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.
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
So far, weíve 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
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
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
Question: Mr. President, eleven of your
predecessors decided against going to Hiroshima. What do you know that they
didnít? What were they worried about that you arenít?
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
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 havenít 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 didnít 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.
Question: 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.
Question: 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 youíve 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 donít 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.
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 doesnít mean that those
arenít 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.
Question: 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.
Question: 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
President Obama: Okay. You know what, I
take it back. I'm not taking another question. 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,
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 theyíre thinking about it, those
should be directed to them.
I'll take --
Question: Can I have another question?
President Obama: Youíve already had a
question, so if I'm going to ask another question I think it's fair to give it
Question: That's true.
Question: 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 wasnít 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
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.
Question: And on the Vietnamese activists
that were banned from the meeting --
Question: Right, is that embarrassing that
they couldnít --
President Obama: To me, or to them? Why is
it embarrassing to me?
Question: Well, because you invited these
people and they didnít show up.
President Obama: Well, I wasnít 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 doesnít 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 thereís 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 didnít 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 I've 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 thatís true of pretty much everything about foreign policy and
domestic policy and the human condition.
Question: Speaking of --
President Obama: Okay, guys. I gave you a
couple -- I already gave you bonuses. I gave you a bunch of bonuses. Thank