Ed. note: This post is the first in a series of five. Check back on the White House Blog throughout the week for more statements from leaders around the country.
Across the country, Democratic and Republican state and local officials are speaking out about the need for commonsense immigration reform. This week, we’ll share thoughts from governors, mayors, county executives, state legislators, attorneys general, treasurers and more about why they support immigration reform and how fixing the broken immigration system would impact their communities.
Miami-Dade, Florida Mayor Carlos Gimenez
“For too many years our country has struggled to find an effective solution to immigration reform, with the central issue being the question of how to deal with undocumented workers. We have been encouraged, however, that in recent months a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators has been working together to establish a path that allows those workers, the great majority of whom are hard-working dignified individuals, to become lawful tax-payers. It is important for the continued growth and competitiveness of our country that we find a solution to this issue, and I urge Congress to continue working together to establish a fair, but humane, solution that establishes such a path.”
Atlanta, Georgia Mayor Kasim Reed
“There is no doubt that the economic, social and cultural contributions of immigrants continue to enrich our cities and communities. We cannot ever forget that immigrants have helped make our nation stronger. This is an issue of great importance here in Georgia, and as such, I support President Barack Obama’s proposal to achieve meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.”
Birmingham, Alabama Mayor William Bell
“In Birmingham, we recognize the value of diversity. We strive to be inclusive and to give a sense of respect for all cultures and all races. Here in the cradle of the Civil Rights struggle, our history mandates that we embrace all cultures and ensure that all are treated equally and fairly and with the honor they deserve.”
Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer
“Louisville is a growing international city in the heartland of America. Comprehensive immigration reform is essential for us to spur entrepreneurism and grow jobs. America's population represents all of the immigrants of the world. The quicker immigration reform is addressed and resolved, the quicker our international competitive economic advantage will accelerate.”
President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany hold a press conference. June 19, 2013.
|Time: 46:36||More in News & Politics|
Pariser Platz, Brandenburg Gate
3:29 P.M. CEST
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, Berlin! (Applause.) Thank you, Chancellor Merkel, for your leadership, your friendship, and the example of your life -- from a child of the East to the leader of a free and united Germany.
As I’ve said, Angela and I don’t exactly look like previous German and American leaders. But the fact that we can stand here today, along the fault line where a city was divided, speaks to an eternal truth: No wall can stand against the yearning of justice, the yearnings for freedom, the yearnings for peace that burns in the human heart. (Applause.)
Mayor Wowereit, distinguished guests, and especially the people of Berlin and of Germany -- thank you for this extraordinarily warm welcome. In fact, it's so warm and I feel so good that I'm actually going to take off my jacket, and anybody else who wants to, feel free to. (Applause.) We can be a little more informal among friends. (Applause.)
As your Chancellor mentioned, five years ago I had the privilege to address this city as senator. Today, I'm proud to return as President of the United States. (Applause.) And I bring with me the enduring friendship of the American people, as well as my wife, Michelle, and Malia and Sasha. (Applause.) You may notice that they're not here. The last thing they want to do is to listen to another speech from me. (Laughter.) So they're out experiencing the beauty and the history of Berlin. And this history speaks to us today.
Here, for thousands of years, the people of this land have journeyed from tribe to principality to nation-state; through Reformation and Enlightenment, renowned as a “land of poets and thinkers,” among them Immanuel Kant, who taught us that freedom is the “unoriginated birthright of man, and it belongs to him by force of his humanity.”
Here, for two centuries, this gate stood tall as the world around it convulsed -- through the rise and fall of empires; through revolutions and republics; art and music and science that reflected the height of human endeavor, but also war and carnage that exposed the depths of man’s cruelty to man.
It was here that Berliners carved out an island of democracy against the greatest of odds. As has already been mentioned, they were supported by an airlift of hope, and we are so honored to be joined by Colonel Halvorsen, 92 years old -- the original “candy bomber.” We could not be prouder of him. (Applause.) I hope I look that good, by the way, when I'm 92. (Laughter.)
During that time, a Marshall Plan seeded a miracle, and a North Atlantic Alliance protected our people. And those in the neighborhoods and nations to the East drew strength from the knowledge that freedom was possible here, in Berlin -- that the waves of crackdowns and suppressions might therefore someday be overcome.
Today, 60 years after they rose up against oppression, we remember the East German heroes of June 17th. When the wall finally came down, it was their dreams that were fulfilled. Their strength and their passion, their enduring example remind us that for all the power of militaries, for all the authority of governments, it is citizens who choose whether to be defined by a wall, or whether to tear it down. (Applause.)
And we’re now surrounded by the symbols of a Germany reborn. A rebuilt Reichstag and its glistening glass dome. An American embassy back at its historic home on Pariser Platz. (Applause.) And this square itself, once a desolate no man’s land, is now open to all. So while I am not the first American President to come to this gate, I am proud to stand on its Eastern side to pay tribute to the past. (Applause.)
For throughout all this history, the fate of this city came down to a simple question: Will we live free or in chains? Under governments that uphold our universal rights, or regimes that suppress them? In open societies that respect the sanctity of the individual and our free will, or in closed societies that suffocate the soul?
As free peoples, we stated our convictions long ago. As Americans, we believe that “all men are created equal” with the right to life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And as Germans, you declared in your Basic Law that “the dignity of man is inviolable.” (Applause.) Around the world, nations have pledged themselves to a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the inherent dignity and rights of all members of our human family.
And this is what was at stake here in Berlin all those years. And because courageous crowds climbed atop that wall, because corrupt dictatorships gave way to new democracies, because millions across this continent now breathe the fresh air of freedom, we can say, here in Berlin, here in Europe -- our values won. Openness won. Tolerance won. And freedom won here in Berlin. (Applause.)
And yet, more than two decades after that triumph, we must acknowledge that there can, at times, be a complacency among our Western democracies. Today, people often come together in places like this to remember history -- not to make it. After all, we face no concrete walls, no barbed wire. There are no tanks poised across a border. There are no visits to fallout shelters. And so sometimes there can be a sense that the great challenges have somehow passed. And that brings with it a temptation to turn inward -- to think of our own pursuits, and not the sweep of history; to believe that we’ve settled history’s accounts, that we can simply enjoy the fruits won by our forebears.
But I come here today, Berlin, to say complacency is not the character of great nations. Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity -- that struggle goes on. And I’ve come here, to this city of hope, because the tests of our time demand the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago.
Chancellor Merkel mentioned that we mark the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s stirring defense of freedom, embodied in the people of this great city. His pledge of solidarity -- “Ich bin ein Berliner” -- (applause) -- echoes through the ages. But that’s not all that he said that day. Less remembered is the challenge that he issued to the crowd before him: “Let me ask you,” he said to those Berliners, “let me ask you to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today” and “beyond the freedom of merely this city.” Look, he said, “to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.”
President Kennedy was taken from us less than six months after he spoke those words. And like so many who died in those decades of division, he did not live to see Berlin united and free. Instead, he lives forever as a young man in our memory. But his words are timeless because they call upon us to care more about things than just our own self-comfort, about our own city, about our own country. They demand that we embrace the common endeavor of all humanity.
And if we lift our eyes, as President Kennedy called us to do, then we’ll recognize that our work is not yet done. For we are not only citizens of America or Germany -- we are also citizens of the world. And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.
We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. (Applause.) We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered. We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous. (Applause.)
I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experience. Our alliance is the foundation of global security. Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy. Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet. When Europe and America lead with our hopes instead of our fears, we do things that no other nations can do, no other nations will do. So we have to lift up our eyes today and consider the day of peace with justice that our generation wants for this world.
I'd suggest that peace with justice begins with the example we set here at home, for we know from our own histories that intolerance breeds injustice. Whether it's based on race, or religion, gender or sexual orientation, we are stronger when all our people -- no matter who they are or what they look like -- are granted opportunity, and when our wives and our daughters have the same opportunities as our husbands and our sons. (Applause.)
When we respect the faiths practiced in our churches and synagogues, our mosques and our temples, we're more secure. When we welcome the immigrant with his talents or her dreams, we are renewed. (Applause.) When we stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and treat their love and their rights equally under the law, we defend our own liberty as well. We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness. (Applause.) And as long as walls exist in our hearts to separate us from those who don’t look like us, or think like us, or worship as we do, then we're going to have to work harder, together, to bring those walls of division down.
Peace with justice means free enterprise that unleashes the talents and creativity that reside in each of us; in other models, direct economic growth from the top down or relies solely on the resources extracted from the earth. But we believe that real prosperity comes from our most precious resource -- our people. And that’s why we choose to invest in education, and science and research. (Applause.)
And now, as we emerge from recession, we must not avert our eyes from the insult of widening inequality, or the pain of youth who are unemployed. We have to build new ladders of opportunity in our own societies that -- even as we pursue new trade and investment that fuels growth across the Atlantic.
America will stand with Europe as you strengthen your union. And we want to work with you to make sure that every person can enjoy the dignity that comes from work -- whether they live in Chicago or Cleveland or Belfast or Berlin, in Athens or Madrid, everybody deserves opportunity. We have to have economies that are working for all people, not just those at the very top. (Applause.)
Peace with justice means extending a hand to those who reach for freedom, wherever they live. Different peoples and cultures will follow their own path, but we must reject the lie that those who live in distant places don’t yearn for freedom and self-determination just like we do; that they don’t somehow yearn for dignity and rule of law just like we do. We cannot dictate the pace of change in places like the Arab world, but we must reject the excuse that we can do nothing to support it. (Applause.)
We cannot shrink from our role of advancing the values we believe in -- whether it's supporting Afghans as they take responsibility for their future, or working for an Israeli-Palestinian peace -- (applause) -- or engaging as we've done in Burma to help create space for brave people to emerge from decades of dictatorship. In this century, these are the citizens who long to join the free world. They are who you were. They deserve our support, for they too, in their own way, are citizens of Berlin. And we have to help them every day. (Applause.)
Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons -- no matter how distant that dream may be. And so, as President, I've strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons. Because of the New START Treaty, we’re on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s. (Applause.)
But we have more work to do. So today, I’m announcing additional steps forward. After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures. (Applause.)
At the same time, we’ll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe. And we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.
America will host a summit in 2016 to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world, and we will work to build support in the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and call on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice. (Applause.)
Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet. The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. And on this, Germany and Europe have led.
In the United States, we have recently doubled our renewable energy from clean sources like wind and solar power. We’re doubling fuel efficiency on our cars. Our dangerous carbon emissions have come down. But we know we have to do more -- and we will do more. (Applause.)
With a global middle class consuming more energy every day, this must now be an effort of all nations, not just some. For the grim alternative affects all nations -- more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise. This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work. (Applause.)
Peace with justice means meeting our moral obligations. And we have a moral obligation and a profound interest in helping lift the impoverished corners of the world. By promoting growth so we spare a child born today a lifetime of extreme poverty. By investing in agriculture, so we aren’t just sending food, but also teaching farmers to grow food. By strengthening public health, so we’re not just sending medicine, but training doctors and nurses who will help end the outrage of children dying from preventable diseases. Making sure that we do everything we can to realize the promise -- an achievable promise -- of the first AIDS-free generation. That is something that is possible if we feel a sufficient sense of urgency. (Applause.)
Our efforts have to be about more than just charity. They’re about new models of empowering people -- to build institutions; to abandon the rot of corruption; to create ties of trade, not just aid, both with the West and among the nations they’re seeking to rise and increase their capacity. Because when they succeed, we will be more successful as well. Our fates are linked, and we cannot ignore those who are yearning not only for freedom but also prosperity.
And finally, let’s remember that peace with justice depends on our ability to sustain both the security of our societies and the openness that defines them. Threats to freedom don’t merely come from the outside. They can emerge from within -- from our own fears, from the disengagement of our citizens.
For over a decade, America has been at war. Yet much has now changed over the five years since I last spoke here in Berlin. The Iraq war is now over. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Osama bin Laden is no more. Our efforts against al Qaeda are evolving.
And given these changes, last month, I spoke about America’s efforts against terrorism. And I drew inspiration from one of our founding fathers, James Madison, who wrote, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” James Madison is right -- which is why, even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism, we must move beyond a mindset of perpetual war. And in America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo. (Applause.) It means tightly controlling our use of new technologies like drones. It means balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy. (Applause.)
And I'm confident that that balance can be struck. I'm confident of that, and I'm confident that working with Germany, we can keep each other safe while at the same time maintaining those essential values for which we fought for.
Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they're focused on threats to our security -- not the communications of ordinary persons. They help confront real dangers, and they keep people safe here in the United States and here in Europe. But we must accept the challenge that all of us in democratic governments face: to listen to the voices who disagree with us; to have an open debate about how we use our powers and how we must constrain them; and to always remember that government exists to serve the power of the individual, and not the other way around. That’s what makes us who we are, and that’s what makes us different from those on the other side of the wall. (Applause.)
That is how we'll stay true to our better history while reaching for the day of peace and justice that is to come. These are the beliefs that guide us, the values that inspire us, the principles that bind us together as free peoples who still believe the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." (Applause.)
And we should ask, should anyone ask if our generation has the courage to meet these tests? If anybody asks if President Kennedy's words ring true today, let them come to Berlin, for here they will find the people who emerged from the ruins of war to reap the blessings of peace; from the pain of division to the joy of reunification. And here, they will recall how people trapped behind a wall braved bullets, and jumped barbed wire, and dashed across minefields, and dug through tunnels, and leapt from buildings, and swam across the Spree to claim their most basic right of freedom. (Applause.)
The wall belongs to history. But we have history to make as well. And the heroes that came before us now call to us to live up to those highest ideals -- to care for the young people who can't find a job in our own countries, and the girls who aren't allowed to go to school overseas; to be vigilant in safeguarding our own freedoms, but also to extend a hand to those who are reaching for freedom abroad.
This is the lesson of the ages. This is the spirit of Berlin. And the greatest tribute that we can pay to those who came before us is by carrying on their work to pursue peace and justice not only in our countries but for all mankind.
Vielen Dank. (Applause.) God bless you. God bless the peoples of Germany. And God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
3:58 P.M. CEST
A little more than six months after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Vice President Biden said yesterday that he and President Obama have not given up the fight to reduce gun violence.
In January, the Vice President said, “the President and I stood in this very room, joined by the victims of gun violence, parents, teachers, members of law enforcement, and many others, as we made a simple promise to the American people. We said we will do everything that we can, everything in our power to reduce gun violence in this country."
And although a minority of the Senate voted down common-sense legislation that would keep our kids and communities safer, President Obama has "moved forward on what was within his power, what executive actions he could take," the Vice President explained. "Today, I can report that he announced 23 executive actions; 21 of them have been completed or there has been major progress made toward the total completion and that we’re on track to finish the job."
MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
SUBJECT: Delegation of Reporting Functions Specified in Section 491 of Title 10, United States Code
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3 of the United States Code, I hereby delegate to you the reporting functions conferred upon the President by section 491 of title 10, United States Code.
You are authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
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.
1:32 P.M. CEST
Today, the President announced new guidance that aligns U.S. nuclear policies to the 21st century security environment. This is the latest in a series of concrete steps the President has made to advance his Prague agenda and the long-term goal of achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.
Following the release of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and ratification of the New START Treaty, the President directed the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of State, Department of Energy, and the intelligence community, to conduct a detailed analysis of U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements and policy in order to ensure U.S. nuclear posture and plans are aligned to address today’s security environment. This review was based on the principle that a robust assessment of today’s security environment and resulting Presidential guidance must drive nuclear employment planning, force structure, and posture decisions.
The President’s new guidance:
- affirms that the United States will maintain a credible deterrent, capable of convincing any potential adversary that the adverse consequences of attacking the United States or our allies and partners far outweigh any potential benefit they may seek to gain through an attack.
- directs DOD to align U.S. defense guidance and military plans with the policies of the NPR, including that the United States will only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners. The guidance narrows U.S. nuclear strategy to focus on only those objectives and missions that are necessary for deterrence in the 21st century. In so doing, the guidance takes further steps toward reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy.
- directs DOD to strengthen non-nuclear capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.
- directs DOD to examine and reduce the role of launch under attack in contingency planning, recognizing that the potential for a surprise, disarming nuclear attack is exceedingly remote. While the United States will retain a launch under attack capability, DOD will focus planning on the more likely 21st century contingencies.
- codifies an alternative approach to hedging against technical or geopolitical risk, which will lead to more effective management of the nuclear weapons stockpile.
- reaffirms that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal that guarantees the defense of the U.S. and our allies and partners. The President has supported significant investments to modernize the nuclear enterprise and maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal. The administration will continue seeking congressional funding support for the enterprise.
After a comprehensive review of our nuclear forces, the President has determined that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies and partners and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent while safely pursuing up to a one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear weapons from the level established in the New START Treaty. The U.S. intent is to seek negotiated cuts with Russia so that we can continue to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.
This analysis did not set out to address weapons forward deployed in Europe in support of NATO. The role of nuclear weapons in NATO was examined as part of the last year’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review, which affirmed Allies’ support for further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions, and underscored that any changes in NATO’s nuclear posture must be an Alliance decision.
As we continue to implement the NPR, we are focused on maintaining and improving strategic stability with both Russia and China.
In sum, this review was essential to advance the policies laid out in the NPR. The resulting strategy will maintain strategic stability with Russia and China, strengthen regional deterrence, and reassure U.S. allies and partners, while laying the groundwork for negotiations with Russia on how we can mutually and verifiably reduce our strategic and nonstrategic nuclear stockpiles and live up to our commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The President has directed DOD to use the new guidance to begin the process of updating and aligning its directives and contingency plans in order for this policy to be implemented over the course of the next year.