Full Text Obama Presidency June 19, 2013: President Barack Obama & German Chancellor Angela Merkel Remarks at a Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel in Joint Press Conference

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in BerlinPresident Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Hold a Press Conference

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Hold a Press Conference

Source: WH, 6-19-13

German Chancellery
Berlin, Germany

12:46 P.M. CEST

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  (As interpreted.)  A very warm welcome to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  A very warm welcome indeed to Berlin.  It’s his first visit to Berlin as President of the United States — certainly not his first visit to Germany.

We have had on numerous occasions the opportunity to talk.  We have established ties of friendship based on trust.  And I would like to thank you for this.  Our cooperation is based on ties of friendship that have lasted for many, many decades between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States.  And this is such a very good relationship because it is based on shared values.  When the President addresses the crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate, it will be a President who can do this in front of a gate that is open.  The President had to remind us all of the wall needed to be torn down and the wall is down.  And this is what we owe to our American partners and friends.

But we also see that the world is changing and changing at a very rapid pace, so new challenges come to the fore.  And we want to tackle them with resolve and we want to tackle them together.

What looms most prominently on our agenda here in Germany, but also in Europe and, I trust, in the United States, and could be a very valued project to these two great economies of the world, the free trade agreement.  I’m very glad that we were able to conclude the negotiations leading up to the mandate.  We will throw our effort behind this fully and squarely because we think that economies on both sides of the Atlantic will very much benefit from it.  It’s going to be a win-win situation and it also is an eloquent testimony to this globalized world where we can work better together, both politically and economically.

So this is why I think this is a very, very important free trade agreement.  And I say this on behalf of the federal government as a whole.

We talked about questions of the Internet in the context of PRISM.  We talked at great length about the new possibilities and about also the new threats that the Internet opens up to all of us.  The Internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us.  And it also enables our enemies.  It enables enemies of a free, liberal order, to use it, to abuse it, to bring a threat to all of us, to threaten our way of life.  And this is why we value cooperation with the United States on questions of security.

I also outlined, however, that although we do see the need for gathering information, there needs to be due diligence also as regards the proportionality.  Free, liberal democracies live off people having a feeling of security.  And this is why an equitable balance needs to be struck; there needs to be proportionality.  And that is something that we agreed on, to have a free exchange of views on, between our staff but also the staff of the Home Secretary in the States and also the Minister of Interior here in Germany.  And this is going to be an ongoing battle.

We talked about a number of foreign policy issues.  We are, both of us, engaged in Afghanistan.  A new process has been initiated there of a transition of responsibility.  This is a process that we are going to tackle together, just as we tackled the greater military challenges of the past together — building up the security forces in Afghanistan together.  We will stand together with the United States and solve outstanding problems that are very difficult, indeed, still.

We also addressed Iran.  We addressed the Middle East situation as regards the peace process in the Middle East.  I think that the initiative of Secretary Kerry offers a very good opportunity to revive, revitalize peace talks.  The region needs peace.  The partners ought to take up the offer that is on the table, because it is urgently necessary to bring about negotiations.  And we will continue also to work on Iran, on the nuclear program of Iran.  That is also something that we agreed on.

We had very good talks.  We had, as usual, very open and candid talks.  So, yet again, a very warm welcome to you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  Guten tag.  It is wonderful to be back in Berlin.  I’ve always appreciated the warmth with which I’ve been greeted by the German people, and it’s no different today, although I’m particularly impressed with the warmth of the weather here in Berlin.

And I’m also very grateful for Chancellor Merkel’s invitation, 50 years after the visit of President Kennedy.

The Chancellor and I are just back from the G8 summit, just one of the latest meetings that we’ve had together.  During my time in the White House, I’ve had the privilege of working with Angela on a whole host of issues.  The last time she was at the White House I had the privilege of presenting her with the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor that a President can bestow.  And that speaks to the closeness of our relationship, the strength of our alliance.

I know that here in Germany, sometimes there’s been talk that the Transatlantic Alliance has been — is fading in importance; that the United States has turned its attention more towards Asia and the Pacific.  And in both conversations with Chancellor Merkel and earlier with your President, I reminded them that from our perspective, the relationship with Europe remains the cornerstone of our freedom and our security; that Europe is our partner in almost everything that we do; and that although the nature of the challenges we face have changed, the strength of our relationships, the enduring bonds based on common values and common ideals very much remains.

We began today talking about economic issues, following up on the discussions that we had at the G8 summit.  Overall, Germany is our largest trading partner in the EU, so we’ve got a profound stake in each other’s success.  We agreed that there’s more work to do.  Not only do we have to grow, but we also have to reform our economies structurally.

And when you look within Europe, obviously different countries are at different stages in that reform and restructuring process.  We’re going through our own need to reform, for example, our health care system, which is much more expensive than most of the developed world and largely accounts for our deficits and our debt.  The good news is, though, that we have gone through the worst recession in years and we are poised to come back stronger if we take advantage of these opportunities.

One of the opportunities that we spoke about, obviously, was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP.  The U.S.-EU relationship is already the largest in the world economically.  Thirteen million Americans and Europeans have jobs that are directly supported by mutual trade and investment.  And the Chancellor and I share the conviction that if we are successful in these negotiations, we can grow economies on both sides of the Atlantic, create jobs, improve efficiency, improve productivity and our competitiveness around the world.  And by doing so, we’re also raising standards for free trade around the world that will not just benefit us but benefit everyone.

When it comes to our security, the United States and Germany are more than just NATO allies.  More American personnel are stationed in Germany than any other country outside of the U.S.  We are extraordinarily grateful for the hospitality of the German people.  One of the last times I was in Germany I had a chance to visit our facility where everyone who’s injured in the battlefield comes through, and to see the dedication, but also the hospitality that Germans are providing for our young men and women when they’ve been grievously injured I think is a strong symbol of how much this means to us.

Our men and women have been serving side-by-side in Afghanistan.  Germany is the third-largest troop-contributing nation there.  We’re both grateful for the sacrifices that our servicemen and women and their families have made in this common effort.  And because of those efforts, Afghanistan now has the opportunity to secure itself and determine its own destiny.

We welcome President Karzai’s announcement yesterday that Afghan forces will soon take the lead for security across the country, which is an important milestone — one that we established in our NATO summit.  Even as we wind down the war responsibly and NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan comes to an end, we’re going to have to continue to invest in the shared capabilities and interoperability painstakingly built by the tremendous sacrifices of our troops.  And I appreciate Germany’s interest in making sure that even after our troops are no longer involved in combat operations that we can continue to see progress in Afghanistan.

And many of you noted that yesterday there was an announcement about the Taliban opening an office for purpose of negotiations in Qatar.  I said yesterday, this is going to be a difficult process.  The parties there have been fighting for a very long time, even before 9/11, and we don’t expect that it will be easy, but we do think ultimately we’re going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans about how they can move forward and end the cycle of violence there so that they can start actually building their country.

We also discussed the other challenges in the region, including Syria.  We are united to see a negotiated political settlement to that conflict.  We want to see a Syria that’s unified, democratic, and at peace.  Right now, we need to see an end to the bloodshed, and we have to make sure that chemical weapons are not used on the ground.  I thought we saw some progress at the G8 in reaffirming the need for a transitional governing process and a U.N. investigation of the potential use of chemical weapons there.

I thanked the Chancellor for Germany’s unwavering support of the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and I briefed her on my Secretary of State, John Kerry’s efforts to find common ground there.

And finally, I want to thank Chancellor Merkel’s not only generous invitation but also the humbling privilege that I’ll have to address the people of Berlin from Pariser Platz on the Eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — the other side of the wall that once stood there, the wall that President Reagan insisted be torn down.  A quarter century since then has been one of extraordinary progress.  We can witness this in the incredible vibrancy and prosperity of Berlin.  But one of the things I’ll address today is the fact that given the extraordinary blessings that we enjoy as Americans and as Germans, we have an obligation to make sure that walls around the world are torn down.  And we can only accomplish that together.

So I’m grateful for our alliance.  I’m grateful for our friendship.  And I’m looking forward for an opportunity to answer some questions.

Am I starting off?

MR. CARNEY:  From the American press, Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

Q    Mr. President, I wanted to follow up on your comments about the Taliban talks.  When you announced those talks yesterday, you praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai as being courageous for being willing to take that step.  Yet, today, Karzai says that he is suspending talks with the U.S. in response to the Taliban negotiations.  How is it possible for you and President Karzai to be on such different pages about this key decision?  And is Karzai saying different things to you privately than he is publicly today?

And, Chancellor Merkel, you mentioned that PRISM came up in your discussions today with President Obama.  Are you more reassured now about the scope of those programs following the discussions?  And did President Obama give you any reassurances that the programs don’t violate German privacy rights?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We had extensive conversations with President Karzai both before and after the Taliban opened the office in Doha.  As I think has been reported, there were some concerns about the manner in which the Taliban opened it, some of the language that they used.

We had anticipated that at the outset, there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground.  That’s not surprising.  As I said, they’ve been fighting for a very long time.  There’s enormous mistrust.  Not only have the Taliban and the Afghan government been fighting for a long time, they’re fighting as we speak.  We’re in the middle of a war.  And Afghans are still being killed and, by the way, members of the international forces there are still being killed.  And that’s not abating as we speak.

But what we also believe is that alongside the process in which we are training, equipping a Afghan government that can be responsible for its own security — even as we go through some, frankly, difficult negotiations around what it would mean for the international community to have an ongoing training and advising presence after 2014, we still believe that you’ve got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of some sort of political reconciliation.

Whether that bears fruit, whether it actually happens, or whether, post-2014, there’s going to continue to be fighting, as there was before ISAF forces got into Afghanistan, that’s a question that only the Afghans can answer.  But I think that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation.  The challenge is how do you get those things started while you’re also at war.  And my hope is, and expectation is, is that despite those challenges, the process will proceed.

Chancellor Merkel, if you don’t mind, even though the question was directed at you, I think it would appropriate for me to go ahead and talk about the NSA issue, which obviously caused controversy back home, but also here in Europe.  And then, obviously, Chancellor Merkel will have her own views on this.

What I explained to Chancellor Merkel is, is that I came into office committed to protecting the American people, but also committed to our values and our ideals.  And one of our highest ideals is civil liberties and privacy.  And I was a critic of the previous administration for those occasions in which I felt they had violated our values, and I came in with a healthy skepticism about how our various programs were structured.  But what I have been able to do is examine and scrub how our intelligence services are operating, and I’m confident that at this point, we have struck the appropriate balance.

Now, let me be very specific in terms of — and this is what I described to Chancellor Merkel — what these programs are that have caused so much controversy.

Essentially, one program allows us to take a phone number that has been discovered separately through some lead that is typical of what our intelligence services do — but we get a phone number.  And what we try to discover is, has anybody else been called from that phone.  And we have both data that allows us to just check on phone numbers and nothing else — no content; nobody is listening in on a conversation at that point.  It’s just determining whether or not if, for example, we found a phone number in Osama bin Laden’s compound after the raid, had he called anybody in New York or Berlin or anyplace else.

If, in fact, we discover that another call has been made, at that point, in order to listen to any phone call, we would have to then go to a judge and seek information through a process that is court-supervised.  And this entire thing has been set up under the supervision of a federal court judge.

When it comes to the Internet and email, as Chancellor Merkel said, we’re now in an Internet age and we have to make sure that our administrative rules and our protections catch up with this new cyber world.  What I can say to everybody in Germany and everybody around the world is this applies very narrowly to leads that we have obtained on issues related to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

So there are a few narrow categories.  We get very specific leads.  And based on those leads, again, with court supervision and oversight, we are able then to access information.

This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else.  This is not a situation where we simply go into the Internet and start searching any way that we want.  This is a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people.  And all of it is done under the oversight of the courts.

And as a consequence, we’ve saved lives.  We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany.  So lives have been saved.  And the encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process to relate to these particular categories.
Having said all that, what I’ve said in the United States is what I shared with Chancellor Merkel, and that is that we do have to strike a balance and we do have to be cautious about how our governments are operating when it comes to intelligence.  And so this is a debate that I welcome.

What we’re going to be doing when I get back home is trying to find ways to declassify further some of these programs without completely compromising their effectiveness, sharing that information with the public, and also our intelligence teams are directed to work very closely with our German intelligence counterparts so that they have clarity and assurance that they’re not being abused.

But I think one of the things that separates us from some other governments is that we welcome these debates.  That’s what a democracy is about.  And I’m confident that we can strike this right balance, keep our people safe, but also preserve our civil liberties even in this Internet age.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  For the German people, I can only say the following.  It’s important, it’s necessary for us to debate these issues.  People have concerns, precisely concerns that there may be some kind of blanket, across-the-board gathering of information.  We talked about this.  The questions that we have not yet perhaps satisfactorily addressed we will address later on.

But there needs to be a balance; there needs to be proportionality, obviously, between upholding security and safety of our people and our country — and there are quite a lot of instances where we were getting very important information from the United States, for example, the so-called Sauerland Group.  And at the same time, obviously people want to use those new, modern means of communication and technology and do so freely.  And as we learn to live and deal responsibly with other new means of technology, we have to learn and deal responsibly with this one.

And I think today was an important first step in the right direction, and I think it has brought us forward.

Q    Madam Chancellor, Mr. President.  First, a question addressed to you, Mr. President.  There were a number of hopes in the world that were in a way shattered as regards your legislative term — for example, closing down of Guantanamo, or scrapping the death penalty throughout the whole of the United States, in all of the States.  And now, as regards Asia, are you singling out Germany because there’s a big risk here?

And, Madam Chancellor, the Nobel Prize winner, Obama is waging a drone war also via Germany.  And is he allowed to do that, according to German law?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me see if I understood your question properly.  The first question was related to policies back home, related to Guantanamo or the death penalty.  And then you wanted to talk about drones, or did you just want to focus on the drone question?  I just want to make sure that I’m responsive to your question.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  I guess I ought to answer on the drones.   And Guantanamo, that was a question I believe addressed to you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay.  Well, it continues to be my policy that I want to close Guantanamo.  It has been more difficult than I had hoped, in part because there’s been significant resistance from Congress on this, and on some issues I need congressional authorization.

But about a month ago I gave a speech in which I said that I would redouble my efforts to do so.  Because 9/11 happened, and we now have been involved in one form or another in a war for over a decade.  One war, I think, in Afghanistan was necessary.  One war I disagreed with strongly.  But in either case there are dangers if we get on a perpetual war footing.

The threat of terrorism remains real, and we have to be vigilant and we have to take steps to protect ourselves, consistent with our values and consistent with international law. But we also have to guard against being so driven by fear that we are not changing the fabric of our society in ways that we don’t intend and do not want for the future.  I think closing Guantanamo is an example of us getting out of that perpetual war mentality.

Some of the people at Guantanamo are dangerous.  Some of them did bad things.  But we cannot have a permanent outpost in which they’re being held even as we’re ending a war in Afghanistan that triggered some of these — the capture of some of these detainees in the first place.

So I’m confident that we can continue to make progress on this front, although, you’re right, it has not been as fast as I would have liked.  One of the things you discover as a politician is that people don’t always do exactly what you want.  It’s shocking.  And then you have to keep on working at it.

One thing with respect to drone policy — in that speech that I gave I also addressed that issue of the lethal targeting of identified terrorists.  This also is a source of controversy. We have constrained it tightly, and as we defeat al Qaeda, we have to, I think, very carefully examine how these technologies are used.  I can say, though, that we do not use Germany as a launching point for unmanned drones to go after counter — as part of our counterterrorism activities.  And so I know that there have been some reports here in Germany that that might be the case.  That is not.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Let me complement by saying that the United States of America have bases here, they have soldiers here.  They fulfill a very important function, particularly in the fight against terrorism.  I think of Ramstein, for example — and also supplies to soldiers, but also caring for wounded soldiers.

We as allies, as members of NATO, stand shoulder-to-shoulder here.  And we provide bases for activities, and our work is based, also, on shared values.  As I said, we have exchanges on values.  And I think it’s good.  I think it’s the right thing to do for the United States of America to be present here with military bases in Germany.  It’s a normal thing within an alliance, and this is as it should be and as it will be, and continue to be.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. President, on Syria, for the purposes of transparency, can you be specific about what military arms the United States will be providing to Syrian rebels and about which groups will be receiving them?  And on the same subject, President Putin appeared resolute and isolated on Syria at the G8.  How can a political process succeed in bringing peace if Russia continues to support Assad, both militarily and politically?

Madam Chancellor, if I may in German, the federal government has always argued along the lines that weapons, exports and deliveries of supplies would always lead to an escalation because they could land in the hands of terrorists.  Don’t you think that the situation is going to be exacerbated if America supplies it? Perhaps you would also comment on Mr. Putin.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, first of all, Jeff, I’m very impressed with your German.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t know if you had to practice, but you sounded great.  Chancellor Merkel said you were just okay.  (Laughter.)

I cannot and will not comment on specifics around our programs related to the Syrian opposition.  What I can say is that we have had a steady, consistent policy, which is, we want a Syria that is peaceful, non-sectarian, democratic, legitimate, tolerant.  And that is our overriding goal.  We want to end the bloodshed.  We want to make sure that chemical weapons are not used, and that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of people who would be willing to use them.  And so we’ve had a consistent view in our desired outcome in Syria.

It’s also been our view that the best way to get there is through a political transition.  And we said that a year ago; we said that two years ago.  President Assad made a different decision and has brought chaos and bloodshed to his country and has been killing his own people.  And it is our view that it is not possible for him to regain legitimacy after over 100,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced inside the country.

So the question now is just, as a practical matter — and this is what I said to President Putin — as a practical matter, if, in fact, Syria is to remain a unified country and the bloodshed is going to end, how do we do that?  The only way to do that is through some sort of political transition process.

And the good news out of the G8 meeting was — is that you saw all the countries, including Russia, reaffirming the communiqué coming out of the first Geneva talks that said we need to create a transitional governing body with full powers.

The second good thing that came out of the G8 discussions was that all of us, including Russia, said we have to investigate use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, and all the parties including the government of Bashar al-Assad have to cooperate with that investigation.

We’re confident that, in fact, the government has used chemical weapons.  The Russians are skeptical.  We said, fine, let’s have the United Nations get in there but do a serious investigation of it — because we don’t want anybody using chemical weapons.

Now, the issue for us is how can we continue to support a political opposition and a military opposition that becomes more capable, becomes more unified, that isolates extremists who have incorporated themselves into the opposition forces inside of Syria, so that if, in fact, and when we get a political transition, there’s somebody there who can take over and function in governing and lead to a better future for all Syrians.

That’s a difficult process.  It’s not one that’s happening overnight.  But all the assistance that we are providing both to the political and military opposition is designed for that purpose.

Some of the stories that have been out there publicly have, I think, gotten a little over-cranked in terms of the idea that somehow the United States is preparing to go all in and participate in another war.  What we want to do is end a war.  But the only way it’s going to end is if, in fact, we have the kind of transition that I described.

And although, you’re right, that at this point President Putin believes that what would replace Assad would be worse than Assad himself, what I think will become more and more apparent over the coming weeks and months is that without a different government you can’t bring peace and, in fact, you’re going to see sectarian divisions get worse and worse, and start spilling over into the other parts of the region, and that would be good for nobody.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  On the issue of arms supplies, Germany has very clear, strict rules on this, legal rules, according to which we are not allowed to supply arms into areas where there is civil strife.  And that is not specifically designed for the Syrian question; it is a general rule.

But that does not mean that we do not wish, and can play, a constructive role as regards the political processes — for example, as regards humanitarian assistance; as regards also the debate on which is the right way to go about this.  How can we strengthen the opposition, those forces that work in the best interest of the people in Syria, on the ground?  And the situation is somewhat vague as regards the members of the opposition and quite different.

It is our task also, as we see it, that those who wish for a good future for Syria who are not linked with terrorists get a chance to achieve full legitimacy — because Germany, too, is of the opinion that Assad has certainly lost that legitimacy.

The Russian President, as I understand him, says not so clearly what I said just now, that the Syrian President namely has lost his legitimacy.  But we have found common language in the sense that we wish to work for a transition government.  And the question also has to be asked, what is going to come after that? And that is a question we need to address, and we did so.  And in the language of the communiqué of the G8 it says, we, all of us, reject terrorist forces in Syria because they would, again, exacerbate the suffering of the people there.

Now we have to see to it that, step by step, all of these different strands are brought together because, unfortunately, as yet, there is no common U.N. position because Russia so far was not on the side of the others.  But we must leave no stone unturned in trying, as we did during the G8, to find a common basis on which we can also speak with Russia.

And there are certain areas where we obviously differ, but our political responsibility is to, time and again, seek to bring this matter forward in the right direction.  And since the situation — if we look to Jordan, if we look to other countries in the vicinity — becomes more and more unstable, what with the flow of refugees and all, I think it’s worth every effort to try, all of us to try to do something, based on the language of the communiqué of yesterday, to do something in the interest of the people in Syria.

Q    Mr. President, in the past, there were some different points of view about the best way out of the global financial crisis.  Chancellor Merkel stands for a policy of cutting back budgets to reach that of financial stability throughout the eurozone to win back trust of the markets.  Did you talk about this issue?  And what’s your position on that?

And, Madam Chancellor, same question addressed to you — has there been a discussion on the eurozone, and do you wish to abide by the policy, in view of the problems that the countries in the south have?

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Maybe I will just start with something because your question insinuates something that we don’t want.  We want prosperity.  We want competitiveness.  We want economic strength in order to bring about reduction of unemployment.

We talked about this at some length.  And I also said Germany in the long run will only be able to live well if Europe as a whole is doing well.  So it would be a very wrong tack for our policy to take if we were pursuing a kind of policy where we weaken those countries into which we, after all, wish to export our goods.  I think the world is changing, however, and Europe is not competitive enough in all areas.  And budget consolidation is one piece of the mosaic.  Structural reforms have to come into this.

And the Italian Prime Minister addressed this issue at some length during the G8.  What does this mean for young people?  What does it mean for jobs for young people?

But still the task is, if 90 percent of growth globally is generated outside of Europe, than we need to produce goods that are so competitive — as competitive for other markets to actually buy them.  And this is something that we need to undergo.  We need to draw down red tape, bureaucracy.  We need to be more open for research and development.  We need to have structural reforms.  We need to have, for example, affordable energy.  If I look at the energy price development in the United States, all of this needs to be done.  And part and parcel with that also is, particularly in a continent that is growing ever older, that we are able to reduce our budget deficits so that we don’t leave at the expense of future generations.

That is what this is all about.  This is what I am fervently asking for and working for.  Europe can only help that is strong. And so a future without Europe is something that I cannot envisage for Germany.  It’s two sides of one and the same coin.  On the one hand, Germany needs and wants to be competitive, and we also want others to be competitive and improve their competiveness.  And we all belong together.  This is why we showed solidarity time again, and this is, too, something that we addressed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, as Angela said, all of us want the same thing.  We want to have an economy that is growing, where people, if they’re willing to work hard, are able to succeed, and can find jobs that pay a living wage, and can retire with some dignity, and can send their children to good schools, and have health care that is affordable.  And we have to do all those things in a way that’s fiscally prudent so that we’re not mortgaging our future or burdening our children and our grandchildren.

And I think all developing countries — or all more developed countries have been going through some of the same challenges.  And we just went through the worst recession in many years.

The good news is, is that we’ve seen some progress.  In the United States, we fixed our banks, which was the source initially, the trigger for some of these major problems.  So we have a much stronger banking system now, with much tighter supervision.  The housing market has begun to recover.  We’ve now grown for close to four years — three and a half years — and we’ve created 7 million new jobs.

But we still have some reforms that we have to do.  We’ve got to improve the skills of our workforce.  We’ve got to improve our infrastructure.  We have to continue to invest in research and development.  In all countries around the world, you’re seeing growing inequality, and so we have to find ways to make sure that ladders of opportunity exist for those at the bottom, and that profits and increased productivity all does not just benefit those at the top.

And so what’s true in the United States is also true in Europe.  Europe has different sets of problems.  Part of the challenge of the eurozone is that you have countries at different stages and levels of productivity and are further or less far along on this path of restructuring and reform.

So we’ve been discussing this — this has been a four-year conversation that we’ve been having, and I don’t think there’s a perfect recipe.  All of us have to make sure that our budgets are not out of control.  All of us have to undergo structural reforms to adapt to a new and highly competitive economy.  What’s true is, though, all of us also have to focus on growth, and we have to make sure that in pursuit of our longer-term policies, whether it’s fiscal consolidation or reforms of our overly rigid labor markets, or pension reforms, that we don’t lose sight of our main goal, which is to make lives of people better.

And if, for example, we start seeing youth unemployment go too high, then at some point we’ve got to modulate our approach to ensure that we don’t just lose a generation who may never recover in terms of their careers.  And that’s the struggle that I think all of us are going through.  That’s the discussion we had at the G8.  That’s a discussion that Angela and I had here today.

I’m confident that Germany will succeed in this process.  I’m confident that Chancellor Merkel cares about maintaining the eurozone and the European project.  And she, I think, is confident that the United States wants to do everything we can to get Europe through this difficult patch so that it can be a force for growth and prosperity well into the future.

Thank you very much, everybody.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Danke schön.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Danke schön.

END
1:32 P.M. CEST

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Full Text Obama Presidency May 13, 2013: President Barack Obama & United Kingdom Prime Minister Cameron’s Remarks at a Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 5-13-13 

East Room

11:41 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good morning, everybody.  Please have a seat.  And to all our moms out there, I hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day.

It’s always a great pleasure to welcome my friend and partner, Prime Minister David Cameron.  Michelle and I have wonderful memories from when David and Samantha visited us last year.  There was a lot of attention about how I took David to March Madness — we went to Ohio.  And a year later, we have to confess that David still does not understand basketball — I still do not understand cricket.

As we’ve said before, the great alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom is rooted in shared interests and shared values, and it’s indispensable to global security and prosperity.  But as we’ve seen again recently, it’s also a partnership of the heart.  Here in the United States, we joined our British friends in mourning the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, a great champion of freedom and liberty and of the alliance that we carry on today.  And after the bombings in Boston, we Americans were grateful for the support of friends from around the world, particularly those across the Atlantic.  At the London Marathon, runners paused in a moment of silence and dedicated their race to Boston.  And David will be visiting Boston to pay tribute to the victims and first responders.

So, David, I want to thank you and the British people for reminding us that in good times and in bad, our two peoples stand as one.

David is here, first and foremost, as he prepares to host the G8 next month.  I appreciate him updating me on the agenda as it takes shape, and we discussed how the summit will be another opportunity to sustain the global economic recovery with a focus on growth and creating jobs for our people.  Michelle and I are looking forward to visiting Northern Ireland, and I know that the summit is going to be a great success under David’s fine leadership.

We discussed the importance of moving ahead with the EU towards negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  Our extensive trade with the U.K. is central to our broader transatlantic economic relationship, which supports more than 13 million jobs.  And I want to thank David for his strong support for building on those ties, and I look forward to launching negotiations with the EU in the coming months.  I believe we’ve got a real opportunity to cut tariffs, open markets, create jobs, and make all of our economies even more competitive.
With regard to global security, we reviewed progress in Afghanistan, where our troops continue to serve with extraordinary courage alongside each other.  And I want to commend David for his efforts to encourage greater dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is critical to regional security.

As planned, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the country soon — this spring.  U.S., British and coalition forces will move into a support role.  Our troops will continue to come home, and the war will end by the end of next year, even as we work with our Afghan partners to make sure that Afghanistan is never again a haven for terrorists who would attack our nations.

Given our shared commitment to Middle East peace, I updated David on Secretary Kerry’s efforts with Israelis and Palestinians and the importance of moving towards negotiations.  And we reaffirmed our support for democratic transitions in the Middle East and North Africa, including the economic reforms that have to go along with political reforms.

Of course, we discussed Syria and the appalling violence being inflicted on the Syrian people.  Together, we’re going to continue our efforts to increase pressure on the Assad regime, to provide humanitarian aid to the long-suffering Syrian people, to strengthen the moderate opposition, and to prepare for a democratic Syria without Bashar Assad.

And that includes bringing together representatives of the regime and the opposition in Geneva in the coming weeks to agree on a transitional body which would allow a transfer of power from Assad to this governing body.  Meanwhile, we’ll continue to work to establish the facts around the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and those facts will help guide our next steps.

We discussed Iran, where we agreed to keep up the pressure on Tehran for its continued failure to abide by its nuclear obligations.  The burden is on Iran to engage constructively with us and our P5-plus-1 partners in order to resolve the world’s concerns about its nuclear program.

And, finally, today we’re reaffirming our commitment to global development.  Specifically, we’re encouraged by the ambitious reforms underway at the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, where both of our nations are stepping up our efforts.  And David has made it clear that the G8 Summit will be another opportunity to make progress on nutrition and food security.

So, David, thank you very much, as always, for your leadership and your partnership.  As we prepare for our work in Northern Ireland, as we consider the challenges we face around the world, it’s clear we face a demanding agenda.  But if the history of our people show anything, it is that we persevere.  As one of those London runners said at the marathon — we’re going to keep running, and we’re going to keep on doing this.  And that’s the spirit of confidence and resolve that we will continue to draw upon as we work together to meet these challenges.

So, David, thank you very much.  And welcome.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Thank you very much, Barack.  And thank you for the warm welcome.  It’s great to be back here with you in the White House.  Thank you for what you said about Margaret Thatcher.  It was a pleasure to welcome so many Americans to her remarkable funeral in the U.K.

I absolutely echo what you said about the appalling outrage in Boston.  I look forward to going there to pay my tribute to the people of that remarkable city and their courage, and we will always stand with you in the fight against terrorism.

Thank you for the remarks about the cricket and the basketball.  I haven’t made much progress — I made a bit of progress on baseball; I actually read a book about it this year, so maybe next time we’ll get to work on that one.

It’s good to be back for the first time since the American people returned you to office.  And as you said, the relationship between Britain and the United States is a partnership without parallel.  Day in, day out across the world, our diplomats and intelligence agencies work together, our soldiers serve together, and our businesses trade with each other.

In Afghanistan, our armed forces are together defending the stability that will make us all safer.  And in the global economic race, our businesses are doing more than $17 billion of trade across the Atlantic every month of every year.  And in a changing world, our nations share a resolve to stand up for democracy, for enterprise and for freedom.

We’ve discussed many issues today, as the President has said.  Let me highlight three:  the economy, the G8, and Syria.

Our greatest challenge is to secure a sustainable economic recovery.  Each of us has to find the right solutions at home.  For all of us, it means dealing with debt, it means restoring stability, getting our economy growing, and together seizing new opportunities to grow our economies.

President Obama and I have both championed a free trade deal between the European Union and the United States.  And there is a real chance now to get the process launched in time for the G8.  So the next five weeks are crucial.  To realize the huge benefits this deal could bring will take ambition and political will — that means everything on the table, even the difficult issues, and no exceptions.  It’s worth the effort.  For Britain alone, an ambitious deal could be worth up to 10 billion pounds a year, boosting industries from car manufacturing to financial services.
We discussed the G8 Summit in some detail.  When we meet on the shores of Loch Erne in Northern Ireland five weeks from today, I want us to agree ambitious action for economic growth.  Open trade is at the heart of this, but we have a broader agenda, too — to make sure everyone shares in the benefits of this greater openness, not just in our advanced economies but in the developing world, too.  I’m an unashamedly pro-business politician, but as we open up our economies to get business growing, we need to make sure that all companies pay their taxes properly and enable citizens to hold their governments and businesses to account.

Today we’ve agreed to tackle the scourge of tax evasion.  We need to know who really owns a company, who profits from it, whether taxes are paid.  And we need a new mechanism to track where multinationals make their money and where they pay their taxes so we can stop those that are manipulating the system unfairly.

Finally, we discussed the brutal conflict in Syria — 80,000 dead; 5 million people forced from their homes.  Syria’s history is being written in the blood of her people, and it is happening on our watch.  The world urgently needs to come together to bring the killing to an end.  None of us have any interest in seeing more lives lost, in seeing chemical weapons used, or extremist violence spreading even further.

So we welcome President Putin’s agreement to join an effort to achieve a political solution.  The challenges remain formidable, but we have an urgent window of opportunity before the worst fears are realized.  There is no more urgent international task than this.  We need to get Syrians to the table to agree a transitional government that can win the consent of all of the Syrian people.  But there will be no political progress unless the opposition is able to withstand the onslaught, and put pressure on Assad so he knows there is no military victory.  So we will also increase our efforts to support and to shape the moderate opposition.

Britain is pushing for more flexibility in the EU arms embargo and we will double nonlethal support to the Syrian opposition in the coming year.  Armored vehicles, body armor, and power generators are route to be shipped.  We’re helping local councils govern the areas that they liberate, and we’re supporting Lebanon and Jordan to deal with the influx of refugees.  We’ll also do more for those in desperate humanitarian need — care for trauma injuries; helping torture victims to recover; getting Syrian families drinking clean water; having access to food, to shelter.

There is now, I believe, common ground between the U.S., U.K., Russia, and many others that whatever our differences, we have the same aim — a stable, inclusive, and peaceful Syria, free from the scourge of extremism.  There is real political will behind this.  We now need to get on and do everything we can to make it happen.

Barack, thank you once again for your warm welcome and for our talks today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you.  All right, we’ve got time for a couple of questions.  We’re going to start with Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about the IRS and Benghazi.  When did you first learn that the IRS was targeting conservative political groups?  Do you feel that the IRS has betrayed the public’s trust?  And what do you think the repercussions for these actions should be?  And on Benghazi, newly public emails show that the White House and the State Department appear to have been more closely involved with the crafting of the talking points on the attack than first acknowledged.  Do you think the White House misled the public about its role in shaping the talking points?  And do you stand by your administration’s assertions that the talking points were not purposely changed to downplay the prospects of terrorism?  And, Prime Minister Cameron, on Syria, if the EU arms embargo that you mentioned is amended or lapses, is it your intention to send the Syrian opposition forces weapons?  And are you encouraging President Obama to take the same step?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me take the IRS situation first.  I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.  I think it was on Friday.  And this is pretty straightforward.

If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.  And they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.

And you should feel that way regardless of party.  I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat, independent or a Republican.  At some point, there are going to be Republican administrations.  At some point, there are going to be Democratic ones.  Either way, you don’t want the IRS ever being perceived to be biased and anything less than neutral in terms of how they operate.  So this is something that I think people are properly concerned about.

The IG is conducting its investigation.  And I am not going to comment on their specific findings prematurely, but I can tell you that if you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.  And people have to be held accountable, and it’s got to be fixed.  So we’ll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are.  But I’ve got no patience with it.  I will not tolerate it.  And we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.

With respect to Benghazi, we’ve now seen this argument that’s been made by some folks primarily up on Capitol Hill for months now.  And I’ve just got to say — here’s what we know.  Americans died in Benghazi.  What we also know is clearly they were not in a position where they were adequately protected.  The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism.  And what I pledged to the American people was that we would find out what happened, we would make sure that it did not happen again, and we would make sure that we held accountable those who had perpetrated this terrible crime.

And that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do.  And over the last several months, there was a review board headed by two distinguished Americans — Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering — who investigated every element of this.  And what they discovered was some pretty harsh judgments in terms of how we had worked to protect consulates and embassies around the world.  They gave us a whole series of recommendations.  Those recommendations are being implemented as we speak.

The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow.  What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.  It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film.  And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.

And the emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees.  They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that, in fact, there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used.  And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story.  There’s no “there” there.

Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing.  And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows, using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.

So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that, in fact, has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya.

Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days?  So the whole thing defies logic.  And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.  We’ve had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton’s integrity, Susan Rice’s integrity, Mike Mullen and Tom Pickering’s integrity.  It’s a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks.  They’ve used it for fundraising.

And frankly, if anybody out there wants to actually focus on how we make sure something like this does not happen again, I am happy to get their advice and information and counsel.  But the fact of the matter is these four Americans, as I said right when it happened, were people I sent into the field, and I’ve been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths.  And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations.  And we don’t have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington.  We should be focused on what are we doing to protect them.

And that’s not easy, by the way.  And it’s going to require resources and tough judgments and tough calls.  And there are a whole bunch of diplomats out there who know that they’re in harm’s way.  And there are threat streams that come through every so often, with respect to our embassies and our consulates — and that’s not just us, by the way; the British have to deal with the same thing.

And we’ve got a whole bunch of people in the State Department who consistently say, you know what, I’m willing to step up, I’m willing to put myself in harm’s way because I think that this mission is important in terms of serving the United States and advancing our interests around the globe.

And so we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.  What happened was tragic.  It was carried out by extremists inside of Libya.  We are out there trying to hunt down the folks who carried this out, and we are trying to make sure that we fix the system so that it doesn’t happen again.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Thank you.  On the issue of the opposition in Syria, we have not made the decision to arm opposition groups in Syria.  What we’ve done is we have amended the EU arms embargo in order that we can give technical assistance and technical advice.  And as I said in my statement, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We’re continuing to examine and look at the EU arms embargo and see whether we need to make further changes to it in order to facilitate our work with the opposition.  I do believe that there’s more we can do, alongside technical advice, assistance, help, in order to shape them, in order to work with them.  And to those who doubt that approach, I would just argue that, look, if we don’t help the Syrian opposition — who we do recognize as being legitimate, who have signed up to a statement about a future for Syria that is democratic, that respects the rights of minorities — if we don’t work with that part of the opposition, then we shouldn’t be surprised if the extremist elements grow.

So I think being engaged with the Syrian opposition is the right approach, and that is an approach I know I share with the President and with other colleagues in the European Union.

James Landale from the BBC.

Q    James Landale, BBC.  Prime Minister, you’re talking here today about a new EU-U.S. trade deal, and yet members of your party are now talking about leaving the European Union.  What is your message to them and to those pushing for an early referendum?  And if there were a referendum tomorrow, how would you vote?

And, Mr. President, earlier this year you told David Cameron that you wanted a strong U.K. in a strong EU.  How concerned are you that members of David Cameron’s Cabinet are now openly contemplating withdrawal?

And on Syria, if I may, a question to both of you:  What gives you any confidence that the Russians are going to help you on this?

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Well, first of all, on the issue of a referendum, look, there’s not going to be a referendum tomorrow.  And there’s a very good reason why there’s not going to be a referendum tomorrow — is because it would give the British public I think an entirely false choice between the status quo — which I don’t think is acceptable.  I want to see the European Union change.  I want to see Britain’s relationship with the European [Union] change and improve.  So it would be a false choice between the status quo and leaving.  And I don’t think that is the choice the British public want or the British public deserve.

Everything I do in this area is guided by a very simple principle, which is what is in the national interest of Britain. Is it in the national interest of Britain to have a transatlantic trade deal that will make our countries more prosperous; that will get people to work; that will help our businesses?  Yes, it is.  And so we will push for this transatlantic trade deal.

Is it in our interests to reform the European Union to make it more open, more competitive, more flexible, and to improve Britain’s place within the European Union?  Yes, it is in our national interest.  And it’s not only in our national interest, it is achievable, because Europe has to change because the single currency is driving change for that part of the European Union that is in the single currency.  And just as they want changes, so I believe Britain is quite entitled to ask for and to get changes in response.

And then finally, is it in Britain’s national interest, once we have achieved those changes but before the end of 2017, to consult the British public in a proper, full-on, in/out referendum?  Yes, I believe it is.  So that’s the approach that we take — everything driven by what is in the British national interest.

That is what I’m going to deliver.  It’s absolutely right for our country.  It has very strong support throughout the country and in the Conservative Party, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

On the Syrian issue, you asked the question — what are the signs of Russian engagement.  Well, I had very good talks with President Putin in Sochi on Friday.  And, look, we had a very frank conversation in that we have approached this — and in some extent, still do approach this — in a different way.  I have been very vocal in supporting the Syrian opposition and saying that Assad has to go, that he is not legitimate, and I continue to say that.  And President Putin has taken a different point of view.

But where there is a common interest is that it is in both our interests that at the end of this there is a stable, democratic Syria, that there is a stable neighborhood, and that we don’t encourage the growth of violent extremism.  And I think both the Russian President, the American President, and myself — I think we can all see that the current trajectory of how things are going is not actually in anybody’s interest and so it is worth this major diplomatic effort, which we are all together leading this major diplomatic effort to bring the parties to the table to achieve a transition at the top in Syria so that we can make the change that country needs.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to the relationship between the U.K. and the EU, we have a special relationship with the United Kingdom.  And we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward-looking and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests as well as the world.  And I think the U.K.’s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world, as well as obviously a very important economic partnership.

Now, ultimately, the people of the U.K. have to make decisions for themselves.  I will say this — that David’s basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off makes some sense to me.  And I know that David has been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU.  Those are tough negotiations.  You’ve got a lot of countries involved, I recognize that.  But so long as we haven’t yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be, I at least would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment.  Again, I want to emphasize these are issues for the people of the United Kingdom to make a decision about, not ours.

With respect to Syria, I think David said it very well.  If you look objectively, the entire world community has an interest in seeing a Syria that is not engaged in sectarian war, in which the Syrian people are not being slaughtered, that is an island of peace as opposed to potentially an outpost for extremists.  That’s not just true for the United States.  That’s not just true for Great Britain.  That’s not just true for countries like Jordan and Turkey that border Syria, but that’s also true for Russia.

And I’m pleased to hear that David had a very constructive conversation with President Putin shortly after the conversation that had taken place between John Kerry and President Putin.  I’ve spoken to President Putin several times on this topic.  And our basic argument is that as a leader on the world stage, Russia has an interest, as well as an obligation, to try to resolve this issue in a way that can lead to the kind of outcome that we’d all like to see over the long term.

And, look, I don’t think it’s any secret that there remains lingering suspicions between Russia and other members of the G8 or the West.  It’s been several decades now since Russia transformed itself and the Eastern Bloc transformed itself.  But some of those suspicions still exist.

And part of what my goal has been, John Kerry’s goal has been — and I know that David’s goal has been — to try to break down some of those suspicions and look objectively at the situation.

If, in fact, we can broker a peaceful political transition that leads to Assad’s departure but a state in Syria that is still intact; that accommodates the interests of all the ethnic groups, all the religious groups inside of Syria; and that ends the bloodshed, stabilizes the situation — that’s not just going to be good for us; that will be good for everybody.  And we’re going to be very persistent in trying to make that happen.

I’m not promising that it’s going to be successful.  Frankly, sometimes once sort of the Furies have been unleashed in a situation like we’re seeing in Syria, it’s very hard to put things back together.  And there are going to be enormous challenges in getting a credible process going even if Russia is involved, because we still have other countries like Iran and we have non-state actors like Hezbollah that have been actively involved.  And frankly, on the other side we’ve got organizations like al Nusra that are essentially affiliated to al Qaeda that have another agenda beyond just getting rid of Assad.

So all that makes a combustible mix and it’s going to be challenging, but it’s worth the effort.  And what we can tell you is that we’re always more successful in any global effort when we’ve got a strong friend and partner like Great Britain by our side and strong leadership by Prime Minister David Cameron.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END
12:11 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines January 12, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Ending the War in Afghanistan

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Ending the War in Afghanistan

Source: ABC News Radio, 1-12-13

Win McNamee/Getty Images

In his weekly address, President Obama reprises the rosy message he delivered Friday on the war in Afghanistan: that the U.S. is achieving its primary objective and on-track to drawdown forces by the end of 2014.

“Our core objective – the reason we went to war in the first place – is now within reach: ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America,” he says in the address.

“This week, we agreed that this spring, Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role,” the president says. “In the coming months, I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown.  And by the end of next year, America’s war in Afghanistan will be over.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency January 11, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Joint Press Conference President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Hosts President Karzai

Source: WH, 1-11-13

President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan participate in a joint press conference (January 11, 2013)
President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan participate in a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 11, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

President Obama hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai today at the White House for talks on the partnership between our two nations and the role of U.S. troops in that country.

And coming out of those talks, President Obama was able to discuss a milestone we’ll reach this year when Afghan forces take full responsibility for their nation’s security and the war draws to a close.

“This progress is only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people who’ve endured extraordinary hardship,” he said. “In this war, more than 2,000 of America’s sons and daughters have given their lives. These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever.”

In his statement, President Karzai echoed that message.

“During our conversations…I thanked the President for the help that the United States has given to the Afghan people,” he said, “for all that we have gained in the past 10 years, and that those gains will be kept by any standard while we are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including the respect for Afghan constitution.”

Read the full transcript of their remarks or watch the video

Joint Press Conference by President Obama and President Karzai

Source: WH, 1-11-13 

East Room

1:40 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Please have a seat.

It is my pleasure to welcome President Karzai back to the White House, as well as his delegation.  We last saw each other during the NATO Summit, in my hometown of Chicago — a city that reflects the friendship between our peoples, including many Afghan-Americans, as well as the Karzai family.  So, Mr. President, welcome.

We meet at a critical moment.  The 33,000 additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan have served with honor.  They’ve completed their mission and, as promised, returned home this past fall.  The transition is well underway, and soon nearly 90 percent of Afghans will live in areas where Afghan forces are in the lead for their own security.

This year, we’ll mark another milestone — Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country.  And by the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be complete –Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come to a responsible end.

This progress is only possible because of the incredible sacrifices of our troops and our diplomats, the forces of our many coalition partners, and the Afghan people who’ve endured extraordinary hardship.  In this war, more than 2,000 of America’s sons and daughters have given their lives.  These are patriots that we honor today, tomorrow, and forever.  And as we announced today, next month I will present our nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha for his heroic service in Afghanistan.

Today, because of the courage of our citizens, President Karzai and I have been able to review our shared strategy.  With the devastating blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda, our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach:  ensuring that al Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against our country.  At the same time, we pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.  Today, most major cities — and most Afghans — are more secure, and insurgents have continued to lose territory.

Meanwhile, Afghan forces continue to grow stronger.  As planned, some 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police are now in training or on duty.  Most missions are already being led by Afghan forces.  And of all the men and women in uniform in Afghanistan, the vast majority are Afghans who are fighting and dying for their country every day.

We still face significant challenges.  But because of this progress, our transition is on track.  At the NATO Summit last year, we agreed with our coalition partners that Afghan forces will take the lead for security in mid-2013.

President Karzai and his team have been here for several days.  We’ve shared a vision for how we’re going to move ahead.  We’ve consulted with our coalition partners, and we will continue to do so.  And today, we agreed that as Afghan forces take the lead and as President Karzai announces the final phase of the transition, coalition forces will move to a support role this spring.  Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans, when needed.  But let me say it as plainly as I can:  Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, assisting Afghan forces.  It will be an historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty  — something I know that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people.

This sets the stage for the further reduction of coalition forces.  We’ve already reduced our presence in Afghanistan to roughly 66,000 U.S. troops.  I’ve pledged we’ll continue to bring our forces home at a steady pace, and in the coming months I’ll announce the next phase of our drawdown — a responsible drawdown that protects the gains our troops have made.

President Karzai and I also discussed the nature of our security cooperation after 2014.  Our teams continue to work toward a security agreement.  And as they do, they will be guided by our respect for Afghan sovereignty, and by our two long-term tasks, which will be very specific and very narrow — first, training and assisting Afghan forces and, second, targeting counterterrorism missions — targeted counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda and its affiliates.  Our discussions will focus on how best to achieve these two tasks after 2014, and it’s our hope that we can reach an agreement this year.

Ultimately, security gains must be matched by political progress.  So we recommitted our nations to a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban.  President Karzai updated me on the Afghan government’s road map to peace.  And today, we agreed that this process should be advanced by the opening of a Taliban office to facilitate talks.

Reconciliation also requires constructive support from across the region, including Pakistan.  We welcome recent steps that have been taken in that regard, and we’ll look for more tangible steps — because a stable and secure Afghanistan is in the interest not only of the Afghan people and the United States, but of the entire region.

And finally, we reaffirmed the Strategic Partnership that we signed last year in Kabul — an enduring partnership between two sovereign nations.  This includes deepening ties of trade, commerce, strengthening institutions, development, education and opportunities for all Afghans — men and women, boys and girls.  And this sends a clear message to Afghans and to the region, as Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone; the United States, and the world, stands with them.

Now, let me close by saying that this continues to be a very difficult mission.  Our forces continue to serve and make tremendous sacrifices every day.  The Afghan people make significant sacrifices every day.  Afghan forces still need to grow stronger.  We remain vigilant against insider attacks.  Lasting peace and security will require governance and development that delivers for the Afghan people and an end to safe havens for al Qaeda and its ilk.  All this will continue to be our work.

But make no mistake — our path is clear and we are moving forward.  Every day, more Afghans are stepping up and taking responsibility for their own security.  And as they do, our troops will come home.  And next year, this long war will come to a responsible end.

President Karzai, I thank you and your delegation for the progress we’ve made together and for your commitment to the goals that we share — a strong and sovereign Afghanistan where Afghans find security, peace, prosperity and dignity.  And in pursuit of that future, Afghanistan will have a long-term partner in the United States of America.

Mr. President.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Mr. President, for this very gracious and warm welcome to me and the Afghan delegation on this visit to Washington, and for bearing with us, as I mentioned during our talks in the Blair House, with all the crowds that we have there.

The President and I discussed today in great detail all the relevant issues between the two countries.  I was happy to see that we have made progress on some of the important issues for Afghanistan.  Concerning Afghan sovereignty, we agreed on the complete return of detention centers and detainees to Afghan sovereignty, and that this will be implemented soon after my return to Afghanistan.  We also discussed all aspects of transition to Afghan governance and security.

I’m very happy to hear from the President, as we also discussed it earlier, that in spring this year the Afghan forces will be fully responsible for providing security and protection to the Afghan people, and that the international forces, the American forces will be no longer present in Afghan villages, that the task will be that of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection.

We also agreed on the steps that we should be taking in the peace process, which is of highest priority to Afghanistan.  We agreed on allowing a Taliban office in Qatar — in Doha, where the Taliban will engage in direct talks with the representatives of the Afghan High Council for Peace, where we will be seeking the help of relevant regional countries, including Pakistan — where we’ll be trying our best, together with the United States and our other allies, to return peace and stability to Afghanistan as soon as possible, and employing all the means that we have within our power to do that, so the Afghan people can live in security and peace and work for their prosperity and educate their children.

The President and I also discussed the economic transition of Afghanistan and all that entails for Afghanistan.  Once the transition to Afghan forces is completed, once the bulk of the international forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, we hope that the dividends of that transition economically to Afghanistan will be beneficial to the Afghan people, and will not have adverse effects on Afghan economy and the prosperity that we have gained in the past many years.

We also discussed the issue of election in Afghanistan and the importance of election for the Afghan people, with the hope that we’ll be conducting a free and fair election in Afghanistan where our friends in the international community — in particular, the United States — will be assisting in conducting those elections, of course; where Afghanistan will have the right environment for conducting elections without interference and without undue concern in that regard for the Afghan people.

We also discussed in a bit of detail, and in the environment that we have, all aspects of the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, and I informed the President that the Afghan people already in the Loya Jirga that we called for — the Strategic Partnership Agreement between us and the United States — have given their approval to this relationship and the value as one that is good for Afghanistan.  So in that context, the bilateral security agreement is one that the Afghan people approve.  And I’m sure we will conduct it in detail where both the interests of the United States and the interests of Afghanistan will be kept in mind.

We had a number of other issues also to talk about.  During our conversations, and perhaps many times in that conversation, beginning with the conversation, of course, I thanked the President for the help that the United States has given to the Afghan people, for all that we have gained in the past 10 years, and that those gains will be kept by any standard while we are working for peace and stability in Afghanistan, including the respect for Afghan constitution.

I also thanked the President and endorsed with him the sacrifices of American men and women in uniform and those of other countries.  Accordingly, I also informed President Obama of the sacrifices of the Afghan people — of the immense sacrifices of the Afghan people in the past 10 years, both for the servicemen and of the Afghan people.

I’ll be going back to Afghanistan this evening to bring to the Afghan people the news of Afghanistan standing shoulder to shoulder with America as a sovereign, independent country, but in cooperation and in partnership.

Thank you, Mr. President, for the hospitality.

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

Okay, we’ve got two questions each I think from U.S. and Afghan press.  I will start with Scott Wilson of The Washington Post.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President and President Karzai.

Mr. President, does moving up the deadline for the transition to an Afghan security role lead in the spring mean you’ll be winding down U.S. troops faster than you expected this year?  And as specifically as possible, how many troops do you expect to leave in Afghanistan beyond 2014 for the two missions you outlined?  And would you consider leaving any troops in Afghanistan beyond that date without an immunity agreement for their actions?

And, President Karzai, you’ve spoken often about the threat the American presence in Afghanistan poses to your nation’s sovereignty.  I’m wondering if you will be considering and working on behalf of an immunity agreement to preserve some U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the 2014 date, and how many U.S. troops you would accept after that time.

Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Scott, our first task has been to meet the transition plan that we set first in Lisbon, then in Chicago.  And because of the progress that’s been made by our troops, because of the progress that’s been made in terms of Afghan security forces, their capacity to take the lead, we are able to meet those goals and accelerate them somewhat.

So let me repeat:  What’s going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country.  That doesn’t mean that coalition forces, including U.S. forces, are no longer fighting.  They will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops.  It does mean, though, that Afghans will have taken the lead, and our presence, the nature of our work will be different. We will be in a training, assisting, advising role.

Obviously, we will still have troops there and that means that our men and women will still be in harm’s way, that there will still be the need for force protection.  The environment is going to still be very dangerous.  But what we’ve seen is, is that Afghan soldiers are stepping up, at great risk to themselves, and that allows us then to make this transition during the spring.

What that translates into precisely in terms of how this drawdown of U.S. troop proceeds is something that isn’t yet fully determined.  I’m going to be over the coming weeks getting recommendations from General Allen and other commanders on the ground.  They will be designing and shaping a responsible plan to make sure that we’re not losing the gains that have already been made, to make sure that we’re in a position to support Afghan units when they’re in theater, and to make sure that our folks are also protected even as we’re drawing down.

So I can’t give you a precise number at this point.  I’ll probably make a separate announcement once I’ve gotten recommendations from troop — from the generals and our commanders in terms of what that drawdown might look like.

With respect to post-2014, we’ve got two goals — and our main conversation today was establishing a meeting of the minds in terms of what those goals would be with a follow-on presence of U.S. troops.  Number one, to train, assist, and advise Afghan forces so that they can maintain their own security; and number two, making sure that we can continue to go after remnants of al Qaeda or other affiliates that might threaten our homeland.

That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we’ve had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan.

Similar to the issue of drawdown, I’m still getting recommendations from the Pentagon and our commanders on the ground in terms of what that would look like.  And when we have more information about that, I will be describing that to the American people.

I think President Karzai’s primary concern — and obviously you’ll hear directly from him — is making sure that Afghan sovereignty is respected.  And if we have a follow-on force of any sort past 2014, it’s got to be at the invitation of the Afghan government and they have to feel comfortable with it.

I will say — and I’ve said to President Karzai — that we have arrangements like this with countries all around the world, and nowhere do we have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops.  That’s how I, as Commander-in-Chief, can make sure that our folks are protected in carrying out very difficult missions.

And so I think President Karzai understands that.  I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves in terms of the negotiations that are still remaining on the bilateral security agreement, but I think it’s fair to say that, from my perspective at least, it will not be possible for us to have any kind of U.S. troop presence post-2014 without assurances that our men and women who are operating there are in some way subject to the jurisdiction of another country.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Well, sir, the bilateral security agreement is in mind for the interests of both countries.  We understand that the issue of immunity is of very specific importance for the United States, as was for us the issue of sovereignty and detentions and the continued presence of international forces in Afghan villages and the very conduct of the war itself.

With those issues resolved, as we did today, part of it — the rest was done earlier — I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised, in a way that the provisions that we arrive at through our talks will give the United States the satisfaction of what it seeks and will also provide the Afghan people the benefits that they are seeking through this partnership and the subsequent agreement.

Q    Do you have any sense of how many troops you would be willing to have?

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  That’s not for us to decide.  It’s an issue for the United States.  Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan.  It’s the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and, beyond, in the region.  The specifics of numbers are issues that the military will decide, and Afghanistan will have no particular concern when we are talking of numbers and how they are deployed.

Any Afghan press?  English-speaking press?

Q    I am Abdul Qadir, Kabul, Afghanistan.  I prefer to ask my question to my own language.

(As interpreted.)  Mr. President, the missions of — combat missions of United States after 2014 — how this mission will be? Will it be resembling the same mission as it was during 11 years, or is there a difference, different kind of mission?  Those who are in Pakistan, particularly the safe havens that are in Pakistan, what kind of policy will you have?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Just to repeat, our main reason should we have troops in Afghanistan post-2014 at the invitation of the Afghan government will be to make sure that we are training, assisting and advising Afghan security forces who have now taken the lead for and are responsible for security throughout Afghanistan, and an interest that the United States has — the very reason that we went to Afghanistan in the first place — and that is to make sure that al Qaeda and its affiliates cannot launch an attack against the United States or other countries from Afghan soil.

We believe that we can achieve that mission in a way that’s very different from the very active presence that we’ve had in Afghanistan over the last 11 years.  President Karzai has emphasized the strains that U.S. troop presences in Afghan villages, for example, have created.  Well, that’s not going to be a strain that exists if there is a follow-up operation because that will not be our responsibility; that will be the responsibility of the Afghan National Security Forces, to maintain peace and order and stability in Afghan villages, in Afghan territory.

So I think, although obviously we’re still two years away, I can say with assurance that this is a very different mission and a very different task and a very different footprint for the U.S. if we are able to come to an appropriate agreement.

And with respect to Pakistan and safe havens there, Afghanistan and the United States and Pakistan all have an interest in reducing the threat of extremism in some of these border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And that’s going to require more than simply military actions.  That’s really going to require political and diplomatic work between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And the United States obviously will have an interest in facilitating and participating in cooperation between the two sovereign countries.

But as President Karzai I think has indicated, it’s very hard to imagine stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments and both capitals.  And I think you’re starting to see a greater awareness of that on the part of the Pakistani government.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (As interpreted.)  The question that you have made about — we talked about this issue in detail today about the prisoners, about the detention centers.  All of these will transfer to the Afghan sovereignty, and the U.S. forces will pull out from villages, will go to their bases, and Afghan sovereignty will be restored.

And after 2014, we are working on this relation.  This relation will have a different nature and will be based on different principles.  It will resemble probably Turkey-United States — Turkey or Germany.  We are studying these relationships and we will do that.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you contemplate the end of this war, can you say as Commander-in-Chief that the huge human and financial costs that this has entailed can be justified, given the fact that the Afghanistan that the world will leave behind is somewhat diminished from the visions of reconstruction and democracy that were kind of prevalent at the beginning of the war?

And, President Karzai, many independent studies have criticized Afghanistan for corruption and poor governance.  Do you stand by your assertion last month that much of this is due to the influence of foreigners?  And are you completely committed to stepping down as President after the elections next year?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I want us to remember why we went to Afghanistan.  We went into Afghanistan because 3,000 Americans were viciously murdered by a terrorist organization that was operating openly and at the invitation of those who were then ruling Afghanistan.

It was absolutely the right thing to do for us to go after that organization; to go after the host government that had aided and abetted, or at least allowed for these attacks to take place. And because of the heroic work of our men and women in uniform, and because of the cooperation and sacrifices of Afghans who had also been brutalized by that then-host government, we achieved our central goal, which is — or have come very close to achieving our central goal — which is to de-capacitate al Qaeda; to dismantle them; to make sure that they can’t attack us again.

And everything that we’ve done over the last 10 years from the perspective of the U.S. national security interests have been focused on that aim.  And at the end of this conflict, we are going to be able to say that the sacrifices that were made by those men and women in uniform has brought about the goal that we sought.

Now, what we also recognized very early on was that it was in our national security interest to have a stable, sovereign Afghanistan that was a responsible international actor, that was in partnership with us, and that that required Afghanistan to have its own security capacity and to be on a path that was more likely to achieve prosperity and peace for its own people.  And I think President Karzai would be the first to acknowledge that Afghanistan still has work to do to accomplish those goals, but there’s no doubt that the possibility of peace and prosperity in Afghanistan today is higher than before we went in.  And that is also in part because of the sacrifices that the American people have made during this long conflict.

So I think that — have we achieved everything that some might have imagined us achieving in the best of scenarios?  Probably not.  This is a human enterprise and you fall short of the ideal.  Did we achieve our central goal, and have we been able I think to shape a strong relationship with a responsible Afghan government that is willing to cooperate with us to make sure that it is not a launching pad for future attacks against the United States?  We have achieved that goal.  We are in the process of achieving that goal.  And for that, I think we have to thank our extraordinary military, intelligence, and diplomatic teams, as well as the cooperation of the Afghan government and the Afghan people.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Sir, on the question of corruption, whether it has a foreign element to it, if I have correct understanding of your question, there is corruption in Afghanistan.  There is corruption in the Afghan government that we are fighting against, employing various means and methods.  We have succeeded in certain ways.  But if your question is whether we are satisfied — of course not.

And on the corruption that is foreign in origin but occurring in Afghanistan, I have been very clear and explicit, and I don’t think that Afghanistan can see this corruption unless there is cooperation between us and our international partners on correcting some of the methods or applications of delivery of assistance to Afghanistan — without cooperation and with recognition of the problems.

On elections, for me, the greatest of my achievements, eventually, seen by the Afghan people will be a proper, well-organized, interference-free election in which the Afghan people can elect their next president.  Certainly, I would be a retired President, and very happily, a retired President.

Q    My name is Mujahed Kakar.  My question is to you, Mr. President.  Afghan women fear that they will be the real victim of reconciliation process in Afghanistan.  What assurances you can give them that they will not suffer because of that process?
Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, the United States has been very clear that any peace process, any reconciliation process must be Afghan led.  It is not for the United States to determine what the terms of this peace will be.  But what we have also been very clear about is that, from our perspective, it is not possible to reconcile without the Taliban renouncing terrorism, without them recognizing the Afghan constitution and recognizing that if there are changes that they want to make to how the Afghan government operates, then there is a orderly constitutional process to do that and that you can’t resort to violence.

The Afghan constitution protects the rights of Afghan women. And the United States strongly believes that Afghanistan cannot succeed unless it gives opportunity to its women.  We believe that about every country in the world.

And so we will continue to voice very strongly support for the Afghan constitution, its protection of minorities, its protection of women.  And we think that a failure to provide that protection not only will make reconciliation impossible to achieve, but also would make Afghanistan’s long-term development impossible to achieve.

The single-best indicator, or one of the single-best indicators, of a country’s prosperity around the world is how does it treat its women.  Does it educate that half of the population?  Does it give them opportunity?  When it does, you unleash the power of everyone, not just some.  And I think there was great wisdom in Afghanistan ratifying a constitution that recognized that.  That should be part of the legacy of these last 10 years.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Indeed.  Indeed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
2:18 P.M. EST

Political Headlines January 11, 2013: President Barack Obama: US to End Afghan Combat Operations This Spring

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama: US to End Afghan Combat Operations This Spring

Source: WH, 1-11-13


The White House

President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday that most U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end this spring, signaling a quickening troop drawdown that will bring the decade-long war to a close at the end of 2014.

“Our troops will continue to fight alongside Afghans when needed, but let me say it as plainly as I can: Starting this spring, our troops will have a different mission — training, advising, assisting Afghan forces,” Obama announced at an East Room press conference.

“It will be a historic moment and another step toward full Afghan sovereignty, something I know that President Karzai cares deeply about, as do the Afghan people,” he said….READ MORE

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