, sir, if you believe that President Putin bears some responsibility for the intransigence of those two regimes.  And to some degree, has this gone beyond just those two countries, and has it become a tug of war between two world powers?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me answer very briefly on the trade issue.  It’s not accurate, Jim, to say that my party opposes this trade deal.  There are elements of my party that oppose this trade deal, there are elements of my party that oppose the South Korea free trade agreement, the Colombia free trade agreement and the Panama free trade agreement — all of which we passed with Democratic votes.

So what I’ve said to President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper is we’ll get this passed if it’s a good agreement.  And the key at this point is to make sure that our countries, which hold ourselves up as champions of free trade, resolve our legitimate national interests in these negotiations so that we can present a united front against a number of the other participants in the TPP negotiations who don’t have as much of a tradition of free trade.  And that is to our advantage, precisely because North America has this amazing competitive advantage, and we are already relatively open markets.

And part of our goal here is to make sure that the Asia Pacific region — which is growing faster than anyplace else in the world, has a larger population than anyplace else in the world — that they have a model of trade that is free and fair and open and allows our businesses to compete and allows our workers to make goods and deliver services that those markets are purchasing.  And we can only do that if we raise the bar in terms of what our trade models look like.

And I’ve said this to some of my own constituents who are opposed to trade:  Those who are concerned about losing jobs or outsourcing need to understand some of the old agreements put us at a disadvantage.  That’s exactly why we’ve got to have stronger agreements that protect our intellectual property, that open up markets to our agricultural products; that make sure that when it comes to government procurement or sovereign wealth funds in these other countries, that they’re not taking advantage of our businesses and preventing us from competing there.  That’s exactly why we’ve got to get this done.  And I’m very appreciative of the shared vision and commitment that Prime Minister Harper and President Enrique Peña Nieto have on this issue.

Now, with respect to Syria and the Ukraine, I do think it is worth noting that you have in this situation one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently — been supported by Russia; where the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country.  And we’ve now seen a great deal of turmoil there that arose organically from within those countries.

I don’t think there’s a competition between the United States and Russia.  I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine who recognize that basic freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections, the ability to run a business without paying a bribe, to not be discriminated against because of your religion or your beliefs — that those are fundamental rights that everybody wants to enjoy.

Now, Mr. Putin has a different view on many of those issues, and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that.  And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.  Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make decisions without having bombs going off and killing women and children, or chemical weapons, or towns being starved because a despot wants to cling to power.

Those express our values and our national interests, and we will continue to express those national interests.  There are times, I hope, where Russia will recognize that over the long term they should be on board with those values and interests as well.  Right now, there are times where we have strong disagreements.  And when I speak to Mr. Putin, I’m very candid about those disagreements, even as we will continue to pursue cooperation with Russia on areas where we had shared concerns.

But I want to emphasize this:  The situation that happened in Ukraine has to do with whether or not the people of Ukraine can determine their own destiny.  And my government and Vice President Biden, and I personally, have expressed to President Yanukovych the need for him to recognize the spirit of the Ukrainian people and work with that, as opposed to trying to repress it.  And so we’ll continue to stand on the side of the people.

My hope is, at this point, that a truce may hold, but Stephen is exactly right — ultimately, the government is responsible for making sure that we shift towards some sort of unity government, even if it’s temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we’ve seen on the streets and without the bloodshed that all of us I think strongly condemn.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  On the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as I said, we are wanting to see and committed to seeing a good, comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.  I think it’s in all of our interest for the reasons that have already been laid out.  That said, the government of Canada’s position is always clear in these matters that we will only come to an agreement when we are convinced the agreement is in the best interest of Canada.  And we will stay at the table as long as it takes to get to that particular situation.

And I think we have the track record to prove it.  Our government, the current government of Canada, has signed more trade agreements than all previous Canadian governments combined. What I would say is this — I’m not going to comment on the process in Congress.  What I would say is this — the reason I said what I said about working until we get an agreement that is in the interest of Canada is we will have to have an agreement that can be sold to the Canadian Parliament and ultimately to the Canadian people.  And that’s what we’re aiming for.

(The Prime Minister repeats his remarks in French.)

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  The Mexican stand has been very clear, and specifically our take on the TPP have always stated it, it is of the interest of Mexico.  We have been part of the negotiation rounds to eventually reach an agreement of this important opportunity that the TPP offers.  We can expand the potential of North America into the Asia Pacific region.  Mexico would do its best for the sake of Mexico to be on the side of the solution.  We will overcome disagreements and eventual roadblocks that the negotiation rounds present.  And we hope that it is this spirit that we reach the agreement.

Mexico has made a commitment and has shown political will to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We hope that the deal happens.  That is the Mexican stand, and we will work to the best of our ability to reach this goal.

Now, on behalf of Mexico, Miguel Reyes Razo, from the Mexican Editorial Organization, will ask a question.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Good evening, everyone.  By virtue of the fact that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the efforts made by Mexico, the United States and Canada, we have NAFTA for 20 years.  I would like to ask Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of my country, what is the outlook of the northern part of this continent in terms of development?  And at the same time, Mr. President Peña Nieto, I would like to know, what are the challenges for the development that we have hoped for, that we are expecting?

And I would like to ask the President of the United States of America, Mr. Obama, and Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada — what is the engagement that we should expect from you? What is your actual commitment to make this region, North America, thrive in economical terms?  Now, we have 13 months and a half of your administration, Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto.  And you, Canada and the United States, partners and neighbors of this country, what is your take?  What is your take on this 13 months and a half of the Mexican President?  Thank you very much for your reply.

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Mr. Miguel, I believe that we have been very candid in terms of the huge strength that we see in North America after 20 years of the free trade agreement.  Our trade has been able to thrive.  We have more commercial exchanges.  We have more investment in the region.

And today we have integrated added value chains between our three countries.  That means that we are adding value to products that are offered in this great market.  We are fully aware of the economic growth since, so far, we are fully aware of the creation of jobs in North America.  That is why we have committed in this summit to take on actions that would help us strengthen our economic ties even further.  We have committed to enable trade, to have better infrastructure, to have safer exchanges, and to make our trade be easier.  So these are the agreements that we have made today.

And we have also acknowledged the enormous potential.  And the future that we see in the horizon would be based on the strengths that we have built upon over the course of the last 20 years.  And let us acknowledge that we are three countries that we are like-minded in terms of our values.  We are three democratic countries.  We are three countries who believe in free trade.  And our countries have found in this instrument a space to create jobs and to have more development in our nations.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as we’ve said I think throughout our meetings today, America’s success, Mexico’s success, Canadian success are all bound together.  I think that if you just look at the facts, Mexico has made enormous strides over the last several decades.  And, in part, that is because we’ve seen a greater integration of Mexico in the world economy.  I think the United States and Canada have played constructive roles in that.  Our ability to trade and engage in commerce with Mexico obviously has created jobs and opportunities in our country, as well.  And so it has been a mutually beneficial partnership — based on self-interest, but also as Enrique said, based on common values.

We’ve seen a consolidation of democracy here in Mexico, and I think the kinds of reforms that Enrique has initiated over the last 13 months are ones that will put Mexico in an even stronger competitive footing in the world economy in the years to come.

And I recognize there are still implementation issues that will be involved, and there will be a healthy debate here in Mexico, but I’m confident, given the talent of the Mexican people, given the resources of the Mexican people, given the growing capacity of Mexican businesses, and given the fact that we, as a North American entity, constitutes a huge trading bloc and economic powerhouse around the world, that we should anticipate Mexico’s growth to continue, standards of living to continue, jobs and opportunities to continue.  And that’s what we hope for all our countries.

I’m confident that the partnership that we’ve developed is good for the United States, creates jobs in the United States, helps businesses in the United States.  And if we continue to cooperate and try to reduce some of the barriers that have in the past slowed down our commercial exchanges, as well as educational exchanges and scientific exchanges, then we’re going to be successful.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  (As interpreted.)  Allow me, this is our perspective.  While Canada has seen great success, but the development of Mexico throughout this time period that is 20 years has been unbelievable, socially, economically, politically. And Mexico is becoming a world of power.  And we see this accelerating process with the support of President Peña Nieto.

You have made comments on the challenges to meet.  I think that the greatest one is the need to keep on increasing the flow of goods and services and information across our borders at a time where risks and threats to security are also increased across the borders.  And that will be the greatest challenge to meet.

(In English.)  Look, I think the NAFTA relationship, as I’ve said before, has been tremendously successful for all of us. But I think, looking back 20 years, the development of Mexico on all levels — economic, social, political — over the period has been incredible.  It’s a process that is accelerating under President Peña Nieto’s very bold vision for the future, and Mexico is increasingly becoming a global economic player.

You asked about challenges.  I think the biggest single challenge is in an era where we are seeing and need to see even greater movement of goods, services, people, investments, information flows across our borders, that at the same time, the risks and the threats to security across those borders continue to rise.  So the big challenge will be how we continue to grow that human and trade flow, while at the same time minimizing the risks.

MODERATOR:  (As interpreted) President Peña Nieto, would you like to take the floor so you can officially close this meeting?

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Yes, I will.  Thank you very much.

Once again, I would like to congratulate myself for this summit.  We have built a climate that is based on trust, respect, and we have worked towards a relationship that it’s very clear in terms of the responsibilities of each one of the heads of state. And I am certain that this relationship will result in a greater integration, a stronger friendship, and whatever we do for the sake of North America will benefit our peoples.

I would like to bear testimony of how grateful I am towards the authorities of the state, the Governor of the State of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila.  I’d like to thank you for enabling the summit to take place here.  I would like to thank the Chief Justice of the State of Mexico.  They provided us with their facilities.

And I would like to thank the inhabitants of the capital city of the State of Mexico, Toluca, for their hospitality.  I thank them.  And I’d like to thank all of them for the inconveniences and all the preparation work and all the security operations needed for the summit.  I’m very grateful towards them.  And I’m very grateful for the hospitality given to the President of the United States, Barack Obama; and the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper.

Thank you very much and have a safe trip home.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

8:20 P.M. CST

Political Musings December 22, 2013: Obama in denial and on the offensive in 2013 year-end press conference





After a difficult year that held little accomplishments to boast about, with more “missteps” than any president would be willing to acknowledge, President Barack Obama held his year-end press conference on Friday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2013 at….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 20, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Year-End Press Conference Transcript



Running transcript: President Obama’s December 20 news conference

Source: Washington Post, 12-20-13

Video: President Obama said during his end-of-the-year news conference Friday that the NSA surveillance program would likely see changes in the year ahead.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I know you are all eager to skip town and spend some time with your families. Not surprisingly, I am too. But you know what they say, it’s the most wonderful press conference of the year — (laughter) — right now. I am eager to take your questions.
But first I just want to say a few words about our economy. In 2013 our businesses created another 2 million jobs, adding up to more than 8 million in just over the past 45 months. This morning we learned that over the summer our economy grew at its strongest pace in nearly two years. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen to its lowest point in five years.Our tax code is fairer and our fiscal situation is firmer, with deficits that are now less than half of what they were when I took office.

For the first time in nearly two decades, we now produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world, and our all-of- the-above strategy for new American energy means lower energy costs. The Affordable Care Act has helped keep health care costs growing at their slowest rate in 50 years. Combined, that means bigger paychecks for middle class families and bigger savings for businesses looking to invest and hire here in America.

And, for all the challenges we’ve had and all the challenges that we’ve been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and the website these past couple months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone. In California, for example, a state operating its own marketplace, more than 15,000 Americans are enrolling every single day. And in the federal website, tens of thousands are enrolling every single day. Since October 1st, more than 1 million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces, so all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems with the website, are now poised to be covered by quality affordable health insurance come New Year’s Day.

Now, this holiday season there are mothers and fathers and entrepreneurs and workers who have something new to celebrate: the security of knowing that when the unexpected or misfortune strikes, hardship no longer has to.

And you add that all up and what it means is: We head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than it was when we started the year, more Americans. More Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck.

Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.

But as I outlined in detail earlier this month, we all know there’s a lot more than we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action.

It’s a good start that earlier this week, for the first time in years, both parties in both houses of Congress came together to pass a budget. That unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that created headwinds for our economy. It clears the path for businesses and for investments that we need to strengthen our middle class, like education and scientific research. And it means that the American people won’t be exposed to the threat of another reckless shutdown every few months. So that’s a good thing. It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it’s also fair to say that we’re not condemned to endless gridlock. There are areas where we can work together.

I believe that work should begin with something that Republicans in Congress should have done before leaving town this week, and that’s restoring the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet when they are looking for a job. Because Congress didn’t act, more than 1 million of their constituents will lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job seekers without any source of income at all. I think we’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon each other when times are tough.

Keep in mind unemployment insurance only goes to folks who are actively looking for work, a mom who needs help feeding her kids when she sends out her resumes or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working part-time and still earning the skills he needs for that new job.

So when Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be making this right. I know a bipartisan group is working on a three-month extension of this insurance. They should pass it, and I’ll sign it right away.

Let me repeat: I think 2014 needs to be a year of action. We’ve got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security.

We still have the task of finishing the fix on our broken immigration system. We’ve got to build on the process we’ve painstakingly made over these last five years with respect to our economy and offer the middle class and all those who are looking to join the middle class a better opportunity. And that’s going to be where I focus all of my efforts in the year ahead.

And let me conclude by saying just as we’re strengthening our position here at home, we’re also standing up for our interests around the world. This year we’ve demonstrated that with clear-eyed, principled diplomacy, we can pursue new paths to a world that’s more secure, a future where Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, a future where Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed.

By the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over, just as we’ve ended our war in Iraq, and we’ll continue to bring our troops home. And as always, we will remain vigilant to protect our homeland and our personnel overseas from terrorist attacks. Of course, a lot of our men and women in uniform are still overseas, and a lot of them are still spending their Christmas far away from their family and their friends. In some cases, it’s still in harm’s way.

So I want to close by saying to them and their families back home, we want to thank you.

Your country stands united in supporting you and being grateful for your service and your sacrifice. We will keep you in our thoughts and in our prayers during this season of hope.

So before I wish a merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, I will take some questions. Jay prepared a list of who’s naughty and nice — (laughter) — so we’ll see — we’ll see who made it.

Julie must be nice.

Q: (Chuckles.)


Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Despite all of the data points that you cited in your opening statement, when you look back at this year, very little of the domestic agenda that you outlined in your inaugural address, in your State of the Union has been achieved. Health care rollout obviously had huge problems, and your ratings from the public are near historic lows for you. When you take this all together, has this been the worst year of your presidency?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) I — I got to tell you, Julie, that’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that, and for those who’ve covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences.

And what I’ve been focused on each and every day is, are we moving the ball in helping the American people, families, have more opportunity, have a little more security, to feel as if, if they work hard, they can get ahead.

And if — if I look at this past year, there are areas where there obviously have been some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively. You know, not passing background checks in the wake of Newtown is something that I continue to believe was a mistake.

But then I also look at, because of the debate that occurred, all the work that’s been done at the state levels, to increase gun safety and to make sure that we don’t see tragedies like that happen again.

There’s a lot of focus on legislative activity at the congressional level. But even when Congress doesn’t move on things they should move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re still doing. So we don’t always get attention for it, but the ConnectED program that we announced, where we’re going to be initiating wireless capacity in every classroom in America, will make a huge difference for kids all across this country and for teachers; a manufacturing hub that we set up in Youngstown, something that I talked about during the State of the Union, is going to create innovation and connect universities, manufacturers, job training, to help create a renaissance — build on the renaissance that we’re seeing in manufacturing.

When it comes to energy, this year is going to be the first year in a very long time where we’re producing more oil and natural gas here in this country than we’re importing. That’s a big deal.

So I understand the point that you’re getting at, Julie, which is that a lot of our legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward as rapidly as I’d like. I completely understand that, which means that I’m going to keep at it. And if you look at, for example, immigration reform, probably the biggest thing that I wanted to get done this year, we saw progress. It passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote.

There are indications in the House that even though it did not get completed this year, that there is a commitment on the part of this speaker to try to move forward legislation early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I’d prefer is obviously frustrating, but it’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about.

Q: But sir, it’s not just your legislative agenda. When you look at — (off mic) — you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence in you, trust in you. Your credibility have taken a hit. Obviously, the health care law was a big part of that. So do you understand that those — that the public has changed, in some way, their view of you over this year?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But Julie, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career. I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for president. I was polling at 70 percent was — when I was in the U.S. Senate. I took this job to deliver for the American people, and I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it.

You’re right. The health care website problems were a source of great frustration. I think in the last press conference I adequately discussed my frustrations on those. On the other hand, since that time I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office. And as long as I’ve got an opportunity every single day to make sure that in ways large and small I’m creating greater opportunity for people, more kids are able to go to school, get the education they need, more families are able to stabilize their finances, you know, the housing market is continuing to improve, people feel like their wages maybe are inching up a little bit — if those things are happening, I’ll take it.

And you know, I’ve said before, I’ve run my last political race. So at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back and say we’re delivering something, not everything, because this is a long haul.

All right, Mark Felsenthal.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. One of the most significant events of this year was the revelation of the surveillance by the National Security Agency. As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge says that, for example, the government has failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that data is useful to national security to continue as it is?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me talk more broadly, and then I’ll talk specifically about the program you’re referring to.

As you know, the independent panel that I put together came back with a series of recommendations, 46 in total. I had an extensive meeting with them down in the Situation Room to review all the recommendations that they’ve made. I want to thank them publicly because I think they did an excellent job and took my charge very seriously, which is I told them, I want you to look from top to bottom at what we’re doing and evaluate whether or not the current structures that we have and the current programs that we have are properly addressing both our continuing need to keep ourselves secure and to prevent terrorist attacks or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or other threats to the homeland, and are we also making sure that we’re taking seriously rule of law and our concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

So what we’re doing now is evaluating all the recommendations that have been made. Over the next several weeks I’m going to assess, based on conversations not just with the intelligence community but others in government and outside of government, how we might apply and incorporate their recommendations. And I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January, where I’ll be able to say, here are the recommendations that we think make sense, here are ones that we think as promising but still need to be refined further, here’s how it relates to the work we’re doing not just — not just internally but also in partnership with other countries.

And so I’m — I’m taking this very seriously, because I think, as I’ve said before, this is debate that needed to be had.

One specific program, the 215 program, is the metadata, the bulk collection of phone numbers and exchanges that have taken place. That has probably gotten the most attention, at least with respect to domestic audiences. And what I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track, if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats.

And I think it’s important to note that in all the reviews of this program that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data. But what is also clear is from the public debate, people are concerned about the prospect, the possibility of abuse. And I think that’s what the judge in the district court suggested. And although his opinion obviously differs from rulings on the FISA Court, we’re taking those into account.

The question we’re going to have to ask is can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give the public more confidence that in fact the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but I also recognize that as technologies change and people can start running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that we’re downloading on a daily basis into our telephones and our computers that we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. And I’m going to be working very hard on doing that.

And we’ve got to provide more confidence to the international community. In some ways, what has been more challenging is the fact that we do have a lot of laws and checks and balances and safeguards and audits when it comes to making sure that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are not spying on Americans. We’ve had less legal constraint in terms of what we’re doing internationally.

But I think part of what’s been interesting about this whole exercise is recognizing that in a virtual world, some of these boundaries don’t matter anymore. And just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should, and the values that we’ve got as Americans are ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders, I think, perhaps more systematically than we’ve done in the past.

OK, Ed Henry.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

I want to follow up on that because — and merry Christmas, by the way.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Merry Christmas, Ed.

Q: When Edward Snowden first started leaking the information, you made a statement on June 7th in California. And you claimed to the American people that you had already reformed many of these surveillance programs, that you came to office, quote, “my team evaluated them; we scrubbed them thoroughly; we actually expanded some of the oversight.” And you did expand some of the things.


Q: You also said, we may have to rebalance some, there may be changes. But you concluded with, quote, “you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

That was only six months ago. Now, there’s judges are saying no; your own panel is saying no; even you’re saying no, we haven’t really struck the right balance, perhaps, that changes have to be made.

My question is, were you wrong then because you were not fully read in, not just on these programs, but on other programs, outside of the ones you just talked about, where we were potentially listening in on the German leaders, the Brazilian leaders and others, that suggest there were abuses, number one?

And number two, if you — if you were fully read in on these programs, is it another example of what Judy was — Julie was getting at, with this question of credibility with the American people, that just like on health care, you like your plan; you can keep it? On surveillance, you looked the American people in the eye six months ago and said, we’ve got the right balance. And six months later, you’re saying, maybe not.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, I — I think it’s important to note that, when it comes to the right balance on surveillance, these are a series of judgment calls that we’re making every single day because we’ve got a whole bunch of folks whose job it is to make sure that the American people are protected.

And that’s a hard job because if something slips, then the question that’s coming from you the next day at a press conference is, Mr. President, why didn’t you catch that; why did the intelligence people allow that to slip; isn’t there a way that we could have found out that in fact this terrorist attack took place.

Q: (Inaudible) — why did you say that you struck the right balance.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So the — so the point is, Ed, not that my assessment of the 215 program has changed in terms of technically how it works. What is absolutely clear to me is that given the public debate that’s taken place and the disclosures that have taken place over the last several months that this is only going to work if the American people have confidence and trust.

Now, part of the challenge is, is that because of the manner in which these disclosures took place, in dribs and drabs, oftentimes shaded in a particular way, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had in terms of declassifying information and getting it out there, that that trust in how many safeguards exist and how these programs are run has been diminished. So what’s going to be important is to build that back up. And I take that into account in weighing how we structure these programs.

So let me just be very specific on the 215 program. It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer and to create some mechanism where they can be accessed in an effective fashion.

That might cost more. There might need to be different checks on how those requests are made. There may be technological solutions that have to be found to do that.

And the question that we’re asking ourselves now is, does that make sense not only because of the fact that there are concerns about potential abuse down the road with the metadata that’s being kept by a government, rather than private companies, but also does it make sense to do because people right now are concerned that maybe their phone calls are being listened to, even if they’re not, and we’ve got to factor that in.

So I — I — my point is — is that the environment has changed in ways that I think require us to take that into account. But the analysis that I’ve been doing throughout has always been, you know, periodically looking at what we’re doing and asking ourselves, are we doing this in the right way; are we making sure that we’re keeping the American can people safe, number one; are we also being true to our civil liberties and our privacy and our values?

Q: Well, I understand it’s a tough job.


Q: And God forbid there’s another terror attack. Every one of us is going to be second-guessing you, and that is extremely difficult, to be in the Oval Office.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s OK. I volunteered.

Q: But as you said, you took that on.


Q: You put it on your back. And so my question is, do you have any personal regrets? You’re not addressing the fact the public statements you’ve made to reassure the public — your director of national intelligence, James Clapper, months ago went up, got a question from a Democrat, not a Republican, about whether some of this was going on, and he denied it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But does — but Ed —

Q: Doesn’t that undermine the public trust?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: — Ed, you’re conflating, first of all, me and — and Mr. Clapper —

Q: He’s director of national — and he’s still on the job.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I understand. I understand. But what I’m — what I’m saying is this: that yes, these are tough problems that I am glad to have the privilege of tackling.

Your initial question was whether the statements that I made six months ago are ones that I don’t stand by. And what I’m saying is that the statements I made then are entirely consistent with the statements that I make now, which is that we believed that we had scrubbed these programs and struck an appropriate balance, and there had not been evidence, and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used and that it was a useful tool, working with other tools the intelligence community has, to ensure that if we have a thread on a potential terrorist threat, that that can be followed effectively.

What I have also said, though, is that in light of the disclosures that have taken place, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular program may have may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse. And if that’s the case, there may be another way of skinning the cat.

So we just keep on going at this stuff and saying, can we do this better? Can we do this more effectively? I think that the panels’ recommendations are consistent with that. So if you — if you had a chance to read the overall recommendations, what they were very clear about is, we need this intelligence. We can’t unilaterally disarm.

There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there’s sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency. Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse, and that’s exactly what we should be doing, is to evaluate all these things in a very clear, specific way and moving forward on changes.

And that’s what I intend to do.

Q: (Off mic) — you have no regrets?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s what I intend to do.

Jon Karl.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s been a tough year. You may not want to call it the worst year of your presidency, but it’s clearly been a tough year. The polls have gone up and down, but they are at a low point right now. So what I’m asking you — you’ve acknowledged the difficulties with the health care rollout. But when you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you did, what you didn’t do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to health care specifically or just generally?

Q: The whole thing, look back at this tough year.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that — that when it — when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need and knowing what the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously, we screwed it up.

Part of it, as I’ve said before, had to do with how IT procurement generally is done, and it almost predates this year. Part of it obviously had to do with the fact that there were not clear enough lines of authority in terms of who was in charge of the technology and cracking the whip on a whole bunch of contractors. So there are a whole bunch of things that we’ve been taking a look at.

And I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who have been signing up.

But, you know, having said all that, the bottom line also is that we’ve got — several million people are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self- reflection here. I promise you, I probably beat myself up, you know, even worse that you or Ed Henry does — (laughter) — on any given day. But I’ve also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and that we keep moving forward.

And when I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is: We’re poised to do really good things. The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits from that and not just a few folks. And there’s still too many people who haven’t seen a raise and are still feeling financially insecure. We can get immigration reform done. We’ve got a concept that has bipartisan support. Let’s see if we can break through the politics on this.

You know, I think that hopefully folks have learned their lesson in terms of brinksmanship coming out of the — coming out of the government shutdown. You know there have been times where I’ve thought about, were there other ways that I could have prevented that — those three, four weeks that hampered the economy and hurt individuals families who were not getting a paycheck during that time? Absolutely, but I also think that in some ways, given the pattern that we have been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what the American people think is acceptable.

They want us to try to solve problems and be practical, even if we can’t get everything done.

So, you know, the end of the year is always a good time to reflect and see what can you do better next year. That’s how I intend to approach it. I am sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun.


Q: Thank you, Mr. President. On the debt ceiling, your Treasury secretary has estimated that the U.S. government will lose its ability to pay its bills come late February or early March. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has said that Republicans are going to decide what it is they can accomplish out of this debt limit fight — his words. Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, Brianna, you know the answer to his question. No, we’re not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.

Here’s the good news. And I want to — I want to emphasize the positive as we enter into this holiday season. I think Congressman Ryan and Senator Murray did a good job in trying to narrow the differences and actually pass a budget that I can sign. It’s not everything that I would like, obviously. It buys back part of these across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester, but not all of it. So we’re still underfunding research. We’re still underfunding education. We’re still underfunding transportation and other initiatives that would create jobs right now.

But you know, it was an honest conversation. They operated in good faith.

And given how far apart the parties have been on fiscal issues, they should take pride in what they did. And I actually called them after they struck the deal, and I said, congratulations. And I hope that creates a good pattern for next year, where work on, at least, the things we agreed to, even if we agree to disagree on some of the other big-ticket items.

I think immigration potentially falls in that categories, where, let’s — here’s an area where we’ve got bipartisan agreement. There are a few differences here and there, but the truth of the matter is that the Senate bill has the main components of comprehensive immigration reform that would boost our economy, give us an opportunity to attract more investment and high-skilled workers who are doing great things in places like Silicon Valley and around the country. So let’s go ahead and get that done.

Now, I can’t imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress, that folks are thinking, actually, about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years.

To repeat, the debt ceiling is raised simply to pay bills that we have already accrued; it is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s the responsibility of Congress; it’s part of doing their job. I expect them to do their job, although I’m happy to talk to them about any of the issues that they actually want to get done. So if Congressman Ryan is interested in tax reform, let’s go.

I’ve got some proposals on it. If he’s interested in any issue out there, I’m willing to have a constructive conversation of the sort that we just had in resolving the budget issues. But I’ve — I’ve got to assume folks aren’t crazy enough to start that thing all over again.

Q: If I may, just quickly on a more personal note, what is your New Year’s resolution?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: My New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps. (Laughter.) You know? Absolutely.

Q: All right.


Q: That’s quite a lead-in, Mr. President. Thank you.

Rick Leggett, who is the head of the NSA task force on Edward Snowden, told “60 Minutes” that it was, quote, “worth having a conversation about granting Edward Snowden amnesty.” To what degree, sir, were you pleased that he floated this trial balloon? And under what circumstances would you consider either a plea agreement or amnesty for Edward Snowden?

And what do you say to Americans, sir, who after possibly being alerted to Judge Leon’s decision earlier this week, reading the panel recommendations, believe Edward Snowden set in motion something that is proper and just in this country about the scope of surveillance, and should not be considered by the government a criminal?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’ve got to be careful here, Major, because Mr. Snowden is under indictment. He has been charged with — with crimes, and that’s the province of the attorney general and ultimately, a judge and a jury. So I — I can’t weigh in specifically on this case at this point. I’ll — I’ll make — I’ll try to see if I can get at the — the spirit of the question, even if I can’t talk about the specifics.

I have said before and I believe that this is an important conversation that we needed to have. I have also said before that the way in which these disclosures happened have been — have been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities.

And I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage.

I’ll give you just one specific example.

The — the fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides by rule of law, that cares deeply about privacy, that cares about civil liberties, that cares about our Constitution. And as a consequence of these disclosures, we’ve got countries who actually do the things that Mr. Snowden says he’s worried about, very explicitly — engaging in surveillance of their own citizens, targeting political dissidents, targeting and suppressing the press, who somehow are able to sit on the sidelines and act as if it’s the United States that has problems when it comes to surveillance and intelligence operations. And that’s a pretty distorted view of what’s going on out there.

So I think that, as important and as necessary as this debate has been, it is also important to keep in mind that this has done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy. But I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in publicly on the specifics of Mr. Snowden’s case.

Q: But sir, if I could follow up, Mr. Leggett is setting this in motion, at least raising this as a topic of conversation. You, sir, would, I’m certain, be consulted if there was ever going to be a conversation about amnesty or a plea bargain for Edward Snowden.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I said — I think that’s true, Major. And I guess what I’m saying is there’s —

Q: Would you rule it out forever, that you would never consider it?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’m saying is, is that there’s a difference between Mr. Leggett saying something and the president of the United States saying something.

Q: That’s why I’m trying to get you (to say it ?).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s exactly right. (Laughter.)

Chuck Todd.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And merry Christmas, and happy new year. You’ve talked about the issues with health care and the website rollout, but there have been other issues, the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing it? This one here, this new waiver last night — could argue you might as well have just delayed the mandate.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no, that’s not true because what we’re talking about is a very specific population that received cancelation notices from insurance companies. The majority of them are either keeping their old plan because the grandfather clause has been extended further or they’re finding a better deal in the marketplace with better insurance or cheaper costs. But there may still be a subset, a significantly smaller subset than some of the numbers that have been advertised, that are still looking for options, are still concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year. And we just wanted to make sure that the hardship provision that was already existing in the law would also potentially apply to somebody who had problems during this transition period. So that’s the specifics of this latest change.

You’re making a broader point that — that I think is fair.

And that is that in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking — is this working the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them.

But they don’t go to the core of the law. First of all, the core of the law is, is that for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better consumer protections, the ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan till they’re 26, thousand-dollar or $500 discounts on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law.

And by the way, if it were to be repealed, you would be taking away all those benefits from — from folks who already are enjoying them.

You have this subportion of the population, 15 percent, who either don’t have health insurance or are buying it on the individual market. And that’s still millions of people. And what we’re doing is creating a marketplace where they can buy insurance, and we can provide them some tax credits to help them afford it.

The basic structure of that law is working, despite all the problems. Despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, despite all that, it’s working. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months, despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine.

And yet, you’ve still got 2 million people who signed up — or more. And so, what that means, then, is that the demand is there, and as I said before, the product is good.

Now, in putting something like this together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a common-sense way, and we’re going to continue to try to do that. But that doesn’t negate the fact that, you know, a year from now or two years from now, when we look back, we’re going to be able to say that even more people have health insurance who didn’t have it before.

And that’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing. That is part of the reason why I pushed so hard to get this law done in the first place. And — you know, I’ve said before that this is a messy process. And I think, sometimes, when I say that, people say, well, A, yeah, it’s real messy, and B, you know, isn’t — isn’t the fact that it’s been so messy some indication that there are more fundamental problems with the law?

And I guess what I’d say to that, Chuck, is, when you try to do something this big affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard. And every instance — whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug plan under President Bush — there hasn’t been an instance where you’ve tried to really have an impact on the American peoples’ lives and well-being, particularly in the health care arena where you don’t end up having some of these challenges.

The question is going to be, ultimately, do we make good decisions trying to help as many people as possible in as efficient a way as possible? And I think that’s what we’re doing.

Q: But with 72 hours to go, you make this change where people are buying the junk — frankly, a junk-type policy that you weren’t — you were trying to get people away from.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, do keep in mind, Chuck, first of all, that the majority of folks are going to have different options. This is essentially an additional net in case folks might have slipped through the cracks. We don’t have precision on those numbers, but we expect it’s going to be a relatively small number because these are folks who want insurance, and the vast majority of them have good options. And in a state like North Carolina, for example, the overwhelming majority of them have just kept their own plans, so — the ones that they had previously.

But we thought and continue to think that it makes sense that as we are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are higher, people don’t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had insurance until they hit a limit, and next thing you know they still owe a hundred thousand or 200(,000 dollars) or $300,000 for a hospital visit, that as we transition to higher standards, better insurance, that we also address folks who get caught in that transition and their unintended consequences.

And I’ll — that was the original intent of the grandfather clause that was in the law. Obviously, the problem was it didn’t catch enough people. And you know, we learned from that, and we’re trying not to repeat those mistakes.

Q: But the mandate will be enforced — (off mic) —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely, yeah.

Let’s see, Phil Mattingly.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. What was the message you were trying to send with not only your decision not to attend the Sochi games, but also with the people you named to the delegation to represent the United States at those games?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I haven’t attended Olympics in the past and I suspect that, you know — you know, me attending Olympics, particularly at a time when we’ve got all the other stuff that people have been talking about, is going to be tough, although I would love to do it. I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post- presidency. (Laughter.)

I think the delegation speaks for itself. You’ve got outstanding Americans, outstanding athletes, people who will represent us extraordinarily well. And, you know, the fact that we’ve got folks like Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth, that when it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance we don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court, on the field and off the field. And that’s a value that I think is at the heart of not just America but American sports.

I’m going to just roll down these last few real quickly: Ari Shapiro, last day at the White House. He deserves a question. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Senator Max Baucus was widely seen as the best hope for a large-scale deal to overhaul the tax code. What does your decision to nominate him as ambassador to China say about your hopes for a major tax bill in your second term?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It says that Max Baucus is going to be an outstanding ambassador to China, and I’d like a swift confirmation.

And my expectation and hope is — is that if both Senate Democrats — or if Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate are serious about tax reform, then it’s not going to depend on one guy; it’s going to depend on all of us working together. And my office is ready, willing and eager to engage both parties in having a conversation about how we can simplify the tax code, make it fairer, make it work to create more jobs and do right by middle-class Americans.

Jackie Calmes.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And how do you say it in Hawaii? “Mele Kalikimaka.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Mele Kalikimaka.” (Laughter.)

Q: Since we’ve been looking back at the year, I’d like to ask you what your reaction was to the nonpartisan truth-telling group PolitiFact when it said that the Lie of the Year was your statement that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.

And related to the health care problems that we’ve seen over the past year, the fallout from that seems to be making Democrats, particularly in the Senate, a little rambunctious and independent of you, which is evidenced most clearly in the debate over the Iran sanctions. It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expedited consideration of an Iran sanctions bill for January, even as your administration and you have been trying to get them to lay off sanctions while you’re —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jackie, I got to say, you’re — you’re stringing a bunch of things along here. Let’s — let’s —

Q: Well —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: — let’s see if we can hone in on a question. I mean, I — I —

Q: Two questions.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — (chuckles) —

Q: That’s a lot less than Ed Henry had. (Laughter, groans.)

Q: Wow! I thought we were trying to get along — (inaudible).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. (Inaudible.) Now I can see who’s —

Q: (Inaudible) — you — (inaudible) — each other.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) The — how about I separate out the Iran question separate out the Iran question from the health care question?

On the health care question — look, I think I’ve answered it several times — this is a new iteration of it — but bottom line is that, you know, we are going to continue to work every single day to make sure that implementation of the health care law and the website and all elements of it, including the grandfather clause, work better every single day.

And as I’ve said in previous press conferences — you know, we’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to have problems, but my intentions have been clear throughout, which is, I just want to help as many people as possible feel secure and make sure that they don’t go broke when they get sick. And we’re just going to keep on doing that.

On Iran, there is the possibility of a resolution to a problem that has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade now. And that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon. Already, even with the interim deal that we struck in Geneva, we have the first halt, and in some cases, some rollback of Iran’s nuclear capabilities — the first time that we’ve seen that in almost decade.

And we now have a structure in which we can have a very serious conversation to see, is it possible for Iran to get right with the international community in a verifiable fashion to give us all confidence that any peaceful nuclear program that they have is not going to be weaponized in a way that threatens us or our allies in the region, including Israel.

And as I’ve said before and I will repeat, it is very important for us to test whether that’s possible, not because it’s guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem, with all kinds of unintended consequences.

Now, I’ve been very clear from the start, I mean what I say. It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I sure would rather to it diplomatically. I’m keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that’s how we should do it, and I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill, because that sure is the preference of the American people.

And we lose nothing during this negotiation period, precisely because there are verification provisions in place. We will have more insight into Iran’s nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously; we’ll know if they are violating the terms of the agreement; they’re not allowed to accelerate their stockpile of enriched uranium; in fact, they have to reduce their stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Ironically, if we did not have this six- month period in which we’re testing whether we can get a comprehensive solution to this problem, they would be advancing even further on their nuclear program.

And in light of all that, what I’ve said to members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, is there is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet.

Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.

And so I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions. I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in office. But as president of the United States right now who’s been responsible over the last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table to negotiate, what I’m saying to them, what I’ve said to the international community and what I’ve said to the American people is let’s test it. Now’s the time to try to see if we can get this thing done.

And — and I’ve heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we’re — we’re supportive of — of the negotiations, but we think it’s really useful to have this club hanging over Iran’s head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales.

We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied, even as the negotiations are taking place. It’s not as if we’re letting up on that.

So I’ve heard arguments, well, but you know, this way we can assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a — in a day, on a dime.

But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran in willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. and we don’t — we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of — this kind of action.

All right? OK, everybody. I think I’m going to take one more question, Colleen McCain Nelson, and that is it.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: There you go.

Q: Some of your long-time advisers and new folks are coming in. Others are taking on new roles in the west wing. As you reshape your team a bit, how does that change the dynamic here and how does it impact what you think you can accomplish going forward?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I just had lunch with Pete Rouse, who’s — who’s leaving me. And that’s tough.

Q: He says so?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: He says so, not right now, at least. No, I — you know, I — I love that guy. And — and that will be a significant loss, although he’ll still be in town and hopefully I’ll be able to consult with him on an ongoing basis.

I think the fact that John Podesta’s coming in will be terrific. He may deny it, but I’ve been trying to get him in here for quite some time. He ran my transition office. I asked him when he was running the transition office if he would be willing to join us, and at that time, I think he was still feeling that he wanted to develop CAP and other organizations.

But you know, John’s a great strategist, he is as good as anybody on domestic policy, and I think he’ll be a — a huge boost to us and give us more bandwidth to deal with more issues.

I suspect that we may have additional announcements in the new year. You know, there’s — there’s a natural turnover that takes place. People get tired; people get worn out. Sometimes, you need fresh legs. But what I can tell you is the — the team I have now is tireless and shares my values, and believes the thing that I think I have repeated probably four or five times in this press conference, which is we get this incredible privilege for a pretty short period of time to do as much as we can for as many people as we can to help them live better lives.

And that’s what drives them and that’s the sacrifice they make, being away from families and soccer games and birthdays, and some of them will end up working over Christmas on issues like Iran. And the fact that they make those kinds of sacrifices, I am always grateful for.

And if they then say to me after making those sacrifices for three, four, five years, you know, I need a break, you know, then — then I completely understand.

All right, have a great holiday, everybody. Appreciate you.

Q: Merry Christmas.

Q: Merry Christmas.

Q: Happy new year.

Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service. 

Political Headlines December 20, 2013: Live Coverage of President Obama’s Year-End Press Conference





Live Coverage of Obama’s News Conference

Source: NYT, 12-20-13

Play video

Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LIVE VIDEO  President Obama is answering reporters’ questions during his year-end news conference.

President Obama spoke about the N.S.A., health law signups and the ambitions of his second term….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 8, 2013: President Barack Obama’s press conference on the shutdown and debt limit — Transcript



TRANSCRIPT: President Obama’s Oct. 8 news conference on the shutdown and debt limit

Source: WaPo, 10-8-13

Video: President Obama addressed the nation Tuesday regarding the government shutdown, telling Congress to take a vote on a continuing resolution to end the government shutdown.

President Obama delivered a statement and took questions from reporters on the partial government shutdown and the looming fight over raising the federal debt ceiling on Oct. 8 at the White House.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. I am eager to take your questions, so I’ll try to be brief at the top.This morning I had a chance to speak with Speaker Boehner. And I told him what I’ve been saying publicly, that I am happy to talk with him and other Republicans about anything — not just issues I think are important but also issues that they think are important. But I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.

Think about it this way, the American people do not get to demand a ransom for doing their jobs. You don’t get a chance to call your bank and say I’m not going to pay my mortgage this month unless you throw in a new car and an Xbox. If you’re in negotiations around buying somebody’s house, you don’t get to say, well, let’s talk about the price I’m going to pay, and if you don’t give the price then I’m going to burn down your house. That’s not how negotiations work. That’s not how it happens in business. That’s not how it happens in private life.

In the same way, members of Congress, and the House Republicans in particular, don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs. And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America’s paying its bills. They don’t also get to say, you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I’m going to cause a recession.

That’s not how it works. No American president would deal with a foreign leader like this. Most of you would not deal with either co- workers or business associates in this fashion. And we shouldn’t be dealing this way here in Washington.

And you know, I’ve heard Republicans suggest that, well, no, this is reasonable, that this is entirely appropriate. But as I’ve said before, imagine if a Democratic Congress threatened to crash the global economy unless a Republican president agreed to gun background checks or immigration reform. I think it’s fair to say that Republicans would not think that was appropriate.

So let’s lift these threats from our families and our businesses, and let’s get down to work. It’s not like this is a new position that I’m taking here. I had Speaker Boehner and the other leaders in just last week. Either my chief of staff or I have had serious conversations on the budget with Republicans more than 20 times since March.

So we’ve been talking all kinds of business. What we haven’t been able to get are serious positions from the Republicans that would allow us to actually resolve some core differences. And they have decided to run out the clock until there’s a government shutdown or the possibility of default, thinking that it would give them more leverage. That’s not my characterization. They’ve said it themselves. That was their strategy from the start. And that is not how our government is supposed to run.

Full Text Obama Presidency September 6, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in a Press Conference at the G20 Summit about Syria Military Response



Remarks by President Obama in a Press Conference at the G20

Source: WH, 9-6-13


Getty Images

G20 Summit Site
St. Petersburg, Russia

5:55 P.M. MSK

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening.  Let me begin by thanking President Putin and the people of St. Petersburg and the people of Russia for hosting this G20.  This city has a long and storied history, including its heroic resistance and extraordinary sacrifices during the Second World War.  So I want to take this opportunity to salute the people of St. Petersburg and express our gratitude for their outstanding hospitality.

This summit marks another milestone in the world’s recovery from the financial crisis that erupted five years ago this month.  Instead of the looming threat of another financial meltdown, we’re focused for the first time in many years on building upon the gains that we’ve made.  For the first time in three years, instead of an urgent discussion to address the European financial crisis, we see a Europe that has emerged from recession.

Moreover, the United States is a source of strength in the global economy.  Our manufacturing sector is rebounding.  New rules have strengthened our banks and reduced the chance of another crisis.  We’re reducing our addiction to foreign oil and producing more clean energy.  And as we learned today, over the past three and a half years, our businesses have created seven and a half million new jobs — a pace of more than 2 million jobs each year.  We’ve put more people back to work, but we’ve also cleared away the rubble of crisis and laid the foundation for stronger and more durable economic growth.

We’re also making progress in putting our fiscal house in order.  Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.  And as Congress takes up important decisions in the coming months, I’m going to keep making the case for the smart investments and fiscal responsibility that keep our economy growing, creates jobs and keeps the U.S. competitive.  That includes making sure we don’t risk a U.S. default over paying bills we’ve already racked up.  I’m determined that the world has confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States.

As the world’s largest economy, our recovery is helping to drive global growth.  And in the emerging markets in particular, there’s a recognition that a strong U.S. economy is good for their economies, too.

Yet we came to St. Petersburg mindful of the challenges that remain.  As it emerges from recession, Europe has an opportunity to focus on boosting demand and reducing unemployment, as well as making some of the structural changes that can increase long-term growth.  Growth in emerging economies has slowed, so we need to make sure that we are working with them in managing this process. And I’m pleased that over the past two days we reached a consensus on how to proceed.

We agreed that our focus needs to be on creating jobs and growth that put people back to work.  We agreed on ways to encourage the investments in infrastructure that keep economies competitive.  Nations agreed to continue pursuing financial reforms and to address tax evasion and tax avoidance, which undermines budgets and unfairly shifts the tax burden to other taxpayers.

We’re moving ahead with our development agenda, with a focus on issues like food security and combating corruption.  And I’m very pleased that the G20 nations agreed to make faster progress on phasing down certain greenhouse gases a priority.  That’s an important step in our fight against climate change.

During my trip, we also continued our efforts to advance two key trade initiatives:  the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And I believe that if we continue to move forward on all the fronts that I’ve described, we can keep the global economy growing and keep creating jobs for our people.

Of course, even as we’ve focused on our shared prosperity, and although the primary task of the G20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy, we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security and that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.  And what I’ve been emphasizing and will continue to stress is that the Assad regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy.  It’s a threat to global peace and security.

Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors — Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel.  It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East.  It increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But, more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.

Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes, and terrorist organizations that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence.  And that’s not the world that we want to live in.

This is why nations around the world have condemned Syria for this attack and called for action.  I’ve been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week; there is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by.  Here in St. Petersburg, leaders from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm against the use of chemical weapons must be upheld, and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people, and that, as a consequence, there needs to be a strong response.

The Arab League foreign ministers have said the Assad regime is responsible and called for “deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime.”  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation — its general secretariat has called the attack a “blatant affront to all religious and moral values and a deliberate disregard of international laws and norms, which requires a decisive action.”

So, in the coming days, I’ll continue to consult with my fellow leaders around the world, and I will continue to consult with Congress.  And I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action.  And I intend to address the American people from the White House on Tuesday.

The kind of world we live in and our ability to deter this kind of outrageous behavior is going to depend on the decisions that we make in the days ahead.  And I’m confident that if we deliberate carefully and we choose wisely, and embrace our responsibilities, we can meet the challenges of this moment as well as those in the days ahead.

So with that, let me take some questions.  I’ve got my handy list.  And I will start with Julie Pace from AP.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  You mentioned the number of countries that have condemned the use of chemical weapons, but your advisors also say you’re leaving this summit with a strong number of countries backing your call for military action.  President Putin just a short time ago indicated it may only be a handful of countries, including France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us publicly what countries are backing your call for military action?  And did you change any minds here?  President Putin also mentioned your meeting with him earlier today.  Can you tell us how that came about, and did you discuss both Syria and Edward Snowden?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I believe that there will be a statement issued later this evening — although hopefully in time for you guys to file back home — that indicates some of the additional countries that are making public statements.

Last night we had a good discussion.  And I want to give President Putin credit that he facilitated I think a full airing of views on the issue.  And here’s how I would describe it — without giving the details or betraying the confidence of those who were speaking within the confines of the dinner.  It was unanimous that chemical weapons were used — a unanimous conclusion that chemical weapons were used in Syria.  There was a unanimous view that the norm against using chemical weapons has to be maintained, that these weapons were banned for a reason and that the international community has to take those norms seriously.

I would say that the majority of the room is comfortable with our conclusion that Assad — the Assad government was responsible for their use.  Obviously this is disputed by President Putin.  But if you polled the leaders last night, I am confident that you’d get a majority who said it is most likely, we are pretty confident that the Assad regime used them.

Where there is a division has to do with the United Nations.  There are a number of countries that, just as a matter of principle, believe that if military action is to be taken it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council.  There are others — and I put myself in this camp, as somebody who’s a strong supporter of the United Nations, who very much appreciates the courage of the investigators who had gone in and looks forward to seeing the U.N. report, because I think we should try to get more information, not less in this situation — it is my view and a view that was shared by a number of people in the room that given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required and that will not come through Security Council action.

And that’s where I think the division comes from.  And I respect those who are concerned about setting precedence of action outside of a U.N. Security Council resolution.  I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.  But ultimately, what I believe in even more deeply, because I think that the security of the world and — my particular task — looking out for the national security of the United States, requires that when there’s a breech this brazen of a norm this important, and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn’t act, then that norm begins to unravel.

And if that norm unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling.  And that makes for a more dangerous world.  And that, then, requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future.

Over 1,400 people were gassed.  Over 400 of them were children.  This is not something we’ve fabricated.  This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action.  As I said last night, I was elected to end wars, not start them.  I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.  But what I also know is, is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re going to stand up for the things that we care about.  And I believe that this is one of those times.

And if we end up using the U.N. Security Council not as a means of enforcing international norms and international law, but rather as a barrier to acting on behalf of international norms and international law, then I think people, rightly, are going to be pretty skeptical about the system and whether it can work to protect those children that we saw in those videos.

And sometimes the further we get from the horrors of that, the easier it is to rationalize not making tough choices.  And I understand that.  This is not convenient.  This is not something that I think a lot of folks around the world find an appetizing set of choices.  But the question is, do these norms mean something?  And if we’re not acting, what does that say?

If we’re just issuing another statement of condemnation, or passing resolutions saying “wasn’t that terrible,” if people who decry international inaction in Rwanda and say how terrible it is that there are these human rights violations that take place around the world and why aren’t we doing something about it — and they always look to the United States — why isn’t the United States doing something about this, the most powerful nation on Earth?  Why are you allowing these terrible things to happen?  And then, if the international community turns around when we’re saying it’s time to take some responsibility and says, well, hold on a second, we’re not sure — that erodes our ability to maintain the kind of norms that we’re looking at.

Now, I know that was a lengthy answer and you had a second part to your question.

The conversation I had with President Putin was on the margins of the plenary session and it was a candid and constructive conversation, which characterizes my relationship with him.  I know, as I’ve said before, everybody is always trying to look for body language and all that.  But the truth of the matter is that my interactions with him tend to be very straightforward.  We discussed Syria, and that was primarily the topic of conversation.  Mr. Snowden did not come up beyond me saying that — reemphasizing that where we have common interests I think it’s important for the two of us to work together.

And on Syria, I said — listen, I don’t expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use, although it is possible that after the U.N. inspectors’ report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.  But what I did say is that we both agree that the underlying conflict can only be resolved through a political transition as envisioned by the Geneva I and Geneva II process.  And so we need to move forward together.  Even if the U.S. and Russia and other countries disagree on this specific issue of how to respond to chemical weapons use, it remains important for us to work together to try to urge all parties in the conflict to try to resolve it.

Because we’ve got 4 million people internally displaced.  We’ve got millions of people in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon who are desperate, and the situation is only getting worse.  And that’s not in anybody’s interest.  It’s not in America’s interest.  It’s not in Russia’s interest.  It’s not in the interest of the people in the region, and obviously it’s not in the interest of Syrians who’ve seen their lives completely disrupted and their country shattered.

So that is going to continue to be a project of ours.  And that does speak to an issue that has been raised back home around this whole issue.  You’ve heard some people say, well, we think if you’re going to do something, you got to do something big, and maybe this isn’t big enough or maybe it’s too late — or other responses like that.  And what I’ve tried to explain is we may not solve the whole problem, but this particular problem of using chemical weapons on children, this one we might have an impact on, and that’s worth acting on.  That’s important to us.

And what I’ve also said is, is that as far as the underlying conflict is concerned, unless the international community is willing to put massive numbers of troops on the ground — and I know nobody is signing up for that — we’re not going to get a long-term military solution for the country.  And that is something that can only come about I think if — as different as our perspectives may be — myself, Mr. Putin and others are willing to set aside those differences and put some pressure on the parties on the ground.


Q:  On the resolution to authorize the use of force, one of the big challenges right now isn’t just Republicans, but it’s from some of your loyal Democrats.  It seems that the more they hear from classified briefings that the less likely they are to support you.  If the full Congress doesn’t pass this, will you go ahead with the strike?  And also, Senator Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans who breaks through her party to give you support at times — she says, “What if we execute the strike and then Assad decides to use chemical weapons again?  Do we strike again?”  And many Democrats are asking that as well.  How do you answer the question?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, in terms of the votes and the process in Congress, I knew this was going to be a heavy lift.  I said that on Saturday when I said we’re going to take it to Congress.  Our polling operations are pretty good — I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is.  And for the American people, who have been through over a decade of war now, with enormous sacrifice in blood and treasure, any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion.  And that suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican Party, since a lot of the people who supported me remember that I opposed the war in Iraq.

And what’s also true is, is that that experience with the war in Iraq colors how people view this situation not just back home in America, but also here in Europe and around the world.  That’s the prism through which a lot of people are analyzing the situation.

So I understand the skepticism.  I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through systematically making the case to every senator and every member of Congress.  And that’s what we’re doing.

I dispute a little bit, Brianna, the notion that people come out of classified briefings and they’re less in favor of it.  I think that when they go through the classified briefings, they feel pretty confident that, in fact, chemical weapons were used and that the Assad regime used them.

Where you will see resistance is people being worried about a slippery slope and how effective a limited action might be.  And our response, based on my discussions with our military, is that we can have a response that is limited, that is proportional — that when I say “limited,” it’s both in time and in scope — but that is meaningful and that degrades Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons not just this time, but also in the future, and serves as a strong deterrent.

Now, is it possible that Assad doubles down in the face of our action and uses chemical weapons more widely?  I suppose anything is possible, but it wouldn’t be wise.  I think at that point, mobilizing the international community would be easier, not harder.  I think it would be pretty hard for the U.N. Security Council at that point to continue to resist the requirement for action, and we would gladly join with an international coalition to make sure that it stops.

So one of the biggest concerns of the American people — certain members of Congress may have different concerns; there may be certain members of Congress who say we’ve got to do even more, or claim to have previously criticized me for not hitting Assad and now are saying they’re going to vote no, and you’ll have to ask them exactly how they square that circle.  But for the American people at least, the concern really has to do with understanding that what we’re describing here would be limited and proportional and designed to address this problem of chemical weapons use and upholding a norm that helps keep all of us safe.

And that is going to be the case that I try to make not just to Congress, but to the American people over the coming days.

Q:  Just a follow-up — must you have full cooperation from Congress?  What if the Senate votes yes and the House votes no — it’s go ahead with the strike?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Brianna, I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate, because right now I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.  But I’ll repeat something that I said in Sweden when I was asked a similar question.  I did not put this before Congress just as a political ploy or as symbolism.  I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed a imminent, direct threat to the United States.  In that situation, obviously, I don’t worry about Congress.  We do what we have to do to keep the American people safe.  I could not say that it was immediately, directly going to have an impact on our allies.  Again, in those situations I would act right away.  This wasn’t even a situation like Libya, where you’ve got troops rolling towards Benghazi and you have a concern about time in terms of saving somebody right away.

This was an event that happened.  My military assured me that we could act today, tomorrow, a month from now; that we could do so proportionately, but meaningfully.  And in that situation, I think it is important for us to have a serious debate in the United States about these issues.

Because these are going to be the kinds of national security threats that are most likely to occur over the next five, 10 years.  They’re very few countries who are going to go at us directly.  We have to be vigilant, but our military is unmatched. Those countries that are large and powerful like Russia or China, we have the kind of relationship with them where we’re not getting in conflicts of that sort.  At least over the last several decades, there’s been a recognition that neither country benefits from that kind of great power conflict.

So the kinds of national security threats that we’re going to conflict — they’re terrorist threats; they’re failed states; they are the proliferation of deadly weapons.  And in those circumstances, a President is going to have to make a series of decisions about which one of these threats over the long term starts making us less and less safe.  And where we can work internationally, we should.

There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons.  And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, what are you going to do about it?

And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy.  There was a leader of a smaller country who I’ve spoken to over the last several days who said, I know don’t envy you because I’m a small country and nobody expects me to do anything about chemical weapons around the world.  They know I have no capacity to do something.

And it’s tough because people do look to the United States. And the question for the American people is, is that a responsibility that we’re willing to bear.  And I believe that when you a limited, proportional strike like this — not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground; not some long, drawn-out affair; not without any risks, but with manageable risks — that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.

Chuck Todd.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Good morning — or good evening.  I think it’s still “good morning” back home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  By tonight it will be tonight when we get back home.  (Laughter.)

Q:  I think we’re all relieved.  I want to follow up on Brianna’s question, because it seems these members of Congress are simply responding to their constituents and you’re seeing a lot these town halls, and it seems as if the more you pressure your case, the more John Kerry presses the case on your behalf, the more the opposition grows.  And maybe it’s just — or the more the opposition becomes vocal.  Why do you think you’ve struggled with that?  And you keep talking about a limited mission.  We have a report that indicates you’ve actually asked for an expanded list of targets in Syria, and one military official told NBC News — he characterized it as “mission creep.” Can you respond to that report?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  That report is inaccurate.  I’m not going to comment on operational issues that are sourced by some military official.  One thing I’ve got a pretty clear idea about is what I talked with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about, and what we have consistently talked about is something limited and proportional that would degrade Mr. Assad’s capabilities.

In terms of opposition, Chuck, I expected this.  This is hard, and I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path. But I think it’s the right thing to do.  I think it’s good for our democracy.  We will be more effective if we are unified going forward.

And part of what we knew would be there would be some politics and injecting themselves —

Q:  You believe it’s all politics?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  No, I said “some.”  But what I have also said is, is that the American people have gone through a lot when it comes to the military over the last decade or so.  And so I understand that.  And when you starting talking about chemical weapons and their proliferation, those images of those bodies could sometimes be forgotten pretty quickly — the news cycle moves on.

Frankly, if we weren’t talking about the need for an international response right now, this wouldn’t be what everybody would be asking about.  There would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus-pocus, but the world and the country would have moved on.

So trying to impart a sense of urgency about this — why we can’t have an environment in which over time people start thinking we can get away with chemical weapons use — it’s a hard sell, but it’s something I believe in.  And as I explained to Brianna, in this context, me making sure that the American people understand it I think is important before I take action.

Jon Karl.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  One of your closest allies in the House said yesterday, “When you’ve got 97 percent of your constituents saying no, it’s kind of hard to say yes.”  Why should members of Congress go against the will of their constituents and support your decision on this?  And I still haven’t heard a direct response to Brianna’s question — if Congress fails to authorize this, will you go forward with an attack on Syria?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Right, and you’re not getting a direct response.  Brianna asked the question very well.  Did you think that —

Q:  It’s a pretty basic question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  — I was going to give you a different answer?  No.  (Laughter.)  What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I put this before Congress for a reason.  I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action.  I’m not going to engage in parlor games now, Jonathan, about whether or not it’s going to pass when I’m talking substantively to Congress about why this is important, and talking to the American people about why this is important.

Now, with respect to Congress and how they should respond to constituents and concerns, I do consider it part of my job to help make the case and to explain to the American people exactly why I think this is the right thing to do.  And it’s conceivable that at the end of the day I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do.  And then, each member of Congress is going to have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security and the world’s national security, then how do I vote?  And that’s what you’re supposed to do as a member of Congress.  Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America.

And that’s the same for me as President of the United States.  There are a whole bunch of decisions that I make that are unpopular, as you well know.  But I do so because I think they’re the right thing to do.  And I trust my constituents want me to offer my best judgment.  That’s why they elected me.  That’s why they reelected me even after there were some decisions I made that they disagreed with.  And I would hope that members of Congress would end up feeling the same way.

The last point I would make:  These kinds of interventions, these kinds of actions are always unpopular because they seem distant and removed.  And I want to make sure I’m being clear.  I’m not drawing a analogy to World War II other than to say when London was getting bombed it was profoundly unpopular both in Congress and around the country to help the British.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.  Just means people are struggling with jobs and bills to pay, and they don’t want their sons or daughters put in harm’s way, and these entanglements far away are dangerous and different.

To bring the analogy closer to home, the intervention in Kosovo — very unpopular; but ultimately I think it was the right thing to do.  And the international community should be glad that it came together to do it.

When people say that it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, well, imagine if Rwanda was going on right now, and we asked should we intervene in Rwanda.  I think it’s fair to say that it probably wouldn’t poll real well.

So, typically, when any kind of military action is popular it’s because either there’s been a very clear, direct threat to us — 9/11 — or an administration uses various hooks to suggest that American interests were directly threatened — like in Panama or Grenada.  And sometimes, those hooks are more persuasive than others, but typically, they’re not put before Congress.  And again, we just went through something pretty tough with respect to Iraq.  So all that I guess provides some context for why you might expect people to be resistant.

Q:  But your Deputy National Security Advisor said that it is not your intention to attack if Congress doesn’t approve it.  Is he right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I don’t think that’s exactly what he said.  But I think I’ve answered the question.

Major Garrett.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Those of us who remember covering your campaign remember you saying that militarily when the United States acts, it’s not just important what it does but how it goes about doing it, and that even when America sets its course, it’s important to engage the international community and listen to different ideas even as it’s pursuing that action.  I wonder if you leave here and return to Washington, seeing the skepticism there, hearing it here, with any different ideas that might delay military action.  For example, some in Congress have suggested giving the Syrian regime 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, get rid of its chemical stockpiles — do something that would enhance international sense of accountability for Syria but delay military action.  Are you, Mr. President, looking at any of these ideas?  Or are we on a fast track to military action as soon as Congress renders its judgment one way or the other?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I am listening to all these ideas.  And some of them are constructive.  And I’m listening to ideas in Congress, and I’m listening to ideas here.  But I want to repeat here:  My goal is to maintain the international norm on banning chemical weapons.  I want that enforcement to be real.  I want it to be serious.  I want people to understand that gassing innocent people, delivering chemical weapons against children is not something we do.  It’s prohibited in active wars between countries.  We certainly don’t do it against kids.  And we’ve got to stand up for that principle.

If there are tools that we can use to ensure that, obviously my preference would be, again, to act internationally in a serious way and to make sure that Mr. Assad gets the message.

I’m not itching for military action.  Recall, Major, that I have been criticized for the last couple of years by some of the folks who are now saying they would oppose these strikes for not striking.  And I think that I have a well-deserved reputation for taking very seriously and soberly the idea of military engagement.

So we will look at these ideas.  So far, at least, I have not seen ideas presented that as a practical matter I think would do the job.  But this is a situation where part of the reason I wanted to foster debate was to make sure that everybody thought about both the ramifications of action and inaction.

Q:  So currently, the only way to enforce this international norm is militarily, and even giving the Assad regime extra time would not achieve your goals?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I’m saying, Major, is that so far what we’ve seen is a escalation by the Assad regime of chemical weapons use.

You’ll recall that several months ago I said we now say with some confidence that at a small level Assad has used chemical weapons.  We not only sent warnings to Assad, but we demarched — meaning we sent a strong message through countries that have relationships with Assad — that he should not be doing this.  And rather than hold the line, we ended up with what we saw on August 21st.  So this is not as if we haven’t tested the proposition that the guy, or at least generals under his charge, can show restraint when it comes to this stuff.  And they’ve got one of the largest stockpiles in the world.

But I want to emphasize that we continue to consult with our international partners.  I’m listening to Congress.  I’m not just doing the talking.  And if there are good ideas that are worth pursuing then I’m going to be open to it.

I will take the last question.  Tangi — AFP.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday night you had two unscheduled bilateral meetings with your Brazilian and Mexican counterparts after they voiced very strong concerns about being allegedly targeted by the NSA.  What was your message to them?  And do the revelations — the constant stream of revelations over this summer make it harder for you to build confidence with your partners in international forums such as this one?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I did meet with President Rousseff as well as President Peña Nieto, of Brazil and Mexico, respectively, to discuss these allegations that were made in the press about the NSA.  I won’t share with you all the details of the conversation, but what I said to them is consistent with what I’ve said publicly.  The United States has an intelligence agency, and our intelligence agency’s job is to gather information that’s not available through public sources.  If they were available through public sources then they wouldn’t be an intelligence agency.  In that sense, what we do is similar to what countries around the world do with their intelligence services.

But what is true is that we are bigger, we have greater capabilities.  The difference between our capabilities and other countries probably tracks the differences in military capabilities between countries.  And what I’ve said is that because technology is changing so rapidly, because these capabilities are growing, it is important for us to step back and review what it is that we’re doing, because just because we can get information doesn’t necessarily always mean that we should.

There may be costs and benefits to doing certain things, and we’ve got to weigh those.  And I think that, traditionally, what’s happened over decades is the general assumption was, well, you just — whatever you can get you just kind of pull in, and then you kind of sift through later and try to figure out what’s useful.  The nature of technology and the legitimate concerns around privacy and civil liberties means that it’s important for us on the front end to say, all right, are we actually going to get useful information here?  And, if not — or how useful is it? If it’s not that important, should we be more constrained in how we use certain technical capabilities.

Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico.  I said that I would look into the allegations.  I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I’ve got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations — I don’t subscribe to all these newspapers, although I think the NSA does — now at least.  (Laughter.)

And then, what I assured President Rousseff and President Peña Nieto is, is that they should take — that I take these allegations very seriously.  I understand their concerns; I understand the concerns of the Mexican and Brazilian people, and that we will work with their teams to resolve what is a source of tension.

Now, the last thing I’d say about this, though, is just because there are tensions doesn’t mean that it overrides all the incredibly wide-ranging interests that we share with so many of these countries.  And there’s a reason why I went to Brazil.  There’s a reason why I invited President Rousseff to come to the United States.  Brazil is an incredibly important country.  It is a amazing success story in terms of a transition from authoritarianism to democracy.  It is one of the most dynamic economies in the world.  And, obviously, for the two largest nations in the hemisphere to have a strong relationship, that can only be good for the people of our two countries, as well as the region.

The same is true of Mexico, one of our closest friends, allies, and neighbors.

And so we will work through this particular issue.  It does not detract from the larger concerns that we have and the opportunities that we both want to take advantage of.

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you, St. Petersburg.

6:42 P.M. MSK

Political Headlines August 9, 2013: Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference on NSA Surveillance & Patriot Act Reforms





Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference

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LIVE VIDEO  President Obama holds a news conference.

President Obama plans to announce efforts to “restore public trust” in surveillance programs that have sparked deep concern after leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, a senior official said Friday….READ MORE

Live Updates: Obama Addresses Surveillance in News Conference

Source: NYT, 8-9-13

Highlights and analysis as President Obama takes questions from the news media on Friday afternoon….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency June 19, 2013: President Barack Obama & German Chancellor Angela Merkel Remarks at a Joint Press Conference



Remarks by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel in Joint Press Conference

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in BerlinPresident Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Hold a Press Conference

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Hold a Press Conference

Source: WH, 6-19-13

German Chancellery
Berlin, Germany

12:46 P.M. CEST

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  (As interpreted.)  A very warm welcome to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  A very warm welcome indeed to Berlin.  It’s his first visit to Berlin as President of the United States — certainly not his first visit to Germany.

We have had on numerous occasions the opportunity to talk.  We have established ties of friendship based on trust.  And I would like to thank you for this.  Our cooperation is based on ties of friendship that have lasted for many, many decades between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States.  And this is such a very good relationship because it is based on shared values.  When the President addresses the crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate, it will be a President who can do this in front of a gate that is open.  The President had to remind us all of the wall needed to be torn down and the wall is down.  And this is what we owe to our American partners and friends.

But we also see that the world is changing and changing at a very rapid pace, so new challenges come to the fore.  And we want to tackle them with resolve and we want to tackle them together.

What looms most prominently on our agenda here in Germany, but also in Europe and, I trust, in the United States, and could be a very valued project to these two great economies of the world, the free trade agreement.  I’m very glad that we were able to conclude the negotiations leading up to the mandate.  We will throw our effort behind this fully and squarely because we think that economies on both sides of the Atlantic will very much benefit from it.  It’s going to be a win-win situation and it also is an eloquent testimony to this globalized world where we can work better together, both politically and economically.

So this is why I think this is a very, very important free trade agreement.  And I say this on behalf of the federal government as a whole.

We talked about questions of the Internet in the context of PRISM.  We talked at great length about the new possibilities and about also the new threats that the Internet opens up to all of us.  The Internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us.  And it also enables our enemies.  It enables enemies of a free, liberal order, to use it, to abuse it, to bring a threat to all of us, to threaten our way of life.  And this is why we value cooperation with the United States on questions of security.

I also outlined, however, that although we do see the need for gathering information, there needs to be due diligence also as regards the proportionality.  Free, liberal democracies live off people having a feeling of security.  And this is why an equitable balance needs to be struck; there needs to be proportionality.  And that is something that we agreed on, to have a free exchange of views on, between our staff but also the staff of the Home Secretary in the States and also the Minister of Interior here in Germany.  And this is going to be an ongoing battle.

We talked about a number of foreign policy issues.  We are, both of us, engaged in Afghanistan.  A new process has been initiated there of a transition of responsibility.  This is a process that we are going to tackle together, just as we tackled the greater military challenges of the past together — building up the security forces in Afghanistan together.  We will stand together with the United States and solve outstanding problems that are very difficult, indeed, still.

We also addressed Iran.  We addressed the Middle East situation as regards the peace process in the Middle East.  I think that the initiative of Secretary Kerry offers a very good opportunity to revive, revitalize peace talks.  The region needs peace.  The partners ought to take up the offer that is on the table, because it is urgently necessary to bring about negotiations.  And we will continue also to work on Iran, on the nuclear program of Iran.  That is also something that we agreed on.

We had very good talks.  We had, as usual, very open and candid talks.  So, yet again, a very warm welcome to you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  Guten tag.  It is wonderful to be back in Berlin.  I’ve always appreciated the warmth with which I’ve been greeted by the German people, and it’s no different today, although I’m particularly impressed with the warmth of the weather here in Berlin.

And I’m also very grateful for Chancellor Merkel’s invitation, 50 years after the visit of President Kennedy.

The Chancellor and I are just back from the G8 summit, just one of the latest meetings that we’ve had together.  During my time in the White House, I’ve had the privilege of working with Angela on a whole host of issues.  The last time she was at the White House I had the privilege of presenting her with the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor that a President can bestow.  And that speaks to the closeness of our relationship, the strength of our alliance.

I know that here in Germany, sometimes there’s been talk that the Transatlantic Alliance has been — is fading in importance; that the United States has turned its attention more towards Asia and the Pacific.  And in both conversations with Chancellor Merkel and earlier with your President, I reminded them that from our perspective, the relationship with Europe remains the cornerstone of our freedom and our security; that Europe is our partner in almost everything that we do; and that although the nature of the challenges we face have changed, the strength of our relationships, the enduring bonds based on common values and common ideals very much remains.

We began today talking about economic issues, following up on the discussions that we had at the G8 summit.  Overall, Germany is our largest trading partner in the EU, so we’ve got a profound stake in each other’s success.  We agreed that there’s more work to do.  Not only do we have to grow, but we also have to reform our economies structurally.

And when you look within Europe, obviously different countries are at different stages in that reform and restructuring process.  We’re going through our own need to reform, for example, our health care system, which is much more expensive than most of the developed world and largely accounts for our deficits and our debt.  The good news is, though, that we have gone through the worst recession in years and we are poised to come back stronger if we take advantage of these opportunities.

One of the opportunities that we spoke about, obviously, was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP.  The U.S.-EU relationship is already the largest in the world economically.  Thirteen million Americans and Europeans have jobs that are directly supported by mutual trade and investment.  And the Chancellor and I share the conviction that if we are successful in these negotiations, we can grow economies on both sides of the Atlantic, create jobs, improve efficiency, improve productivity and our competitiveness around the world.  And by doing so, we’re also raising standards for free trade around the world that will not just benefit us but benefit everyone.

When it comes to our security, the United States and Germany are more than just NATO allies.  More American personnel are stationed in Germany than any other country outside of the U.S.  We are extraordinarily grateful for the hospitality of the German people.  One of the last times I was in Germany I had a chance to visit our facility where everyone who’s injured in the battlefield comes through, and to see the dedication, but also the hospitality that Germans are providing for our young men and women when they’ve been grievously injured I think is a strong symbol of how much this means to us.

Our men and women have been serving side-by-side in Afghanistan.  Germany is the third-largest troop-contributing nation there.  We’re both grateful for the sacrifices that our servicemen and women and their families have made in this common effort.  And because of those efforts, Afghanistan now has the opportunity to secure itself and determine its own destiny.

We welcome President Karzai’s announcement yesterday that Afghan forces will soon take the lead for security across the country, which is an important milestone — one that we established in our NATO summit.  Even as we wind down the war responsibly and NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan comes to an end, we’re going to have to continue to invest in the shared capabilities and interoperability painstakingly built by the tremendous sacrifices of our troops.  And I appreciate Germany’s interest in making sure that even after our troops are no longer involved in combat operations that we can continue to see progress in Afghanistan.

And many of you noted that yesterday there was an announcement about the Taliban opening an office for purpose of negotiations in Qatar.  I said yesterday, this is going to be a difficult process.  The parties there have been fighting for a very long time, even before 9/11, and we don’t expect that it will be easy, but we do think ultimately we’re going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans about how they can move forward and end the cycle of violence there so that they can start actually building their country.

We also discussed the other challenges in the region, including Syria.  We are united to see a negotiated political settlement to that conflict.  We want to see a Syria that’s unified, democratic, and at peace.  Right now, we need to see an end to the bloodshed, and we have to make sure that chemical weapons are not used on the ground.  I thought we saw some progress at the G8 in reaffirming the need for a transitional governing process and a U.N. investigation of the potential use of chemical weapons there.

I thanked the Chancellor for Germany’s unwavering support of the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and I briefed her on my Secretary of State, John Kerry’s efforts to find common ground there.

And finally, I want to thank Chancellor Merkel’s not only generous invitation but also the humbling privilege that I’ll have to address the people of Berlin from Pariser Platz on the Eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — the other side of the wall that once stood there, the wall that President Reagan insisted be torn down.  A quarter century since then has been one of extraordinary progress.  We can witness this in the incredible vibrancy and prosperity of Berlin.  But one of the things I’ll address today is the fact that given the extraordinary blessings that we enjoy as Americans and as Germans, we have an obligation to make sure that walls around the world are torn down.  And we can only accomplish that together.

So I’m grateful for our alliance.  I’m grateful for our friendship.  And I’m looking forward for an opportunity to answer some questions.

Am I starting off?

MR. CARNEY:  From the American press, Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

Q    Mr. President, I wanted to follow up on your comments about the Taliban talks.  When you announced those talks yesterday, you praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai as being courageous for being willing to take that step.  Yet, today, Karzai says that he is suspending talks with the U.S. in response to the Taliban negotiations.  How is it possible for you and President Karzai to be on such different pages about this key decision?  And is Karzai saying different things to you privately than he is publicly today?

And, Chancellor Merkel, you mentioned that PRISM came up in your discussions today with President Obama.  Are you more reassured now about the scope of those programs following the discussions?  And did President Obama give you any reassurances that the programs don’t violate German privacy rights?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We had extensive conversations with President Karzai both before and after the Taliban opened the office in Doha.  As I think has been reported, there were some concerns about the manner in which the Taliban opened it, some of the language that they used.

We had anticipated that at the outset, there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground.  That’s not surprising.  As I said, they’ve been fighting for a very long time.  There’s enormous mistrust.  Not only have the Taliban and the Afghan government been fighting for a long time, they’re fighting as we speak.  We’re in the middle of a war.  And Afghans are still being killed and, by the way, members of the international forces there are still being killed.  And that’s not abating as we speak.

But what we also believe is that alongside the process in which we are training, equipping a Afghan government that can be responsible for its own security — even as we go through some, frankly, difficult negotiations around what it would mean for the international community to have an ongoing training and advising presence after 2014, we still believe that you’ve got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of some sort of political reconciliation.

Whether that bears fruit, whether it actually happens, or whether, post-2014, there’s going to continue to be fighting, as there was before ISAF forces got into Afghanistan, that’s a question that only the Afghans can answer.  But I think that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation.  The challenge is how do you get those things started while you’re also at war.  And my hope is, and expectation is, is that despite those challenges, the process will proceed.

Chancellor Merkel, if you don’t mind, even though the question was directed at you, I think it would appropriate for me to go ahead and talk about the NSA issue, which obviously caused controversy back home, but also here in Europe.  And then, obviously, Chancellor Merkel will have her own views on this.

What I explained to Chancellor Merkel is, is that I came into office committed to protecting the American people, but also committed to our values and our ideals.  And one of our highest ideals is civil liberties and privacy.  And I was a critic of the previous administration for those occasions in which I felt they had violated our values, and I came in with a healthy skepticism about how our various programs were structured.  But what I have been able to do is examine and scrub how our intelligence services are operating, and I’m confident that at this point, we have struck the appropriate balance.

Now, let me be very specific in terms of — and this is what I described to Chancellor Merkel — what these programs are that have caused so much controversy.

Essentially, one program allows us to take a phone number that has been discovered separately through some lead that is typical of what our intelligence services do — but we get a phone number.  And what we try to discover is, has anybody else been called from that phone.  And we have both data that allows us to just check on phone numbers and nothing else — no content; nobody is listening in on a conversation at that point.  It’s just determining whether or not if, for example, we found a phone number in Osama bin Laden’s compound after the raid, had he called anybody in New York or Berlin or anyplace else.

If, in fact, we discover that another call has been made, at that point, in order to listen to any phone call, we would have to then go to a judge and seek information through a process that is court-supervised.  And this entire thing has been set up under the supervision of a federal court judge.

When it comes to the Internet and email, as Chancellor Merkel said, we’re now in an Internet age and we have to make sure that our administrative rules and our protections catch up with this new cyber world.  What I can say to everybody in Germany and everybody around the world is this applies very narrowly to leads that we have obtained on issues related to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

So there are a few narrow categories.  We get very specific leads.  And based on those leads, again, with court supervision and oversight, we are able then to access information.

This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else.  This is not a situation where we simply go into the Internet and start searching any way that we want.  This is a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people.  And all of it is done under the oversight of the courts.

And as a consequence, we’ve saved lives.  We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany.  So lives have been saved.  And the encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process to relate to these particular categories.
Having said all that, what I’ve said in the United States is what I shared with Chancellor Merkel, and that is that we do have to strike a balance and we do have to be cautious about how our governments are operating when it comes to intelligence.  And so this is a debate that I welcome.

What we’re going to be doing when I get back home is trying to find ways to declassify further some of these programs without completely compromising their effectiveness, sharing that information with the public, and also our intelligence teams are directed to work very closely with our German intelligence counterparts so that they have clarity and assurance that they’re not being abused.

But I think one of the things that separates us from some other governments is that we welcome these debates.  That’s what a democracy is about.  And I’m confident that we can strike this right balance, keep our people safe, but also preserve our civil liberties even in this Internet age.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  For the German people, I can only say the following.  It’s important, it’s necessary for us to debate these issues.  People have concerns, precisely concerns that there may be some kind of blanket, across-the-board gathering of information.  We talked about this.  The questions that we have not yet perhaps satisfactorily addressed we will address later on.

But there needs to be a balance; there needs to be proportionality, obviously, between upholding security and safety of our people and our country — and there are quite a lot of instances where we were getting very important information from the United States, for example, the so-called Sauerland Group.  And at the same time, obviously people want to use those new, modern means of communication and technology and do so freely.  And as we learn to live and deal responsibly with other new means of technology, we have to learn and deal responsibly with this one.

And I think today was an important first step in the right direction, and I think it has brought us forward.

Q    Madam Chancellor, Mr. President.  First, a question addressed to you, Mr. President.  There were a number of hopes in the world that were in a way shattered as regards your legislative term — for example, closing down of Guantanamo, or scrapping the death penalty throughout the whole of the United States, in all of the States.  And now, as regards Asia, are you singling out Germany because there’s a big risk here?

And, Madam Chancellor, the Nobel Prize winner, Obama is waging a drone war also via Germany.  And is he allowed to do that, according to German law?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me see if I understood your question properly.  The first question was related to policies back home, related to Guantanamo or the death penalty.  And then you wanted to talk about drones, or did you just want to focus on the drone question?  I just want to make sure that I’m responsive to your question.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  I guess I ought to answer on the drones.   And Guantanamo, that was a question I believe addressed to you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay.  Well, it continues to be my policy that I want to close Guantanamo.  It has been more difficult than I had hoped, in part because there’s been significant resistance from Congress on this, and on some issues I need congressional authorization.

But about a month ago I gave a speech in which I said that I would redouble my efforts to do so.  Because 9/11 happened, and we now have been involved in one form or another in a war for over a decade.  One war, I think, in Afghanistan was necessary.  One war I disagreed with strongly.  But in either case there are dangers if we get on a perpetual war footing.

The threat of terrorism remains real, and we have to be vigilant and we have to take steps to protect ourselves, consistent with our values and consistent with international law. But we also have to guard against being so driven by fear that we are not changing the fabric of our society in ways that we don’t intend and do not want for the future.  I think closing Guantanamo is an example of us getting out of that perpetual war mentality.

Some of the people at Guantanamo are dangerous.  Some of them did bad things.  But we cannot have a permanent outpost in which they’re being held even as we’re ending a war in Afghanistan that triggered some of these — the capture of some of these detainees in the first place.

So I’m confident that we can continue to make progress on this front, although, you’re right, it has not been as fast as I would have liked.  One of the things you discover as a politician is that people don’t always do exactly what you want.  It’s shocking.  And then you have to keep on working at it.

One thing with respect to drone policy — in that speech that I gave I also addressed that issue of the lethal targeting of identified terrorists.  This also is a source of controversy. We have constrained it tightly, and as we defeat al Qaeda, we have to, I think, very carefully examine how these technologies are used.  I can say, though, that we do not use Germany as a launching point for unmanned drones to go after counter — as part of our counterterrorism activities.  And so I know that there have been some reports here in Germany that that might be the case.  That is not.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Let me complement by saying that the United States of America have bases here, they have soldiers here.  They fulfill a very important function, particularly in the fight against terrorism.  I think of Ramstein, for example — and also supplies to soldiers, but also caring for wounded soldiers.

We as allies, as members of NATO, stand shoulder-to-shoulder here.  And we provide bases for activities, and our work is based, also, on shared values.  As I said, we have exchanges on values.  And I think it’s good.  I think it’s the right thing to do for the United States of America to be present here with military bases in Germany.  It’s a normal thing within an alliance, and this is as it should be and as it will be, and continue to be.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. President, on Syria, for the purposes of transparency, can you be specific about what military arms the United States will be providing to Syrian rebels and about which groups will be receiving them?  And on the same subject, President Putin appeared resolute and isolated on Syria at the G8.  How can a political process succeed in bringing peace if Russia continues to support Assad, both militarily and politically?

Madam Chancellor, if I may in German, the federal government has always argued along the lines that weapons, exports and deliveries of supplies would always lead to an escalation because they could land in the hands of terrorists.  Don’t you think that the situation is going to be exacerbated if America supplies it? Perhaps you would also comment on Mr. Putin.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, first of all, Jeff, I’m very impressed with your German.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t know if you had to practice, but you sounded great.  Chancellor Merkel said you were just okay.  (Laughter.)

I cannot and will not comment on specifics around our programs related to the Syrian opposition.  What I can say is that we have had a steady, consistent policy, which is, we want a Syria that is peaceful, non-sectarian, democratic, legitimate, tolerant.  And that is our overriding goal.  We want to end the bloodshed.  We want to make sure that chemical weapons are not used, and that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of people who would be willing to use them.  And so we’ve had a consistent view in our desired outcome in Syria.

It’s also been our view that the best way to get there is through a political transition.  And we said that a year ago; we said that two years ago.  President Assad made a different decision and has brought chaos and bloodshed to his country and has been killing his own people.  And it is our view that it is not possible for him to regain legitimacy after over 100,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced inside the country.

So the question now is just, as a practical matter — and this is what I said to President Putin — as a practical matter, if, in fact, Syria is to remain a unified country and the bloodshed is going to end, how do we do that?  The only way to do that is through some sort of political transition process.

And the good news out of the G8 meeting was — is that you saw all the countries, including Russia, reaffirming the communiqué coming out of the first Geneva talks that said we need to create a transitional governing body with full powers.

The second good thing that came out of the G8 discussions was that all of us, including Russia, said we have to investigate use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, and all the parties including the government of Bashar al-Assad have to cooperate with that investigation.

We’re confident that, in fact, the government has used chemical weapons.  The Russians are skeptical.  We said, fine, let’s have the United Nations get in there but do a serious investigation of it — because we don’t want anybody using chemical weapons.

Now, the issue for us is how can we continue to support a political opposition and a military opposition that becomes more capable, becomes more unified, that isolates extremists who have incorporated themselves into the opposition forces inside of Syria, so that if, in fact, and when we get a political transition, there’s somebody there who can take over and function in governing and lead to a better future for all Syrians.

That’s a difficult process.  It’s not one that’s happening overnight.  But all the assistance that we are providing both to the political and military opposition is designed for that purpose.

Some of the stories that have been out there publicly have, I think, gotten a little over-cranked in terms of the idea that somehow the United States is preparing to go all in and participate in another war.  What we want to do is end a war.  But the only way it’s going to end is if, in fact, we have the kind of transition that I described.

And although, you’re right, that at this point President Putin believes that what would replace Assad would be worse than Assad himself, what I think will become more and more apparent over the coming weeks and months is that without a different government you can’t bring peace and, in fact, you’re going to see sectarian divisions get worse and worse, and start spilling over into the other parts of the region, and that would be good for nobody.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  On the issue of arms supplies, Germany has very clear, strict rules on this, legal rules, according to which we are not allowed to supply arms into areas where there is civil strife.  And that is not specifically designed for the Syrian question; it is a general rule.

But that does not mean that we do not wish, and can play, a constructive role as regards the political processes — for example, as regards humanitarian assistance; as regards also the debate on which is the right way to go about this.  How can we strengthen the opposition, those forces that work in the best interest of the people in Syria, on the ground?  And the situation is somewhat vague as regards the members of the opposition and quite different.

It is our task also, as we see it, that those who wish for a good future for Syria who are not linked with terrorists get a chance to achieve full legitimacy — because Germany, too, is of the opinion that Assad has certainly lost that legitimacy.

The Russian President, as I understand him, says not so clearly what I said just now, that the Syrian President namely has lost his legitimacy.  But we have found common language in the sense that we wish to work for a transition government.  And the question also has to be asked, what is going to come after that? And that is a question we need to address, and we did so.  And in the language of the communiqué of the G8 it says, we, all of us, reject terrorist forces in Syria because they would, again, exacerbate the suffering of the people there.

Now we have to see to it that, step by step, all of these different strands are brought together because, unfortunately, as yet, there is no common U.N. position because Russia so far was not on the side of the others.  But we must leave no stone unturned in trying, as we did during the G8, to find a common basis on which we can also speak with Russia.

And there are certain areas where we obviously differ, but our political responsibility is to, time and again, seek to bring this matter forward in the right direction.  And since the situation — if we look to Jordan, if we look to other countries in the vicinity — becomes more and more unstable, what with the flow of refugees and all, I think it’s worth every effort to try, all of us to try to do something, based on the language of the communiqué of yesterday, to do something in the interest of the people in Syria.

Q    Mr. President, in the past, there were some different points of view about the best way out of the global financial crisis.  Chancellor Merkel stands for a policy of cutting back budgets to reach that of financial stability throughout the eurozone to win back trust of the markets.  Did you talk about this issue?  And what’s your position on that?

And, Madam Chancellor, same question addressed to you — has there been a discussion on the eurozone, and do you wish to abide by the policy, in view of the problems that the countries in the south have?

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Maybe I will just start with something because your question insinuates something that we don’t want.  We want prosperity.  We want competitiveness.  We want economic strength in order to bring about reduction of unemployment.

We talked about this at some length.  And I also said Germany in the long run will only be able to live well if Europe as a whole is doing well.  So it would be a very wrong tack for our policy to take if we were pursuing a kind of policy where we weaken those countries into which we, after all, wish to export our goods.  I think the world is changing, however, and Europe is not competitive enough in all areas.  And budget consolidation is one piece of the mosaic.  Structural reforms have to come into this.

And the Italian Prime Minister addressed this issue at some length during the G8.  What does this mean for young people?  What does it mean for jobs for young people?

But still the task is, if 90 percent of growth globally is generated outside of Europe, than we need to produce goods that are so competitive — as competitive for other markets to actually buy them.  And this is something that we need to undergo.  We need to draw down red tape, bureaucracy.  We need to be more open for research and development.  We need to have structural reforms.  We need to have, for example, affordable energy.  If I look at the energy price development in the United States, all of this needs to be done.  And part and parcel with that also is, particularly in a continent that is growing ever older, that we are able to reduce our budget deficits so that we don’t leave at the expense of future generations.

That is what this is all about.  This is what I am fervently asking for and working for.  Europe can only help that is strong. And so a future without Europe is something that I cannot envisage for Germany.  It’s two sides of one and the same coin.  On the one hand, Germany needs and wants to be competitive, and we also want others to be competitive and improve their competiveness.  And we all belong together.  This is why we showed solidarity time again, and this is, too, something that we addressed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, as Angela said, all of us want the same thing.  We want to have an economy that is growing, where people, if they’re willing to work hard, are able to succeed, and can find jobs that pay a living wage, and can retire with some dignity, and can send their children to good schools, and have health care that is affordable.  And we have to do all those things in a way that’s fiscally prudent so that we’re not mortgaging our future or burdening our children and our grandchildren.

And I think all developing countries — or all more developed countries have been going through some of the same challenges.  And we just went through the worst recession in many years.

The good news is, is that we’ve seen some progress.  In the United States, we fixed our banks, which was the source initially, the trigger for some of these major problems.  So we have a much stronger banking system now, with much tighter supervision.  The housing market has begun to recover.  We’ve now grown for close to four years — three and a half years — and we’ve created 7 million new jobs.

But we still have some reforms that we have to do.  We’ve got to improve the skills of our workforce.  We’ve got to improve our infrastructure.  We have to continue to invest in research and development.  In all countries around the world, you’re seeing growing inequality, and so we have to find ways to make sure that ladders of opportunity exist for those at the bottom, and that profits and increased productivity all does not just benefit those at the top.

And so what’s true in the United States is also true in Europe.  Europe has different sets of problems.  Part of the challenge of the eurozone is that you have countries at different stages and levels of productivity and are further or less far along on this path of restructuring and reform.

So we’ve been discussing this — this has been a four-year conversation that we’ve been having, and I don’t think there’s a perfect recipe.  All of us have to make sure that our budgets are not out of control.  All of us have to undergo structural reforms to adapt to a new and highly competitive economy.  What’s true is, though, all of us also have to focus on growth, and we have to make sure that in pursuit of our longer-term policies, whether it’s fiscal consolidation or reforms of our overly rigid labor markets, or pension reforms, that we don’t lose sight of our main goal, which is to make lives of people better.

And if, for example, we start seeing youth unemployment go too high, then at some point we’ve got to modulate our approach to ensure that we don’t just lose a generation who may never recover in terms of their careers.  And that’s the struggle that I think all of us are going through.  That’s the discussion we had at the G8.  That’s a discussion that Angela and I had here today.

I’m confident that Germany will succeed in this process.  I’m confident that Chancellor Merkel cares about maintaining the eurozone and the European project.  And she, I think, is confident that the United States wants to do everything we can to get Europe through this difficult patch so that it can be a force for growth and prosperity well into the future.

Thank you very much, everybody.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Danke schön.

1:32 P.M. CEST

Full Text Obama Presidency May 16, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Rose Garden Press Conference Discussing the IRS & the Associated Press / Justice Department Scandals & Syria



Joint Press Conference by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey

Doug Mills/The New York Times
Political storm clouds gave way to a steady drizzle at a Rose Garden news conference Thursday.

Source: WH, 5-16-13

Rose Garden

12:48 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, before we get started let me just make sure that I’m a good host.  Mr. Prime Minister, do you want an umbrella?  (Laughter.)  Because we can arrange it if you need it.  You’re okay?  All right, this will be incentive for the press to ask concise questions and us to give concise answers.

I’m going to start with Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg.

Q    Unfortunately, we all forgot umbrellas.  Mr. President, I want to ask you about the IRS.  Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your Counsel’s Office found out on April 22nd?  And when they did find out, do you think that you should have learned about it before you learned about it from news reports as you said last Friday?  And also, are you opposed to there being a special council appointed to lead the Justice Department investigation?….

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, with respect to the IRS, I spoke to this yesterday.  My main concern is fixing a problem, and we began that process yesterday by asking and accepting the resignation of the Acting Director there.  We will be putting in new leadership that will be able to make sure that — following up on the IG audit — that we gather up all the facts, that we hold accountable those who have taken these outrageous actions.  As I said last night, it is just simply unacceptable for there to even be a hint of partisanship or ideology when it comes to the application of our tax laws.

I am going to go ahead and ask folks — why don’t we get a couple of Marines, they’re going to look good next to us — (laughter) — just because I’ve got a change of suits — (laughter) — but I don’t know about our Prime Minister.  There we go.  That’s good.  You guys I’m sorry about.  (Laughter.)

But let me make sure that I answer your specific question.  I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press. Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared.  They tend to be a process that everybody is trying to protect the integrity of.  But what I’m absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that IG report are unacceptable.

So in addition to making sure that we’ve got a new acting director there, we’re also going to make sure that we gather up the facts, and hold accountable and responsible anybody who was involved in this.  We’re going to make sure that we identify any structural or management issues to prevent something like this from happening again.  We’re going to make sure that we are accepting all of the recommendations that the IG has in the report.

And I’m looking forward to working with Congress to fully investigate what happened, make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and also look at some of the laws that create a bunch of ambiguity in which the IRS may not have enough guidance and not be clear about what exactly they need to be doing and doing it right, so that the American people have confidence that the tax laws are being applied fairly and evenly.

So in terms of the White House and reporting, I think that you’ve gotten that information from Mr. Carney and others.  I promise you this — that the minute I found out about it, then my main focus is making sure we get the thing fixed.  I think that it’s going to be sufficient for us to be working with Congress.  They’ve got a whole bunch of committees.  We’ve got IGs already there.

The IG has done an audit; it’s now my understanding they’re going to be recommending an investigation.  And Attorney General Holder also announced a criminal investigation of what happened. Between those investigations, I think we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it.

And that, ultimately, is the main priority that I have, but also I think the American people have.  They understand that we’ve got an agency that has enormous potential power and is involved in everybody’s lives.  And that’s part of the reason why it’s been treated as a quasi-independent institution.  But that’s also why we’ve got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously and without even a hint of bias, or a hint that somehow they’re favoring one group over another.

And, as I said yesterday, I’m outraged by this in part because, look, I’m a public figure — if a future administration is starting to use the tax laws to favor one party over another or one political view over another, obviously we’re all vulnerable.  And that’s why, as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you should be equally outraged at even the prospect that the IRS might not be acting with the kind of complete neutrality that we expect.

And I think we’re going to be able to fix it.  We’re going to be able to get it done, and we’ve already begun that progress and we’re going to keep on going until it’s finished.

Jeff Mason.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’d like to ask you about the Justice Department.  Do you believe that the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists this week — or before that was announced recently this week was an overreach?  And do you still have full confidence in your Attorney General?  Should we interpret yesterday’s renewed interest by the White House in a media shield law as a response to that?  And, more broadly, how do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week’s scandals to those that happened under the Nixon administration?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons and you can go ahead and read the history I think and draw your own conclusions.

My concern is making sure that if there’s a problem in the government that we fix it.  That’s my responsibility, and that’s what we’re going to do.  That’s true with respect to the IRS and making sure that they apply the laws the way they were intended. That’s true with respect to the security of our diplomats, which is why we’re going to need to work with Congress to make sure that there’s adequate funding for what’s necessary out there.

Now, with respect to the Department of Justice, I’m not going to comment on a specific and pending case.  But I can talk broadly about the balance that we have to strike.  Leaks related to national security can put people at risk.  They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk.

U.S. national security is dependent on those folks being able to operate with confidence that folks back home have their backs, so they’re not just left out there high and dry, and potentially put in even more danger than they may already be.  And so I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as Commander-in-Chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

Now, the flip side of it is we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression, and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function.  And the whole reason I got involved in politics is because I believe so deeply in that democracy and that process.

So the whole goal of this media shield law — that was worked on and largely endorsed by folks like The Washington Post Editorial Page and by prosecutors — was finding a way to strike that balance appropriately.  And to the extent that this case, which we still don’t know all the details of — to the extent that this case has prompted renewed interest about how do we strike that balance properly, then I think now is the time for us to go ahead and revisit that legislation.  I think that’s a worthy conversation to have, and I think that’s important.

But I also think it’s important to recognize that when we express concern about leaks at a time when I’ve still got 60,000-plus troops in Afghanistan, and I’ve still got a whole bunch of intelligence officers around the world who are in risky situations — in outposts that, in some cases, are as dangerous as the outpost in Benghazi — that part of my job is to make sure that we’re protecting what they do, while still accommodating for the need for information — or the need for the public to be informed and be able to hold my office accountable.

Q    I asked about Holder as well.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Prime Minister, just excuse me — you’re right, I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as Attorney General.  He’s an outstanding Attorney General and does his job with integrity, and I expect he will continue to do so.

Q    Mr. President, my first question is to you.  You mentioned that Assad should go, and the question is how and when. Is there a rough timetable?  And shall we be talking about the Syrian tragedy next year at this time?  What’s the idea?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We would have preferred Assad go two years ago; last year; six months ago; two months ago.  And there has been consistency on the part of my administration that Assad lost legitimacy when he started firing on his own people and killing his own people, who initially were protesting peacefully for a greater voice in their country’s affairs.  And obviously that’s escalated during the course of time.  So the answer is the sooner the better.

Now, in terms of the question how, I think we’ve already discussed that.  There’s no magic formula for dealing with a extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria’s.  If there was, I think the Prime Minister and I would have already acted on it and it would already be finished.

And instead, what we have to do is apply steady international pressure, strengthen the opposition.  I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results.  But in the meantime, we’re going to continue to make sure that we’re helping the opposition, and obviously dealing with the humanitarian situation.  And we’ll do so in close consultation with Turkey, which obviously is deeply invested in this and with whom we’ve got an outstanding relationship with.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  Thank you, guys.

1:26 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 13, 2013: President Barack Obama & United Kingdom Prime Minister Cameron’s Remarks at a Joint Press Conference



Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 5-13-13 

East Room

11:41 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good morning, everybody.  Please have a seat.  And to all our moms out there, I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day.

It’s always a great pleasure to welcome my friend and partner, Prime Minister David Cameron.  Michelle and I have wonderful memories from when David and Samantha visited us last year.  There was a lot of attention about how I took David to March Madness — we went to Ohio.  And a year later, we have to confess that David still does not understand basketball — I still do not understand cricket.

As we’ve said before, the great alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom is rooted in shared interests and shared values, and it’s indispensable to global security and prosperity.  But as we’ve seen again recently, it’s also a partnership of the heart.  Here in the United States, we joined our British friends in mourning the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, a great champion of freedom and liberty and of the alliance that we carry on today.  And after the bombings in Boston, we Americans were grateful for the support of friends from around the world, particularly those across the Atlantic.  At the London Marathon, runners paused in a moment of silence and dedicated their race to Boston.  And David will be visiting Boston to pay tribute to the victims and first responders.

So, David, I want to thank you and the British people for reminding us that in good times and in bad, our two peoples stand as one.

David is here, first and foremost, as he prepares to host the G8 next month.  I appreciate him updating me on the agenda as it takes shape, and we discussed how the summit will be another opportunity to sustain the global economic recovery with a focus on growth and creating jobs for our people.  Michelle and I are looking forward to visiting Northern Ireland, and I know that the summit is going to be a great success under David’s fine leadership.

We discussed the importance of moving ahead with the EU towards negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  Our extensive trade with the U.K. is central to our broader transatlantic economic relationship, which supports more than 13 million jobs.  And I want to thank David for his strong support for building on those ties, and I look forward to launching negotiations with the EU in the coming months.  I believe we’ve got a real opportunity to cut tariffs, open markets, create jobs, and make all of our economies even more competitive.
With regard to global security, we reviewed progress in Afghanistan, where our troops continue to serve with extraordinary courage alongside each other.  And I want to commend David for his efforts to encourage greater dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is critical to regional security.

As planned, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the country soon — this spring.  U.S., British and coalition forces will move into a support role.  Our troops will continue to come home, and the war will end by the end of next year, even as we work with our Afghan partners to make sure that Afghanistan is never again a haven for terrorists who would attack our nations.

Given our shared commitment to Middle East peace, I updated David on Secretary Kerry’s efforts with Israelis and Palestinians and the importance of moving towards negotiations.  And we reaffirmed our support for democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa, including the economic reforms that have to go along with political reforms.

Of course, we discussed Syria and the appalling violence being inflicted on the Syrian people.  Together, we’re going to continue our efforts to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to provide humanitarian aid to the long-suffering Syrian people, to strengthen the moderate opposition, and to prepare for a democratic Syria without Bashar Assad.

And that includes bringing together representatives of the regime and the opposition in Geneva in the coming weeks to agree on a transitional body which would allow a transfer of power from Assad to this governing body.  Meanwhile, we’ll continue to work to establish the facts around the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and those facts will help guide our next steps.

We discussed Iran, where we agreed to keep up the pressure on Tehran for its continued failure to abide by its nuclear obligations.  The burden is on Iran to engage constructively with us and our P5-plus-1 partners in order to resolve the world’s concerns about its nuclear program.

And, finally, today we’re reaffirming our commitment to global development.  Specifically, we’re encouraged by the ambitious reforms underway at the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, where both of our nations are stepping up our efforts.  And David has made it clear that the G8 Summit will be another opportunity to make progress on nutrition and food security.

So, David, thank you very much, as always, for your leadership and your partnership.  As we prepare for our work in Northern Ireland, as we consider the challenges we face around the world, it’s clear we face a demanding agenda.  But if the history of our people show anything, it is that we persevere.  As one of those London runners said at the marathon — we’re going to keep running, and we’re going to keep on doing this.  And that’s the spirit of confidence and resolve that we will continue to draw upon as we work together to meet these challenges.

So, David, thank you very much.  And welcome.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Thank you very much, Barack.  And thank you for the warm welcome.  It’s great to be back here with you in the White House.  Thank you for what you said about Margaret Thatcher.  It was a pleasure to welcome so many Americans to her remarkable funeral in the U.K.

I absolutely echo what you said about the appalling outrage in Boston.  I look forward to going there to pay my tribute to the people of that remarkable city and their courage, and we will always stand with you in the fight against terrorism.

Thank you for the remarks about the cricket and the basketball.  I haven’t made much progress — I made a bit of progress on baseball; I actually read a book about it this year, so maybe next time we’ll get to work on that one.

It’s good to be back for the first time since the American people returned you to office.  And as you said, the relationship between Britain and the United States is a partnership without parallel.  Day in, day out across the world, our diplomats and intelligence agencies work together, our soldiers serve together, and our businesses trade with each other.

In Afghanistan, our armed forces are together defending the stability that will make us all safer.  And in the global economic race, our businesses are doing more than $17 billion of trade across the Atlantic every month of every year.  And in a changing world, our nations share a resolve to stand up for democracy, for enterprise and for freedom.

We’ve discussed many issues today, as the President has said.  Let me highlight three:  the economy, the G8, and Syria.

Our greatest challenge is to secure a sustainable economic recovery.  Each of us has to find the right solutions at home.  For all of us, it means dealing with debt, it means restoring stability, getting our economy growing, and together seizing new opportunities to grow our economies.

President Obama and I have both championed a free trade deal between the European Union and the United States.  And there is a real chance now to get the process launched in time for the G8.  So the next five weeks are crucial.  To realize the huge benefits this deal could bring will take ambition and political will — that means everything on the table, even the difficult issues, and no exceptions.  It’s worth the effort.  For Britain alone, an ambitious deal could be worth up to 10 billion pounds a year, boosting industries from car manufacturing to financial services.
We discussed the G8 Summit in some detail.  When we meet on the shores of Loch Erne in Northern Ireland five weeks from today, I want us to agree ambitious action for economic growth.  Open trade is at the heart of this, but we have a broader agenda, too — to make sure everyone shares in the benefits of this greater openness, not just in our advanced economies but in the developing world, too.  I’m an unashamedly pro-business politician, but as we open up our economies to get business growing, we need to make sure that all companies pay their taxes properly and enable citizens to hold their governments and businesses to account.

Today we’ve agreed to tackle the scourge of tax evasion.  We need to know who really owns a company, who profits from it, whether taxes are paid.  And we need a new mechanism to track where multinationals make their money and where they pay their taxes so we can stop those that are manipulating the system unfairly.

Finally, we discussed the brutal conflict in Syria — 80,000 dead; 5 million people forced from their homes.  Syria’s history is being written in the blood of her people, and it is happening on our watch.  The world urgently needs to come together to bring the killing to an end.  None of us have any interest in seeing more lives lost, in seeing chemical weapons used, or extremist violence spreading even further.

So we welcome President Putin’s agreement to join an effort to achieve a political solution.  The challenges remain formidable, but we have an urgent window of opportunity before the worst fears are realized.  There is no more urgent international task than this.  We need to get Syrians to the table to agree a transitional government that can win the consent of all of the Syrian people.  But there will be no political progress unless the opposition is able to withstand the onslaught, and put pressure on Assad so he knows there is no military victory.  So we will also increase our efforts to support and to shape the moderate opposition.

Britain is pushing for more flexibility in the EU arms embargo and we will double nonlethal support to the Syrian opposition in the coming year.  Armored vehicles, body armor, and power generators are route to be shipped.  We’re helping local councils govern the areas that they liberate, and we’re supporting Lebanon and Jordan to deal with the influx of refugees.  We’ll also do more for those in desperate humanitarian need — care for trauma injuries; helping torture victims to recover; getting Syrian families drinking clean water; having access to food, to shelter.

There is now, I believe, common ground between the U.S., U.K., Russia, and many others that whatever our differences, we have the same aim — a stable, inclusive, and peaceful Syria, free from the scourge of extremism.  There is real political will behind this.  We now need to get on and do everything we can to make it happen.

Barack, thank you once again for your warm welcome and for our talks today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  All right, we’ve got time for a couple of questions.  We’re going to start with Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about the IRS and Benghazi.  When did you first learn that the IRS was targeting conservative political groups?  Do you feel that the IRS has betrayed the public’s trust?  And what do you think the repercussions for these actions should be?  And on Benghazi, newly public emails show that the White House and the State Department appear to have been more closely involved with the crafting of the talking points on the attack than first acknowledged.  Do you think the White House misled the public about its role in shaping the talking points?  And do you stand by your administration’s assertions that the talking points were not purposely changed to downplay the prospects of terrorism?  And, Prime Minister Cameron, on Syria, if the EU arms embargo that you mentioned is amended or lapses, is it your intention to send the Syrian opposition forces weapons?  And are you encouraging President Obama to take the same step?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me take the IRS situation first.  I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.  I think it was on Friday.  And this is pretty straightforward.

If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.  And they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.

And you should feel that way regardless of party.  I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, independent or a Republican.  At some point, there are going to be Republican administrations.  At some point, there are going to be Democratic ones.  Either way, you don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate.  So this is something that I think people are properly concerned about.

The IG is conducting its investigation.  And I am not going to comment on their specific findings prematurely, but I can tell you that if you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.  And people have to be held accountable, and it’s got to be fixed.  So we’ll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are.  But I’ve got no patience with it.  I will not tolerate it.  And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

With respect to Benghazi, we’ve now seen this argument that’s been made by some folks primarily up on Capitol Hill for months now.  And I’ve just got to say — here’s what we know.  Americans died in Benghazi.  What we also know is clearly they were not in a position where they were adequately protected.  The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.  And what I pledged to the American people was that we would find out what happened, we would make sure that it did not happen again, and we would make sure that we held accountable those who had perpetrated this terrible crime.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  And over the last several months, there was a review board headed by two distinguished Americans — Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering — who investigated every element of this.  And what they discovered was some pretty harsh judgments in terms of how we had worked to protect consulates and embassies around the world.  They gave us a whole series of recommendations.  Those recommendations are being implemented as we speak.

The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.  What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.  It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film.  And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.

And the emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees.  They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.  And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story.  There’s no “there” there.

Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing.  And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.

So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that, in fact, has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya.

Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days?  So the whole thing defies logic.  And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.  We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity.  It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks.  They’ve used it for fundraising.

And frankly, if anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this does not happen again, I am happy to get their advice and information and counsel.  But the fact of the matter is these four Americans, as I said right when it happened, were people I sent into the field, and I’ve been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths.  And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations.  And we don’t have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington.  We should be focused on what are we doing to protect them.

And that’s not easy, by the way.  And it’s going to require resources and tough judgments and tough calls.  And there are a whole bunch of diplomats out there who know that they’re in harm’s way.  And there are threat streams that come through every so often, with respect to our embassies and our consulates — and that’s not just us, by the way; the British have to deal with the same thing.

And we’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, you know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.

And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.  What happened was tragic.  It was carried out by extremists inside of Libya.  We are out there trying to hunt down the folks who carried this out, and we are trying to make sure that we fix the system so that it doesn’t happen again.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Thank you.  On the issue of the opposition in Syria, we have not made the decision to arm opposition groups in Syria.  What we’ve done is we have amended the EU arms embargo in order that we can give technical assistance and technical advice.  And as I said in my statement, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We’re continuing to examine and look at the EU arms embargo and see whether we need to make further changes to it in order to facilitate our work with the opposition.  I do believe that there’s more we can do, alongside technical advice, assistance, help, in order to shape them, in order to work with them.  And to those who doubt that approach, I would just argue that, look, if we don’t help the Syrian opposition — who we do recognize as being legitimate, who have signed up to a statement about a future for Syria that is democratic, that respects the rights of minorities — if we don’t work with that part of the opposition, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the extremist elements grow.

So I think being engaged with the Syrian opposition is the right approach, and that is an approach I know I share with the President and with other colleagues in the European Union.

James Landale from the BBC.

Q    James Landale, BBC.  Prime Minister, you’re talking here today about a new EU-U.S. trade deal, and yet members of your party are now talking about leaving the European Union.  What is your message to them and to those pushing for an early referendum?  And if there were a referendum tomorrow, how would you vote?

And, Mr. President, earlier this year you told David Cameron that you wanted a strong U.K. in a strong EU.  How concerned are you that members of David Cameron’s Cabinet are now openly contemplating withdrawal?

And on Syria, if I may, a question to both of you:  What gives you any confidence that the Russians are going to help you on this?

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Well, first of all, on the issue of a referendum, look, there’s not going to be a referendum tomorrow.  And there’s a very good reason why there’s not going to be a referendum tomorrow — is because it would give the British public I think an entirely false choice between the status quo — which I don’t think is acceptable.  I want to see the European Union change.  I want to see Britain’s relationship with the European [Union] change and improve.  So it would be a false choice between the status quo and leaving.  And I don’t think that is the choice the British public want or the British public deserve.

Everything I do in this area is guided by a very simple principle, which is what is in the national interest of Britain. Is it in the national interest of Britain to have a transatlantic trade deal that will make our countries more prosperous; that will get people to work; that will help our businesses?  Yes, it is.  And so we will push for this transatlantic trade deal.

Is it in our interests to reform the European Union to make it more open, more competitive, more flexible, and to improve Britain’s place within the European Union?  Yes, it is in our national interest.  And it’s not only in our national interest, it is achievable, because Europe has to change because the single currency is driving change for that part of the European Union that is in the single currency.  And just as they want changes, so I believe Britain is quite entitled to ask for and to get changes in response.

And then finally, is it in Britain’s national interest, once we have achieved those changes but before the end of 2017, to consult the British public in a proper, full-on, in/out referendum?  Yes, I believe it is.  So that’s the approach that we take — everything driven by what is in the British national interest.

That is what I’m going to deliver.  It’s absolutely right for our country.  It has very strong support throughout the country and in the Conservative Party, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

On the Syrian issue, you asked the question — what are the signs of Russian engagement.  Well, I had very good talks with President Putin in Sochi on Friday.  And, look, we had a very frank conversation in that we have approached this — and in some extent, still do approach this — in a different way.  I have been very vocal in supporting the Syrian opposition and saying that Assad has to go, that he is not legitimate, and I continue to say that.  And President Putin has taken a different point of view.

But where there is a common interest is that it is in both our interests that at the end of this there is a stable, democratic Syria, that there is a stable neighborhood, and that we don’t encourage the growth of violent extremism.  And I think both the Russian President, the American President, and myself — I think we can all see that the current trajectory of how things are going is not actually in anybody’s interest and so it is worth this major diplomatic effort, which we are all together leading this major diplomatic effort to bring the parties to the table to achieve a transition at the top in Syria so that we can make the change that country needs.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to the relationship between the U.K. and the EU, we have a special relationship with the United Kingdom.  And we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward-looking and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests as well as the world.  And I think the U.K.’s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world, as well as obviously a very important economic partnership.

Now, ultimately, the people of the U.K. have to make decisions for themselves.  I will say this — that David’s basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me.  And I know that David has been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU.  Those are tough negotiations.  You’ve got a lot of countries involved, I recognize that.  But so long as we haven’t yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be, I at least would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment.  Again, I want to emphasize these are issues for the people of the United Kingdom to make a decision about, not ours.

With respect to Syria, I think David said it very well.  If you look objectively, the entire world community has an interest in seeing a Syria that is not engaged in sectarian war, in which the Syrian people are not being slaughtered, that is an island of peace as opposed to potentially an outpost for extremists.  That’s not just true for the United States.  That’s not just true for Great Britain.  That’s not just true for countries like Jordan and Turkey that border Syria, but that’s also true for Russia.

And I’m pleased to hear that David had a very constructive conversation with President Putin shortly after the conversation that had taken place between John Kerry and President Putin.  I’ve spoken to President Putin several times on this topic.  And our basic argument is that as a leader on the world stage, Russia has an interest, as well as an obligation, to try to resolve this issue in a way that can lead to the kind of outcome that we’d all like to see over the long term.

And, look, I don’t think it’s any secret that there remains lingering suspicions between Russia and other members of the G8 or the West.  It’s been several decades now since Russia transformed itself and the Eastern Bloc transformed itself.  But some of those suspicions still exist.

And part of what my goal has been, John Kerry’s goal has been — and I know that David’s goal has been — to try to break down some of those suspicions and look objectively at the situation.

If, in fact, we can broker a peaceful political transition that leads to Assad’s departure but a state in Syria that is still intact; that accommodates the interests of all the ethnic groups, all the religious groups inside of Syria; and that ends the bloodshed, stabilizes the situation — that’s not just going to be good for us; that will be good for everybody.  And we’re going to be very persistent in trying to make that happen.

I’m not promising that it’s going to be successful.  Frankly, sometimes once sort of the Furies have been unleashed in a situation like we’re seeing in Syria, it’s very hard to put things back together.  And there are going to be enormous challenges in getting a credible process going even if Russia is involved, because we still have other countries like Iran and we have non-state actors like Hezbollah that have been actively involved.  And frankly, on the other side we’ve got organizations like al Nusra that are essentially affiliated to al Qaeda that have another agenda beyond just getting rid of Assad.

So all that makes a combustible mix and it’s going to be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.  And what we can tell you is that we’re always more successful in any global effort when we’ve got a strong friend and partner like Great Britain by our side and strong leadership by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Thank you very much, everybody.

12:11 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 13, 2013: President Barack Obama Addresses Benghazi Hearings & IRS Controversy at Press Conference



Obama Addresses Benghazi and I.R.S. Controversies

Source: NYT, 5-13-13

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The president said Republicans were dishonoring the four victims of the attacks in Benghazi last fall, but said he would not tolerate I.R.S. wrongdoing….READ MORE

Source: WH, 5-13-13

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  All right, we’ve got time for a couple of questions.  We’re going to start with Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about the IRS and Benghazi.  When did you first learn that the IRS was targeting conservative political groups?  Do you feel that the IRS has betrayed the public’s trust?  And what do you think the repercussions for these actions should be?  And on Benghazi, newly public emails show that the White House and the State Department appear to have been more closely involved with the crafting of the talking points on the attack than first acknowledged.  Do you think the White House misled the public about its role in shaping the talking points?  And do you stand by your administration’s assertions that the talking points were not purposely changed to downplay the prospects of terrorism?  And, Prime Minister Cameron, on Syria, if the EU arms embargo that you mentioned is amended or lapses, is it your intention to send the Syrian opposition forces weapons?  And are you encouraging President Obama to take the same step?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me take the IRS situation first.  I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.  I think it was on Friday.  And this is pretty straightforward.

If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.  And they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.

And you should feel that way regardless of party.  I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, independent or a Republican.  At some point, there are going to be Republican administrations.  At some point, there are going to be Democratic ones.  Either way, you don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate.  So this is something that I think people are properly concerned about.

The IG is conducting its investigation.  And I am not going to comment on their specific findings prematurely, but I can tell you that if you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.  And people have to be held accountable, and it’s got to be fixed.  So we’ll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are.  But I’ve got no patience with it.  I will not tolerate it.  And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

With respect to Benghazi, we’ve now seen this argument that’s been made by some folks primarily up on Capitol Hill for months now.  And I’ve just got to say — here’s what we know.  Americans died in Benghazi.  What we also know is clearly they were not in a position where they were adequately protected.  The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.  And what I pledged to the American people was that we would find out what happened, we would make sure that it did not happen again, and we would make sure that we held accountable those who had perpetrated this terrible crime.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  And over the last several months, there was a review board headed by two distinguished Americans — Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering — who investigated every element of this.  And what they discovered was some pretty harsh judgments in terms of how we had worked to protect consulates and embassies around the world.  They gave us a whole series of recommendations.  Those recommendations are being implemented as we speak.

The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.  What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.  It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film.  And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.

And the emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees.  They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.  And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story.  There’s no “there” there.

Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing.  And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.

So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that, in fact, has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya.

Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days?  So the whole thing defies logic.  And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.  We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity.  It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks.  They’ve used it for fundraising.

And frankly, if anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this does not happen again, I am happy to get their advice and information and counsel.  But the fact of the matter is these four Americans, as I said right when it happened, were people I sent into the field, and I’ve been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths.  And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations.  And we don’t have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington.  We should be focused on what are we doing to protect them.

And that’s not easy, by the way.  And it’s going to require resources and tough judgments and tough calls.  And there are a whole bunch of diplomats out there who know that they’re in harm’s way.  And there are threat streams that come through every so often, with respect to our embassies and our consulates — and that’s not just us, by the way; the British have to deal with the same thing.

And we’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, you know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.

And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.  What happened was tragic.  It was carried out by extremists inside of Libya.  We are out there trying to hunt down the folks who carried this out, and we are trying to make sure that we fix the system so that it doesn’t happen again.

Full Text Obama Presidency May 7, 2013: President Barack Obama & South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye’s Remarks at a Joint Press Conference



President Obama Meets with President Park of South Korea

Source: WH, 5-7-13

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea, in the Oval Office, May 7, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Watch this video on YouTube

Today, President Obama welcomed President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea to the White House to mark 60 years of bilateral partnership between our two nations.

Established following the Korean War, the US-ROK Alliance is a linchpin of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in the Asia Pacific region. And today, the two leaders affirmed that they would continue building on the past six decades of stability by strengthening and adapting the alliance to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.

“Guided by our joint vision, we’re investing in the shared capabilities and technologies and missile defenses that allow our forces to operate and succeed together,” President Obama said. “And we’re determined to be fully prepared for any challenge or threat to our security.”

President Obama and President Park also agreed to continue implementing the historic trade agreement between the United States and South Korea, which is already yielding benefits for both countries, President Obama said….READ MORE

Remarks by President Obama and President Park of South Korea in a Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 5-7-13 

East Room

1:44 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Please have a seat.

Let me begin by saying it is a great pleasure to welcome President Park and our friends from the Republic of Korea.  Madam President, we are greatly honored that you’ve chosen the United States as your first foreign visit.  This, of course, reflects the deep friendship between our peoples and the great alliance between our nations, which is marking another milestone.  I’m told that in Korea, a 60th birthday is a special celebration of life and longevity — a hwangap.  (Laughter.)    Well, this year, we’re marking the 60th anniversary of the defense treaty between our nations.

Yesterday, President Park visited Arlington National Cemetery and our memorial to our Korean War veterans.  Tonight, she’s hosting a dinner to pay tribute to the generation of American veterans who have served in the defense of South Korea. And tomorrow she’ll address a joint session of Congress — an honor that is reserved for our closest of friends.

And in this sense, this visit also reflects South Korea’s extraordinary progress over these six decades.  From the ashes of war, to one of the world’s largest economies; from a recipient of foreign aid to a donor that now helps other nations develop.  And of course, around the world, people are being swept up by Korean culture — the Korean Wave.  And as I mentioned to President Park, my daughters have taught me a pretty good Gangnam Style.  (Laughter.)

President Park, in your first months in office South Korea has faced threats and provocations that would test any nation.  Yet you’ve displayed calm and steady resolve that has defined your life.  Like people around the world, those of us in the United States have also been inspired by your example as the first female President of South Korea.  And today I’ve come to appreciate the leadership qualities for which you are known — your focus and discipline and straight-forwardness.  And I very much thank you for the progress that we’ve already made together.

Today, we agreed to continue the implementation of our historic trade agreement, which is already yielding benefits for both our countries.  On our side, we’re selling more exports to Korea — more manufactured goods, more services, more agricultural products.  Even as we have a long way to go, our automobile exports are up nearly 50 percent, and our Big Three — Ford, Chrysler and GM — are selling more cars in Korea.  And as President Park and I agreed to make sure that we continue to fully implement this agreement, we believe that it’s going to make both of our economies more competitive.  It will boost U.S. exports by some $10 billion and support tens of thousands of American jobs.  And obviously it will be creating jobs in Korea as they are able to continue to do extraordinary work in expanding their economy and moving it further and further up the value chain.

We agreed to continue the clean energy partnerships that help us to enhance our energy security and address climate change.  Given the importance of a peaceful nuclear energy industry to South Korea, we recently agreed to extend the existing civilian nuclear agreement between our two countries — but we also emphasized in our discussions the need to continue to work diligently towards a new agreement.  As I told the President, I believe that we can find a way to support South Korea’s energy and commercial needs even as we uphold our mutual commitments to prevent nuclear proliferation.

We agreed to continuing modernizing our security alliance.  Guided by our joint vision, we’re investing in the shared capabilities and technologies and missile defenses that allow our forces to operate and succeed together.  We are on track for South Korea to assume operational control for the alliance in 2015.  And we’re determined to be fully prepared for any challenge or threat to our security.  And obviously that includes the threat from North Korea.

If Pyongyang thought its recent threats would drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States, or somehow garner the North international respect, today is further evidence that North Korea has failed again.  President Park and South Koreans have stood firm, with confidence and resolve.  The United States and the Republic of Korea are as united as ever.  And faced with new international sanctions, North Korea is more isolated than ever. In short, the days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions — those days are over.

Our two nations are prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically and, over time, build trust.  But as always — and as President Park has made clear — the burden is on Pyongyang to take meaningful steps to abide by its commitments and obligations, particularly the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

And we discussed that Pyongyang should take notice of events in countries like Burma, which, as it reforms, is seeing more trade and investment and diplomatic ties with the world, including the United States and South Korea.

For our part, we’ll continue to coordinate closely with South Korea and with Japan.  And I want to make clear the United States is fully prepared and capable of defending ourselves and our allies with the full range of capabilities available, including the deterrence provided by our conventional and nuclear forces.  As I said in Seoul last year, the commitment of the United States to the security of the Republic of Korea will never waver.

More broadly, we agreed to continue expanding our cooperation globally.  In Afghanistan — where our troops serve together and where South Korea is a major donor of development assistance — we’re on track to complete the transition to Afghan-led operations by the end of next year.  We discussed Syria, where both our nations are working to strengthen the opposition and plan for a Syria without Bashar Assad.  And I’m pleased that our two nations — and our Peace Corps — have agreed to expand our efforts to promote development around the world.

Finally, we’re expanding the already strong ties between our young people.  As an engineer by training, President Park knows the importance of education.  Madam President, you’ve said — and I’m quoting you — “We live in an age where a single individual can raise the value of an entire nation.”  I could not agree more.  So I’m pleased that we’re renewing exchange programs that bring our students together.  And as we pursue common-sense immigration reform here in the United States, we want to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs and foreign graduate students from countries like Korea to stay and contribute to our country, just as so many Korean Americans already do.

So, again, thank you, President Park, for making the United States your first foreign trip.  In your inaugural address you celebrated the “can do” spirit of the Korean people.  That is a spirit that we share.  And after our meeting today, I’m confident that if our two nations continue to stand together, there’s nothing we cannot do together.

So, Madam President, welcome to the United States.

PRESIDENT PARK:  (As interpreted.)  Let me start by thanking President Obama for his invitation and his gracious hospitality.

During my meeting with the President today, I was able to have a heart-to-heart talk with him on a wide range of common interests.  I found that the two us of have a broad common view about the vision and roles that should guide the Korea-U.S. alliance as it moves forward, and I was delighted to see this.

First of all, the President and I shared the view that the Korea-U.S. alliance has been faithfully carrying out its role as a bulwark of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and that the alliance should continue to serve as a linchpin for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Asia.  In this regard, I believe it is significant that the joint declaration on the 60th anniversary of our alliance we adopted spells out the direction that our comprehensive strategic alliance should take.

Next, the President and I reaffirmed that we will by no means tolerate North Korea’s threats and provocations, which have recently been escalating further, and that such actions would only deepen North Korea’s isolation.  The President and I noted that it is important that we continue to strengthen our deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and conventional weapons threat, and shared the view that in this respect, the transition of wartime operational control should also proceed in a way that strengthens our combined defense capabilities and preparations being made toward that way as well.

We also shared the view that realizing President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons should start on the Korean Peninsula and we stated that we would continue to strongly urge North Korea, in close concert with the other members of the Six-Party talks and the international community, to faithfully abide by its international obligations under the September 19th Joint Statement and the relevant Security Council resolutions.

Korea and the U.S. will work jointly to induce North Korea to make the right choice through multifaceted efforts, including the implementation of the Korean Peninsula trust-building process that I had spelled out.

I take this opportunity to once again send a clear message: North Korea will not be able to survive if it only clings to developing its nuclear weapons at the expense of its people’s happiness.  Concurrently pursuing nuclear arsenals and economic development can by no means succeed.

This is the shared view of the view of the other members of the Six-Party talks and the international community.  However, should North Korea choose the path to becoming a responsible member of the community of nations, we are willing to provide assistance, together with the international community.

We also had meaningful discussions on the economy and ways to engage in substantive cooperation.  The President and I welcome the fact that the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect one year ago, is contributing to our shared prosperity.  We also said we will make efforts to enable our people to better feel the benefits of our free trade agreement for them.

I highlighted the importance of securing high-skilled U.S. work visas for Korean citizens, and asked for executive branch support to the extent possible to see to it that the relevant legislation is passed in the U.S. Congress.

Moreover, we arrived at the view that the Korea-U.S. Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement should be revised into an advanced and mutually beneficial successor agreement.  We said we would do our best to conclude our negotiations as soon as possible.

The President and I also had in-depth discussions on ways to enhance our global partnership.  First, we noted together that Northeast Asia needs to move beyond conflict and divisions and open a new era of peace and cooperation, and that there would be synergy between President’s Obama’s policy of rebalancing to Asia and my initiative for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia as we pursue peace and development in the region.  We shared the view about playing the role of co-architects to flesh out this vision.

Furthermore, we decided that the Korea-U.S. alliance should deal not just with challenges relating to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, but confronting the broader international community.

I am very delighted that I was able to build personal trust with President Obama through our summit meeting today, and to have laid a framework for cooperation.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  All right, we’ve got a couple of questions from each side, so we’ll start with Stephen Collinson of AFP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Does the United States have a core national security interest in stopping the slaughter in Syria, or merely a strong moral desire to see the violence end?  And at what point does the cost of not intervening in a more direct way than you have done so far outweigh the cost of doing so?

And if I may ask, President Park, President Obama’s critics have warned that failing to act on perceived violations of U.S. red lines in Syria could embolden U.S. enemies elsewhere, including in North Korea.  Are you convinced that Kim Jong-un has taken the U.S. and South Korean warnings seriously, and do you see the withdrawal of two missiles from a test site as a sign that he’s willing to deescalate the situation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Stephen, I think that we have both a moral obligation and a national security interest in, A, ending the slaughter in Syria, but, B, also ensuring that we’ve got a stable Syria that is representative of all the Syrian people, and is not creating chaos for its neighbors.  And that’s why for the last two years we have been active in trying to ensure that Bashar Assad exits the stage, and that we can begin a political transition process.

That’s the reason why we’ve invested so much in humanitarian aid.  That’s the reason why we are so invested in helping the opposition; why we’ve mobilized the international community to isolate Syria.  That’s why we are now providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and that’s why we’re going to continue to do the work that we need to do.

And in terms of the costs and the benefits, I think there would be severe costs in doing nothing.  That’s why we’re not doing nothing.  That’s why we are actively invested in the process.  If what you’re asking is, are there continuing reevaluations about what we do, what actions we take in conjunction with other international partners to optimize the day when — or to hasten the day when we can see a better situation in Syria — we’ve been doing that all along and we’ll continue to do that.

I think that, understandably, there is a desire for easy answers.  That’s not the situation there.  And my job is to constantly measure our very real and legitimate humanitarian and national security interests in Syria, but measuring those against my bottom line, which is what’s in the best interest of America’s security and making sure that I’m making decisions not based on a hope and a prayer, but on hard-headed analysis in terms of what will actually make us safer and stabilize the region.

I would note — not to answer the question that you lobbed over to President Park — that you suggested even in your question a perceived crossing of a red line.  The operative word there, I guess, Stephen, is “perceived.”  And what I’ve said is that we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but I don’t make decisions based on “perceived.”  And I can’t organize international coalitions around “perceived.”  We’ve tried that in the past, by the way, and it didn’t work out well.

So we want to make sure that we have the best analysis possible.  We want to make sure that we are acting deliberately. But I would just point out that there have been several instances during the course of my presidency where I said I was going to do something and it ended up getting done.  And there were times when there were folks on the sidelines wondering why hasn’t it happened yet and what’s going on and why didn’t it go on tomorrow?  But in the end, whether it’s bin Laden or Qaddafi, if we say we’re taking a position, I would think at this point the international community has a pretty good sense that we typically follow through on our commitments.

PRESIDENT PARK:  With regard to actions toward Syria, what kind of message would that communicate to North Korea? — that was the question.  And recently North Korea seems to be deescalating its threats and provocations — what seems to be behind that?  You asked these two questions.  In fact, North Korea is isolated at the moment, so it’s hard to find anyone that could really accurately fathom the situation in North Korea.  Its actions are all so very unpredictable.  Hence, whether the Syrian situation would have an impact is hard to say for sure.

Why is North Korea appearing to deescalate its threats and provocations?  There’s no knowing for sure.  But what is clear and what I believe for sure is that the international community with regard to North Korea’s bad behavior, its provocations, must speak with one voice — a firm message, and consistently send a firm message that they will not stand, and that North Korea’s actions in breach of international norms will be met with so-and-so sanctions and measures by the international community.  At the same time, if it goes along the right way, there will be so-and-so rewards.  So if we consistently send that message to North Korea, I feel that North Korea will be left with no choice but to change.

And instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must also consistently send that message with one voice to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change, and to shape an environment where they are left with no choice but to make the strategic decision to change.  And I think that’s the effective and important way.

Q    My question goes to President Park.  You just mentioned that North Korea — in order to induce North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, what is most important is the concerted actions of the international community.  With regard to this, during your meeting with President Obama today, I would like to ask what was said and the views that you shared.  And with regard to this, what Russia and China — the role that they’re playing in terms of inducing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, how do you feel about that?

My next question is to President Obama.  Regarding the young leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, I would appreciate your views about the leader of North Korea.  And if you were to send a message to him today, what kind of message would you send to him?
PRESIDENT PARK:  With regard to the North Korea issue, Korea and the United States, as well as the international community — the ultimate objective that all of us should be adopting is for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and to induce it to become a responsible member of the international community.  This serves the interest of peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world, and it also serves the interest of North Korea’s own development as well.  That is my view.

And so, in order to encourage North Korea to walk that path and change its perceptions, we have to work in concert.  And in this regard, China’s role, China’s influence can be extensive, so China taking part in these endeavors is important.  And we shared views on that.

With regard to China and Russia’s stance, I believe that China and Russia — not to mention the international community, of course — share the need for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and are cooperating closely to induce North Korea to take the right path.  In the case of China, with regard to North Korea’s missile fire and nuclear testing, China has taken an active part in adopting U.N. Security Council resolutions and is faithfully implementing those resolutions.

And with regard to Russia, Russia is also firmly committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  And with regard to the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea, it has been very active in supporting them.  And they’ve also worked very hard to include a stern message to North Korea in the joint statement of the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting.  Such constructive efforts on the part of China and Russia are vital to sending a unified message to North Korea that their nuclear weapons will not stand, and encouraging and urging North Korea to make the right decision.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Obviously, I don’t know Kim Jong-un personally.  I haven’t had a conversation with him, can’t really give you an opinion about his personal characteristics.  What we do know is the actions that he’s taken have been provocative and seem to pursue a dead end.

And I want to emphasize, President Park and myself very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability; that we’re not going to reward provocative behavior. But we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community, and seeing a gradual progression in which both security and prosperity for the people of North Korea can be achieved.

If what North Korea has been doing has not resulted in a strong, prosperous nation, then now is a good time for
Kim Jong-un to evaluate that history and take a different path.  And I think that, should he choose to take a different path, not only President Park and myself would welcome it, but the international community as a whole would welcome it.

And I think that China and Russia and Japan and other key players that have been participants in Six-Party talks have made that clear.  But there’s going to have to be changes in behavior. We have an expression in English:  Don’t worry about what I say; watch what I do.  And so far at least, we haven’t seen actions on the part of the North Koreans that would indicate they’re prepared to move in a different direction.

Christi Parsons.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  The Pentagon said today that there may be as many as 70 sexual assaults a day in the military — up by 35 percent during your term in office — and also that many sexual assaults may not be reported, in fact.  Given what we know about an Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual assault recently being charged with sexual assault, and also the recent cases of a couple of Air Force generals who’ve set aside convictions of instances of sexual assault, can you speak to the culture in the U.S. military that may be at play here and talk about your response to that and what you can do going forward to improve things?

And if I may, President Park, I would ask you — yesterday you said that if North Korea does not change its behavior, we will make them pay.  I wondered if you could elaborate on that comment a little bit.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let’s start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage; it is a crime.  That’s true for society at large.  And if it’s happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they’re wearing.  And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior that’s not patriotic — it’s a crime.  And we have to do everything we can to root this out.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon.  One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is create a structure in which we’re starting to get accurate reporting.  And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely.

And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward.  But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today and indicating to him that we’re going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game, to go at this thing hard.

And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I’ve got their backs.  I will support them.  And we’re not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability.  If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.

And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are.  This is not what the U.S. military is about.  And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.

So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this.  I have communicated this to the Secretary of Defense.  We’re going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.

So I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way.  If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.  Period.  It’s not acceptable.

PRESIDENT PARK:  Regarding North Korea’s provocations and bad behavior, we will make them pay — with regard to that, for instance, what I meant was that if they engage in military provocations and harm the lives of our people and the safety of our people, then naturally, as a President who gives the top priority to ensuring the safety of our people, it is something that we can’t just pass over.

So if North Korea engages in provocations, I will fully trust the judgment of our military.  So if our military makes a judgment which they feel is the right thing, then they should act accordingly.  And this is the instruction that I had made.

And North Korea has to pay a price when it comes not only with regard to provocations, but also with regard to the recent Kaesong industrial complex issue, where, based on agreements between the two sides, companies had believed in the agreement that was made and actually went to invest in the Kaesong industrial complex, but they suddenly completely dismissed and disregarded this agreement overnight, and denied various medical supplies and food supplies to Korean citizens left in that industrial complex, refusing to accept our request to allow in those supplies, which is what prompted us to withdraw all of our citizens from that park.  This situation unfolded in the full view of the international community.

So who would invest, not to mention Korean companies, but also companies of other countries, who would invest in North Korea in a place that shows such flagrant disregard for agreements, and how could they, under those circumstances, actually pull off economic achievement?  So I think in this regard, they’re actually paying the price for their own misdeeds.

Q    My question goes to President Obama.  President Park has been talking about the Korean Peninsula trust-building process as a way to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.  I wonder what you feel about this trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as I indicated before, President Park’s approach is very compatible with my approach and the approach that we have been taking together for several years now. And I understand it, the key is that we will be prepared for a deterrence; that we will respond to aggression; that we will not reward provocative actions; but that we will maintain an openness to an engagement process when we see North Korea taking steps that would indicate that it is following a different path.  And that’s exactly the right approach.

All of us would benefit from a North Korea that transformed itself.  Certainly, the people of North Korea would benefit.  South Korea would be even stronger in a less tense environment on the peninsula.  All the surrounding neighbors would welcome such a transition, such a transformation.  But I don’t think either President Park or I are naïve about the difficulties of that taking place.  And we’ve got to see action before we can have confidence that that, in fact, is the path that North Korea intends to take.

But the one thing I want to emphasize, just based on the excellent meetings and consultation that we had today, as well as watching President Park over the last several months dealing with the provocative escalations that have been taking place in North Korea, what I’m very confident about is President Park is tough. I think she has a very clear, realistic view of the situation, but she also has the wisdom to believe that conflict is not inevitable and is not preferable.  And that’s true on the Korean Peninsula.  That’s true around the world.

And we very much appreciate her visit and look forward to excellent cooperation not only on this issue, but on the more positive issues of economic and commercial ties between our two countries, educational exchanges, work on energy, climate change, helping other countries develop.

I’ve had a wonderful time every time I’ve visited the Republic of Korea.  And what is clear is that the Republic of Korea is one of the great success stories of our lifetime.  And the Republic of Korea’s leadership around the globe will be increasingly important.  And what underpins that in part has been the extraordinary history of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea.  And we want to make sure that that remains a strong foundation for progress in the future.

So, thank you so much, Madam President.  (Applause.)

2:20 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 3, 2013: President Barack Obama & Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla’s Remarks in a Joint Press Conference



Remarks by President Obama and President Chinchilla of Costa Rica in a Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 5-3-13

President Obama participates in a press conference with President Chinchilla President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica at the CENAC (National Center for Art and Culture), San Jose, Costa Rica. May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

National Center for Art and Culture San Jose, Costa Rica

4:55 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  (As interpreted.)  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon, dear friends.  Dear friends, international journalists and for American and SICA.  Thank you very much.  Thank you for being here with us this afternoon.

In the first place and before we get any deeper concerning the results of the meetings that we just had recently, in the first place, what I would like to do is to reiterate our warmest welcome on behalf of all the Costa Rican people to President Barack Obama and his delegation.  And also I would like to reiterate on behalf of our Costa Ricans the feelings that we feel towards the United States of America.

And I also wanted to thank you very much for the way so cordial and constructive in which we have been able to develop this afternoon’s issues, Mr. President, because I think that we have had very successful conversations in the bilateral meeting. It was my pleasure to report that precisely thanks to this open process of conversations that we have had, it is that we can explore new horizons, always trying to strengthen these traditions based on the essential values that have characterized the relationship between the United States and Costa Rica.

Particularly speaking, I’m talking about values of peace, freedom, democracy, respect to the human rights and the human development.  These are the values that we share.  And these are the values on which we aspire to continue to develop the relationship between our two nations.

The conversations that we have had have been very useful and they have basically focused on six fundamental issues that reflect this rich diversity that characterizes the relationship between the two nations.  We talked about institutional strengthening.  We talked about issues of international policy and the involvement, in particular to which Costa Rica aspires in the international economic scenario.

We also talked about the use of fundamental instruments in the relationship of the two nations, like CAFTA, for instance.  We talked about an issue that is important but it is not the one that defines our relationship, which is security.  And we also talked about a fundamental issue that undoubtedly is going to define the progress and the joint development not only between the United States of America and Costa Rica, but also between the United States and the Central American region, which is the area of energy.

And finally, of course, in our Costa Rican agenda, we included issues having to do with education, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Please allow me to briefly walk you through these six issues so that you can get to know which has been the central element in each of them.

In the area of institutional strengthening, as you know, the government of the United States is promoting what is called the Alliance of Open Government, that basically seeks to strengthen practices that are much more transparent and integral in everything that has to do with the exercise of institutions of public function.

Costa Rica has been an enthusiastic participant in this initiative.  We have already proposed our action plan, and we expect to continue to share initiatives, practices, exchanges of experiences on this issue.

In the area of involvement of Costa Rica in the economic global scenario and some of the issues of international policy, we are taking into account — we have used this session to talk about the involvement of the United States in the area of fire weapons — and that together they have been able to get the approval in the recent meeting of the United Nations.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for having sponsored one of the — that is going to contribute the most to the peace in the world.  In addition, I would like to recognize in particular the efforts of President Obama in his own country in order to raise awareness concerning the regulation of fire weapons.

Costa Rica, as some of you already know, is trying to play a more protagonistic role, especially in the area of global development.  Costa Rica is a small economy, but it’s a very open economy.  It’s a model of success.  The accession of global value changes with more and more competitive in the attraction based on high technology.  And being a middle-income country, we are a country that is not seeking to get more aid.  We basically want to have more opportunities to export what our people are producing.

As we have said in the past, we either export our products the people are able to produce or generate, or we’re going to end up exporting our own people.  And Costa Rica will continue to keep Costa Ricans in Costa Rica with better opportunities of economic growth and with better opportunities of welfare.

And that is that the aspirations of Costa Rica include to be able to insert itself in the different fora where we will continue to widen the opportunities of trade, investment, and as a consequence, the opportunities to continue to generate employment and welfare in our country.

To this extent, we have talked to President Obama about two important fora where Costa Rica aspires to be present.  One is the Trans-Pacific Alliance, the TPP, where the government of the United States and especially the Obama administration is paying an important leadership to the effect of hosting this negotiation.  And we would hope that Costa Rica will continue to be the center of attention of the pioneer countries to be able to insert ourselves in the same initiative.

And the other important forum where we have given our best efforts is the forum for the cooperation and development.  Costa Rica wants to be there precisely because we want to continue to adopt the best possible practices in matters of development of public policy.

In the area of the using of the CAFTA platform, as you know, this is going to be an issue — an issue of regional scope.  But it has become a bilateral issue to the extent that Costa Rica is one of the economies that has taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the American market.  We have become in the SICA framework the most important partner with the United States. Thanks to CAFTA, the countries in our region have increased by 70 percent the international trade.  And what we basically seek is to be able to promote initiatives in the area of facilitation of trade.

Concerning the area of security, this, as I mentioned before, is an obligated issue.  As you know, Costa Rica considers this a fundamental issue — has been considering this issue a fundamental one in recent years.  We have been able to do well facing common crime.  We have been able to reduce the homicide rates significantly.  We have been able to reduce the rates of violent crime, thanks to an integral approach in the area of prevention and sanction, as well as the issues having to do with control.  But we also have to admit that the issue of organized crime continues to be important on the institution of stability and the integrity of our nations.

Thus, we talked about this issue.  We had a conversation about it.  We reiterated the importance of keeping the levels of cooperation that we have had so far.  But very particularly, we made the point on the efforts that are being displayed by the SICA countries as well as the United States government with the purpose of approaching the issue of organized crime and drug smuggling from a much more integral approach, a much more diverse approach — not only through the instruments of war, thinking that we’re going to be able to overcome this evil.  A country like Costa Rica cannot go, of course, to war, but we have to take very seriously the strengthening of those mechanisms and those policies that would allow to prevent the entity of organized crime in our country.

And in that sense, we are deliberating the efforts that we might be able to continue on doing in the matter of prevention of consumption with the matter of more opportunities for the younger community of our country on the subject of strengthening the law, of judicial independence, of free press that might be able to carry out the necessary investigations and the accusations without having on them any effect or threat.

The fifth point of the agenda was a subject regarding energy.  It is well-known also for Costa Rica the energy subject has been a value from the point of view of its sustainable development.  Ninety percent of the energy that we consume comes from renewable sources.  Nevertheless, Costa Rica, as well as the rest of Central America, have a very big challenge ahead of them from the point of view of the cost of this energy.  If we do not solve this in the short, midterm, this will have a tremendous weight on the level of competivity [sic] of our region.

Therefore, we have explored with President Obama the possibilities of using the platform of CAFTA so that in the future and once the government of the United States resolves  some of the internal discussions that it might have, to be able to enjoy some preferences in regard to the import of natural gas, natural liquefied gas, a source of energy to which the government of President Obama has put a lot of emphasis on.

We have also commented about the efforts that we are developing here in Costa Rica with the purpose of promoting a group of new energies, especially the energies based on hydrogen, and the initiatives that have already been working on by the private enterprises both in North America and Costa Rica with the cooperation of the public sector of Costa Rica, to take them into consideration as part of the initiatives that he has promoted in the framework of the Alliance of the Americas for the energy and for the climate change.

And I finish by talking about the subject of the partnership of innovation and of the education that has such elements of further development.  For Costa Rica, education has been a constant in its historical development.  As I was telling President Obama, we were born as one of the poorest provinces of the colony, and we have become little by little a nation with great opportunities in the subject of economic development and of well-being for the people, and a fundamental factor, an essential factor has been precisely education.

Much before many other nations of the world, Costa Rica decreed the free and mandatory access to education.  And now we dedicate 7 percent of our GDP to finance the public education, and we need, above all, to face the challenge of the reallocation of this education to the demands of the new economy to which we are aspiring to move our country.

In that sense, we have called upon the attention in regard to the possibility of using with greater intensity the very beautiful program that has been characterized by the international policy of the United States, which is the Peace Corps, so that through them, we might be able to improve even more.  They have programs of bilingualism that Costa Rica, for 15 or 20 years we have already been introducing in our public education.

We believe that through Peace Corps we can achieve training programs with our teachers, with our professors, our English professors, so that that English is a more proficient English, more competitive, with greater quality and bound precisely through the aspirations of attracting investments and generation of employment that we are working on.

Finally, also we have called President Obama’s attention to the fact that there is nothing more valuable, that there is nothing more important than anybody to get to know a society from the inside.  I am a true example precisely of the benefits of scholarship programs that the United States in the past have offered the Central American region.  As a matter of fact, that is why we have — so that we can continue on promoting those scholarship programs and intensify them so that the youth of the Central American region and, of course, of my country can continue on also knowing or competing not only for knowledge of the best universities, of the quality of education of the United States, but also the values that have characterized this great nation.

So thank you very much.  President Obama.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas tardes.  Thank you so much, President Chinchilla, for your kind words and for welcoming me here today.  This is my first visit to Costa Rica.  And even though it is a brief one, I can already tell the incredible spirit of the people, the natural beauty of the country.  I understand that the official slogan for those who are thinking about visiting Costa Rica is “un pais sin ingredientes artificiales.”  So there’s nothing artificial about Costa Rica.  Everything is genuine.  And that’s certainly true about the friendship between our two countries.

And President Chinchilla has been so gracious in her hospitality.  We are very grateful to her.  I want to thank publicly the wonderful schoolchildren who sang for us.  And I noticed that, Madam President, you and I didn’t sing.  We didn’t trust our voices.  (Laughter.)  But we certainly enjoyed the spirit that those children delivered.

In the United States, we are so grateful for the contributions that Costa Ricans make to our country every day.  You welcome many Americans as tourists, eco-tourists, and many others who have chosen to make Costa Rica a new home.  This year we’re also marking the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps here, including President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Costa Rica and his vision for partnerships that advance development and democracy in the Americas.

I had actually a chance during the bilateral meeting to see a photograph of President Kennedy at the same table that we were meeting at — it had been specially commissioned.  And so it shows the longstanding ties between our two countries.

And I’m here because Costa Rica is a great partner not just regionally, but globally.  Given Costa Rica’s proud democratic traditions, we stand up together for democracy and justice and human rights in Central America and across the hemisphere.  And I want to commend Costa Rica for your landmark law against the scourge of human trafficking.  I’m proud to be here as you host World Press Freedom Day.  So everybody from the American press corps, you should thank the people of Costa Rica for celebrating free speech and an independent press as essential pillars of our democracy.

Costa Rica shows the benefits of trade that is free and fair.  Over the last few years, under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, our trade with Costa Rica has doubled, creating more jobs for people in both of our countries.  Our partnerships are creating more opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, including young people and women.  As I told President Chinchilla, the United States will continue to be your partner as Costa Rica modernizes its economy so that you’re attracting more investment and creating even more trade and more jobs.

Costa Rica, of course, has long been a leader in sustainable development that protects the environment.  The President and I agreed to continue deepening our clean energy partnerships.  For example, we’re moving ahead with our regional effort to ensure universal access to clean, affordable, sustainable electricity for the people of the Americas, including Costa Ricans.  And this is also another way that we can meet our shared commitments to address climate change.

The President and I reaffirmed our determination to confront the growing security concerns that have affected many Costa Rican families and communities.  And under the Central America Regional Security Initiative, the United States has committed nearly half a billion dollars to helping Costa Rica and its neighbors in this fight.  We’re disrupting drug cartels and gangs.  We’re working to strengthen law enforcement and the judicial system.  And we’re addressing the underlying forces that fuel criminality — with prevention programs for at-risk youth and with economic development that gives young people hope and opportunity.

Meanwhile, as I said in Mexico yesterday, the United States recognizes that we’ve got responsibilities; that much of the violence in the region is fueled by demand for illegal drugs, including in the United States.  So we’re going to keep on pursuing a comprehensive approach not only through law enforcement, but also through education and prevention and treatment that can reduce demand.

And finally, I updated the President on our efforts in the United States to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  I know this is of great interest to the entire region, especially those with families in our country.  And I’m optimistic that we’re going to achieve reform that reflects our heritage as both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — men and women and children who need to be treated with full dignity and respect.

So, President Chinchilla, thank you so much for your partnership.  Thank you and the people of Costa Rica for your hospitality.

I’m told there’s a well-known quote here in Costa Rica — “Where there is a Costa Rican, wherever it is, there’s liberty.” And in the United States, we’re thankful for the many Costa Ricans who contribute to our prosperity and our liberty.  And we’re grateful for Costa Rica’s leadership in this region, as we’ll see again when President Chinchilla hosts tonight’s SICA meeting.

I’d note that our presence at tonight’s meeting with the leaders of Central America and the Dominican Republic is a sign of the importance that the United States places on this region, as well as our commitment to being a steady and strong and reliable partner — because we believe that no matter where you live, the people of this region deserve security and opportunity and dignity.

So let me, again, say thank you — and in my best tican — pura vida.  (Laughter and applause.)

So I think we’re going to go Costa Rican press first and then I’ll call on someone?

Q    Good afternoon.  Welcome, President Obama.  The policy of the United States for Central America on drug smuggling and organized crime — don’t you think, for both Presidents, that the time has come to improve our relationships and go on to an agenda that apart from security, we have the social aspects of education and health?

And my second question would be if we’re going to be  supporting Costa Rica in subjects that were presented today for the SICA?   So, thank you, and welcome.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  First of all, I completely agree with you, and I’ve tried to emphasize this throughout my trip:  So much of the focus ends up being on security.  And we understand that in the absence of security, it’s very hard to develop.  But we also have to recognize that problems like narco-trafficking arise in part when a country is vulnerable because of poverty, because of institutions that are not working for the people, because young people don’t see a brighter future ahead.

And so what President Chinchilla and I spoke extensively about are initiatives like education, institution-building and capacity, trying to create greater economic opportunity, because the stronger the economies and the institutions for legitimate — for individuals who are seeking legitimate careers, the more those are there, then the less powerful these narco-trafficking operations are going to be.

And so not only are we interested in promoting trade and highlighting the already extensive trade that we’re doing, but we also want to see how can we build on the successes to improve education even in our strategies to fight narco-trafficking.  We, for example, helped to finance youth centers that can give young people a different vision for their futures.  We consider that to be part of our overall effort.  So it can’t just be law enforcement.  It also has to be human development, inclusive economic development.  We’ve got to make sure that everybody feels opportunity.

Now, even if a country is doing well, the scourge of drugs and drug trafficking will still be there, and there still needs to be a strong law enforcement component.  But we can do better than we’re currently doing.  And I know that President Chinchilla is taking a great interest here in Costa Rica around these human development issues.

As far as the issues that you mentioned around international organizations, as I indicated earlier, Costa Rica has shown itself to be a world leader and model around free trade, freedom of the press, democracy, respect for human rights, and that makes it an outstanding candidate for membership in the OECD, for example.  And so we will expect that we’ll continue to support Costa Rica in expanding its influence.

We enjoy a great partnership on, for example, regional human rights councils, as well as international human rights efforts.  Costa Rica has been a real leader, and we appreciate that.  And there’s something very effective when large countries like the United States, smaller countries like Costa Rica share values.  We come in together.  And I think it’s a great way to make the point that regardless of the country’s size, regardless of the language that it speaks, the idea of certain universal rights that are observed for all people is important.  And that’s why we value this partnership so much.

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  I’m just going to add a couple of comments.  And I think that it seems to me that I should start by thanking President Obama for his expressed support to the aspirations of Costa Rica for being a member of OECD.  We know that there are tests that we have to comply with, and we know that we will be able to comply with them.

Also, let me add something more precisely — a comment in regard to the subject of narco traffic, organized crime.  We believe that there is not a single doubt that President Obama’s administration — since his coming to Mexico, and now his visit here in Central America — brings along an agenda that is trying to redefine those relationships based on a greater diversity.

As has been said, our countries are more than just security and violence and narco traffic.  That doesn’t mean that it is not an important problem, but I would like to basically finally add the following.  What some other countries for a few years now, with the purpose of trying to review some strategies that fall under the fight against drugs, are based basically on the fact that some of the most immediate experiences we have seen in region are experiences that have had to call upon the extreme fight of the war on drugs.  Costa Rica doesn’t have an army.  And since we don’t want to found an army, we do not want to allow ourselves to come to war scenarios to face drug smuggling or organized crime.

Many times the generals ask me, how has Costa Rica done to face such a big threat when you don’t have an army and precisely the countries next to you do have an army?  But curiously enough, Costa Rica has demonstrated that we have been more effective and more successful in fighting against these threats precisely without having an army.  And where am I going through with this? That what we’re looking for, for a while now, is precisely the signals that the Obama administration is sending in the sense that an effective policy for the fight against drugs and narco traffic goes through the strengthening of the institutions — through prevention, through an open society, a more transparent society, and through a citizenship that is much more aware of the problem.

It seems to me that advancing that direction is precisely advancing in the correct direction.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  All right, Mark Felsenthal, of Reuters.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Madam President.  Mr. President, on Syria, you said yesterday that anything the United States does should make the situation better, not worse.  How long are you prepared to wait to determine whether chemical weapons were used?  What happens when you make your determination?  And will you take your case to the United Nations?  And have you ruled out putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first all, I emphasized yesterday, so let me re-emphasize — we’re not waiting.  We’re not standing by.  We are currently the largest humanitarian donor to deal with the crisis in Syria.  We are the largest contributor of nonlethal aid to the opposition.  We’ve mobilized 80 countries to support the opposition.  We are working to apply every pressure point that we can on Syria, working with our international partners.

And so we are actively engaged on a day-to-day basis to try to deal with this crisis and to restore a Syria that is respectful of the rights and aspirations of the Syrian people.

Now, as I’ve said before, if, in fact, we see strong evidence that we can present and that allows us to say that the Syrian military and the Syrian government is using chemical weapons, then that is a game-changer for us because not only is there the prospect of widespread use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but there’s the possibility that it lands in the hands of organizations like Hezbollah.

We have evidence that chemical weapons have been used.  We don’t know when, where, or how they were used.  We are initiating on our own to investigate and get a better handle on the facts inside of Syria.  We’re also working with the international community and our partners to try to get a better handle on what’s happening, and we’ve already gone to the United Nations to say we want a full-blown investigation inside of Syria — so far, for unsurprising reasons, President Assad has resisted.

We will stay on this.  Now, if, in fact, there’s the kind of systematic use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, we expect that we’re going to get additional further evidence.  And at that point, absolutely we will present that to the international community, because I think this is, again, not just an American problem; this is a world problem.  There are international rules and protocols and norms and ethics.  And when it comes to using chemical weapons, the entire world should be concerned.

Now, in terms of what that means in terms of American action, keep in mind we’re already taking a whole range of actions.  We’re going to continue to take a whole range of actions.  Separate and apart from the chemical weapon use, we got tens of thousands of people who are being killed inside of Syria and we want to see that stopped — for humanitarian reasons but also for strategic reasons.

But in terms of any additional steps that we take, it’s going to be based on, number one, the facts on the ground.  Number two, it’s going to be based on what’s in the interest of the American people and our national security.  And as President of the United States, I’m going to make those decisions based on the best evidence and after careful consultation — because when we rush into things, when we leap before we look, then not only do we pay a price, but oftentimes we see unintended consequences on the ground.  So it’s important for us to do it right.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.

Q    Good afternoon, President Obama.  Good afternoon, Madam President.  President Obama, 10 years ago you were about to come to the Senate.  Well, 10 years have gone and Central America has lost more than 130,000 lives caused by drugs traffic.  This has been the sacrifice that the region has had because of this problem.  What is the sacrifice that in your four years of government you intend to undertake for this business that feeds on the profit that are produced especially by the consumption in your country?  And if the United States also believes that the best option is to use warships to be able to survey or keep a watch on the seas on the joint anti-narcotic drug war?

And, Madam President, you have also expressed the values that the government of Costa Rica has with the government of the United States and your point of view with President Obama, for example, on the subject of the international create of weapons — fire weapons.  You say that President Obama said the time has come to recognize the rights for the homosexual couples of the United States.  When is the time going to come for that in Costa Rica?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I think all of us recognize the pain and hardship that’s been caused by drug trafficking and transnational drug cartels here in Central America.  There’s a cost obviously in the United States as well.  It’s not as if we don’t have tragic drug problems throughout the United States.  And when you look at poor communities inside of the United States, including communities in my hometown of Chicago, there are young people who are killed every day as part of the drug trade.

So this is not a situation where we do not feel the effects. There are common effects, and there are common responsibilities, which is why it’s so important that we work on this on a regional basis.

Now, since I’ve been President, we’ve put our money where our mouth is.  I’ve spent — my administration has spent approximately $30 billion in reducing drug demand in the United States over the last several years.  And we’re actually seeing an impact in terms of reduced demand.  But the United States is a big country and a big market, and so progress sometimes is slower than we’d like it to be.

There is obviously a role for law enforcement.  I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking. This is a law enforcement problem.  And if we have effective law enforcement cooperation and coordination, and if we build up capacity for countries in Central America, then we can continue to make progress.

But the important thing that I’ve tried to emphasize throughout is that this is a common problem.  This is one where we’ll only solve it when we’re working together.  It has adverse effects in all of our countries.  But — last point I’d make — I think it’s very important to make sure that our bilateral relationship and the United States relationship with the region as a whole is not solely defined by this problem.  Because when it is, we’re missing all the opportunities that exist out there.

When I got off the plane I was greeted by Dr. Chang, obviously a well-known scientist here who worked at NASA and is working now on developing a whole new vision for clean energy, and he brought along four young people — these incredibly talented young people who are in their last year of high school here.  And all of four of them, thanks to some of the good work of our Ambassador and others, will be attending universities in the United States next fall.

And when you talk to those young people, there’s incredible hope and incredible promise and incredible optimism.  And I don’t want every story to be about drug traffickers and nobody is writing a story about those four young people and what they represent in terms of the future of Costa Rica and the future of this region.

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  Every nation or every society has its own way of evolving towards to the responses that have to be provided to the different demands of the social groups and of the different collectiveness that a country might have.

And when we analyze the evolution of the different nations, we see how some of them have advance a little more accelerated — to subjects maybe of commitment towards the environment, in subjects, for example, for the control of some important aspects in the subject of protection of human life, like for example, the the subject of the control of fire weapons.  And others are advancing furthermore in the recognition of certain rights, among them like the one that you have mentioned, the rights of couples of the same sex.

The important thing, Alvarro, is that we cannot simply pass on or go beyond the rhythm or the evolution of the debates from one nation to another.  Each one of the nations has its own rhythm.  The important thing here I believe — and what’s it’s worth here — is that in Costa Rica the framework precisely of democracy that has characterized us, the debate has to be an open debate, a live debate, an active debate — a debate like the one that I have in qualifying it that has to take place with the greatest of respect without putting a stigma on the different positions that are brought to the debates that take place in a democracy.

And only the mature, ripened, seasoned debate will end up giving the result that will have to be given where it has to be given, which is inside the parliament.  So it seems to me that that is what is important, that the debate in Costa Rica is an open debate, a free debate that has to continue as a debate without restrictions.

That is why I have advocated and restated opportunities in my recent report to the nation that this is a dialogue that has been faced sometimes inconveniently on some positions that take sides.  And as long as this is faced in this way, I think that the advancement is going to be very slow.  I hope and I trust that the debate might really be a much more balanced, much more mature dialogue without putting stigmas on it, and that this might eventually generate a decision in the Congress of the Republic.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay, last question, Lisa —

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Senator Leahy is pushing for a bill on recognizing same-sex couples as part of the immigration bill.  Are you concerned at all that that undermines the success of the package?  And given that you made a point throughout your presidency to make clear that you don’t think LGTB Americans should be treated any differently, will you sign a bill that will do exactly that?

And for you, Madam President, is there any concern that the more — that by creating more stringent immigration standards could hamper the ability of Costa Ricans to emigrate to the U.S.? Thanks.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Lisa, I hope you don’t mind, before I answer your question I want to get back to Mark because I realize there was one clause in your question — sometimes you guys have a lot of clauses in your question — (laughter) — that I didn’t specifically answer, and I didn’t want anybody to extrapolate from that.

You asked about boots on the ground and whether we’ve ruled boots out on the ground in Syria.  As a general rule, I don’t rule things out as Commander-in-Chief because circumstances change and you want to make sure that I always have the full power of the United States at our disposal to meet American national security interests.

Having said that, I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria.  And by the way, when I consult with leaders in the region who are very much interested in seeing President Assad leave office and stabilizing the situation in Syria, they agree with that assessment.

So I just wanted to make sure that my omission there did not turn into a story.

To your question, Lisa, as I’ve indicated, I’ve got four broad criteria for immigration reform.  I want to make sure that our border is secure and well regulated, in part so that we can get down to the business of smoothing trade and commerce across our borders and creating jobs in the United States, but also making sure that negative actors aren’t able to penetrate the United States.

Number two, cracking down on employers who are breaking the law.  Number three, making sure we’ve got a legal immigration system that works better, smarter, and so what we can continue to attract the best and the brightest to the United States.

And by the way, when it comes to legal immigration, the issue here is not going to be stringency, per se.  The issue is do we make the system more rational, more effective, better.  If there are smart engineers and young people and scientists and students who are looking to emigrate to the United States from Costa Rica, then we want them to know that we’re a nation of immigrants.  But we want to make sure that the legal process is in place so that it’s easier and simpler, but also more effective in managing the legal immigration process.

And finally, that we’ve got a pathway so that the 11 million or so undocumented workers inside the United States are able to pursue a tough, long, difficult, but fair path to legal status and citizenship.

So those are my broad-based criteria.  Now, the provision that you’ve discussed that Senator Leahy has talked about is one that I support, and I’ve said in the past that the LGBT community should be treated like everybody else.  That’s, to me, the essential, core principle behind our founding documents, the idea that we’re all created equal and that we’re equal before the law, and it’s applied fairly to everybody.

And so Senator Leahy may present this provision in committee.  It may be presented on the floor.  It will be one of many amendments and provisions that are presented, some of which I’ll support, some of which I’ll think are really bad ideas.  And I think that the general principle for me is are we advancing, are we improving the immigration system — because ultimately this is an immigration bill.

And we’ll evaluate the end-product.  I think it’s premature for me to start talking about what I will or will not do before I get a final product since the road is going to be long and bumpy before I finally see an actual bill on my desk.  But I can tell you I think that the provision is the right thing to do.

I can also tell you that I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill.  Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill.  But if we keep focused on what our main aim is here — which is creating a smart, effective immigration system that allows us to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — then we’re going to be in a position to not only improve our economy and what’s happening inside the United States, we’re going to I think have a much stronger relationship with the region and that’s going to help enhance our economy and jobs and our growth over the long term.

And, last point I’ll make, as is true with every bill, if there are things that end up being left out in this bill, or things that I want to take out of a bill, but if it’s meeting those core criteria around a comprehensive immigration bill that I’m looking for, then we go back at it and we fix what’s not there and we continually improve what’s been presented.

I think that this comprehensive immigration bill has the opportunity to do something historic that we have not done in decades.  But I don’t expect that, after we’re finished with it, that people are going to say, there’s not a single problem that we have with our immigration system, any more than is true after any piece of legislation that we pass.

Well, thank you very much everybody.  Muchas gracias.

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END                     5:45 P.M. CST