Full Text Political Transcripts December 29, 2016: President Barack Obama issues sanctions against Russia over election interference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

Executive Order — Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency with Respect to Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities

Source: WH, 12-29-16

EXECUTIVE ORDER

– – – – – – –

TAKING ADDITIONAL STEPS TO ADDRESS THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO SIGNIFICANT MALICIOUS CYBER-ENABLED ACTIVITIES

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) (IEEPA), the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) (NEA), and section 301 of title 3, United States Code,

I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, in order to take additional steps to deal with the national emergency with respect to significant malicious cyber-enabled activities declared in Executive Order 13694 of April 1, 2015, and in view of the increasing use of such activities to undermine democratic processes or institutions, hereby order:

Section 1. Section 1(a) of Executive Order 13694 is hereby amended to read as follows:

“Section 1. (a) All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in:

(i) the persons listed in the Annex to this order;

(ii) any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have engaged in, directly or indirectly, cyber-enabled activities originating from, or directed by persons located, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States that are reasonably likely to result in, or have materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States and that have the purpose or effect of:

(A) harming, or otherwise significantly compromising the provision of services by, a computer or network of computers that support one or more entities in a critical infrastructure sector;

(B) significantly compromising the provision of services by one or more entities in a critical infrastructure sector;

(C) causing a significant disruption to the availability of a computer or network of computers;

(D) causing a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain; or

(E) tampering with, altering, or causing a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions; and

(iii) any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State:

(A) to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have engaged in, the receipt or use for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain, or by a commercial entity, outside the United States of trade secrets misappropriated through cyber-enabled means, knowing they have been misappropriated, where the misappropriation of such trade secrets is reasonably likely to result in, or has materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States;

(B) to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any activity described in subsections (a)(ii) or (a)(iii)(A) of this section or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order;

(C) to be owned or controlled by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; or

(D) to have attempted to engage in any of the activities described in subsections (a)(ii) and (a)(iii)(A)-(C) of this section.”

Sec. 2. Executive Order 13694 is further amended by adding as an Annex to Executive Order 13694 the Annex to this order.

Sec. 3. Executive Order 13694 is further amended by redesignating section 10 as section 11 and adding a new section 10 to read as follows:

“Sec. 10. The Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, is hereby authorized to determine that circumstances no longer warrant the blocking of the property and interests in property of a person listed in the Annex to this order, and to take necessary action to give effect to that determination.”

Sec. 4. This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Sec. 5. This order is effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time on December 29, 2016.

BARACK OBAMA

THE WHITE HOUSE,
December 28, 2016.

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-28-15

United Nations Headquarters
New York, New York

10:18 A.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
11:00 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 24, 2014: President Obama’s 2014 Speech Address to the United Nations General Assembly — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by President Barack Obama, Address to the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-24-14


President Obama speaks during the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept 24. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

September 24, 2014
New York City, NY 

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: we come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.

Around the globe, there are signposts of progress. The shadow of World War that existed at the founding of this institution has been lifted; the prospect of war between major powers reduced. The ranks of member states has more than tripled, and more people live under governments they elected. Hundreds of millions of human beings have been freed from the prison of poverty, with the proportion of those living in extreme poverty cut in half.  And the world economy continues to strengthen after the worst financial crisis of our lives.

Today, whether you live in downtown New York or in my grandmother’s village more than two hundred miles from Nairobi, you can hold in your hand more information than the world’s greatest libraries. Together, we have learned how to cure disease, and harness the power of the wind and sun. The very existence of this institution is a unique achievement – the people of the world committing to resolve their differences peacefully, and solve their problems together. I often tell young people in the United States that this is the best time in human history to be born, for you are more likely than ever before to be literate, to be healthy, and to be free to pursue your dreams.

And yet there is a pervasive unease in our world – a sense that the very forces that have brought us together have created new dangers, and made it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global forces. As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness.

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world. We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries. Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe.

Fellow delegates, we come together as United Nations with a choice to make. We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress, or allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability. We can reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront global problems, or be swamped by more and more outbreaks of instability. For America, the choice is clear. We choose hope over fear. We see the future not as something out of our control, but as something we can shape for the better through concerted and collective effort. We reject fatalism or cynicism when it comes to human affairs; we choose to work for the world as it should be, as our children deserve it to be.

There is much that must be done to meet the tests of this moment. But today I’d like to focus on two defining questions at the root of many of our challenges– whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.

First, all of us – big nations and small – must meet our responsibility to observe and enforce international norms.

We are here because others realized that we gain more from cooperation than conquest. One hundred years ago, a World War claimed the lives of many millions, proving that with the terrible power of modern weaponry, the cause of empire leads to the graveyard. It would take another World War to roll back the forces of fascism and racial supremacy, and form this United Nations to ensure that no nation can subjugate its neighbors and claim their territory.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order. Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled.  Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.

This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.

These are simple truths, but they must be defended. America and our allies will support the people of Ukraine as they develop their democracy and economy. We will reinforce our NATO allies, and uphold our commitment to collective defense. We will impose a cost on Russia for aggression, and counter falsehoods with the truth. We call upon others to join us on the right side of history – for while small gains can be won at the barrel of a gun, they will ultimately be turned back if enough voices support the freedom of nations and peoples to make their own decisions.

Moreover, a different path is available – the path of diplomacy and peace and the ideals this institution is designed to uphold. The recent cease-fire agreement in Ukraine offers an opening to achieve that objective. If Russia takes that path – a path that for stretches of the post-Cold War period resulted in prosperity for the Russian people – then we will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges. That’s what the United States and Russia have been able to do in past years – from reducing our nuclear stockpiles to meet our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to cooperating to remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons. And that’s the kind of cooperation we are prepared to pursue again—if Russia changes course.

This speaks to a central question of our global age: whether we will solve our problems together, in a spirit of mutual interests and mutual respect, or whether we descend into destructive rivalries of the past. When nations find common ground, not simply based on power, but on principle, then we can make enormous progress. And I stand before you today committed to investing American strength in working with nations to address the problems we face in the 21st century.

As we speak, America is deploying our doctors and scientists – supported by our military – to help contain the outbreak of Ebola and pursue new treatments. But we need a broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders. It’s easy to see this as a distant problem – until it isn’t. That is why we will continue mobilizing other countries to join us in making concrete commitments to fight this outbreak, and enhance global health security for the long-term.

America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them. This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity. My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass. We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.

America is and will continue to be a Pacific power, promoting peace, stability, and the free flow of commerce among nations. But we will insist that all nations abide by the rules of the road, and resolve their territorial disputes peacefully, consistent with international law. That’s how the Asia-Pacific has grown. And that’s the only way to protect this progress going forward.

America is committed to a development agenda that eradicates extreme poverty by 2030. We will do our part – to help people feed themselves; power their economies; and care for their sick. If the world acts together, we can make sure that all of our children can enjoy lives of opportunity and dignity

America is pursuing ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions, and we have increased our investments in clean energy. We will do our part, and help developing nations to do theirs. But we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.

On issue after issue, we cannot rely on a rule-book written for a different century. If we lift our eyes beyond our borders – if we think globally and act cooperatively – we can shape the course of this century as our predecessors shaped the post-World War II age. But as we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail such progress: and that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.

Of course, terrorism is not new. Speaking before this Assembly, President Kennedy put it well: “Terror is not a new weapon,” he said. “Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example.” In the 20th century, terror was used by all manner of groups who failed to come to power through public support. But in this century, we have faced a more lethal and ideological brand of terrorists who have perverted one of the world’s great religions. With access to technology that allows small groups to do great harm, they have embraced a nightmarish vision that would divide the world into adherents and infidels – killing as many innocent civilians as possible; and employing the most brutal methods to intimidate people within their communities.

I have made it clear that America will not base our entire foreign policy on reacting to terrorism. Rather, we have waged a focused campaign against al Qaeda and its associated forces – taking out their leaders, and denying them the safe-havens they rely upon. At the same time, we have reaffirmed that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims the world over aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice. And when it comes to America and Islam, there is no us and them – there is only us, because millions of Muslim Americans are part of the fabric of our country.

So we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilizations. Belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists who cannot build or create anything, and therefore peddle only fanaticism and hate. And it is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion.

This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment. Moreover, this campaign against extremism goes beyond a narrow security challenge. For while we have methodically degraded core al Qaeda and supported a transition to a sovereign Afghan government, extremist ideology has shifted to other places – particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where a quarter of young people have no job; food and water could grow scarce; corruption is rampant; and sectarian conflicts have become increasingly hard to contain.

As an international community, we must meet this challenge with a focus on four areas.  First, the terrorist group known as ISIL must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.

This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria. Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.

No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

In this effort, we do not act alone. Nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands.  Instead, we will support Iraqis and Syrians fighting to reclaim their communities. We will use our military might in a campaign of air strikes to roll back ISIL. We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground. We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region. Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build – not those who destroy.

Second, it is time for the world – especially Muslim communities – to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.

It is the task of all great religions to accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world. No children – anywhere – should be educated to hate other people. There should be no more tolerance of so-called clerics who call upon people to harm innocents because they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim. It is time for a new compact among the civilized peoples of this world to eradicate war at its most fundamental source: the corruption of young minds by violent ideology.

That means cutting off the funding that fuels this hate. It’s time to end the hypocrisy of those who accumulate wealth through the global economy, and then siphon funds to those who teach children to tear it down.

That means contesting the space that terrorists occupy – including the Internet and social media. Their propaganda has coerced young people to travel abroad to fight their wars, and turned students into suicide bombers. We must offer an alternative vision.

That means bringing people of different faiths together. All religions have been attacked by extremists from within at some point, and all people of faith have a responsibility to lift up the value at the heart of all religion: do unto thy neighbor as you would have done unto you.

The ideology of ISIL or al Qaeda or Boko Haram will wilt and die if it is consistently exposed, confronted, and refuted in the light of day. Look at the new Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies – Sheikh bin Bayyah described its purpose: “We must declare war on war, so the outcome will be peace upon peace.” Look at the young British Muslims, who responded to terrorist propaganda by starting the “notinmyname” campaign, declaring – “ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam.” Look at the Christian and Muslim leaders who came together in the Central African Republic to reject violence – listen to the Imam who said, “Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war, or strife.”

Later today, the Security Council will adopt a resolution that underscores the responsibility of states to counter violent extremism. But resolutions must be followed by tangible commitments, so we’re accountable when we fall short.  Next year, we should all be prepared to announce the concrete steps that we have taken to counter extremist ideologies – by getting intolerance out of schools, stopping radicalization before it spreads, and promoting institutions and programs that build new bridges of understanding.

Third, we must address the cycle of conflict – especially sectarian conflict – that creates the conditions that terrorists prey upon.

There is nothing new about wars within religions. Christianity endured centuries of vicious sectarian conflict. Today, it is violence within Muslim communities that has become the source of so much human misery. It is time to acknowledge the destruction wrought by proxy wars and terror campaigns between Sunni and Shia across the Middle East. And it is time that political, civic and religious leaders reject sectarian strife. Let’s be clear: this is a fight that no one is winning. A brutal civil war in Syria has already killed nearly 200,000 people and displaced millions. Iraq has come perilously close to plunging back into the abyss. The conflict has created a fertile recruiting ground for terrorists who inevitably export this violence.

Yet, we also see signs that this tide could be reversed – a new, inclusive government in Baghdad; a new Iraqi Prime Minister welcomed by his neighbors; Lebanese factions rejecting those who try to provoke war. These steps must be followed by a broader truce. Nowhere is this more necessary than Syria. Together with our partners, America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime. But the only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political – an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed.

Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass. But there is no other way for this madness to end – whether one year from now or ten. Indeed, it’s time for a broader negotiation in which major powers address their differences directly, honestly, and peacefully across the table from one another, rather than through gun-wielding proxies. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort.

My fourth and final point is a simple one: the countries of the Arab and Muslim world must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people – especially the youth.

Here I’d like to speak directly to young people across the Muslim world. You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.

You have demonstrated that when young people have the tools to succeed –good schools; education in math and science; an economy that nurtures creativity and entrepreneurship – then societies will flourish. So America will partner with those who promote that vision.

Where women are full participants in a country’s politics or economy, societies are more likely to succeed.  That’s why we support the participation of women in parliaments and in peace processes; in schools and the economy.

If young people live in places where the only option is between the dictates of a state, or the lure of an extremist underground – no counter-terrorism strategy can succeed. But where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish – where people can express their views, and organize peacefully for a better life – then you dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.

Such positive change need not come at the expense of tradition and faith. We see this in Iraq, where a young man started a library for his peers. “We link Iraq’s heritage to their hearts,” he said, and “give them a reason to stay.” We see it in Tunisia, where secular and Islamist parties worked together through a political process to produce a new constitution. We see it in Senegal, where civil society thrives alongside a strong, democratic government. We see it in Malaysia, where vibrant entrepreneurship is propelling a former colony into the ranks of advanced economies. And we see it in Indonesia, where what began as a violent transition has evolved into a genuine democracy.

Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task – a task for the people of the Middle East themselves. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds. But America will be a respectful and constructive partner. We will neither tolerate terrorist safe-havens, nor act as an occupying power. Instead, we will take action against threats to our security – and our allies – while building an architecture of counter-terrorism cooperation. We will increase efforts to lift up those who counter extremist ideology, and seek to resolve sectarian conflict. And we will expand our programs to support entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – because, ultimately, these investments are the best antidote to violence.

Leadership will also be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long, it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable. We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza. So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security.

This is what America is prepared to do – taking action against immediate threats, while pursuing a world in which the need for such action is diminished. The United States will never shy away from defending our interests, but nor will we shrink from the promise of this institution and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the notion that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of a better life.

I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals; that America has plenty of problems within our own borders. This is true. In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri – where a young man was killed, and a community was divided. So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.

But we welcome the scrutiny of the world – because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems and make our union more perfect. America is not the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals, and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable, and insist on a free press and independent judiciary.  Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy – with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and countries for the better.

After nearly six years as President, I believe that this promise can help light the world. Because I’ve seen a longing for positive change – for peace and freedom and opportunity – in the eyes of young people I’ve met around the globe. They remind me that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what God you pray to, or who you love, there is something fundamental that we all share. Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the UN and America’s role in it, once asked, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,” she said, “close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.”

The people of the world look to us, here, to be as decent, as dignified, and as courageous as they are in their daily lives. And at this crossroads, I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done. We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come. Join us in this common mission, for today’s children and tomorrow’s.

 

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at NATO Summit Press Conference

Source: WH, 9-5-14

Celtic Manor Resort
Newport, Wales

4:50 P.M. BST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela Keane, Bloomberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Davis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last question.  Colleen Nelson, Wall Street Journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
5:15 P.M. BST

Full Text Obama Presidency September 3, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Joint Press Conference with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and President Ilves of Estonia in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 9-3-14

Bank of Estonia
Tallinn, Estonia

11:59 A.M. EEST

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Good morning.  To begin with, I’d like to welcome President Obama to Estonia.  It is a genuine pleasure and an honor to receive you right before the NATO Summit.  Your visit sends a strong message.  We are grateful to the United States and to you personally for your leadership, your commitment, and your support to Estonia.

To begin with, I also want to say that we are appalled by the latest news from Iraq.  We condemn these barbaric acts.  We see ISIS as a serious threat to all of us, and stand together with the United States and our allies on this issue.

The main issue on our agenda today is security.  The question on everyone’s mind is the situation in Ukraine and its wider impact on European security.  I just did hear that President Poroshenko and President Putin have agreed on a cease-fire.  I just hope it works.  But in the general situation, we need to be clear and consistent in the language that we use to describe the situation in Ukraine.

As the EU underlined last weekend, this is Russian aggression.  The EU and the United States are ready to take further restrictive measures in response to Russia’s behavior.  Russia must admit that it is a party to the conflict, and take genuine steps that will lead to a de-escalation of the conflict.  We must also continue to support Ukraine by providing the country with the assistance that it needs.

When it comes to the security of our region, the United States engagement here runs deep.  Estonia is a close and reliable ally to the United States.  We take our NATO commitment seriously — very seriously.  We have not sat back and waited for others to take care of our security.  Since joining the Alliance, Estonian soldiers have consistently defended the freedom of others — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and most recently in the Central African Republic.  We dedicate sufficient resources to defense, and are consistently increasing our national defense capacity.

We are grateful to the United States for sending troops here and for actively participating in the Baltic air policing mission.  Your presence underlies the credibility of NATO’s Article 5.  Without a doubt, your bilateral contributions have helped set an example for other NATO Allies.  A robust and visible Allied presence here in Estonia is the best way of discouraging any possible aggressors.  We look forward to the NATO Summit confirming this.

But we face a completely new security situation in Europe, and we are pleased that this is reflected in many of the summit’s documents.  We expect the NATO Summit in Wales to adopt the readiness action plan that will guide allied nations for years to come through a set of practical steps and measures of reassurance and deterrence.

In addition to our close defense cooperation, I am also pleased that our bilateral relations are strong in many, many other areas, including and especially cyber and energy security.

Globally, we are working together to promote our common values — democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  Estonia is a world leader in Internet freedom and in e-governance.  We have a liberal economy offering many exciting opportunities for increased trade, cooperation and investment.  And this is also one reason why we believe that T-TIP is a crucial, crucial effort on the part of both the European Union and the United States.

And let me once again welcome President Obama to Estonia, to Northern Europe, one of Europe’s most prosperous and successful regions.  Our countries share common values and interests, and I’m certain that together we can and will contribute to the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Tere Päevast.  To President Ilves — I want to thank you and the people of Estonia for welcoming me here today.  It is a great honor to be in Estonia, especially as we mark our 10th anniversary as NATO Allies.

Mr. President, thank you for being such an outstanding partner.  I was proud to welcome you to the White House last year, and we’ve spoken since on the situation in Ukraine.  Your life reflects the story of your nation — the son of refugees who returned home to help to chart a path for a free and democratic Estonia.  As many of you know, that long journey also took Toomas and his family to America, to New Jersey, where they still remember him as “Tom.”  And it was wonderful to meet your daughter today and find out she had gone back to New Jersey as well.  He says that he “knew Bruce Springsteen before he had his first record.”  So you embody the deep ties between Americans and Estonians.  I want to thank you for your friendship.

I’ve come here today because Estonia is one of the great success stories among the nations that reclaimed their independence after the Cold War.  You’ve built a vibrant democracy and new prosperity, and you’ve become a model for how citizens can interact with their government in the 21st century, something President Ilves has championed.  With their digital IDs, Estonians can use their smart phones to get just about anything done online — from their children’s grades to their health records.  I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health care website.

Most of all, I’m here because Estonia has been a model ally.  Estonian forces have served with courage and skill in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we honor our servicemembers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, including nine brave Estonians.  As NATO nears the end of our combat mission in three months, I want to thank Estonia for the commitments you have made to help sustain Afghan security forces going forward.

As a high-tech leader, Estonia is also playing a leading role in protecting NATO from cyber threats.  Estonia contributes its full share — its full 2 percent of GDP — to the defense of our Alliance.  In other words, Estonia meets its responsibilities.  And as we head into the NATO Summit in Wales, Estonia is an example of how every NATO member needs to do its fair share for our collective defense.

So I’ve come here, first and foremost, to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the security of Estonia.  As NATO Allies, we have Article 5 duties to our collective defense.  That is a commitment that is unbreakable.  It is unwavering.  It is eternal.  And Estonia will never stand alone.

As President, I’ve made sure that we are fulfilling that promise.  Early in my presidency, I urged our Alliance to update our contingency planning for the defense of this region, and additional NATO forces began rotating through the Baltics, including Estonia, for more training and exercises.  In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine earlier this year, the United States increased our presence further.  We have contributed additional aircraft to the Baltic air policing mission — a mission to which 14 other NATO Allies have also contributed over the past decade.  And we’re now continuously rotating additional personnel and aircraft through the Baltics.  I look forward to joining Prime Minister Rõivas in thanking our servicemembers later today.

On my visit to Warsaw this spring, I announced a new initiative to bolster the American military presence here in Europe, including in the Baltics, and we’re working with Congress to make sure that we deliver.  Today, I can announce that this initiative will include additional air force units and aircraft for training exercises here in the Nordic-Baltic region.  And we agree with our Estonian allies that an ideal location to host and support these exercises would be Amari Air Base here in Estonia.  With the support of Congress and our Estonian friends, I’m confident that we can make this happen.  And I look forward to discussing this further when we meet with Presidents Bērziņš and Grybauskaitė this afternoon.

As President Ilves indicated, we spend a great deal of time on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  I’ll have much more to say about this in my speech today.  For now, I just want to commend Estonia — including President Ilves — for being such a strong voice both in NATO and the EU on behalf of the Ukrainian people.  Estonia has provided assistance as Ukrainians work to strengthen their democratic institutions and reform their economy.  And because we’ve stood together, Russia is paying a heavy price for its actions, and NATO is poised to do more to help Ukraine strengthen its forces and defend their country.

And more broadly, I want to commend Estonia for being such a strong leader beyond NATO.  Whether it’s contributing forces to the EU mission in the Central African Republic or supporting relief efforts for the Syrian people, helping nations like Tunisia in their own transition to democracy or standing up for Internet freedom and human rights, this nation of 1.3 million people, as we say, truly punches above its weight.  The world is better for it, and it’s yet another reason why the United States will always be proud to stand with our ally, Estonia.

Finally, I want to say that today the prayers of the American people are with the family of a devoted and courageous journalist, Steven Sotloff.  Overnight, our government determined that, tragically, Steven was taken from us in a horrific act of violence.  We cannot even begin to imagine the agony that everyone who loved Steven is feeling right now, especially his mother, his father and his younger sister.  So today, our country grieves with them.

Like Jim Foley before him, Steve’s life stood in sharp contrast to those who have murdered him so brutally.  They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world.  His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East, risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity.

Whatever these murderers think they’ll achieve by killing innocent Americans like Steven, they have already failed.  They have failed because, like people around the world, Americans are repulsed by their barbarism.  We will not be intimidated.  Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists.  And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.

Mr. President.

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Well, I thought we could open things up for some questions, I understand two from Estonian journalists and two from President Obama’s entourage.  As the host, I’ll give the first opportunity to one of our tough questioners, Aarne Rannamäe.

Q    Yes, thank you.  Aarne Rannamäe, Estonian Public Broadcasting.  I have the same question to both presidents.  The partnership between Russia and NATO is not the same, as we all know.  Why to keep actually it alive, the agreement signed in 1997 between Russia and NATO?  Perhaps it would push or give some new opportunities to our region’s security in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Well, from our side, first of all, NATO did decide to freeze its relations with Russia several months ago.  But on the issue in terms of what is the — what are the implications of the NATO-Russia Founding Act, I suggest all those who say we can’t do anything because of the NATO-Russia Founding Act read the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which says that these conditions hold — to quote — “in the current and foreseeable” future, or “the security environment of the current and foreseeable” future.  That was the security environment of 1997, when Boris Yeltsin was President, and there had been no violations of either the U.N. Charter or the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the 1990 Paris Charter.

So I would argue this is an unforeseen and new security environment, and therefore one has to hold on to certain provisions.  It does not mean we have to give up the whole act, but certainly when an agreement in certain parts no longer holds, well, then it’s time to make a change.

I mean, the NATO-Russia Founding Act has been violated by Russia.  We continue to support the vision of that document, but its substance has changed dramatically, and I am confident that all of NATO’s actions are and will be conducted in accordance with its international commitments as an alliance.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  The circumstances clearly have changed.  And I think this will be a topic of discussion in Wales.  Beyond the issue of that particular document, our top priority has been to make sure that there is no ambiguity when it comes to our Article 5 commitments to our NATO Allies.  And as a consequence of the rotations that have been increased, the presence of U.S. troops in the course of those rotations and additional NATO Allies, what we want to send a clear message to everyone is, is that we take those commitments seriously.

And I think what’s going to be clear during the course of this summit is that, given the changed landscape, not only do we have to make sure that these rotations are effective and designed towards current threats, but more broadly, NATO has to look at its defense capabilities as a whole and make sure that they are updated and properly resourced.  For I think a certain period of time there was a complacency here in Europe about the demands that were required to make sure that NATO was able to function effectively.  My former Secretary of Defense I think came here and gave some fairly sharp speeches repeatedly about the need for making certain that every NATO member was doing its fair share.  I think Secretary General Rasmussen, during the course of his tenure, continually emphasized the need for us to upgrade our joint capabilities.

And obviously what’s happened in Ukraine is tragic, but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that’s necessary to make sure that our NATO commitments are met.  And that’s one of the reasons that I’m here in Estonia today.

I’m going to call on Ann Compton.  Ann is on her farewell tour.

Q    Thank you very much, Mr. President.  Now that you say a second American has been slain, what is your response?  Will airstrikes continue inside Iraq?  Might they expand into Syria?  Will you have a full strategy now on ISIS which will satisfy those like Prime Minister Cameron, who call it an imminent threat to all the interests?  And will it satisfy some of your supporters like Senator Feinstein who fears that on this you may have been too cautious?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, keep in mind that from the outset, the moment that ISIS went into Mosul, we were very clear that this was a very serious threat not just to Iraq but to the region and to U.S. interests.  And so we’ve been putting forward a strategy since that time that was designed to do a number of things.  Number one, to make sure that Americans were protected in Iraq, in our embassies, in our consulates.  Number two, that we worked with Iraqis to create a functioning government that was inclusive and that could serve as the basis for Iraq to begin to go on the offensive.

And the airstrikes that we’ve conducted in support of protecting Americans conducting humanitarian missions and providing space for the Iraqi government to form have borne fruit.  We’ve seen that in Sinjar Mountain.  We’ve seen it most recently in the town of Amerli, which heroically held out against a siege by ISIL.  We’re seeing progress in the formation of an inclusive Sunni-Shia-Kurd central government.  And so what we’ve seen is the strategy that we’ve laid out moving effectively.

But what I’ve said from the start is, is that this is not going to be a one-week or one-month or six-month proposition.  Because of what’s happened in the vacuum of Syria, as well as the battle-hardened elements of ISIS that grew out of al Qaeda in Iraq during the course of the Iraq war, it’s going to take time for us to be able to roll them back.  And it is going to take time for us to be able to form the regional coalition that’s going to be required so that we can reach out to Sunni tribes in some of the areas that ISIS has occupied, and make sure that we have allies on the ground in combination with the airstrikes that we’ve already conducted.

So the bottom line is this:  Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy ISIL so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States.  In order for us to accomplish that, the first phase has been to make sure that we’ve got an Iraqi government that’s in place and that we are blunting the momentum that ISIL was carrying out.  And the airstrikes have done that.

But now what we need to do is make sure that we’ve got the regional strategy in place that can support an ongoing effort — not just in the air but on the ground — to move that forward.

And last week when this question was asked, I was specifically referring to the possibility of the military strategy inside of Syria that might require congressional approval.  It is very important from my perspective that when we send our pilots in to do a job, that we know that this is a mission that’s going to work, that we’re very clear on what our objectives are, what our targets are; we’ve made the case to Congress and we’ve made the case to the American people; and we’ve got allies behind us so that it’s not just a one-off, but it’s something that over time is going to be effective.

And so the bottom line is this, Ann — it’s not only that we’re going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men.  More broadly, the United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision that ISIL represents.  And that’s going to take some time, but we’re going to get it done.  I’m very confident of it.

Q    Did you just say that the strategy is to destroy ISIS, or to simply contain them or push them back?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Our objective is to make sure that ISIL is not an ongoing threat to the region.  And we can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time and it’s going to take some effort. As we’ve seen with al Qaeda, there are always going to be remnants that can cause havoc of any of these networks, in part because of the nature of terrorist activities.  You get a few individuals, and they may be able to carry out a terrorist act.

But what we can do is to make sure that the kind of systemic and broad-based aggression that we’ve seen out of ISIL that terrorizes primarily Muslims, Shia, Sunni — terrorizes Kurds, terrorizes not just Iraqis, but people throughout the region, that that is degraded to the point where it is no longer the kind of factor that we’ve seen it being over the last several months.

Q    Argo Ideon.  Estonian daily newspaper, Postimees.  My question is also for both presidents.  Ukraine is facing a difficult time, and the situation on the ground may become even more complicated in the run-up to the parliamentary elections there in October.  In your view, what more could be done and should be done to support Ukraine politically, economically, and also from a security point of view?  What do you think about the idea of providing Ukrainian armed forces with weapons to counter Russia’s attack in the east of the country more effectively?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT ILVES:  Well, most importantly, Ukraine needs above all continued political support.  And from that support comes decisions that involve everything else — economic aid, humanitarian aid, and also military aid.  And from that come also decisions on equipment.

In Wales, the NATO-Ukraine committee will gather and will decide how to increase NATO defense cooperation with Ukraine.  This is the kind of decision that we in NATO take together.  On the humanitarian side, we have doubled our humanitarian and development assistance in looking for what more we can do.  We have already brought wounded, seriously wounded Ukrainian soldiers to our top-notch rehabilitation center here and will continue to do so.  That is certainly one thing that is — we know the Ukrainians lack that and we have it at a superbly high level, and also, I should add quickly, that with the assistance with the United States and the Walter Reed Hospital that we have this here.

The next couple of months leading up to the parliamentary elections will be very tricky.  Russia, I predict, will do everything in its power to undermine the elections.  We saw this already in the case of the presidential elections.  It will try to destabilize the government in Kyiv, and to keep Ukraine forces from regaining ground in the east.  So we should be prepared for a tough several — or a month, month and a half.  The next government, of course, that will be then will have the full legitimacy that comes with the new parliamentary elections — must show that it is a clear and better alternative to the one that the people of Ukraine ousted half a year ago.

And I also see that making sure — ensuring that the elections are carried out in a free and fair manner will be a topmost priority for us, for the OSCE.  And I think one of the issues should be, in fact, the kind of interference that we saw in the presidential elections, that not be allowed or be fully addressed and recognized by the monitoring of the elections.  I think that we all — after especially the presidential elections, we all know what the Russian forces can do to disrupt the democratic process.  And I think we should be far better prepared to document all of that when we get to the elections.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Political support is absolutely vital.  And one of our goals at the summit over the next several days is to once again project unity across NATO on behalf of Ukraine’s efforts to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The sanctions that we’ve applied so far have had a real effect on Russia.  And I think it’s important for us to continue to impose costs on Russia so long as it is violating basic principles of international law.  And so far at least we’ve been able to combine efforts between Europe and the United States and some of our allies around the world, and the results are a Russian economy that is effectively contracting, capital flight putting a burden on the Russian economy that at the moment may be overridden by politics inside of Russia as a consequence of state-run propaganda, but over time will point to the fact that this is a strategy that’s not serving Russia well, in addition to not serving Ukraine, obviously, well.

Beyond that, the Ukrainian economy is something that we have been paying a lot of attention to.  We helped work with the IMF to ensure that Ukraine had the resources to get through some of the emergency financing issues that they had to deal with, but we’re going to have more work to do.

The military efforts that have been required to deal with Russian-financed, Russian-armed, Russian-trained, Russian-supported and often Russian-directed separatists has meant that — has meant a drain on the Ukrainian economy, not to mention the fact that you have major industrial areas inside of Ukraine that obviously have been impacted by the conflict there.

So we’re going to have to make sure that the international community stands behind the Ukrainian economy in the short term, even as we encourage and advise and work with Ukraine to carry out some of the basic reforms that are going to be required in order for them to achieve the kinds of models of success that we’ve seen in Estonia and Poland and other places.  And that’s a tough row to hoe.  It took a couple of decades for some of the countries who are currently in the EU to achieve the sort of market-based reforms that have led to such great prosperity.

Ukraine is not going to be able to do that overnight, but we have to make sure that we are helping build a bridge towards that new future.  And if we combine those efforts with a commitment to continuing the NATO-Ukraine military relationship — they are not a member of NATO, but we have consistently worked with their military in terms of training and support — then I think that not only will Ukraine feel that in words we are behind them, but they’ll see that in deed we are working with them, as well.

Steve Holland of Reuters.

Q    Thank you, sir.  Just following up on Ann — will you have this military strategy on ISIS ready for discussion with NATO allies this week?  And in your view, what should NATO be prepared to do to take on Islamic State?  Lastly, how much stock do you put in this reported cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia?  How do you assess Putin’s motives?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  It’s too early to tell what this cease-fire means.  We haven’t seen any details; we’ve just seen a couple of wire reports.  We have consistently supported the effort of President Poroshenko to achieve a meaningful cease-fire that could lead to a political settlement of the conflict.

So far, it hasn’t held, either because Russia has not been serious about it or has pretended that it’s not controlling the separatists; and the separatists, when they’ve thought it was to their advantage, have not abided by the cease-fire.  So we haven’t seen a lot of follow-up on so-called announced cease-fires.

Having said that, if, in fact, Russia is prepared to stop financing, arming, training — in many cases joining with Russian troops — activities in Ukraine, and is serious about a political settlement, that is something that we all hope for.

I’ve said consistently our preference is a strong, productive, cooperative Russia.  But the way to achieve that is by abiding to international norms, to improving the economy, to focusing on how they can actually produce goods and services that other people want and give opportunity to their people and educate them.  That’s not the path that they’ve been pursuing over the last several years.  It’s certainly not in evidence when it comes to their strategy in Ukraine.

I’ll leave it up to others to interpret Mr. Putin’s psychology on this.  But in terms of actions, what we’ve seen is aggression and appeals to nationalist sentiments that have historically been very dangerous in Europe and are rightly a cause of concern.

So there’s an opportunity here.  Let’s see if there’s follow-up.  In my discussions with President Poroshenko I’ve consistently said that he needs to follow up on the kinds of reforms that he proposed so that eastern Ukraine feels as if it is fairly represented and that Russian-language speakers are protected against discrimination.  These are all things that are part of this platform.  We encourage them to move forward.  But no realistic political settlement can be achieved if effectively Russia says we are going to continue to send tanks and troops and arms and advisors under the guise of separatists who are not homegrown, and the only possible settlement is if Ukraine cedes its territory or its sovereignty or its ability to make its own decisions about its security and its economic future.

With respect to Iraq, we will be discussing this topic.  Even before ISIL dominated the headlines, one of the concerns that we have had is the development of terrorist networks and organizations, separate and apart from al Qaeda, whose focus oftentimes is regional and who are combining terrorist tactics with the tactics of small armies.  And we’ve seen ISIS to be the first one that has broken through, but we anticipated this awhile back and it was reflected in my West Point speech.

So one of our goals is to get NATO to work with us to help create the kinds of partnerships regionally that can combat not just ISIL, but these kinds of networks as they arise and potentially destabilize allies and partners of ours in the region.

Already we’ve seen NATO countries recognize the severity of this problem, that it is going to be a long-run problem.  Immediately, they’ve dedicated resources to help us with humanitarian airdrops, to provide arms to the Peshmerga and to the Iraqi security forces.  And we welcome those efforts.  What we hope to do at the NATO Summit is to make sure that we are more systematic about how we do it, that we’re more focused about how we do it.

NATO is unique in the annals of history as a successful alliance.  But we have to recognize that threats evolve, and threats have evolved as a consequence of what we’ve seen in Ukraine, but threats are also evolving in the Middle East that have a direct effect on Europe.

And to go back to what I said earlier to Ann, we know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem.  And the question is going to be making sure we’ve got the right strategy, but also making sure that we’ve got the international will to do it.  This is something that is a continuation of a problem we’ve seen certainly since 9/11, but before.  And it continues to metastasize in different ways.

And what we’ve got to do is make sure that we are organizing the Arab world, the Middle East, the Muslim world along with the international community to isolate this cancer, this particular brand of extremism that is, first and foremost, destructive to the Muslim world and the Arab world and North Africa, and the people who live there.  They’re the ones who are most severely affected.  They’re the ones who are constantly under threat of being killed.  They’re the ones whose economies are completely upended to the point where they can’t produce their own food and they can’t produce the kinds of goods and services to sell in the world marketplace.  And they’re falling behind because of this very small and narrow, but very dangerous, segment of the population.  And we’ve got to combat it in a sustained, effective way.  And I’m confident we’re going to be able to do that.

Thank you very much.  I appreciate it, Mr. President.

END

12:39 P.M. EEST

Full Text Obama Presidency August 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement and Press Conference updating on Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and the Economy

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-28-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:09 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to say a few words on a number of topics and take a few questions before the long Labor Day weekend.

First, beginning with the number one thing most Americans care about — the economy.  This morning, we found out that our economy actually grew at a stronger clip in the 2nd quarter than we originally thought.  Companies are investing.  Consumers are spending.  Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have now created nearly 10 million new jobs.  So there are reasons to feel good about the direction we’re headed.

But as everybody knows, there’s a lot more that we should be doing to make sure that all Americans benefit from the progress that we’ve made.  And I’m going to be pushing Congress hard on this when they return next week.

Second, in Iraq, our dedicated pilots and crews continue to carry out the targeted strikes that I authorized to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will always do what is necessary to protect the American people and defend against evolving threats to our homeland.  Because of our strikes, the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment.  In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back.

And we continue to be proud and grateful to our extraordinary personnel serving in this mission.

Now, ISIL poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region.  And that’s why our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL.  And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress that they’ve made so far and forming an inclusive government that will unite their country and strengthen their security forces to confront ISIL.

Any successful strategy, though, also needs strong regional partners.  I’m encouraged so far that countries in the region — countries that don’t always agree on many things — increasingly recognize the primacy of the threat that ISIL poses to all of them.  And I’ve asked Secretary Kerry to travel to the region to continue to build the coalition that’s needed to meet this threat.  As I’ve said, rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can — and we will — working closely with our allies and our partners.

For our part, I’ve directed Secretary Hagel and our Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options.  I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy.  And I’ve been consulting with members of Congress and I’ll continue to do so in the days ahead.

Finally, I just spoke with Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the situation in Ukraine.  We agree — if there was ever any doubt — that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine.  The violence is encouraged by Russia.  The separatists are trained by Russia.  They are armed by Russia.  They are funded by Russia.  Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  And the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see.  This comes as Ukrainian forces are making progress against the separatists.

As a result of the actions Russia has already taken, and the major sanctions we’ve imposed with our European and international partners, Russia is already more isolated than at any time since the end of the Cold War.  Capital is fleeing.  Investors are increasingly staying out.  Its economy is in decline.  And this ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia.

Next week, I’ll be in Europe to coordinate with our closest allies and partners.  In Estonia, I will reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the defense of our NATO allies.

At the NATO Summit in the United Kingdom, we’ll focus on the additional steps we can take to ensure the Alliance remains prepared for any challenge.  Our meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission will be another opportunity for our alliance to continue our partnership with Ukraine.  And I look forward to reaffirming the unwavering commitment of the United States to Ukraine and its people when I welcome President Poroshenko to the White House next month.

So with that, I’m going to take a few questions.  And I’m going to start with somebody who I guess is now a big cheese — he’s moved on.  But I understand this is going to be his last chance to ask me a question in the press room.  So I want to congratulate Chuck Todd and give him first dibs.

Q    I’m glad you said “in the press room.”  Let me start with Syria.  The decision that you have to make between — first of all, is it a “if” or “when” situation about going after ISIL in Syria?  Can you defeat ISIL or ISIS without going after them in Syria?  And then how do you prioritize?  You have said that Assad has lost legitimacy to lead.  Defeating ISIS could help Assad keep power.  Talk about how you prioritize those two pieces of your foreign policy.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I want to make sure everybody is clear on what we’re doing now, because it is limited.  Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq; to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected.

Where we see an opportunity that allows us with very modest risk to help the humanitarian situation there as we did in Sinjar Mountain, we will take those opportunities after having consulted with Congress.  But our core priority right now is just to make sure that our folks are safe and to do an effective assessment of Iraqi and Kurdish capabilities.

As I said I think in the last press conference, in order for us to be successful, we’ve got to have an Iraqi government that is unified and inclusive.  So we are continuing to push them to get that job done.  As soon as we have an Iraqi government in place, the likelihood of the Iraqi security forces being more effective in taking the fight to ISIL significantly increases.  And the options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq.

What is true, though, is that the violence that’s been taking place in Syria has obviously given ISIL a safe haven there in ungoverned spaces.  And in order for us to degrade ISIL over the long term, we’re going to have to build a regional strategy.  Now, we’re not going to do that alone.  We’re going to have to do that with other partners, and particularly Sunni partners, because part of the goal here is to make sure that Sunnis both in Syria and in Iraq feel as if they’ve got an investment in a government that actually functions, a government that can protect them, a government that makes sure that their families are safe from the barbaric acts that we’ve seen in ISIL.  And right now, those structures are not in place.

And that’s why the issue with respect to Syria is not simply a military issue, it’s also a political issue.  It’s also an issue that involves all the Sunni states in the region and Sunni leadership recognizing that this cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are.

And so to cut to the chase in terms of what may be your specific concerns, Chuck, my priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back, and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself.

But when we look at a broader strategy that is consistent with what I said at West Point, that’s consistent with what I said at the National Defense College, clearly ISIL has come to represent the very worst elements in the region that we have to deal with collectively.  And that’s going to be a long-term project.  It’s going to require us to stabilize Syria in some fashion, and stabilizing Syria in some fashion means that we’ve got to get moderate Sunnis who are able to govern and offer a real alternative and competition to what ISIL has been doing in some of these spaces.

Now, the last point with respect to Assad, it’s not just my opinion — I think it would be international opinion — that Assad has lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people.  And right now, what we’re seeing is the areas that ISIL is occupying are not controlled by Assad anyway.  And, frankly, Assad doesn’t seem to have the capability or reach to get into those areas.  So I don’t think this is a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we’ve been seeing there.  We will continue to support a moderate opposition inside of Syria, in part because we have to give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad.

And I don’t see any scenario in which Assad somehow is able to bring peace and stability to a region that is majority Sunni and has not so far shown any willingness to share power with them or in any kind of significant way deal with the longstanding grievances that they have there.

Q    Do you need Congress’s approval to go into Syria?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have consulted with Congress throughout this process.  I am confident that as Commander-in-Chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently.  As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress.  And I do think that it will be important for Congress to weigh in, or that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.

But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  We don’t have a strategy yet.  I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are.  And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well.  We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them.  At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.  But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you consider today’s escalation in Ukraine an invasion?  And when you talk about additional costs to Russia, are you ready at this point to impose broader economic sanctions?  Or are you considering other responses that go beyond sanctions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.  As I said in my opening statement, there is no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine.  The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia.  Throughout this process, we’ve seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they’ve done.

I think in part because of the progress that you had seen by the Ukrainians around Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia determined that it had to be a little more overt in what it had already been doing.  But it’s not really a shift.

What we have seen, though, is that President Putin and Russia have repeatedly passed by potential off-ramps to resolve this diplomatically.  And so in our consultations with our European allies and partners, my expectation is, is that we will take additional steps primarily because we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to actually try to resolve this in diplomatic fashion.

And I think that the sanctions that we’ve already applied have been effective.  Our intelligence shows that the Russians know they’ve been effective, even though it may not appear on Russian television.  And I think there are ways for us to deepen or expand the scope of some of that work.

But ultimately, I think what’s important to recognize is the degree to which Russian decision-making is isolating Russia.  They’re doing this to themselves.  And what I’ve been encouraged by is the degree to which our European partners recognize even though they are bearing a cost in implementing these sanctions, they understand that a broader principle is at stake.  And so I look forward to the consultations that we’ll have when I see them next week.

Zeke Miller.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last year, you said that you believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress.  In response to Chuck’s question you said you don’t have a strategy yet, but you’ll reconsider that going forward.  But why didn’t you go to Congress before this current round of strikes in Iraq?  Do you not believe that that’s the case anymore, what you said last year?  And throughout your career you’ve also said that — you raised concerns with the expansion of powers of the executive.  Are you concerned that your recent actions, unilaterally, had maybe — have cut against that?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  And here’s why:  It is not just part of my responsibility, but it is a sacred duty for me as Commander-in-Chief to protect the American people.  And that requires me to act fast, based on information I receive, if an embassy of ours or a consulate of ours is being threatened.  The decisions I made were based on very concrete assessments about the possibility that Erbil might be overrun in the Kurdish region and that our consulate could be in danger.  And I can’t afford to wait in order to make sure that those folks are protected.

But throughout this process, we’ve consulted closely with Congress, and the feedback I’ve gotten from Congress is, is that we’re doing the right thing.  Now, as we go forward — as I’ve described to Chuck — and look at a broader regional strategy with an international coalition and partners to systematically degrade ISIL’s capacity to engage in the terrible violence and disruptions that they’ve been engaging in not just in Syria, not just in Iraq, but potentially elsewhere if we don’t nip this at the bud, then those consultations with Congress for something that is longer term I think become more relevant.

And it is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people.  And, by the way, the American people need to hear what that strategy is.  But as I said to Chuck, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.  And in some of the media reports the suggestion seems to have been that we’re about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL, and the suggestion, I guess, has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress — still out of town — is going to be left in the dark.  That’s not what’s going to happen.

We are going to continue to focus on protecting the American people.  We’re going to continue, where we can, to engage in the sort of humanitarian acts that saved so many folks who were trapped on a mountain.  We are going to work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region.  And we’re going to cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy.  There will be a military aspect to that, and it’s going to be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money.

I’ll just take a couple more.  Yes.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you regret not moving on ISIS earlier?  There are some reports indicating that most of the weapons, the U.S. weapons that they have, they got it or they acquired it after the fall of Mosul.  And also, the Iraqi President said today that the Iraqi forces are in no position to stand up to ISIS.  What makes you think that forming a new government will change the situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, once ISIL got into Mosul that posed a big problem, because there’s no doubt that they were able to capture some weapons and resources that they then used to finance additional operations.

And at that stage, we immediately contacted the Iraqi government.  Keep in mind we had been in communications with the Iraqi government for more than a year indicating that we saw significant problems in the Sunni areas.  Prime Minister Maliki was not as responsive perhaps as we would have liked to some of the underlying political grievances that existed at the time.

There is no doubt that in order for Iraq security forces to be successful, they’re going to need help.  They’re going to need help from us.  They’re going to need help from our international partners.  They’re going to need additional training.  They’re going to need additional equipment.  And we are going to be prepared to offer that support.

There may be a role for an international coalition providing additional air support for their operations.  But the reason it’s so important that an Iraqi government be in place is this is not simply a military problem.  The problem we have had consistently is a Sunni population that feels alienated from Baghdad and does not feel invested in what’s happening, and does not feel as if anybody is looking out for them.

If we can get a government in place that provides Sunnis some hope that a national government serves their interest, if they can regain some confidence and trust that it will follow through on commitments that were made way back in 2006 and 2007 and 2008 and earlier about how you arrive at, for example, de-Baathification laws and give people opportunities so they’re not locked out of government positions — if those things are followed through on, and we are able to combine it with a sound military strategy, then I think we can be successful.  If we can’t, then the idea that the United States or any outside power would perpetually defeat ISIS I think is unrealistic.

As I’ve said before — I think I said in the previous press conference — our military is the best in the world.  We can route ISIS on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily.  But then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again.  So we’ve got to make sure that Iraqis understand in the end they’re going to be responsible for their own security.  And part of that is going to be the capacity for them to make compromises.

It also means that states in the region stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups.  The truth is that we’ve had state actors who at times have thought that the way to advance their interests is, well, financing some of these groups as proxies is not such a bad strategy.  And part of our message to the entire region is this should be a wake-up call to Sunni,to Shia — to everybody — that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.  And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out.

Last question.

Q    Mr. President, despite all of the actions the West has taken to get Russia to pull back from Ukraine, Russia seems intent on taking one step after another — convoys, transports of arms.  At what point do sanctions no longer work?  Would you envisage the possibility of a necessity of military action to get Russia to pull back from Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem.  What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia.  But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.  Now, the fact that Russia has taken these actions in violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainians has resulted, I believe, in a weakening of Russia, not a strengthening of Russia.  That may not be apparent immediately, but I think it will become increasingly apparent.

What it’s also done is isolated Russia from its trading partners, its commercial partners, international business in ways that I think are going to be very difficult to recover from.  And we will continue to stand firm with our allies and partners that what is happening is wrong, that there is a solution that allows Ukraine and Russia to live peacefully.  But it is not in the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region.

Keep in mind, however, that I’m about to go to a NATO conference.  Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but a number of those states that are close by are.  And we take our Article 5 commitments to defend each other very seriously, and that includes the smallest NATO member, as well as the largest NATO member.  And so part of the reason I think this NATO meeting is going to be so important is to refocus attention on the critical function that NATO plays to make sure that every country is contributing in order to deliver on the promise of our Article 5 assurances.

Part of the reason I’ll be going to Estonia is to let the Estonians know that we mean what we say with respect to our treaty obligations.  We don’t have those treaty obligations with Ukraine.  We do, however, stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and we’re doing not just a lot of work diplomatically but also financially in order to make sure that they have the best chance at dealing with what is admittedly a very difficult situation.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Q    On immigration?

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, guys.  Thank you.

Q    Immigration?

Q    Mr. President, how are external events and your executive decision-making going to impact your decision on immigration reform?  Some people say you’re going to delay this.

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me just say this:  I’ve been very clear about the fact that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed.  And my preference continues to be that Congress act.  I don’t think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections they may act.

In the meantime, what I’ve asked Jeh Johnson to do is to look at what kinds of executive authorities we have in order to make the system work better.  And we’ve had a lot of stakeholder discussions; that set of proposals is being worked up.

And the one thing that I think has happened was the issue with unaccompanied children that got so much attention a couple of months back.  And part of the reason that was important was not because that represented a huge unprecedented surge in overall immigration at the border, but I do think that it changed the perception of the American people about what’s happening at the borders.

And so one of the things we’ve had — have had to do is to work through systematically to make sure that that specific problem in a fairly defined area of the border, that we’re starting to deal with that in a serious way.  And the good news is we’ve started to make some progress.  I mean, what we’ve seen so far is that throughout the summer the number of apprehensions have been decreasing — maybe that’s counterintuitive, but that’s a good thing because that means that fewer folks are coming across.  The number of apprehensions in August are down from July, and they’re actually lower than they were August of last year.  Apprehensions in July were half of what they were in June.  So we’re seeing a significant downward trend in terms of these unaccompanied children.

And what that I think allows us to do is to make sure that those kids are being taken care of properly, with due process.  At the same time, it’s allowed us to then engage in a broader conversation about what we need to do to get more resources down at the border.  It would have been helped along if Congress had voted for the supplemental that I asked for; they did not.  That means we’ve got to make some administrative choices and executive choices about, for example, getting more immigration judges down there.

So that has kept us busy, but it has not stopped the process of looking more broadly about how do we get a smarter immigration system in place while we’re waiting for Congress to act.  And it continues to be my belief that if I can’t see congressional action, that I need to do at least what I can in order to make the system work better.

But some of these things do affect timelines, and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done.  But have no doubt, in the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better.

Thank you, guys.
END 4:39 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 29, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Ukraine

Source: WH, 7- 29-14

South Lawn

3:39 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.

In the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, and countries around the world, families are still in shock over the sudden and tragic loss of nearly 300 loved ones senselessly killed when their civilian airliner was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.  These grieving families and their nations are our friends and our allies.  And amid our prayers and our outrage, the United States continues to do everything in our power to help bring home their loved ones, support the international investigation, and make sure justice is done.

Since the shoot-down, however, Russia and its proxies in Ukraine have failed to cooperate with the investigation and to take the opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine.  These Russian-backed separatists have continued to interfere in the crash investigation and to tamper with the evidence.  They have continued to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft in the region.  And because of their actions, scores of Ukrainian civilians continue to die needlessly every day.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to support the separatists and encourage them, and train them, and arm them.  Satellite images, along with information we’ve declassified in recent days, show that forces inside Russia have launched artillery strikes into Ukraine — another major violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  And we have information that Russia continues to build up its own forces near the Ukrainian border and that more Russian military equipment, including artillery, armored vehicles, and air defense equipment, has been transferred across the border to these separatists.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has worked to build a strong international coalition to support Ukraine, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its right to determine its own destiny, and to increase the pressure on Russia for actions that have undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and ability to make its own decisions.  The core of that coalition is the United States and our European allies.

In recent days, I’ve continued to coordinate closely with our allies and our partners to ensure a unified response to the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and Russia’s continued arming of the separatists.  And I’ve spoken several times with Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands and Prime Minister Abbott of Australia.

Yesterday, I had a chance to speak with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy. We are united in our view that the situation in Ukraine ought to be resolved diplomatically and that a sovereign, independent Ukraine is no threat to Russian interests.  But we’ve also made it clear, as I have many times, that if Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow.  And today is a reminder that the United States means what it says.  And we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world.

Today, and building on the measures we announced two weeks ago, the United States is imposing new sanctions in key sectors of the Russian economy:  energy, arms, and finance.  We’re blocking the exports of specific goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector.  We’re expanding our sanctions to more Russian banks and defense companies.  And we’re formally suspending credit that encourages exports to Russia and financing for economic development projects in Russia.

At the same time, the European Union is joining us in imposing major sanctions on Russia — its most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date.  In the financial sector, the EU is cutting off certain financing to state-owned banks in Russia. In the energy sector, the EU will stop exporting specific goods and technologies to Russia, which will make it more difficult for Russia to develop its oil resources over the long term.  In the defense sector, the EU is prohibiting new arms imports and exports and is halting the export of sensitive technology to Russia’s military users.

And because we’re closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we’re announcing today will have an even bigger bite.

Now, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the sanctions that we’ve already imposed have made a weak Russian economy even weaker.  Foreign investors already are increasingly staying away. Even before our actions today, nearly $100 billion in capital was expected to flee Russia.  Russia’s energy, financial, and defense sectors are feeling the pain.  Projections for Russian economic growth are down to near zero.  The major sanctions we’re announcing today will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, including the cronies and companies that are supporting Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine.

In other words, today, Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress.  And it doesn’t have to come to this — it didn’t have to come to this.  It does not have to be this way.  This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made. There continues to be a better choice — the choice of de-escalation, the choice of joining the world in a diplomatic solution to this situation, a choice in which Russia recognizes that it can be a good neighbor and trading partner with Ukraine even as Ukraine is also developing ties with Europe and other parts of the world.

I’m going to continue to engage President Putin as well as President Poroshenko and our European partners in pursuit of such a diplomatic solution.  But it is important for Russia to understand that, meanwhile, we will continue to support the people of Ukraine, who have elected a new President, who have deepened their ties with Europe and the United States, and that the path for a peaceful resolution to this crisis involves recognizing the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, and the independence of the Ukrainian people.

Today, the people of Ukraine I hope are seeing once again that the United States keeps its word.  We’re going to continue to lead the international community in our support for the Ukrainian people, and for the peace, the security, and the freedom that they very richly deserve.

Thanks very much.

Q    Is this a new Cold War, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, it’s not a new Cold War.  What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.

And I think that if you listen to President Poroshenko, if you listen to the Ukrainian people, they’ve consistently said they seek good relations with Russia.  What they can’t accept is Russia arming separatists who are carrying out terribly destructive activities inside of Ukraine, thereby undermining the ability of Ukraine to govern itself peacefully.  That’s something that no country should have to accept.

And the sooner the Russians recognize that the best chance for them to have influence inside of Ukraine is by being good neighbors and maintaining trade and commerce, rather than trying to dictate what the Ukrainian people can aspire to, rendering Ukraine a vassal state to Russia — the sooner that President Putin and Russia recognizes that, the sooner we can resolve this crisis in ways that doesn’t result in the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine.

Q    So far sanctions haven’t stopped Vladimir Putin.  Are sanctions going to be enough?  And are you considering lethal aid for Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind, the issue at this point is not the Ukrainian capacity to outfight separatists.  They are better armed than the separatists.  The issue is how do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine.  We’re trying to avoid that.  And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.

The fact that we’ve seen Europeans who have real, legitimate economic concerns in severing certain ties with Russia stepping up the way they have today I think is an indication of both the waning patience that Europe has with nice words from President Putin that are not matched by actions, but also a recognition as a consequence of what happened with the Malaysian Airlines flight that it is hard to avoid the spillover of what’s happening in Ukraine impacting Europeans across the board.

And so we think that the combination of stronger U.S. and European sanctions is going to have a greater impact on the Russian economy than we’ve seen so far.  Obviously, we can’t in the end make President Putin see more clearly.  Ultimately that’s something that President Putin has to do by — on his own.  But what we can do is make sure that we’ve increased the costs for actions that I think are not only destructive to Ukraine but ultimately are going to be destructive to Russia, as well.

All right.  Guys, I’ve got to get going.

END
3:49 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 21, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Situation in Ukraine, Malaysian Airline Flight MH17 and Israel’s Military Operation in Gaza

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

Statement by the President on the Situation in Ukraine and Gaza

Source: WH, 7-21-14 

South Lawn

11:16 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I want to make a brief statement about the tragedy in Ukraine.  Before I do, though, I want to note that Secretary Kerry has departed for the Middle East.  As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas.  And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.  I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.  And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.

So Secretary Kerry will meet with allies and partners.  I’ve instructed him to push for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.  The work will not be easy.  Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved.  Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation to hostilities.  We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed.

With respect to Ukraine, it’s now been four days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.  Over the last several days, our hearts have been absolutely broken as we’ve learned more about the extraordinary and beautiful lives that were lost — men, women and children and infants who were killed so suddenly and so senselessly.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with their families around the world who are going through just unimaginable grief.  I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of leaders around the world whose citizens were lost on this flight, and all of them remain in a state of shock but, frankly, also in a state of outrage.

Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.  We have to make sure that the truth is out and that accountability exists.

Now, international investigators are on the ground.  They have been organized.  I’ve sent teams; other countries have sent teams.  They are prepared, they are organized to conduct what should be the kinds of protocols and scouring and collecting of evidence that should follow any international incident like this.  And what they need right now is immediate and full access to the crash site.  They need to be able to conduct a prompt and full and unimpeded as well as transparent investigation.  And recovery personnel have to do the solemn and sacred work on recovering the remains of those who were lost.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko has declared a demilitarized zone around the crash site.  As I said before, you have international teams already in place prepared to conduct the investigation and recover the remains of those who have been lost.  But, unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation.  They have repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage.  As investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air.  These separatists are removing evidence from the crash site, all of which begs the question — what exactly are they trying to hide?

Moreover, these Russian-backed separatists are removing bodies from the crash site, oftentimes without the care that we would normally expect from a tragedy like this.  And this is an insult to those who have lost loved ones.  This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations.

Now, Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists.  No one denies that.  Russia has urged them on.  Russia has trained them.  We know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons.  Key separatist leaders are Russian citizens.  So given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia and President Putin, in particular, has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation.  That is the least that they can do.

President Putin says that he supports a full and fair investigation.  And I appreciate those words, but they have to be supported by actions.  The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site.  The separatists and the Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the investigators doing their work.  And along with our allies and partners, we will be working this issue at the United Nations today.

More broadly, as I’ve said throughout this crisis and the crisis in Ukraine generally, and I’ve said this directly to President Putin, as well as publicly, my preference continues to be finding a diplomatic resolution within Ukraine.  I believe that can still happen.  That is my preference today, and it will continue to be my preference.

But if Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists, and these separatists become more and more dangerous and now are risks not simply to the people inside of Ukraine but the broader international community, then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community, and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.

Now is the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy that they’ve been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and respects the right of the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about their own lives.

And time is of the essence.  Our friends and allies need to be able to recover those who were lost.  That’s the least we can do.  That’s the least that decency demands.  Families deserve to be able to lay their loved ones to rest with dignity.  The world deserves to know exactly what happened.  And the people of Ukraine deserve to determine their own future.

Thanks.

END
11:25 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 18, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Ukraine and Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Ukraine

Source: WH, 7-18-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:52 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.

Yesterday, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 took off from Amsterdam and was shot down over Ukraine near the Russian border.  Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken — men, women, children, infants — who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine.  Their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions.

We know at least one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was killed.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.

Yesterday, I spoke with the leaders of Ukraine, Malaysia, and the Netherlands.  I told them that our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and that the American people stand with them during this difficult time.  Later today, I’ll be speaking to Prime Minister Abbott of Australia, which also suffered a terrible loss.

By far, the country that lost the most people on board the plane was the Netherlands.  From the days of our founding, the Dutch have been close friends and stalwart allies of the United States of America.  And today, I want the Dutch people to know that we stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in our grief and in our absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened.

Here’s what we know so far.  Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine.  We also know that this is not the first time a plane has been shot down in eastern Ukraine.  Over the last several weeks, Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet. Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia.  This includes arms and training.  It includes heavy weapons, and it includes anti-aircraft weapons.

Here’s what must happen now.  This was a global tragedy.  An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies, filled with citizens from many countries.  So there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened.  The U.N. Security Council has endorsed this investigation, and we will hold all its members — including Russia — to their word.  In order to facilitate that investigation, Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire.  Evidence must not be tampered with.  Investigators need to access the crash site.  And the solemn task of returning those who were lost on board the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.

The United States stands ready to provide any assistance that is necessary.  We’ve already offered the support of the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board, which has experience in working with international partners on these types of investigations.  They are on their way, personnel from the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board.

In the coming hours and days, I’ll continue to be in close contact with leaders from around the world as we respond to this catastrophe.  Our immediate focus will be on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts.

I want to point out there will likely be misinformation as well.  I think it’s very important for folks to sift through what is factually based and what is simply speculation.  No one can deny the truth that is revealed in the awful images that we all have seen.  And the eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.

More broadly, I think it’s important for us to recognize that this outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine.  For months, we’ve supported a pathway to peace, and the Ukrainian government has reached out to all Ukrainians, put forward a peace plan, and lived up to a cease-fire, despite repeated violations by the separatists — violations that took the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and personnel.

Moreover, time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to deescalate the situation.  I spoke to President Putin yesterday in the wake of additional sanctions that we had imposed.  He said he wasn’t happy with them, and I told him that we have been very clear from the outset that we want Russia to take the path that would result in peace in Ukraine, but so far at least, Russia has failed to take that path.  Instead, it has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists.  It has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire.  That’s why, together with our allies, we’ve imposed growing costs on Russia.

So now is, I think, a somber and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look at what has happened.  Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences.  Russia, these separatists, and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting.  Meanwhile, the United States is going to continue to lead efforts within the world community to de-escalate the situation; to stand up for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine; and to support the people of Ukraine as they courageously work to strengthen their democracy and make their own decisions about how they should move forward.

Before I take just a couple of questions let me remark on one other issue.  This morning, I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel about the situation in Gaza.  We discussed Israel’s military operation in Gaza, including its efforts to stop the threat of terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel.  I reaffirmed my strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.  No nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders, or terrorists tunneling into its territory.  In fact, while I was having the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sirens went off in Tel Aviv.

I also made clear that the United States, and our friends and allies, are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.  And that’s why we’ve indicated, although we support military efforts by the Israelis to make sure that rockets are not being fired into their territory, we also have said that our understanding is the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels, and we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012.

Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt’s initiative to pursue that outcome.  I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that John is prepared to travel to the region following additional consultations.

Let me close by making one additional comment.  On board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, there were apparently nearly 100 researchers and advocates traveling to an international conference in Australia dedicated to combating AIDS/HIV.  These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.

In this world today, we shouldn’t forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these — people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed; people who are focused on how they can help people that they’ve never met; people who define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common.  It’s important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives.  And it’s time for us to heed their example.

The United States of America is going to continue to stand for the basic principle that people have the right to live as they choose; that nations have the right to determine their own destiny; and that when terrible events like this occur, the international community stands on the side of justice and on the side of truth.

So with that, let me take just a couple questions.  I’ll start with you, Julie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Just on a technical matter, does the U.S. believe that this passenger jet was targeted, or that those people who shot it down may have been going after a military — thought they were going after a military aircraft?  And more broadly, this incident does seem to escalate the crisis in Ukraine to a level we haven’t seen before.  Does that change your calculus in terms of what the U.S. and perhaps Europe should be doing in terms of a response?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think it’s too early for us to be able to guess what the intentions of those who might have launched this surface-to-air missile might have had.  The investigation is going to be ongoing, and I think what we’ll see is additional information surfacing over the next 24 hours, 72 hours, the next week, the next month.

What we know right now, what we have confidence in saying right now is that a surface-to-air missile was fired and that’s what brought the jet down.  We know — or we have confidence in saying that that shot was taken within a territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists.

But I think it’s very important for us to make sure that we don’t get out ahead of the facts.  And at this point, in terms of identifying specifically what individual or group of individuals or personnel ordered the strike, how it came about, those are things that I think are still going to be subject to additional information that we’re going to be gathering.  And we’re working with the entire international community to make sure that the focus is on getting to the bottom of this thing and being truthful.

And my concern is obviously that there’s been a lot of misinformation generated in eastern Ukraine generally.  This should snap everybody’s heads to attention and make sure that we don’t have time for propaganda, we don’t have time for games.  We need to know exactly what happened.  And everybody needs to make sure that we’re holding accountable those who committed this outrage.

With respect to the second question, as you’re aware, before this terrible incident happened we had already ratcheted up sanctions against Russia.  And I think the concern not just of Russian officials but of the markets about the impact that this could have on the Russian economy is there for all to see.

I made clear to President Putin that our preferred path is to resolve this diplomatically.  But that means that he and the Russian government have to make a strategic decision:  Are they going to continue to support violent separatists whose intent is to undermine the government of Ukraine?  Or are they prepared to work with the government of Ukraine to arrive at a cease-fire and a peace that takes into account the interests of all Ukrainians?

There has been some improved language at times over the last month coming from the Kremlin and coming from President Putin, but what we have not seen is an actual transition and different actions that would give us confidence that that’s the direction that they want to take.

And we will continue to make clear that as Russia engages in efforts that are supporting the separatists, that we have the capacity to increase the costs that we impose on them.  And we will do so.  Not because we’re interested in hurting Russia for the sake of hurting Russia, but because we believe in standing up for the basic principle that a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has to be respected, and it is not the United States or Russia or Germany or any other country that should be deciding what happens in that country.

Q    At this point do you see any U.S. military role that could be effective?

THE PRESIDENT:  We don’t see a U.S. military role beyond what we’ve already been doing in working with our NATO partners and some of the Baltic States, giving them reassurances that we are prepared to do whatever is required to meet our alliance obligations.

Steve Holland.

Q    Sir, thank you.  How much blame for this do you put on President Putin?  And will you use this incident now to push the Europeans for stronger action?

THE PRESIDENT:  We don’t exactly know what happened yet, and I don’t want to, as I said before, get out ahead of the facts.  But what I do know is, is that we have seen a ticking up of violence in eastern Ukraine that, despite the efforts of the Ukrainian government to abide by a cease-fire and to reach out and agree to negotiations, including with the separatists, that has been rebuffed by these separatists.  We know that they are heavily armed and that they are trained.  And we know that that’s not an accident.  That is happening because of Russian support.

So it is not possible for these separatists to function the way they’re functioning, to have the equipment that they have — set aside what’s happened with respect to the Malaysian Airlines — a group of separatists can’t shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training.  And that is coming from Russia.

So we don’t yet know exactly what happened with respect to the Malaysian Airlines, although obviously we’re beginning to draw some conclusions given the nature of the shot that was fired.  There are only certain types of anti-aircraft missiles that can reach up 30,000 feet and shoot down a passenger jet.  We have increasing confidence that it came from areas controlled by the separatists.  But without having a definitive judgment on those issues yet, what we do know is, is that the violence that’s taking place there is facilitated in part — in large part — because of Russian support.  And they have the ability to move those separatists in a different direction.

If Mr. Putin makes a decision that we are not going to allow heavy armaments and the flow of fighters into Ukraine across the Ukrainian-Russian border, then it will stop.  And if it stops, then the separatists will still have the capacity to enter into negotiations and try to arrive at the sort of political accommodations that Mr. Putin himself says he wants to see.  He has the most control over that situation, and so far, at least, he has not exercised it.

Q    Tougher sanctions in Europe — will you push for them?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that this certainly will be a wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine; that it is not going to be localized, it is not going to be contained.  What we’ve seen here is — just in one country alone, our great allies, the Dutch, 150 or more of their citizens being killed.  And that, I think, sadly brings home the degree to which the stakes are high for Europe, not simply for the Ukrainian people, and that we have to be firm in our resolve in making sure that we are supporting Ukraine in its efforts to bring about a just cease-fire and that we can move towards a political solution to this.

I’m going to make this the last question.  Lisa Lerer, Bloomberg.

Q    Do we know yet if there were other Americans on board beyond the person you mentioned?  And how do you prevent stricter restrictions, economic sanctions from shocking the global economy and —

THE PRESIDENT:  We have been pretty methodical over the last 24 hours in working through the flight manifest and identifying which passengers might have had a U.S. passport.  At this point, the individual that I mentioned is the sole person that we can definitively say was a U.S. or dual citizen.

Because events are moving so quickly, I don’t want to say with absolute certainty that there might not be additional Americans, but at this stage, having worked through the list, been in contact with the Malaysian government, which processed the passports as folks were boarding, this is our best assessment of the number of Americans that were killed.  Obviously that does nothing to lessen our outrage about all those families.  Regardless of nationality, it is a heartbreaking event.

With respect to the effect of sanctions on the economy, we have consistently tried to tailor these sanctions in ways that would have an impact on Russia, on their economy, on their institutions or individuals that are aiding and abetting in the activities that are taking place in eastern Ukraine, while minimizing the impacts on not only the U.S. economy but the global economy.

It is a relevant consideration that we have to keep in mind.  The world economy is integrated; Russia is a large economy; there’s a lot of financial flows between Russia and the rest of the world.  But we feel confident that at this point the sanctions that we’ve put in place are imposing a cost on Russia, that their overall impact on the global economy is minimal.  It is something that we have to obviously pay close attention to, but I think Treasury, in consultation with our European partners, have done a good job so far on that issue.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END
12:15 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy and on the Malaysia Airlines Jet Shot Down Over Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Economy — Wilmington, DE

Source: WH, 7-17-14 

Port of Wilmington
Wilmington, Delaware

2:10 P.M.
THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Please have a seat.  It is wonderful to be back in Delaware.

Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.  And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.  Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens onboard.  That is our first priority.  And I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government.  The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why.  And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home.

I want to thank Jeremie for that introduction.  Give Jeremie a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  It is great to be in the state that gave us Joe Biden.  (Applause.)  We’ve got actually some better-looking Bidens with us here today.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got Beau and his wife, Hallie, are here.  Give them a big round of applause.  We love them.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Governor Jack Markell.  (Applause.)  Senator Chris Coons, Congressman John Carney, County Executive Tom Gordon, and the Mayor of Wilmington, Dennis Williams.  (Applause.)  We’ve also got two terrific members of my Cabinet — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is here — (applause) — and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is here.  (Applause.)

Jack Lew’s signature is actually on your money.  (Laughter.) Although it’s kind of illegible.  We teased him when he first became Treasury Secretary that he was going to have to fix his signature a little bit because it looked just like a caterpillar running along the bottom.  (Laughter.)

Now, the bridge behind me used to carry 90,000 cars every day — 90,000.  Since last month, it’s been closed for repairs.  Once workers are done repairing it, this bridge will be safer, it will be more reliable for commuters and for commerce.  And thanks to a competitive grant program called TIGER — a program, by the way, that was part of the Recovery Act that we initiated when I first came into office and Joe Biden helped to manage — this port is rebuilding a wharf that will finally let Wilmington compete with other ports for the biggest cargo ships.  (Applause.)  For the biggest cargo ships.  So far, TIGER grants have given a boost to 270 infrastructure projects and thousands of jobs all across 50 states.

And that’s what I’m here to talk about today — and I’ve been talking about this all week — creating more good jobs rebuilding America, and the opportunity that we have to seize to rebuild the American middle class.

After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, in part because of the actions we took, primarily because of the strength and determination of the American people, our businesses have now added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.  (Applause.)  Construction and housing are rebounding.  The auto industry is booming — it was in a tailspin when we came in.  Manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008 — which is one of the fastest one-year drops in nearly 30 years.  (Applause.)

And the decisions we made — not only to rescue our economy, but to start rebuilding it on a firmer foundation — those decisions are starting to pay off.  We are more energy independent.  For the first time in nearly 20 years, we produce more oil here in the United States than we buy from abroad.  First time in 20 years we’re doing that.  (Applause.)
At the same time, we’re actually reducing our carbon pollution, and we’re creating new jobs in clean and renewable energies — three times as much wind power; 10 times as much solar power.

In education, our high school graduation rate is at a record high.  More young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  401(k)s are growing.  Fewer homes are underwater.  Millions more now have the peace of mind of having quality, affordable health care if they need it.  And the deficit is coming down to boot, been cut more than half.  (Applause.)

So by almost every economic measure, we’re doing a whole lot better now than we were when I came into office.  And as I said, most of it is thanks to you, the resilience and the resolve of the American people.  Because of that we’ve recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country on Earth.  And business leaders, for the first time in a decade, around the world are saying that China is not the best place to invest; the United States of America is the most promising place to invest.

So we’ve got this huge opportunity to keep this momentum going, to keep growing the economy, but also to make sure that growth is broadly shared.  We got to make sure we’re creating not just more jobs, but also raising middle-class wages and incomes, and making it easier for folks, if they’re working hard and doing the right thing, to raise a family.

We got to make sure that we’re not just graduating more kids, we’ve got to also train more workers and make college more affordable.  We got to make sure our economy works for every American.  That’s why I ran for President.  That’s what I’m focused on every day.  And this is more than just some fleeting political story or made-up scandal; this is the challenge of our times — making sure that if you work hard and you’re responsible, anybody can get ahead in this country.  That’s what America is about.  And we can achieve that if we just see a few changes in Washington’s priorities.

So, today, I’m here to talk about just one example: creating good jobs of the sort that Jeremie just talked about — good jobs rebuilding America.  We know that in the 21st century economy, businesses are going to set up shop wherever they find the best roads, the best bridges, the fastest Internet connection, the fastest rail lines, the smartest airports, the best power grid.  First-class infrastructure attracts investment and it creates first-class jobs.  Unfortunately, right now, our investment in transportation lags behind a lot of other countries.  China is doing more.  Germany is doing more.  They’re putting money back into building the infrastructure we need to grow over the long term.

And if Washington were working the way it was supposed to, Congress would be creating jobs right now, jobs just like Jeremie talked about — jobs like these guys in the hard hats are doing right now rebuilding bridges and roads and airports and ports all across the country.  (Applause.)  It helps us now and it helps up create jobs tomorrow.  That’s what we should be doing.

But instead of creating jobs rebuilding our infrastructure in a predictable, sustainable way, the debate in Washington lately has been about something called the Highway Trust Fund.  It’s how America is supposed to support states on transportation projects.  Congress has to keep it funded, otherwise states have to put projects on hold, put construction workers back on the unemployment line.

The good news is, Democrats and Republicans are about to pass a short-term fix that will keep funding going for about another nine or ten months.  And I support that.  I mean, the least we can do is just support the jobs that are already there, keep Americans on the job.  But if that’s all Congress does, then we’re going to have the same kind of funding crisis nine months from now.  And that’s not how normally you fund infrastructure, because you got to plan it and you got to think about how are we helping folks and how are we helping states and cities and municipalities create plans for the future and make sure that the funding streams are level.  We don’t need unhelpful and unnecessary deadlines that crunch a few months from now.  And we shouldn’t have been this close to the deadline in the first place.

As your governor has pointed, even smaller transportation projects can take years to design and plan and build.  A few months of funding doesn’t cut it.  And so Jack said, “To call this a Band-Aid is an insult to a Band-Aid.”  That’s a pretty good line.   (Laughter.)  I’m going to have to try that out.  (Applause.)

So Congress shouldn’t be too proud.  It shouldn’t pat itself on the back for kicking the can down the road every few months.  Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be planning and investing in our future.  That’s how the economy grows for everybody.  The American people work hard every single day, and your efforts shouldn’t be threatened every few months by a manufactured crisis in Washington.  Everything doesn’t have to be done at the last minute every time.

So what I’ve done is earlier this year put forward a plan to rebuild our transportation infrastructure in a long-term responsible way, a plan that would support millions of jobs, would give cities and states and private investors the certainty they need to hire more workers faster.  It would help small businesses ship their goods faster.  It would help parents get home from their commute faster so they can see their kids.

And it wouldn’t add to what is already a rapidly shrinking deficit because we pay for it in part by closing loopholes for companies that are shipping profits overseas and are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes.  So that’s what we need, a broad-based plan.  We got $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance in this country in roads and bridges and sewer systems and water mains.  And we could put a lot of people back to work right now getting that done.  And we’re going to have to do it eventually anyway.

But so far, Congress has refused to act on the idea — which is strange because infrastructure should not be a partisan issue.  If you think about it, it was a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, who built the Interstate Highway System.  Lincoln built the Transcontinental Railroad.  Both parties historically have understood that investing in this country for the long run pays off.  When we invest in infrastructure we’re making sure that the economy is growing not just for the next five years, but for another century.  That’s what right now Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on.  But until they do get focused on it, I’m going to do whatever I can to create jobs rebuilding America on my own.  (Applause.)

So today, we’re launching what we call the Build America Investment Initiative.  And as part of it, we’re creating a one-stop shop for cities and states looking to partner with the private sector to fund infrastructure projects.  There are lots of investors who want to back infrastructure projects because, when it’s done right, they then get a steady, long-term investment.  They get a steady return.

And lots of states and local governments would welcome more private investment, but they need a partner in the federal government to help do some matchmaking and work through some of the complexities of private financing of infrastructure.  So my administration is going to help states and cities apply for federal loans, get more public-private partnerships up and running, get more investment flowing into communities like Wilmington.

And this builds on other actions we’ve taken to speed up the permitting process for big projects, and attract new manufacturing jobs to America, and raise more workers’ wages, help women fight for fair pay, ease loan burdens for millions of students.  We’re taking steps on our own, still hoping that Congress at some point actually does something.  (Applause.)

I keep hearing from folks all across the country who tell me if members of Congress have the same priorities that most Americans do, if they felt the same sense of urgency that you feel in your own lives, we could help a lot of families right now.
Instead of playing politics, we should be creating jobs by investing in what makes our economy strong -– infrastructure and manufacturing and energy, and research and development, and education.  All these things lead to new industries.
We should be training our workers to fill new jobs.  We should be preparing our kids to face global competition.  We should be making sure that hard work pays off with a higher minimum wage.

We should be seizing these opportunities.  And there’s a simple principle behind it.  When the middle class does good, and when people have ladders into the middle class if they work hard, everybody does better.  You have more customers for businesses.  Folks at the very top do better.  America grows best from the middle out, not from the top down.  That’s when we succeed.

So I’m going to keep on looking for areas where Republicans and Democrats agree to move this country forward.  But I’m not going to stand by when politics and inaction are holding us back.  (Applause.)
Wherever and whenever I have a chance to help families like yours I’m going to do it.  When I have a chance to help communities like Wilmington, I’m going to do it.  That’s when my administration takes these executive actions, when Congress won’t act.

And so far, the only response we’ve gotten from the Republicans is a lawsuit.  (Laughter.)  They’re suing me for doing my job, instead of going ahead and doing their job.  That’s disappointing.  It’s a political stunt.  And, by the way, they’re using taxpayer money to do it.  It’s your money that they’re wasting on this, which no serious lawyers think makes any sense.  It’s just a political stunt.  We could be spending the time, energy, and effort and money to help your families.

And maybe the folks behind this think it will help them politically.  I guarantee you, it’s not helping you.  We could do so much more if we rally around a sense of patriotism that says we can disagree on issues once in a while, but come on, let’s focus on our country, let’s focus on our people — a sense of common purpose, the understanding we rise or fall as one nation and as one people.  That’s how we built this country together.  And that’s what Washington has to remember.
And the one thing I know for certain — if we work together, if we believe in one another, then we’re going to keep on rebuilding our middle class.  We’re going to restore the American Dream for the next generation.  We will continue to make sure that America is the place where no matter what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started, you can make it if you try.  You’ve shown it here in Delaware.  We can show it all across the country.  We just need a little more focus in Washington.  So keep the pressure on everybody.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  God bless you.  Let’s build some bridges.  Let’s build some roads.  God bless America.

END
2:26 P.M. EDT

International Headlines July 17, 2014: Malaysia Airlines Jet Crashes in Ukraine Shot Down by Russian Buk Missile 295 Dead

INTERNATIONAL HEADLINES

WORLD NEWS & POLITICS

Malaysia Airlines Jet Crashes in Ukraine, May Have Been Shot Down

Source: NYT, 7-17-14

A plane with nearly 300 people aboard crashed in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border on Thursday, and Ukraine’s president did not rule out that it might have been shot down….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 17, 2014: Readout of the President Barack Obama’s Call with President Vladimir Putin of Russia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Readout of the President’s Call with President Putin of Russia

Source: WH, 7-17-14

President Obama spoke with Russian President Putin today about the situation in Ukraine and the additional sanctions on Russian individuals and entities that the United States announced on July 16.  President Obama emphasized that he remains committed to a diplomatic solution and that sanctions were not his preferred course of action.  President Obama noted, however, that in the face of extensive evidence that Russia is significantly increasing the provision of heavy weapons to separatists in Ukraine and Russia’s failure to take other steps set out by the United States and Europe to de-escalate the crisis, it was necessary to impose additional sanctions, consistent with the clear statements from the United States and our allies following the G-7 meeting in Brussels.  President Obama also reiterated his concerns regarding the buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.  President Obama called on President Putin to take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation, including to press separatists to agree to a cease-fire, support a roadmap for negotiations, halt the flow of fighters and weapons into Ukraine, obtain the release of all hostages still held by the separatists, and work to establish an effective OSCE border-monitoring mechanism.  He noted that Russia would face continued costs and isolation unless it takes these concrete steps.  The President emphasized that Russia and the United States have a shared interest in supporting a stable and prosperous Ukraine.  President Obama and President Putin agreed on the need for a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine crisis achieved through diplomatic means.  During the call, President Putin noted the early reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.

Full Text Obama Presidency July 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Froeign Policy Announcing Imposing More Sanctions on Russia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Foreign Policy

Source: WH, 7-16-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:44 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to briefly discuss the important actions we’re taking today in support of Ukraine.  Before I do, I want to take a few minutes to update the American people on some pressing foreign policy challenges that I reviewed with Secretary Kerry this afternoon.

First of all, I thanked Secretary Kerry and our outstanding civilian and military leaders in Afghanistan for their success in helping to break the impasse over the presidential election there.  Thanks to their efforts and, of course, thanks to the Afghans and the courage of the two candidates, both of whom I spoke to last week, the candidates have agreed to abide by the results of a comprehensive and internationally supervised audit that will review all the ballots, and to form a unity government.  If they keep their commitments, Afghanistan will witness the first democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation.

This progress will honor both candidates who have put the interests of a united Afghanistan first, the millions of Afghans who defied threats in order to vote, and the service of our troops and civilians who have sacrificed so much.  This progress reminds us that even as our combat mission in Afghanistan ends this year, America’s commitment to a sovereign, united, and democratic Afghanistan will endure –- along with our determination that Americans are never again threatened by terrorists inside of Afghanistan.

Second, John updated me on the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.  Over the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year — halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material.  Meanwhile, we are working with our P5-plus-1 partners and Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement that assures us that Iran’s program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won’t obtain a nuclear weapon.

Based on consultations with Secretary Kerry and my national security team, it’s clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward.  But as we approach a deadline of July 20th under the interim deal, there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do.  So over the next few days, we’ll continue consulting with Congress — and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners –- as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations.

Third, we continue to support diplomatic efforts to end the violence between Israel and Hamas.  As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people.  There is no country on Earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets.  And I’m proud that the Iron Dome system that Americans helped Israel develop and fund has saved many Israeli lives.

But over the past two weeks, we’ve all been heartbroken by the violence, especially the death and injury of so many innocent civilians in Gaza —- men, women and children who were caught in the crossfire.  That’s why we have been working with our partners in the region to pursue a cease-fire — to protect civilians on both sides.  Yesterday, Israel did agree to a cease-fire.  Unfortunately, Hamas continued to fire rockets at civilians, thereby prolonging the conflict.

But the Israeli people and the Palestinian people don’t want to live like this.  They deserve to live in peace and security, free from fear.  And that’s why we are going to continue to encourage diplomatic efforts to restore the cease-fire, and we support Egypt’s continued efforts to bring this about.  Over the next 24 hours we’ll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region, and we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire.  In the meantime, we’re going to continue to stress the need to protect civilians — in Gaza and in Israel –- and to avoid further escalation.

Finally, given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia’s largest companies and financial institutions. Along with our allies, with whom I’ve been coordinating closely the last several days and weeks, I’ve repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine; that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a cease-fire; that Russia needs to pursue internationally-mediated talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border.  I’ve made this clear directly to Mr. Putin.  Many of our European partners have made this clear directly to Mr. Putin.  We have emphasized our preference to resolve this issue diplomatically but that we have to see concrete actions and not just words that Russia, in fact, is committed to trying to end this conflict along the Russia-Ukraine border.  So far, Russia has failed to take any of the steps that I mentioned.  In fact, Russia’s support for the separatists and violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty has continued.

On top of the sanctions we have already imposed, we are therefore designating selected sectors of the Russian economy as eligible for sanctions.  We are freezing the assets of several Russian defense companies.  And we are blocking new financing of some of Russia’s most important banks and energy companies.  These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted — designed to have the maximum impact on Russia while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies.

Now, we are taking these actions in close consultation with our European allies, who are meeting in Brussels to agree on their next steps.  And what we are expecting is that the Russian leadership will see, once again, that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation.

Meanwhile, we’re going to continue to stand with the Ukrainian people as they seek to determine their own future.  Even in the midst of this crisis, they have made remarkable progress these past few months.  They held democratic elections, they elected a new president, they’re pursuing important reforms, and they signed a new association agreement with the European Union.  And the United States will continue to offer our strong support to Ukraine to help stabilize its economy and defend its territorial integrity because — like any people — Ukrainians deserve the right to forge their own destiny.

So in closing, I’ll point out the obvious.  We live in a complex world and at a challenging time.  And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m confident that if we stay patient and determined, that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.

Thanks very much.

END
5:53 P.M. EDT

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by the President, 4/17/14

Source: WH, 4-17-14

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT PRESS CONFERENCE

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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

3:40 P.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Peña, La Opinión.

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

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

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

Q    Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so let me —

Q    Do you have a time?

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

Tamara Keith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Jackson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, everybody.

END
4:13 P.M. EDT

 

Political Musings March 7, 2014: Obama, Congress takes action with Russia sanctions and Ukraine aid

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama, Congress takes action with Russia sanctions and Ukraine aid

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In less than a week after President Barack Obama warned Russia that there would be “costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” on Thursday, March 6, 2014 the president followed through on his warning slapping unilateral travel and…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency March 6, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement Discusses Efforts to Address the Ongoing Crisis in Ukraine, Russia Sanctions

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Discusses Efforts to Address the Ongoing Crisis in Ukraine

Source: WH, 3-6-14
President Barack Obama delivers a statement on Ukraine in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White HousePresident Barack Obama delivers a statement on Ukraine in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, March 6, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama delivered a statement on efforts to address the ongoing crisis in Ukraine from the Brady Press Briefing Room….READ MORE

Statement by the President on Ukraine

Source: WH, 3-6-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Before Jay takes some of your questions, I wanted to provide a brief update on our efforts to address the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Since the Russian intervention, we’ve been mobilizing the international community to condemn this violation of international law and to support the people and government of Ukraine.

This morning I signed an executive order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, or for stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.

According to my guidance, the State Department has also put in place restrictions on the travel of certain individuals and officials.  These decisions continue our efforts to impose a cost on Russia and those responsible for the situation in Crimea.  And they also give us the flexibility to adjust our response going forward based on Russia’s actions.

We took these steps in close coordination with our European allies.  I’ve spoken to several of our closest friends around the world, and I’m pleased that our international unity is on display at this important moment.  Already, we’ve moved together to announced substantial assistance for the government in Kyiv, and today in Brussels, our allies took similar steps to impose costs on Russia.  I am confident that we are moving forward together, united in our determination to oppose actions that violate international law and to support the government and people of Ukraine.

And that includes standing up for the principle of state sovereignty.  The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.  Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine.  In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.

While we take these steps, I want to be clear that there is also a way to resolve this crisis that respects the interests of the Russian Federation, as well as the Ukrainian people.  Let international monitors into all of Ukraine, including Crimea, to ensure the rights of all Ukrainians are being respected, including ethnic Russians.  Begin consultations between the government of Russia and Ukraine, with the participation of the international community.  Russia would maintain its basing rights in Crimea, provided that it abides by its agreements and respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  And the world should support the people of Ukraine as they move to elections in May.

That’s the path of de-escalation, and Secretary Kerry is engaged in discussions with all of the relevant parties, including Russia and Ukraine to pursue that path.  But if this violation of international law continues, the resolve of the United States, and our allies and the international community will remain firm.  Meanwhile, we’ve taken steps to reaffirm our commitment to the security and democracy of our allies in Eastern Europe and to support the people of Ukraine.

One last point — there’s been a lot of talk in Congress about these issues.  Today, once again, I’m calling on Congress to follow up on these words with action, specifically to support the IMF’s capacity to lend resources to Ukraine and to provide American assistance for the Ukrainian government so that they can weather this storm and stabilize their economy, make needed reforms, deliver for their people, all of which will provide a smoother pathway for the elections that have already been scheduled in May.

Today the world can see that the United States is united with our allies and partners in upholding international law and pursuing a just outcome that advances global security and the future that the Ukrainian people deserve.  That’s what we’re going to continue to do in the days to come until we have seen a resolution to this crisis.

Thanks very much.  And Jay and Ben and others will be happy to take your questions.

END
1:10 P.M. EST

Statement by the Press Secretary on Ukraine

Source: WH, 3-6-14

Watch the Video

President Obama Speaks on Ukraine
March 06, 2014 7:06 PM

President Obama Speaks on Ukraine

As President Obama has made clear, the United States is pursuing and reviewing a wide range of options in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – actions that constitute a threat to peace and security and a breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and that are inconsistent with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act.

Pursuant to the President’s guidance, today the State Department is putting in place visa restrictions on a number of officials and individuals, reflecting a policy decision to deny visas to those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  This new step stands in addition to the policy already implemented to deny visas to those involved in human rights abuses related to political oppression in Ukraine.

In addition, the President has signed an Executive Order that authorizes sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine; threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine; contributing to the misappropriation of state assets of Ukraine; or purporting to assert governmental authority over any part of Ukraine without authorization from the Ukrainian government in Kyiv.  This E.O. is a flexible tool that will allow us to sanction those who are most directly involved in destabilizing Ukraine, including the military intervention in Crimea, and does not preclude further steps should the situation deteriorate.

These actions build upon the previous actions the United States has taken, including suspending bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment; suspending other bilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis; putting on hold U.S.-Russia military-to-military engagement, including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits, and planning conferences; and our agreement with G-7 nations to suspend for the time being our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June.  Depending on how the situation develops, the United States is prepared to consider additional steps and sanctions as necessary.

At the same time, as the President has said, we seek to work with all parties to achieve a diplomatic solution that de-escalates the situation and restores Ukraine’s sovereignty.  We call on Russia to take the opportunity before it to resolve this crisis through direct and immediate dialogue with the Government of Ukraine, the immediate pull-back of Russia’s military forces to their bases, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and support for the urgent deployment of international observers and human rights monitors who can assure that the rights of all Ukrainians are protected, including ethnic Russians, and who can support the Ukrainian government’s efforts to hold a free and fair election on May 25.

As we follow developments in Ukraine closely, the United States reaffirms its unwavering commitment to our collective defense commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty.  We will continue to pursue measures that reinforce those commitments, to include the provision of additional support to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and our aviation detachment in Poland.

###

Full Text Obama Presidency March 4, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Russia President Vladimir Putin’s Military Action in the Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Russia President Vladimir Putin’s Military Action in the Ukraine

Source: WH, 3-4-14

Q    Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, Mike.

Q    Do you have response to President Putin’s press conference this morning?  Is Chancellor Merkel right that he’s lost touch with reality?  And have you spoken with him again personally?

THE PRESIDENT:  I haven’t spoken to him since I spoke to him this past weekend.  But obviously, me and my national security team have been watching events unfolding in Ukraine very closely.  I met with them again today.  As many of you know, John Kerry is in Kyiv as we speak, at my direction.  He’s expressing our full support for the Ukrainian people.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been working with our partners and with the IMF to build international support for a package that helps to stabilize Ukraine’s economy.  And today we announced a significant package of our own to support Ukraine’s economy, and also to provide them with the technical assistance that they need.  So it includes a planned loan guarantee package of $1 billion.  It provides immediate technical expertise to Ukraine to repair its economy.  And, importantly, it provides for assistance to help Ukraine plan for elections that are going to be coming up very soon.

As I said yesterday, it is important that Congress stand with us.  I don’t doubt the bipartisan concern that’s been expressed by the situation in Ukraine.  There is something immediately Congress can do to help us, and that is to help finance the economic package that can stabilize the economy in Ukraine, help to make sure that fair and free elections take place very soon, and as a consequence, helps to deescalate the crisis.

In the meantime, we’re consulting with our international allies across the board.  Together, the international community has condemned Russia’s violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.  We’ve condemned their intervention in Crimea.  And we are calling for a de-escalation of the situation, and international monitors that can go into the country right away.

And, above all, we believe that the Ukrainian people should be able to decide their own future, which is why the world should be focused on helping them stabilize the situation economically and move towards the fair and free elections that are currently scheduled to take place in May.

There have been some reports that President Putin is pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s happened.  I think that we’ve all seen that — from the perspective of the European Union, the United States, allies like Canada and Japan, and allies and friends and partners around the world — there is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law.  I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.

I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state.  We have said that if, in fact, there is any evidence out there that Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are in any way being threatened, there are ways of dealing with that through international mechanisms.  And we’re prepared to make sure that the rights of all Ukrainians are upheld.  And, in fact, in conversations that we’ve had with the government in Kyiv, they have been more than willing to work with the international community and with Russia to provide such assurances.

So the fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication to which what’s happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country.  That is not how international law is supposed to operate.

I would also note just the way that some of this has been reported, that there’s a suggestion somehow that the Russian actions have been clever strategically.  I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling, and if anything, it will push many countries further away from Russia.

There is the ability for Ukraine to be a friend of the West’s and a friend of Russia’s as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene, certainly not militarily, with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people.  And that’s the principle that John Kerry is going to be speaking to during his visit.  I’ll be making additional calls today to some of our key foreign partners, and I suspect I’ll be doing that all week and in through the weekend.

But as I indicated yesterday, the course of history is for people to want to be free to make their own decisions about their own futures.  And the international community I think is unified in believing that it is not the role of an outside force — where there’s been no evidence of serious violence, where there’s been no rationale under international law — to intervene in people trying to determine their own destiny.

So we stand on the side of history that I think more and more people around the world deeply believe in — the principle that a sovereign people, an independent people are able to make their own decisions about their own lives.  And Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he’s not abiding by that principle.  There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation.

And we’ve sent a clear message that we are prepared to work with anybody if their genuine interest is making sure that Ukraine is able to govern itself.  And as I indicated before, and something that I think has not been emphasized enough, they are currently scheduled to have elections in May.  And everybody in the international community should be invested in making sure that the economic deterioration that’s happened in Ukraine stops, but also that these elections proceed in a fair and free way in which all Ukrainians, including Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, are able to express their choice of who should lead them.

And if we have a strong, robust, legitimate election, then there shouldn’t be any question as to whether the Ukrainian people govern themselves without the kinds of outside interference that we see Russia exerting.

All right, thank you very much, everybody.

Full Text Obama Presidency February 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement Warning Russia Against Military Intervention in the Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Ukraine

Source:  WH, 2-28-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

5:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody.

Over the last several days, the United States has been responding to events as they unfold in Ukraine.  Throughout this crisis, we have been very clear about one fundamental principle: The Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future.  Together with our European allies, we have urged an end to the violence and encouraged Ukrainians to pursue a course in which they stabilize their country, forge a broad-based government and move to elections this spring.

I also spoke several days ago with President Putin, and my administration has been in daily communication with Russian officials, and we’ve made clear that they can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of The people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.

However, we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine.  Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea, but any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.

It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people.  It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws.  And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world.  And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.

The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions.  But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a universal right to determine their own future.

Right now, the situation remains very fluid.  Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister — the Prime Minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.  I also commend the Ukrainian government’s restraint and its commitment to uphold its international obligations.

We will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies.  We will continue to communicate directly with the Russian government.  And we will continue to keep all of you in the press corps and the American people informed as events develop.

Thanks very much.

END
5:09 P.M. EST

Political Musings September 15, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry seals deal with Russia over Syria chemical weapons disarmament

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Kerry seals deal with Russia over Syria chemical weapons disarmament (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
On the third day of talks between the United States and Russia in Geneva, Switzerland about Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the two countries came to an agreement on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 12, 2013: John Kerry to Test Russia’s Seriousness on Syria Solution

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

John Kerry to Test Russia’s Seriousness on Syria Solution

JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva Thursday for talks with Russia about Syria’s chemical weapons and was met by a statement from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he was not surrendering the arsenal because of any U.S. threats….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 12, 2013: John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

John Kerry Rejects Syria’s Demand to Drop Threat

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday rejected a call from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the U.S. to drop its threat of force before Syria gives up its chemical weapons.

“President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapon,” Kerry told reporters at the start of a multi-day negotiation with the Russians over how such a disarmament might take place….READ MORE

Political Headlines September 11, 2013: Congress Halts Syria Vote; Skepticism of Russia Proposal Spreads

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Congress Halts Syria Vote; Skepticism of Russia Proposal Spreads

The U.S. Congress is standing down on votes to authorize military force against Syria while the Obama administration attempts to solidify an international agreement under which the Assad regime would give up its chemical weapons stockpiles. Many members of Congress are skeptical that the potential diplomatic solution will succeed….READ MORE

Political Musings September 11, 2013: New developments shifts US Syria response from military action to diplomacy

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

New developments shifts US Syria response from military action to diplomacy (Video)

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video
There have been major shifts in the Syria crisis in the last 24 hours from Monday morning, Sept. 9, 2013 until President Barack Obama delivered his address to the nation on Syria, Tuesday evening, Sept, 10, 2013. These developments shifted…READ MORE

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Video

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

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

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Cancels Meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

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

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