Full Text Political Transcripts May 27, 2016: President Barack Obama’s speech at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Text of Obama’s speech at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Source: WaPo, 5-27-16

Seventy one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. The flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself

Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.

Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.

It is not the fact of war that sets Hiroshima apart. Artifacts tell us that violent conflict appeared with the very first man. Our early ancestors, having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood, used these tools not just for hunting but against their own kind.

On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold, compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal. Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated, and at each juncture, innocents have suffered — a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.

The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth.

And yet, the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes. An old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.

In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children — no different than us — shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death. There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war, memorials that tell stories courage and heroism, graves and empty camps, the echo of unspeakable depravity.

Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction: how the very spark that marks us a species — our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our tool-making, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.

How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.

Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness. And yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.

Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos. But those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.

The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

That is why we come to this place.

We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war, and the wars that came before, and the wars that would follow.

Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering, but we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.

Someday the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change. And since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and Japan forged not only an alliance but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war.

The nations of Europe built a union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy. Oppressed peoples and nations won liberation. An international community established institutions and treaties that worked to avoid war and aspired to restrict and roll back and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.

Still, every act of aggression between nations, every act of terror and corruption and cruelty and oppression that we see around the world, shows our work is never done. We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil. So nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.

We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations and secure deadly material from fanatics.

And yet, that is not enough. For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale.

We must change our mindset about war itself to prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun. To see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition. To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy, but by what we build. And perhaps above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.

For this, too, is what makes our species unique. We are not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story — one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.

We see these stories in the hibakusha: the woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb because she recognized that what she really hated was war itself. The man who sought out families of Americans killed here because he believed their loss was equal to his own.

My own nation’s story began with simple words. All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens.

But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person. The insistence that every life is precious. The radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family.

 

That is the story that we all must tell. That is why we come to Hiroshima: so that we might think of people we love. The first smile from our children in the morning. The gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table. The comforting embrace of a parent. We can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here 71 years ago.

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations — when the choices made by leaders — reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here. But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child.

That is a future we can choose: a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.

 

 

Full Text Political Transcripts May 24, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech in Address to the People of Vietnam

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama in Address to the People of Vietnam

Source: WH, 5-24-16

National Convention Center
Hanoi, Vietnam

12:11 P.M. ICT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Xin chào!  (Applause.)  Xin chào Vietnam!  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  To the government and the people of Vietnam, thank you for this very warm welcome and the hospitality that you have shown to me on this visit.  And thank all of you for being here today.  (Applause.)   We have Vietnamese from across this great country, including so many young people who represent the dynamism, and the talent and the hope of Vietnam.

On this visit, my heart has been touched by the kindness for which the Vietnamese people are known.  In the many people who have been lining the streets, smiling and waving, I feel the friendship between our peoples.  Last night, I visited the Old Quarter here in Hanoi and enjoyed some outstanding Vietnamese food.  I tried some Bún Chả.  (Applause.)  Drank some bia Ha Noi.  But I have to say, the busy streets of this city, I’ve never seen so many motorbikes in my life.  (Laughter.)  So I haven’t had to try to cross the street so far, but maybe when I come back and visit you can tell me how.

I am not the first American President to come to Vietnam in recent times.  But I am the first, like so many of you, who came of age after the war between our countries.  When the last U.S. forces left Vietnam, I was just 13 years old.  So my first exposure to Vietnam and the Vietnamese people came when I was growing up in Hawaii, with its proud Vietnamese American community there.

At the same time, many people in this country are much younger than me.  Like my two daughters, many of you have lived your whole lives knowing only one thing — and that is peace and normalized relations between Vietnam and the United States.  So I come here mindful of the past, mindful of our difficult history, but focused on the future — the prosperity, security and human dignity that we can advance together.

I also come here with a deep respect for Vietnam’s ancient heritage.  For millennia, farmers have tended these lands — a history revealed in the Dong Son drums.  At this bend in the river, Hanoi has endured for more than a thousand years.  The world came to treasure Vietnamese silks and paintings, and a great Temple of Literature stands as a testament to your pursuit of knowledge.  And yet, over the centuries, your fate was too often dictated by others.  Your beloved land was not always your own.  But like bamboo, the unbroken spirit of the Vietnamese people was captured by Ly Thuong Kiet — “the Southern emperor rules the Southern land.  Our destiny is writ in Heaven’s Book.”

Today, we also remember the longer history between Vietnamese and Americans that is too often overlooked.  More than 200 years ago, when our Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, sought rice for his farm, he looked to the rice of Vietnam, which he said had “the reputation of being whitest to the eye, best flavored to the taste, and most productive.”  Soon after, American trade ships arrived in your ports seeking commerce.

 

During the Second World War, Americans came here to support your struggle against occupation.  When American pilots were shot down, the Vietnamese people helped rescue them.  And on the day that Vietnam declared its independence, crowds took to the streets of this city, and Ho Chi Minh evoked the American Declaration of Independence.  He said, “All people are created equal.  The Creator has endowed them with inviolable rights.  Among these rights are the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness.”

In another time, the profession of these shared ideals and our common story of throwing off colonialism might have brought us closer together sooner.  But instead, Cold War rivalries and fears of communism pulled us into conflict.  Like other conflicts throughout human history, we learned once more a bitter truth — that war, no matter what our intentions may be, brings suffering and tragedy.

At your war memorial not far from here, and with family altars across this country, you remember some 3 million Vietnamese, soldiers and civilians, on both sides, who lost their lives.  At our memorial wall in Washington, we can touch the names of 58,315 Americans who gave their lives in the conflict.  In both our countries, our veterans and families of the fallen still ache for the friends and loved ones that they lost.  Just as we learned in America that, even if we disagree about a war, we must always honor those who serve and welcome them home with the respect they deserve, we can join together today, Vietnamese and Americans, and acknowledge the pain and the sacrifices on both sides.

More recently, over the past two decades, Vietnam has achieved enormous progress, and today the world can see the strides that you have made.  With economic reforms and trade agreements, including with the United States, you have entered the global economy, selling your goods around the world.  More foreign investment is coming in.  And with one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, Vietnam has moved up to become a middle-income nation.

We see Vietnam’s progress in the skyscrapers and high-rises of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and new shopping malls and urban centers.  We see it in the satellites Vietnam puts into space and a new generation that is online, launching startups and running new ventures.  We see it in the tens of millions of Vietnamese connected on Facebook and Instagram.  And you’re not just posting selfies — although I hear you do that a lot — (laughter) — and so far, there have been a number of people who have already asked me for selfies.  You’re also raising your voices for causes that you care about, like saving the old trees of Hanoi.

So all this dynamism has delivered real progress in people’s lives.  Here in Vietnam, you’ve dramatically reduced extreme poverty, you’ve boosted family incomes and lifted millions into a fast-growing middle class.  Hunger, disease, child and maternal mortality are all down.  The number of people with clean drinking water and electricity, the number of boys and girls in school, and your literacy rate — these are all up.  This is extraordinary progress.  This is what you have been able to achieve in a very short time.

And as Vietnam has transformed, so has the relationship between our two nations.  We learned a lesson taught by the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, who said, “In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”  In this way, the very war that had divided us became a source for healing.  It allowed us to account for the missing and finally bring them home.  It allowed us to help remove landmines and unexploded bombs, because no child should ever lose a leg just playing outside.  Even as we continue to assist Vietnamese with disabilities, including children, we are also continuing to help remove Agent Orange — dioxin — so that Vietnam can reclaim more of your land.  We’re proud of our work together in Danang, and we look forward to supporting your efforts in Bien Hoa.

Let’s also not forget that the reconciliation between our countries was led by our veterans who once faced each other in battle.  Think of Senator John McCain, who was held for years here as a prisoner of war, meeting General Giap, who said our countries should not be enemies but friends.  Think of all the veterans, Vietnamese and American, who have helped us heal and build new ties.  Few have done more in this regard over the years than former Navy lieutenant, and now Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, who is here today.  And on behalf of all of us, John, we thank you for your extraordinary effort.  (Applause.)

Because our veterans showed us the way, because warriors had the courage to pursue peace, our peoples are now closer than ever before.  Our trade has surged.  Our students and scholars learn together.  We welcome more Vietnamese students to America than from any other country in Southeast Asia.  And every year, you welcome more and more American tourists, including young Americans with their backpacks, to Hanoi’s 36 Streets and the shops of Hoi An, and the imperial city of Hue.  As Vietnamese and Americans, we can all relate to those words written by Van Cao — “From now, we know each other’s homeland; from now, we learn to feel for each other.”

 

As President, I’ve built on this progress.  With our new Comprehensive Partnership, our governments are working more closely together than ever before.  And with this visit, we’ve put our relationship on a firmer footing for decades to come.  In a sense, the long story between our two nations that began with Thomas Jefferson more than two centuries ago has now come full circle.  It has taken many years and required great effort.  But now we can say something that was once unimaginable:  Today, Vietnam and the United States are partners.

And I believe our experience holds lessons for the world.  At a time when many conflicts seem intractable, seem as if they will never end, we have shown that hearts can change and that a different future is possible when we refuse to be prisoners of the past.  We’ve shown how peace can be better than war.  We’ve shown that progress and human dignity is best advanced by cooperation and not conflict.  That’s what Vietnam and America can show the world.

Now, America’s new partnership with Vietnam is rooted in some basic truths.  Vietnam is an independent, sovereign nation, and no other nation can impose its will on you or decide your destiny.  (Applause.)  Now, the United States has an interest here.  We have an interest in Vietnam’s success.  But our Comprehensive Partnership is still in its early stages.  And with the time I have left, I want to share with you the vision that I believe can guide us in the decades ahead.

First, let’s work together to create real opportunity and prosperity for all of our people.  We know the ingredients for economic success in the 21st century.  In our global economy, investment and trade flows to wherever there is rule of law, because no one wants to pay a bribe to start a business.  Nobody wants to sell their goods or go to school if they don’t know how they’re going to be treated.  In knowledge-based economies, jobs go to where people have the freedom to think for themselves and exchange ideas and to innovate.  And real economic partnerships are not just about one country extracting resources from another.  They’re about investing in our greatest resource, which is our people and their skills and their talents, whether you live in a big city or a rural village.  And that’s the kind of partnership that America offers.

As I announced yesterday, the Peace Corps will come to Vietnam for the first time, with a focus on teaching English.  A generation after young Americans came here to fight, a new generation of Americans are going to come here to teach and build and deepen the friendship between us.  (Applause.)  Some of America’s leading technology companies and academic institutions are joining Vietnamese universities to strengthen training in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine.  Because even as we keep welcoming more Vietnamese students to America, we also believe that young people deserve a world-class education right here in Vietnam.

It’s one of the reasons why we’re very excited that this fall, the new Fulbright University Vietnam will open in Ho Chi Minh City — this nation’s first independent, non-profit university — where there will be full academic freedom and scholarships for those in need.  (Applause.)  Students, scholars, researchers will focus on public policy and management and business; on engineering and computer science; and liberal arts — everything from the poetry of Nguyen Du, to the philosophy of Phan Chu Trinh, to the mathematics of Ngo Bao Chau.

And we’re going to keep partnering with young people and entrepreneurs, because we believe that if you can just access the skills and technology and capital you need, then nothing can stand in your way — and that includes, by the way, the talented women of Vietnam.  (Applause.)  We think gender equality is an important principle.  From the Trung Sisters to today, strong, confident women have always helped move Vietnam forward.  The evidence is clear — I say this wherever I go around the world — families, communities and countries are more prosperous when girls and women have an equal opportunity to succeed in school and at work and in government.  That’s true everywhere, and it’s true here in Vietnam.  (Applause.)

We’ll keep working to unleash the full potential of your economy with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Here in Vietnam, TPP will let you sell more of your products to the world and it will attract new investment.  TPP will require reforms to protect workers and rule of law and intellectual property.  And the United States is ready to assist Vietnam as it works to fully implement its commitments.  I want you to know that, as President of the United States, I strongly support TPP because you’ll also be able to buy more of our goods, “Made in America.”

Moreover, I support TPP because of its important strategic benefits.  Vietnam will be less dependent on any one trading partner and enjoy broader ties with more partners, including the United States.  (Applause.)  And TPP will reinforce regional cooperation.  It will help address economic inequality and will advance human rights, with higher wages and safer working conditions.  For the first time here in Vietnam, the right to form independent labor unions and prohibitions against forced labor and child labor.  And it has the strongest environmental protections and the strongest anti-corruption standards of any trade agreement in history.  That’s the future TPP offers for all of us, because all of us — the United States, Vietnam, and the other signatories — will have to abide by these rules that we have shaped together.  That’s the future that is available to all of us.  So we now have to get it done — for the sake of our economic prosperity and our national security.

This brings me to the second area where we can work together, and that is ensuring our mutual security.  With this visit, we have agreed to elevate our security cooperation and build more trust between our men and women in uniform.  We’ll continue to offer training and equipment to your Coast Guard to enhance Vietnam’s maritime capabilities.  We will partner to deliver humanitarian aid in times of disaster.  With the announcement I made yesterday to fully lift the ban on defense sales, Vietnam will have greater access to the military equipment you need to ensure your security.  And the United States is demonstrating our commitment to fully normalize our relationship with Vietnam.  (Applause.)

More broadly, the 20th century has taught all of us — including the United States and Vietnam — that the international order upon which our mutual security depends is rooted in certain rules and norms.  Nations are sovereign, and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its sovereignty should be respected, and it territory should not be violated.  Big nations should not bully smaller ones.  Disputes should be resolved peacefully.  (Applause.)  And regional institutions, like ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, should continue to be strengthened.  That’s what I believe.  That’s what the United States believes.  That’s the kind of partnership America offers this region.  I look forward to advancing this spirit of respect and reconciliation later this year when I become the first U.S. President to visit Laos.

In the South China Sea, the United States is not a claimant in current disputes.  But we will stand with partners in upholding core principles, like freedom of navigation and overflight, and lawful commerce that is not impeded, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, through legal means, in accordance with international law.  As we go forward, the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same.  (Applause.)

Even as we cooperate more closely in the areas I’ve described, our partnership includes a third element — addressing areas where our governments disagree, including on human rights.  I say this not to single out Vietnam.  No nation is perfect.  Two centuries on, the United States is still striving to live up to our founding ideals.  We still deal with our shortcomings — too much money in our politics, and rising economic inequality, racial bias in our criminal justice system, women still not being paid as much as men doing the same job.  We still have problems.  And we’re not immune from criticism, I promise you.  I hear it every day.  But that scrutiny, that open debate, confronting our imperfections, and allowing everybody to have their say has helped us grow stronger and more prosperous and more just.

I’ve said this before — the United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam.  The rights I speak of I believe are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They’re written into the Vietnamese constitution, which states that “citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and have the right of access to information, the right to assembly, the right to association, and the right to demonstrate.”  That’s in the Vietnamese constitution.  (Applause.)  So really, this is an issue about all of us, each country, trying to consistently apply these principles, making sure that we — those of us in government — are being true to these ideals.

In recent years, Vietnam has made some progress.  Vietnam has committed to bringing its laws in line with its new constitution and with international norms.  Under recently passed laws, the government will disclose more of its budget and the public will have the right to access more information.  And, as I said, Vietnam has committed to economic and labor reforms under the TPP.   So these are all positive steps.  And ultimately, the future of Vietnam will be decided by the people of Vietnam.  Every country will chart its own path, and our two nations have different traditions and different political systems and different cultures.  But as a friend of Vietnam, allow me to share my view — why I believe nations are more successful when universal rights are upheld.

When there is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and when people can share ideas and access the Internet and social media without restriction, that fuels the innovation economies need to thrive.  That’s where new ideas happen.  That’s how a Facebook starts.  That’s how some of our greatest companies began — because somebody had a new idea.  It was different.  And they were able to share it.  When there’s freedom of the press — when journalists and bloggers are able to shine a light on injustice or abuse — that holds officials accountable and builds public confidence that the system works.  When candidates can run for office and campaign freely, and voters can choose their own leaders in free and fair elections, it makes the countries more stable, because citizens know that their voices count and that peaceful change is possible.  And it brings new people into the system.

When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable.  And when there is freedom of assembly — when citizens are free to organize in civil society — then countries can better address challenges that government sometimes cannot solve by itself.  So it is my view that upholding these rights is not a threat to stability, but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress.

After all, it was a yearning for these rights that inspired people around the world, including Vietnam, to throw off colonialism.  And I believe that upholding these rights is the fullest expression of the independence that so many cherish, including here, in a nation that proclaims itself to be “of the People, by the People and for the People.”

Vietnam will do it differently than the United States does.  And each of us will do it differently from many other countries around the world.  But there are these basic principles that I think we all have to try to work on and improve.  And I said this as somebody who’s about to leave office, so I have the benefit of almost eight years now of reflecting on how our system has worked and interacting with countries around the world who are constantly trying to improve their systems, as well.

Finally, our partnership I think can meet global challenges that no nation can solve by itself.  If we’re going to ensure the health of our people and the beauty of our planet, then development has to be sustainable.  Natural wonders like Ha Long Bay and Son Doong Cave have to be preserved for our children and our grandchildren.  Rising seas threaten the coasts and waterways on which so many Vietnamese depend.  And so as partners in the fight against climate change, we need to fulfill the commitments we made in Paris, we need to help farmers and villages and people who depend on fishing to adapt and to bring more clean energy to places like the Mekong Delta — a rice bowl of the world that we need to feed future generations.

And we can save lives beyond our borders.  By helping other countries strengthen, for example, their health systems, we can prevent outbreaks of disease from becoming epidemics that threaten all of us.  And as Vietnam deepens its commitment to U.N. peacekeeping, the United States is proud to help train your peacekeepers.  And what a truly remarkable thing that is — our two nations that once fought each other now standing together and helping others achieve peace, as well.  So in addition to our bilateral relationship, our partnership also allows us to help shape the international environment in ways that are positive.

Now, fully realizing the vision that I’ve described today is not going to happen overnight, and it is not inevitable.  There may be stumbles and setbacks along the way.  There are going to be times where there are misunderstandings.  It will take sustained effort and true dialogue where both sides continue to change.  But considering all the history and hurdles that we’ve already overcome, I stand before you today very optimistic about our future together.  (Applause.)  And my confidence is rooted, as always, in the friendship and shared aspirations of our peoples.

I think of all the Americans and Vietnamese who have crossed a wide ocean — some reuniting with families for the first time in decades — and who, like Trinh Cong Son said in his song, have joined hands, and opening their hearts and seeing our common humanity in each other.  (Applause.)

I think of all the Vietnamese Americans who have succeeded in every walk of life — doctors, journalists, judges, public servants.  One of them, who was born here, wrote me a letter and said, by “God’s grace, I have been able to live the American Dream…I’m very proud to be an American but also very proud to be Vietnamese.”  (Applause.)  And today he’s here, back in the country of his birth, because, he said, his “personal passion” is “improving the life of every Vietnamese person.”

I think of a new generation of Vietnamese — so many of you, so many of the young people who are here — who are ready to make your mark on the world.  And I want to say to all the young people listening:  Your talent, your drive, your dreams — in those things, Vietnam has everything it needs to thrive.  Your destiny is in your hands.  This is your moment.  And as you pursue the future that you want, I want you to know that the United States of America will be right there with you as your partner and as your friend.  (Applause.)

And many years from now, when even more Vietnamese and Americans are studying with each other; innovating and doing business with each other; standing up for our security, and promoting human rights and protecting our planet with each other — I hope you think back to this moment and draw hope from the vision that I’ve offered today.  Or, if I can say it another way — in words that you know well from the Tale of Kieu — “Please take from me this token of trust, so we can embark upon our 100-year journey together.”  (Applause.)

Cam on cac ban.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Vietnam.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

END
12:43 P.M. ICT

Full Text Political Transcripts March 22, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the People of Cuba

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba

Source: WH, 3-22-16

Gran Teatro de la Habana
Havana, Cuba

10:10 A.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Muchas gracias.  Thank you so much.  Thank you very much.

President Castro, the people of Cuba, thank you so much for the warm welcome that I have received, that my family have received, and that our delegation has received.  It is an extraordinary honor to be here today.

Before I begin, please indulge me.  I want to comment on the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Brussels.  The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium.  We stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people.  We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium, in bringing to justice those who are responsible.  And this is yet another reminder that the world must unite, we must be together, regardless of nationality, or race, or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.  We can — and will — defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.

To the government and the people of Cuba, I want to thank you for the kindness that you’ve shown to me and Michelle, Malia, Sasha, my mother-in-law, Marian.

“Cultivo una rosa blanca.”  (Applause.)  In his most famous poem, Jose Marti made this offering of friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy.  Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz.  (Applause.)

Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.  The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba.  Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause.  And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles — on planes and makeshift rafts — who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.

Like so many people in both of our countries, my lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us.  The Cuban Revolution took place the same year that my father came to the United States from Kenya.  The Bay of Pigs took place the year that I was born. The next year, the entire world held its breath, watching our two countries, as humanity came as close as we ever have to the horror of nuclear war.  As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies.  In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.

I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.  (Applause.)  I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.  (Applause.)

I want to be clear:  The differences between our governments over these many years are real and they are important.  I’m sure President Castro would say the same thing — I know, because I’ve heard him address those differences at length.  But before I discuss those issues, we also need to recognize how much we share.  Because in many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood.

We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners.  We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas.

Over the years, our cultures have blended together.       Dr. Carlos Finlay’s work in Cuba paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.  Just as Marti wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores.  We share a national past-time — La Pelota — and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut.  (Applause.)  And it’s said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight — saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson.  (Applause.)

So even as our governments became adversaries, our people continued to share these common passions, particularly as so many Cubans came to America.  In Miami or Havana, you can find places to dance the Cha-Cha-Cha or the Salsa, and eat ropa vieja.  People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull.  (Laughter.)  Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.

For all of our differences, the Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives.  A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride — a lot of pride.  A profound love of family.  A passion for our children, a commitment to their education.  And that’s why I believe our grandchildren will look back on this period of isolation as an aberration, as just one chapter in a longer story of family and of friendship.

But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have — about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies.  Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy.  Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market.  Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.

Despite these differences, on December 17th 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries.  (Applause.)  Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies.  We’ve begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement.  We’ve reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service.  We’ve expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba.

And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies.  But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked:  Why now?  Why now?

There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” — we should not fear change, we should embrace it.  (Applause.)

That leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes:  Creo en el pueblo Cubano.  I believe in the Cuban people.  (Applause.)  This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government.  The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.  (Applause.)

And today, I want to share with you my vision of what our future can be.  I want the Cuban people — especially the young people — to understand why I believe that you should look to the future with hope; not the false promise which insists that things are better than they really are, or the blind optimism that says all your problems can go away tomorrow.  Hope that is rooted in the future that you can choose and that you can shape, and that you can build for your country.

I’m hopeful because I believe that the Cuban people are as innovative as any people in the world.

In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people.  In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.  Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas, cooperatives and old cars that still run.  El Cubano inventa del aire.  (Applause.)

Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl.  (Applause.)  And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.  In just a few years, we’ve seen how cuentapropistas can succeed while sustaining a distinctly Cuban spirit.  Being self-employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.

Look at Sandra Lidice Aldama, who chose to start a small business.  Cubans, she said, can “innovate and adapt without losing our identity…our secret is in not copying or imitating but simply being ourselves.”

Look at Papito Valladeres, a barber, whose success allowed him to improve conditions in his neighborhood.  “I realize I’m not going to solve all of the world’s problems,” he said.  “But if I can solve problems in the little piece of the world where I live, it can ripple across Havana.”

That’s where hope begins — with the ability to earn your own living, and to build something you can be proud of.  That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them.  That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances — so ordinary Cubans have more resources.  That’s why we’re encouraging travel — which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges — so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.

As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.  It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba.  It’s time to lift the embargo.  But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba.  (Applause.)  It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba.  A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba.  Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn.  The Internet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world — (applause) — and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.

There’s no limitation from the United States on the ability of Cuba to take these steps.  It’s up to you.  And I can tell you as a friend that sustainable prosperity in the 21st century depends upon education, health care, and environmental protection.  But it also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas.  If you can’t access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential.  And over time, the youth will lose hope.

I know these issues are sensitive, especially coming from an American President.  Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption.  And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities.  I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.  (Applause.)

I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba.  What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.  We will not impose our political or economic system on you.  We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.  But having removed the shadow of history from our relationship, I must speak honestly about the things that I believe — the things that we, as Americans, believe.  As Marti said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.”

So let me tell you what I believe.  I can’t force you to agree, but you should know what I think.  I believe that every person should be equal under the law. (Applause.)  Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads.  (Applause.)  I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear — (applause) — to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.  (Applause.)  I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. (Applause.)  And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections.  (Applause.)

Not everybody agrees with me on this.  Not everybody agrees with the American people on this.  But I believe those human rights are universal.  (Applause.)  I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.

Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues.  I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro.  For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system — economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad.  That’s just a sample.  He has a much longer list.  (Laughter.)  But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand:  I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good.  It’s healthy.  I’m not afraid of it.

We do have too much money in American politics.  But, in America, it’s still possible for somebody like me — a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money — to pursue and achieve the highest office in the land.  That’s what’s possible in America.  (Applause.)

We do have challenges with racial bias — in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society — the legacy of slavery and segregation.  But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.  In 1959, the year that my father moved to America, it was illegal for him to marry my mother, who was white, in many American states.  When I first started school, we were still struggling to desegregate schools across the American South.  But people organized; they protested; they debated these issues; they challenged government officials.  And because of those protests, and because of those debates, and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States.  That was because of the freedoms that were afforded in the United States that we were able to bring about change.

I’m not saying this is easy.  There’s still enormous problems in our society.  But democracy is the way that we solve them.  That’s how we got health care for more of our people.  That’s how we made enormous gains in women’s rights and gay rights.  That’s how we address the inequality that concentrates so much wealth at the top of our society.  Because workers can organize and ordinary people have a voice, American democracy has given our people the opportunity to pursue their dreams and enjoy a high standard of living.  (Applause.)

Now, there are still some tough fights.  It isn’t always pretty, the process of democracy.   It’s often frustrating.  You can see that in the election going on back home.  But just stop and consider this fact about the American campaign that’s taking place right now.  You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist.  (Laughter and applause.)  Who would have believed that back in 1959?  That’s a measure of our progress as a democracy.  (Applause.)

So here’s my message to the Cuban government and the Cuban people:  The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution — America’s revolution, Cuba’s revolution, the liberation movements around the world — those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.  Not because American democracy is perfect, but precisely because we’re not.  And we — like every country — need the space that democracy gives us to change.  It gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts to think in new ways, and to reimagine how our society should be, and to make them better.

There’s already an evolution taking place inside of Cuba, a generational change.  Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down — but I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.  (Applause.)  El futuro  de Cuba tiene que estar en las manos del pueblo Cubano.  (Applause.)

And to President Castro — who I appreciate being here today — I want you to know, I believe my visit here demonstrates you do not need to fear a threat from the United States.  And given your commitment to Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination, I am also confident that you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.  In fact, I’m hopeful for the future because I trust that the Cuban people will make the right decisions.

And as you do, I’m also confident that Cuba can continue to play an important role in the hemisphere and around the globe — and my hope is, is that you can do so as a partner with the United States.

We’ve played very different roles in the world.  But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering.  (Applause.)  Last year, American health care workers — and the U.S. military — worked side-by-side with Cubans to save lives and stamp out Ebola in West Africa.  I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.

We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas.  But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades.  (Applause.)  That kind of cooperation is good for everybody.  It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope.

We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid.  But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela.  (Applause.)  And in examining his life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.  And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent — (applause) — who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.

We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights.  But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas — todos somos Americanos.  (Applause.)

From the beginning of my time in office, I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.  We are in a new era.  I know that many of the issues that I’ve talked about lack the drama of the past.  And I know that part of Cuba’s identity is its pride in being a small island nation that could stand up for its rights, and shake the world. But I also know that Cuba will always stand out because of the talent, hard work, and pride of the Cuban people.  That’s your strength.  (Applause.)  Cuba doesn’t have to be defined by being against the United States, any more than the United States should be defined by being against Cuba.  I’m hopeful for the future because of the reconciliation that’s taking place among the Cuban people.

I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba.  I’m sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future.  But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation.  They love Cuba.  A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong.  That’s why their heartache is so great.  And for the Cuban American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family — the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.

For all of the politics, people are people, and Cubans are Cubans.  And I’ve come here — I’ve traveled this distance — on a bridge that was built by Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.  I first got to know the talent and passion of the Cuban people in America.  And I know how they have suffered more than the pain of exile — they also know what it’s like to be an outsider, and to struggle, and to work harder to make sure their children can reach higher in America.

So the reconciliation of the Cuban people — the children and grandchildren of revolution, and the children and grandchildren of exile — that is fundamental to Cuba’s future.  (Applause.)

You see it in Gloria Gonzalez, who traveled here in 2013 for the first time after 61 years of separation, and was met by her sister, Llorca.  “You recognized me, but I didn’t recognize you,” Gloria said after she embraced her sibling.  Imagine that, after 61 years.

You see it in Melinda Lopez, who came to her family’s old home.  And as she was walking the streets, an elderly woman recognized her as her mother’s daughter, and began to cry.  She took her into her home and showed her a pile of photos that included Melinda’s baby picture, which her mother had sent 50 years ago.  Melinda later said, “So many of us are now getting so much back.”

You see it in Cristian Miguel Soler, a young man who became the first of his family to travel here after 50 years.  And meeting relatives for the first time, he said, “I realized that family is family no matter the distance between us.”

Sometimes the most important changes start in small places. The tides of history can leave people in conflict and exile and poverty.  It takes time for those circumstances to change.  But the recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another — that’s where progress begins.  Understanding, and listening, and forgiveness. And if the Cuban people face the future together, it will be more likely that the young people of today will be able to live with dignity and achieve their dreams right here in Cuba.

The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation.  It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind.  It is time for us to look forward to the future together — un future de esperanza.  And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks.  It will take time.  But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do.  We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family — together.  Si se puede.  Muchas gracias.  (Applause.)

END
10:48 A.M. CST

Full Text Political Transcripts March 21, 2016: President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro’s Remarks in a Joint Press Conference

Remarks by President Obama and President Raul Castro of Cuba in a Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 3-21-16

Palace of the Revolution
Havana, Cuba

2:18 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas tardes.  President Castro, to you, the Cuban government and the Cuban people, thank you for the welcome that you have extended to me, to my family, and to my delegation.  For more than half a century, the sight of a U.S. President here in Havana would have been unimaginable.  But this is a new day — es un nuevo día — between our two countries.

With your indulgence, Mr. President, I want to go just briefly off topic because during this weekend, I received news that one of our outstanding United States Armed Service members, Marine Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin of Temecula, California, was killed in northern Iraq as we assisted the Iraqi government in dealing with ISIL, the terrorist organization there.  And I just wanted to give my thoughts and prayers to the family there and those who have been injured.  It’s a reminder that even as we embark on this historic visit, there are U.S. Armed Service members who are sacrificing each and every day on behalf of our freedom and our safety.  So I’m grateful to them.

My wife, Michelle, and I brought our daughters — and by the way, they don’t always want to go with us; they’re teenagers now.  They have friends at home and they have things to do — but they wanted to come to Cuba because they understood, and we wanted to show them, the beauty of Cuba and its people.  We were moved by the Cubans who received us yesterday, smiling and waving, as we drove in from the airport.  We were grateful for the opportunity to experience Old Havana — had some excellent Cuban food.  Our visit to the Cathedral was a reminder of the values that we share, of the deep faith that sustains so many Cubans and Americans.  And it also gave me an opportunity to express my gratitude to Cardinal Ortega, who, along with His Holiness Pope Francis, did so much to support the improved relations between our governments.  This morning, I was honored to pay tribute to José Martí — not only his role in Cuban independence, but the profound words that he wrote and spoke in support of liberty and freedom everywhere.

I bring with me the greetings and the friendship of the American people.  In fact, I’m joined on this trip by nearly 40 members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans.  This is the largest such delegation of my presidency, and it indicates the excitement and interest in America about the process that we’ve undertaken.  These members of Congress recognize that our new relationship with the Cuban people is in the interest of both nations.  I’m also joined by some of America’s top business leaders and entrepreneurs because we’re ready to pursue more commercial ties, which create jobs and opportunity for Cubans and Americans alike.

And I’m especially pleased that I’m joined on this trip by so many Cuban Americans.  For them, and for the more than two million proud Cuban Americans across the United States, this is a moment filled with great emotion.  Ever since we made it easier to travel between our countries, more Cuban Americans are coming home.  For many, this is a time of new hope for the future.

So, President Castro, I want to thank you for the courtesy and the spirit of openness that you’ve shown during our talks.  At our meeting in Panama last year, you said that we’re willing to discuss every issue, and everything is on the table.  So with your understanding, my statement will be a little longer than usual.

President Castro always jokes with me about how long Castro brothers’ speeches can be.  But I’m going to actually go a little longer than you probably today, with your indulgence.  We have a half a century of work to catch up on.

Our growing engagement with Cuba is guided by one overarching goal — advancing the mutual interests of our two countries, including improving the lives of our people, both Cubans and Americans.  That’s why I’m here.  I’ve said consistently, after more than five very difficult decades, the relationship between our governments will not be transformed overnight.  We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights.  And President Castro and I have had very frank and candid conversations on these subjects.

The United States recognizes progress that Cuba has made as a nation, its enormous achievements in education and in health care.  And perhaps most importantly, I affirmed that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation.  Cuba is sovereign and, rightly, has great pride.  And the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by anybody else.

At the same time, as we do wherever we go around the world, I made it clear that the United States will continue to speak up on behalf of democracy, including the right of the Cuban people to decide their own future.  We’ll speak out on behalf of universal human rights, including freedom of speech, and assembly, and religion.  Indeed, I look forward to meeting with and hearing from Cuban civil society leaders tomorrow.

But as you heard, President Castro has also addressed what he views as shortcomings in the United States around basic needs for people, and poverty and inequality and race relations.  And we welcome that constructive dialogue as well — because we believe that when we share our deepest beliefs and ideas with an attitude of mutual respect, that we can both learn and make the lives of our people better.

Part of normalizing relations means that we discuss our differences directly.  So I’m very pleased that we’ve agreed to hold our next U.S.-Cuba human rights dialogue here in Havana later this year.  And both of our countries will welcome visits by independent United Nations experts as we combat human trafficking, which we agree is a profound violation of human rights.

Even as we discuss these differences, we share a belief that we can continue to make progress in those areas that we have in common.  President Castro, you said in Panama that “we might disagree on something today on which we would agree tomorrow.”  And that’s certainly been the case over the past 15 months and the days leading up to this visit.  And today, I can report that we continue to move forward on many fronts when it comes to normalizing relations.

We’re moving ahead with more opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and interact with the Cuban people.  Over the past year, the number of Americans coming here has surged.  Last week, we gave approval for individual Americans to come here for educational travel.  U.S. airlines will begin direct commercial flights this year.  With last week’s port security announcement, we’ve removed the last major hurdle to resuming cruises and ferry service.  All of which will mean even more Americans visiting Cuba in the years ahead and appreciating the incredible history and culture of the Cuban people.

We’re moving ahead with more trade.  With only 90 miles between us, we’re natural trading partners.  Other steps we took last week — allowing the U.S. dollar to be used more widely with Cuba, giving Cubans more access to the dollar in international transactions, and allowing Cubans in the U.S. to earn salaries –- these things will do more to create opportunities for trade and joint ventures.  We welcome Cuba’s important announcement that it plans to end the 10 percent penalty on dollar conversions here, which will open the door to more travel and more commerce.  And these steps show that we’re opening up to one another.

With this visit, we’ve agreed to deepen our cooperation on agriculture to support our farmers and our ranchers.  This afternoon, I’ll highlight some of the new commercial deals being announced by major U.S. companies.  And just as I continue to call on Congress to lift the trade embargo, I discussed with President Castro the steps we urge Cuba to take to show that it’s ready to do more business, which includes allowing more joint ventures and allowing foreign companies to hire Cubans directly.

We’re moving ahead with our efforts to help connect more Cubans to the Internet and the global economy.  Under President Castro, Cuba has set a goal of bringing Cubans online.  And we want to help.  At this afternoon’s entrepreneurship event, I’ll discuss additional steps we’re taking to help more Cubans learn, innovate, and do business online — because in the 21st century, countries cannot be successful unless their citizens have access to the Internet.

We’re moving ahead with more educational exchanges.  Thanks to the generous support of the Cuban-American community, I can announce that my 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative will offer new opportunities for university students to study abroad — more Americans at Cuban schools and more Cubans at U.S. schools.  And going forward, educational grants and scholarships will be available to Cuban students.  And in partnership with the Cuban government, we’ll offer more English language training for Cuban teachers, both in Cuba and online.

Even as Cubans prepare for the arrival of the Rolling Stones, we’re moving ahead with more events and exchanges that bring Cubans and Americans together as well.  We all look forward to tomorrow’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team.

More broadly, we’re moving ahead with partnerships in health, science, and the environment.  Just as Cubans and American medical teams have worked together in Haiti against cholera, and in West Africa against Ebola — and I want to give a special commendation to Cuban doctors who volunteered and took on some very tough assignments to save lives in West Africa in partnership with us and other nations.  We very much appreciate the work that they did.  Our medical professionals will now collaborate in new areas, preventing the spread of viruses like Zika and leading new research into cancer vaccines.  Our governments will also work to protect the beautiful waters of this region that we share.

And as two countries threatened by climate change, I believe we can work together to protect communities and our low-lying coasts.  And we’re inviting Cuba to join us and our Caribbean and Central American partners at this spring’s regional energy summit in Washington.

And finally, we’re moving ahead with our closer cooperation on regional security.  We’re working to deepen our law enforcement coordination, especially against narco-traffickers that threaten both of our peoples.  I want to thank President Castro and the Cuban government for hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC.  And we remain optimistic that Colombians can achieve a lasting and just peace.  And although we did not have an extensive discussion of Venezuela, we did touch on the subject.  And I believe that the whole region has an interest in a country that is addressing its economic challenges, is responsive to the aspirations of its people, and is a source of stability in the region.  That is, I believe, an interest that we should all share.

So again, President Castro, I want to thank you for welcoming me.  I think it’s fair to say that the United States and Cuba are now engaged across more areas than any time during my lifetime.  With every passing day, more Americans are coming to Cuba, more U.S. businesses and schools and faith groups are working to forge new partnerships with the Cuban people.  More Cubans are benefitting from the opportunities that this travel and trade bring.

As you indicated, the road ahead will not be easy.  Fortunately, we don’t have to swim with sharks in order to achieve the goals that you and I have set forth.  As you say here in Cuba, “echar para adelante.”  Despite the difficulties, we will continue to move forward.  We’re focused on the future.

And I’m absolutely confident that if we stay on this course, we can deliver a better and brighter future for both the Cuban people and the American people.

Muchas gracias.  Thank you very much.

First question, Jim Acosta.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Thank you, President Castro, for your hospitality in Havana.  And thank you, Mr. President.

(In English.)  In your meeting with President Castro, what words did you use to urge him to pursue democratic reforms and expand human rights here in Cuba?  Will you invite President Castro to the White House?  We know he’s been to New York.  And why did you not meet with Fidel Castro?

And, President Castro, my father is Cuban.  He left for the United States when he was young.  Do you see a new and democratic direction for your country?  And why you have Cuban political prisoners?  And why don’t you release them?  And one more question, who do you prefer — Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as I think we both indicated, we had a very fruitful conversation around issues of democracy and human rights.  Our starting point is that we have two different systems — two different systems of government, two different economies.  And we have decades of profound differences, both bilaterally and internationally.

What I have said to President Castro is that we are moving forward and not looking backwards; that we don’t view Cuba as a threat to the United States.  I hope that my visit here indicates the degree to which we’re setting a new chapter in Cuban-American relations.

But as is true with countries around the world where we have normalized relations, we will continue to stand up for basic principles that we believe in.  America believes in democracy.  We believe that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are not just American values, but are universal values.  They may not express themselves exactly in the same way in every country, they may not be enshrined in the founding documents or constitutions of every country the same way, or protected legally in exactly the same ways, but the impulse — the human impulse towards freedom, the freedom that José Martí talked about, we think is a universal longing.

President Castro I think has pointed out that, in his view, making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age — that those things are human rights, as well.  I personally would not disagree with him.

But it doesn’t detract from some of these other concerns.  And the goal of the human rights dialogue is not for the United States to dictate to Cuba how they should govern themselves, but to make sure that we are having a frank and candid conversation around this issue and hopefully that we can learn from each other.

It does not mean that it has to be the only issue we talk about.  Economics, health, scientific exchanges, international cooperation on issues of regional as well as global import are also important.  But this is something that we are going to stay on.  And I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we’re falling short because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion, as well.

Here’s the one thing I do know is that when I talk to Cuban Americans — and, Jim, you’re second generation, and so I think I speak not for you directly, but for many that I talk to around the United States — I think there is enormous hope that there can be reconciliation.  And the bridge that President Castro discussed can be built between the Cuban American community and Cubans here.  There are family ties and cultural ties that are so strong.  And I think everyone would benefit from those ties being reestablished.

One of the impediments to strengthening those ties is these disagreements around human rights and democracy.  And to the extent that we can have a good conversation about that and to actually make progress, that, I think, will allow us to see the full flowering of a relationship that is possible.  In the absence of that, I think it will continue to be a very powerful irritant.  And this is not unique to U.S.-Cuban relations.  It’s one that, as you know, I have conversations with when we go to bilateral meetings with some of our very close allies, as well as countries that we don’t have as close of a relationship to.  But I think it is something that matters.  And I’ve met with people who have been subject to arbitrary detention, and that’s something that I generally have to speak out on because I hear from them directly and I know what it means for them.

Excuse me.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  I was asking if his question was directed to me or to President Obama.  You talked about political prisoners.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think the second one was addressed to you.  Trump and Hillary.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  For him or for me?

Q    (As interpreted.)  For you, Mr. President.

 

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  What did you say about the political prisoners?  Can you repeat that question about political prisoners?  Did you ask if we had political prisoners?

Q    I wanted to know if you have Cuban political prisoners and why you don’t release them.

 

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  Give me the list of political prisoners and I will release them immediately.  Just mention a list.  What political prisoners?  Give me a name or names.  After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners.  And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends.

Q    And Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, President Castro?

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  Well, I cannot vote in the United States.

Q    (As interpreted.)  My question is for President Raul Castro.  I’m from Cuban TV.  President Raul Castro, you have repeatedly stated, and today once again, that we must learn to coexist in a civilized manner with our differences.  Could you broaden this concept?  This is a historical moment that we are living.

And then I have a brief question for President Obama.  President Obama, could U.S. government give more space to eliminate U.S. blockade during your mandate so that another generation of Cubans would not have to suffer this economic and commercial blockade against Cuba?

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  The first question was for me.  Please repeat your question, because I couldn’t hear well.

Q    (As interpreted.)  You have said repeatedly that we must learn to coexist in a civilized manner with our differences.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  Well, President Obama himself has referred to that.  We have given the first steps –- many for being the first steps.  And we must continue giving these steps.  And I’m sure that we will be able to coexist peacefully in an environment of mutual cooperation as we are doing already in many fields for the benefit of both countries and with the benefit of other countries as we have already done — in Haiti, with the cholera and in Africa with the Ebola.  That is the future of mankind if we want to save the humans species.  The level of water grows and the island may become smaller.

You are asking too many questions to me.  I think questions should be directed to President Obama.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  So we have administratively already made a number of modifications on the embargo.  I referred to a number of them in my opening statement.  And we’ve actually been fairly aggressive in exercising as much flexibility as we can, given that the law putting the embargo in place has not been repealed by Congress.  There may be some technical aspects of the embargo that we can still make adjustments on, depending on problems as they arise.

So, for example, the issue around the dollar and the need to make modifications in terms of how the embargo was implemented to encourage, rather than discourage reforms that the Cuban government itself is willing to engage in and to facilitate greater trade and commerce, that is something that grew out of the dialogue between our governments, and we have made appropriate adjustments to it.  It will take some time for commercial banks to understand the new rules, but we actually think that this is an area where we can improve current circumstances.

But I’ll be honest with you that the list of things that we can do administratively is growing shorter, and the bulk of changes that have to be made with respect to the embargo are now going to rely on Congress making changes.

I’ve been very clear about the interests in getting that done before I leave.  Frankly, Congress is not as productive as I would like during a presidential election year.  But the fact that we have such a large congressional delegation with Democrats and Republicans with us is an indication that there is growing interest inside of Congress for lifting the embargo.

As I just indicated in my earlier answer, how quickly that happens will, in part, depend on whether we can bridge some of our differences around human rights issues.  And that’s why the dialogue I think is so important.  It sends a signal that at least there’s engagement between the two countries on these matters.

Now, I promised the President I would take one more question.  Andrea Mitchell of NBC.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you feel, after your meeting today, that you have made enough progress to even accelerate the pace and that the Cuban government is able to move quickly enough so that the changes that you have made through these technical adjustments to the embargo will be permanent, cannot be reversed by the next President?  And what advice have you given to President Castro about the ability of having the blockade, the embargo lifted?  Because he has said again today this is a continuous issue which is blocking progress, from their standpoint.

And you said the conversations about human rights were frank and candid and that you want to move forward.  But even as you were arriving, there were dramatic arrests of peaceful protests — the Ladies in White.  What signal does that send?  Can you have civilized coexistence at the same time you have such profound disagreements about the very definitions of what human rights means, as President Castro expressed today?

And for President Castro, for many of us, it’s remarkable to hear you speak about all these subjects.  Can you tell us what you see in the future?  President Obama has nine months remaining.  You have said you would be stepping down in 2018.  What is the future of our two countries, given the different definitions and the different interpretations of profound issues like democracy and human rights?

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Andrea, the embargo is going to end.  When, I can’t be entirely sure, but I believe it will end.  And the path that we’re on will continue beyond my administration.  The reason is logic.  The reason is that what we did for 50 years did not serve our interests or the interests of the Cuban people. And as I said when we made the announcement about normalization of relations, if you keep on doing something over and over again for 50 years and it doesn’t work, it might make sense to try something new.

And that’s what we’ve done.  And the fact that there has been strong support not just inside of Congress, not just among the American people, but also among the Cuban people indicates that this is a process that should and will continue.

Having said that, lifting the embargo requires the votes of a majority in Congress, and maybe even more than a majority in the Senate.  And as I indicated to President Castro, two things I think will help accelerate the pace of bringing the embargo to an end.  The first is to the degree that we can take advantage of the existing changes that we’ve already made and we see progress, that will help to validate this change in policy.

So, for example, we have said that it is no longer a restriction on U.S. companies to invest in helping to build Internet and broadband infrastructure inside of Cuba.  It is not against U.S. law, as it’s been interpreted by the administration.  If we start seeing those kinds of commercial deals taking place and Cubans are benefitting from greater access to the Internet — and when I go to the entrepreneurship meeting later this afternoon, I understand that we’re going to meet some young Cubans who are already getting trained and are facile in using the Internet, they’re interested in startups — that builds a constituency for ending the embargo.  If we build on the work that we’re doing in agriculture, and you start seeing more U.S. farmers interacting with Cuban farmers, and there’s more exports and imports — that builds a constituency and the possibility of ending the embargo increases.  So hopefully taking advantage of what we’ve already done will help.

And the second area, which we’ve already discussed extensively, is the issue of human rights.  People are still concerned about that inside of Cuba.

Now, keep in mind I’ve got fierce disagreements with the Chinese around human rights.  I’ll be going to Vietnam later this year — I have deep disagreements with them as well.  When we first visited Burma, people questioned whether we should be traveling there because of longstanding human rights violations in our view.  And the approach that I’ve taken has been that if I engage frankly, clearly, stating what our beliefs are but also being clear that we can’t force change on any particular country — ultimately it has to come from within — then that is going to be a more useful strategy than the same kinds of rigid disengagement that for 50 years did nothing.

I guess ultimately what this comes down to, Andrea, is I have faith in people.  I think that if you meet Cubans here and Cubans meet Americans, and they’re meeting and talking and interacting and doing business together, and going to school together and learning from each other, then they’ll recognize people are people.  And in that context, I believe that change will occur.

Okay, now I’m done, but Señor Presidente, I think Andrea had a question for you just about your vision.  It’s up to you.  He did say he was only going to take one question and I was going to take two.  But I leave it up to you if you want to address that question.

Q    Por favor.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Andrea, she’s one of our most esteemed journalists in America, and I’m sure she’d appreciate just a short, brief answer.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  Andrea —

Q    Mr. President.

PRESIDENT CASTRO:  (As interpreted.)  There is a program here to be fulfilled.  I know that if I stay here, you will ask 500 questions.  I said that I was going to answer one.  Well, I answered one and a half.  President Obama has already helped me out with the answer here, Andrea.

I was reading something about human rights, but I’m going to make the question to you now.  There are 61 international instruments recognized.  How many countries in the world comply with all the human rights and civil rights that have been included in these 61 instruments?  What country complies with them all?  Do you know how many?  I do.  None.

None, whatsoever.  Some countries comply some rights; others comply others.  And we are among these countries.  Out of these 61 instruments, Cuba has complied with 47 of these human rights instruments.  There are countries that may comply with more, there’s those that comply with less.

I think the human rights issue should not be politicized.  That is not correct.  That is a purpose that will stay the same way.  For example, for Cuba, the desire for all the rights.  Do you think there’s any more sacred right than the right to health, so that billions of children don’t die just for the lack of a vaccine or a drug or a medicament?  Do you agree with the right to free education for all those born anywhere in the world or in any country?  I think many countries don’t think this is a human right.  In Cuba, all children are born in a hospital and they are registered that same day, because when mothers are in advance pregnancy they go to hospitals days before, many days before delivery, so that all children are born in hospitals.  It doesn’t matter if they live in faraway places or in mountains or hills.  We have many other rights — a right to health, the right to education.

And this is my last example that I will mention.  Do you think that for equal work, men get better paid than women just for the fact of being women?  Well, in Cuba, women get the same pay for same work.  I can give you many, many examples.  I don’t think we can use the argument of human rights for political confrontation.  That is not fair.  It’s not correct.

I’m not saying that it’s not honest.  It’s part of confrontations, of course.  But let us work so that we can all comply with all human rights.  It’s like talking about pride — I’m going to end here because it’s a commitment that we should end in time.  It’s not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general.  Please give me the name of a political prisoner.

And I think this is enough.  We have concluded.  Thank you for your participation.

END               2:58 P.M. CST

—–

Full Text Political Transcripts March 20, 2016: Vice President Joe Biden’s Speech to the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Vice President Joe Biden’s Speech to the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference

Political Headlines March 20, 2016: President Barack Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

PRESIDENCY, CONGRESS & CAMPAIGNS:

Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

Source: USA Today

SUNDAY

• Arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, 4:50 p.m.
• Meet-and-greet at U.S. Embassy, 5:50 p.m.
• Family sight-seeing in Old Havana, including the Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana, 6:40 p.m.

MONDAY

• Wreath-laying at the José Marti Memorial, morning
• Official welcoming ceremony, Palace of the Revolution, morning
• Meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, morning
• Entrepreneurship summit, afternoon
• State Dinner at the Palace of the Revolution, evening

TUESDAY

• Address to the Cuban people at El Gran Teatro de Havana, morning
• Meeting with dissidents and civil society leaders, morning
• Baseball have between the Tampa Bay Rays at Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano, 2 p.m.
• Departure from Jose Marti International Airport en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina, afternoon

Full Text Political Transcripts March 10, 2016: President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Toasts at the State Dinner

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada at State Dinner

Source: WH, 3-10-16

 

East Room

8:32 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening, everybody.  Bonsoir.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House as we host Prime Minister Trudeau, Mrs. Grégoire-Trudeau and the Canadian delegation for the first official visit and state dinner with Canada in nearly 20 years.  We intend to have fun tonight.  But not too much.  (Laughter.)  If things get out of hand, remember that the Prime Minister used to work as a bouncer.  (Laughter.)  Truly.  (Laughter.)

So tonight, history comes full circle.  Forty-four years ago, President Nixon made a visit to Ottawa.  And he was hosted by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  (Applause.)  At a private dinner, there was a toast. “Tonight, we’ll dispense with the formalities,” President Nixon said, “I’d like to propose a toast to the future Prime Minister of Canada — Justin Pierre Trudeau.”  (Laughter.)  He was four months at the time.  (Laughter.)

All these years later, the prediction has come to pass.  Mr. Prime Minister, after today, I think it’s fair to say that, here in America, you may well be the most popular Canadian named Justin.  (Laughter and applause.)

I said this morning that Americans and Canadians are family. And tonight, I want to recognize two people who mean so much to me and Michelle and our family.  First of all, my wonderful brother-in-law, originally from Burlington, Ontario — Konrad Ng.  (Applause.)  This is actually an interesting story, though, that I was not aware of — Konrad indicated to me when we saw each other this afternoon that part of the reason his family was able to immigrate to Canada was because of policies adopted by Justin’s father.  And so had that not happened, he might not have met my sister, in which case, my lovely nieces might not have been born.  (Laughter.)  So this is yet one more debt that we owe the people of Canada (Laughter.)  In addition, a true friend and a member of my team who has been with me every step of the way — he is from Toronto and Victoria, and also a frequent golf partner, Marvin Nicholson.  (Applause.) So as you can see, they’ve infiltrated all of our ranks.  (Laughter.)

Before I ever became President, when we celebrated my sister and Konrad’s marriage, Michelle and I took our daughters to Canada.  And we went to Burlington and — this is always tough — Mississauga.  (Laughter.)  And then we went to Toronto and Niagara Falls.  (Laughter.)  Mississauga.  I can do that.  (Laughter.)  And everywhere we went, the Canadian people made us feel right at home.

And tonight, we want our Canadians friends to feel at home.  So this is not a dinner, it’s supper.  (Laughter.)  We thought of serving up some poutine.  (Laughter.)  I was going to bring a two-four.  (Laughter.)  And then we’d finish off the night with a double-double.  (Laughter.)  But I had to draw the line at getting milk out of a bag — (laughter) — this, we Americans do not understand.  (Laughter.)  We do, however, have a little Canadian whiskey.  That, we do understand.  (Laughter.)

This visit has been a celebration of the values that we share.  We, as a peoples, are committed to the principles of equality and opportunity — the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it if you try, no matter what the circumstances of your birth, in both of our countries.

And we see this in our current presidential campaign.  After all, where else could a boy born in Calgary grow up to run for President of the United States?  (Laughter and applause.)  Where else would we see a community like Cape Breton, Nova Scotia welcoming Americans if the election does not go their way?  (Laughter.)  And to the great credit of their people, Canadians from British Columbia to New Brunswick have, so far, rejected the idea of building a wall to keep out your southern neighbors.  (Laughter.) We appreciate that.  (Laughter.)  We can be unruly, I know.

On a serious note, this visit reminds us of what we love about Canada.  It’s the solidarity shown by so many Canadians after 9/11 when they welcomed stranded American travelers into their homes.  It’s the courage of your servicemembers, standing with us in Afghanistan and now in Iraq.  It’s the compassion of the Canadian people welcoming refugees — and the Prime Minister himself, who told those refugees, “You’re safe at home now.”

Justin, we also see Canada’s spirit in your mother’s brave advocacy for mental health care — and I want to give a special welcome to Margaret Trudeau tonight.  (Applause.)  And we see Canada’s spirit in Sophie — a champion of women and girls, because our daughters deserve the same opportunities that anybody’s sons do.

And this spirit reminds us of why we’re all here — why we serve.  Justin, Sophie, your children are still young.  They are adorable and they still let you hug them.  (Laughter.)  When we first spoke on the phone after your election, we talked not only as President and Prime Minister, but also as fathers.  When I was first elected to this office, Malia was 10 and Sasha was just seven.  And they grow up too fast.  This fall, Malia heads off to college.  And I’m starting to choke up.  (Laughter.)  So I’m going to wind this — it was in my remarks — (laughter) — and I didn’t — I can’t do it.  It’s hard.  (Laughter.)

But there is a point to this, though, and that is that we’re not here for power.  We’re not here for fame or fortune.  We’re here for our kids.  We’re here for everybody’s kids — to give our sons and our daughters a better world.  To pass to them a world that’s a little safer, and a little more equal, and a little more just, a little more prosperous so that a young person growing up in Chicago or Montreal or on the other side of the world has every opportunity to make of their life what they will, no matter who they are or what they look like, or how they pray or who they love.

Justin, I believe there are no better words to guide us in this work than those you once used to describe what your father taught you and your siblings — to believe in yourself. To stand up for ourselves.  To know ourselves, and to accept responsibility for ourselves.  To show a genuine and deep respect for each other and for every human being.

And so I would like to propose a toast — to the great alliance between the United States and Canada; to our friends, Justin and Sophie; to the friendship between Americans and Canadians and the spirit that binds us together — a genuine and deep and abiding respect for each and every human being.  Cheers.

(A toast is offered.)

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Dear friends, Mr. President, Barack, Michelle, all of you gathered here, it is an extraordinary honor for me to be here with you tonight.  Thank you so much for the warm welcome you’ve extended to Canada and to the Canadian delegation, and to Sophie and me, personally.

It’s incredibly touching to be able to be here not just as a couple, Sophie and I, but to have been able to bring our families down as well.  Sophie’s mom and dad, Estelle and Jean — get a load of Estelle, I’m looking forward to the future with Sophie.  (Laughter.)  And, of course, my own mother, Margaret, whose last State Dinner here was in 1977.  So it’s wonderful to have you here.

It’s also touching to meet Malia and Sasha, who are here at their first State Dinner.  And quite frankly, the memories for me of being a kid and not being old enough to attend these kinds of events with my father almost makes me wish I had gone through my teenage years as a child of a world leader — but not quite.  (Laughter.)  I admire you very much, both of you, for your extraordinary strength and your grace, through what is a remarkable childhood and young adulthood that will give you extraordinary strength and wisdom beyond your years for the rest of your life.  The one thing that you have received from your extraordinary parents is the tools to be able to handle the challenges and the opportunities in front of you.  So thank you very much for joining us tonight.  (Applause.)

In thinking about what I wanted to say this evening, I came across a quote from President Truman, who shared these words with the Canadian Parliament nearly 70 years ago.  He said that Canada’s relationship with the United States did not develop spontaneously.  It did not come about merely through the happy circumstance of geography, but was “compounded of one part proximity, and nine parts good will and commonsense.”

It is that enduring good will and commonsense that I believe defines our relationship to this day.  It’s what makes our constructive partnership possible.  It’s what allows us to respectfully disagree and remain friends and allies on the few occasions we do.  For example I would argue that it’s better to be the leader of a country that consistently wins Olympic gold medals in hockey.  (Laughter and applause.)  President Obama would likely disagree.  And yet, you still invited us over for dinner.  (Laughter.)  Because that’s what friends do.  (Laughter.)

Because, now that I think of it, we’re actually closer than friends.  We’re more like siblings, really.  We have shared parentage, but we took different paths in our later years.  We became the stay-at-home type — (laughter) — and you grew to be a little more rebellious.  (Laughter.)  I think the reason that good will and commonsense comes so easily is because we are Canadians and Americans alike, guided by the same core values.  Values like cooperation and respect.  Cooperation because it keeps us safe and prosperous.  And respect because it’s the surest path to both safeguarding the world we share and honoring the diverse people with whom we share it.

When it comes to security, for example, we agree that our countries are stronger and the world is safer when we work together.  For more than half a century, we’ve joined forces to protect our continent.  And we’ve been the closest of allies overseas for even longer, fighting together on the beaches of France, standing shoulder to shoulder with our European partners in NATO, and now confronting violent extremism in the Middle East.

In every instance, we realize that our concerns were better addressed together than alone, and together, we have realized the longest, most peaceful, and most mutually beneficial relationship of any two countries since the birth of the nation state.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t just serve its own interests — it serves the entire world.  Canadians and Americans also value economic interdependence, because we know that it brings greater prosperity for all of us.

Over $2.4 billion worth of goods and services cross the border every day — evidence of one of the largest and most mutually beneficial trading relationships in the world.  And one of our most popular exports to the United States, and I need you to stop teasing him, has been another Justin.  (Laughter.)  Now, no, no, that kid has had a great year.  (Laughter.)  And of course, leave it to a Canadian to reach international fame with a song called “Sorry.”  (Laughter and applause.)

Together, Canada and the U.S. negotiated trade agreements that have expanded opportunities for our businesses, created millions of good, well-paying jobs for our workers, and made products more affordable for more Canadian and American families.  We must never take that partnership for granted, and I can promise you that my government never will.

But nor should we forget that our responsibilities extend beyond our ruling borders and across generations, which means getting rid of that outdated notion that a health environment and a strong economy stand in opposition to one another.  And it means that when we come to issues like climate change, we need to acknowledge that we are all in this together.  Our children and grandchildren will judge us not by the words we said, but by the actions we took — or failed to take.

If we truly wish to leave them a better world than the one we inherited from our own parents — and I know, Mr. President, that you and the First Lady want this as strongly as Sophie and I do — we cannot deny the science.  We cannot pretend that climate change is still up for debate.  (Speaks French.)

Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership — your global leadership on the pressing issue of the environment and climate change.  (Applause.)

And finally, we believe — Canadians and Americans — in the fundamental truth that diversity can be a source of strength.  That we are thriving and prosperous countries not in spite of our differences but because of them.  Canadians know this.  It’s why communities across the country welcomed more than 25,000 Syrian refugees over the past four months.  (Applause.)  And not as visitors or temporary citizens, but as Canadians.  But of course, Americans understand this, too.  It’s why each generation has welcomed newcomers seeking liberty and the promise of a better life.  It’s what has made America great over the past decades.

We know that if we seek to be even greater, we must do greater things — be more compassionate, be more accepting, be more open to those who dress differently or eat different foods, or speak different languages.  Our identities as Canadians and Americans are enriched by these differences, not threatened by them.

On our own, we make progress.  But together, our two countries make history.  Duty-bound, loyal, and forever linked, whatever the future holds, we will face it together.  Neighbors, partners, allies, and friends.  This is our experience and our example to the world.

Barack, thank you for all that you have done these past seven years to preserve this most important relationship.  May the special connection between our two countries continue to flourish in the years to come, and may my grey hair come in at a much slower rate than yours has.  (Laughter.)

And with that, on behalf of 36 million Americans, I propose a toast to the President, to the First Lady, and to the people of the United States of America.  Cheers.

(A toast is offered.)

END
8:54 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts February 23, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Plan to Close the Prison at Guantanamo Bay

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Plan to Close the Prison at Guantanamo Bay

Source: WH, 2-23-16

 

Roosevelt Room

10:30 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  In our fight against terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL, we are using every element of our national power — our military; intelligence; diplomacy; homeland security; law enforcement, federal, state and local; as well as the example of our ideals as a country that’s committed to universal values, including rule of law and human rights.  In this fight, we learn and we work to constantly improve.  When we find something that works, we keep on doing it.  When it becomes clear that something is not working as intended — when it does not advance our security — we have to change course.

For many years, it’s been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security — it undermines it.  This is not just my opinion.  This is the opinion of experts, this is the opinion of many in our military.  It’s counterproductive to our fight against terrorists, because they use it as propaganda in their efforts to recruit.  It drains military resources, with nearly $450 million spent last year alone to keep it running, and more than $200 million in additional costs needed to keep it open going forward for less than 100 detainees.  Guantanamo harms our partnerships with allies and other countries whose cooperation we need against terrorism.  When I talk to other world leaders, they bring up the fact that Guantanamo is not resolved.

Moreover, keeping this facility open is contrary to our values.  It undermines our standing in the world.  It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.  As Americans, we pride ourselves on being a beacon to other nations, a model of the rule of law.  But 15 years after 9/11 — 15 years after the worst terrorist attack in American history — we’re still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process where not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks — not a single one.

When I first ran for President, it was widely recognized that this facility needed to close.  This was not just my opinion.  This was not some radical, far-left view.  There was bipartisan support to close it.  My predecessor, President Bush, to his credit, said he wanted to close it.  It was one of the few things that I and my Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, agreed on.

And so, in one of my first acts as President, I took action to begin closing it.  And because we had bipartisan support, I wanted to make sure that we did it right.  I indicated that we would need to take our time to do it in a systematic way, and that we had examined all the options.

And unfortunately, during that period where we were putting the pieces in place to close it, what had previously been bipartisan support suddenly became a partisan issue.  Suddenly, many you previously had said it should be closed backed off because they were worried about the politics.  The public was scared into thinking that, well, if we close it, somehow we’ll be less safe.  And since that time, Congress has repeatedly imposed restrictions aimed at preventing us from closing this facility.

Now, despite the politics, we’ve made progress.  Of the nearly 800 detainees once held at Guantanamo, more than 85 percent have already been transferred to other countries.  More than 500 of these transfers, by the way, occurred under President Bush.  Since I took office, we’ve so far transferred 147 more, each under new, significant restrictions to keep them from returning to the battlefield.  And as a result of these actions, today, just 91 detainees remain — less than 100.

Today, the Defense Department, thanks to very hard work by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, as well as his team, working in concert with the Office of Management and Budget, today, the Department is submitting to Congress our plan for finally closing the facility at Guantanamo once and for all.  It’s a plan that reflects the hard work of my entire national security team, so I especially want to thank Ash and his team at DOD.  This plan has my full support.  It reflects our best thinking on how to best go after terrorists and deal with those who we may capture, and it is a strategy with four main elements.

First, we’ll continue to securely and responsibly transfer to other countries the 35 detainees — out of the 91 — that have already been approved for transfer.  Keep in mind, this process involves extensive and careful coordination across our federal government to ensure that our national security interests are met when an individual is transferred to another country.  So, for example, we insist that foreign countries institute strong security measures.  And as we move forward, that means that we will have around 60 — and potentially even fewer — detainees remaining.

Second, we’ll accelerate the periodic reviews of remaining detainees to determine whether their continued detention is necessary.  Our review board, which includes representatives from across government, will continue to look at all relevant information, including current intelligence.  And if certain detainees no longer pose a continuing significant threat, they may be eligible for transfer to another country as well.

Number three, we’ll continue to use all legal tools to deal with the remaining detainees still held under law of war detention.  Currently, 10 detainees are in some stage of the military commissions process — a process that we worked hard to reform in my first year in office with bipartisan support from Congress.  But I have to say, with respect to these commissions, they are very costly, they have resulted in years of litigation without a resolution.  We’re therefore outlining additional changes to improve these commissions, which would require congressional action, and we will be consulting with them in the near future on that issue.

I also want to point out that, in contrast to the commission process, our Article 3 federal courts have proven to have an outstanding record of convicting some of the most hardened terrorists.  These prosecutions allow for the gathering of intelligence against terrorist groups.  It proves that we can both prosecute terrorists and protect the American people.  So think about it — terrorists like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square; and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon — they were all convicted in our Article III courts and are now behind bars, here in the United States.

So we can capture terrorists, protect the American people, and when done right, we can try them and put them in our maximum security prisons, and it works just fine.  And in this sense, the plan we’re putting forward today isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo.  It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened.  This is about closing a chapter in our history.  It reflects the lessons that we’ve learned since 9/11 –lessons that need to guide our nation going forward.

So even as we use military commissions to close out the cases of some current detainees — which, given the unique circumstances of their cases make it difficult for them to be tried in Article 3 courts — this type of use of military commissions should not set a precedent for the future.  As they have been in past wars, military commissions will continue to be an option when individuals are detained during battle.  But our preferred option, the most effective option for dealing with individuals detained outside military theaters, must be our strong, proven federal courts.

Fourth, and finally, we’re going to work with Congress to find a secure location in the United States to hold remaining detainees.  These are detainees who are subject to military commissions, but it also includes those who cannot yet be transferred to other countries or who we’ve determined must continue to be detained because they pose a continuing significant threat to the United States.

We are not identifying a specific facility today in this plan.  We are outlining what options look like.  As Congress has imposed restrictions that currently prevent the transfer of detainees to the United States, we recognize that this is going to be a challenge.  And we’re going to keep making the case to Congress that we can do this is a responsible and secure way, taking into account the lessons and great record of our maximum-security prisons.

And let me point out, the plan we’re submitting today is not only the right thing to do for our security, it will also save money.  The Defense Department estimates that this plan, compared to keeping Guantanamo open, would lower costs by up to $85 million a year.  Over 10 years, it would generate savings of more than $300 million.  Over 20 years, the savings would be up to $1.7 billion.  In other words, we can ensure our security, uphold our highest values around the world, and save American taxpayers a lot of money in the process.

So in closing, I want to say I am very clear-eyed about the hurdles to finally closing Guantanamo.  The politics of this are tough.  I think a lot of the American public are worried about terrorism, and in their mind the notion of having terrorists held in the United States rather than in some distant place can be scary.  But part of my message to the American people here is we’re already holding a bunch of really dangerous terrorists here in the United States because we threw the book at them.  And there have been no incidents.  We’ve managed it just fine.

And in Congress, I recognize, in part because of some of the fears of the public that have been fanned oftentimes by misinformation, there continues to be a fair amount of opposition to doing closing Guantanamo.  If it were easy, it would have happened years ago — as I wanted, as I have been working to try to get done.  But there remains bipartisan support for closing it.  And given the stakes involved for our security, this plan deserves a fair hearing.  Even in an election year, we should be able to have an open, honest, good-faith dialogue about how to best ensure our national security.  And the fact that I’m no longer running, Joe is no longer running, we’re not on the ballot — it gives us the capacity to not have to worry about the politics.

Let us do what is right for America.  Let us go ahead and close this chapter, and do it right, do it carefully, do it in a way that makes sure we’re safe, but gives the next President and, more importantly, future generations, the ability to apply the lessons we’ve learned in the fight against terrorism and doing it in a way that doesn’t raise some of the problems that Guantanamo has raised.

I really think there’s an opportunity here for progress.  I believe we’ve got an obligation to try.  President Bush said he wanted to close Guantanamo despite everything that he had invested in it.  I give him credit for that.  There was an honest assessment on his part about what needed to happen.  But he didn’t get it done and it was passed to me.  I’ve been working for seven years now to get this thing closed.  As President, I have spent countless hours dealing with this — I do not exaggerate about that.  Our closest allies have raised it with me continually.  They often raise specific cases of detainees repeatedly.

I don’t want to pass this problem on to the next President, whoever it is.  And if, as a nation, we don’t deal with this now, when will we deal with it?  Are we going to let this linger on for another 15 years, another 20 years, another 30 years?  If we don’t do what’s required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and of justice, and our best American traditions was clear.

So, again, I want to thank Secretary Carter.  You and your team did an outstanding job, and you’ve shown great leadership on this issue.  With this plan, we have the opportunity, finally, to eliminate a terrorist propaganda tool, strengthen relationships with allies and partners, enhance our national security, and, most importantly, uphold the values that define us as Americans.  I’m absolutely committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo.  I’m going to continue to make the case for doing so for as long as I hold this office.  But this is a good moment for everybody to step back, take a look at the facts, take a look at the views of those who have been most committed to fighting terrorism and understand this stuff — our operatives, our intelligence officials, our military.  Let’s go ahead and get this thing done.

Thanks very much, everybody.

END
10:45 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts December 12, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Paris Climate Agreement

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

The President Delivers a Statement on the Paris Climate Agreement

Source: WH, 12-12-15

 

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

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 Political Transcripts November 13, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Paris Terror Attacks Statement Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on the Situation in Paris

Source: WH, 11-13-15

5:45 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.  I just want to make a few brief comments about the attacks across Paris tonight.  Once again, we’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.  This is an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.

We stand prepared and ready to provide whatever assistance that the government and the people of France need to respond.  France is our oldest ally.  The French people have stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States time and again.  And we want to be very clear that we stand together with them in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress.  Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong.  The American people draw strength from the French people’s commitment to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté and égalité and fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but they are values that we share.  And those values are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism or the hateful vision of those who perpetrated the crimes this evening.

We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people.

We don’t yet know all the details of what has happened.  We have been in contact with French officials to communicate our deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed, to offer our prayers and thoughts to those who have been wounded.  We have offered our full support to them.  The situation is still unfolding.  I’ve chosen not to call President Hollande at this time, because my expectation is that he’s very busy at the moment.  I actually, by coincidence, was talking to him earlier today in preparation for the G20 meeting.  But I am confident that I’ll be in direct communications with him in the next few days, and we’ll be coordinating in any ways that they think are helpful in the investigation of what’s happened.

This is a heartbreaking situation.  And obviously those of us here in the United States know what it’s like.  We’ve gone through these kinds of episodes ourselves.  And whenever these kinds of attacks happened, we’ve always been able to count on the French people to stand with us.  They have been an extraordinary counterterrorism partner, and we intend to be there with them in that same fashion.

I’m sure that in the days ahead we’ll learn more about exactly what happened, and my teams will make sure that we are in communication with the press to provide you accurate information.  I don’t want to speculate at this point in terms of who was responsible for this.  It appears that there may still be live activity and dangers that are taking place as we speak.  And so until we know from French officials that the situation is under control, and we have for more information about it, I don’t want to speculate.

Thank you very much.

                                  END            5:50 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency September 28, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-28-15

United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York

10:18 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, it is worth reflecting on what, together, the members of this body have helped to achieve.

Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.

That is the work of seven decades.  That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued.  Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals.  Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims.  But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.

It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity.  It is this collective endeavor that’s brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty.  It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.

This progress is real.  It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed. And yet, we come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.

Today, we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an *epoch epic scale.  Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum.  Technologies that empower individuals are now also exploited by those who spread disinformation, or suppress dissent, or radicalize our youth.  Global capital flows have powered growth and investment, but also increased risk of contagion, weakened the bargaining power of workers, and accelerated inequality.

How should we respond to these trends?  There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own.  Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.

On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law.  We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted.  We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling.  In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.

The increasing skepticism of our international order can also be found in the most advanced democracies.  We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock; movements on the far right, and sometimes the left, that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out immigrants.  Most ominously, we see the fears of ordinary people being exploited through appeals to sectarianism, or tribalism, or racism, or anti-Semitism; appeals to a glorious past before the body politic was infected by those who look different, or worship God differently; a politics of us versus them.

The United States is not immune from this.  Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace.  We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.

As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning.  I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.

But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.  We cannot look backwards.  We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success.  We cannot turn those forces of integration.  No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet.  The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology.  And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences.  That is true for the United States, as well.

No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone.  In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land.  Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed.  And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary.

Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed.  The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow.  You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas.  You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.  It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.

Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory.   Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials.  The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.  Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation.

A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed.  And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure.  Our world has been there before.  We gain nothing from going back.

Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time.  We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears.  This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict.  And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.

Let me give you a concrete example.  After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body — the nuclear non-proliferation regime — was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT.  On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them.  Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.

But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran.  Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful.  For two years, the United States and our partners — including Russia, including China — stuck together in complex negotiations.  The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy.  And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer.  That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.

That same fidelity to international order guides our responses to other challenges around the world.  Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine.  America has few economic interests in Ukraine.  We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine.  But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated.  If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today.  That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia.  It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.

Now, within Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of U.S. politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us.  And yet, look at the results.  The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia. Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians.

Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected.  That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world — which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory.  Not because we want to isolate Russia — we don’t — but because we want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.

Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there.  We don’t adjudicate claims.  But like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force.  So we will defend these principles, while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.

I say this, recognizing that diplomacy is hard; that the outcomes are sometimes unsatisfying; that it’s rarely politically popular.  But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks — precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails.

I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working.  For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  We changed that.  We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights.  But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties.  As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.  (Applause.)  Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.

Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations.  Look around the world.  From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders.

That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests.  These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce.  The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential.  But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure.  If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.

Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters.  Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.

In such efforts, the United States will always do our part. We will do so mindful of the lessons of the past — not just the lessons of Iraq, but also the example of Libya, where we joined an international coalition under a U.N. mandate to prevent a slaughter.  Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind.  We’re grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government.  We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together.  But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future, as an international community, to build capacity for states that are in distress, before they collapse.

And that’s why we should celebrate the fact that later today the United States will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities — infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals, and tens of thousands of troops — to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping.  (Applause.)  These new capabilities can prevent mass killing, and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper.  But we have to do it together.  Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down, and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace.

Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria.  When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all.  Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem — that is an assault on all humanity.

I’ve said before and I will repeat:  There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them.  We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes.  And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.

But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.  Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully.  The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.

Let’s remember how this started.  Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.  And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing.  Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL.  But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.

We know that ISIL — which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria — depends on perpetual war to survive.  But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology.  So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people.  Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror.  (Applause.)

This work will take time.  There are no easy answers to Syria.  And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa.  But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time.  And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders.  That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well — because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.

Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter.  They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns.  Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest.  For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security.  And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.

The commitments we’ve made to the Sustainable Development Goals speak to this truth.  I believe that capitalism has been the greatest creator of wealth and opportunity that the world has ever known.  But from big cities to rural villages around the world, we also know that prosperity is still cruelly out of reach for too many.  As His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us, we are stronger when we value the least among these, and see them as equal in dignity to ourselves and our sons and our daughters.

We can roll back preventable disease and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  We can stamp out pandemics that recognize no borders. That work may not be on television right now, but as we demonstrated in reversing the spread of Ebola, it can save more lives than anything else we can do.

Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity.  But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy.

We can promote growth through trade that meets a higher standard.  And that’s what we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 percent of the global economy; an agreement that will open markets, while protecting the rights of workers and protecting the environment that enables development to be sustained.

We can roll back the pollution that we put in our skies, and help economies lift people out of poverty without condemning our children to the ravages of an ever-warming climate.  The same ingenuity that produced the Industrial Age and the Computer Age allows us to harness the potential of clean energy.  No country can escape the ravages of climate change.  And there is no stronger sign of leadership than putting future generations first.  The United States will work with every nation that is willing to do its part so that we can come together in Paris to decisively confront this challenge.

And finally, our vision for the future of this Assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backwards, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise:  Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend.  (Applause.)

I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world.  The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences.  But some universal truths are self-evident.  No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship.  No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school.  The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture.  They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution.

I realize that in many parts of the world there is a different view — a belief that strong leadership must tolerate no dissent.  I hear it not only from America’s adversaries, but privately at least I also hear it from some of our friends.  I disagree.  I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear.  (Applause.)  History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.

That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power.  Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever.  It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.

I understand democracy is frustrating.  Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect.  At times, it can even be dysfunctional.  But democracy — the constant struggle to extend rights to more of our people, to give more people a voice — is what allowed us to become the most powerful nation in the world. (Applause.)

It’s not simply a matter of principle; it’s not an abstraction.  Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger.  When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas.  When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out.  When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone.  When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant.  When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential.  (Applause.)

That is what I believe is America’s greatest strength.  Not everybody in America agrees with me.  That’s part of democracy.  I believe that the fact that you can walk the streets of this city right now and pass churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, where people worship freely; the fact that our nation of immigrants mirrors the diversity of the world — you can find everybody from everywhere here in New York City — (applause) — the fact that, in this country, everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are, or what they look like, or who they love — that’s what makes us strong.

And I believe that what is true for America is true for virtually all mature democracies.  And that is no accident.  We can be proud of our nations without defining ourselves in opposition to some other group.  We can be patriotic without demonizing someone else.  We can cherish our own identities — our religion, our ethnicity, our traditions — without putting others down.  Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people — ordinary people  — are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.

I believe that’s the future we must seek together.  To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict — that is not weakness, that is strength.  (Applause.)  It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.

And our people understand this.  Think of the Liberian doctor who went door-to-door to search for Ebola cases, and to tell families what to do if they show symptoms.  Think of the Iranian shopkeeper who said, after the nuclear deal, “God willing, now we’ll be able to offer many more goods at better prices.”  Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up.  (Applause.)  One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us.  We loved them.”  For 50 years, we ignored that fact.

Think of the families leaving everything they’ve known behind, risking barren deserts and stormy waters just to find shelter; just to save their children.  One Syrian refugee who was greeted in Hamburg with warm greetings and shelter, said, “We feel there are still some people who love other people.”

The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told.  They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate — but they can also respond to hope.  History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case.  You can count on that.  But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership — leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.

That’s what those who shaped the United Nations 70 years ago understood.  Let us carry forward that faith into the future — for it is the only way we can assure that future will be brighter for my children, and for yours.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
11:00 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 5, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech about the Iran nuclear deal at American University Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Iran Nuclear Deal

Source: WH, 8-5-15

American University
Washington, D.C.

11:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Thank you very much.  I apologize for the slight delay.  Even Presidents have problems with toner.  (Laughter.)

It is a great honor to be back at American University, which has prepared generations of young people for service in public life.  I want to thank President Kerwin and the American University family for hosting us here today.

Fifty-two years ago, President Kennedy, at the height of the Cold War, addressed this same university on the subject of peace.  The Berlin Wall had just been built.  The Soviet Union had tested the most powerful weapons ever developed.  China was on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb.  Less than 20 years after the end of World War II, the prospect of nuclear war was all too real.  With all of the threats that we face today, it’s hard to appreciate how much more dangerous the world was at that time.

In light of these mounting threats, a number of strategists here in the United States argued that we had to take military action against the Soviets, to hasten what they saw as inevitable confrontation.  But the young President offered a different vision.  Strength, in his view, included powerful armed forces and a willingness to stand up for our values around the world.  But he rejected the prevailing attitude among some foreign policy circles that equated security with a perpetual war footing.  Instead, he promised strong, principled American leadership on behalf of what he called a “practical” and “attainable peace” — a peace “based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions — on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements.”

Such wisdom would help guide our ship of state through some of the most perilous moments in human history.  With Kennedy at the helm, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved peacefully.  Under Democratic and Republican Presidents, new agreements were forged — a Non-Proliferation Treaty that prohibited nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, while allowing them to access peaceful nuclear energy; the SALT and START Treaties which bound the United States and Soviet Union to cooperation on arms control.  Not every conflict was averted, but the world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.

The agreement now reached between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Iran builds on this tradition of strong, principled diplomacy.  After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.  It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.  As was true in previous treaties, it does not resolve all problems; it certainly doesn’t resolve all our problems with Iran.  It does not ensure a warming between our two countries.  But it achieves one of our most critical security objectives.  As such, it is a very good deal.

Today, I want to speak to you about this deal, and the most consequential foreign policy debate that our country has had since the invasion of Iraq, as Congress decides whether to support this historic diplomatic breakthrough, or instead blocks it over the objection of the vast majority of the world.  Between now and the congressional vote in September, you’re going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising.  And if the rhetoric in these ads, and the accompanying commentary, sounds familiar, it should — for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.

Now, when I ran for President eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, I said that America didn’t just have to end that war — we had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place.  It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy; a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus; a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.  Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war, insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history.  And, of course, those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak — even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.

More than a decade later, we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq.  Our troops achieved every mission they were given.  But thousands of lives were lost, tens of thousands wounded.  That doesn’t count the lives lost among Iraqis.  Nearly a trillion dollars was spent. Today, Iraq remains gripped by sectarian conflict, and the emergence of al Qaeda in Iraq has now evolved into ISIL.  And ironically, the single greatest beneficiary in the region of that war was the Islamic Republic of Iran, which saw its strategic position strengthened by the removal of its long-standing enemy, Saddam Hussein.

I raise this recent history because now more than ever we need clear thinking in our foreign policy.  And I raise this history because it bears directly on how we respond to the Iranian nuclear program.

That program has been around for decades, dating back to the Shah’s efforts — with U.S. support — in the 1960s and ‘70s to develop nuclear power.  The theocracy that overthrew the Shah accelerated the program after the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, a war in which Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons to brutal effect, and Iran’s nuclear program advanced steadily through the 1990s, despite unilateral U.S. sanctions.  When the Bush administration took office, Iran had no centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce material for a bomb — that were spinning to enrich uranium.  But despite repeated warnings from the United States government, by the time I took office, Iran had installed several thousand centrifuges, and showed no inclination to slow — much less halt — its program.

Among U.S. policymakers, there’s never been disagreement on the danger posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb.  Democrats and Republicans alike have recognized that it would spark an arms race in the world’s most unstable region, and turn every crisis into a potential nuclear showdown.  It would embolden terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, and pose an unacceptable risk to Israel, which Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to destroy.  More broadly, it could unravel the global commitment to non-proliferation that the world has done so much to defend.

The question, then, is not whether to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but how.  Even before taking office, I made clear that Iran would not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon on my watch, and it’s been my policy throughout my presidency to keep all options — including possible military options — on the table to achieve that objective.  But I have also made clear my preference for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the issue — not just because of the costs of war, but also because a negotiated agreement offered a more effective, verifiable and durable resolution.

And so, in 2009, we let the Iranians know that a diplomatic path was available.  Iran failed to take that path, and our intelligence community exposed the existence of a covert nuclear facility at Fordow.

Now, some have argued that Iran’s intransigence showed the futility of negotiations.  In fact, it was our very willingness to negotiate that helped America rally the world to our cause, and secured international participation in an unprecedented framework of commercial and financial sanctions.  Keep in mind unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran had been in place for decades, but had failed to pressure Iran to the negotiating table.  What made our new approach more effective was our ability to draw upon new U.N. Security Council resolutions, combining strong enforcement with voluntary agreements from nations like China and India, Japan and South Korea to reduce their purchases of Iranian oil, as well as the imposition by our European allies of a total oil embargo.

Winning this global buy-in was not easy — I know.  I was there.  In some cases, our partners lost billions of dollars in trade because of their decision to cooperate.  But we were able to convince them that absent a diplomatic resolution, the result could be war, with major disruptions to the global economy, and even greater instability in the Middle East.  In other words, it was diplomacy — hard, painstaking diplomacy — not saber-rattling, not tough talk that ratcheted up the pressure on Iran.

With the world now unified beside us, Iran’s economy contracted severely, and remains about 20 percent smaller today than it would have otherwise been.  No doubt this hardship played a role in Iran’s 2013 elections, when the Iranian people elected a new government that promised to improve the economy through engagement with the world.  A window had cracked open.  Iran came back to the nuclear talks.  And after a series of negotiations, Iran agreed with the international community to an interim deal — a deal that rolled back Iran’s stockpile of near 20 percent enriched uranium, and froze the progress of its program so that the P5+1 — the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the European Union — could negotiate a comprehensive deal without the fear that Iran might be stalling for time.

Now, let me pause here just to remind everybody that when the interim deal was announced, critics — the same critics we’re hearing from now — called it “a historic mistake.”  They insisted Iran would ignore its obligations.  They warned that sanctions would unravel.  They warned that Iran would receive a windfall to support terrorism.

The critics were wrong.  The progress of Iran’s nuclear program was halted for the first time in a decade.  Its stockpile of dangerous materials was reduced.  The deployment of its advanced centrifuges was stopped.  Inspections did increase. There was no flood of money into Iran, and the architecture of the international sanctions remained in place.  In fact, the interim deal worked so well that the same people who criticized it so fiercely now cite it as an excuse not to support the broader accord.  Think about that.  What was once proclaimed as a historic mistake is now held up as a success and a reason to not sign the comprehensive deal.  So keep that in mind when you assess the credibility of the arguments being made against diplomacy today.

Despite the criticism, we moved ahead to negotiate a more lasting, comprehensive deal.  Our diplomats, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, kept our coalition united.  Our nuclear experts — including one of the best in the world, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz — worked tirelessly on the technical details.  In July, we reached a comprehensive plan of action that meets our objectives.  Under its terms, Iran is never allowed to build a nuclear weapon.  And while Iran, like any party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is allowed to access peaceful nuclear energy, the agreement strictly defines the manner in which its nuclear program can proceed, ensuring that all pathways to a bomb are cut off.

Here’s how.  Under this deal, Iran cannot acquire the plutonium needed for a bomb.  The core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak will be pulled out, filled with concrete, and replaced with one that will not produce plutonium for a weapon.  The spent fuel from that reactor will be shipped out of the country, and Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors for at least 15 years.

Iran will also not be able to acquire the enriched uranium that could be used for a bomb.  As soon as this deal is implemented, Iran will remove two-thirds of its centrifuges.  For the next decade, Iran will not enrich uranium with its more advanced centrifuges.  Iran will not enrich uranium at the previously undisclosed Fordow facility, which is buried deep underground, for at least 15 years.  Iran will get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, which is currently enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs, for the next 15 years.  Even after those 15 years have passed, Iran will never have the right to use a peaceful program as cover to pursue a weapon.

And, in fact, this deal shuts off the type of covert path Iran pursued in the past.  There will be 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities.  For decades, inspectors will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain — from the uranium mines and mills where they get raw materials, to the centrifuge production facilities where they make machines to enrich it.  And understand why this is so important:  For Iran to cheat, it has to build a lot more than just one building or a covert facility like Fordow.  It would need a secret source for every single aspect of its program.  No nation in history has been able to pull off such subterfuge when subjected to such rigorous inspections.  And under the terms of the deal, inspectors will have the permanent ability to inspect any suspicious sites in Iran.

And finally, Iran has powerful incentives to keep its commitments.  Before getting sanctions relief, Iran has to take significant, concrete steps like removing centrifuges and getting rid of its stockpile.  If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place.  We won’t need the support of other members of the U.N. Security Council; America can trigger snapback on our own.  On the other hand, if Iran abides by the deal and its economy begins to reintegrate with the world, the incentive to avoid snapback will only grow.

So this deal is not just the best choice among alternatives -– this is the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated.  And because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.  The United Nations Security Council has unanimously supported it.  The majority of arms control and non-proliferation experts support it.  Over 100 former ambassadors — who served under Republican and Democratic Presidents — support it.  I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as President, but whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls.  It’s not even close.

Unfortunately, we’re living through a time in American politics where every foreign policy decision is viewed through a partisan prism, evaluated by headline-grabbing sound bites. And so before the ink was even dry on this deal — before Congress even read it — a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition.  Lobbyists and pundits were suddenly transformed into arm-chair nuclear scientists, disputing the assessments of experts like Secretary Moniz, challenging his findings, offering multiple — and sometimes contradictory — arguments about why Congress should reject this deal.  But if you repeat these arguments long enough, they can get some traction.  So let me address just a few of the arguments that have been made so far in opposition to this deal.

First, there are those who say the inspections are not strong enough because inspectors can’t go anywhere in Iran at any time with no notice.

Well, here’s the truth:  Inspectors will be allowed daily access to Iran’s key nuclear sites.  If there is a reason for inspecting a suspicious, undeclared site anywhere in Iran, inspectors will get that access, even if Iran objects.  This access can be with as little as 24 hours’ notice.  And while the process for resolving a dispute about access can take up to 24 days, once we’ve identified a site that raises suspicion, we will be watching it continuously until inspectors get in.  And by the way, nuclear material isn’t something you hide in the closet.  It can leave a trace for years.  The bottom line is, if Iran cheats, we can catch them — and we will.

Second, there are those who argue that the deal isn’t strong enough because some of the limitations on Iran’s civilian nuclear program expire in 15 years.  Let me repeat:  The prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon is permanent.  The ban on weapons-related research is permanent.  Inspections are permanent.  It is true that some of the limitations regarding Iran’s peaceful program last only 15 years.  But that’s how arms control agreements work.  The first SALT Treaty with the Soviet Union lasted five years.  The first START Treaty lasted 15 years.  And in our current situation, if 15 or 20 years from now, Iran tries to build a bomb, this deal ensures that the United States will have better tools to detect it, a stronger basis under international law to respond, and the same options available to stop a weapons program as we have today, including — if necessary — military options.

On the other hand, without this deal, the scenarios that critics warn about happening in 15 years could happen six months from now.  By killing this deal, Congress would not merely pave Iran’s pathway to a bomb, it would accelerate it.

Third, a number of critics say the deal isn’t worth it because Iran will get billions of dollars in sanctions relief.  Now, let’s be clear:  The international sanctions were put in place precisely to get Iran to agree to constraints on its program.  That’s the point of sanctions.  Any negotiated agreement with Iran would involve sanctions relief.  So an argument against sanctions relief is effectively an argument against any diplomatic resolution of this issue.

It is true that if Iran lives up to its commitments, it will gain access to roughly $56 billion of its own money — revenue frozen overseas by other countries.  But the notion that this will be a game-changer, with all this money funneled into Iran’s pernicious activities, misses the reality of Iran’s current situation.  Partly because of our sanctions, the Iranian government has over half a trillion dollars in urgent requirements — from funding pensions and salaries, to paying for crumbling infrastructure.  Iran’s leaders have raised the expectations of their people that sanctions relief will improve their lives.  Even a repressive regime like Iran’s cannot completely ignore those expectations.  And that’s why our best analysts expect the bulk of this revenue to go into spending that improves the economy and benefits the lives of the Iranian people.

Now, this is not to say that sanctions relief will provide no benefit to Iran’s military.  Let’s stipulate that some of that money will flow to activities that we object to.  We have no illusions about the Iranian government, or the significance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force.  Iran supports terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.  It supports proxy groups that threaten our interests and the interests of our allies — including proxy groups who killed our troops in Iraq.  They try to destabilize our Gulf partners.  But Iran has been engaged in these activities for decades.  They engaged in them before sanctions and while sanctions were in place.  In fact, Iran even engaged in these activities in the middle of the Iran-Iraq War — a war that cost them nearly a million lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

The truth is that Iran has always found a way to fund these efforts, and whatever benefit Iran may claim from sanctions relief pales in comparison to the danger it could pose with a nuclear weapon.

Moreover, there’s no scenario where sanctions relief turns Iran into the region’s dominant power.  Iran’s defense budget is eight times smaller than the combined budget of our Gulf allies. Their conventional capabilities will never compare with Israel’s, and our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge helps guarantee that.  Over the last several years, Iran has had to spend billions of dollars to support its only ally in the Arab World — Bashar al-Assad — even as he’s lost control of huge chunks of his country.  And Hezbollah has suffered significant blows on the same battlefield.  And Iran, like the rest of the region, is being forced to respond to the threat of ISIL in Iraq.

So contrary to the alarmists who claim that Iran is on the brink of taking over the Middle East, or even the world, Iran will remain a regional power with its own set of challenges.  The ruling regime is dangerous and it is repressive.  We will continue to have sanctions in place on Iran’s support for terrorism and violation of human rights.  We will continue to insist upon the release of Americans detained unjustly.  We will have a lot of differences with the Iranian regime.

But if we’re serious about confronting Iran’s destabilizing activities, it is hard to imagine a worse approach than blocking this deal.  Instead, we need to check the behavior that we’re concerned about directly:  By helping our allies in the region strengthen their own capabilities to counter a cyber-attack or a ballistic missile; by improving the interdiction of weapons shipments that go to groups like Hezbollah; by training our allies’ special forces so that they can more effectively respond to situations like Yemen.  All these capabilities will make a difference.  We will be in a stronger position to implement them with this deal.  And, by the way, such a strategy also helps us effectively confront the immediate and lethal threat posed by ISIL.

Now, the final criticism — this sort of a catch-all that you may hear — is the notion that there’s a better deal to be had.  “We should get a better deal” — that’s repeated over and over again.  “It’s a bad deal, need a better deal” — (laughter) — one that relies on vague promises of toughness, and, more recently, the argument that we can apply a broader and indefinite set of sanctions to squeeze the Iranian regime harder.

Those making this argument are either ignorant of Iranian society, or they’re just not being straight with the American people.  Sanctions alone are not going to force Iran to completely dismantle all vestiges of its nuclear infrastructure — even those aspects that are consistent with peaceful programs.  That oftentimes is what the critics are calling “a better deal.”  Neither the Iranian government, or the Iranian opposition, or the Iranian people would agree to what they would view as a total surrender of their sovereignty.

Moreover, our closest allies in Europe, or in Asia — much less China or Russia — certainly are not going to agree to enforce existing sanctions for another 5, 10, 15 years according to the dictates of the U.S. Congress.  Because their willingness to support sanctions in the first place was based on Iran ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  It was not based on the belief that Iran cannot have peaceful nuclear power.  And it certainly wasn’t based on a desire for regime change in Iran.

As a result, those who say we can just walk away from this deal and maintain sanctions are selling a fantasy.  Instead of strengthening our position as some have suggested, Congress’s rejection would almost certainly result in multilateral sanctions unraveling.  If, as has also been suggested, we tried to maintain unilateral sanctions, beefen them up, we would be standing alone.  We cannot dictate the foreign, economic and energy policies of every major power in the world.

In order to even try to do that, we would have to sanction, for example, some of the world’s largest banks.  We’d have to cut off countries like China from the American financial system.  And since they happen to be major purchasers of or our debt, such actions could trigger severe disruptions in our own economy and, by the way, raise questions internationally about the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency.

That’s part of the reason why many of the previous unilateral sanctions were waived.  What’s more likely to happen, should Congress reject this deal, is that Iran would end up with some form of sanctions relief without having to accept any of the constraints or inspections required by this deal.  So in that sense, the critics are right:  Walk away from this agreement and you will get a better deal — for Iran.  (Applause.)

Now, because more sanctions won’t produce the results that the critics want, we have to be honest.  Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option — another war in the Middle East.

I say this not to be provocative.  I am stating a fact. Without this deal, Iran will be in a position — however tough our rhetoric may be –- to steadily advance its capabilities.  Its breakout time, which is already fairly small, could shrink to near zero.  Does anyone really doubt that the same voices now raised against this deal will be demanding that whoever is President bomb those nuclear facilities?

And as someone who does firmly believes that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon, and who has wrestled with this issue since the beginning of my presidency, I can tell you that alternatives to military action will have been exhausted once we reject a hard-won diplomatic solution that the world almost unanimously supports.

So let’s not mince words.  The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.  And here’s the irony.  As I said before, military action would be far less effective than this deal in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  That’s not just my supposition.  Every estimate, including those from Israeli analysts, suggest military action would only set back Iran’s program by a few years at best, which is a fraction of the limitations imposed by this deal.  It would likely guarantee that inspectors are kicked out of Iran.  It is probable that it would drive Iran’s program deeper underground.  It would certainly destroy the international unity that we’ve spent so many years building.

Now, there are some opponents — I have to give them credit; there are opponents of this deal who accept the choice of war.  In fact, they argue that surgical strikes against Iran’s facilities will be quick and painless.  But if we’ve learned anything from the last decade, it’s that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple.  (Applause.)  The only certainty in war is human suffering, uncertain costs, unintended consequences.  We can also be sure that the Americans who bear the heaviest burden are the less than 1 percent of us, the outstanding men and women who serve in uniform, and not those of us who send them to war.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have not shied from using force when necessary.  I have ordered tens of thousands of young Americans into combat.  I have sat by their bedside sometimes when they come home.  I’ve ordered military action in seven countries.  There are times when force is necessary, and if Iran does not abide by this deal, it’s possible that we don’t have an alternative.

But how can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives; that has been agreed to by Iran; that is supported by the rest of the world; and that preserves our options if the deal falls short? How could we justify that to our troops?  How could we justify that to the world or to future generations?

In the end, that should be a lesson that we’ve learned from over a decade of war.  On the front end, ask tough questions.  Subject our own assumptions to evidence and analysis.  Resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war.  Worry less about being labeled weak; worry more about getting it right.

I recognize that resorting to force may be tempting in the face of the rhetoric and behavior that emanates from parts of Iran.  It is offensive.  It is incendiary.  We do take it seriously.  But superpowers should not act impulsively in response to taunts, or even provocations that can be addressed short of war.  Just because Iranian hardliners chant “Death to America” does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe.  (Applause.)

In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo.  It’s those hardliners chanting “Death to America” who have been most opposed to the deal.  They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.  (Laughter and applause.)

The majority of the Iranian people have powerful incentives to urge their government to move in a different, less provocative direction — incentives that are strengthened by this deal.  We should offer them that chance.  We should give them that opportunity.  It’s not guaranteed to succeed.  But if they take it, that would be good for Iran, it would be good for the United States.  It would be good for a region that has known too much conflict.  It would be good for the world.

And if Iran does not move in that direction, if Iran violates this deal, we will have ample ability to respond.  The agreements pursued by Kennedy and Reagan with the Soviet Union, those agreements, those treaties involved America accepting significant constraints on our arsenal.  As such, they were riskier.  This agreement involves no such constraints.  The defense budget of the United States is more than $600 billion.  To repeat, Iran’s is about $15 billion.  Our military remains the ultimate backstop to any security agreement that we make.  I have stated that Iran will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.  I have done what is necessary to make sure our military options are real.  And I have no doubt that any President who follows me will take the same position.

So let me sum up here.  When we carefully examine the arguments against this deal, none of them stand up to scrutiny.  That may be why the rhetoric on the other side is so strident.  I suppose some of it can be ascribed to knee-jerk partisanship that has become all too familiar; rhetoric that renders every decision that’s made a disaster, a surrender — “you’re aiding terrorists; you’re endangering freedom.”

On the other hand, I do think it’s important to acknowledge another, more understandable motivation behind the opposition to this deal, or at least skepticism to this deal, and that is a sincere affinity for our friend and ally, Israel — an affinity that, as someone who has been a stalwart friend to Israel throughout my career, I deeply share.

When the Israeli government is opposed to something, people in the United States take notice.  And they should.  No one can blame Israelis for having a deep skepticism about any dealings with a government like Iran’s — which includes leaders who have denied the Holocaust, embrace an ideology of anti-Semitism, facilitate the flow of rockets that are arrayed on Israel’s borders, are pointed at Tel Aviv.  In such a dangerous neighborhood, Israel has to be vigilant, and it rightly insists that it cannot depend on any other country — even its great friend the United States — for its own security.  So we have to take seriously concerns in Israel.

But the fact is, partly due to American military and intelligence assistance, which my administration has provided at unprecedented levels, Israel can defend itself against any conventional danger — whether from Iran directly or from its proxies.  On the other hand, a nuclear-armed Iran changes that equation.

And that’s why this deal ultimately must be judged by what it achieves on the central goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  This deal does exactly that.  I say this as someone who has done more than any other President to strengthen Israel’s security.  And I have made clear to the Israeli government that we are prepared to discuss how we can deepen that cooperation even further.  Already we’ve held talks with Israel on concluding another 10-year plan for U.S. security assistance to Israel.  We can enhance support for areas like missile defense, information sharing, interdiction — all to help meet Israel’s pressing security needs, and to provide a hedge against any additional activities that Iran may engage in as a consequence of sanctions relief.

But I have also listened to the Israeli security establishment, which warned of the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran for decades.  In fact, they helped develop many of the ideas that ultimately led to this deal.

So to friends of Israel, and to the Israeli people, I say this:  A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief.

I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees — disagrees strongly.  I do not doubt his sincerity.  But I believe he is wrong.  I believe the facts support this deal.  I believe they are in America’s interest and Israel’s interest.  And as President of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.  I do not believe that would be the right thing to do for the United States.  I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for Israel.  (Applause.)

Over the last couple weeks, I have repeatedly challenged anyone opposed to this deal to put forward a better, plausible alternative.  I have yet to hear one.  What I’ve heard instead are the same types of arguments that we heard in the run-up to the Iraq War:  Iran cannot be dealt with diplomatically; we can take military strikes without significant consequences; we shouldn’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks, because once we act, everyone will fall in line; tougher talk, more military threats will force Iran into submission; we can get a better deal.

I know it’s easy to play on people’s fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich.  But none of these arguments hold up.  They didn’t back in 2002 and 2003; they shouldn’t now.  (Applause.)  The same mindset, in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States than anything we have done in the decades before or since.  It’s a mindset out of step with the traditions of American foreign policy, where we exhaust diplomacy before war, and debate matters of war and peace in the cold light of truth.

“Peace is not the absence of conflict,” President Reagan once said.  It is “the ability to cope with conflict by peaceful means.”  President Kennedy warned Americans, “not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than the exchange of threats.”  It is time to apply such wisdom.  The deal before us doesn’t bet on Iran changing, it doesn’t require trust; it verifies and requires Iran to forsake a nuclear weapon, just as we struck agreements with the Soviet Union at a time when they were threatening our allies, arming proxies against us, proclaiming their commitment to destroy our way of life, and had nuclear weapons pointed at all of our major cities — a genuine existential threat.

We live in a complicated world — a world in which the forces unleashed by human innovation are creating opportunities for our children that were unimaginable for most of human history.  It is also a world of persistent threats, a world in which mass violence and cruelty is all too common, and human innovation risks the destruction of all that we hold dear.  In this world, the United States of America remains the most powerful nation on Earth, and I believe that we will remain such for decades to come.  But we are one nation among many.

And what separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional, is not the mere fact of our military might.  Since World War II, the deadliest war in human history, we have used our power to try to bind nations together in a system of international law.  We have led an evolution of those human institutions President Kennedy spoke about — to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security, and promote human progress.

We now have the opportunity to build on that progress.  We built a coalition and held it together through sanctions and negotiations, and now we have before us a solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, without resorting to war.  As Americans, we should be proud of this achievement.  And as members of Congress reflect on their pending decision, I urge them to set aside political concerns, shut out the noise, consider the stakes involved with the vote that you will cast.

If Congress kills this deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, or the sanctions we have painstakingly built.  We will have lost something more precious: America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy; America’s credibility as the anchor of the international system.

John F. Kennedy cautioned here, more than 50 years ago, at this university, that “the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war.”  But it’s so very important.  It is surely the pursuit of peace that is most needed in this world so full of strife.

My fellow Americans, contact your representatives in Congress.  Remind them of who we are.  Remind them of what is best in us and what we stand for, so that we can leave behind a world that is more secure and more peaceful for our children.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
12:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 25-28, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Trip to Kenya and Ethiopia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Travels to Kenya and Ethiopia

Summary: 
President Obama is traveling in Kenya and Ethiopia to meet with leaders from government, business, and civil society, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to economic growth and trade, democracy, and investing in the next generation of African leaders.

Follow along for highlights from the President’s trip.

Thursday, July 25th

  • On Saturday morning, the President spoke at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit
  • President Obama visited the Power Africa Innovation Fair
  • He then attended a wreath laying ceremony and then a welcome ceremony
  • President Obama and President Kenyatta of Kenya then held a bilateral meeting and joint press conference
  • In the evening, the President attended the Kenya State Dinner

July 26th

  • President Obama participates in a welcoming ceremony, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • The President and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held a bilateral meeting and press conference
  • President Obama holds a multilateral meeting on South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda.
  • President Obama attends a State Dinner with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

July 27th

  • President Obama participates in a welcoming ceremony, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • The President and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held a bilateral meeting and press conference
  • President Obama holds a multilateral meeting on South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda.
  • President Obama attends a State Dinner with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

July 28th

  • President Obama Visits Faffa Foods, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • President Obama Holds a Bilateral Meeting with AUC Chairperson Dr. Dlamini Zuma
  • President Obama Speaks to the African Union

Speeches

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: CBS News, 7-15-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: WH, 7-15-15

Press Conference by the President

East Room

1:25 P.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Beatty, AFP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Karl.

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Jon, I think —

Q    Donald —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right.

Q    Mr. President, if I can —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Lee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Crowley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Garrett.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Ryan.

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

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

Q    I learned from my colleagues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  No.

Q    Nothing different —

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

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

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

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

END
2:33 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts July 14, 2015: Speaker John Boehner’s Statement on Iran Nuclear Deal

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Speaker Boehner Statement on Iran Nuclear Agreement

Source: Speaker Boehner’s Press Office, 7-14-15

“At the outset of these talks, the Obama administration said it would secure an agreement that affirmed Iran does not have a right to enrich and permanently dismantles the infrastructure of its nuclear programs. It said that sanctions would not be lifted until Iran met concrete, verifiable standards. And if these terms were not met, the president promised he would walk away.

“The American people and our allies were counting on President Obama to keep his word. Instead, the president has abandoned his own goals. His ‘deal’ will hand Iran billions in sanctions relief while giving it time and space to reach a break-out threshold to produce a nuclear bomb – all without cheating. Instead of making the world less dangerous, this ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran – the world’s largest sponsor of terror – by helping stabilize and legitimize its regime as it spreads even more violence and instability in the region. Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world.

“The House of Representatives will review every detail of this agreement very closely, but I won’t support any agreement that jeopardizes the safety of the American people and all who value freedom and security. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. It’s about right and wrong. And we will fight a bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for our country.”
– See more at: http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-statement-iran-nuclear-agreement#sthash.JkHQYhtS.dpuf

Full Text Obama Presidency July 14, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Iran Nuclear Deal Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Iran

Source: WH, 7-14-15

State Floor

**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.

7:02 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not — a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change — change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.  This deal is also in line with a tradition of American leadership.  It’s now more than 50 years since President Kennedy stood before the American people and said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  He was speaking then about the need for discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which led to efforts to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons.

In those days, the risk was a catastrophic nuclear war between two super powers.  In our time, the risk is that nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries, particularly in the Middle East, the most volatile region in our world.

Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region.  Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring.  Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.  And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place.  Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb — and store them under constant international supervision.  Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade.  Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons.  Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon.  This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years.

Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Arak so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium.  And it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor.  For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors.

Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments.  That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification.  Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.

*Iran [Inspectors] will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain — its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility, and its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities.  This ensures that Iran will not be able to divert materials from known facilities to covert ones.  Some of these transparency measures will be in place for 25 years.

Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location.  Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary.  That arrangement is permanent.  And the IAEA has also reached an agreement with Iran to get access that it needs to complete its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research.

Finally, Iran is permanently prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provided the basis for the international community’s efforts to apply pressure on Iran.

As Iran takes steps to implement this deal, it will receive relief from the sanctions that we put in place because of Iran’s nuclear program — both America’s own sanctions and sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased in.  Iran must complete key nuclear steps before it begins to receive new sanctions relief.  And over the course of the next decade, Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted, including five years for restrictions related to arms, and eight years for restrictions related to ballistic missiles.

All of this will be memorialized and endorsed in a new United Nations Security Council resolution.  And if Iran violates the deal, all of these sanctions will snap back into place.  So there’s a very clear incentive for Iran to follow through, and there are very real consequences for a violation.

That’s the deal.  It has the full backing of the international community.  Congress will now have an opportunity to review the details, and my administration stands ready to provide extensive briefings on how this will move forward.

As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative.  Consider what happens in a world without this deal.  Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program.  Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure.  And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.  We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done.

Without this deal, there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program.  Iran could produce, operate and test more and more centrifuges.  Iran could fuel a reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb.  And we would not have any of the inspections that allow us to detect a covert nuclear weapons program.  In other words, no deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.  It would also present the United States with fewer and less effective options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

I’ve been President and Commander-in-Chief for over six years now.  Time and again, I have faced decisions about whether or not to use military force.  It’s the gravest decision that any President has to make.  Many times, in multiple countries, I have decided to use force.  And I will never hesitate to do so when it is in our national security interest.  I strongly believe that our national security interest now depends upon preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — which means that without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. President would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it.

Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.  Moreover, we give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully.  If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U.S. President in the future.  And I have no doubt that 10 or 15 years from now, the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program.

For this reason, I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away from this deal.  But on such a tough issue, it is important that the American people and their representatives in Congress get a full opportunity to review the deal.  After all, the details matter.  And we’ve had some of the finest nuclear scientists in the world working through those details.  And we’re dealing with a country — Iran — that has been a sworn adversary of the United States for over 35 years.  So I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue, and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement.

But I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends.  We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction.  And those agreements ultimately made us safer.

I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interest of the United States and our allies.  So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.

We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. And we certainly shouldn’t seek it.  And precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing.  Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems.  Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this deal will resolve all of our differences with Iran.  We share the concerns expressed by many of our friends in the Middle East, including Israel and the Gulf States, about Iran’s support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize the region.  But that is precisely why we are taking this step — because an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilizing and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world.

Meanwhile, we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.  We will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel’s security — efforts that go beyond what any American administration has done before.  And we will continue the work we began at Camp David to elevate our partnership with the Gulf States to strengthen their capabilities to counter threats from Iran or terrorist groups like ISIL.

However, I believe that we must continue to test whether or not this region, which has known so much suffering, so much bloodshed, can move in a different direction.

Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.  Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored.  But it is possible to change.  The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end.  A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.

This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction.  We should seize it.

We have come a long way to reach this point — decades of an Iranian nuclear program, many years of sanctions, and many months of intense negotiation.  Today, I want to thank the members of Congress from both parties who helped us put in place the sanctions that have proven so effective, as well as the other countries who joined us in that effort.

I want to thank our negotiating partners — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, as well as the European Union — for our unity in this effort, which showed that the world can do remarkable things when we share a vision of peacefully addressing conflicts.  We showed what we can do when we do not split apart.

And finally, I want to thank the American negotiating team.  We had a team of experts working for several weeks straight on this, including our Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz.  And I want to particularly thank John Kerry, our Secretary of State, who began his service to this country more than four decades ago when he put on our uniform and went off to war.  He’s now making this country safer through his commitment to strong, principled American diplomacy.

History shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles.  It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together.  Today’s announcement marks one more chapter in this pursuit of a safer and more helpful and more hopeful world.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.

END
7:17 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 1, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba and Reopening Embassies Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Source: WH, 7-1-15

Rose Garden

11:08 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Please have a seat.

More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana.  Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries.  This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.

When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened.  After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people.  But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.

For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working.  Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.  The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.

Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship.  As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies.  Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal.  And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.

This is not merely symbolic.  With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people.  We’ll have more personnel at our embassy.  And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island.  That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.

On issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -– we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba.  And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences.  That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information.  And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.

However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement.  That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba.  And we will continue to do so going forward.

Since December, we’ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday.  Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement.  One Cuban said, “I have prepared for this all my life.”  Another said that that, “this is like a shot of oxygen.”  One Cuban teacher put it simply:  “We are neighbors.  Now we can be friends.”

Here in the United States, we’ve seen that same enthusiasm.  There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses who want to invest in Cuba.  American colleges and universities that want to partner with Cuba.  Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives.  One Cuban American looked forward to “reuniting families and opening lines of communications.”  Another put it bluntly:  “You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.”

And that’s what this is about:  a choice between the future and the past.

Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward.  I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same.  I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba.  We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work.  After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?

Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation.  But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for 50 years.  It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.

So I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people.  Listen to the American people.  Listen to the words of a proud Cuban American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, “I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.”

Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights.  Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change.  It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.

A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana.  This is what change looks like.

In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said:  It is my hope and my conviction that it is “in the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.”  Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come.  And a better future lies ahead.

Thank you very much.  And I want to thank some of my team who worked diligently to make this happen.  They’re here.  They don’t always get acknowledged.  We’re really proud of them.  Good work.

END
11:15 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference after G7 Summit — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama in Press Conference after G7 Summit

Source: WH, 6-8-15

Elmau Briefing Center
Krün, Germany

4:08 P.M. CEST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon.  Let me begin by once again thanking Chancellor Merkel and the people of Bavaria and Germany for their extraordinary hospitality here at the G7.  My stay here has been extraordinary.  I wish I could stay longer.  And one of the pleasures of being President is scouting out places that you want to come back to, where you don’t have to spend all your time in a conference room.  The setting is breathtaking.  Our German friends have been absolutely wonderful, and the success of this summit is a tribute to their outstanding work.

The G7 represents some of the largest economies in the world.  But in our G7 partners, the United States also embraces some of our strongest allies and closest friends in the world.  So, even as we work to promote the growth that creates jobs and opportunity, we’re also here to stand up for the fundamental principles that we share as democracies:  for freedom; for peace; for the right of nations and peoples to decide their own destiny; for universal human rights and the dignity of every human being.  And I’m pleased that here in Krün, we showed that on the most pressing global challenges, America and our allies stand united.

We agree that the best way to sustain the global economic recovery is by focusing on jobs and growth.  That’s what I’m focused on in the United States.  On Friday, we learned that our economy created another 280,000 jobs in May — the strongest month of the year so far — and more than 3 million new jobs over the past year, nearly the fastest pace in over a decade.  We’ve now seen five straight years of private sector job growth — 12.6 million new jobs created — the longest streak on record.  The unemployment rate is near its lowest level in seven years.  Wages for American workers continue to rise.  And since I took office, the United States has cut our deficit by two-thirds.  So, in the global economy, America is a major source of strength.

At the same time, we recognize that the global economy, while growing, is still not performing at its full potential, And we agreed on a number of necessary steps.  Here in Europe, we support efforts to find a path that enables Greece to carry out key reforms and return to growth within a strong, stable and growing Eurozone.  I updated my partners on our effort with Congress to pass trade promotion authority so we can move ahead with TPP in the Asia Pacific region, and T-TIP here in Europe –agreements with high standards to protect workers, public safety and the environment.

We continue to make progress toward a strong global climate agreement this year in Paris.  All the G7 countries have now put forward our post-2020 targets for reducing carbon emissions, and we’ll continue to urge other significant emitters to do so as well.  We’ll continue to meet our climate finance commitments to help developing countries transition to low-carbon growth.

As we’ve done in the U.S., the G7 agreed on the need to integrate climate risks into development assistance and investment programs across the board, and to increase access to risk insurance to help developing countries respond to and recover from climate-related disasters.  And building on the Power Africa initiative I launched two years ago, the G7 will work to mobilize more financing for clean-energy projects in Africa.

With respect to security, the G7 remains strongly united in support for Ukraine.  We’ll continue to provide economic support and technical assistance that Ukraine needs as it moves ahead on critical reforms to transform its economy and strengthen its democracy.  As we’ve seen again in recent days, Russian forces continue to operate in eastern Ukraine, violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  This is now the second year in a row that the G7 has met without Russia -— another example of Russia’s isolation -— and every member of the G7 continues to maintain sanctions on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

Now, it’s important to recognize the Russian economy has been seriously weakened.  The ruble and foreign investment are down; Inflation is up.  The Russian central bank has lost more than $150 billion in reserves.  Russian banks and firms are virtually locked out of the international markets.  Russian energy companies are struggling to import the services and technologies they need for complex energy projects.  Russian defense firms have been cut off from key technologies.  Russia is in deep recession.  So Russia’s actions in Ukraine are hurting Russia and hurting the Russian people.

Here at the G7, we agreed that even as we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution, sanctions against Russia will remain in place so long as Russia continues to violate its obligations under the Minsk agreements.  Our European partners reaffirmed that they will maintain sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, which means extending the EU’s existing sectoral sanctions beyond July.  And the G7 is making it clear that, if necessary, we stand ready to impose additional, significant sanctions against Russia.

Beyond Europe, we discussed the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and we remain united heading into the final stages of the talks.  Iran has a historic opportunity to resolve the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program, and we agreed that Iran needs to seize that opportunity.

Our discussions with Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq, President Caid Essebsi of Tunisia and President Buhari of Nigeria were a chance to address the threats of ISIL and Boko Haram.  The G7 countries, therefore, agreed to work -— together and with our partners -— to further coordinate our counterterrorism efforts.

As many of the world’s leading partners in global development — joined by leaders of Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and the African Union — we discussed how to maximize the impact of our development partnerships.  We agreed to continue our landmark initiative to promote food security and nutrition — part of our effort to lift 500 million people in developing countries out of hunger and malnutrition by 2030.  We’ll continue to work with our partners in West Africa to get Ebola cases down to zero.  And as part of our Global Health Security Agenda, I’m pleased that the G7 made a major commitment to help 60 countries over the next five years achieve specific targets to better prevent, detect and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics.

And finally, I want to commend Chancellor Merkel for ensuring that this summit included a focus on expanding educational and economic opportunities for women and girls. The G7 committed to expanding career training for women in our own countries, and to increase technical and vocational training in developing countries, which will help all of our nations prosper.
So, again, I want to thank Angela and the people of Germany for their extraordinary hospitality.  I leave here confident that when it comes to the key challenges of our time, America and our closest allies stand shoulder to shoulder.

So with that, I will take some questions.  And I will start off with Jeff Mason of Reuters.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  After your meetings here, you mentioned Greece in your opening statement.  Do you believe that the Europeans are being too tough on Greece in these talks? And what else needs to be done on both sides to ensure there’s a deal and to ensure that there isn’t the undue harm to financial markets that you’ve warned about?

And on a separate and somewhat related topic, the French told reporters today that you said to G7 leaders that you’re concerned that the dollar is too strong.  What did you say exactly?  And are you concerned that the dollar is too strong?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  First of all, don’t believe unnamed quotes. I did not say that.  And I make a practice of not commenting on the daily fluctuations of the dollar or any other currency.

With respect to Greece, I think that not only our G7 partners but the IMF and other institutions that were represented here feel a sense of urgency in finding a path to resolve the situation there.  And what it’s going to require is Greece being serious about making some important reforms not only to satisfy creditors, but, more importantly, to create a platform whereby the Greek economy can start growing again and prosper.  And so the Greeks are going to have to follow through and make some tough political choices that will be good for the long term.

I also think it’s going to be important for the international community and the international financial agencies to recognize the extraordinary challenges that Greeks face.  And if both sides are showing a sufficient flexibility, then I think we can get this problem resolved.  But it will require some tough decisions for all involved, and we will continue to consult with all the parties involved to try to encourage that kind of outcome.

Q    Are you confident it will happen before the deadline?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think that everybody wants to make it happen and they’re working hard to get it done.

Nedra.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  How frustrated are you that after you personally raised your concerns about cybersecurity with the Chinese President that a massive attack on U.S. personnel files seems to have originated from China?  Was the Chinese government involved?  And separately, as a sports fan, can you give us your reaction to the FIFA bribery scandal?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to FIFA, I cannot comment on a pending case by our Attorney General.  I will say that in conversations I’ve had here in Europe, people think it is very important for FIFA to be able to operate with integrity and transparency and accountability.

And so as the investigation and charges proceed, I think we have to keep in mind that although football — soccer — depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on, is a game, it’s also a massive business.  It is a source of incredible national pride, and people want to make sure that it operates with integrity.

The United States, by the way, since we keep on getting better and better at each World Cup, we want to make sure that a sport that’s gaining popularity is conducted in an upright manner.

I don’t want to discuss — because we haven’t publicly unveiled who we think may have engaged in these cyber-attacks — but I can tell you that we have known for a long time that there are significant vulnerabilities and that these vulnerabilities are going to accelerate as time goes by, both in systems within government and within the private sector.  This is why it’s so important that Congress moves forward on passing cyber legislation — cybersecurity legislation that we’ve been pushing for; why, over the last several years, I’ve been standing up new mechanisms inside of government for us to investigate what happens and to start finding more effective solutions.

Part of the problem is, is that we’ve got very old systems. And we discovered this new breach in OPM precisely because we’ve initiated this process of inventorying and upgrading these old systems to address existing vulnerabilities.  And what we are doing is going agency by agency, and figuring out what can we fix with better practices and better computer hygiene by personnel, and where do we need new systems and new infrastructure in order to protect information not just of government employees or government activities, but also, most importantly, where there’s an interface between government and the American people.

And this is going to be a big project and we’re going to have to keep on doing it, because both state and non-state actors are sending everything they’ve got at trying to breach these systems.  In some cases, it’s non-state actors who are engaging in criminal activity and potential theft.  In the case of state actors, they’re probing for intelligence or, in some cases, trying to bring down systems in pursuit of their various foreign policy objectives.  In either case, we’re going to have to be much more aggressive, much more attentive than we have been.

And this problem is not going to go away.  It is going to accelerate.  And that means that we have to be as nimble, as aggressive, and as well-resourced as those who are trying to break into these systems.

Justin Sink.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about two things that were on the agenda at the G7 this weekend.  The first was the Islamic State.  You said yesterday, ahead of your meeting with Prime Minister Cameron, that you’d assess what was working and what wasn’t.  So I’m wondering, bluntly, what is not working in the fight against the Islamic State.  And in today’s bilateral with Prime Minister Abadi, you pledged to step up assistance to Iraq.  I’m wondering if that includes additional U.S. military personnel.

Separately, on trade, Chancellor Merkel said today that she was pleased you would get fast track authority.  I’m wondering if that means that you gave her or other leaders here assurance that it would go through the House.  And if it doesn’t, what does it say about your ability to achieve meaningful agreements with Congress for the remainder of your time in office?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, on the latter question, I’m not going to hypothesize about not getting it done.  I intend to get it done.  And, hopefully, we’re going to get a vote soon because I think it’s the right thing to do.

With respect to ISIL, we have made significant progress in pushing back ISIL from areas in which they had occupied or disrupted local populations, but we’ve also seen areas like in Ramadi where they’re displaced in one place and then they come back in, in another.  And they’re nimble, and they’re aggressive, and they’re opportunistic.

So one of the areas where we’re going to have to improve is the speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces.  Where we’ve trained Iraqi forces directly and equipped them, and we have a train-and-assist posture, they operate effectively.  Where we haven’t, morale, lack of equipment, et cetera, may undermine the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.  So we want to get more Iraqi security forces trained, fresh, well-equipped and focused. And President Abadi wants the same thing.

So we’re reviewing a range of plans for how we might do that, essentially accelerating the number of Iraqi forces that are properly trained and equipped and have a focused strategy and good leadership.  And when a finalized plan is presented to me by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people.  We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis, as well, about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place.  And so the details of that are not yet worked out.

Q    Is it fair to say that additional military personnel — U.S. military personnel are of what’s under consideration?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think what is fair to say is that all the countries in the international coalition are prepared to do more to train Iraqi security forces if they feel like that additional work is being taken advantage of.  And one of the things that we’re still seeing is — in Iraq — places where we’ve got more training capacity than we have recruits.  So part of my discussion with Prime Minister Abadi was how do we make sure that we get more recruits in.  A big part of the answer there is our outreach to Sunni tribes.

We’ve seen Sunni tribes who are not only willing and prepared to fight ISIL, but have been successful at rebuffing ISIL.  But it has not been happening as fast as it needs to.  And so one of the efforts that I’m hoping to see out of Prime Minister Abadi, and the Iraqi legislature when they’re in session, is to move forward on a National Guard law that would help to devolve some of the security efforts in places like Anbar to local folks, and to get those Sunni tribes involved more rapidly.

This is part of what helped defeat AQI — the precursor of ISIL — during the Iraq War in 2006.  Without that kind of local participation, even if you have a short-term success, it’s very hard to hold those areas.

The other area where we’ve got to make a lot more progress is on stemming the flow of foreign fighters.  Now, you’ll recall that I hosted a U.N. General Security Council meeting specifically on this issue, and we’ve made some progress, but not enough.  We are still seeing thousands of foreign fighters flowing into, first, Syria, and then, oftentimes, ultimately into Iraq.

And not all of that is preventable, but a lot of it is preventable — if we’ve got better cooperation, better coordination, better intelligence, if we are monitoring what’s happening at the Turkish-Syria border more effectively.  This is an area where we’ve been seeking deeper cooperation with Turkish authorities who recognize it’s a problem but haven’t fully ramped up the capacity they need.  And this is something that I think we got to spend a lot of time on.

If we can cut off some of that foreign fighter flow then we’re able to isolate and wear out ISIL forces that are already there.  Because we’re taking a lot of them off the battlefield, but if they’re being replenished, then it doesn’t solve the problem over the long term.

The final point that I emphasized to Prime Minister Abadi is the political agenda of inclusion remains as important as the military fight that’s out there.  If Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia all feel as if they’re concerns are being addressed, and that operating within a legitimate political structure can meet their need for security, prosperity, non-discrimination, then we’re going to have much easier time.

And the good news is Prime Minister Abadi is very much committed to that principle.  But, obviously, he’s inheriting a legacy of a lot of mistrust between various groups in Iraq — he’s having to take a lot of political risks.  In some cases, there are efforts to undermine those efforts by other political factions within Iraq.  And so we’ve got to continue to monitor that and support those who are on the right side of the issue there.

Colleen Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You mentioned that the U.S. and its European allies have reached a consensus on extending the sanctions against Russia.  Is there a consensus, though, about what specifically the next step should be if Russia continues to violate the Minsk agreement?  And also, can you deter Russian aggression in other parts of Eastern Europe without a permanent U.S. troop presence?

And separately, I wanted to ask you about the possibility that the court battle over your actions on immigration could extend late into your term.  Do you think that there’s anything more that you can do for the people who would have benefitted from that program and now are in limbo?  And how do you view the possibility of your term ending without accomplishing your goals on immigration?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  On Ukraine and Russia and Minsk, there is strong consensus that we need to keep pushing Russia to abide by the terms of the Minsk agreement; we need to continue to support and encourage Ukraine to meet its obligations under Minsk — that until that’s completed, sanctions remain in place.

There was discussion about additional steps that we might need to take if Russia, working through separatists, doubled down on aggression inside of Ukraine.  Those discussions are taking place at a technical level, not yet at a political level — because I think the first goal here going into a European Council meeting that’s coming up is just rolling over the existing sanctions.  But I think at a technical level, we want to be prepared.

Our hope is, is that we don’t have to take additional steps because the Minsk agreement is met.  And I want to give enormous credit to Chancellor Merkel, along with President Hollande, who have shown extraordinary stick-to-itiveness and patience in trying to get that done.

Ultimately, this is going to be an issue for Mr. Putin.  He’s got to make a decision:  Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to re-create the glories of the Soviet empire?  Or does he recognize that Russia’s greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?

And as I mentioned earlier, the costs that the Russian people are bearing are severe.  That’s being felt.  It may not always be understood why they’re suffering, because of state media inside of Russia and propaganda coming out of state media in Russia and to Russian speakers.  But the truth of the matter is, is that the Russian people would greatly benefit.  And, ironically, one of the rationales that Mr. Putin provided for his incursions into Ukraine was to protect Russian speakers there.  Well, Russian speakers inside of Ukraine are precisely the ones who are bearing the brunt of the fighting.  Their economy has collapsed.  Their lives are disordered.  Many of them are displaced.  Their homes may have been destroyed.  They’re suffering.  And the best way for them to stop suffering is if the Minsk agreement is fully implemented.

Oh, immigration.  With respect to immigration, obviously, I’m frustrated by a district court ruling that now is winding its way through the appeals process.  We are being as aggressive as we can legally to, first and foremost, appeal that ruling, and then to implement those elements of immigration executive actions that were not challenged in court.

But, obviously, the centerpiece, one of the key provisions for me was being able to get folks who are undocumented to go through a background check — criminal background check — pay back taxes, and then have a legal status.  And that requires an entire administrative apparatus and us getting them to apply and come clean.

I made a decision, which I think is the right one, that we should not accept applications until the legal status of this is clarified.  I am absolutely convinced this is well within my legal authority, Department of Homeland Security’s legal authority.  If you look at the precedent, if you look at the traditional discretion that the executive branch possesses when it comes to applying immigration laws, I am convinced that what we’re doing is lawful, and our lawyers are convinced that what we’re doing is lawful.

But the United States is a government of laws and separations of power, and even if it’s an individual district court judge who’s making this determination, we’ve got to go through the process to challenge it.  And until we get clarity there, I don’t want to bring people in, have them apply and jump through a lot of hoops only to have it deferred and delayed further.

Of course, there’s one really great way to solve this problem, and that would be Congress going ahead and acting, which would obviate the need for executive actions.  The majority of the American people I think still want to see that happen.  I suspect it will be a major topic of the next presidential campaign.

And so we will continue to push as hard as we can on all fronts to fix a broken immigration system.  Administratively, we’ll be prepared if and when we get the kind of ruling that I think we should have gotten in the first place about our authorities to go ahead and implement.  But ultimately, this has never fully replaced the need for Congress to act.  And my hope is, is that after a number of the other issues that we’re working on currently get cleared, that some quiet conversations start back up again, particularly in the Republican Party, about the shortsighted approach that they’re taking when it comes to immigration.

Okay.  Christi Parsons.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  More than six million Americans may soon lose health insurance if the Supreme Court this month backs the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act. A growing number of states are looking for assistance as they face the prospect that their residents may lose federal insurance subsidies and their insurance markets may collapse.  Yet, your administration has given very little to no guidance on how states can prepare.  What can you tell state leaders and advocates who worry that health care markets in half the country may be thrown into chaos?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I can tell state leaders is, is that under well-established precedent, there is no reason why the existing exchanges should be overturned through a court case.  It has been well documented that those who passed this legislation never intended for folks who were going through the federal exchange not to have their citizens get subsidies.  That’s not just the opinion of me; that’s not just the opinion of Democrats; that’s the opinion of the Republicans who worked on the legislation.  The record makes it clear.

And under well-established statutory interpretation, approaches that have been repeatedly employed — not just by liberal, Democratic judges, but by conservative judges like some on the current Supreme Court — you interpret a statute based on what the intent and meaning and the overall structure of the statute provides for.

And so this should be an easy case.  Frankly, it probably shouldn’t even have been taken up.  And since we’re going to get a ruling pretty quick, I think it’s important for us to go ahead and assume that the Supreme Court is going to do what most legal scholars who’ve looked at this would expect them to do.

But, look, I’ve said before and I will repeat again:  If, in fact, you have a contorted reading of the statute that says federal-run exchanges don’t provide subsidies for folks who are participating in those exchanges, then that throws off how that exchange operates.  It means that millions of people who are obtaining insurance currently with subsidies suddenly aren’t getting those subsidies; many of them can’t afford it; they pull out; and the assumptions that the insurance companies made when they priced their insurance suddenly gets thrown out the window. And it would be disruptive — not just, by the way, for folks in the exchanges, but for those insurance markets in those states, generally.

So it’s a bad idea.  It’s not something that should be done based on a twisted interpretation of four words in — as we were reminded repeatedly — a couple-thousand-page piece of legislation.

What’s more, the thing is working.  I mean, part of what’s bizarre about this whole thing is we haven’t had a lot of conversation about the horrors of Obamacare because none of them come to pass.  You got 16 million people who’ve gotten health insurance.  The overwhelming majority of them are satisfied with the health insurance.  It hasn’t had an adverse effect on people who already had health insurance.  The only effect it’s had on people who already had health insurance is they now have an assurance that they won’t be prevented from getting health insurance if they’ve got a preexisting condition, and they get additional protections with the health insurance that they do have.

The costs have come in substantially lower than even our estimates about how much it would cost.  Health care inflation overall has continued to be at some of the lowest levels in 50 years.  None of the predictions about how this wouldn’t work have come to pass.

And so I’m — A, I’m optimistic that the Supreme Court will play it straight when it comes to the interpretation.  And, B, I should mention that if it didn’t, Congress could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision.

But I’m not going to go into a long speculation anticipating disaster.

Q    But you’re a plan-ahead kind of guy.  Why not have a plan B?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, you know, I want to just make sure that everybody understands that you have a model where all the pieces connect.  And there are a whole bunch of scenarios not just in relation to health care, but all kinds of stuff that I do, where if somebody does something that doesn’t make any sense, then it’s hard to fix.  And this would be hard to fix.  Fortunately, there’s no reason to have to do it.  It doesn’t need fixing.  All right?

Thank you very much.  Thank you to the people of Germany and Bavaria.  You guys were wonderful hosts.

END
4:43 P.M. CEST

Full Text Obama Presidency April 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech announcing a ‘framework’ agreement for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s speech announcing a ‘framework’ agreement for a nuclear weapons deal with Iran — Transcript

Source: WaPo, 4-2-15

OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.

Today, the United States, together with our allies and partners, has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

As president and commander in chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people, and I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer. This has been a long time coming.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades. By the time I took office, Iran was operating thousands of centrifuges, which can produce the materials for a nuclear bomb. And Iran was concealing a covert nuclear facility.

I made clear that we were prepared to resolve this issue diplomatically, but only if Iran came to the table in a serious way.

When that did not happen, we rallied the world to impose the toughest sanctions in history, sanctions which had a profound impact on the Iranian economy.

Now, sanctions alone could not stop Iran’s nuclear program, but they did help bring Iran to the negotiating table. Because of our diplomatic efforts, the world stood with us, and we were joined at the negotiating table by the world’s major powers: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China as well as the European Union.

Over a year ago, we took the first step towards today’s framework with a deal to stop the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and roll it back in key areas.

And recall that at the time, skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, that we could not verify their compliance, and the interim agreement would fail. Instead, it has succeeded exactly as intended. Iran has met all of its obligations.

It eliminated its stockpile of dangerous nuclear material, inspections of Iran’s program increased, and we continued negotiations to see if we could achieve a more comprehensive deal.

Today, after many months of tough principle diplomacy, we have achieved the framework for that deal. And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.

This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history. So this deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.

Many key details will be finalized over the next three months. And nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed. But here are the basic outlines of the deal that we are working to finalize.

First, Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium because it will not develop weapons grade plutonium. The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor. Iran will not build a new heavy water reactor. And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors, ever.

Second, this deal shuts down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two thirds. Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordo facility. Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years. The vast majority of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.

Today, estimates indicate that Iran is only two or three months away from potentially acquiring the raw materials that could be used for a single nuclear bomb. Under this deal, Iran has agreed that it will not stockpile the materials needed to build a weapon. Even if it violated the deal, for the next decade at least, Iran would be a minimum of a year away from acquiring enough material for a bomb. And the strict limitations on Iran’s stockpile will last for 15 years.

Third, this deal provides the best possible defense against Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly, that is in secret. International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program, from uranium mills that provide the raw materials to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.

If Iran cheats, the world will know it. If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it. Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.

With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world. So, this will be a long-term deal that addresses each path to a potential Iranian nuclear bomb.

There will be strict limits on Iran’s program for a decade. Additional restrictions on building new facilities or stockpiling materials will last for 15 years. The unprecedented transparency measures will last for 20 years or more. Indeed, some will be permanent. And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.

In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions. Our own sanctions and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased, as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal. If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.

Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.

Now let me re-emphasize, our work is not yet done. The deal has not been signed. Between now and the end of June, the negotiators will continue to work through the details of how this framework will be fully implemented and those details matter.

If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians, if the verification and inspection mechanisms don’t meet the specifications of our nuclear and security experts, there will be no deal.

But if we can get this done and Iran follows through on the framework that our negotiators agreed to, we will be able to resolve one of the greatest threats to our security and to do so peacefully.

Given the importance of this issue, I have instructed my negotiators to fully brief Congress and the American people on the substance the deal. And I welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come.

I am confident that we can show that this deal is good for the security of the United States, for our allies and for the world.

But the fact is we only have three options for addressing Iran’s nuclear program. First, we can reach a robust and verifiable deal, like this one, and peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second option is we can bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East and setting back Iran’s program by a few years. In other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back. Meanwhile, we’d ensure that Iran would raise their head to try and build a bomb.

Third, we could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones and hope for the best. Knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated, but instead has advanced its program. And that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty.

In other words, the third option leads us very quickly back to a decision about whether or not to take military action because we’d have no idea what was going on inside of Iran. Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so.

That’s not how the world works. And that’s not what history shows us. Iran has shown no willingness to eliminate those aspects of their program that they maintain are for peaceful purposes, even in the face of unprecedented sanctions.

Should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it’s doubtful that we could even keep our current international sanctions in place.

So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question: Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East? Is it worse than doing what we’ve done for almost two decades with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections?

I think the answer will be clear. Remember, I have always insisted that I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will.

But I also know that a diplomatic solution is the best way to get this done and offers a more comprehensive and lasting solution. It is our best option by far. And while it is always a possibility that Iran may try to cheat on the deal in the future, this framework of inspections and transparency makes it far more likely that we’ll know about it if they try to cheat, and I or future presidents will have preserved all of the options that are currently available to deal with it.

To the Iranian people, I want to reaffirm what I’ve said since the beginning of my presidency. We are willing to engage you on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.

This deal offers the prospect of relief from sanctions that were imposed because of Iran’s violation of international law. Since Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, this framework gives Iran the opportunity to verify that it’s program is, in fact, peaceful. It demonstrates that if Iran complies with its international obligations, then it can fully rejoin the community of nations, thereby fulfilling the extraordinary talent and aspirations of the Iranian people. That would be good for Iran, and it would be good for the world.

Of course, this deal alone, even if fully implemented, will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries. We have a difficult history between us.

And our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America’s friends and allies, like Israel.

So make no mistake, we will remain vigilant in countering those actions and standing with our allies.

It’s no secret that the Israeli prime minister and I don’t agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue. If in fact Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.

And I believe our nuclear experts can confirm that.

More importantly, I will be speaking with the prime minister today to make clear that there will be no daylight, there is no daylight when it comes to our support for Israel’s security and our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing policies and threats towards Israel.

That’s why I’ve directed my national security team to consult closely with the new Israeli government in the coming weeks and months about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel and make clear our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s defense.

Today, I also spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia, to reaffirm our commitment to the security of our partners in the Gulf. And I am inviting the leaders of the six countries who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain to meet me at Camp David this spring to discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, played a critical role in our current Iran policy, helping to shape the sanctions regime that applied so much pressure on Iran and ultimately forced them to the table.

In the coming days and weeks, my administration will engage Congress once again about how we can play — how it can play a constructive oversight role. I’ll begin that effort by speaking to the leaders of the House and the Senate today.

In those conversations, I will underscore that the issues at stake here are bigger than politics. These are matters of war and peace. And they should be evaluated based on the facts, and what is ultimately best for the American people and for our national security. For, this is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran. This is a deal between Iran, the United States of America and the major powers in the world, including some of our closest allies.

If Congress kills this deal not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative, then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy. International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.

The American people understand this, which is why a solid majority support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. They understand instinctively the words of President Kennedy, who faced down the far greater threat of Communism, and said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” The American people remembered that at the height of the Cold War.

Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary, despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so.

Those agreements were not perfect. They did not end all threats. But they made our world safer. A good deal with Iran will do the same. Today I’d like to express my thanks to our international partners for their steadfastness, their cooperation.

I was able to speak earlier today with our close allies, Prime Minister Cameron and President Holland and Chancellor Merkel, to reaffirm that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this effort. And most of all, on behalf of our nation, I want to express my thanks to our tireless — and I mean tireless — Secretary of State John Kerry and our entire negotiating team. They have worked so hard to make this progress. They represent the best tradition of American diplomacy.

Their work, our work, is not yet done and success is not guaranteed. But we have a historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran and to do so peacefully, with the international community firmly behind us. We should seize that chance. Thank you. God bless you. And god bless the United States of America.

Full Text Obama Presidency April 2, 2015: State Department Full Text of Iran Nuclear Weapons Program Deal Parameters

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Source: State.gov, 4-2-15

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
April 2, 2015

Below are the key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland. These elements form the foundation upon which the final text of the JCPOA will be written between now and June 30, and reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. Important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We will work to conclude the JCPOA based on these parameters over the coming months.

Enrichment

  • Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.
  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
  • Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.
  • All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.

Iran will convert its facility at Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium

  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium at its Fordow facility for at least 15 years.
  •  Iran has agreed to convert its Fordow facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only – into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.
  • Iran has agreed to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years.
  • Iran will not have any fissile material at Fordow for 15 years.
  • Almost two-thirds of Fordow’s centrifuges and infrastructure will be removed. The remaining centrifuges will not enrich uranium. All centrifuges and related infrastructure will be placed under IAEA monitoring.

Iran will only enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, with only 5,060 IR-1 first-generation centrifuges for ten years.

  • Iran has agreed to only enrich uranium using its first generation (IR-1 models) centrifuges at Natanz for ten years, removing its more advanced centrifuges.
  • Iran will remove the 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges currently installed at Natanz and place them in IAEA monitored storage for ten years.
  • Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.
  • For ten years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least 1 year. Beyond 10 years, Iran will abide by its enrichment and enrichment R&D plan submitted to the IAEA, and pursuant to the JCPOA, under the Additional Protocol resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity.

Inspections and Transparency

  • The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.
  • Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.
  • Inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake, for 25 years.
  • Inspectors will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years. Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.
  • All centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure removed from Fordow and Natanz will be placed under continuous monitoring by the IAEA.
  • A dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program will be established to monitor and approve, on a case by case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology – an additional transparency measure.
  • Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA, providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.
  • Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.
  • Iran has agreed to implement Modified Code 3.1 requiring early notification of construction of new facilities.
  • Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing

  • Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design that is agreed to by the P5+1, which will not produce weapons grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.
  • The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.
  • Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime.
  • Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.
  • Iran will not accumulate heavy water in excess of the needs of the modified Arak reactor, and will sell any remaining heavy water on the international market for 15 years.
  • Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

Sanctions

  • Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.
  • U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.
  • The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
  • All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).
  • However, core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.
  • A dispute resolution process will be specified, which enables any JCPOA participant, to seek to resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments.
  • If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process, then all previous UN sanctions could be re-imposed.
  • U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.

Phasing

  • For ten years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development – ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Beyond that, Iran will be bound by its longer-term enrichment and enrichment research and development plan it shared with the P5+1.
  • For fifteen years, Iran will limit additional elements of its program. For instance, Iran will not build new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors and will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium and accept enhanced transparency procedures.
  • Important inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years. Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations. The robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years.
  • Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear program.

Political Musings March 13, 2015: Romney wants Obama to refuse Iran deal defends Netanyahu and 47 GOP senators

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Romney wants Obama to refuse Iran deal defends Netanyahu and 47 GOP senators

March 13, 2015

Just because he is not running for president in 2016 does not mean former 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney is not going to weigh in on the potential Iran nuclear weapons deal. Romney wrote an op-ed published…

Full Text Obama Presidency February 5, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at National Prayer Breakfast

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast

Source: WH,  2-5-15

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:13 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning.  Giving all praise and honor to God.  It is wonderful to be back with you here.  I want to thank our co-chairs, Bob and Roger.  These two don’t always agree in the Senate, but in coming together and uniting us all in prayer, they embody the spirit of our gathering today.

I also want to thank everybody who helped organize this breakfast.  It’s wonderful to see so many friends and faith leaders and dignitaries.  And Michelle and I are truly honored to be joining you here today.

I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.  (Applause.)  I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today.  (Applause.)

There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR.  (Laughter.)  This may be the first.  (Laughter.)  But God works in mysterious ways.  (Laughter.)   And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation.  Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives — Jesus, take the wheel.  (Laughter.) Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.  (Laughter.)

He and I obviously share something in having married up.  And we are so grateful to Stevie for the incredible work that they’ve done together to build a ministry where the fastest drivers can slow down a little bit, and spend some time in prayer and reflection and thanks.  And we certainly want to wish Darrell a happy birthday.  (Applause.)  Happy birthday.

I will note, though, Darrell, when you were reading that list of things folks were saying about you, I was thinking, well, you’re a piker.  I mean, that — (laughter.)  I mean, if you really want a list, come talk to me.  (Laughter.)  Because that ain’t nothing.  (Laughter.)  That’s the best they can do in NASCAR?  (Laughter.)

Slowing down and pausing for fellowship and prayer — that’s what this breakfast is about.  I think it’s fair to say Washington moves a lot slower than NASCAR.  Certainly my agenda does sometimes.  (Laughter.)  But still, it’s easier to get caught up in the rush of our lives, and in the political back-and-forth that can take over this city.  We get sidetracked with distractions, large and small.  We can’t go 10 minutes without checking our smartphones — and for my staff, that’s every 10 seconds.  And so for 63 years, this prayer tradition has brought us together, giving us the opportunity to come together in humility before the Almighty and to be reminded of what it is that we share as children of God.

And certainly for me, this is always a chance to reflect on my own faith journey.  Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally.  But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us.  He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.

Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges — certainly over the last six years.  But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both.

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

So humility I think is needed.  And the second thing we need is to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments.  Between church and between state.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it’s real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It’s from the heart.

That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.  It’s not the case in authoritarian governments that elevate an individual leader or a political party above the people, or in some cases, above the concept of God Himself.  So the freedom of religion is a value we will continue to protect here at home and stand up for around the world, and is one that we guard vigilantly here in the United States.

Last year, we joined together to pray for the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea for two years.  And today, we give thanks that Kenneth is finally back where he belongs — home, with his family.  (Applause.)

Last year, we prayed together for Pastor Saeed Abedini, detained in Iran since 2012.  And I was recently in Boise, Idaho, and had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Abedini’s beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten brother Saeed and that we’re doing everything we can to bring him home.  (Applause.)  And then, I received an extraordinary letter from Pastor Abedini.  And in it, he describes his captivity, and expressed his gratitude for my visit with his family, and thanked us all for standing in solidarity with him during his captivity.

And Pastor Abedini wrote, “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.”  And he closed his letter by describing himself as “prisoner for Christ, who is proud to be part of this great nation of the United States of America that cares for religious freedom around the world.”  (Applause.)

We’re going to keep up this work — for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith.   And we’re grateful to our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein — who has hit the ground running, and is heading to Iraq in a few days to help religious communities there address some of those challenges.  Where’s David?  I know he’s here somewhere.  Thank you, David, for the great work you’re doing.  (Applause.)

Humility; a suspicion of government getting between us and our faiths, or trying to dictate our faiths, or elevate one faith over another.  And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them — that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The Torah says “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”  In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  The Holy Bible tells us to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love.

Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”  He challenges us to press on in what he calls our “march of living hope.”  And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.  (Applause.)

His Holiness expresses that basic law:  Treat thy neighbor as yourself.  The Dalai Lama — anybody who’s had an opportunity to be with him senses that same spirit.  Kent Brantly expresses that same spirit.  Kent was with Samaritan’s Purse, treating Ebola patients in Liberia, when he contracted the virus himself. And with world-class medical care and a deep reliance on faith — with God’s help, Kent survived.  (Applause.)

And then by donating his plasma, he helped others survive as well.  And he continues to advocate for a global response in West Africa, reminding us that “our efforts needs to be on loving the people there.”  And I could not have been prouder to welcome Kent and his wonderful wife Amber to the Oval Office.  We are blessed to have him here today — because he reminds us of what it means to really “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Not just words, but deeds.

Each of us has a role in fulfilling our common, greater purpose — not merely to seek high position, but to plumb greater depths so that we may find the strength to love more fully.  And this is perhaps our greatest challenge — to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another.  As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.

As children of God, let’s work to end injustice — injustice of poverty and hunger.  No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty.  As children of God, let’s work to eliminate the scourge of homelessness, because, as Sister Mary says, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”  None of us are home until all of us are home.

As children of God, let’s stand up for the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to send the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and “set the oppressed free.”  (Applause.)

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose.  We can never fully fathom His amazing grace.  “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love.  But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required:  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

END
9:37 A.M. EST

Political Musings January 12, 2015: Obama admits he was wrong should have sent high profile official to Paris rally

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama admits he was wrong should have sent high profile official to Paris rally

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama finally admitted he was wrong. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters during the daily press briefing on Monday, Jan. 12, that the administration “should have sent someone with a higher profile” to the…READ MORE
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