Tag Archives: Syria

President Obama Speaks at the Saban Forum, 12/7/13

The President:

“Let me start with the basic premise that I’ve said repeatedly. It is in America’s national security interests, not just Israel’s national interests or the region’s national security interests, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

And let’s remember where we were when I first came into office. Iran had gone from having less than 200 centrifuges to having thousands of centrifuges, in some cases more advanced centrifuges. There was a program that had advanced to the point where their breakout capacity had accelerated in ways that we had been concerned about for quite some time and, as a consequence, what I said to my team and what I said to our international partners was that we are going to have to be much more serious about how we change the cost-benefit analysis for Iran.

We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy, cut their oil revenues by more than half, have put enormous pressure on their currency — their economy contracted by more than 5 percent last year. And it is precisely because of the international sanctions and the coalition that we were able to build internationally that the Iranian people responded by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime. And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hardliners inside of Iran.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we should trust him or anybody else inside of Iran. This is a regime that came to power swearing opposition to the United States, to Israel, and to many of the values that we hold dear. But what I’ve consistently said is even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically. And that is the deal that, at the first stages, we have been able to get done in Geneva, thanks to some extraordinary work by John Kerry and his counterparts in the P5-plus-1.

So let’s look at exactly what we’ve done. For the first time in over a decade, we have halted advances in the Iranian nuclear program. We have not only made sure that in Fordor and Natanz that they have to stop adding additional centrifuges, we’ve also said that they’ve got to roll back their 20 percent advanced enrichment. So we’re —

MR. SABAN: To how much?

THE PRESIDENT: Down to zero. So you remember when Prime Minister Netanyahu made his presentation before the United Nations last year —

MR. SABAN: The cartoon with the red line?

THE PRESIDENT: The picture of a bomb — he was referring to 20 percent enrichment, which the concern was if you get too much of that, you now have sufficient capacity to go ahead and create a nuclear weapon. We’re taking that down to zero. We are stopping the advancement of the Arak facility, which would provide an additional pathway, a plutonium pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

We are going to have daily inspectors in Fordor and Natanz. We’re going to have additional inspections in Arak. And as a consequence, during this six-month period, Iran cannot and will not advance its program or add additional stockpiles of advanced uranium — enriched uranium.

Now, what we’ve done in exchange is kept all these sanctions in place — the architecture remains with respect to oil, with respect to finance, with respect to banking. What we’ve done is we’ve turned the spigot slightly and we’ve said, here’s maximum $7 billion out of the over $100 billion of revenue of theirs that is frozen as a consequence of our sanctions, to give us the time and the space to test whether they can move in a direction, a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would give us all assurances that they’re not producing nuclear weapons.

MR. SABAN: I understand. A quick question as it relates to the $7 billion, if I may.

THE PRESIDENT: Please.

MR. SABAN: How do we prevent those who work with us in Geneva, who have already descended on Tehran looking for deals, to cause the seven to become 70? Because we can control what we do, but what is the extent that we can control the others?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Haim, this is precisely why the timing of this was right. One of the things we were always concerned about was that if we did not show good faith in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically, then the sanctions regime would begin to fray.

Keep in mind that this was two years of extraordinary diplomatic work on behalf of our team to actually get the sanctions in place. They’re not just the unilateral sanctions that are created by the United States. These are sanctions that are also participated in by Russia, by China, and some allies of ours like South Korea and Japan that find these sanctions very costly. But that’s precisely why they’ve become so effective.

And so what we’ve said is that we do not loosen any of the core sanctions; we provide a small window through which they can access some revenue, but we can control it and it is reversible. And during the course of these six months, if and when Iran shows itself not to be abiding by this agreement, not to be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse them and tighten them even further.

But here is the bottom line. Ultimately, my goal as President of the United States — something that I’ve said publicly and privately and shared everywhere I’ve gone — is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But what I’ve also said is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons is for a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that.

It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months, understanding that while we’re talking, they’re not secretly improving their position or changing circumstances on the ground inside of Iran. And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them.

If, on the other hand, we’re able to get this deal done, then what we can achieve through a diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/1aOx7J3

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President Obama Holds a News Conference


Syria:

“Well, first of all, on Syria, I think it’s important to understand that for several years now what we’ve been seeing is a slowly unfolding disaster for the Syrian people. And this is not a situation in which we’ve been simply bystanders to what’s been happening. My policy from the beginning has been that President Assad had lost credibility, that he attacked his own people, has killed his own people, unleashed a military against innocent civilians, and that the only way to bring stability and peace to Syria is going to be for Assad to step down and to move forward on a political transition.

In pursuit of that strategy we’ve organized the international community. We are the largest humanitarian donor. We have worked to strengthen the opposition. We have provided nonlethal assistance to the opposition. We have applied sanctions on Syria. So there are a whole host of steps that we’ve been taking precisely because, even separate from the chemical weapons issue, what’s happening in Syria is a blemish on the international community generally, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the Syrian people….

And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do. There may be objections even among some people in the region who are sympathetic with the opposition if we take action. So it’s important for us to do this in a prudent way.”

Boston:

“In terms of the response of the American people, I think everybody can take a cue from Boston. You don’t get a sense that anybody is intimidated when they go to Fenway Park a couple days after the bombing. There are joggers right now, I guarantee you, all throughout Boston and Cambridge and Watertown. And I think one of the things that I’ve been most proud of in watching the country’s response to the terrible tragedy there, is a sense of resilience and toughness, and we’re not going to be intimidated. We are going to live our lives.

And people, I think, understand that we’ve got to do everything we can to prevent these kinds of attacks from taking place, but people also understand — in the same way they understand after a shooting in Aurora or Newtown or Virginia Tech, or after the foiled attempts in Times Square or in Detroit — that we’re not going to stop living our lives because warped, twisted individuals try to intimidate us. We’re going to do what we do — which is go to work, raise our kids, go to ball games, run in marathons. And at the same time, we’re going to make sure that everybody is cooperating and is vigilant in doing everything we can, without being naïve, to try to prevent these attacks from happening in the future.”

Sequester and Congress:

“We understand that we’re in a divided government right now. The Republicans control the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. And I think it comes as no surprise not even to the American people, but even members of Congress themselves that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill….

It is true that the sequester is in place right now. It’s damaging our economy. It’s hurting our people. And we need to lift it. What’s clear is, is that the only way we’re going to lift it is if we do a bigger deal that meets the test of lowering our deficit and growing our economy at the same time. And that’s going to require some compromises on the part of both Democrats and Republicans….

But I think the sequester is a good example — or this recent FAA issue is a good example. You will recall that even as recently as my campaign, Republicans we’re saying, sequester is terrible, this is a disaster, it’s going to ruin our military, it’s going to be disastrous for the economy — we’ve got to do something about it. Then, when it was determined that doing something about it might mean that we close some tax loopholes for the wealthy and the well-connected, suddenly, well, you know what, we’ll take the sequester….

And then in rapid succession, suddenly White House tours — this is terrible! How can we let that happen? Meat inspectors — we’ve got to fix that. And, most recently, what are we going to do about potential delays at airports?

So despite the fact that a lot of members of Congress were suggesting that somehow the sequester was a victory for them and this wouldn’t hurt the economy, what we now know is what I warned earlier, what Jay stood up here and warned repeatedly, is happening. It’s slowed our growth. It’s resulting in people being thrown out of work. And it’s hurting folks all across the country.

And the fact that Congress responded to the short-term problem of flight delays by giving us the option of shifting money that’s designed to repair and improve airports over the long term to fix the short-term problem — well, that’s not a solution. And essentially what we’ve done is we’ve said, in order to avoid delays this summer, we’re going to ensure delays for the next two or three decades….

So the alternative, of course, is either to go ahead and impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers now — which also does not fix the problem — or the third alternative is to actually fix the problem by coming up with a broader, larger deal….

So if, in fact, they are seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now, or 15 years from now. The only way to do that is for them to engage with me on coming up with a broader deal. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do — is to continue to talk to them about are there ways for us to fix this.”

Guantanamo Bay:

“Well, I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.

Now, Congress determined that they would not let us close it — and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country.

I’m going to go back at this. I’ve asked my team to review everything that’s currently being done in Guantanamo, everything that we can do administratively. And I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people. And it’s not sustainable.

The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over a hundred individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity, even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda core, we’ve kept the pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority in Afghanistan — the idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.

Now, it’s a hard case to make because I think for a lot of Americans the notion is out of sight, out of mind. And it’s easy to demagogue the issue. That’s what happened the first time this came up. I’m going to go back at it because I think it’s important.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/12R1TzV

President Obama’s Bilateral Meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan

“Of great urgency right now obviously is the situation in Syria. Jordan has experienced a huge influx of refugees coming into the country from Syria, people who’ve been displaced. Jordan historically has maintained open borders and allowed these refugees on a humanitarian basis to come in, but it’s an enormous strain on a small country. And we are mobilizing international support to help with these refugees, but obviously our goal is to create a stable Syria, where civilians are not at risk.

And we both agree that at this point, President Assad has lost legitimacy and that we need to find a political transition that allows a multi-sect, democratic transition to take place so that Syria can be a place where all people can live in peace and harmony.

This will be difficult to accomplish. And yesterday, some of you saw that I asked my people to brief Congress about the fact that we now have some evidence that chemical weapons have been used on the populations in Syria. Now, these are preliminary assessments; they’re based on our intelligence gathering. We have varying degrees of confidence about the actual use, but there are a range of questions around how, when, where these weapons may have been used.

So we’re going to be pursuing a very vigorous investigation ourselves, and we’re going to be consulting with our partners in the region as well as the international community and the United Nations to make sure that we are investigating this as effectively and as quickly as we can.

But I meant what I’d said, and I will repeat that it’s, obviously, horrific as it is when mortars are being fired on civilians and people are being indiscriminately killed. To use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law. And that is going to be a game changer.

We have to act prudently. We have to make these assessments deliberately. But I think all of us, not just in the United States but around the world, recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations.

So this is going to be something that we’ll be paying a lot of attention to — trying to confirm, and mobilize the international community around those issues.

But in everything that we do, we very much appreciate the kinds of support, advice, counsel, and partnership that we have with His Majesty and the people of Jordan. And we look forward to a fruitful consultation this afternoon.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/182XFWg