Full Text Campaign Buzz 2016 August 31, 2016: GOP Nominee Donald Trump’s Press Conference with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico



Donald Trump’s Press Conference with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto


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



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.)

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.


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


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




Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

Source: USA Today


• 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.


• 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


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



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.

11:15 A.M. EDT

Political Musings December 20, 2014: Obama invokes Reagan in reflective and optimistic American resurgence declaration




Obama invokes Reagan in reflective and optimistic American resurgence declaration

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In the last press conference of the year on Friday afternoon, Dec. 19, 2014 at the East Room of the White House President Barack Obama kept the topics lighter and optimistic in the 50-minute presser; the theme was definitely…READ MORE

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



Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Brussels.


Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

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

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

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Pace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Clark.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

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

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

Q    Okay, all right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta Rampton.

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

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

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

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Normalization of Diplomatic Relations with CubaFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript



Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes

Source: WH, 12-17-14

Cabinet Room

12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:   Good afternoon.  Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.  Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba.  I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism.  We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports.  Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind.  All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else.  And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy.  As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba.  These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values.  And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years.  Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship.  His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

Today, Alan returned home –- reunited with his family at long last.  Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds.  Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades.  This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States.  This man is now safely on our shores.

Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.  Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before.  It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it.  Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.  But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.  After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach.

Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  This review will be guided by the facts and the law.  Terrorism has changed in the last several decades.  At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.  This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.  With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island.  Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people.  So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans.  So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba.  U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions.  And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

I believe in the free flow of information.  Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.  So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba.  Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

These are the steps that I can take as President to change this policy.  The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation.  As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward.  I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens.  In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.  We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.  The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there.  While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests.  I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.  But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy.  The question is how we uphold that commitment.  I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.  Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.  We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.  In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.  Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom.  Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future.  José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.”  Today, I am being honest with you.  We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination.  Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts.  In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.  This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.  But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.  And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter.  Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.  A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles or so from Havana.  Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami — on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts.  Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America.  But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South.  Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.  But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

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

12:16 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2014: North American Leaders Summit Roundup



North American Leaders Summit Roundup

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

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



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

Source: WH, 2-19-14

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

Patio Central
Palacio de Gobierno
Toluca, Mexico

7:25 P.M. CST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.  (Applause.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR. MCDONALD:  Omar Sachedina from CTV News.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Just one, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My hope is, at this point, that a truce may hold, but Stephen is exactly right — ultimately, the government is responsible for making sure that we shift towards some sort of unity government, even if it’s temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we’ve seen on the streets and without the bloodshed that all of us I think strongly condemn.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  On the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as I said, we are wanting to see and committed to seeing a good, comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.  I think it’s in all of our interest for the reasons that have already been laid out.  That said, the government of Canada’s position is always clear in these matters that we will only come to an agreement when we are convinced the agreement is in the best interest of Canada.  And we will stay at the table as long as it takes to get to that particular situation.

And I think we have the track record to prove it.  Our government, the current government of Canada, has signed more trade agreements than all previous Canadian governments combined. What I would say is this — I’m not going to comment on the process in Congress.  What I would say is this — the reason I said what I said about working until we get an agreement that is in the interest of Canada is we will have to have an agreement that can be sold to the Canadian Parliament and ultimately to the Canadian people.  And that’s what we’re aiming for.

(The Prime Minister repeats his remarks in French.)

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  The Mexican stand has been very clear, and specifically our take on the TPP have always stated it, it is of the interest of Mexico.  We have been part of the negotiation rounds to eventually reach an agreement of this important opportunity that the TPP offers.  We can expand the potential of North America into the Asia Pacific region.  Mexico would do its best for the sake of Mexico to be on the side of the solution.  We will overcome disagreements and eventual roadblocks that the negotiation rounds present.  And we hope that it is this spirit that we reach the agreement.

Mexico has made a commitment and has shown political will to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We hope that the deal happens.  That is the Mexican stand, and we will work to the best of our ability to reach this goal.

Now, on behalf of Mexico, Miguel Reyes Razo, from the Mexican Editorial Organization, will ask a question.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Good evening, everyone.  By virtue of the fact that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the efforts made by Mexico, the United States and Canada, we have NAFTA for 20 years.  I would like to ask Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of my country, what is the outlook of the northern part of this continent in terms of development?  And at the same time, Mr. President Peña Nieto, I would like to know, what are the challenges for the development that we have hoped for, that we are expecting?

And I would like to ask the President of the United States of America, Mr. Obama, and Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada — what is the engagement that we should expect from you? What is your actual commitment to make this region, North America, thrive in economical terms?  Now, we have 13 months and a half of your administration, Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto.  And you, Canada and the United States, partners and neighbors of this country, what is your take?  What is your take on this 13 months and a half of the Mexican President?  Thank you very much for your reply.

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Mr. Miguel, I believe that we have been very candid in terms of the huge strength that we see in North America after 20 years of the free trade agreement.  Our trade has been able to thrive.  We have more commercial exchanges.  We have more investment in the region.

And today we have integrated added value chains between our three countries.  That means that we are adding value to products that are offered in this great market.  We are fully aware of the economic growth since, so far, we are fully aware of the creation of jobs in North America.  That is why we have committed in this summit to take on actions that would help us strengthen our economic ties even further.  We have committed to enable trade, to have better infrastructure, to have safer exchanges, and to make our trade be easier.  So these are the agreements that we have made today.

And we have also acknowledged the enormous potential.  And the future that we see in the horizon would be based on the strengths that we have built upon over the course of the last 20 years.  And let us acknowledge that we are three countries that we are like-minded in terms of our values.  We are three democratic countries.  We are three countries who believe in free trade.  And our countries have found in this instrument a space to create jobs and to have more development in our nations.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as we’ve said I think throughout our meetings today, America’s success, Mexico’s success, Canadian success are all bound together.  I think that if you just look at the facts, Mexico has made enormous strides over the last several decades.  And, in part, that is because we’ve seen a greater integration of Mexico in the world economy.  I think the United States and Canada have played constructive roles in that.  Our ability to trade and engage in commerce with Mexico obviously has created jobs and opportunities in our country, as well.  And so it has been a mutually beneficial partnership — based on self-interest, but also as Enrique said, based on common values.

We’ve seen a consolidation of democracy here in Mexico, and I think the kinds of reforms that Enrique has initiated over the last 13 months are ones that will put Mexico in an even stronger competitive footing in the world economy in the years to come.

And I recognize there are still implementation issues that will be involved, and there will be a healthy debate here in Mexico, but I’m confident, given the talent of the Mexican people, given the resources of the Mexican people, given the growing capacity of Mexican businesses, and given the fact that we, as a North American entity, constitutes a huge trading bloc and economic powerhouse around the world, that we should anticipate Mexico’s growth to continue, standards of living to continue, jobs and opportunities to continue.  And that’s what we hope for all our countries.

I’m confident that the partnership that we’ve developed is good for the United States, creates jobs in the United States, helps businesses in the United States.  And if we continue to cooperate and try to reduce some of the barriers that have in the past slowed down our commercial exchanges, as well as educational exchanges and scientific exchanges, then we’re going to be successful.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  (As interpreted.)  Allow me, this is our perspective.  While Canada has seen great success, but the development of Mexico throughout this time period that is 20 years has been unbelievable, socially, economically, politically. And Mexico is becoming a world of power.  And we see this accelerating process with the support of President Peña Nieto.

You have made comments on the challenges to meet.  I think that the greatest one is the need to keep on increasing the flow of goods and services and information across our borders at a time where risks and threats to security are also increased across the borders.  And that will be the greatest challenge to meet.

(In English.)  Look, I think the NAFTA relationship, as I’ve said before, has been tremendously successful for all of us. But I think, looking back 20 years, the development of Mexico on all levels — economic, social, political — over the period has been incredible.  It’s a process that is accelerating under President Peña Nieto’s very bold vision for the future, and Mexico is increasingly becoming a global economic player.

You asked about challenges.  I think the biggest single challenge is in an era where we are seeing and need to see even greater movement of goods, services, people, investments, information flows across our borders, that at the same time, the risks and the threats to security across those borders continue to rise.  So the big challenge will be how we continue to grow that human and trade flow, while at the same time minimizing the risks.

MODERATOR:  (As interpreted) President Peña Nieto, would you like to take the floor so you can officially close this meeting?

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Yes, I will.  Thank you very much.

Once again, I would like to congratulate myself for this summit.  We have built a climate that is based on trust, respect, and we have worked towards a relationship that it’s very clear in terms of the responsibilities of each one of the heads of state. And I am certain that this relationship will result in a greater integration, a stronger friendship, and whatever we do for the sake of North America will benefit our peoples.

I would like to bear testimony of how grateful I am towards the authorities of the state, the Governor of the State of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila.  I’d like to thank you for enabling the summit to take place here.  I would like to thank the Chief Justice of the State of Mexico.  They provided us with their facilities.

And I would like to thank the inhabitants of the capital city of the State of Mexico, Toluca, for their hospitality.  I thank them.  And I’d like to thank all of them for the inconveniences and all the preparation work and all the security operations needed for the summit.  I’m very grateful towards them.  And I’m very grateful for the hospitality given to the President of the United States, Barack Obama; and the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper.

Thank you very much and have a safe trip home.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

8:20 P.M. CST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2014: President Obama, President Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper’s Speech to North American Business, Civil Society and Education Leaders at Three Amigos Summit



President Obama Travels to Mexico for the North American Leaders’ Summit

Source: WH, 2-19-14

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

Today, the President traveled to Toluca, Mexico for this year’s North American Leaders’ Summit, along with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper….READ MORE

Remarks by President Obama, President Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper to North American Business, Civil Society and Education Leaders

Source: WH, 2-19-14 

Salon del Pueblo
Palacio de Gobierno
Toluca, Mexico

5:03 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Your Excellency, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America; Your Excellency, Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada; ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests:  We are here gathered with representatives from the public, the private, and the social sectors.  All of you have walked along with us in the construction road to a more competitive North America.  And by this, we will have a higher level of development for our peoples.

Members of the media, Mexico welcomes you with open arms to celebrate the North America Leaders Summit, Toluca 2014.  Besides being Toluca, my hometown, this is the place where I was entrusted by the citizens to serve as the governor of this state, the state of Mexico.  The state of Mexico is a clear symbol of the productive integration of North America due to its geographic location and its connectivity.  Here we have seen the settlement of advanced automobile facilities and very important logistic hubs.  Both are a true example of value chains, global value chains that make North America excel.

That is why, from Toluca, the three leaders of North America confirm today our commitment to position our region as one of the most dynamic and competitive of the whole world.

I celebrate the fact that we have gathered here with prominent representatives from the academia, from the private sector, and from the civil society from North America.  Your contribution has been vital to bring Canada, the U.S. and Mexico closer.  With a clear vision in mind, all of you pushed from the onset the great idea that gathers us today — an integrated North America with goals and shared efforts.

(Drop in audio feed.)

Once, the Free Trade Agreement area was the largest free trade area with an unprecedented push of trade exchanges, regional investment, and the creation of millions of jobs.  With the same innovative spirit, two decades after, we are bound to go beyond and enhance all together the progress that each one of our countries has made, because individually all our countries have moved forward as well.

Therefore, the principal topics of this seventh summit are very clear:  First, inclusive and shared prosperity.  Number two, new opportunity areas.  Number three, citizen security.  And fourth, regional and global topics.  It is upon these four topics today we will work together to boost the economic growth of our countries and a generation of quality jobs, and by this, increase the wellbeing of our societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, Canada, the United States and Mexico share strengths that make us move forward.  We are a community of more than 450 million inhabitants where talent and creativity of our peoples excel.  Trade exchanges from the three countries are over $1 trillion; in Spanish we use billions, in English we use trillions.  We have the support and thrive of our entrepreneurs and the capabilities of technological innovation coming from our universities and large companies.

We have principles, we have institutions that make us be solid democracies.  We have natural resources, endless natural resources and new opportunities so we can take advantage of them sustainably.

All of these are factors that lay a solid groundwork for North America’s region, and this is how we will make it a more attractive and competitive region in the world for the upcoming years.  I would like to invite you, respectfully, so that each one of us from the area where you have the responsibility to act, let’s make North America a more competitive and a more prosperous region for the sake of the inhabitants of our countries.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon.  Buenas tardes.  Bonjour.  I want to thank Enrique for his extraordinary hospitality and for bringing us here to his beautiful home city.  I want to thank the people of Toluca and of Mexico for your great hospitality.

We’re all here on business, which means I’m not here as long as I’d like.  I have not, for example, sampled some of Toluca’s legendary chorizo.  (Laughter.)  And hopefully the next time I stop by, I’m going to be able to have some of that.

All of us — Stephen, Enrique and I — are focused on how we can deepen what are already incredible ties between our three nations.  And I appreciate that all of you are here today, because governments cannot do it alone.  The strength of the relationship between Canada, Mexico and the United States is not just a matter of government policy; it’s not just a matter of legislation.  There is an incredible richness to the relationship that comes from our people, from our businesses, from our commercial ties, from the students who are traveling back and forth, from the cultures that are shared between us.

And that strength is in some ways unique throughout the world.  If you think about North America, to have three borders this long in which we share a common set of values, a common set of principles, a commitment to democracy, a commitment to free markets, a commitment to trade where we are allies and interact peacefully, that is a precious gift.  And it’s one that I think all three of us are committed to building and nurturing for future generations.

And for me this is very personal.  Some of my closest advisors and allies and political friends are the children of Mexican immigrants who have made an extraordinary life and contribution in the United States.  My brother-in-law is Canadian, so you know I have to like Canadians — (laughter) — although I will note that I think we are going to have both the men’s hockey teams and the women’s hockey teams battling it out.  (Laughter.)  So for a very brief period of time, I may not feel as warm towards Canadians as I normally do — at least until those matches are over.

But each of you experiences these connections in very concrete ways.  Enrique already spoke about the volume of trade that takes place, and the interactions between our businesses, and the subsidiaries of companies in each country that are operating in the other.  And so much of the cross-border trade that exists is part of an integrated supply chain that allows us, all three of us as countries, to successfully sell our products and services all around the world.

And so we have every incentive to make this work.  And so a lot of our conversation has focused on how do we reduce any continuing trade frictions; how do we make sure that our borders are more efficient; how do we make sure that the educational exchanges between our young people are expanded so that our young people understand their opportunities will be brighter and expanded if in fact they’ve had the opportunity to study in Canada or to study in Mexico, if they know Spanish, if they know French.

And we use these forums to make concrete progress.  Our staffs work incredibly hard to make them successful.  But, frankly, until our leaders come around, until the three of us meet, sometimes it doesn’t all get done.  And this becomes a forcing mechanism for us to move forward on commercial progress, joint security progress, progress on educational and scientific exchanges.

But — and this is the last point I want to emphasize — there are always going to be parochial interests in each of our countries, so that’s appropriate and that will express itself politically, and we have to be responsive to our own constituencies.  If, in fact, we’re going to continue to build and strengthen the ties between our three countries, then you can’t just leave it to politicians alone.  All of you are going to have to speak out and speak up on the importance of this relationship.

We want to make sure that we’re your partners and allies in this process, but when people understand what this means in terms of job creation in the United States, job creation in Canada, job creation in Mexico, how this relationship enhances our security, how it improves our capacity to heat our homes and grow our food and make sure that young people have opportunities in the future — when they hear that from you, it’s that much more persuasive.

And so I would encourage all of you to continue to make your voices heard.  You’ll have certainly a partner in me, and I’m sure that you’ll have a partner in Stephen and Enrique as well.

I thank you for participating here today.  And once again, Enrique, thank you for the extraordinary hospitality in this beautiful state and this beautiful city.  Muchas gracias.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  Bon après-midi.  Buenas tardes.  Good afternoon, everybody — wonderful day and we’re delighted to be here in Toluca.  And it’s easy to see why you’re so proud of your hometown.  It’s a wonderful spot here.

And, Barack, it’s always great to see you.  And I like my brothers-in-law, too.  (Laughter.)  And I’ll probably like them no matter who wins the hockey game.  (Laughter.)  Anyway.

I want to also thank all of you being here, in particular, obviously, the delegation that has accompanied me from Canada.

(As interpreted.)  Today we have this opportunity to make this North American market more competitive.  You are entrepreneurs, you are job creators, employment creators all over this continent.

(In English.)  — with so many business people here, as well as academics and others, to discuss how to make North America, which is these three economies combined, which is nearly one-quarter of the world’s economy more prosperous and more competitive.

And it’s particularly fitting that it would be you as civil society and business leaders who would lead such a discussion, for although it was NAFTA and the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement before it that opened up the opportunities, this is a trade alliance that, in fact, consists of very little top-down infrastructure.  It has been businesses, people on the ground, social interactions, academic interactions which have advanced relations, particularly economic relations that go well beyond trade.

Today, Canadian, American and Mexican companies do much more than sell things to each other.  You increasingly make things together through integrated supply chains.  Now, for example, we talk about the fact, in Canada obviously, that the Canadian-American trade relationship is the largest in the world — certainly, the U.S. is our largest export market.  But Canadian exports to the United States contain an average of 25 percent American content.  Likewise, Mexican exports to the United States include an average of 40 percent U.S. content.

(As interpreted.)  So this is why we want to tighten our relationships and increase the competitiveness in the region.  And we call on the entrepreneurs — of course, the Canadian and U.S. companies are grabbing occasions and opportunities in Mexico — throughout the continent to create employment seedbeds.

(In English.)  Jobs include organizations as diverse as TransCanada, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Beef Canada, the Canola Council, Linamar, Scotiabank and many others that I know are represented with us here today.  And they have tremendous growth prospects in fields such as energy, in education, agri-food, information and communications technologies, banking and financial services, and many, many others, particularly when one looks at not just the rapid transformation in this country over the past 20 years, but the very aggressive reforms that are being undertaken by President Peña Nieto’s administration.

(As interpreted.)  And having said this, the world, the entire world is not what it used to be in 1994.

(In English.)  Different realities from 20 years ago are realities we must adapt to today.  They include obviously the ongoing uncertainty, market uncertainty that remains from the global recession and also from a global economy that is much more competitive from many other regions.

(As interpreted.)  We must work together to be able to break barriers and for the benefit of our populations.

(In English.)  And so, as Canadians, Mexicans and Americans, we need to look for ways to work together and to look forward.

Thank you for being here.  (Applause.)

END                5:21 P.M. CST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech before Bilateral Meeting on North American Leaders Summit and Condemning Ukrainian Violence



Remarks by President Obama before Restricted Bilateral Meeting

Source: WH, 2-19-14 

Governor’s Office
Palacio De Gobierno Del Estado De Mexico
Toluca, Mexico

1:00 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me thank President Peña Nieto for his wonderful hospitality in hosting us here today.  And it’s a special treat to be able to visit his home town of Toluca.

This is my fifth visit to Mexico, and I think it underscores the incredible importance of the relationship between the United States and Mexico, not only on commercial issues and security issues, but because of the intimate person-to-person relations that exist between our two countries.

I want to congratulate President Peña Nieto on the outstanding efforts that he’s made during the course of this year on a whole range of reforms that promise to make Mexico more competitive and increase opportunity for the people of Mexico.  And I’m also very interested in hearing President Peña Nieto’s strategies as he embarks on dealing with some of the reforms in the criminal justice system and around security issues, which I know are very pressing on his mind and where we have some excellent cooperation between the United States and Mexico.

More broadly, the North American Leaders Summit gives us an opportunity to build on the enormous progress that we’ve already made in making sure that North America is the most competitive region in the world and that we are able not only to continue to integrate our economies effectively to create jobs both in the United States, Mexico and Canada, but that we’re able to project American and Mexican and Canadian goods and services around the world toward the benefit of our people.

And the cooperation ranges from how do we make our borders more efficient to moving forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that offers the opportunity to open up new markets in the fastest, most populous region of the world, the Asia Pacific region.

We’ll also have the opportunity to discuss how we can work together more closely on scientific and educational exchanges.  We’re particularly interested in making sure that young people in Mexico and the United States and Canada are able to study and travel in each country, and we’re trying to expand those kinds of exchanges.

So this is a wonderful opportunity for us to build on the work that we’ve already done over the last year.

With the President’s indulgence, let me say one last thing, and that is about the situation in Ukraine, which obviously has captured the attention of the entire world.

The United States condemns in strongest terms the violence that’s taking place there.  And we have been deeply engaged with our European partners as well as both the Ukrainian government and the opposition to try to assure that that violence ends.

But we hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way; that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression.

And I want to be very clear that as we work through these next several days in Ukraine that we are going to be watching very carefully and we expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters.  We’ve said that we also expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful.  And we’ll be monitoring very carefully the situation, recognizing, along with our European partners and the international community, there will be consequences if people step over the line.  And that includes making sure that the Ukrainian military does not step into what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians.

So the United States will continue to engage with all sides in the dispute in Ukraine, and ultimately our interest is to make sure that the Ukrainian people can express their own desires.  And we believe that a large majority of Ukrainians are interested in an integration with Europe, and the commerce and cultural exchanges that are possible for them to expand opportunity and prosperity.

But regardless of how the Ukrainian people determine their own future, it is important that it is the people themselves that make those decisions.  And that’s what the United States will continue to strive to achieve.

And I do think there is still the possibility of a peaceful transition within Ukraine, but it’s going to require the government, in particular, to actively seek that peaceful transition, and it requires the opposition and those on the streets to recognize that violence is not going to be the path by which this issue will be resolved.

Thank you very much.

1:10 P.M. CST

Obama Presidency May 4, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Visit to Costa Rica



President Obama’s Visit to Costa Rica

Source: WH, 5-4-13

President Barack Obama and President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica participate in a cultural event with Costa Rican youth at Casa Amarilla, San Jose, Costa Rica, May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This week, President Obama traveled to Mexico and Costa Rica to reinforce the deep cultural, familial, and economic ties that so many Americans share with Mexico and Central America.

President Barack Obama arrives in Costa RicaPresident Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One at Juan Santamaria International Airport, San Jose, Costa Rica. May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama arrived in Costa Rica on Friday — his first visit to the country — and participated in a bilateral meeting and joint press conference with Costa Rican President Chinchilla’s, as well as a working dinner. During the press conference, the President spoke about the friendship and economic ties between our two countries:

Costa Rica shows the benefits of trade that is free and fair. Over the last few years, under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, our trade with Costa Rica has doubled, creating more jobs for people in both of our countries. Our partnerships are creating more opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, including young people and women. As I told President Chinchilla, the United States will continue to be your partner as Costa Rica modernizes its economy so that you’re attracting more investment and creating even more trade and more jobs.

President Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Chinchilla President Barack Obama participates in a restricted bilateral meeting with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica at Casa Amarilla, San Jose, Costa Rica. May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama participates in a press conference with President Chinchilla President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica at the CENAC (National Center for Art and Culture), San Jose, Costa Rica. May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama participates in a press conference with President Chinchilla President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica at the CENAC (National Center for Art and Culture), San Jose, Costa Rica. May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama today attended a forum on Inclusive Economic Growth and Development at the Old Customs House in San Jose. Speaking with business leaders, the President addressed the issues of security and economic growth before taking questions:

I’ve been interviewed several times during the course of my travels both in Mexico and Central America, and I’ve emphasized that although I understand why there’s been a great focus over the last several years on security issues — security is important.  It’s very hard to create a strong economy when people are personally feeling insecure. There’s been a lot of emphasis on immigration, and I understand why that is.  Obviously it’s of great importance to this region and to the United States.  We shouldn’t lose sight of the critical importance of trade and commerce and business to the prospects both for Costa Rica, the United States, and the entire hemisphere.

The United States considers our trading relationships with CAFTA countries, with Mexico, to be of enormous importance. When you look at the scale of business that’s being done currently, it’s creating jobs in the United States, it’s creating jobs here. And what we want to do is to find ways that we can continue to enhance that relationship, how we can get ideas from this region and find ways in which we can improve and foster small business development, medium-sized business development, make this entire region more competitive.

For more information:

Full Text Obama Presidency May 3, 2013: President Barack Obama & Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla’s Remarks in a Joint Press Conference



Remarks by President Obama and President Chinchilla of Costa Rica in a Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 5-3-13

President Obama participates in a press conference with President Chinchilla President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica at the CENAC (National Center for Art and Culture), San Jose, Costa Rica. May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

National Center for Art and Culture San Jose, Costa Rica

4:55 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  (As interpreted.)  Good afternoon.  Good afternoon, dear friends.  Dear friends, international journalists and for American and SICA.  Thank you very much.  Thank you for being here with us this afternoon.

In the first place and before we get any deeper concerning the results of the meetings that we just had recently, in the first place, what I would like to do is to reiterate our warmest welcome on behalf of all the Costa Rican people to President Barack Obama and his delegation.  And also I would like to reiterate on behalf of our Costa Ricans the feelings that we feel towards the United States of America.

And I also wanted to thank you very much for the way so cordial and constructive in which we have been able to develop this afternoon’s issues, Mr. President, because I think that we have had very successful conversations in the bilateral meeting. It was my pleasure to report that precisely thanks to this open process of conversations that we have had, it is that we can explore new horizons, always trying to strengthen these traditions based on the essential values that have characterized the relationship between the United States and Costa Rica.

Particularly speaking, I’m talking about values of peace, freedom, democracy, respect to the human rights and the human development.  These are the values that we share.  And these are the values on which we aspire to continue to develop the relationship between our two nations.

The conversations that we have had have been very useful and they have basically focused on six fundamental issues that reflect this rich diversity that characterizes the relationship between the two nations.  We talked about institutional strengthening.  We talked about issues of international policy and the involvement, in particular to which Costa Rica aspires in the international economic scenario.

We also talked about the use of fundamental instruments in the relationship of the two nations, like CAFTA, for instance.  We talked about an issue that is important but it is not the one that defines our relationship, which is security.  And we also talked about a fundamental issue that undoubtedly is going to define the progress and the joint development not only between the United States of America and Costa Rica, but also between the United States and the Central American region, which is the area of energy.

And finally, of course, in our Costa Rican agenda, we included issues having to do with education, entrepreneurship and innovation.

Please allow me to briefly walk you through these six issues so that you can get to know which has been the central element in each of them.

In the area of institutional strengthening, as you know, the government of the United States is promoting what is called the Alliance of Open Government, that basically seeks to strengthen practices that are much more transparent and integral in everything that has to do with the exercise of institutions of public function.

Costa Rica has been an enthusiastic participant in this initiative.  We have already proposed our action plan, and we expect to continue to share initiatives, practices, exchanges of experiences on this issue.

In the area of involvement of Costa Rica in the economic global scenario and some of the issues of international policy, we are taking into account — we have used this session to talk about the involvement of the United States in the area of fire weapons — and that together they have been able to get the approval in the recent meeting of the United Nations.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for having sponsored one of the — that is going to contribute the most to the peace in the world.  In addition, I would like to recognize in particular the efforts of President Obama in his own country in order to raise awareness concerning the regulation of fire weapons.

Costa Rica, as some of you already know, is trying to play a more protagonistic role, especially in the area of global development.  Costa Rica is a small economy, but it’s a very open economy.  It’s a model of success.  The accession of global value changes with more and more competitive in the attraction based on high technology.  And being a middle-income country, we are a country that is not seeking to get more aid.  We basically want to have more opportunities to export what our people are producing.

As we have said in the past, we either export our products the people are able to produce or generate, or we’re going to end up exporting our own people.  And Costa Rica will continue to keep Costa Ricans in Costa Rica with better opportunities of economic growth and with better opportunities of welfare.

And that is that the aspirations of Costa Rica include to be able to insert itself in the different fora where we will continue to widen the opportunities of trade, investment, and as a consequence, the opportunities to continue to generate employment and welfare in our country.

To this extent, we have talked to President Obama about two important fora where Costa Rica aspires to be present.  One is the Trans-Pacific Alliance, the TPP, where the government of the United States and especially the Obama administration is paying an important leadership to the effect of hosting this negotiation.  And we would hope that Costa Rica will continue to be the center of attention of the pioneer countries to be able to insert ourselves in the same initiative.

And the other important forum where we have given our best efforts is the forum for the cooperation and development.  Costa Rica wants to be there precisely because we want to continue to adopt the best possible practices in matters of development of public policy.

In the area of the using of the CAFTA platform, as you know, this is going to be an issue — an issue of regional scope.  But it has become a bilateral issue to the extent that Costa Rica is one of the economies that has taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the American market.  We have become in the SICA framework the most important partner with the United States. Thanks to CAFTA, the countries in our region have increased by 70 percent the international trade.  And what we basically seek is to be able to promote initiatives in the area of facilitation of trade.

Concerning the area of security, this, as I mentioned before, is an obligated issue.  As you know, Costa Rica considers this a fundamental issue — has been considering this issue a fundamental one in recent years.  We have been able to do well facing common crime.  We have been able to reduce the homicide rates significantly.  We have been able to reduce the rates of violent crime, thanks to an integral approach in the area of prevention and sanction, as well as the issues having to do with control.  But we also have to admit that the issue of organized crime continues to be important on the institution of stability and the integrity of our nations.

Thus, we talked about this issue.  We had a conversation about it.  We reiterated the importance of keeping the levels of cooperation that we have had so far.  But very particularly, we made the point on the efforts that are being displayed by the SICA countries as well as the United States government with the purpose of approaching the issue of organized crime and drug smuggling from a much more integral approach, a much more diverse approach — not only through the instruments of war, thinking that we’re going to be able to overcome this evil.  A country like Costa Rica cannot go, of course, to war, but we have to take very seriously the strengthening of those mechanisms and those policies that would allow to prevent the entity of organized crime in our country.

And in that sense, we are deliberating the efforts that we might be able to continue on doing in the matter of prevention of consumption with the matter of more opportunities for the younger community of our country on the subject of strengthening the law, of judicial independence, of free press that might be able to carry out the necessary investigations and the accusations without having on them any effect or threat.

The fifth point of the agenda was a subject regarding energy.  It is well-known also for Costa Rica the energy subject has been a value from the point of view of its sustainable development.  Ninety percent of the energy that we consume comes from renewable sources.  Nevertheless, Costa Rica, as well as the rest of Central America, have a very big challenge ahead of them from the point of view of the cost of this energy.  If we do not solve this in the short, midterm, this will have a tremendous weight on the level of competivity [sic] of our region.

Therefore, we have explored with President Obama the possibilities of using the platform of CAFTA so that in the future and once the government of the United States resolves  some of the internal discussions that it might have, to be able to enjoy some preferences in regard to the import of natural gas, natural liquefied gas, a source of energy to which the government of President Obama has put a lot of emphasis on.

We have also commented about the efforts that we are developing here in Costa Rica with the purpose of promoting a group of new energies, especially the energies based on hydrogen, and the initiatives that have already been working on by the private enterprises both in North America and Costa Rica with the cooperation of the public sector of Costa Rica, to take them into consideration as part of the initiatives that he has promoted in the framework of the Alliance of the Americas for the energy and for the climate change.

And I finish by talking about the subject of the partnership of innovation and of the education that has such elements of further development.  For Costa Rica, education has been a constant in its historical development.  As I was telling President Obama, we were born as one of the poorest provinces of the colony, and we have become little by little a nation with great opportunities in the subject of economic development and of well-being for the people, and a fundamental factor, an essential factor has been precisely education.

Much before many other nations of the world, Costa Rica decreed the free and mandatory access to education.  And now we dedicate 7 percent of our GDP to finance the public education, and we need, above all, to face the challenge of the reallocation of this education to the demands of the new economy to which we are aspiring to move our country.

In that sense, we have called upon the attention in regard to the possibility of using with greater intensity the very beautiful program that has been characterized by the international policy of the United States, which is the Peace Corps, so that through them, we might be able to improve even more.  They have programs of bilingualism that Costa Rica, for 15 or 20 years we have already been introducing in our public education.

We believe that through Peace Corps we can achieve training programs with our teachers, with our professors, our English professors, so that that English is a more proficient English, more competitive, with greater quality and bound precisely through the aspirations of attracting investments and generation of employment that we are working on.

Finally, also we have called President Obama’s attention to the fact that there is nothing more valuable, that there is nothing more important than anybody to get to know a society from the inside.  I am a true example precisely of the benefits of scholarship programs that the United States in the past have offered the Central American region.  As a matter of fact, that is why we have — so that we can continue on promoting those scholarship programs and intensify them so that the youth of the Central American region and, of course, of my country can continue on also knowing or competing not only for knowledge of the best universities, of the quality of education of the United States, but also the values that have characterized this great nation.

So thank you very much.  President Obama.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas tardes.  Thank you so much, President Chinchilla, for your kind words and for welcoming me here today.  This is my first visit to Costa Rica.  And even though it is a brief one, I can already tell the incredible spirit of the people, the natural beauty of the country.  I understand that the official slogan for those who are thinking about visiting Costa Rica is “un pais sin ingredientes artificiales.”  So there’s nothing artificial about Costa Rica.  Everything is genuine.  And that’s certainly true about the friendship between our two countries.

And President Chinchilla has been so gracious in her hospitality.  We are very grateful to her.  I want to thank publicly the wonderful schoolchildren who sang for us.  And I noticed that, Madam President, you and I didn’t sing.  We didn’t trust our voices.  (Laughter.)  But we certainly enjoyed the spirit that those children delivered.

In the United States, we are so grateful for the contributions that Costa Ricans make to our country every day.  You welcome many Americans as tourists, eco-tourists, and many others who have chosen to make Costa Rica a new home.  This year we’re also marking the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps here, including President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Costa Rica and his vision for partnerships that advance development and democracy in the Americas.

I had actually a chance during the bilateral meeting to see a photograph of President Kennedy at the same table that we were meeting at — it had been specially commissioned.  And so it shows the longstanding ties between our two countries.

And I’m here because Costa Rica is a great partner not just regionally, but globally.  Given Costa Rica’s proud democratic traditions, we stand up together for democracy and justice and human rights in Central America and across the hemisphere.  And I want to commend Costa Rica for your landmark law against the scourge of human trafficking.  I’m proud to be here as you host World Press Freedom Day.  So everybody from the American press corps, you should thank the people of Costa Rica for celebrating free speech and an independent press as essential pillars of our democracy.

Costa Rica shows the benefits of trade that is free and fair.  Over the last few years, under the Central America Free Trade Agreement, our trade with Costa Rica has doubled, creating more jobs for people in both of our countries.  Our partnerships are creating more opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs, including young people and women.  As I told President Chinchilla, the United States will continue to be your partner as Costa Rica modernizes its economy so that you’re attracting more investment and creating even more trade and more jobs.

Costa Rica, of course, has long been a leader in sustainable development that protects the environment.  The President and I agreed to continue deepening our clean energy partnerships.  For example, we’re moving ahead with our regional effort to ensure universal access to clean, affordable, sustainable electricity for the people of the Americas, including Costa Ricans.  And this is also another way that we can meet our shared commitments to address climate change.

The President and I reaffirmed our determination to confront the growing security concerns that have affected many Costa Rican families and communities.  And under the Central America Regional Security Initiative, the United States has committed nearly half a billion dollars to helping Costa Rica and its neighbors in this fight.  We’re disrupting drug cartels and gangs.  We’re working to strengthen law enforcement and the judicial system.  And we’re addressing the underlying forces that fuel criminality — with prevention programs for at-risk youth and with economic development that gives young people hope and opportunity.

Meanwhile, as I said in Mexico yesterday, the United States recognizes that we’ve got responsibilities; that much of the violence in the region is fueled by demand for illegal drugs, including in the United States.  So we’re going to keep on pursuing a comprehensive approach not only through law enforcement, but also through education and prevention and treatment that can reduce demand.

And finally, I updated the President on our efforts in the United States to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  I know this is of great interest to the entire region, especially those with families in our country.  And I’m optimistic that we’re going to achieve reform that reflects our heritage as both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — men and women and children who need to be treated with full dignity and respect.

So, President Chinchilla, thank you so much for your partnership.  Thank you and the people of Costa Rica for your hospitality.

I’m told there’s a well-known quote here in Costa Rica — “Where there is a Costa Rican, wherever it is, there’s liberty.” And in the United States, we’re thankful for the many Costa Ricans who contribute to our prosperity and our liberty.  And we’re grateful for Costa Rica’s leadership in this region, as we’ll see again when President Chinchilla hosts tonight’s SICA meeting.

I’d note that our presence at tonight’s meeting with the leaders of Central America and the Dominican Republic is a sign of the importance that the United States places on this region, as well as our commitment to being a steady and strong and reliable partner — because we believe that no matter where you live, the people of this region deserve security and opportunity and dignity.

So let me, again, say thank you — and in my best tican — pura vida.  (Laughter and applause.)

So I think we’re going to go Costa Rican press first and then I’ll call on someone?

Q    Good afternoon.  Welcome, President Obama.  The policy of the United States for Central America on drug smuggling and organized crime — don’t you think, for both Presidents, that the time has come to improve our relationships and go on to an agenda that apart from security, we have the social aspects of education and health?

And my second question would be if we’re going to be  supporting Costa Rica in subjects that were presented today for the SICA?   So, thank you, and welcome.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  First of all, I completely agree with you, and I’ve tried to emphasize this throughout my trip:  So much of the focus ends up being on security.  And we understand that in the absence of security, it’s very hard to develop.  But we also have to recognize that problems like narco-trafficking arise in part when a country is vulnerable because of poverty, because of institutions that are not working for the people, because young people don’t see a brighter future ahead.

And so what President Chinchilla and I spoke extensively about are initiatives like education, institution-building and capacity, trying to create greater economic opportunity, because the stronger the economies and the institutions for legitimate — for individuals who are seeking legitimate careers, the more those are there, then the less powerful these narco-trafficking operations are going to be.

And so not only are we interested in promoting trade and highlighting the already extensive trade that we’re doing, but we also want to see how can we build on the successes to improve education even in our strategies to fight narco-trafficking.  We, for example, helped to finance youth centers that can give young people a different vision for their futures.  We consider that to be part of our overall effort.  So it can’t just be law enforcement.  It also has to be human development, inclusive economic development.  We’ve got to make sure that everybody feels opportunity.

Now, even if a country is doing well, the scourge of drugs and drug trafficking will still be there, and there still needs to be a strong law enforcement component.  But we can do better than we’re currently doing.  And I know that President Chinchilla is taking a great interest here in Costa Rica around these human development issues.

As far as the issues that you mentioned around international organizations, as I indicated earlier, Costa Rica has shown itself to be a world leader and model around free trade, freedom of the press, democracy, respect for human rights, and that makes it an outstanding candidate for membership in the OECD, for example.  And so we will expect that we’ll continue to support Costa Rica in expanding its influence.

We enjoy a great partnership on, for example, regional human rights councils, as well as international human rights efforts.  Costa Rica has been a real leader, and we appreciate that.  And there’s something very effective when large countries like the United States, smaller countries like Costa Rica share values.  We come in together.  And I think it’s a great way to make the point that regardless of the country’s size, regardless of the language that it speaks, the idea of certain universal rights that are observed for all people is important.  And that’s why we value this partnership so much.

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  I’m just going to add a couple of comments.  And I think that it seems to me that I should start by thanking President Obama for his expressed support to the aspirations of Costa Rica for being a member of OECD.  We know that there are tests that we have to comply with, and we know that we will be able to comply with them.

Also, let me add something more precisely — a comment in regard to the subject of narco traffic, organized crime.  We believe that there is not a single doubt that President Obama’s administration — since his coming to Mexico, and now his visit here in Central America — brings along an agenda that is trying to redefine those relationships based on a greater diversity.

As has been said, our countries are more than just security and violence and narco traffic.  That doesn’t mean that it is not an important problem, but I would like to basically finally add the following.  What some other countries for a few years now, with the purpose of trying to review some strategies that fall under the fight against drugs, are based basically on the fact that some of the most immediate experiences we have seen in region are experiences that have had to call upon the extreme fight of the war on drugs.  Costa Rica doesn’t have an army.  And since we don’t want to found an army, we do not want to allow ourselves to come to war scenarios to face drug smuggling or organized crime.

Many times the generals ask me, how has Costa Rica done to face such a big threat when you don’t have an army and precisely the countries next to you do have an army?  But curiously enough, Costa Rica has demonstrated that we have been more effective and more successful in fighting against these threats precisely without having an army.  And where am I going through with this? That what we’re looking for, for a while now, is precisely the signals that the Obama administration is sending in the sense that an effective policy for the fight against drugs and narco traffic goes through the strengthening of the institutions — through prevention, through an open society, a more transparent society, and through a citizenship that is much more aware of the problem.

It seems to me that advancing that direction is precisely advancing in the correct direction.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  All right, Mark Felsenthal, of Reuters.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Madam President.  Mr. President, on Syria, you said yesterday that anything the United States does should make the situation better, not worse.  How long are you prepared to wait to determine whether chemical weapons were used?  What happens when you make your determination?  And will you take your case to the United Nations?  And have you ruled out putting U.S. troops on the ground in Syria?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first all, I emphasized yesterday, so let me re-emphasize — we’re not waiting.  We’re not standing by.  We are currently the largest humanitarian donor to deal with the crisis in Syria.  We are the largest contributor of nonlethal aid to the opposition.  We’ve mobilized 80 countries to support the opposition.  We are working to apply every pressure point that we can on Syria, working with our international partners.

And so we are actively engaged on a day-to-day basis to try to deal with this crisis and to restore a Syria that is respectful of the rights and aspirations of the Syrian people.

Now, as I’ve said before, if, in fact, we see strong evidence that we can present and that allows us to say that the Syrian military and the Syrian government is using chemical weapons, then that is a game-changer for us because not only is there the prospect of widespread use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but there’s the possibility that it lands in the hands of organizations like Hezbollah.

We have evidence that chemical weapons have been used.  We don’t know when, where, or how they were used.  We are initiating on our own to investigate and get a better handle on the facts inside of Syria.  We’re also working with the international community and our partners to try to get a better handle on what’s happening, and we’ve already gone to the United Nations to say we want a full-blown investigation inside of Syria — so far, for unsurprising reasons, President Assad has resisted.

We will stay on this.  Now, if, in fact, there’s the kind of systematic use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, we expect that we’re going to get additional further evidence.  And at that point, absolutely we will present that to the international community, because I think this is, again, not just an American problem; this is a world problem.  There are international rules and protocols and norms and ethics.  And when it comes to using chemical weapons, the entire world should be concerned.

Now, in terms of what that means in terms of American action, keep in mind we’re already taking a whole range of actions.  We’re going to continue to take a whole range of actions.  Separate and apart from the chemical weapon use, we got tens of thousands of people who are being killed inside of Syria and we want to see that stopped — for humanitarian reasons but also for strategic reasons.

But in terms of any additional steps that we take, it’s going to be based on, number one, the facts on the ground.  Number two, it’s going to be based on what’s in the interest of the American people and our national security.  And as President of the United States, I’m going to make those decisions based on the best evidence and after careful consultation — because when we rush into things, when we leap before we look, then not only do we pay a price, but oftentimes we see unintended consequences on the ground.  So it’s important for us to do it right.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.

Q    Good afternoon, President Obama.  Good afternoon, Madam President.  President Obama, 10 years ago you were about to come to the Senate.  Well, 10 years have gone and Central America has lost more than 130,000 lives caused by drugs traffic.  This has been the sacrifice that the region has had because of this problem.  What is the sacrifice that in your four years of government you intend to undertake for this business that feeds on the profit that are produced especially by the consumption in your country?  And if the United States also believes that the best option is to use warships to be able to survey or keep a watch on the seas on the joint anti-narcotic drug war?

And, Madam President, you have also expressed the values that the government of Costa Rica has with the government of the United States and your point of view with President Obama, for example, on the subject of the international create of weapons — fire weapons.  You say that President Obama said the time has come to recognize the rights for the homosexual couples of the United States.  When is the time going to come for that in Costa Rica?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I think all of us recognize the pain and hardship that’s been caused by drug trafficking and transnational drug cartels here in Central America.  There’s a cost obviously in the United States as well.  It’s not as if we don’t have tragic drug problems throughout the United States.  And when you look at poor communities inside of the United States, including communities in my hometown of Chicago, there are young people who are killed every day as part of the drug trade.

So this is not a situation where we do not feel the effects. There are common effects, and there are common responsibilities, which is why it’s so important that we work on this on a regional basis.

Now, since I’ve been President, we’ve put our money where our mouth is.  I’ve spent — my administration has spent approximately $30 billion in reducing drug demand in the United States over the last several years.  And we’re actually seeing an impact in terms of reduced demand.  But the United States is a big country and a big market, and so progress sometimes is slower than we’d like it to be.

There is obviously a role for law enforcement.  I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking. This is a law enforcement problem.  And if we have effective law enforcement cooperation and coordination, and if we build up capacity for countries in Central America, then we can continue to make progress.

But the important thing that I’ve tried to emphasize throughout is that this is a common problem.  This is one where we’ll only solve it when we’re working together.  It has adverse effects in all of our countries.  But — last point I’d make — I think it’s very important to make sure that our bilateral relationship and the United States relationship with the region as a whole is not solely defined by this problem.  Because when it is, we’re missing all the opportunities that exist out there.

When I got off the plane I was greeted by Dr. Chang, obviously a well-known scientist here who worked at NASA and is working now on developing a whole new vision for clean energy, and he brought along four young people — these incredibly talented young people who are in their last year of high school here.  And all of four of them, thanks to some of the good work of our Ambassador and others, will be attending universities in the United States next fall.

And when you talk to those young people, there’s incredible hope and incredible promise and incredible optimism.  And I don’t want every story to be about drug traffickers and nobody is writing a story about those four young people and what they represent in terms of the future of Costa Rica and the future of this region.

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  Every nation or every society has its own way of evolving towards to the responses that have to be provided to the different demands of the social groups and of the different collectiveness that a country might have.

And when we analyze the evolution of the different nations, we see how some of them have advance a little more accelerated — to subjects maybe of commitment towards the environment, in subjects, for example, for the control of some important aspects in the subject of protection of human life, like for example, the the subject of the control of fire weapons.  And others are advancing furthermore in the recognition of certain rights, among them like the one that you have mentioned, the rights of couples of the same sex.

The important thing, Alvarro, is that we cannot simply pass on or go beyond the rhythm or the evolution of the debates from one nation to another.  Each one of the nations has its own rhythm.  The important thing here I believe — and what’s it’s worth here — is that in Costa Rica the framework precisely of democracy that has characterized us, the debate has to be an open debate, a live debate, an active debate — a debate like the one that I have in qualifying it that has to take place with the greatest of respect without putting a stigma on the different positions that are brought to the debates that take place in a democracy.

And only the mature, ripened, seasoned debate will end up giving the result that will have to be given where it has to be given, which is inside the parliament.  So it seems to me that that is what is important, that the debate in Costa Rica is an open debate, a free debate that has to continue as a debate without restrictions.

That is why I have advocated and restated opportunities in my recent report to the nation that this is a dialogue that has been faced sometimes inconveniently on some positions that take sides.  And as long as this is faced in this way, I think that the advancement is going to be very slow.  I hope and I trust that the debate might really be a much more balanced, much more mature dialogue without putting stigmas on it, and that this might eventually generate a decision in the Congress of the Republic.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay, last question, Lisa —

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Senator Leahy is pushing for a bill on recognizing same-sex couples as part of the immigration bill.  Are you concerned at all that that undermines the success of the package?  And given that you made a point throughout your presidency to make clear that you don’t think LGTB Americans should be treated any differently, will you sign a bill that will do exactly that?

And for you, Madam President, is there any concern that the more — that by creating more stringent immigration standards could hamper the ability of Costa Ricans to emigrate to the U.S.? Thanks.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Lisa, I hope you don’t mind, before I answer your question I want to get back to Mark because I realize there was one clause in your question — sometimes you guys have a lot of clauses in your question — (laughter) — that I didn’t specifically answer, and I didn’t want anybody to extrapolate from that.

You asked about boots on the ground and whether we’ve ruled boots out on the ground in Syria.  As a general rule, I don’t rule things out as Commander-in-Chief because circumstances change and you want to make sure that I always have the full power of the United States at our disposal to meet American national security interests.

Having said that, I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria, American boots on the ground in Syria would not only be good for America, but also would be good for Syria.  And by the way, when I consult with leaders in the region who are very much interested in seeing President Assad leave office and stabilizing the situation in Syria, they agree with that assessment.

So I just wanted to make sure that my omission there did not turn into a story.

To your question, Lisa, as I’ve indicated, I’ve got four broad criteria for immigration reform.  I want to make sure that our border is secure and well regulated, in part so that we can get down to the business of smoothing trade and commerce across our borders and creating jobs in the United States, but also making sure that negative actors aren’t able to penetrate the United States.

Number two, cracking down on employers who are breaking the law.  Number three, making sure we’ve got a legal immigration system that works better, smarter, and so what we can continue to attract the best and the brightest to the United States.

And by the way, when it comes to legal immigration, the issue here is not going to be stringency, per se.  The issue is do we make the system more rational, more effective, better.  If there are smart engineers and young people and scientists and students who are looking to emigrate to the United States from Costa Rica, then we want them to know that we’re a nation of immigrants.  But we want to make sure that the legal process is in place so that it’s easier and simpler, but also more effective in managing the legal immigration process.

And finally, that we’ve got a pathway so that the 11 million or so undocumented workers inside the United States are able to pursue a tough, long, difficult, but fair path to legal status and citizenship.

So those are my broad-based criteria.  Now, the provision that you’ve discussed that Senator Leahy has talked about is one that I support, and I’ve said in the past that the LGBT community should be treated like everybody else.  That’s, to me, the essential, core principle behind our founding documents, the idea that we’re all created equal and that we’re equal before the law, and it’s applied fairly to everybody.

And so Senator Leahy may present this provision in committee.  It may be presented on the floor.  It will be one of many amendments and provisions that are presented, some of which I’ll support, some of which I’ll think are really bad ideas.  And I think that the general principle for me is are we advancing, are we improving the immigration system — because ultimately this is an immigration bill.

And we’ll evaluate the end-product.  I think it’s premature for me to start talking about what I will or will not do before I get a final product since the road is going to be long and bumpy before I finally see an actual bill on my desk.  But I can tell you I think that the provision is the right thing to do.

I can also tell you that I’m not going to get everything I want in this bill.  Republicans are not going to get everything that they want in this bill.  But if we keep focused on what our main aim is here — which is creating a smart, effective immigration system that allows us to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants — then we’re going to be in a position to not only improve our economy and what’s happening inside the United States, we’re going to I think have a much stronger relationship with the region and that’s going to help enhance our economy and jobs and our growth over the long term.

And, last point I’ll make, as is true with every bill, if there are things that end up being left out in this bill, or things that I want to take out of a bill, but if it’s meeting those core criteria around a comprehensive immigration bill that I’m looking for, then we go back at it and we fix what’s not there and we continually improve what’s been presented.

I think that this comprehensive immigration bill has the opportunity to do something historic that we have not done in decades.  But I don’t expect that, after we’re finished with it, that people are going to say, there’s not a single problem that we have with our immigration system, any more than is true after any piece of legislation that we pass.

Well, thank you very much everybody.  Muchas gracias.

PRESIDENT CHINCHILLA:  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END                     5:45 P.M. CST

Full Text Obama Presidency May 3, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at a Working Dinner with SICA Leaders at the National Theater Foyer, San Jose, Costa Rica



Remarks by President Obama at a Working Dinner with SICA Leaders

Source: WH, 5-3-13 

National Theater Foyer
San Jose, Costa Rica

6:40 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  (In progress) during this visit.  And I want to thank you for your thoughtful presentation about some of the agenda items that we need to address.

We last met as a group during the Summit of the Americas in 2009.  And I was mentioning that at that time I had less gray hair than you see today.  I know that the United States is technically here in our observer status and sometimes that means that you observe but don’t speak, so that I know that you’re all indulging me by allowing to say a few words.  But I am here more than anything to listen and hear the concerns that all of you have not only individually but collectively as a region.

This is a region that has more than 40 million people.  Every day they work to give their families and children a better life, and we’re grateful for the strong bonds between the United States and the people who trace their origins to the countries that are represented at this table.

As governments, our job is to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to provide security and opportunity and ladders for success and prosperity for our people.  Economic growth that creates jobs, security for people so that they can be safe in their own neighborhoods, and development that allows people to live in dignity.  And so that’s why we’re here.

The agenda is a broad-based, socially inclusive agenda that ensures that our entire region and hemisphere are prospering.  And in pursuit of that, I think some of the issues that President Chinchilla mentioned are going to be vital.

Number one, we need to think about investments in our infrastructure — roads, bridges, border crossings, customs, electricity grids; all of which can allow for more trade, more growth, more jobs.  As I mentioned as we were walking in, this is a very competitive global environment.  And it’s important for us to recognize that if the hemisphere is working effectively together, all of us benefit.  And if we’re not, then we will lose in that competition to other regions.  And we know that trade and investment flows to areas where there are strong public institutions, where there’s accountability and transparency and effective governance.  And I think one of the things that we need to talk about is how we can work together to help each other in those areas.

The second area that has been mentioned is energy.  Costa Rica has shown great leadership in clean energy.  And as somebody who believes in the challenges of climate change — and I think that everybody in Central America has to be concerned about that given the history of natural disasters and the severe costs that take place here.  We want to continue to pursue a whole range of energy strategies for the future — solar, wind, hydropower.  It is true that the United States has been making great progress in oil and natural gas development due to new technologies.  And I know that’s something that’s of interest to you, so that’s an area that we can discuss.

But the bottom line is my concern is helping every country at this table reduce its energy costs, making its economy more efficient because when you have high power costs, that’s not only a tax on your citizens effectively, but it’s also a situation that impedes growth over the long term.  And so that’s an area where we’re very interested in helping.

Investing in people:  In this knowledge-based economy, if we don’t have the best workers in the world, the most highly skilled and trained workers in the world, then we’re going to lose.  And it’s important to recognize that we need high-skilled labor throughout the hemisphere because our economies have become more integrated.  And if you look at that global value chain, we want to be not at the bottom, but we want to be nearer to the top because that means more prosperity for our people.  So everything we can do to train our young people in math, science, technology, and everything we can do pool our resources to help achieve those goals I think will end up benefiting everybody.

And by the way, I think it’s very important — those countries that are succeeding are investing in the development of their young people, not just some young people, but women and girls, indigenous communities.  It’s important that we don’t go onto the field with just half our team.  We’ve got to make sure that the entire team is on the field.  That’s how we’re going to succeed.

And then finally the issue of citizen security:  Obviously, that’s something that’s important.  During this trip I’ve tried to make the point that we are interested in cooperating with every country around issues of citizen security.  We know what a major toll it’s taken.  We are obviously deeply concerned about narcotrafficking and the drug trade.

I was asked a question about this in a press conference that President Chinchilla and I were doing, and the questioner suggested given all the violence that is taking place in Central America, how does America feel about that.  And I had to remind people that we have violence in the United States.  If you go to my hometown of Chicago, and you go to some neighborhoods, they’re just as violence, if not more violent than some of the countries at this table — in part because of the pernicious influence of the drug trade.

But what I also believe is that we can’t just have a law-enforcement-only approach.  We also have to have a prevention approach.  We have to have an education approach.  We have to think creatively because obviously some of the things that we’re doing have worked, but some things haven’t worked.  We’ve got to think about institution building and capacity in our law enforcement and our judicial systems.  Those are all going to be very important, and I know that the work that we’ve done together has made some progress, but I’m interested in learning more about other things that we can do.

So I’ve spoken long enough considering I’m an observer, but I just want to again say thank you to all of you for taking the time to come meet with me.  I know that all of you are extraordinarily busy and have great demands on your time.  So for you to come in is something that I’m very grateful for, and I’m looking forward to a good discussion.

6:47 P.M. CST

Obama Presidency May 3, 2013: President Barack Obama Reaffirms the United States-Mexico Relationship During Trip



President Obama Reaffirms the United States-Mexico Relationship

Source: WH, 5-3-13


President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico share a toast prior to a working dinner at Los Pinos, Mexico City, Mexico, May 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama greets President Peña Nieto of Mexico at the Palacio NacionalPresident Barack Obama greets President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico, May 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On the first day of his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, President Obama was in Mexico City for meetings and a joint press conference with President Peña Nieto.

The two leaders, who first met in Washington, DC last November, discussed the broad range of issues that bind our nations and affect the daily lives of citizens in both countries, and renewed their commitment to a strong relationship between the United States and Mexico.

President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico President Barack Obama participates in a press conference with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico, May 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

While working together to confront urgent challenges like security, “we can’t lose sight of the larger relationship between our peoples, including the promise of Mexico’s economic progress,” President Obama said. “I believe we’ve got a historic opportunity to foster even more cooperation, more trade, more jobs on both sides of the border, and that’s the focus of my visit.”

The United States and Mexico have one of the largest economic relationships in the world. Our annual trade has now surpassed $500 billion — more than $1 billion every day. We are your largest customer, buying the vast majority of Mexican exports.  Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. exports. So every day, our companies and our workers -— with their integrated supply chains —- are building products together. And this is the strong foundation that we can build on.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico CityPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, Mexico, May 3, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Before continuing on to Costa Rica, President Obama spoke to the people of Mexico at the National Anthropology Musuem about the “impressive progress of today’s Mexico,” which includes the country’s deepinging democracy and strengthening economy.

And because of all the dynamic progress that’s taking place here in Mexico, Mexico is also taking its rightful place in the world, on the world stage. Mexico is standing up for democracy not just here in Mexico but throughout the hemisphere.  Mexico is sharing expertise with neighbors across the Americas. When they face earthquakes or threats to their citizens, or go to the polls to cast their votes, Mexico is there, helping its neighbors. Mexico has joined the ranks of the world’s largest economies.  It became the first Latin American nation to host the G20.

“Just as Mexico is being transformed, so are the ties between our two countries,” President Obama said.

As President, I’ve been guided by a basic proposition — in this relationship there’s no senior partner or junior partner; we are two equal partners, two sovereign nations. We must work together in mutual interest and mutual respect.  And if we do that both Mexico and the United States will prosper.

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Full Text Obama Presidency May 3, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the People of Mexico at National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, Mexico



Remarks by the President to the People of Mexico

Source: WH, 5-3-13 

Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Obama spoke at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City on Friday.

Anthropology Museum
Mexico City, Mexico

9:29 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hola!  (Applause.)  Buenos dias!  Please, please, everybody have a seat.  It is wonderful to be back in México — lindo y querido.  (Applause.)  I bring with me the greetings and friendship of the people of the United States, including tens of millions of proud Mexican Americans.  (Applause.)

This is my fourth visit to Mexico as President.  This is my second visit to this museum.  And each time that I’ve come I’ve been inspired by your culture and by the beauty of this land, and most of all, by the Mexican people.  You’ve been so kind and gracious to me.  You’ve welcomed my wife, Michelle, here.  (Applause.)  You’ve welcomed our daughter, Malia, and her classmates to Oaxaca.  And as a proud father, I have to say that Malia’s Spanish is getting very good.  It helps that she’s smarter than I am.

And it’s an honor to be back in Mexico City — one of the world’s great cities.  Es un placer estar entre amigos.  (Applause.)

And it’s fitting that we gather at this great museum, which celebrates Mexico’s ancient civilizations and their achievements in arts and architecture, medicine and mathematics.  In modern times, Mexico’s blend of cultures and traditions found its expression in the murals of Rivera and the paintings of Frida, and the poetry of Sor Juana and the essays of Octavio Paz.  And Paz once spoke words that capture the spirit of our gathering here today — in this place that celebrates your past, but which this morning is filled with so many young people who will shape Mexico’s future.  Octavio Paz said, “Modernity is not outside us, it is within us.  It is today and the most ancient antiquity; it is tomorrow and the beginning of the world; it is a thousand years old and yet newborn.”

And that’s why I wanted this opportunity to speak with all of you today, because you live at the intersection of history that Octavio Paz was referring to.  The young people of Mexico, you honor your heritage, thousands of years old, but you’re also part of something new, a nation that’s in the process of remaking itself.  And as our modern world changes around us, it’s the spirit of young people, your optimism and your idealism, and your willingness to discard old habits that are no longer working that will drive the world forward.

You see the difference between the world as it is and the world as it could to be; between old attitudes that stifle progress and the new thinking that allows us to connect and collaborate across cultures.  And by the way, that includes how we think about the relationship between Mexico and the United States.

Despite all the bonds and the values that we share, despite all the people who claim heritage on both sides, our attitudes sometimes are trapped in old stereotypes.  Some Americans only see the Mexico that is depicted in sensational headlines of violence and border crossings.  And let’s admit it, some Mexicans think that America disrespects Mexico, or thinks that America is trying to impose itself on Mexican sovereignty, or just wants to wall ourselves off.  And in both countries such distortions create misunderstandings that make it harder for us to move forward together.  So I’ve come to Mexico because I think it’s time for us to put the old mind-sets aside.  It’s time to recognize new realities — including the impressive progress of today’s Mexico. (Applause.)

It is true that there are Mexicans all across this country who are making courageous sacrifices for the security of your country; that in the countryside and the neighborhoods not far from here, there are those who are still struggling to give their children a better life.  But what’s also clear is that a new Mexico is emerging.

I see it in the deepening of Mexico’s democracy, citizens who are standing up and saying that violence and impunity is not acceptable; a courageous press that’s working to hold leaders accountable; a robust civil society, including brave defenders of human rights who demand dignity and rule of law.  You have political parties that are competing vigorously, but also transferring power peacefully, and forging compromise.  And that’s all a sign of the extraordinary progress that’s taken place here in Mexico.

And even though we know the work of perfecting democracy is never finished — that’s true in America, that’s true here in Mexico — you go forward knowing the truth that Benito Juarez once spoke — “democracy is the destiny of humanity.”  And we are seeing that here in Mexico.  (Applause.)  We’re seeing that here in Mexico.

We’re also seeing a Mexico that’s creating new prosperity:  Trading with the world.  Becoming a manufacturing powerhouse — from Tijuana to Monterrey to Guadalajara and across the central highlands — a global leader in automobiles and appliances and electronics, but also a center of high-tech innovation, producing the software and the hardware of our digital age.  One man in Querétaro spoke for an increasing number of Mexicans.  “There’s no reason to go abroad in search of a better life.  There are good opportunities here.”  That’s what he said, and you are an example of that.

And, in fact, I see a Mexico that’s lifted millions of people from poverty.  Because of the sacrifices of generations, a majority of Mexicans now call themselves middle class, with a quality of life that your parents and grandparents could only dream of.  This includes, by the way, opportunities for women, who are proving that when you give women a chance, they will shape our destiny just as well as men, if not better.  (Applause.)

I also see in Mexico’s youth an empowered generation because of technology.  I think I see some of you tweeting right now — (laughter) — what’s happening.  (Laughter.)  And whether it’s harnessing social media to preserve indigenous languages, or speaking up for the future that you want, you’re making it clear that you want your voice heard.

And because of all the dynamic progress that’s taking place here in Mexico, Mexico is also taking its rightful place in the world, on the world stage.  Mexico is standing up for democracy not just here in Mexico but throughout the hemisphere.  Mexico is sharing expertise with neighbors across the Americas.  When they face earthquakes or threats to their citizens, or go to the polls to cast their votes, Mexico is there, helping its neighbors.  Mexico has joined the ranks of the world’s largest economies.  It became the first Latin American nation to host the G20.

Just as Mexico is being transformed, so are the ties between our two countries.  As President, I’ve been guided by a basic proposition — in this relationship there’s no senior partner or junior partner; we are two equal partners, two sovereign nations. We must work together in mutual interest and mutual respect.  And if we do that both Mexico and the United States will prosper. (Applause.)

And just as I worked with President Calderón, I’ve reaffirmed with President Peña Nieto that the great partnership between our two countries will not simply continue, it’s going to grow stronger and become broader.  In my time with President Peña Nieto, I’ve come to see his deep commitment to Mexico and its future.  And we share the belief that as leaders our guiding mission is to improve the lives of our people.  And so we agree that the relationship between our nations must be defined not by the threats that we face but by the prosperity and the opportunity that we can create together.  (Applause.)

Now, as equal partners, both our nations must recognize our mutual responsibilities.  So here in Mexico, you’ve embarked on an ambitious reform agenda to make your economy more competitive and your institutions more accountable to you, the Mexican people.  As you pursue these reforms, I want you to know that you have strong support in the United States.  Because we believe, I believe, that people all around the world deserve the best from their government.  And whether you’re looking for basic services, or trying to start a new business, we share your belief that you should be able to make it through your day without paying a bribe.  And when talented Mexicans like you imagine your future, you should have every opportunity to succeed right here in the country you love.

And in the United States, we recognize our responsibilities.  We understand that much of the root cause of violence that’s been happening here in Mexico, for which many so Mexicans have suffered, is the demand for illegal drugs in the United States.  And so we’ve got to continue to make progress on that front.  (Applause.)

I’ve been asked, and I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer.  But I do believe that a comprehensive approach — not just law enforcement, but education and prevention and treatment — that’s what we have to do.  And we’re going to stay at it because the lives of our children and the future of our nations depend on it.

And we also recognize that most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States.  (Applause.) I think many of you know that in America, our Constitution guarantees our individual right to bear arms, and as President I swore an oath to uphold that right and I always will.  But at the same time, as I’ve said in the United States, I will continue to do everything in my power to pass common-sense reforms that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people.  That can save lives here in Mexico and back home in the United States. It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  So we’ll keep increasing the pressure on gun traffickers who bring illegal guns into Mexico.  We’ll keep putting these criminals where they belong — behind bars.

We recognize we’ve got work to do on security issues, but we also recognize our responsibility — as a nation that believes that all people are created equal — we believe it’s our responsibility to make sure that we treat one another with dignity and respect.  And this includes recognizing how the United States has been strengthened by the extraordinary contributions of immigrants from Mexico and by Americans of Mexican heritage.  (Applause.)

Mexican Americans enrich our communities, including my hometown of Chicago, where you can walk through neighborhoods like Pilsen, Little Village — La Villita — dotted with murals of Mexican patriots.  You can stop at a fonda, you can hear some mariachis, where we are inspired by the deep faith of our peoples at churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We’ve got a Chicagoan in here somewhere.  (Applause.)

And we’re so grateful to Mexican Americans in every segment of our society — for teaching our children, and running our companies, and serving with honor in our military, and making breakthroughs in science, standing up for social justice.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told Cesar Chavez once, we are “brothers in the fight for equality.”  And, in fact, without the strong support of Latinos, including so many Mexican Americans, I would not be standing today as President of the United States.  (Applause.)  That’s the truth.

And so given that is Americas heritage, given that we share a border with Mexico, given ties that run back generations, it is critical that the United States recognize the need to reform our immigration system — (applause) — because we are a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of immigrants.  Like every nation we have a responsibility to ensure that our laws are upheld.  But we also know that, as a nation of immigrants, the immigration system we have in the United States right now doesn’t reflect our values.  It separates families when we should be reuniting them. It’s led to millions of people to live in the shadows.  It deprives us of the talents of so many young people — even though we know that immigrants have always been the engine of our economy, starting some of our greatest companies and pioneering new industries.

That’s one of the reasons I acted to lift the shadow of deportation from what we call the DREAMers — young people brought to the United States as children.  (Applause.)  And that’s why I’m working with our Congress to pass common-sense immigration reform this year.  (Applause.)  I’m convinced we can get it done.   Reform that continues to strengthen border security and strengthen legal immigration, so citizens don’t have to wait years to bring their families to the United States.  Reform that holds everyone accountable — so immigrants get on the right side of the law and so immigrants are not exploited and abused.  And most of all, reform that gives millions of undocumented individuals a pathway to earn their citizenship.   And I’m optimistic that — after years of trying — we are going to get it done this year.  I’m absolutely convinced of it.  (Applause.)

Obviously, we’re going to have to work with the Mexican government to make sure that we’ve got a well-regulated border.  But I also want to work with the Mexican government because I believe that the long-term solution to the challenge of illegal immigration is a growing and prosperous Mexico that creates more jobs and opportunities for young people here.

I agree with the Mexican student who said, “I feel like we can reach the same level as anyone in the world.”  That’s absolutely true.  And so I firmly believe — juntos, podemos lograr más — together, we can achieve more.  (Applause.)  So with the remainder of my time today, I want to focus on five areas where we can do more.

Number one, let’s do more to expand trade and commerce that creates good jobs for our people.  We already buy more of your exports than any country in the world.  We sell more of our exports to Mexico than we do to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.  (Applause.)  Mexican companies are investing more in the United States, and we’re the largest foreign investor in Mexico — because we believe in Mexico and want to be a partner in your success.

So guided by the new economic dialogue that President Peña Nieto and I announced yesterday, let’s do more to unlock the true potential of our relationship.  Let’s keep investing in our roads and our bridges and our border crossings so we can trade faster and cheaper.  Let’s help our smaller businesses, which employ most of our workers, access new markets and new capital — the big markets right across the border.  Let’s empower our young entrepreneurs as they create startup companies that can transform how we live.  (Applause.)  And let’s realize the Trans-Pacific Partnership this year, so our two nations can compete and win in the fast-growing markets of the Asia Pacific.  If the United States and Mexico are working together, we can sell a whole lot of things on the other side of the Pacific Ocean where the fastest-growing economies are taking off right now.  That’s number one.

Number two, let’s not just sell more things to each other, let’s build more things together.  With many of our companies operating in both countries, parts are now being shipped back and forth across the border as they’re assembled.  So every day, U.S. and Mexican workers are building things together — whether it’s crafts — or whether it’s cars, or aircraft, or computers, or satellites.

I think this is only the beginning.  Given the skills of our workers, it makes even more sense for companies around the world to set up shop in the United States and set up shop in Mexico.  And as Mexico reforms, we’re going to be able to do more business together and sell more goods around the world.  And the more that our companies collaborate, the more competitive they’ll be.  And the entire hemisphere will benefit because of those links and chains that have been created between our two countries.

Number three, as we secure our economic future, let’s secure our energy future, including the clean energy that we need to combat climate change.  Our nations are blessed with boundless natural beauty — from our coastlines and farmlands to your tropical forests.  But climate change is happening.  The science is undeniable.  And so is the fact that our economies must become greener.

In the United States, we’ve made historic commitments to clean and renewable energy like solar and wind power.  We’ve made a commitment to reduce the emissions of harmful carbon pollution.  And here in Mexico, you’re a leader in cutting carbon emissions and helping developing countries do the same.  So, together, let’s keep building new energy partnerships by harnessing all these new sources, and, by the way, creating the good jobs that come with these new technologies.  And let’s keep investing in green buildings and technologies that make our entire economy more efficient, but also make our planet cleaner and safer for future generations.  (Applause.)

Number four — and this is part of staying competitive — let’s do more together in education so our young people have the knowledge and skills to succeed.  (Applause.)  Here in Mexico you’ve made important progress, with more children staying in school longer, and record numbers of students like you getting a university education.  Just imagine how much the students of our two countries could do together, how much we could learn from each other.

And that’s why President Peña Nieto and I announced a new partnership in higher education — to encourage more collaboration between our universities and our university students.  (Applause.)  We’re going to focus on science and  technology, on engineering and mathematics.  And this is part of my broader initiative called 100,000 Strong in the Americas.  We want 100,000 students from the United States studying in Latin America, including Mexico.  And we want 100,000 Latin American students, including Mexican students, to come to study in the United States of America.  (Applause.)  Because when we study together, and we learn together, we work together, and we prosper together — that’s what I believe.  (Applause.)

And finally, to help spark prosperity in both out countries, let’s truly invest in innovation, and research and development together.  Here in Mexico, you’re now a global leader in graduating engineers and technicians.  One of Mexico’s leading scientists, Rafael Navarro-González, is helping analyze data from the rover that we landed on Mars.

So, together, let’s remember that every dollar, every peso that we invest in research and development returns so much more to our economies in jobs and opportunity, new products, new services.  That’s why I’m calling for us to forge new partnerships in aerospace, and IT, and nanotechnology and biotechnology and robotics.  Let’s answer the hope of a young woman — a student at the National Polytechnic Institute — who spoke for many in your generation, so eager to make your mark.  She said, “Give us jobs as creators.”  Give us jobs as creators.

Sometimes young people are known as just consumers of goods, but we want young people creating the new products, the next big thing that will change how we live our lives.  That’s the agenda that I want to pursue.

And I understand that there are those both here in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, but also back home in the United States, who are skeptical of your progress, who maybe doubt the  capacity for us to make the most of this moment.  There are always cynics who say, aw, this is too hard, the headwinds you face are too stiff.  They say Mexico has been here before we look like we’re making progress, we’re looking at a bright horizon, on the verge of great possibility, but then we get blown off course.
And it’s true that nothing is inevitable.  Progress and success is never guaranteed.  The future that you dream of, the Mexico you imagine — it must be built, it must be earned.  Nobody else can do it for you.  Only you can earn it.  You are the future.  As Nervo wrote in “La Raza de Bronce,” tu eres el sueño — you are the dream.  (Applause.)

For just as it was patriots who answered the call when Father Hidalgo rang the church bell two centuries ago, you — your lives, in a free Mexico — are the dream that they imagined.  And now it falls to you to keep alive those virtues for which so many generations of Mexicans struggled.

You are the dream that can stand up for justice and human rights and human dignity, here at home and around the world.  You’re the creators and the builders and the climbers and the strivers who can deliver progress and prosperity that will lift up not just the Mexican people for generations to come, but the entire world.

You’re the men and women who will push this nation upwards as Mexico assumes its rightful place, as you proudly sing: “in heaven your eternal destiny was written by the finger of God.”

You are the dream.  This is your moment.  And as you reach for the future, always remember that you have the greatest of  partners, the greatest if friends — the nation that is rooting for your success more than anybody else — your neighbor, the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Viva México!   Viva los Estados Unidos!   Que Dios los bendiga!  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

9:56 A.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 2, 2013: President Barack Obama & Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Remarks in a Joint Press Conference



President Obama Reaffirms the United States-Mexico Relationship

Source: WH, 5-2-13

President Barack Obama greets President Peña Nieto of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional

President Barack Obama greets President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico, May 2, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On the first day of his trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, President Obama was in Mexico City for meetings and a joint press conference with President Peña Nieto.

The two leaders, who first met in Washington, DC last November, discussed the broad range of issues that bind our nations and affect the daily lives of citizens in both countries, and renewed their commitment to a strong relationship between the United States and Mexico….READ MORE

Remarks by President Obama and President Pena Nieto of Mexico in a Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 5-2-13 

Palacio Nacional
Mexico City, Mexico

4:24 P.M. CDT

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, everyone.  First and foremost, after the bilateral meeting, I would like to extend the warmest welcome to President Barack Obama, his team joining him.  Once again, we would like to welcome all of you with open arms, and we hope you feel at home.

We appreciate your will to have upon this meeting a relation built on mutual respect, collaboration for the benefit of our peoples.

Before we cover the areas that we have shared during our bilateral meeting, on behalf of the Mexican people, I would like to reiterate our solidarity for the regretful acts that were committed in your country — in Boston and in West, in Texas.  Unfortunately, it took the lives of American citizens.

If you allow me, I would like to share with the audience and the members of the media the areas that we have addressed with President Obama during the meeting that we just have had.

First of all, we have reached an agreement that the relation between Mexico and the United States should be broad in terms of the areas that it covers.  It should open up opportunity and collaboration spaces in different arenas, with a very clear purpose in mind to make the North American region a more productive and competitive region that will, end result, trigger the enormous potential that our peoples have, that our nations have.  And we’re well aware of the fact that we can take stock of our bilateral relation within the framework of the agreements made, we have reached a new level of understanding as our two new administrations that began roughly at the same time — the second term of President Obama and my administration.

Among the items that we covered I can speak for how relevant trade and commerce is in Mexico-U.S. relation.  We have dimension of all the achievements made upon the free trade agreement and the benefits that our economies have received from it.  The exports made from the U.S. to its top trade partners, Mexico and Canada, this represents one-third out of each three products that are exported from the U.S. and only the relation with Mexico is higher than the one the U.S. has with European countries like the U.K., France, the Netherlands all together, or the exports sent to China and Japan together doesn’t reach the level that the U.S. has with Mexico.

I must stand out that the integration of our economies in the last years has shown to be relevant and the content of exports sent from Mexico have 40 percent of U.S. input.  Therefor I can conclude that the more growth Mexico shows and the more capacity to export, the more benefit the U.S. gets.  Jobs are created in Mexico; therefore jobs are created in the United States.

Therefore, one of the first agreements that we have made was to create a high-level dialogue that, within its framework, will foster trade and commerce with the United States.  This means that for the first time — and probably this is unprecedented — we will have the Mexican economic cabinet with their counterparts from various government agencies from the United States, as well as high-ranking officials.  And we’ve heard from the President that in this group, the Vice President of the United States will participate in order to set a dialogue that will result in arrangements in terms of how the government can support all the efforts made by the private sector in order to have stronger economic integration.

For this purpose, we have agreed that during the fall of this year, this high-level group will meet for the first time with the attendance of high-ranking officials to start working in the area of the economy.

We have also agreed to endeavor joint actions to have a safer border.  Within the framework of the agreement made, we will have a 21st century border that was about to be defined the work and action agenda that our teams have already set up.  And now, through this agenda, we will have safer borders that will enable and expedite the transit of people and goods that every day cross our borders.

We have also agreed to create a bi-national group in order to find joint actions and joint mechanisms to support entrepreneurs in both of our countries, and by this we will boost the SMEs in our countries.  We believe that this mechanism will serve as an enabler and it will see further development for these small and medium-size companies that are present in both of our countries.  And we hope that all the actions in the very near future will make the SMEs in the future becoming large enterprises.  And this action will favor specifically young entrepreneurs in both our countries.

Thirdly, to boost our economy and our potential, we have agreed to create a bilateral forum on higher education, innovation and research.  Two government agencies will work together — CONACYT and the National Science Foundation from the U.S. — and presidents from Mexico and U.S. universities will be part of this group.  And by this, more exchanges will happen between Mexico and the U.S., and students coming from the U.S. to Mexico.

We have agreed that higher education serves as a platform to boost the economic potential that we have in our nations.  In order to compete with the world, specifically the highly developed countries where science and technology have been the target of their efforts and investment, it is fundamental that we have well-prepared youngsters with the skills necessary to give our economic development a greater strength and a greater capacity.

In a different arena, we have addressed security.  We have both recognized the level of cooperation that the U.S. has shown towards the Mexican government.  And the strategy in the area of security in our country has a very clear purpose, and that is to fight organized crime in all of its forms, be it drug dealing, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, or any crime perpetrated.  We are not going to renounce that responsibility as a government and my administration.  We’re going to face crime in all of its forms.

But in our new strategy we have emphasized the fact that we will reduce violence.  Fortunately systems between Mexicans to fight organized crime and reduce violence are not objectives that contradict each other.  There is no clash between these two goals.  These are two goals that fall within the framework of one same strategy.  And President Obama’s administration has expressed his will, as we know, to cooperate on the basis of mutual respect, to be more efficient in our security strategy that we are implementing in Mexico.

I have shared with President Obama as well what Mexico has done during the first months of my administration.  I have shared with President Obama that Mexico has reached maturity in terms of its democracy.  All political forces in the country have reached political maturity, and have shown to be civil and have managed to show respect to each other and also towards the government of Mexico.  Together we have managed to set up a working agenda that, end result, will advance the reforms that will transform this structure that Mexico needs to boost its development.  I have shared with President Obama the fact that we recognize all political voices in Mexico.

Finally, I would like to share with all of you that we fully agree that our nations, our peoples must move from being neighbors to being part of a community.  We are already part of a trade integration process.  We have reached high levels of development.  But still there is potential to make of our nations, through collaboration and integration of North America we can make a more productive and a more competitive region.

I would like to conclude by quoting the words that former President Kennedy shared during his visit to Palacio Nacional 51 years ago, under former President Adolfo López Mateos — we have shared this quote with President Obama, but I would like to share it with all of you.

President Kennedy said to President López Mateos, “Geography has made us neighbors.  Tradition has made us friends.”  Let us not allow a gap to fall between what nature has united.  And that is why we vow so that this understanding, this dialogue climate that we have set up, end result, will give us more growth, more development and more opportunities for our peoples.

Once again, allow me to reiterate, President Obama, and this goes for your delegation as well, you are warmly welcomed to Mexico and I hope that your stay is fruitful and you enjoy your stay in Mexico as well.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Muchas gracias, Señor Presidente, to President Peña Nieto for your kind words and your extraordinary hospitality.  As President-elect, you were the first leader I welcomed to the White House after our election.  It was a sign of our extraordinarily close relationship between our two countries.

During Enrique’s visit, I noted that he spent time as a student in the United States in one of our most beautiful states, the state of Maine.  I must say, though, Maine is very cold, and so when I come here on a beautiful spring day here in this beautiful city, I understand why you came back home.

I want to thank you for your hospitality.  I look forward to joining you and the First Lady, la Señora Rivera, this evening.  And I want to thank all the people of Mexico for such a warm welcome.  It’s always a pleasure to visit.

As President Peña Nieto discussed, between our two countries, we’re some 430 million people.  Ten million — tens of millions of Mexican Americans enrich our national life in the United States.  Well over 1 million Americans live here in Mexico.  Every year, millions of tourists — most of them from the United States — visit this magnificent country.  Every day, millions of workers in our countries earn a living from the jobs that are made possible by our trade, and more than 1 million people cross our shared border — businesspeople, students, educators, scientists, researchers, collaborating in every sphere of human endeavor.

In other words, Mexico and the United States have one of the largest, most dynamic relationships of any two countries on Earth.  And yet, we don’t always hear about all aspects of these extraordinary ties because too often two issues get attention:  security or immigration.

Obviously these are serious challenges, and President Peña Nieto and I discussed them in depth today.  I agreed to continue our close cooperation on security, even as the nature of that cooperation will evolve.  As I told the President, it is obviously up to the Mexican people to determine their security structures and how it engages with other nations, including the United States.  But the main point I made to the President is that we support the Mexican government’s focus on reducing violence, and we look forward to continuing our good cooperation in any way that the Mexican government deems appropriate.

I also reaffirmed our determination in the United States to meet our responsibilities — to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and to combat the southbound flow of illegal guns and cash that help to fuel violence.

Again, I want to pay tribute to the people of Mexico, who’ve made extraordinary sacrifices for their security, and display great courage and resolve every day.

But even as we continue to deal with these urgent challenges, we can’t lose sight of the larger relationship between our peoples, including the promise of Mexico’s economic progress.  I believe we’ve got a historic opportunity to foster even more cooperation, more trade, more jobs on both sides of the border, and that’s the focus of my visit.

The United States and Mexico have one of the largest economic relationships in the world.  Our annual trade has now surpassed $500 billion — more than $1 billion every day.  We are your largest customer, buying the vast majority of Mexican exports.  Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. exports.  So every day, our companies and our workers -— with their integrated supply chains —- are building products together.  And this is the strong foundation that we can build on.

I want to commend President Peña Nieto and the Mexican people for the ambitious reforms that you’ve embarked on to make your economy more competitive, to make your institutions more effective.  And I know it’s hard, but it’s also necessary.

Ultimately, only Mexicans can decide how Mexico reforms.  But let me repeat what I told the President — as Mexico works to become more competitive, you’ve got a strong partner in the United States, because our success is shared.  When one of us prospers, both of us prosper.  And that’s the context for the progress that we made today.

As the President mentioned, we’re, first of all, creating a high-level dialogue to broaden and deepen our economic relationship.  On our side, it will be led by members of my Cabinet.  Vice President Biden will participate as well.  Together with Mexico, we’ll focus on increasing the connections between our businesses and workers, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship and making our economies even more competitive.

To that end, we also reaffirmed our goal of concluding negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership this year.  This would be another major step in integrating our two economies and positioning us to compete in the fastest-growing markets in the world, those in the Asia Pacific region.  We want to be able to sell more goods from Mexico and the United States.  And if we’re partnering together, we can do even better.

We agreed to continue making our shared border even more efficient — with new infrastructure and new technologies — so it’s even faster and cheaper to trade and do business together.  We reaffirmed our commitment to the clean energy partnerships that allow our two countries to enhance our energy security and combat climate change.  And I’m very pleased that we’ve agreed to expand collaborations and exchanges between our students, our schools and our universities.

Just as Enrique once studied in our country, we want more Mexicans studying in the United States, and we want more American students studying here in Mexico.  And we’re going to focus on science and technology and engineering and math to help our young people -— including our daughters -— succeed in this global economy.

And finally, I updated the President on our efforts in the United States to pass common-sense comprehensive immigration reform that lives up to our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, including generations of Mexican Americans.

As we do, I think it’s important for everybody to remember that our shared border is more secure than it’s been in years.  Illegal immigration attempts into the United States are near their lowest level in decades, and legal immigration continues to make both of our countries stronger and more prosperous and more competitive.

And this, in part, reflects the economic progress and greater opportunities here in Mexico.  I think this progress should help inform the debate in the United States.  And I’m optimistic that we’re finally going to get comprehensive immigration reform passed.

I’ll have much more to say about this and some other issues in my speech tomorrow.  But for now, I want to express my gratitude to the President for his hospitality and also for your leadership.  And given the progress that we’re seeing here in Mexico, I see so many opportunities to continue to deepen the extraordinary friendship and common bond that we share between our two great nations and our two great peoples.  I know we will do that.

So thank you very much.  Muchas gracias.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  Now, we will have a round of four questions.

Q    To the President of Mexico, we welcome gladly that the agenda is — there is no speculation on the priority topics to be included in your agendas.  Could you clarify this high-level group, please, as you have pointed out, will overcome efficiently the results of a fight that these two nations had on the issue of security?  It seems to be that trade is now a priority; no longer security is.

And for President Obama, given your expertise during this second administration, what is your take on Enrique Peña Nieto’s new administration in terms of reforms?  You have acknowledged the reforms made so far.  Is the U.S. government seeing this reform as on the part of the administration, or a pact?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  Thank you very much.  We have relaunched our relationship and we have agreed on the climate in which we’re going to work.  We have defined our priorities.  We don’t want to make this relationship targeted on one single issue.  We want to grow in our relation to include different areas, and we want to specially emphasize our relation on the trade relation potential between Mexico and the U.S.

We’re also going to cover other areas.  Of course, public safety is included, and we have shared our view on that topic to work towards reducing violence by combatting efficiently organized crime.

And I must insist we have reviewed the long list of potential and opportunities that we have identified in the economic relation between the U.S. and Mexico in the area of trade and commerce.  President Obama has already put it for the U.S.  We represent a market that receives their exports — we’re the second export destination, and in our case, the United States ranks first.  We need to identify the areas where we can supplement each other’s production of goods and exports and goods from Mexico to the world, because these goods have a high content of U.S. input.

As I have stated, this means that if Mexico does well in its productive capabilities — that is to say by creating more labor and its capability to export more products — the U.S. will benefit, and vice versa.

That is why this high-level meeting foresees the participation of officials that are a part of my cabinet.  The U.S. has not a tradition of having cabinets like the ones we have, but President Obama has decided that high-ranking officials from different government agencies will participate, including the U.S. Vice President.  They will be part of this high-level group that will define specific actions.

What has been done so far in the private sector complementarity has happened.  And we have seen a good flow of trade between our countries.  There is no doubt that even when it has reached a certain level we can push it further.  We can extend its capabilities if both of our governments identify the right mechanisms, the right formula to boost economic integration.  And that is precisely the agreement that we have reached today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, just on the security issue, I think it’s natural that a new administration here in Mexico is looking carefully at how it’s going to approach what has obviously been a serious problem.  And we are very much looking forward to cooperating in any ways that we can to battle organized crime, as President Peña Nieto stated.

And we anticipate that there’s going to be strong cooperation, that on our side of the border, we have continued work to do to reduce demand and to try to stem the flow of guns and cash from North to South.

So this is a partnership that will continue.  I think that President Peña Nieto and his team are organizing a vision about how they can most efficiently and effectively address these issues.  And we will interact with them in ways that are appropriate, respecting that ultimately Mexico has to deal with its problems internally and we have to deal with ours as well.

With respect to the President’s agenda, we had a wonderful relationship with President Calderón and the previous administration.  The bonds between our two countries go beyond party.  If a Republican president replaces me there’s still going to be great bonds between Mexico and the United States because not just the geography, but friendship and our interactions.

But what I have been impressed with is the President’s boldness in his reform agenda.  He’s tackling big issues.  And that’s what the times demand.  We live in a world that is changing rapidly, and in both the United States and in Mexico we can’t be caught flat-footed as the world advances.

We have to make sure that our young people are the best educated in the world.  And that means that some of the old ways of educating our kids may not work.  We have to make sure that we’re staying at the forefront of science and technology.  And that means we’ve got to make sure that we’re investing in those areas appropriately.  We have to make certain that our economies are competitive around the world and that, when it comes to energy, that we’re addressing issues like climate change, but also making sure that it’s done in a way that’s creating jobs and businesses on both sides of the border.

And so what I very much appreciate is the President’s willingness to take on hard issues, because sometimes I think there’s a temptation once somebody is elected to just stay elected, as opposed to trying to make sure that we use our time as well as we can to bring about the kind of changes will help move the country forward.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Administration officials, including Secretary Hagel, say that the U.S. is now more seriously considering sending weapons to the Syrian rebels.  How has your thinking on the effectiveness of such a step evolved as the violence in Syria has continued?  And do you now see lethal aid as the best option available for a U.S. escalation in Syria?

I also had a question on immigration that I was hoping you both could address.  Senator Rubio said today that on the immigration bill being considered on Capitol Hill it may not pass the Senate unless the border security measures are strengthened. Are you concerned that an effort to bolster those border security triggers may make a pathway to citizenship almost impossible for many people already in the U.S. illegally, including many Mexicans?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, on Syria, what Secretary Hagel said today is what I’ve been saying now for months, which is we are continually evaluating the situation on the ground, working with our international partners to find the best way to move a political transition that has Assad leaving, stabilizes the country, ends the killing, and allows the Syrian people to determine their own destiny.  And we’ve made enormous investments not just in humanitarian aid but also in helping the opposition organize itself and make sure that it has a consistent vision about how it’s operating.

And as we’ve seen evidence of further bloodshed, potential use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, what I’ve said is, is that we’re going to look at all options.  And we know that there are countries that are currently providing lethal aid to the opposition.  We also know that the Assad regime is getting not just lethal aid but also training and support from countries outside of Syria.  And we want to evaluate and make sure that every step that we take advances the day when Assad is gone and you have people inside of Syria who are able to determine their own destiny rather than engage in a long, bloody sectarian war.

And we’ll continue to evaluate that every step of the way.  But as I mentioned in my press conference back in D.C., we want to make sure that we look before we leap and that what we’re doing is actually helpful to the situation as opposed to making it more deadly or more complex.

With respect to immigration reform, I expressed to President Peña Nieto that I’m optimistic about us getting this done because it’s the right thing to do.  We’ve seen leaders from both parties indicate that now is the time to get comprehensive immigration reform done.  And part of what we discussed is the importance of getting it done precisely because we do so much business between our two countries that for us to constantly bog down on these border issues and debates instead of moving forward with a 21st century border that’s maintaining security, and that is making sure that legal immigration and legal trade and commerce is facilitated, but at the same time ensures that we’re not seeing a lot of illegal traffic, and allows us to continue to be a nation of immigrants that has contributed so much to the wealth and prosperity of our nation — if we’re going to get that done, now is the time to do it.

And the bill that Senator Rubio and others put forward I think is a great place to start.  It doesn’t contain everything I want, and I suspect that the final legislation will not contain everything I want.  It won’t contain everything that Republican leaders want either.  But if we can get a basic framework that secures our border, building on the extraordinary success we’ve already had and the cooperation we’ve had with the Mexican government, that cracks down on employers who are not taking the law seriously, that streamlines and enhances our legal immigration system — because the problems with our legal immigration system often force people into the illegal immigration system — and provides a pathway to citizenship for those who are currently living in the shadows inside of the United States — if it has those elements, then we should be able to build on that.  And we can have arguments about other elements of this as we go further, but that’s the core of what we need.

And frankly, we’ve put enormous resources into border security.  Don’t take my word for it; you had folks like Senator McCain and Senator Graham come down to the border and see the progress that’s been made.  There are areas where there’s still more work to be done.  Some of it, by the way, is not simply securing the United States from illegal traffic; some of it is also improving the infrastructure, which we talked about, for commerce to be able to come in smoothly, which creates jobs and helps our businesses both in the United States and in Mexico.

But what I’m not going to do is to go along with something where we’re looking for an excuse not to do it as opposed to a way to do it.  And I think we can — I think if all sides operate in good faith that can be accomplished.

PRESIDENT PENA NIETO:  On that matter, allow me to note that the Mexican government acknowledges the efforts made and the leadership made by President Barack Obama and your Congress to eventually pass an immigration bill.  Mexico understands that this is a domestic affair for the U.S. and we wish you the best push that you’re giving to immigration.

That is what I have to say in terms of the foreign press.

Q    Thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  Mr. President, good afternoon.  I would like to ask you both specifically what would be the most important outcome of President Obama’s visit to Mexico, on the one hand?  That is my question.  And I would like to ask you as well:  Have you considered the possibility to scale up the Mexico-U.S. relation and to integrate the region further? This could lead to a bi-national strategy in terms of fighting organized crime trans-nationally.  Thank you very much for your answers.

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  Thank you very much.  In order to conclude this meeting, I would like to say that we have revitalized our relation between two governments that have two new administrations — this is President Obama’s second term, and this new administration for Mexico.  The climate in which we are strengthening our relation is based on cordiality; our relation is based on respect; it’s based on cooperation and collaboration in all of those areas that we share a common interest.

We are not going to target this relation in one specific area.  We want to address multiple issues.  We want to work on an agenda that would allow us to identify all the potential areas that could help us advance our agenda.

We have emphasized trade and commerce during this visit because we have made a thorough analysis of the U.S. and Mexico trade relations — have analyzed trade flows and how our economies complement each other.  And there is potential if we truly want to become in a more productive and more competitive North America region, well, that’s what we need to do first to compete with other regions in the world.

Those are the highlights and specifically the agreements made to create a high-level dialogue, the bilateral forum to advance academic exchanges and to work towards science and innovation in both of our countries.

Also we will have a bi-national dialogue to foster SMEs.  Undoubtedly these are mechanisms that, end result, will help us project further the economic and trade relation that Mexico has with the United States.

And certainly, I must insist, let me say it very clearly, the cooperation that we already have with the U.S. in the area of security, let me tell you that under this new strategy, we’re going to order things up.  We’re going to make it institutional. The channels will be very clear.  We’re going to use one single channel in order to be more efficient, to attain better results.

And we have reached a very good understanding with the U.S. government.  They know why we’re emphasizing violence reduction in our strategy.  President Obama has expressed his respect to the strategy that Mexico’s government will define in the area of security, and they have shown to be willing to cooperate with us in order to reach the goals that we have set up to have a peaceful Mexico where there is security.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think President Peña Nieto summarized it well.  Let me give you one specific example, and that is the work that our countries are doing together around the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP.

Our largest trading partner is Canada.  Our second largest trading partner is Mexico.  So North America has already become far more integrated economically than it was 10 years or 20 years ago.  There are suppliers from Mexico who sell to U.S. companies that in turn sell back into Mexico or sell to Canada or sell around the world.  There are jobs that are created in Mexico, jobs that are created in the United States.  All of our economies have grown as a consequence of the work that’s taking place together.

But as I said, the world is changing.  So the fastest growing part of the world is the Asia Pacific region — huge markets.  And by us working closely together to upgrade and revamp our trade relationship we’re also in a position to project outward and start selling more goods and services around the world.  And that means more jobs and more businesses that are successful in Mexico and in the United States.

Some of that is going to be bilateral.  So finding ways that we can reduce trade frictions, improving our transportation and our infrastructure cross-border, how we can improve our clean energy cooperation — already you have a situation in which energy that is created in power plants in California sometimes is sold during nonpeak times into Mexico.  And then when it’s peak times in California, then it’s sold back into California, which makes it more efficient on both sides of the border, and that reduces the cost for consumers on both sides.  Those are the kinds of very specific areas that we can continue to refine and improve on.  And that’s what this high-level economic dialogue will accomplish.

But even as we’re improving our bilateral negotiations, what it also allows us to do, then, is to say we’re aligned in projecting both to the Pacific and to the Atlantic in saying let’s make sure that we’re taking advantage of all the economic opportunities that are taking place around the world.

When the United States prospers, Mexico does well.  And when Mexico does well, the United States does well.  And that I think is the main message of my visit here today.  That’s what I want to make sure we’re focused on, because certainly in the United States — and I know here in Mexico as well — when the economy is growing, when people have opportunity, then a lot of our other problems are solved — or at least we have the resources to solve them.  And so that is something that we really want to make sure that we’re focused on during the rest of my term in office and during President Peña Nieto’s term in office.

Q    Thank to you both.  Mr. President, I wanted to ask about a domestic issue if I could, the FDA rule on the morning-after pill that came out this week that prohibits girls under 15 from buying the morning-after pill without a prescription.  I’m wondering what your opinion on the rule is, and if it resolves some of the concerns you expressed last year when you talked about your role as a father and how that’s influenced your thinking on this, and if you believe that there’s scientific evidence to justify the 15 year-old cutoff.

And for President Peña Nieto, I wanted to ask you about gun control.  The President’s most recent attempt to pass new legislation on guns just failed in the Senate.  You’ve spoken out on this before.  I’m wondering if you talked to him about this in your meeting and if you would urge him — have urged him to try again, or if there’s more that you think the White House could do administratively, without approval from Congress, to resolve the issue.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, on the FDA issue, let me make a couple points clear.  Number one, this is a decision made by the FDA and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  It’s not my decision to make.

The first time around where there were no age restrictions, Secretary Sebelius expressed concerns and I supported those concerns.  And I gave voice to them in the press room back in DC.
The rule that’s been put forward by the FDA Secretary Sebelius has reviewed; she’s comfortable with, I’m comfortable with.

The second point I want to make is I’m very supportive of contraception because I think it’s very important that women have control over their health care choices and when they are starting a family.  That’s their decision to make.  And so we want to make sure that they have access to contraception.  As you know we had a little bit of a fuss around what we’re doing with the Affordable Care Act, but I very much think that’s the right thing to do.

So the current ruling is actually — you phrased it as prohibiting — I think you could phrase it as they’re now allowing these contraceptives to be sold over the counter for 15-year-olds and older.  It has not resolved the question of girls younger than 15.

There was a court case that came up that is being appealed by the Justice Department.  That’s a Justice Department decision. My understanding is part of it has to do with the precedent and the way in which the judge handled that case.  And my suspicion is, is that the FDA may now be called upon to make further decisions about whether there’s sufficient scientific evidence for girls younger than 15.

That’s the FDA’s decision to make.  That’s Secretary Sebelius’s decision to review.  But I’m very comfortable with the decision they’ve made right now based on solid scientific evidence for girls 15 and older.

I know you didn’t direct the question to me, though, I do want to editorialize just for a second about gun control.   As I think all your Mexican counterparts understand and as I talked about with President Peña Nieto, we recognize we’ve got obligations when it comes to guns that are oftentimes being shipped down South and contributing to violence here in Mexico.

But, frankly, what I’m most moved by are the victims of gun violence not just in Mexico but back home — like the parents in Newtown.  And I said the day that the legislation that had been proposed by Senators Manchin and Toomey in the Senate — the day that that failed to get 60 votes — that that was not the end; this was the beginning.
The last time we had major gun legislation it took six, seven, eight tries to get passed.  Things happen somewhat slowly in Washington, but this is just the first round.  And when you’ve got 90 percent of the American people supporting the initiatives that we put forward around background checks and making sure that drug traffickers, for example, can’t just send in somebody with a clear record to purchase guns on their behalf with no way of tracking or stopping that, when you had common-sense legislation like that that the overwhelming majority of Americans, including gun owners, those of us who strongly support the Second Amendment, all of us supporting, I believe that eventually we’re going to get that done.  And I’m going to keep on trying.

So I didn’t mean to horn in on President Peña Nieto’s response, but I just want to be clear that we’re going to keep at this.  One thing I am is persistent.

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  In that regard, I believe that we are in agreement with President Obama’s words.  And what Mexico would like to see happening in the U.S. — that is to control better the sales of weapons — and we cannot ignore the efforts made by President Obama’s administration in order to approve the better control of weapons — if Mexico could add itself up to this important sector of the U.S. population — 90 percent in favor of gun control — we would do it.  But this is a domestic issue in the United States.

In terms of the areas that we are working in collaboration, areas that we can address is specifically to address the fact that weapons bought in the U.S. could be brought to Mexico.  Regretfully, many lives of Mexicans have been lost due to that illegal smuggling of weapons bought in the United States that have reached Mexican soil.  We have made our commitment, and we’re working on it to work together towards making our borders safer.  We are fighting illegal smuggling of weapons.

Mexico vows towards the efforts made by your government, and we’ll keep on supporting you to have better gun control in your country.  But we’re not going to wait until that happens.  We are working by using more intelligence information, and we are taking action to have safer borders so that we don’t have weapons being smuggled into Mexico that regretfully end up hurting many Mexicans.

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

5:15 P.M. CDT

Political Headlines May 2, 2013: In Mexico, President Barack Obama Says Immigration Reform Is Critical to Trade





In Mexico, President Obama Says Immigration Reform Is Critical to Trade

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-2-13

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama arrived in Mexico City Thursday, where the economy and trade were intended to top the agenda of his three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica.

With Congress poised to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, however, border security and immigration reform are overshadowing much of the public discussion….READ MORE

Full Text Barack Obama Presidency November 27, 2012: President Obama and President-Elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s of Mexico Speeches Before Bilateral Meeting



President Obama Welcomes Mexico President-Elect Enrique Peña Nieto

Source: WH, 11-27-12

President Obama meets with President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto (November 27, 2012)President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico in the Oval Office, Nov. 27, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This afternoon, President Obama welcomed Enrique Peña Nieto, the President-elect of Mexico, to the Oval Office.

By long-standing tradition, newly elected Mexican presidents hold early meetings with the United States, in part because it symbolizes the close relationship between our two countries.

And President-elect Peña Nieto is himself no stranger to the United States, having spent a year in Maine as a student.

“But I think that’s representative of the strength of the relationship between the United States and Mexico,” President Obama said. “It’s not just a matter of policy, but it’s a matter of people, as represented by the many U.S. citizens who travel to Mexico, who live in Mexico, and obviously the incredible contribution that Mexican Americans make to our economy, our society, and to our politics.”

President Obama noted that President-elect Peña Nieto’s reform agenda is one that Americans will watch closely — as what happens in Mexico affects our society as well.

The president-elect was also quick to draw parallels between himself and President Obama.

“We were both congressmen — legislators, as we say in Spanish — in our respective congresses in our own countries,” he said. “And this means we’re very sensitive to the needs of our peoples. And we also share a very important vision, the vision for instance of creating more jobs. We know this is very important, not only for the American people but also for the Mexican peoples, for both of our nations.”

On Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden will lead the U.S. delegation to the President-elect Peña Nieto’s inauguration.

Watch their full remarks here

Remarks of President Obama and President-Elect Peña Nieto of Mexico Before Bilateral Meeting

Oval Office

4:00 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it is my great pleasure to welcome President-elect Peña Nieto to the Oval Office and to the White House. This is a longstanding tradition where — almost unique I think in the relationship between countries — we meet early with the President-elect of Mexico because it symbolizes the extraordinarily close relationship we have between our two countries.

Over the last four years, I’ve been able to work with President Felipe Calderón and I think we established an excellent working relationship so I wish him all the best in his new life.

And I’m very confident that I’m going to establish a strong personal as well as professional relationship with the President-elect, who I know has an outstanding reputation for wanting to get things done.

Now, President Peña Nieto I think represents the close ties between our two countries because I understand that he lived in the United States in Maine for a year, where the winters are even worse than Chicago, my hometown. (Laughter.)

But I think that’s representative of the strength of the relationship between the United States and Mexico. It’s not just a matter of policy, but it’s a matter of people, as represented by the many U.S. citizens who travel to Mexico, who live in Mexico, and obviously the incredible contribution that Mexican Americans make to our economy, our society, and to our politics.

I know that President Peña Nieto has a very ambitious reform agenda, and we are very much looking forward to having a fruitful discussion here today about not only how we can strengthen our economic ties, our trades ties, our coordination along the border, improving our joint competitiveness, as well as common security issues. But I think what I know the President-elect is also interested in is a discussion about both regional and global issues, because Mexico has become not simply an important bilateral partner, but is today a very important multilateral, multinational leader on a whole range of issues from energy to climate change, and we look forward to working with Mexico not only on regional issues, but also on global issues.

And just as President-elect Peña Nieto’s reform agenda is of great interest to us because what happens in Mexico has an impact on our society, I know he’s interested in what we do as well on issues like comprehensive immigration reform. And I’ll be sharing with him my interest in promoting some issues that are important to the United States, but ultimately will be important to Mexico as well.

So Mr. President-elect, I want to welcome you. Congratulations on your outstanding victory. Vice President Biden will be leading our delegation to your inauguration. We only send the Vice President to inaugurations when the country is really at the top of the list in importance to us and so we just want to wish you well and I look forward to an excellent relationship in the years to come.

PRESIDENT-ELECT PEÑA NIETO: (As interpreted.) Thank you very much, President Barack Obama. It’s truly a great pleasure to be here with you. I feel so happy and thank you for your hospitality. This is of course my first visit as President-elect of Mexico and I also want to congratulate you for your victory last November 6th for your second term as President of the United States. I of course wish you great success and I know you have a great task before you, but I know, I trust that you will be doing a wonderful job.

And I also want to thank you so much, President Obama, for having Vice President Joseph Biden go to Mexico for my inaugural ceremony next Saturday, December first. I feel so pleased to be able to have Vice President Biden represent you in Mexico. And of course we’re waiting for him and your delegation with open arms.

And I find that this is an opportunity we only have every 12 years. We’re practically beginning our administration, same that you’ll be starting your next four-year term, I will be starting a six-year administration in Mexico, as you well know, and I think this is really a great opportunity for all of us to have a closer link of brotherhood, of sisterhood, of collaboration, and of course, of great accomplishments we might both have working together.

Yes, and I believe that we have very important tasks before us that are common, as a matter of fact. For instance, we have many common things. We were both congressmen — legislators, as we say in Spanish — in our respective congresses in our own countries. And this means we’re very sensitive to the needs of our peoples. And we also share a very important vision, the vision for instance of creating more jobs. We know this is very important, not only for the American people but also for the Mexican peoples, for both of our nations. These are two very important demands in our countries.

And we do have the opportunity to grow, but not only that, we also have the opportunity to integrate North America, to be participating in this part of the world. And I am so pleased that this is the situation we’re in.

And of course, as I said, to increase the integration of North America, to really take advantage of the open spaces we have for our work — and not only in this part of the world, but also with Asia, of course and just mentioning for instance the TPP, the Trans Pacific Partnership. And my government is of course very much interested in strengthening this, because we believe that this is going to be a great opportunity for all of us.

Yes, and of course in terms of security that’s another major challenge we all face. My government has set out to reduce the violence situation in our country. And for that, of course, we have set out to launch a strategy for this purpose. And I will do everything we can for this. We want to have — we have the will to have cooperation, efficient cooperation with respect, respect for our sovereign states. And of course in terms of the border, we want our border to be a safe, modern, connected border, legal border — that’s exactly what we’ve set out to accomplish.

Yes, and in terms of the reform for migration, the migration reform, we do have to tell you that we fully support your proposal, sir, for this migration reform. More than demanding what you should do or shouldn’t do, we do want to tell you that we want to contribute. We really want to participate with you. We want to contribute towards the accomplishment, so that of course we can participate in the betterment and the well-being of so many millions of people who live in your country and who are also participating. So we want to be part of this.

And I trust that we’ll be able to have a very close relationship in our work, Mr. President. And of course I want to invite you to come to Mexico, a state visit. And as you know, next year in 2013, we’re going to be holding the North American Summit, the leaders’ summit. And you’re of course invited. And we really hope to see you there. We’ll be waiting for you with open arms.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Any excuse to go to Mexico, I’m always game. In fact, I’m jealous of Joe Biden. (Laughter.) But anyway, thank you very much. Welcome. Thank you, everybody.

4:17 P.M. EST

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