TRANSCRIPT: President Obama's News Conference at NATO Summit
Earlier, President Barack Obama held a news conference at the NATO Summit in Chicago. Read a full transcript of his remarks below.
Good afternoon everybody, I just want to start today by saying thank my good friend Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of the city of Chicago and to all my friends and neighbors , the people of the city of Chicago, for their extraordinary hospitality. And for everything they've done to make this summit such an extraordinary success. I could not be prouder to welcome people from around the world to my hometown. This was a big undertaking, some 60 world leaders, not to mention folks who were exercising their freedom of speech, and assembly.
The very freedoms our alliance are dedicated to defending, and so it was a lot for the people of Chicago to carry but this is a city of big shoulders, Rahm, his team, Chicagoans, proved this world class city knows how to put on a world class event. And partly this was a perfect city for this summit because it reflected the bonds between so many of the countries. For generations, Chicago has welcomed immigrants from around the world, including an awful lot of our NATO allies.
And id just add I lost track of the number of world leaders and their delegations who came up to me in the last day and a half, and remarked on what an extraordinarily beautiful city Chicago is, and I could not agree more. I am especially pleased I had a chance to show them Soldier's Field. I regret I was not able to take in one of the cross town classics. Although I will note that my teams did ok. White Sox fan in the back! (pointing out Sox fan) Right on.
Now as I said yesterday, NATO has been the bedrock of common security, freedom and prosperity of its members for nearly 65 years. It hasn't just endured it has thrived because our nations are stronger when we stand together. We saw that of course most recently in Libya where NATO afforded capabilities no one else in the world could match.
As President one of my top foreign priorities has been to strengthen our alliances along with NATO. And that is exactly what we have done. Two years ago in Lisbon, we took action in several areas that our critical to the future of our alliance and we pledged that in Chicago we would do more. Over the last 2 days we have delivered. First we agreed on a series of steps to strengthen our alliances defense capabilities over the next decade.
In keeping with the strategic concept we agreed in Lisbon and in order to fulfill our article 5 commitment to our collective security. We agreed to acquire a fleet of remotely controlled aircraft-drones, to strengthen intelligence, surveillance and recognizance. We agreed to continue air patrols over our Baltic allies, which reflects our unwavering commitment to collective defense. We also agreed on a mix of conventional, nuclear missile and nuclear defense forces, that we need and importantly, we agreed on how to pay for them, and that includes pooling our resources in these tough economic times.
We're moving forward with missile defense, and agreed that NATO is declaring an interim capability for the system. America's contribution to this effort will be a phased adaptive approach that we are pursuing on European missile defense, and I want to commend our allies stepping up and playing a leadership role in missile defense as well. Our defense radar in Turkey will be placed under NATO control. Spain, Romania and Poland have agreed to host key US assets. The Netherlands will be upgrading radars. And we look forward to contributions from other allies.
Since this system is aimed at or undermines Russia's strategic deterrent, I continue to believe missile defense can be an item of cooperation between us and Russia. Second, we're now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan. The plan that trains Afghan security forces, transitions to the Afghans and builds a partnership that can endure when our combat mission in Afghanistan ends. Since last year we have been transitioning parts of Afghanistan to the national Afghan military forces, and that has enabled part of our troops coming home.
Indeed we're in the process of drawing down 33,000 US troops by the end of this summer. Here in Chicago we reached a milestone in the next part of that transition, at the ISAF meeting this morning we agreed that Afghan forces will take the lead in combat situations next year in mid 2013. At that time ISAF forces would have shifted from combat to a support role, in all parts of the country. This will make a major step to the goal we agreed to in Lisbon, completing the need for security so that Afghans can take reasonability to their own country and so our troops can come home.
This will not mark the end of Afghanistan's challenges obviously. Or our partnership with this important country. But we are making substantial progress in our core objective of defeating al Qaeda and denying it safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own. We leave Chicago with a clear roadmap. Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring this war in Afghanistan to a responsible end.
We also agreed on what NATO's relationship with Afghanistan will look like after 2014, NATO will continue to train advise and assist and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger. And while this summit has not been a pledging conference, it's been encouraging to see a couple countries taking the financial commitments to sustain Afghanistan's progress in the years ahead. Today the international community also expressed support for its efforts to bring peace and stability to south Asia, including Afghanistan's neighbors. Finally NATO agreed to deepen it's cooperation with partners that have been critical to alliance operations, as in Afghanistan and Libya. Today's meeting was unprecedented, our 20 allies joined by 30 nations from around the world. Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, each of these countries has contributed to NATO operations in different ways
Militarily, financial, political and each one helps to see us do more together. To see the breath of those countries represented in that room is to see how NATO has truly become a hub of global security. So again I want to thank all my fellow leaders, I think the bottom line is that we are leaving Chicago with a NATO alliance that is stronger, more capable and more ready for the future. As a result each of our nations, the United States included is more secure and we are in a strong position to advance the security and prosperity and freedom that we seek around the world.
So, with that I am going to take a couple questions and I am going to start with Julie Pace of AP.
Question: Thank you very much Mr. President you've said that you cannot win in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan, and yet there has been little public discussion at this summit at Pakistan's role in ending the war, and in your talks with President Zardari (of Pakistan) did you make any progress in reopening the supply lines and if the larger tensions with Pakistan can't be resolved does that put the NATO coalitions gains in Afghanistan at risk?
President Obama: Well keep in mind my discussion with President Zardari was very brief, as we were walking into the summit, and I emphasized to him, that what we have emphasized publically as well as privately, we think that Pakistan has to be the solution in Afghanistan. It is in our national interest to make sure Pakistan is democratic and is prosperous and that is stable.
That we share a common enemy in the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan but also within Pakistan but also with some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after 10 years of our military presence in that region. President Zardari shared with me his belief that these issues can be worked through, he didn't anticipate the supply line issue was going to be solved by this summit, that before we arrived in Chicago. But where actually making diligent progress on it, and I think ultimately everybody in the alliance, all of ISAF and most importantly all the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan will understand that neither country is going to have the kind of security, prosperity that it needs, unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues, and join in common purpose with the international community to make sure these issues are resolved with extremists
I don't want to paper over real challenges, there has been real issues between Pakistan, I think they are begin worked through both military and diplomatic challenges. Ultimately it is in our best interest to see a prosperous Pakistan, and it’s in Pakistan's gain to take part of the international community. Every NATO member, every NATO member is in favor of this.
REPORTER: Yes, thank you, Mr. President. Yesterday, your friend and ally, Corey Booker, said in an ad that your campaign released was nauseating. And it alleged that Romney at Bain Capital was "responsible for job losses at a Kansas City steel mill." Is that your view that Romney is personally responsible for those job losses? Will comments from Booker and your former auto czar, Steve Ratner, if criticize some of these advertisements call on you to pull back a little bit? And generally, three part Mr. President, could you give us your sense of what private equity's role is in stemming job losses as they seek a return of investment for their investors? Thank you.
President Obama: Well, first of all, I think Corey Booker is an outstanding Mayor. He's doing great work in Newark and obviously helping to turn that city around. And I think its important to recognize that this issue is not a "distraction." This is part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody, from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main street have a shot at success. And if they're working hard and they're acting responsibly, that they're able to live out the American dream.
Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profit. And that's a healthy part of the free market. That's part of the role of a lot of business people. That's not unique to private equity. And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area. And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to bring new jobs or new industries.
But understand that their priority is to maximize profits. And that's not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers. And the reason why this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying I'm a business guy and I know how to fix it. And this is his business.
And when you're President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, and your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot. Your job is to think about those workers who get laid off and how do we pay for their retraining? Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so they can start attracting new businesses. Your job as President is to think about how do we set up an equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us to invest in science and technology and infrastructure. All of which is going to help us grow.
If your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you're missing what this job is about. It doesn't mean you weren't good at private equity. But that's not what my job is as President. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some. My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.
And so, to repeat, this is not a distraction. This is what this campaign is going to be about. Is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed. And that means I've got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I'm thinking about folks who've been much more successful.
[INAUDIBLE FOLLOW UP QUESTION]
What I would say is that Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals that he's putting forward for how he's going to fix the economy. And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private equity firm then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining.
REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. I'd like to take you back to not this Summit but the one you hosted at Camp David a couple of days ago. And whether you feel you can assure investors that there are contingency plans in place to cope if Greece leaves the Euro to prevent a Lehman like shock to the US and the global economy?
We've had an extensive discussion of the situation in the Eurozone and obviously everybody is keenly interested in getting that issue resolved. I'm not going to speculate on what happens if the Greek choose to exit because they've got an election and this is going to be an important debate inside of Greece.
Everybody who was involved in the G8 Summit indicated their desire to see Greece stay in the Eurozone in a way that's consistent with the commitments that have already been made. And I think its important for Greece, which is a democracy, to work through what their options are at a time of great difficulty.
I think we all understand, though, what's at stake. What happens in Greece has an impact here in the United States. Businesses are more hesitant to invest if they see a lot of uncertainty looming across the Atlantic because they're not sure if that's going to mean a further global slowdown and we're already seeing very slow growth rates and in fact contractions in a lot of countries in Europe.
So we had an extensive discussion about how do we strengthen the European project generally in a way that does not harm world economic growth but instead moves it forward. And I've been clear, I think, not just in this week but over the last two years about what I think needs to be done. We've got to put in place firewalls that ensure that countries outside of Greece that are doing the right thing aren't harmed just because markets are skittish and nervous. We've got to make sure that banks are recapitalized in Europe so that investors have confidence. And we've got to make sure that there is a growth strategy to go along side the need for fiscal discipline.
As well as a monetary policy that is promoting the capacity of countries, like a Spain or an Italy, that have put in place some very tough targets and some very tough policies, to also offer their constituencies as prospect for the economy improving, job growth increasing, incomes expanding. Even if it may take a little bit of time.
And the good news was you saw a consensus across the board from newly elected President Hollande to Chancellor Merkel to other members of the European community. That balanced approach is what's needed right now. They're going to be meeting this week to try to advance those discussions further. We've offered to be there for consultation to provide any technical assistance and work through some of these ideas in terms of how we can stabilize the markets there.
Ultimately, what I think is most important is that Europe recognizes this Euro project involves more than just the currency, it means that there's got to be some more effective coordination on the fiscal and the monetary side and on the growth agenda. And I think there was strong intent there to move in that direction. Of course, they've got 17 countries that have to agree to every step they take. So I think about my one Congress then I start thinking about 17 Congresses and I start getting a little bit of a headache. It's going to be challenging for them.
The last point I'll make is, I do sense greater urgency now than perhaps existed two years ago, or two and a half years ago. And keep in mind just for folks here in the States, when we look backwards at our response in 2008 and 2009, there was some criticism because we had to make a bunch of tough political decisions. In fact, there's still criticism about some of the decisions we make.
But one of the things we were able to do was to act forcefully to solve a lot of these problems early. Which is why credit markets that were locked up started loosening up again. That's why businesses started investing again. That's why we've seen job growth of over 4 million jobs over the last two years. That's why corporations are making money. That's why we've seen strong economic growth for a long time.
And so, acting forcefully rather than in small bite size pieces and increments rather than in small bite size pieces and increments, I think ends up being a better approach even though obviously we're still going through challenges ourselves I mean obviously some of these issues are ones that have built up over decades. All right?
QUESTION - As you consider work of trying to stop Afghanistan from becoming terrorist haven, terrorists today in Yemen massacred 100 soldiers. Are you concerned despite US efforts Yemen seems to be slipping further into anarchy and what more can US do to slow that process?
President Obama- We are very concerned about Al Qaeda and extremist activity in Yemen. A positive development has been a relatively peaceful political transition in Yemen and we participated diplomatically along with Yemen's neighbors in helping lead to a political transition but the work is not yet done.
We have established a strong counterterrorism partnership with Yemeni government but there's no doubt in country that's still poor, still unstable, it is attracting a lot of folks that previously might have been in the fatah before we started putting pressure on them there.
We're going to continue to work with the Yemeni government to try and identify AQAP leadership and operations and try to thwart them. That's important for US safety and also security of Yemen and the region.
I think one of the things we've learned from the Afghan experience is for us to stay focused on counterterrorism issue, to work with government not overextend ourselves and operate smartly in dealing with these issues. It's not unique to Yemen by the way. We've got similar problems in Somalia, what’s happening in Mali and…
And so this is part of the reason why not only is NATO important but these partnerships are important because there are going to be times when these partners have more effective intelligence operations, more diplomatic contacts, etc. In some of these parts of the world where the state is a little wobbly and you may see terrorists attempting to infiltrate or set up bases.
I'm going to call on Jake Tapper because Jay Carney told me you've been talking to some of our troops in Afghanistan and since so much of the topic of this summit has been on Afghanistan obviously none of this would be working if it weren't for the extraordinary sacrifices they're making so.
QUESTION - Mr. President, if this handoff and withdrawal prove premature what plans are in place for dealing with an Afghanistan that's fallen apart or possibly again under Taliban rule? And one more, do you feel the reporting you receive from Pentagon fully represents what on-ground commanders assess? Is there any disconnect between what leaders feel the public and president want to hear versus what is actually occurring? These are from troops I've met who served.
President Obama - Let me take the second question first. I think that one of the things I emphasize whenever I'm talking to John Allen or the Joint chiefs or any of the officers who are in Afghanistan is I can't afford a white wash. I can't afford not getting the very best information in order to make good decision.
I should add by the way the danger a lot of times is not that anyone's purposefully trying to downplay challenges in Afghanistan, a lot of the times the military culture is just "we can get it done." So their thinking is "how are we going to solve this problem," not "boy why is this such a disaster?"
That's part of the reason why we admire our military so much and love our troops, because they've got that can-do spirit. But I think we have set up a structure that really tries to guard against that. Even in my White House for example I've got former officers who have been in Afghanistan who I will send out as part of the National Security team of the WH and not simply the Pentagon, to interact and listen and go in and talk to the captains, and majors and corporals and privates. To try and get a sense of what's going on.
I think the reports we get are relatively accurate in the sense there is real improvement in those areas we've had a significant presence you can see the Taliban not having a foothold. That there is genuine improvement in performance of Afghan national security forces. But the Taliban is still a robust enemy.
The gains are still fragile. Which leads me then to the second point you made, on a premature withdrawal. I don't think there's ever gonna be an optimal point where we say "this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home." This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq.
But think about it: we've been there now 10 years. We are now committing to a transition process that takes place next year but the full transition to Afghan responsibility is almost 2 years away. And the Afghan security forces themselves will never be prepared if they don't start taking that responsibility.
And frankly, the large footprint we have in Afghanistan over time can be counterproductive. We've been there 10 years and I think no matter how much good we're doing, and no matter how outstanding our troops and civilians and diplomats are doing on the ground, 10 years in a country that's very different - that's a strain. Not only on our folks but also on that country which at a point is going to be very sensitive about sovereignty.
So, I think the timetable we established is a sound one, a responsible one. Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely. Can I anticipate that over the next 2 years there are going to be some bad moments along with some good ones? Absolutely.
But I think it is the appropriate strategy whereby we can achieve a stable Afghanistan that won't be perfect. We can pull back our troops in a responsible way. And we can start rebuilding America and taking massive investments we've been making in Afghanistan here back home; putting people back to work, retraining workers, rebuilding our schools, investing in science/technology, developing our business plan.
But there are going to be challenges. The one thing I'm never doubtful about is just the amazing capacity of troops and their morale. When I was in Bagram just a couple weeks ago, the fact that we still have so much determination and stick-to-it-ness and professionalism not just from troops but all coalition allies is a testament to that, it's extraordinary and we're very proud of them.
All right even thought my press secretary told me not to do this I'm going to call on a Chicagoan to ask a Chicago question. Jay?
QUESTION - Chicagoans look at you with Chicago, Chicago, Chicago on the wall behind you there's a certain level of pride. In your view, how did reality match up to fantasy in welcoming world leaders to Chicago and did demonstrators undermine your efforts to project image of Chicago you would have liked to see? Did the demonstrators in anyway undermine your efforts, Mayor Emmanuel's efforts to project the image of Chicago you would have liked to have seen?
I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently. Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience. If you talked to leaders from around the world, they loved the city. Michelle took some of the spouses down to the South Side to the Comer Center where wonderful stuff is being done with early education.
They saw the Art Institute. I was just talking to David Cameron, I think he is sneaking off to do a little sightseeing before he heads home. I encouraged everyone to shop; want to boost the hometown economy. We gave each leader a bean, a small model, for them to remember as well as a football from Soldier Field. Many of them did not know what to do with it.
So, people had a wonderful time. And I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn't have been more gracious and more hospitable. So I think with respect to the protesters, this is part of what NATO defends, free speech, and freedom to assemble and frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren't all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here because that's part of what America is about.
Obviously, Rahm was stressed, but he performed wonderfully and Chicago's police, Chicago's finest, did a great job under some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny. The only other thing I'll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation. Obviously Chicago residents who had difficulty getting home or getting to work, what can I tell you, that's part of the price of being a world city. But this was a great showcase and if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being fifteen minutes away from my own home, nobody would let me go home. I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight, but they said I would cause even worse traffic, so I ended up staying at a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy.
Thank you everybody.