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Obama, Hollande Hold Joint Presser

Aired February 11, 2014 - 12:30   ET


PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE: That is a fundamental principle in our relation.

We also act -- the economic fronts. America experiences recovery in its growth, due to the policy and the political choices made due to steps made by the United States.

The United States of America trusts innovation, energy. It also benefits from a low cost of energy and bold decisions.

This economic recovery in the United States is an opportunity for Europe, but it also is an example to be followed, a reference.

But should encourage us to promote competitiveness through necessary means, but also to promote innovation and new energy. And that is precisely the meaning of my visit to the Silicon Valley tomorrow.

Finally, we agreed with our American friends to sign a partnership agreement between Europe and the United States, but the best intentions to open up markets, to remove NTBs, nontariff barriers, to make sure the same opportunities be offered to all companies so that they can make proposals and tender markets.

Of course, each country has its own position. We all know what mandate was given to the European Commission. We all know how concerned we were when it came to farming, agriculture, or to cultural products.

But we really want to reach this agreement, because this agreement will contribute to growth, developing world trade in a balanced manner is a precious contributing factor to growth for companies.

And now climate change, how not to mention climate change when France next year will convene and host a conference?

It's not just about hosting a conference and having hotels. No. It's about defending a global -- reaching a global goal, because there is a danger.

We want a serious and comprehensive agreement, one that will enable all countries, developing countries, developed countries, to work together towards a number of common goals, food security, development, the struggle against aids, are three other issues in which we work together. But there are so many subjects I could mention, and every single time I would mechanics mention one of those issues, I would have to bear witness if the quality of our relations and of our trust, including on the most delicate issues and most challenging ones.

I was referring to history earlier on. It unites us. De Tocqueville is certainly a reference, always a reference that is current in France.

How far can you go when it comes to equality and how far can you go when it comes to freedom?

And the revolutionaries who wanted the independence of America, those who wanted a republic in France had this thing in common.

They wanted to be as bold as possible when it comes to freedom and liberty, and they wanted to be as respectful as possible when it comes to equality.

This is precisely what the American dream is made of, and it is also what the French dream is made of, even though many have their own little dream, but the ambition remains exactly the same. We want to be together again.

Thank you.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right. We've got a couple questions each.

Let's start with -- where is Mark Lanley (ph)? There he is, "New York Times."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon.

Both of you talked about Syria a good deal in your opening remarks, and I wanted to ask a bit about that.

The latest round of the Geneva II talks have proven to be as unproductive as the first round was.

The conventional -- chemical weapons agreement that you both alluded to has removed some weapons, but by all accounts, it's a small fraction of the overall stockpile the Assad regime has, and the Syrians have missed a couple of deadlines.

And, as I don't need to tell you, the Syrian regime is essentially starving thousands of Syrians in Homs and elsewhere.

Everybody agrees that more pressure needs to be brought to bear on the Assad regime to change this deadly equation, and so I wonder, beyond the general statements you made, what additional tangible steps did you discuss in your meetings today to help the moderate opposition to try to change that equation on the ground?

And secondly, for Mr. M. Le President, (inaudible)--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I forgot my French. I'm going to ask in English. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is it OK for a trade delegation with a hundred French CEOs to travel to Tehran to explore business opportunities when the P5 and the E3+3 have committed to maintaining the strength and integrity of the sanctions regime?

Thank you.

OBAMA: Why don't I take a stab first at the Syria question.

We still have a horrendous situation on the ground in Syria. I don't think anybody disputes that.

And what is absolutely clear is that with each passing day, more people inside of Syria are suffering, the state of Syria itself is crumbling. That is bad for Syria. It is bad for the region.

It is bad for global national security, because what we know is that there are extremists who have moved into the vacuum in certain portions of Syria in a way that could threaten us over the long term.

So this is one of our highest national security priorities, and I know that Francois feels the same way, and many of our European partners as well as our partners in the region feel the same way.

The Geneva process recognizes that if we're going to solve this problem, then we have to find a political solution.

And the first Geneva conference committed to a transition process that would preserve and protect the state of Syria, would accommodate the various sectarian interests inside of Syria so that no one party was dominant, and would allow us to return to some semblance of normalcy and allow all the people displaced to start moving back in.

We are far from achieving that yet. I would not completely discount the fact that in this latest round of negotiations what you saw was a coherent, cohesive, reasonable opposition in the same room for the first time negotiating directly with the regime.

Now, the regime -- Assad's regime wasn't particularly responsible, and I think even some of their patrons were disturbed by their belligerence, but we are going to continue to commit to not just pressure the Assad regime, but also to get countries like Russia and Iran to recognize that it is in nobody's interests to see the continuing bloodshed and collapse that's taking place inside that country.

Now, you asked tangible steps we can take. Both France and the United States continue to support a moderate opposition. We are continuing to provide enormous amounts of humanitarian aid.

One of the problems we have right now is humanitarian access to deliver that aid, and as we speak, today, the U.N. Security Council, we will be debating a resolution that would permit much greater access for humanitarian aid workers to get food, water, shelter, clothing, fuel to people who need it. Now, there is great unanimity among most of the Security Council on this resolution. Russia is a hold-out. And Secretary Kerry and others have delivered a very direct message to the Russians that they cannot say they are concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people when they are starving civilians, and that it is not just the Syrians that are responsible, the Russians, as well, if they are blocking this kind of resolution.

So that is an example of the kinds of diplomatic work that we are engaging in right now. but, Mark, nobody is going to deny that there is enormous frustration here, and I think the underlying premise to the question may be, is there additional, direct action or military action that can be taken that would resolve the problem in Syria?

I have said throughout my presidency I always reserve the right to exercise military act action on behalf of America's national security interests, but that has to be deployed wisely.

And I think that what we saw with respect to the chemical weapons situation was an example of the judicious, wise use of possible military action.

In partnership with France, we said we would be prepared to act if Syria did not. Syria and Russia came to the conclusion that they needed to for the first time acknowledge the presence of chemical weapons and then agree to a very extensive deal to get those chemical weapons out.

You're right that so far they have missed some deadlines. On the other hand, we have completely chronicled all the chemical weapons inside of Syria. A portion of those chemical weapons have been removed. There's been a reaffirmation by the Syrians and Russia that all of it has to be removed, and concrete steps are being taken to remove it.

And we will continue to keep the pressure on, but we now have a U.N. mandate with consequences if there is a failure, something that we did not have before.

Whether we can duplicate that kind of process when it comes to the larger resolution of the problem, right now we don't think that there's a military solution, per se, to the problem.

But the situation is fluid, and we are continuing to explore every possible avenue to solve this problem, because it's not just heartbreaking to see what's happening with the Syrian people, it's very dangerous for the region as a whole, including friends and allies and partners like Lebanon or Jordan that are being adversely impacted by it.

But let me just make one last comment with respect to the Iran sanctions. We have been extraordinarily firm that even during this interim agreement, we will fully enforce all applicable sanctions.

In fact, we have taken various steps just over the last six, seven weeks to identify companies that we felt were violating those sanctions, and have been very clear to the Iranians that there's not going to be any let up.

In discussions with President Hollande, he feels the same way, as do all the P5+1 members.

And so businesses may be exploring are there some possibilities to get in sooner rather than later, if and when there is a actual agreement to be had, but I can tell you that they do so at their own peril right now, because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.

You know, with respect to the sanctions that we control, and we expect full compliance with respect to the P5+1 during this interim.

We don't want new sanctions, because the one we have in place are already squeezing Iran and brought them to the table.

But we also want to send a message to the Iranians that if they don't resolve this broader issue of their nuclear program, that there will be consequences and that the sanctions regime not only will stay in place, but are -- will likely be tightened in the event these talks fail.

HOLLANDE (via translator): Barack gave you a very comprehensive answer, so I shall now sketch the French approach on the issues that were mentioned.

A few words, first of all, Geneva II, the only purpose of this conference is to make political transition possible.

It's not about discussing humanitarian measures only. It's all about making sure that a political change be possible, which eventually will have to take place in Syria.

We encouraged the democratic opposition to go to Geneva, and to demonstrate that they are prepared to commit themselves to this process and to this approach. And if some of them are blocking, there's no prize for getting who it is. It is the Syrian regime.

One other observation, a conclusion, as a matter of fact, we should help along the humanitarian situation, and that is why a resolution will be voted at the NUSC, and we will see, again who speaks clearly on the issue of the Syrian question, and who is partisan. How can you object to humanitarian corridors? Why would you prevent the vote of a resolution if, in good faith, it is all about saving human lives? So we decided to go all the way and to get these clarifications.

Third question. The chemical weapons stockpile. Barack Obama and myself, when we were presented with the proof of the use that had been made by the Assad regime of chemical weapons, we decided that resorting to force was an option, and it is precisely that we made this decision that the option of a negotiation was also kept on the agenda.

It is precisely for that reason that President Putin made this offer, in circumstances you are all familiar with. This led to the destruction of some of the chemical weapons, but I agree with you. It is a very long-winded process. It's only partial destruction, and it certainly doesn't go nearly far enough.

So rules were adopted, particularly within the framework of the security council resolution, in case of non-observance. And we shall resort to these measures and enforce them.

Chemical weapons have to be destroyed fully, and pressure will be exerted fully.

And then there are choices. We chose to support the democratic opposition. We chose to make sure that the democratic opposition is an alternative, even though negotiations will have to take place at the Geneva conference.

You asked me a question about French businessmen in Iran -- that trip to Iran.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the French situation, the president of the republic is not the president of the employees union in France. And he certainly doesn't wish to be. And -- -- and I don't think anyone wishes for him to be.

So companies just make their decisions when it comes to travel -- comes to traveling. But I certainly let them know that sanctions were in force, and would remain in force, and if contacts were to be made, with a view to a new situation in Iran, a situation where Iran would have renounced the nuclear weapon, fully and comprehensively, well unless such a new situation would prevail, no commercial agreement could be signed. That's what I told French businessmen, and they are very much aware of this situation.

And as far as sanctions are concerned, they will only be lifted if and when there is a definite agreement. And during this period of an interim agreement, they remain in force.

A French question perhaps now?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the French nation and for taking our questions. You have actually praised and granted -- praised France very warmly today and granted our president the first state visit of your second term. Does that mean that France has become the best European ally of the U.S. and has replaced Great Britain...

OBAMA: Oh, goodness. (LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: ... in that role? And if so, why not extend to France the new spying agreement that you have with England after the big scandal of the NSA surveillance program?

(through translator): And, Mr. President, you praised the excellency of Franco-American cooperation. But on Iran, are there differences in terms of analysis between France and America on the necessity to have an ambitious agreement? Do you feel that Americans be prepared to make too many concessions? Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I have two daughters.


And they are both gorgeous and wonderful, and I would never choose between them. And that's how I feel about my outstanding European partners: All of them are wonderful in their own ways.

Now, to the serious part of the question, what I do believe is, is that the U.S.-French alliance has never been stronger, and the levels of cooperation that we're seeing across a whole range of issues is much deeper than it was, I think, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And that's good for France, it's good for the United States, it's good for the world, because we share certain values and certain commitments and are willing to act on behalf of those commitments and values.

With respect to the NSA, obviously, I expressed my -- my strong commitment to making sure that our rules in how we approach intelligence and surveillance, not just here in the -- you know, not just with respect to any particular country, but worldwide, that we do it in a way that takes into account the incredible changes in technology and the new capacities that have evolved over the last several years.

And the first place that we looked to in terms of, how do we make sure that our rules are compatible with our partnerships and our friendships and our alliances was -- were countries like France that have been long-time allies of ours and some of our closest partners.

It's not actually correct to say that we have a, quote, unquote, "no-spy agreement" with Great Britain. That's not actually what happens. Well, we don't have -- there's no country where we have a no-spy agreement. You know, we have, like every other country, you know, an intelligence capability, and then we have a range of partnerships with all kinds of countries, and we've been in consultations with the French government to deepen those commitments.

At the same time, what I've also said, both publicly and privately -- and I want to reiterate today to the French press -- is that we are committed to making sure that we are protecting and concerned about the privacy rights, not just of Americans, not just of our own citizens, but of people around the world, as well. That's a commitment, by the way, that's fairly unprecedented in terms of any country's intelligence operations.

And what we've said is, is that we are putting rules in place so that we're not engaging in what some of the speculation has been when it comes to ordinary citizens in France. We are respectful of their privacy rights. And we are going to make sure that our rules are abiding by concerns about those privacy rights.

We do remain concerned, as France is, and as most of the E.U. is, with very specific potential terrorist networks that could attack us and kill innocent people. And we're going to have to continue to be robust in pursuit of those specific leads and concerns. But we have to do it in a way that is compatible with the privacy rights that people in France rightly expect, just like they do here in the United States.

And the last point, just because I know you asked it of President Hollande, but I want to go ahead and comment on this. The reason Iran's at the table is because we have a very high threshold in terms of what we expect out of Iran to prove to us that they're not pursuing nuclear weapons. And we were able to stitch together an international coalition to apply sanctions to make sure that would be the case. I don't think the concern during the course of these negotiations is whether or not we are going to be making too many concessions. I think the concern is going to be whether or not Iran can recognize the opportunity to prove in a verifiable fashion to the world in ways that scientists and technical experts can confirm, that any nuclear program they have is for peaceful purposes.

And the facts are what will guide these negotiations. If they meet what technically gives us those assurances, then there's a deal to potentially be made. If they don't, there isn't. And it's not subject to a whole lot of interpretation. There are some judgment issues involved, but part of the reason we are where we are right now is because Iran hasn't been able to give those assurances to anybody in the international community that they weren't pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That's why there was such unanimity in applying the sanctions and keeping them in place.

HOLLANDE (in translation): In response to your first question. Well, I have four children, so that makes it even more difficult for me to make any choice at all. But we're not trying to be anyone's favorite. There are stoic links. We share common values, and I can see that our views converge on many issues, but it's not about hierarchy, it's just about being useful to the world, because the friendship between the United States and France is not just about strengthening our ties, economic ties, cultural or personal ties. And that already would be a great deal.

It's not just about bringing our two societies closer to one another. It's not just about sharing technology. No.

What makes this friendship between the United States of America and France is the fact that we can hold values in a -- at a specific point in time with this American presidency and with this French presidency, if I may say so.

With regards to Iran, your second question. Just as the United States, we wanted to work on the basis of the P5 scenario. This was the basis of our action.

Nothing prevented us from having bilateral contacts. And I had some bilateral contacts in New York, during the UNGA. I received president Rouhani during the General Assembly.

So it is perfectly legitimate for discussions to take place. However, we had to meet together in order to be strong together. And in order to make sure that our toughness brings about this interim agreement, which it did.

But there is still work to be done. Just because we signed an interim agreement for a few months doesn't mean that there is no longer an Iranian problem. There is an Iranian problem, for we need to make sure that Iran renounce the nuclear weapon in a definite and comprehensive manner.

HOLLANDE (through translator): The NSA now. I was going to say, the question wasn't asked to me, but President Obama answered the question. So I will answer the question too.

Even though, if you choose to ask me a more specific question, I can be more precise.

But following the revelations that appeared due to Mr. Snowden, we clarified things. President Obama and myself clarified things. This was in the past. We endeavored towards cooperation. We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles, and we are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored, and that mutual trust must be based on respect for each other's country, but also based on the protection -- protection of private life, of personal data. The fact that any individual, in spite of technological progress, can be sure that he is not being spied on, these are principles that unite us.

OBAMA: National Public Radio.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Mr. President, yesterday, your administration again, delayed the ACA employer mandate for mid-size companies. Last week, your economic adviser, Jason Furman, talked about the new choices that people have to find health care outside the workplace. I wonder if you could first explain the delay, and then also talk about whether, in the long term, you see a future where health insurance is less tied to the workplace.

OBAMA: Well. Oh, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: And -- and if I may press another one. You both talked about the pursuit of the Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement. I wonder if you have followed the domestic battle here over fasttrack authority and if that raises questions in your mind about whether such a deal could be ratified.