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 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

Political Musings September 8, 2013: Obama fails to gain international support for Syria strike at G20 Summit





Obama fails to gain international support for Syria strike at G20 Summit (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman


President Barack Obama returned from the G20 Summit on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 unable to gain a wide backing for a military strike against Syria from the majority of the G20 countries present at the summit. President Obama is leading….READ MORE

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

Full Text Obama Presidency September 6, 2013: Joint Statement on Syria



Joint Statement on Syria

Source: WH, 9-6-13

The Leaders and Representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America made the following statement on the margins of the Group of 20 Nations Leader’s Meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia:

The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal.  The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere.  Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.

We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children.  The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.

We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.

Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council’s responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two and a half years.  The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability.  We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

We commit to supporting longer term international efforts, including through the United Nations, to address the enduring security challenge posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  Signatories have also called for the UN fact finding mission to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.

We condemn in the strongest terms all human rights violations in Syria on all sides.  More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees, and approximately 5 million are internally displaced.  Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique.  We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.

We have contributed generously to the latest United Nations (UN) and ICRC appeals for humanitarian assistance and will continue to provide support to address the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and their impact on regional countries. We welcome the contributions announced at the meeting of donor countries on the margins of the G20.  We call upon all parties to allow humanitarian actors safe and unhindered access to those in need.

European signatories will continue to engage in promoting a common European position.

Political Musings August 8, 2013: President Barack Obama on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno tackles serious political issues with a mix of humor




Obama on Leno tackles serious political issues with a mix of humor (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman


President Barack Obama continued his summer tour on his policies by making his sixth appearance on NBC’s the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on August 6, 2013. Obama covered lots ground in his interview with Leno…READ MORE

Political Headlines August 7, 2013: White House Announces President Obama Canceling Meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin





Obama Cancels Meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin


President Obama will not travel to Moscow next month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House announced Wednesday, citing Russia’s “disappointing decision” to grant asylum to National Security Agency-leaker Edward Snowden and a lack of progress in the U.S.-Russian bilateral agenda….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 7, 2013: Jay Leno’s interview with President Barack Obama on “The Tonight Show” — Transcript



Jay Leno’s interview with President Obama (transcript, video)

Source: Politico, 8-7-13


4:34 P.M. PDT

Q    Welcome the President of the United States — Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

Welcome back, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  It’s good to be back.  (Applause.)

Q    Well, we’re thrilled to have you.

THE PRESIDENT:  It is good to be back.

Q    And a happy birthday.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

Q    Happy birthday to you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Q    So how did you celebrate Sunday?  What did you do?

THE PRESIDENT:  I had a bunch of friends come over who I don’t see that often from high school and college.  And we played a little golf, and then we tried to play a little basketball.  And it was a sad state of affairs.  (Laughter.)

Q    Really?

THE PRESIDENT:  A bunch of old guys.  Where’s the Ibuprofen and all that stuff.  (Laughter.)

Q    But you’re pretty competitive.

THE PRESIDENT:  I am pretty competitive.  But the day of my birthday — we do departure photos of people who are transitioning out of the White House.  And we let them bring their families and they take a picture in the Oval Office.  And this wonderful staff person came in and had a really cute, young son.  He looked like Harry Potter, a six-year-old guy.  (Laughter.)  He came in, he had an economic report for me.  He had graphs and everything.  (Laughter.)  And, he says, “My birthday is in August, too.”  I said, “Well, how old are you going to be?”  He said, “Seven.”  He said, “How old are you?”  I said, “Fifty-two.”  He said, “Whoa.”  (Laughter.)  Whoa.  Whoa.  (Laughter.)  He looked off in the distance.  He was trying to project.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes, you can’t even —

THE PRESIDENT:  You can’t go out that far.

Q    You can’t grasp that number, no.  (Laughter.)  Now, I’ve seen Michelle tease you about your gray hair.  You have a bit of silver in your hair.  Do you tease back?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  (Laughter and applause.)  That’s why we’re celebrating our 21st anniversary.  (Laughter.)

Q    As I’m married 33 years, I know exactly what you’re saying.  (Laughter.)  I’ve got to ask you about this.  Everyone is concerned about these embassy closings.  How significant is this threat?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s significant enough that we’re taking every precaution.  We had already done a lot to bolster embassy security around the world, but especially in the Middle East and North Africa, where the threats tend to be highest.  And whenever we see a threat stream that we think is specific enough that we can take some specific precautions within a certain timeframe, then we do so.

Now, it’s a reminder that for all the progress we’ve made — getting bin Laden, putting al Qaeda between Afghanistan and Pakistan back on its heels — that this radical, violent extremism is still out there.  And we’ve got to stay on top of it.  It’s also a reminder of how courageous our embassy personnel tend to be, because you can never have 100 percent security in some of these places.  The countries themselves sometimes are ill-equipped to provide the kind of security that you want.  Even if we reinforce it, there are still vulnerabilities.

And these diplomats, they go out there and they serve every day.  Oftentimes, they have their families with them.  They do an incredible job and sometimes don’t get enough credit.  So we’re grateful to them and we’ve got to do everything we can to protect them.  (Applause.)

Q    This global travel warning, this is for Americans all around the world?  Are we telling people don’t take that European vacation just yet?  What are we saying?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think the general rule is just show some common sense and some caution.  So there are some countries where you’re less likely to experience a terrorist attack.  There are some where there are more dangers.  And if people are paying attention, checking with the State Department or embassy, going on the website before you travel, find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations.  They just have to make sure that they’re doing so in a prudent way.

Q    What do you say to those cynics who go, oh, this is an overreaction to Benghazi — how do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT:  One thing I’ve tried to do as President is not over react, but make sure that as much as possible the American people understand that there are genuine risks out there.  What’s great about what we’ve seen with America over the last several years is how resilient we are.  So after the Boston bombing, for example, the next day folks were out there, they’re going to ball games.  They are making sure that we’re not reacting in a way that somehow shuts us down.

And that’s the right reaction.  Terrorists depend on the idea that we’re going to be terrorized.  And we’re going to live our lives.  And the odds of people dying in a terrorist attack obviously are still a lot lower than in a car accident, unfortunately.  But there are things that we can do to make sure that we’re keeping the pressure on these networks that would try to injure Americans.  And the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed is making sure that I’m doing everything I can to keep Americans safe.  (Applause.)

Q    It’s safe to say that we learned about these threats through the NSA intelligence program?  Is that a fair assessment?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this intelligence-gathering that we do is a critical component of counterterrorism.  And obviously, with Mr. Snowden and the disclosures of classified information, this raised a lot of questions for people.  But what I said as soon as it happened I continue to believe in, which is a lot of these programs were put in place before I came in.  I had some skepticism, and I think we should have a healthy skepticism about what government is doing.  I had the programs reviewed.  We put in some additional safeguards to make sure that there’s federal court oversight as well as congressional oversight, that there is no spying on Americans.

We don’t have a domestic spying program.  What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.  And that information is useful.  But what I’ve said before I want to make sure I repeat, and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy.  None of the revelations show that government has actually abused these powers, but they’re pretty significant powers.

And I’ve been talking to Congress and civil libertarians and others about are there additional ways that we can make sure that people know nobody is listening to your phone call, but we do want to make sure that after a Boston bombing, for example, we’ve got the phone numbers of those two brothers — we want to be able to make sure did they call anybody else?  Are there networks in New York, are there networks elsewhere that we have to roll up?  And if we can make sure that there’s confidence on the part of the American people that there’s oversight, then I think we can make sure that we’re properly balancing our liberty and our security.

Q    When we come back, I want to ask you about Russia and Snowden.  I hit on something in the monologue which just seems incredible to me, and I want to get your thoughts on that.

More with the President when we come back.  (Applause.)
* * *

Q    Welcome back to our discussion with President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

Let me ask you about this — the NSA leaker Edward Snowden.  Some call him a whistleblower.  What do you call him?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we don’t know yet exactly what he did, other than what he’s said on the Internet, and it’s important for me not to prejudge something.

Q    Got you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hopefully, at some point he’ll go to trial and he will have a lawyer and due process, and we can make those decisions.

I can tell you that there are ways, if you think that the government is abusing a program, of coming forward.  In fact, I, through executive order, signed whistleblower protection for intelligence officers or people who are involved in the intelligence industry.  So you don’t have to break the law.  You don’t have to divulge information that could compromise American security.  You can come forward, come to the appropriate individuals and say, look, I’ve got a problem with what’s going on here, I’m not sure whether it’s being done properly.

If, in fact, the allegations are true, then he didn’t do that.  And that is a huge problem because a lot of what we do depends on terrorists networks not knowing that, in fact, we may be able to access their information.

Q    Let me add — now, he was a contracted employee.


Q    And it seems the government has a lot of these.  I remember when I was coming up my brother was in ROTC, and in those days, they would take college students, you go into the Army, the Army would train you.  This guy is being paid money by an outside firm, living in Hawaii, got the stripper girlfriend. All of a sudden you’re all upset with what the government is doing, and you go to another country.  I mean, in my era, Daniel Ellsberg stood in the town square and said, “I’ve got this,” got arrested, The New York Times — I mean, should we go back to not using so many — whether it’s Blackwater or any of these contract — these people who are Hessians, they get paid?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think you’re raising an important issue.  We’ve been trying to reduce the reliance on contractors. Some of the contractors do a great job, and they’re patriots and they’re trying to support our mission.  Sometimes they can do it more efficiently or effectively if they’ve got some specialized knowledge.  But one of the things that I’ve asked our team to look at is, when it comes to intelligence, should we, in fact, be farming that much stuff out.  And there are a lot of extraordinarily capable folks in our military and our government who can do this, and probably do it cheaper, and then benefit from the training that they get so that when they transfer — (applause) — they’re in a better position.

Q    Now, were you surprised that Russia granted Snowden asylum?

THE PRESIDENT:  I was disappointed because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a law-breaker or an alleged law-breaker in their country, we evaluate it and we try to work with them.  They didn’t do that with us.  And in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately.  A lot of what’s been going on hasn’t been major breaks in the relationship, and they still help us on supplying our troops in Afghanistan; they’re still helping us on counterterrorism work; they were helpful after the Boston bombing in that investigation.  And so there’s still a lot of business that we can do with them.

But there have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality.  And what I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that’s the past and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.

Q    And Putin seems to me like one of those old-school KGB guys.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, he headed up the KGB.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes.  Well, that’s what I mean.  Yes, that’s what I mean.  He has that mentality.  I mean, look at this picture here. You two don’t look pretty — (laughter) — you look like me and the NBC executives.  What is going on there?  (Laughter.)  That doesn’t look like a friendly picture.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the truth is, is that when we have meetings we can have some pretty blunt exchanges and animated exchanges.  But he’s got — that seems to be his preferred style during press conferences, is sitting back and not looking too excited.  (Laughter.)  Now, part of it is he’s not accustomed to having press conferences where you’ve got a bunch of reporters yelling questions at you.

Q    Now, the G20 summit is in St. Petersburg next —

THE PRESIDENT:  Coming up, right.

Q    Are you going to that and will you meet with Putin?

THE PRESIDENT:  I will be going to that.  I will be going to that because the G20 summit is the main forum where we talk about the economy, the world economy, with all the top economic powers in the world.  So it’s not something unique to Russia.  They’re hosting it this year, but it’s important for us, as the leading economy in the world, to make sure that we’re there — in part because creating jobs, improving our economy, building up our manufacturing base, increasing wages — all those things now depend on how we compete in this global economy.  And when you’ve got problems in Europe, or China is slowing down, that has an impact here in the United States.

And I’ve been saying for the entire tenure of my presidency that my number-one priority at all times is how do we create an economy where, if you work hard in this country, you can succeed. And there are a lot of things that we can do here in this country, but we’ve also got to pay attention to what’s going on outside it.

Q    Well, something that shocked me about Russia — and I’m surprised this is not a huge story — suddenly, homosexuality is against the law.  I mean, this seems like Germany:  Let’s round up the Jews, let’s round up the gays, let’s round up the blacks. I mean, it starts with that.  You round up people who you don’t
— I mean, why is not more of the world outraged at this?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ve been very clear that when it comes to universal rights, when it comes to people’s basic freedoms, that whether you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country.  And I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them.

Now, what’s happening in Russia is not unique.  When I traveled to Africa, there were some countries that are doing a lot of good things for their people, who we’re working with and helping on development issues, but in some cases have persecuted gays and lesbians.  And it makes for some uncomfortable press conferences sometimes.  But one of the things that I think is very important for me to speak out on is making sure that people are treated fairly and justly, because that’s what we stand for. And I believe that that’s a precept that’s not unique to America, that’s something that should apply everywhere.  (Applause.)

Q    Do you think it will affect the Olympics?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently.  They’re athletes, they’re there to compete.  And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.  (Applause.)

Q    Good enough for me.

We’ll be right back.  We’ll talk about the economy when we come back.

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.

Q    More with President Obama right after this.  (Applause.)

* * *

Q    Welcome back.  We’re talking with the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Hey, let’s talk about the economy.  Things seem to be getting better, seem to be improving.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the economy is growing.

Q    Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  The unemployment rate has been ticking down, and housing is improving.  We’ve seen the deficit cut in half.  Health care costs are actually going up slower than they have in — any time in the last 50 years.  So there are a lot of good trends.

Q    Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  But I think what folks all across the country would tell you is we’ve got a lot more work to do.  Wages and salaries haven’t gone up.  Middle-class families are still struggling to make sure they can pay for their kids’ college education.  They’re still concerned about whether they can retire.

And what Washington should be thinking about every single day is how do we make sure we’ve got an economy where if folks work hard, they can find a good job that pays a decent wage;  they can send their kids to college; they’ve got health care they can count on; they can retire even if they don’t get rich — or even if they’re not rich; and that we’re creating these ladders of opportunities for people to get into the middle class.

    And what’s happened over the last 20 years is — actually longer than that, probably over the last 30 — is that the gap between those of us at the very top and the vast middle has been growing wider and wider.  And some of that is globalization.  Some of it is technology.  You go to a factory — you’re a car guy — if you go to an auto plant now, robots, and it’s clean as a whistle, and it doesn’t employ as many people as it used to.  So a lot of those middle-class jobs have gone away.

And what we have to do is make sure that we are investing in infrastructure, research; making sure our kids are educated properly; and an improved and more stable housing market instead of the kind of bubbles that we had before.  All those things can really make a difference.

     Q    You mentioned infrastructure.  Why is that a partisan issue?  I live in a town, the bridge is falling apart, it’s not safe.  How does that become Republican or Democrat?  How do you not just fix the bridge?  (Laughter and applause.)

     THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t know.  As you know, for the last three years, I’ve said, let’s work together.  Let’s find a financing mechanism and let’s go ahead and fix our bridges, fix our roads, sewer systems, our ports.  The Panama is being widened so that these big supertankers can come in.  Now, that will be finished in 2015.  If we don’t deepen our ports all along the Gulf — places like Charleston, South Carolina, or Savannah, Georgia, or Jacksonville, Florida — if we don’t do that, those ships are going to go someplace else.  And we’ll lose jobs.  Businesses won’t locate here.

So this is something that traditionally has been bipartisan. I mean, it used to be Republicans and Democrats, they love cutting those ribbons.

Q    Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  And we’ve got a bunch of construction workers who aren’t working right now.  They’ve got the skills.  They want to get on the job.  It would have a huge impact on the economy not just now, but well into the future.  So I’m just going to keep on pushing Republicans to join with us, and let’s try to do it.

Part of it is — what they’ll say is, we like infrastructure, but we don’t want to pay for it.  And one of the things I’ve been trying to get across here is, is that we don’t need a huge government, but we need government doing some basic things, and we should all agree on a sensible mechanism to go ahead and pay for it — make sure we don’t waste money, make sure we’re cutting down on permitting times and delays, but let’s go ahead and get it done.

Q    Would it be possible to do a modern WPA, almost like a America Peace Corps where kids get paid a decent wage, you give them food, and they fix up Detroit, they fix up other cities —  whatever — they fix bridges?  I mean, when you travel this country, you see these great bridges and things that were built by — and they have the plaque, the guys that built it in 1932, in 1931.

THE PRESIDENT:  And it was incredibly important for not just the economy in the ‘30s, we use it still — Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam.  It opened up opportunity for everybody.  The Interstate Highway System — think of all the businesses that got created because we put that together.

So it’s possible.  The question is do we have the political will to do it.  And my argument to Congress has been, this is just like your house.  You can put off fixing the roof.  You can put off doing the tuckpointing.  You can put off replacing the old boiler.  But sooner or later, you’re going to have to fix it, and it’s going to be more expensive the longer you put it off.  When we’ve got unemployed folks right now, we should be putting them to work, and it would be good for the entire country.  (Applause.)

Q    And let me ask you about something I’m seeing.  Is it me, or do I see kind of bromance with you and John McCain?  (Laughter.)  I remember you two had that lovers’ quarrel for a while.  And, oh, now, you’re, oh — well, you’re best friends.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know that’s how —

Q    What happened?

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s how a classic romantic comedy goes, right?  (Laughter.)  Initially you’re not getting along, and then you keep on bumping into each other.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes, but what’s — I mean, what changed?  Who saw the light?  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  John McCain and I have a number of philosophical differences, but he is a person of integrity.  He is willing to say things regardless of the politics.  The fact that he worked hard with a group of Democratic and Republican senators on immigration reform; they passed a bill in the Senate that will make sure that folks who are here illegally have to pay back-taxes and pay a penalty and get to the back of the line, but over time have a pathway to citizenship, and make sure that we’re strengthening our borders.  He went ahead and passed that even though there are some questions in his own party.  So I think that he deserves credit for being somebody who is willing to go against the grain of his own party sometimes.  It’s probably not good for me to compliment him on television.

Q    Yes, yes.  (Laughter.)  Get a big head.

THE PRESIDENT:  But I think that he’s an example of a number of Republicans in the Senate, in the House, who want to be for something, not just be against everything.  (Applause.)  And the more that they can try to move in that direction, I think the better off we’ll be.

Q    Now, we’re going to take a break.  I want to talk about Hillary because I know you had lunch with her.

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.

Q    My question — my question when we come back, who asked who to lunch.  (Laughter.)  Don’t answer.  Don’t answer.  We’ll find out more with President Obama right after this.  (Applause.)

* * *

Q    (Applause.)  We are back with the President of the United States.

You and Hillary had lunch last — who invited who to lunch? I’m curious.

THE PRESIDENT:  I invited her.

Q    Okay.

THE PRESIDENT:  And we had a great time.  She had that post-administration glow.  (Laughter.)  You know, when folks leave the White House — two weeks later, they look great.  (Laughter.)  But it was a wonderful conversation.  By the end of my first term, we had become genuinely close and I could not have more respect for her.  She was a great Secretary of State, and I’m  very, very proud of the work she did.  (Applause.)

Q    Did you notice her measuring the drapes or anything like that?  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  Keep in mind, she’s been there before.
Q    Right, that’s true.  That’s true.

THE PRESIDENT:  So she doesn’t have to measure them.

Q    So what’s the latest in health care?  What’s new?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, on October 1st, people are going to be able to sign up if they don’t have health care.  If you’ve got health care, you don’t have to do anything.  The only thing that’s happened for people who have health care right now is, is that you’ve been able to benefit from the fact that we put in place a law so that insurance companies have to spend 80 percent of your premiums on health care, and if they spend it on administrative costs and high CEO salaries, they’ve got to send you a rebate.  And that’s been affecting people.  (Applause.)

If you’ve got a kid who has just graduated, doesn’t have a job with health care, they can stay on their parent’s plan.  That’s in place right now.  Free preventive care and free contraceptive care for young women and families — all that stuff is in place now.  No lifetime limits.  (Applause.)

So a lot of consumer protections got put in place.  But on October 1st, if you don’t have health care right now, you can join what are called these marketplaces and you’ll be able to get lower-cost health care.  Here in California, it’s estimated it will be 20, 30 percent cheaper than what you’re already getting. And we’ll give you subsidies — tax credits, essentially — if you still can’t afford it.

So you can go to healthcare.gov and right now you can pre-register essentially and start figuring out is this plan right for you.

Q    Well, I was able to get health care from — the guys who worked at my shop for me are all over 50.  They never had health care.  And I was able to get it now because you can’t be turned down.  So thank you for that.

THE PRESIDENT:  You can’t be turned down because of a preexisting condition.  That’s part of what we’re going to be doing.  (Applause.)

Q    Something I thought was — I thought you spoke very eloquently about the Trayvon Martin case and I could tell you were speaking from the heart.  And tell me about that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think all of us were troubled by what happened.  And any of us who were parents can imagine the heart ache that those parents went through.  It doesn’t mean that Trayvon was a perfect kid — none of us were.  We were talking offstage — when you’re a teenager, especially a teenage boy, you’re going to mess up, and you won’t always have the best judgment.  But what I think all of us agree to is, is that we should have a criminal justice system that’s fair, that’s just.  And what I wanted to try to explain was why this was a particularly sensitive topic for African American families, because a lot of people who have sons know the experience they had of being followed or being viewed suspiciously.

We all know that young African American men disproportionately have involvement in criminal activities and violence — for a lot of reasons, a lot of it having to do with poverty, a lot of it having to do with disruptions in their neighborhoods and their communities, and failing schools and all those things.  And that’s no excuse, but what we also believe in is, is that people — everybody — should be treated fairly and the system should work for everyone.  (Applause.)  And so what I’m trying to do is just —

Q    I agree.

THE PRESIDENT:  — make sure that we have a conversation and that we’re all asking ourselves are there some things that we can do to foster better understanding, and to make sure that we don’t have laws in place that encourage the kind of violent encounter that we saw there that resulted in tragedy.

Q    Let me ask you something — you told a group of young people that broccoli was your favorite food.  (Laughter.)  Now, lying to voters is one thing; lying to children, that’s — (laughter and applause) — well, that is —

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me say this —

Q    Can you put your right hand on a Bible and say, “Broccoli” — (laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me say this — I have broccoli a lot.  (Laughter.)  I mean, no, you can ask my staff.

Q    Really?

THE PRESIDENT:  It is one of my staples.  Me and broccoli, I don’t know, we’ve got a thing going.  (Laughter.)

Q    Really?

THE PRESIDENT:  It goes especially well with burgers and fries.

Q    Right, right.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.

Q    And did Michelle make a broccoli cake with broccoli icing?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I won’t go that far.

Q    Now, did the kids believe you or did they go, “Oh, come on.”

THE PRESIDENT:  No, they did kind of — they looked at me.  (Laughter.)  They had their little pads and pencils, and they were all, “Really?”  (Laughter.)  “More than chips?”  (Laughter.)

But to Michelle’s credit, the Let’s Move initiative that she’s been involved with that has gotten so many folks all around the country doing stuff to help kids exercise and eat right.  For the first time in a long time, we’ve started to see some modest reduction in childhood obesity.  So I think it’s making a difference.  (Applause.)

Q    Well, that’s good.  Really proud of that.

Mr. President, it’s been an honor.  I know you have to go.

THE PRESIDENT:  It was nice to see you.

Q    Thank you so much.

THE PRESIDENT:  Before we go, well, Jay, I know you’re very proud of your car collection.

Q    Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there’s one piece that’s missing.

Q    Cool.

THE PRESIDENT:  This is the Beast.

Q    The Beast!

THE PRESIDENT:  The one I drive in.  (Applause.)

Q    Oh, look at that.  My friend, Ed Wellburn, designed that car.  Will you sign the roof?

THE PRESIDENT:  I will sign the roof.

Q    Oh, cool.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, the doors are heavy, so when you’re getting in you may need a little help.  (Laughter.)

Q    I assume the real car will be at my garage after the show.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go, Jay.

Q    Very good.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.

Q    Mr. President, a pleasure and an honor, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  I appreciate it.

Q    Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END                     5:16 P.M. PDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 20, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the End of the G20 Summit




The G20 Summit

President Obama meets with the leaders of the world’s major advanced and emerging economies in Los Cabos, Mexico for the G20 Summit.

President Obama greets President Felipe Calderón of Mexico
President Obama greets President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, Chuck Kennedy, 6/18/12

President Obama Speaks at the End of the G20 Summit

Source: WH, 6-20-12

After two days of policy discussions and meetings with leaders from the world’s major economies, President Obama held a press conference to discuss his takeaways from the G20 Summit.

The ongoing economic crisis in Europe was a central focus of the top-level conversations.

“[This] has been an opportunity for us to hear from European leaders on the progress they’re making and on their next steps — especially in the wake of the election in Greece,” he said. “It’s also been a chance for the international community, including the United States — the largest economy in the world, and with our own record of responding to financial crises — to stress the importance of decisive action at this moment.”

The President stressed that it’s important for Europeans to take ownership over the situation, and said that leaders from the continent understand the stakes and are ready to take the steps necessary to secure stability and growth.

But he also said that the United States could do more to bolster the global economy.

“As the world’s largest economy, the best thing the United States can do is to create jobs and growth in the short term, even as we continue to put our fiscal house in order over the long term,” he said.

Read President Obama’s full remarks, including his answers to reporters, here.

Or check out a photo gallery of images from the Summit.

Learn more:

Remarks by President Obama at Press Conference After G20 Summit

Convention Center
Los Cabos, Mexico

5:47 P.M. MDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I want to begin by thanking my good friend and partner, President Calderon, and the people of Los Cabos and Mexico for their outstanding hospitality and leadership.  Mexico is the first Latin American country to host a G20 summit, and this has been another example of Mexico playing a larger role in world affairs, from the global economy to climate change to development.

Since this is my last visit to Mexico during President Calderon’s time in office, I want to say how much I’ve valued Felipe’s friendship and the progress that we’ve made together over the past several years.  And building on the spirit here at Los Cabos, I’m absolutely confident that the deep ties between our countries will only grow stronger in the years to come.

Now, over the past three years, these G20 summits have allowed our nations to pull the global economy back from a free fall and put us back on the path of recovery and growth.  In the United States, our businesses have created jobs for 27 months in a row — more than 4 million jobs in all — and our highest priority continues to be putting people back to work even faster.

Today, we recognize that there are a wide range of threats to our ongoing global economic recovery and growth.  But the one that’s received the most focus obviously and that does have a significant impact on the United States as well as globally is the situation in Europe.  As our largest trading partner, slower growth in Europe means slower growth in American jobs.  So we have a profound interest in seeing Europe prosper.  That’s why I’ve been consulting closely with my European counterparts during this crisis, as we’ve done here at Los Cabos.

I do think it’s important to note, however, that most leaders of the eurozone, the economies are not part of the G20.  The challenges facing Europe will not be solved by the G20 or by the United States.  The solutions will be debated and decided, appropriately, by the leaders and the people of Europe.

So this has been an opportunity for us to hear from European leaders on the progress they’re making and on their next steps — especially in the wake of the election in Greece, and because they’re heading into the EU summit later this month.  It’s also been a chance for the international community, including the United States — the largest economy in the world, and with our own record of responding to financial crises — to stress the importance of decisive action at this moment.

Now, markets around the world as well as governments have been asking if Europe is ready to do what is necessary to hold the eurozone together.  Over the last two days European leaders here in Cabos have made it clear that they understand the stakes and they pledged to take the actions needed to address this crisis and restore confidence, stability, and growth.  Let me just be a little more specific.

First, our friends in Europe clearly grasp the seriousness of the situation and are moving forward with a heightened sense of urgency.  I welcome the important steps that they have already taken to promote growth, financial stability and fiscal responsibility.  I’m very pleased that the European leaders here said that they will take all necessary measures to safeguard the integrity and stability of the eurozone, to improve the functioning of the financial markets.  This will contribute to breaking the feedback loop between sovereigns and banks, and make sovereign borrowing costs sustainable.

I also welcome the adoption of the fiscal compact and it’s ongoing implementation, assessed on a structural basis, together with a growth strategy which includes structural reforms.

G20 leaders all supported Europe working in partnership with the next Greek government to ensure that they remain on a path to reform and sustainability within the eurozone.  Another positive step forward was the eurozone’s commitment to work on a more integrated financial architecture — including banking supervision, resolution, and recapitalization, as well as deposit insurance.  Also, in the coming days Spain will lay out the details of its financial support request for its banks restructuring agency, providing clarity to reassure markets on the form and the amount and the structure of support to be approved at the earliest time.

It’s also positive that the eurozone will pursue structural reforms to strengthen competitiveness in deficit countries, and to promote demand and growth in surplus countries to reduce imbalances within the euro area.

And finally, I welcome the fact that Europe is determined to move forward quickly on measures to support growth and investment including by completing the European single market and making better use of European funds.

Of course, Europe is not, as I said, the only source of concern when it comes to global growth.  The G20 also agreed that reversing the economic slowdown demands a renewed focus on growth and job creation.

As the world’s largest economy, the best thing the United States can do is to create jobs and growth in the short term, even as we continue to put our fiscal house in order over the long term.  And as part of that effort, we’ve made significant progress in advancing our trade agenda.  This is an essential to promoting growth, innovation and jobs in the United States.

Here in Los Cabos, we announced important steps towards closer integration with three of our major trading partners.  Both Mexico and Canada have been invited to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which is an ambitious 21st century trade agreement that will now include 11 countries.  And this agreement holds enormous opportunities to boost trade in one of the world’s fastest growing regions.

Even as we build this new framework for trade in the Asia Pacific, we’re also working to expand our trade with Europe.  So today, the United States and the European Union agreed to take the next step in our work towards the possible launching of negotiations on an agreement to strengthen our already very deep trade and investment partnership.

In addition, and in keeping with our commitments at the last G20 in Cannes, we agreed that countries should not intervene to hold their currencies at undervalued levels, and that countries with large surpluses and export-oriented economies needed to continue to boost demand.

So, in closing, I’d note that with Mexico’s leadership, we continue to make progress across a range of challenges that are vital to our shared prosperity — from food security to Greek economic growth that combats climate change, from financial education and protection for consumers to combating corruption that stifles economic growth, and in strengthening financial regulation to creating a more level playing field.  All of this happened in large part because of the leadership of President Calderón.  I want to thank him, and I want to thank my fellow leaders for their partnership as we work very hard to create jobs and opportunity that all of our citizens deserve.

So with that, I’m going to start with Ben Feller of AP.

Q    Thank you very much, Mr. President.  We’re all hearing a lot of encouraging promises about what Europe plans to do, but can you assure us that those actions, if they’re able to come together on them, will actually do anything to create jobs in America this year?  And if Europe is not able to rally in a big way pretty quickly, do you think that will cost you the election?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think that what I’ve heard from European leaders during the course of these discussions is they understand the stakes.  They understand why it’s important for them to take bold and decisive action.  And I’m confident that they can meet those tests.

Now, I always show great sympathy for my European friends because they don’t have to deal with one Congress — they have to deal with 17 parliaments, if you’re talking about the eurozone.  If you’re talking about the European Union, you’re talking about 27.  And that means that sometimes, even after they’ve conceived of approaches to deal with the crisis, they have to work through all the politics to get it done.  And markets are a lot more impatient.

And so what I’ve encouraged them to do is to lay out a framework for where they want to go in increasing European integration, in resolving the financial pressures that are on sovereign countries.  Even if they can’t achieve all of it in one full swoop, I think if people have a sense of where they’re going, that can provide confidence and break the fever.  Because if you think about Europe, look, this remains one of the wealthiest, most productive regions of the world.  Europe continues to have enormous strengths — a very well-educated, productive workforce.  They have some of the biggest, best-run companies in the world.  They have trading relationships around the world.  And all of these problems that they’re facing right now are entirely solvable, but the markets, when they start seeing potential uncertainty, show a lot more risk aversion, and you can start getting into a negative cycle.

And what we have to do is it to create a positive cycle where people become more confident, the markets settle down, and they have the time and the space to execute the kinds of structural reforms that not only Europe, but all of us are having to go through, in balancing the need for growth, but also dealing with issues like debt and deficits.  And I’m confident that over the next several weeks, Europe will paint a picture of where we need to go, take some immediate steps that are required to give them that time and space.  And based on the conversations that I’ve had here today and the conversations that I’ve had over the last several months, I’m confident that they are very much committed to the European project.

Now, all this affects the United States.  Europe as a whole is our largest trading partner.  And if fewer folks are buying stuff in Paris or Berlin, that means that we’re selling less stuff made in Pittsburgh or Cleveland.  But I think there are a couple of things that we’ve already done that help.  The financial regulatory reforms that we passed means that our banks are better capitalized.  It means that our supervision and our mechanisms for looking at trouble spots in our financial system are superior to what they were back in 2008.  That’s an important difference.  But there’s still some more things we can do.

And the most important thing we can do is something that I’ve already talked about.  If Congress would act on a jobs plan that independent economists say would put us on the path of creating an extra million jobs on top of the ones that have already been created — putting teachers back in the classroom, putting construction workers back on the job rebuilding infrastructure that badly needs to be rebuilt — all those things can make a significant difference.  And given that we don’t have full control over what happens in Europe or the pace at which things happen in Europe, let’s make sure that we’re doing those things that we do have control over and that are good policy anyway.

Q    ((inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s fair to say that any — all these issues, economic issues, will potentially have some impact on the election.  But that’s not my biggest concern right now.  My biggest concern is the same concern I’ve had over the last three and a half years, which is folks who are out of work or underemployed or unable to pay the bills — what steps are we taking to potentially put them in a stronger position.  And I consistently believed that if we take the right policy steps, if we’re doing the right thing, then the politics will follow.  And my mind hasn’t changed on that.

Jeff Mason, Reuters.  Where’s Jeff?

Q    Thank you, sir.  My question is about Syria.  Did President Putin of Russia indicate any desire on Russia’s part for Assad to step down or to leave power?  And did you make any tangible progress in your meetings with him or with Chinese President Hu in finding a way to stop the bloodshed there?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, these were major topics of conversation in both meetings.  And anybody who’s seen scenes of what’s happening in Syria I think recognizes that the violence is completely out of hand, that civilians are being targeted, and that Assad has lost legitimacy.  And when you massacre your own citizens in the ways that we’ve seen, it is impossible to conceive of a orderly political transition that leaves Assad in power.

Now, that doesn’t mean that that process of political transition is easy.  And there’s no doubt that Russia, which historically has had a relationship with Syria, as well as China, which is generally wary of commenting on what it considers to be the internal affairs of other countries, are and have been more resistant to applying the kind of pressure that’s necessary to achieve that political transition.

We had a very candid conversation.  I wouldn’t suggest that at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China in their positions, but I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war.  I do not think they condone the massacres that we’ve witnessed.  And I think they believe that everybody would be better served if Syria had a mechanism for ceasing the violence and creating a legitimate government.

What I’ve said to them is that it’s important for the world community to work with the United Nations and Kofi Annan on what a political transition would look like.  And my hope is, is that we can have those conversations in the coming week or two and that we can present to the world, but most importantly, to the Syrian people, a pathway whereby this conflict can be resolved.

But I don’t think it would fair to say that the Russians and the Chinese are signed on at this point.  I think what is fair to say is that they recognize that the current situation is grave; it does not serve their interests; it certainly does not serve the interests of the Syrian people.  And where we agree is that if we can help the Syrian people find a path to a resolution, all of us would be better off.

But it’s my personal belief — and I shared this with them  — that I don’t see a scenario in which Assad stays and violence is reduced.  He had an opportunity with the Annan plan.  They did not fulfill their side of the deal.  Instead we saw escalation and murder of innocent women and children.  And at this point, we have the international monitors that were sent in having to leave because of this violence that’s being perpetrated.  And although you’ll hear sometimes from some commentators that the opposition has engaged in violence as well, and obviously there’s evidence of that, I think it’s also fair to say that those haunting images that we saw in places like Hom were the direct result of decisions made by the Syrian government and ultimately Mr. Assad is responsible.

Q    Did either of them talk about Syria without Assad?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We had an intensive conversation about it. If you’re asking me whether they signed on to that proposition, I don’t think it would be fair to say that they are there yet.  But my — I’m going to keep on making the argument and my expectation is, is that at some point there’s a recognition that it’s hard to envision a better future for Syria while Assad is still there.

Julianna Goldman.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  One of Mitt Romney’s economic advisors recently wrote in a German publication that your recommendations to Europe and to Germany in particular reveal ignorance of the causes of the crisis, and he said that they have the same flaws as your own economic policies.  I want to get your response to that, and also to follow up on Ben’s question.  Europe has been kicking the can down the road for years, so why are you any more convinced that we won’t see another three-month fix emerge out of Brussels at the end of the month?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, with respect to Mr. Romney’s advisors, I suggest you go talk to Mr. Romney about his advisors.  I would point out that we have one President at a time and one administration at a time, and I think traditionally the notion has been that America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.  I’d also suggest that he may not be familiar with what our suggestions to the Germans have been.  And I think sometimes back home there is a desire to superimpose whatever ideological arguments are taking place back home on to a very complicated situation in Europe.

The situation in Europe is a combination of things.  You’ve got situations where some countries did have undisciplined fiscal practices, public debt.  You had some countries like Spain whose problems actually arose out of housing speculation and problems in the private sector that didn’t have to do with public debt.

I think that there’s no doubt that all the countries in Europe at this point recognize the need for growth strategies inside of Europe that are consistent with fiscal consolidation plans — and by the way, that’s exactly what I think the United States should be thinking about.  The essence of the plan that I presented back in September was how do we increase growth and jobs now while providing clarity in terms of how we reduce our deficit and our debt medium and long term.

And I think that’s the right recipe generally — not just for us, but across the board.

You had a second question.  What was it?

Q    Why are you —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Why am I confident?  Well, look, I don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish here.  Resolving the issues in Europe is difficult.  As I said, there are a lot of players involved.  There are a lot of complexities to the problems, because we’re talking about the problems of a bunch of different countries at this point.  Changing market psychology is very difficult.  But the tools are available.  The sense of urgency among the leaders is clear.  And so what we have to do is combine that sense of urgency with the tools that are available and bridge them in a timely fashion that can provide markets confidence.  And I think that can be done.

Hopefully — just to give an example — when Spain clarifies exactly how it intends to draw down and utilize dollars — or not dollars, but euros to recapitalize its banking system, given that it’s already got support from other European countries, given that the resources are available, what’s missing right now is just a sense of specifics and the path whereby that takes place. When markets see that, that can help build confidence and reverse psychology.

So there are going to be a range of steps that they can take.  None of them are going to be a silver bullet that solves this thing entirely over the next week or two weeks or two months.  But each step points to the fact that Europe is moving towards further integration rather than breakup, and that these problems can be resolved — and points to the underlying strength in Europe’s economies.

These are not countries that somehow at their core are unproductive or dysfunctional; these are advanced economies with extraordinarily productive people.  They’ve got a particular challenge that has to do with a currency union that didn’t have all the best bells and whistles of a fiscal or a monetary union, and they’re catching up now to some of those needs.  And they just need the time and the space to do it.  In the meantime, they’ve got to send a strong signal to the market, and I’m confident they can do that.

All right.  Thank you very much, everybody.

6:12 P.M. MDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 18. 2012: President Barack Obama’s Joint Statement with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin After Bilateral Meeting




A Bilateral Meeting with President Putin

Source: WH, 6-18-12
President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia (June 18, 2012)

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at the Esperanza Resort in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico, June 18, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This afternoon, President Obama had his first face-to-face meeting with his Russian counterpart — President Vladimir Putin — since the other leader was inaugurated in May.

After meeting for two hours, the men spoke briefly to reporters.

President Obama described the conversation as “candid, thoughtful and thorough.” He said:

Over the last three years, the United States and Russia have been able to make significant progress on a wide range of issues, including the New START Treaty, the 1,2,3 Agreement, the work we’ve done on Russia’s accession to the WTO, and setting up a presidential process whereby issues of trade and commerce, science, technology are all discussed at a much more intensive level.

We agreed that we need to build on these successes, even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement, and that we can find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions.

The leaders also put out a joint statement that touched on many of these issues in further detail.

Joint Statement by the President of the United States of America Barack Obama and the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

The United States of America and the Russian Federation confirm our commitment to strengthening close and cooperative relations for the benefit of the peoples of our countries, international peace, global prosperity, and security.  In recent years, we have laid a solid foundation for expanding our bilateral interaction in a variety of areas.  Today we agree to continue this work guided by the principles of the rule of law, respect for human rights, equality, and mutual respect.

One of the key tasks on our shared agenda is the expansion of trade and investment relations, which should foster mutual economic growth and prosperity.  To this end, we have agreed to prioritize the expansion and diversification of our bilateral trade and investment through nondiscriminatory access to our markets based on international rules.

An important step in this direction is Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which has become possible thanks to our joint efforts.  In order for WTO rules and mechanisms to apply to our bilateral trade, the Obama Administration is working closely with the U.S. Congress to terminate, as soon as possible, application of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with respect to Russia and extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations to the Russian Federation.  The United States has also welcomed and offered its support to Russia’s pursuit of membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation remain a special responsibility for the United States and Russia as the two states with the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenals.  We reiterate our strong support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and our shared goal of universal adherence to and compliance with that Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s comprehensive safeguards, consistent with the Treaty’s Article III, and with the Additional Protocol.  We recognize the achievements made through the Nuclear Security Summits, including the removal and elimination of nuclear materials, minimization of the civilian use of highly enriched uranium, and worldwide improvements in a nuclear security culture.

We are continuing research on the feasibility of converting research reactors in the United States and Russia to low-enriched uranium fuel.  We agree to redouble bilateral efforts to improve nuclear security, counter nuclear smuggling, and combat nuclear terrorism, as well as to facilitate the beginning of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament on a fissile material cutoff treaty that will halt production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices, within the framework of a balanced program of work at the Conference.  We will strive for the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

As a priority, we intend to successfully implement the New START Treaty, and to continue our discussions on strategic stability.  Despite differences in assessments, we have agreed to continue a joint search for solutions to challenges in the field of missile defense.

The pursuit of international peace and security remains a priority for the United States and Russia, recognizing how much we have to gain by working together to overcome the main challenges of this century.  While recognizing Iran’s right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, we agree that Iran must undertake serious efforts aimed at restoring international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.  To this end, Tehran must fully comply with its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency for the expedited resolution of all remaining issues.  Our common goal remains a comprehensive negotiated settlement based on the principles of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, and we look forward to constructive engagement with Iran through the P5+1 process, including the latest round of talks taking place in Moscow on June 18-19.

We urge North Korea to come into compliance with all the relevant directives of the UN Security Council and fulfill its commitments under the Joint Statement by China, the DPRK, the Republic of Korea, Russia, the U.S., and Japan of September 19, 2005.  We count on the DPRK not to commit acts that would escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.  As partners in the Six-Party talks, we are prepared to continue the joint efforts to achieve verifiable denuclearization on the Korean peninsula in accordance with the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005.

We agree to cooperate bilaterally and multilaterally to solve regional conflicts.  In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence and express full support for the efforts of UN/League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, including moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity.  We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.

The need for a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East has never been more apparent, and we will continue working with our Quartet partners to advance peace efforts on the basis of the Quartet statements of September 23, 2011, and April 11, 2012, and to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s ability to meet the full range of civil and security needs of the Palestinian people, both now and in a future state.

The United States and Russia continue to face a common threat from al Qaeda and other terrorist groups operating in and around Afghanistan.  We recognize that this is a pivotal time for international efforts to strengthen security and promote economic development in Afghanistan, as well as to counter the narcotics threat.  With the successful implementation of bilateral and multilateral transit arrangements, Russia has made a significant contribution to international efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan.

We reiterate that the process leading to reconciliation must be truly Afghan-led and Afghan-implemented.  Reconciliation must include, as integral parts, a commitment to a sovereign, stable, and unified Afghanistan, breaking ties to al Qaeda, ending violence, and accepting the Afghan Constitution, including its human rights provisions, notably the rights of women.  We will explore opportunities to strengthen the Northern Distribution Network, to bolster regional security, and to expand cooperation as we fight terrorism and narcotics trafficking, taking advantage of the capabilities of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the NATO-Russia Council to enhance law-enforcement training for the region.

The United States of America and the Russian Federation intend to increase cooperation in addressing the world drug problem, so as to radically reduce production and consumption of illicit drugs, as affirmed by resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.  We are ready to continue active support of efforts undertaken by the international community to counteract illicit production and illegal trafficking and consumption of drugs.

The United States of America and the Russian Federation are committed to furthering our multifaceted cooperation to counter terrorism.  Both our nations face persistent and evolving domestic and transnational terrorist threats, including from terrorists based in North Africa, the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  Acknowledging the global character of these challenges, we reaffirm our readiness for further joint work to implement the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy, the UN Security Council resolutions and statements on terrorism, as well as to utilize other applicable international counterterrorism instruments, including counterterrorism sanctions regimes introduced by the UN Security Council with respect to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The United States and Russia affirm our intent to work together to ensure the long-term success of the recently launched Global Counterterrorism Forum and continue to interact on various multilateral platforms, including the G-8 Roma/Lyon Group, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  We will continue to work together to counter financial support for terrorism, disrupt the possible connections between terrorist networks and criminal groups, prevent the spread of violent extremism, and improve transportation security, including by concluding bilateral agreements in this field.

An important role in strengthening U.S.-Russian relations belongs to the Presidential Commission, created in July 2009, which coordinates our bilateral cooperation on the widest range of issues from strategic stability, energy and space, fighting terrorism and illegal drug trafficking and consumption– to public health, agriculture, the environment, civil society, and cultural and educational exchanges.  We are pleased to announce a new Working Group on Military-Technical Cooperation.  U.S.-Russian cooperation has been growing in the global fight against malaria.

This year we together celebrate the 200th anniversary of Fort Ross in California, which was founded by Russian settlers and underscores the historic ties between our countries.  In order to give our bilateral relations a new quality, we intend to pay special attention to broadening contacts between our peoples and societies, including by liberalizing the visa regime.  We welcome steps to bring into force the U.S.-Russian Agreement on Simplifying Visa Formalities, signed in 2011, which should make two-way travel by American and Russian tourist and business travelers easier.  We also commit to work together to ensure the rights and protections of adopted children.  This will be facilitated by bringing into force and implementing the bilateral adoptions agreement signed last year.

The United States of America and the Russian Federation will only be able to achieve positive new results by acting together for the purpose of strengthening the democracy, security, and prosperity of the American and Russian peoples, and by solving other complex challenges confronting our countries and the international community.

Remarks by President Obama and President Putin of Russia After Bilateral Meeting

Esperanza Resort
Los Cabos, Mexico

12:42 P.M. MDT

PRESIDENT PUTIN:  (As interpreted.)  Mr. President, this has been our second meeting.  I remember our lengthy meeting we had in Moscow.

Today we had a very meaningful and subject-oriented discussion.  We’ve been able to discuss issues pertaining to security.  We discussed bilateral economic relations.  In this regard, I’d like to thank you for the support rendered to Russia with our accession to the World Trade Organization.  I’m confident this will help to further develop the economic relations between our two countries, to promote the creation of jobs in both countries.

We also discussed international affairs, including the Syrian affair.  From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues.  And we’ll now further develop our contacts both on a personal level and on the level of our experts involved.

You visited the Russian Federation three years ago.  Now welcome again.  I invite you to visit Moscow.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, Mr. President.

We, in fact, did have a candid, thoughtful and thorough conversation on a whole range of bilateral and international issues.  Over the last three years, the United States and Russia have been able to make significant progress on a wide range of issues, including the New START Treaty, the 1,2,3 Agreement, the work we’ve done on Russia’s accession to the WTO, and setting up a presidential process whereby issues of trade and commerce, science, technology are all discussed at a much more intensive level.

We agreed that we need to build on these successes, even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement, and that we can find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions.  In particular, we discussed the need to expand trade and commercial ties between the United States and Russia, which are still far below where they should be.  And I emphasized my priority of having Congress repeal Jackson-Vanik, provide permanent trade relations status to Russia so that American businesses can take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities now that Russia is a member of the WTO.

We discussed a range of strategic issues, including missile defense, and resolved to continue to work through some of the difficult problems involved there.

I thanked the President and the Russian people for the work they’ve done with us on the Northern Distribution Network that is vital to providing supplies and resources to our brave troops who are still in Afghanistan.

We emphasized our shared approach when it comes to the Iranian situation as members of the P5+1.  We agreed that there’s still time and space to resolve diplomatically the issue of Iran’s potential development of nuclear weapons, as well as its interest in developing peaceful nuclear power.

And finally, as Mr. President mentioned, we discussed Syria, where we agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war, and the kind of horrific events that we’ve seen over the last several weeks, and we pledged to work with other international actors including the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and all the interested parties in trying to find a resolution to this problem.

Mr. President, I look forward to visiting Russia again, and I look forward to hosting you in the United States.

Thank you, everybody.

12:53 P.M. MDT

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