President Obama Holds a Press Availability

President Obama:
Hello, everybody. So, as all of you know,
we’re going to Hiroshima tomorrow. And in the interest of
getting you all home at a reasonable hour, we’re not
going to be doing a press conference after, so I
thought I’d give you guys a chance to fire off
some questions now. Just a quick comment on
the G7 meeting so far. It’s been extremely
productive. I think that one of the
benefits of the G7 is that you have likeminded
countries who are committed to democracy and free
markets, and international law and international norms. And so for us to be able to
get together and focus on critical issues that not
only affect individual countries but affect the
international order I think is vitally important. And we very much appreciate
the work that the Japanese and Prime Minister Abe
have done in organizing an excellent meeting. So far, we’ve discussed
issues of the global economy and the need to continue to
accelerate growth, to use all the tools at our
disposal to make sure that we’re not only putting
people back to work but also helping to lift wages and
helping to make sure that we can sustain the momentum of
the recovery that’s taken place in the United States
most prominently, but also we’re starting to see
some progress in Europe. The fact that the Greek debt
crisis has been resolved for a reasonable length of
time I think should help. But we’ve all got a
lot of work to do. And we agreed to continue to
focus on making sure that each country, based on
its particular needs and capacities, are taking
steps to accelerate growth. We had a chance to talk
about trade — not only TPP and our involvement in
that, but also T-TIP — and recommitted ourselves to
making sure that we try to finish those negotiations
before the end of the year, and emphasized the
importance of pushing back against either protectionism
or competitive currency devaluations, or the kinds
of beggar-thy-neighbor strategies that all too
often end up leaving everybody worse off. We began to touch on some of
the key security issues that are important to all of us
— the South China Sea and maritime security. Touched on issues
surrounding Ukraine, where we’ve started to see some
progress in negotiations, but we’re still seeing too
much violence, and we need to get that resolved. And we’re going to spend
some time this evening tackling some of the
other major international hotspots. So that gives you an update
of where we’re at so far. And with that, I’m just
going to dive in, and you guys can ask some questions. And we’re going to
start with Gardiner. The Press: Mr. President,
eleven of your predecessors decided against
going to Hiroshima. What do you know
that they didn’t? What were they worried
about that you aren’t? And just sort of generally
on nonproliferation — because I think that’s your
focus and that’s obviously a priority for you — how do
you communicate risks and concerns about this in a way
that would do more to get it resolved? Because it seems to
be getting worse. I mean, Americans worry a
lot about terrorists with suicide vests, which are
unlikely events that can kill dozens. Do they worry enough about
the risks of nuclear mishaps or attacks, which are
unlikely events that could potentially kill millions
instead of dozens? In short, are we paying
enough attention to Kim Jong-un and Pakistani
tactical nuclear weapons, these sorts of things that
you know are going on? President Obama: Well,
it’s a terrific question. First of all, I won’t
characterize how other Presidents were thinking
about these issues. I can tell you how I’m
thinking about it, and that is that the dropping of the
atomic bomb, the ushering in of nuclear weapons was an
inflection point in modern history. It is something that all of
us have had to deal with in one way or another. Obviously, it’s not as
prominent in people’s thinking as it was during
the Cold War, at a time when our parents or grandparents
were huddling under desks in frequent drills. But the backdrop of a
nuclear event remains something that I think
presses on the back of our imaginations. I do think that part of the
reason I’m going is because I want to once again
underscore the very real risks that are out there and
the sense of urgency that we all should have. So it’s not only a reminder
of the terrible toll of World War II and the
death of innocents across continents, but it’s also to
remind ourselves that the job is not done in reducing
conflict, building institutions of peace, and
reducing the prospect of nuclear war in the future. In some ways, we’ve seen
real progress over the last several years. The Iran nuclear deal is a
big piece of business — because without us having to
fire a shot, we were able to persuade a big,
sophisticated country that had a well-developed nuclear
program not to develop nuclear weapons. The START II Treaty that
I negotiated in my first couple years in office with
the Russians has reduced our respective stockpiles. The Nuclear Security Summit
and all the work that we’ve done on that score has made
it less likely that nuclear materials fall into the hand
of terrorists or non-state actors. And although we have not
seen the kind of progress that I would have liked to
have seen with respect to North Korea, what we have
been able to do is mobilize the international community
so that their proliferation activities are scrutinized
much more carefully, and they have far fewer
countries that are tolerant of potential actions by
North Korea outside of their own program. Having said that, North
Korea is a big worry for all of us. They’re not at the point
right now where they can effectively hit U.S. targets, but each time that
they test — even if those tests fail — they
learn something. And it is clear that
ideologically they are still convinced that — and Kim
Jong-un in particular seems to be convinced that his own
legitimacy is tied up with developing nuclear weapons. You pointed out the
continuing tensions that exist in South Asia. That is still a concern. And we know that terrorist
organizations would have no compunction about using a
weapon of mass destruction if they got their
hands on it. So we’ve got a
lot of work to do. I think we’ve built up an
architecture during the course of my presidency that
has made a difference, that has focused attention
on some key points of vulnerability. But we’re not where
we need to be yet. And obviously we haven’t
achieved all the goals that I set when I spoke in Prague
at the beginning of my presidency. Of course, I noted at the
time that I didn’t expect to be able to achieve all those
goals during the course of my presidency or
even in my lifetime. And this is going to be an
ongoing task, but it’s one that I think we have to be
paying a lot of attention to. The Press: One follow-up. Mr. Kerry, your Secretary
of State, called the North Korean nuclear program the
biggest threat in the world right now — the
gravest threat. Do you agree with that? Do you see this nuclear
program as the worst thing going on? President Obama: Well, it is
not the thing necessarily that poses the most
immediate risk. Obviously, ISIL using rifles
and crude bombs can kill a lot of people in a
Paris or a Brussels. And people are rightly
insistent that the world community stamp out ISIL. So there’s a reason why
we are focused on that. But this is not a situation
where we can afford to just focus on the short term. Over the long term, when you
have such an unstable regime that is so isolated,
that generally flouts international norms and
rules more than perhaps any other nation on Earth, that
is also devoting enormous national resources hell-bent
on getting nuclear weapons that they can fire long
distances — that poses the kind of medium-term threat
that we have to pay a lot of attention to. And I assure you it’s
something that my administration has paid
a lot of attention to. It’s something that I think
has been at the center of the trilateral work that
we’ve done with our close allies in the region. It’s something that we’ve
put at the center of our discussions and
negotiations with China. And as I said before, what
we’ve seen actually is improved responses from
countries like China, countries in the region,
like Vietnam and Burma taking these issues much
more seriously because of our engagement. And so that may reduce the
risks of North Korea selling weapons or fissile material
to other countries, or putting it out on
the black market. But it does not, so far
at least, solve the core problem of North Korea
continuing to develop its program. And we’re going to have
to continue to work in a concerted way. In the meantime, I’ve been
working with the Pentagon for several years now on
making sure that we can develop the kinds of defense
architecture that can protect the United States
and our allies from an unexpected escalation. Carol. The Press: Thank you. You’ve said before that when
you talk to world leaders, they often ask you about
the presidential election. Can you give us a sense
of the conversations that you’ve had so far — what
they’re saying to you, what you’re saying to them —
particularly now that Donald Trump is the nominee, and
he recently said that Japan should pay for the U.S. troop presence? But also, on the Democratic
side, what they’re saying about that and what you
think of that, because it’s obviously continuing to be
divisive with Bernie Sanders saying he would take
it to the convention. And he’s endorsed your
Democratic Party chair, her primary opponent. Should he change course? Have you decided that you’re
just not going to get involved until one of them
concedes to the other? President Obama: Well, look,
the world pays attention to the U.S. elections. They pay more attention to
our elections sometimes than we pay to theirs, because
the United States is, as I’ve said before, at the
heart of the international order. And even those countries
that are critical of us, even those countries that
complain or question particular policy decisions
that we make know that ultimately things don’t hold
together so well if the United States is not making
good decisions, and count on us to provide a certain
level of stability and direction in meeting
global challenges. So they are paying very
close attention to this election. I think it’s fair to say
that they are surprised by the Republican nominee. They are not sure how
seriously to take some of his pronouncements. But they’re rattled by him
— and for good reason — because a lot of the
proposals that he’s made display either ignorance of
world affairs, or a cavalier attitude, or an interest in
getting tweets and headlines instead of actually thinking
through what it is that is required to keep America
safe and secure and prosperous, and what’s
required to keep the world on an even keel. With respect to the
Democratic primary process, as I’ve said before, it’s
been my view to let this play out, let voters
make up their minds. And during primaries, people
get a little grumpy with each other. It’s just the nature
of the process. You start off and everybody
is thinking, oh, this is fine, this is going to be a
friendly competition, we’re going to debate ideas. And somebody says one thing
and then another person says another thing, and that felt
a little sharper than I expected, and somebody’s
supporter pops off. And there’s a certain
buildup of aggravation. We saw that in my
lengthy primary in 2008. This is no different. But what I think is really
important to remember is that, unlike what you’ve
seen in the Democratic or in Republican primary, for the
most part there’s not that big a difference
ideologically in terms of the issues. Both Hillary and Bernie
believe that every American should have health care. Both of them think that
we’ve got to make college more affordable. Both of them believe that
it’s important for us to have a tax system that is
fair, and that we should be closing corporate loopholes
in order to pay for things like infrastructure
investment and early childhood education. I mean, if you put their
proposals side by side, they’re all pointing in the
same direction, and the differences are
primarily tactical. They have to do with how do
you get some of this stuff done. So that doesn’t mean that
those aren’t serious questions to ask and debate. It does mean, though, that
once the primary process is resolved, the ability for us
to pull together around a common vision that is in
sharp contrast to the vision that’s being offered on the
other side I think is one that will get done by the
time of the convention. I would urge — and have
urged — both sides to try to stick to the issues,
because a lot of that grumpiness arises where
folks feel as if we’re not talking about an issue
but we’re talking about personalities and character. And they’re both
good people. I know them both well. And I think that it’s
important for us to try to end this in a way that
leaves both sides feeling proud of what they’ve done. And both sides have run
serious, competitive races, and debated issues
in a serious way. So I’m proud of Democrats
for doing that. And, Carol, as you know — I
sure know, because I’ve been through this a bunch of
times — there is just the natural impulse when you’re
having to report every day on campaigns that every
little blip, speed bump, conflict, trash-talking that
takes place is elevated — not to mention polls. And the one thing I’ve
learned after being around for a while is that kind of
day-to-day choppiness is not indicative of
longer-term trends. I feel confident about the
Democratic vision for the country, and I feel
confident about our ability not just to win elections
but, more importantly, to deliver on behalf of the
American people and the issues they care about. The Press: Does this going
until the end of July make it harder to
defeat Mr. Trump? President Obama: No. Look, would it be nice if
everybody was immediately unified and singing
“Kumbaya,” and whoever the nominee ended up being could
just take a nice two-week vacation to recharge? Absolutely. I guarantee you that the
eventual nominee sure wishes it was over now, because
this is a grind. It’s hard. And in some ways, one of the
things I’ve always found is that it’s a lot more
draining arguing against your friends than it is
arguing against your political opponents. It just — it
weighs on you more. Being criticized by folks
who are in your own party always hurts just
a little bit more. And so it takes a little
energy out of you. But these are folks who are
serious about trying to solve the country’s
problems. They’re both veterans
of the political grind. And so they’re
going to hold up. And by the time we get
to the convention, I’m confident they’ll
be in good shape. As a special bonus, I’m
going to take one more question. Go ahead. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. You mentioned some tactical
differences between the two Democratic candidates. But when you hear Bernie
Sanders speak, it seems like he’s talking more about the
issue of trustability and the need for a
political revolution. And just yesterday we saw
that the State Department’s inspector general put out
a report about Secretary Clinton’s emails, and it
basically undermined some of what she said about
her email practices. I’m wondering if you
think that undermines her trustworthiness with the
American people, and if you agree with Bernie Sanders
that she should release the transcripts of her highly
paid speeches to Wall Street. President Obama: Okay. You know what,
I take it back. I’m not taking
another question. (laughter) We’re in Japan. Don’t we have something on
Asia that we want to talk about? I’ll be talking about this
in Washington the whole time. Look, I’ve already said a
lot about those issues. I think those are better
directed to the campaign. As I said before, during the
course of a primary people say what they think might
help them get some votes. And once the campaign is
over, then they move on, and they make an assessment in
terms of how they can make sure that the vision they
care most deeply about has the best chance of passing a
Congress and getting signed by a President, and that
Supreme Court nominees are confirmed, and all the
things that make for a functioning,
effective government. So I think that the noise
that is going on back and forth between the candidates
at this point, if you want insights into how they’re
thinking about it, those should be directed to them. I’ll take — The Press: Can I have
another question? President Obama: You’ve
already had a question, so if I’m going to ask another
question I think it’s fair to give it to — The Press: That’s true. The Press: Can I ask you
your thinking on the new Taliban leader and how that
affects prospects for peace in the region? President Obama: Well, as
I was saying to my team, I wasn’t expecting a liberal
democrat to be the newly appointed leader
of the Taliban. So this continues to be
an organization that sees violence as a strategy for
obtaining its goals and moving its agenda
forward in Afghanistan. We have a democratically
elected government in Afghanistan that we’re
supporting, and our goal right now is to make sure
that that constitution and that democratic process is
upheld — not to mention that we’re able to maintain
the counterterrorism platforms that we need in
that region so that al Qaeda and now ISIL are not able to
take root and use that as bases to attack us
in the United States. My hope — although not my
expectation — is that there comes a point at which the
Taliban recognizes that they are not going to simply be
able to overrun the country and that what they need to
be doing is to enter into serious reconciliation talks
that are led by Afghans. And I think if that happens,
that’s something that the United States and others in
the world community would support. But I am doubtful that that
will be happening anytime soon. And we’ll have to wait
and see how those things develop. In the short term, we
anticipate that the Taliban will continue to pursue an
agenda of violence and VBEDS and blowing up innocent
people, and the kinds of actions that have
characterized their approach over the last 15, 20 years. But I do think that there
will come a point, perhaps not this year, next year,
but eventually, where there are those within the
community that surrounds the Taliban, at least, that
recognize their goals are best achieved by
negotiations. Okay? The Press: And on the
Vietnamese activists that were banned from
the meeting — The Press: Right, is that
embarrassing that they couldn’t — President Obama:
To me, or to them? Why is it
embarrassing to me? The Press: Well, because you
invited these people and they didn’t show up. President Obama: Well,
wasn’t the one who held them up. Look, I was very blunt with
the Vietnamese government. There is so much good going
on in that country, and what I indicated to them is that
these kinds of heavy-handed actions end up being
entirely counterproductive. And the folks we invited,
including those who were there, are people that
are prepared to have a constructive conversation
with the government about how to advance peace and
prosperity, and economic development, and
environmental security in that country. And my general message, as
you heard at the youth town hall meeting, is
harness that talent. Let them loose to create
startups and to solve problems, and engage them. It’s the same message
I had with Cuba. It’s the same message that
I had in a wide range of countries where you still
are seeing serious problems with human rights. The one thing I’m absolutely
convinced of, though, is, is that by us engaging, by us
meeting with civil society activists, it helps move the
ball, it moves the needle. It doesn’t solve these
problems immediately. Right now Burma/Myanmar is
undergoing this democratic transformation, in part
because of the process that we helped to spearhead. They are going through
revolutionary changes over the last several years. But I guarantee you that
there’s still some human rights activists inside of
Burma/Myanmar who are being harassed, are not able to
speak freely, are not able to assemble the way we would
expect them to be able to do in our own country. When I went to Cuba and I
met with those dissidents, one of the individuals who
was there still had cuts in his wrists from handcuffs
because he had been detained just the day before. I didn’t come out of that
meeting thinking the problems of human rights
in Cuba are solved. But what I’m pretty darn
sure of is, is that by us meeting with them, by us
shining a spotlight on their stories, by us indicating
not that we were going to dictate how these societies
develop, but that we do think there are certain
universal values that we care deeply about and that
we’re going to stand with — that that helps. And that, I think, is the
biggest lesson over the course of the seven years as
we’ve been engaging some of these countries with serious
human rights problems. The expectation that I think
sometimes we’ve had that if we just stand back and
scold, that somehow that’s going to change these
internal dynamics has proven to be less effective
than us engaging. Indicating to governments
that we’re prepared to work with them, but that they
need to make progress, and continually trying to lift
up the actions of these civil society leaders in a
way that provides them a little bit more space, and
that space slowly grows and it ends up being a process
— and it’s not always a process that travels
in a straight line. Sometimes you take two steps
forward, you take a step back. Sometimes you start seeing
openings in some of these societies, and then
governments get nervous and they clamp back down. But that steady pressure,
combined with an appreciation of the history
of these countries, combined with a willingness to
listen, combined with an ability to mobilize the
international community so that we’re not thinking that
we’re doing this all by ourselves — over time,
we’ve seen results. More modest than I would
hope, but that’s true of pretty much everything about
foreign policy and domestic policy and the
human condition. All right? The Press: Speaking of — President Obama: Okay, guys. I gave you a couple — I
already gave you bonuses. I gave you a
bunch of bonuses. Thank you, guys.

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