BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS,
DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR
FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS
AND SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT
AND SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR RUSSIAN AFFAIRS
Marriott Press Filing Center
Prague, Czech Republic
5:05 P.M. CEST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon, folks. I will just start off, speak for a few seconds, turn this over to Ben, who will give you a little bit of the — talk a little bit about today, Mike will talk a little bit about the bilateral meeting with President Medvedev, and then we’ll take some of your questions.
I think we’ve got — if you don’t have them already, we’ve got fact sheets. You should be able to access now on the White House Web site the full text of the treaty and the protocols. So if there are any questions along those lines, certainly let us know.
I am — we’ll turn this over now to Ben, who will walk you guys through a little bit about today.
MR. RHODES: Great, well, thanks, everybody. And I’ll just set this up for Mike, who can speak more specifically to both the bilateral meeting and the treaty.
But I mean, the first thing I wanted to do is just kind of put this into context. The President, obviously, you’ve heard him speak many times about the fact that he believes that nuclear weapons, non-proliferation nuclear security, is a top priority for this administration when it comes to national security, because really there’s no greater threat of greater consequence to the American people than the threat placed by nuclear weapons if they fall into the wrong hands, or, for that matter, to global security if proliferation continues unimpeded.
To that end, when he came to Prague one year ago this week, he laid out a comprehensive agenda to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in the ultimate pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.
Again, the President expressed then, as he did today, that it’s obviously a long-term goal, one that may not even be reached in his lifetime, but the pursuit of that goal enhances our security and global security.
I’ll just point to three key pieces of that speech and that agenda that we’ve been focusing on this week. The first one obviously is the START treaty. In that speech he called for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians. Since then — Mike can speak to this — but he’s met or phoned President Medvedev I think 15 times, investing a lot personally in the negotiation of this treaty.
I’ll just cover some of the topline points because you’re familiar with it, but I think that he believes that on its own — on its merits, the treaty does a substantial amount of things to enhance American national security: reducing our deployed warheads, launchers; having a comprehensive verification regime; having no constraints on our missile defense. He also believes it’s very important and fundamental to the kind of agenda he laid out in Prague for the United States and Russia to work together to show leadership in the effort to turn the tide against nuclear proliferation and to achieve nuclear security.
Of course, that’s related to both our own nuclear arsenals; that’s related to our ability to secure vulnerable nuclear materials; and that’s related to the United States and Russia showing leadership within the Non-Proliferation Treaty. By keeping our own obligations, we put ourselves in a stronger position to hold others accountable for violating their own obligations.
Secondly, in Prague a year ago, the President said he wanted to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our National Security Strategy. We did that this week with the release of our Nuclear Posture Review, which had a change in American declaratory policy, again focused very — in a very targeted way on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and strengthening that treaty so that non-nuclear states who are not in compliance with the treaty or their obligations do not get a security assurance that non-nuclear states that are in compliance with the treaty do get, again, reinforcing this fundamental centerpiece of the global non-proliferation regime, which is the NPT.
The NPR also contains our substantial investments in the stockpile, which will make it possible for the United States to maintain an effective, safe, reliable nuclear deterrent as we pursue these reductions and as we forsake the development of new nuclear warheads. So, again, I think that the second piece of this week that is very critical to the Prague agenda is the NPR that was released earlier.
And then the third thing is, again, in Prague a year ago he called for global effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years so that they do not fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Again, this is the most immediate and grave threat to American national security. And to that end, he called for a summit of nations that he would host to rally international action behind this goal. We’ll be hosting that summit in Washington early next week; 47 nations will be there as well as several international organizations in what is really a gathering of unprecedented scope as it relates to this particular topic and also as it relates to a gathering hosted by an American President in many decades.
So with that I’ll turn it over to Mike, who can speak a little bit more about the bilateral meeting, and then we can take your questions.
MR. McFAUL: Thank you, Ben. Let me just start with two points of contact. This is roughly the anniversary of the Prague speech, as you all know, as Ben just said. It’s also roughly the anniversary of the first meeting that President Medvedev and President Obama had in London on April 1st. And I want to remind you of that, as we talk about what happened today, and to remind you just how, in a short amount of time, we have gone from aspiration — if you go back and you read that statement of aspiration of what were going to try to do together to advance our mutual interest — to actually turning aspiration into concrete outcomes that advance the national security of the United States and advance the national security of Russia. As President Medvedev I think quite rightly said, this is a win-win outcome for both of our countries — a phrase that President Obama first used in a discussion with President Medvedev on April 1st in London a year ago.
The second contextual point I want to remind you of is where this relationship was just 15 or 18 months ago. In the fall of 2008, I think it’s fair to say most analysts would agree that we were at a low point in U.S.-Russian relations; that you have to go back to the early ‘80s to remember a time when there was such confrontation, such zero-sum thinking in terms of this relationship. And since the election, since April 1st, and now on this day, we’re in a very different place in terms of how we interact with the Russian government, and especially how the two Presidents interact at the highest levels.
Today’s meeting of course was a celebratory meeting to talk about this historic treaty that was signed today. But it was a substantive bilateral meeting. And in fact, the first half of the meeting was on a whole host of economic issues that both President Obama and President Medvedev have challenged each other to bring to the fore of the relationship. They have both stated many times that they do not want this relationship to be unidimensional; they want it to be multidimensional. And we want to talk about arms control, and not just talk but do concrete things, as we did today.
We want to talk about regional security issues — North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan — as we always do, and how we can work together to advance our national interests in all three of those places. Speaking of — I just noted here — we also talked about Kyrgyzstan today in the meeting. And I would just note that at the beginning of the administration, when we first got here, there was a sense of, it’s us against them, the Manas Air Base; who’s going to put more money on the table to win that piece of territory.
What was striking today as we talked about our mutual interests and security in Kyrgyzstan was we were not talking in zero-sum terms; we were talking about our mutual interests there.
And then finally, in addition to economics, regional security, arms control issues, the Presidents also talked about advancing our contacts between our civil societies, and our societies more generally. We had a report out from both Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Clinton about the bilateral national commission — 16 working groups, 15 meetings — lots of smaller things we can get into details if you’re interested of things that are happening to — again, things like child protection programs that before we didn’t have; now we’re cooperating together. Counterterrorism was another one of those things.
Again, just to emphasize, this is a multidimensional relationship, and in the discussion today they went through the full range of issues, in addition, of course, to the START treaty.
MR. GIBBS: We will be happy to take some questions. Ms. Loven.
Q I’d like to ask any of you who want to elaborate on the comments that Medvedev made about how he outlined the limits of sanctions that Russia would support on Iran. Can you talk about that a little bit?
MR. McFAUL: We obviously had a very substantive discussion of Iran in the small meeting that the two Presidents had. We are in the process of beginning a negotiation about a sanctions resolution. All sanctions — I mean, all negotiations, people talk about their red lines and bottom lines, and we negotiate. The START treaty was all about that, by the way, and as Ben has already noted, takes a lot of work where we try to establish where those are. And that’s the context I think you should understand.
President Medvedev has made publicly very clear that he does not support sanctions that will lead to economic hardship for the Iranian people, that would foment economic chaos, or would lead to regime change. We actually agree with him on that.
As he said I think very clearly today in his press — in his statements, we want to use sanctions as a tool to change Iranian behavior. That’s exactly what we’re talking about. So when I heard him say we have certain red lines, I think that’s the context in which it should be understood.
MR. RHODES: Yes, and I’d just add a couple of things. Mike got it exactly right, in terms of what he described. The other thing I’d say is, we — it would have been hard to foresee a scenario 15 months ago, given where U.S.-Russia relations were, given where the international community was with regard to Iran. Again, we have to go back to that place where essentially there was no process to apply additional pressure on Iran. They made steady progress on their nuclear program over a period of several years. The great issue was whether the United States would engage with the P5-plus-1 or not. That was the context that this administration came into.
Now, here we are 15 months later, and you heard the President outline basically his theory on the case of sanctions in the press conference where he said we need to hold Iran accountable for their failure to live up to their obligations despite the good faith efforts of the international community. Those sanctions need to be targeted in a way that they’re strong and they’re smart and they affect Iranian behavior.
President Medvedev spoke right after that and said, I wouldn’t disagree with anything that President Obama said. So I think the international community has come a long way in forging a united front that leaves Iran more isolated.
And I’d echo Mike’s point, too, which is that as it relates to sanctions that would cause grave humanitarian consequences for the Iranian people, we’re not interested in that either. Again, what I would say is what’s happening now is the negotiation of a package of measures that are focused in different areas in the best way possible to change Iran’s behavior. So that’s what’s going on in New York right now.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just add one thing. I sat at lunch with Bill Burns, who is a career diplomat, who the President first met in 2005 when he traveled with Senator Lugar to Russia. Bill said to me, the type of conversation the two Presidents had today, he could not even envision that conversation starting in January of 2009. That gives you a sense, as Mike said, at the level at which our relationship existed.
And as I said when we briefed a few of you guys on the plane, we’re no longer coming out of these meetings in a pool spray, you guys are looking to see if the Russians are going to come to the table or going to be part of what’s happening in the U.N. Security Council. That’s what’s taking place. That’s a — we’ve crossed that bridge to a place, again, that I think very few people thought we would get to or would be attainable at this point in the relationship.
Q (Inaudible) conversation that took place today figuring in the conversations that the President will have with Hu Jintao — I guess is it Monday or whatever — Monday or Tuesday, whatever day –
MR. GIBBS: I think it’s Monday morning.
MR. RHODES: Yes, I’d just say a couple things, Jennifer. First of all, the negotiations — the Chinese are an active part of the negotiations in New York. And so there’s a multilateral negotiation taking place about the package of sanctions that we aim to pass this spring.
Secondly, these meetings, therefore, at the leader level are an attempt for leaders to discuss their view of the current state of play as it relates to Iran; their view of what should go into a sanctions regime and the package that might be developed; and again, to have a bilateral discussion about how each country sees this particular challenge.
So there’s a bilateral — and I think what we’ve seen throughout the year is that at important junctures the President’s bilateral meetings and conversations with these leaders helps kind of move things forward, reinforces our positions, what we’re trying to achieve. But as it relates to the detailed negotiation, that’s taking place in a multilateral setting, because it’s not just the United States and Russia, it’s not just the United States and China, it’s the P5-plus-1 and the members of the U.N. Security Council.
Q Follow up on the Iran thing. Did Medvedev outline his limits, as he did publicly? In other words, no hardship, blah, blah, blah, or did he get more specific? “I would agree that we need three types of things; I don’t favor these two types of things.” How tangible –
MR. McFAUL: We discussed the categories of the new resolution today, Peter. Just as in the START negotiations, we didn’t read out where we’re at every point, I think it would be inappropriate to do here as well. And I would just remind you that this is not just a bilateral negotiation; it’s multilateral.
But we’re into the heart of discussion, what should be in the resolution. We have moved beyond just saying sometimes sanctions are necessary or inevitable. We are talking about a concrete process, concrete categories.
Q — he gave you specifics that you have not heard before.
MR. McFAUL: Yes, we had specific discussions on the range of categories which you’re all familiar with, where we talked about what should be in the resolution and what should not.
MR. RHODES: And I’d just add one thing, which is that — both Presidents made this point today, too. The sanctions are part of a broader strategy, right, which is designed to affect Iran’s behavior. So these categories are part of a discussion of steps that could be taken to have the greatest chance of applying that cost-benefit analysis without having undue other negative consequences like we’ve discussed with the humanitarian situation, for instance.
And again, it’s also part of a range of actions that we’re taking as it relates to Iran. We’ve tightened enforcement on unilateral sanctions as well. Again, our NPT, we believe — our NPR, I’m sorry — and the actions we’ve taken to strengthen the NPT has been part of an effort that has isolated Iran from the international community because of its failure to live up to its obligations.
So this is all taking place from the details of the sanctions regime to the broader picture of steps that we’re taking across a spectrum of areas to affect the behavior of the Iranian regime going forward and their continued failure to live up to their obligations.
MR. McFAUL: Can I add just one other thing? One other thing I wanted to say — I apologize — it’s important to understand one other thing, at least it’s striking to me, again, remembering the — where we were just 15, 18 months ago. These two Presidents now have negotiated really hard, big things already. They’ve been through a process to do it. So we’re having a real conversation. We’re not reading talking points and we’re not talking about we’ll get back to you. They have an ability now, because of the experience of the START treaty, to get into it in a very substantive way.
MR. GIBBS: Mike.
Q So just to continue just a little bit more on what Peter said, do you guys have paper now that you have brought back from this that you guys will then go evaluate and do you have any sense of whether or not the things that came up in his list of things that he would do and that he wouldn’t do have sort of pushed forward or pulled back in terms of where you guys would like to be?
And then finally, last question is, there were some diplomats out there saying they want to get this done by the end of April. Does that match up with your spring timeline, or is that too soon to you?
MR. GIBBS: I can confirm April is in spring. (Laughter.)
MR. McFAUL: Just on the process, again, having just emerged from very complex negotiations about START, it’s a multi-tiered process that Ben alluded to. They meet, they have discussions. They then send instructions — and that was a word used today — to their negotiators, and here we have this interim step as well, the P5-plus-1. That process took a step forward today. And so that will continue. But it took a step forward.
Q And end of April?
MR. McFAUL: I’ll leave April to these guys.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know that I’d parse April, May. I would just leave it in the broader context of the spring.
Q So you’re leaving out (inaudible) May through June? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: No, those also are part of spring. Thank you.
Q Can you elaborate a bit more on the discussions on Kyrgyzstan between the two leaders? And also, to follow up on Jennifer’s question, you said that now President Obama and President Medvedev, that they have moved past talking points. How then does that help to bring China onboard? How can that be used to get China?
MR. McFAUL: So, on Kyrgyzstan, President Medvedev brought it up. He pulled the President aside; he wanted to just exchange notes and kind of exchange information about what we know.
As you know, we have the Manas Transit Center there, so we’re very keenly following what’s happening in Kyrgyzstan.
The tone of the conversation, just to, again, as I remember, this is one of the first things we had to deal with when we came in. And as you may recall, the Russians offered a $2 billion package to President Bakiev, in fact, and the quid pro quo implicitly was at, you know, you got to get rid of the Americans.
That was an entirely different conversation today. We have interest in stability. We want to make — we want to monitor that the troops stay where they are; exchanged information about what we knew about the opposition leaders and the regime. We were thinking about cooperative measures, perhaps the OSCE. We didn’t get into details, but should there be joint statements, that that could help to facilitate — to deal with this crisis together.
MR. RHODES: On your second question, Julianna, I’d say we’ve always had a view that there are different layers at which you can apply pressure. We in the United States could simply pursue sanctions and strongly condemn Iranian actions. We could work kind of exclusively with a smaller number of countries to do the same.
But what our view from the beginning has been is that if you really want to broaden the ability to isolate Iran and to affect its cost-benefit analysis as it relates to their continued failure to live up to their obligations, that you needed to bring in a broader coalition, and that Russia and China would be important parts of that effort.
So that’s the strategy that we’ve pursued in our engagement throughout the course of the last 15 months is facilitated the broadening of this coalition and the transition from the focus being on the United States to the focus being on the Iranians.
At every step, I think what you’ve seen, as Mike said, what’s really interesting is that at key junctures, the ability of President Obama and President Medvedev to work together has been important, and reinforcing the unity of the P5-plus-1, and again, and applying greater pressure on the Iranians. And that helps add momentum to this process.
So as it relates to China, they have actually been there throughout the P5-plus-1 process. They’ve signed on to the dual-track approach in the fall. They, too, have an interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And they’ve now entered into the multilateral negotiations that we’re having.
So to the extent to which our continued work with the Russians reinforces the broader P5-plus-1 unity, that can only be helpful to our efforts at the United Nations and our efforts to build a broad-based coalition.
Q The President and President Hu — they meet on Monday morning?
MR. RHODES: They meet on Monday, I believe, yes, that’s right. And they’ll discuss, as was the case today, and as you all know, a broad range of issues, one of which will be Iran, but the United States-China relationship is very comprehensive.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just — I just want to add one thing broadly to the series of questions about negotiation and the sort of dialogue and relationship between the two leaders now.
As you’ve heard Ben and Mike mention, they’ve met and talked on the phone, I think this was their 15th time of doing that. Just to give you guys a little bit of background, the smaller bilateral meeting, which was the President, Secretary of State Clinton, National Security Advisor Jones and Mike — there were two meetings, that and an expanded bilateral meeting. The space for both meetings was to take 85 minutes. The meeting that — the smaller meeting that Mike, Secretary Clinton, Jones and the President were in went 85 minutes. We essentially got — we were behind schedule on some of this stuff today largely because the space that that took up, they met an additional 15 minutes in the expanded bilateral.
And I would say this, in riding back to the hotel with the President, he remarked to a couple of us as we were driving that — to give you just a little context of the not-trading-talking-points type of relationship, he genuinely feels like they can sit down or call each other and work through a series of issues in a very frank and honest way; that each side is negotiating — always negotiating in good faith, and that there’s a level of confidence and trust also that’s built up in the two sides working together on issues like this, which I think is certainly important as we move forward in both multilateral relationships that involve the two countries, as well as the continued level of bilateral issues that the two leaders will work through over the course of the next several years.
Q Afterward — after the President and Medvedev, the two Presidents spoke, we spoke with Sergei Ryabkov, who said that a total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran would be a slap, a blow, a huge shock for the whole society, and it was something that they were absolutely not going to entertain. So what is the status right now of possible sanctions on the Iranian energy sector? Does it mean that — basically that the Russians have taken that off the table?
MR. McFAUL: Again, I want to not get into reading out the negotiations. But we discussed energy today. You shouldn’t be — obviously. And it is not off the table.
Where it ends out, I honestly don’t know, but it is not a category that has been taken off the table today.
Q So did you talk about refined oil products?
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, I don’t think we’re going to get a whole lot more specific than –
MR. RHODES: But, wait, wait — I’d say one thing, Jonathan. Again, what we’re talking about is putting together a package. Energy can be one category in which we continue to pursue discussions about measures that could be a part of it. But there’s also a very broad range of different places in which you could apply pressure on a regime.
So, again, this is going to be — the reason this takes time to put together is that we want to put together the most effective package that is strong and smart, as I think both Presidents said today, and again, as both Presidents said, have the aim of affecting the Iranians’ calculus.
So I wouldn’t get into the specifics within those categories, but I would just echo what Mike said, too. We have made it clear, too, that we would not want the result of these sanctions and the aim of these sanctions to be, as the President said, the bringing down of Iranian society. We have not set regime change as a goal for these sanctions. And we would not want the purpose of these sanctions to be widespread suffering among the Iranian people. We want the focus of these sanctions to be the Iranian government and the cost-benefit analysis that affects their choices going forward over time, because this is not something that’s going to happen at once. It’s going to be a steady process of applying different kinds of pressure from different places. One of those is a multilateral sanctions regime, but of course there are other ways of applying pressure as well, some of which we’re already pursuing.
MR. GIBBS: Yunji.
Q In that same conversation with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, they seem to indicate that the START treaty is not at all a done deal for them. He said to us that they don’t want to hold the Duma hostage and that they hope to have something passed by the U.S. midterm elections when it comes to START ratification. Is that a timeframe that works for the U.S.? And what is the parallel timeline for the Senate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the timeline that we’ve largely laid out is this year. So I think the timeline that he laid out seems quite parallel to what we’re doing. I’ve made this point on a number of occasions; I’ll take the opportunity to do it again, as the President did. I think if you look at a series of nuclear arms reduction treaties, you see broad bipartisan majorities. You see votes in the 90s; you see the dissenting vote in the single digits. This has traditionally been a bipartisan issue.
That is why you have folks like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, who have taken the positions that they have. You see Senator Lugar as somebody, again, who wants to see the Senate take this up and work on it quickly.
So I do think it will be a test for Washington to see whether or not the traditional bipartisanship that we have generally seen on these types of treaties — 1988, 1992, 2003 — if that kind of bipartisan cooperation in our national interest is — continues.
Q So it sounds to me like you’re not anticipating a fight?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t doubt that — I have turned on C-SPAN-2 sometime in the last 15 months; I understand you could probably quibble over renaming a post office on any given day in the United States Senate. That’s not to say at the end of the day there isn’t enough space and time to do this this year, and to demonstrate again for the American people that we have the ability to work together on things that make sense for our national interest.
The President reiterated today this is something that his Secretary of Defense was heavily involved in; that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were heavily involved in. So I don’t see why there wouldn’t be an opportunity to redemonstrate bipartisanship.
MR. RHODES: I would just add to that — and then Mike might speak to the Duma –
MR. McFAUL: No, I want to talk about the treaty, a historical comparison. (Laughter.)
MR. RHODES: What I want to say about the — why we feel like — again, this is going to be — this is in the tradition of strong bipartisan support for arms control. We believe that this treaty does a range of things to advance America’s national security, from the cooperation with Russia, to the reduction in our deployed warheads and delivery vehicles and the benefits that that has as relates to broader non-proliferation nuclear security. And we also have been consulting with the Senate throughout some of these negotiations.
Secretary Gates alluded to some of those consultations when he briefed that — the treaty when we announced the agreement, and he said, well, look, we took onboard, for instance, that there is great interest from some senators in missile defense. And this treaty doesn’t place any constraints on the missile defense that we are developing in Europe, and so we feel very comfortable that on missile defense we can go to the Senate and say there are no constraints on missile defense in this treaty.
As it relates to the stockpile — because any time you have reductions, very legitimately, people are interested in maintaining the reliability of the deterrent — we’ve made substantial investments in the infrastructure, the science and technology and human capital around our stockpile, in a manner that Secretary Gates also spoke to the other day, that really increases his confidence in actually maintaining a safe, effective, and reliable stockpile at lower numbers.
So we believe that on some of the key issues that will be of interest to people, as well as the broader and fundamental issue of the importance of this kind of arms control agreement and this cooperation that we’re pursuing on non-proliferation in nuclear weapons with Russia, we believe that we have a very effective case to make that the treaty that was reached today is comprehensive, in our national interest, and in the global interest.
MR. McFAUL: I’m not going to speak about the politics in either country, but I do want to say a little bit about the treaty, just compared to other treaties. There have been other treaties that have been signed that were not completed, and therefore they had to be completed before they could go up to the Senate. There have been other treaties where the balance of what’s in the treaty, the protocol, and the annexes fell more to the annexes.
We had to make a decision whether we should sign the treaty and leave the protocol for later, and it was President Obama’s view is we’re not going to do that because when we get to this moment we want to have everything lined up. We did something historic today — it’s up, right, guys? We did something historic today. Usually you sign the treaty and it goes off in some box and then months — it goes to the senators and then you see it later. You can all see it right now because the treaty and the protocol is done. And if you were at the signing ceremony you saw them sign the treaty, and then you saw that big black thing and the red — that’s the protocol. We made a determination to finish that first.
There are some technical annexes, but we’re — there are only three, and we’re days from completing them. So we’re — and then the other thing I would say, different — two other things I’d say that’s different from previous processes, we’ve had an interagency process in our government; at an intense period, we had two SVTSes a day with our negotiators in Geneva, with the full interagency there, including the intelligence community, where we were in sometime four hours of interaction. So the knowledge about the treaty among all those in the government that need to know, that need to report on it, is already way beyond what it would have been for earlier treaties when that was not happening.
And then the last thing I would just mention is we have already begun to brief our colleagues on the Senate. We’ve had Senator Lugar in; we’ve had Senator Kerry in twice now already — maybe, Robert, you want to say more about — including right now.
MR. GIBBS: I would say that Denis and other members of the negotiating team are at the hotel right now briefing Senate staff over secure video teleconference on the specifics of what are in the treaty. They’re having obviously, because it’s on the Internet, an opportunity to look through and ask questions of that. I think it’s safe to say that we will spend a lot of time and our team will spend a lot of time meeting with individual senators and individual senators’ staffs over the next many months to make this happen.
Ben [Chang] has — $4.95 you can get a copy of that right over there.
Q A couple of questions about Kyrgyzstan. A senior Russian official accompanying Medvedev is saying that Russia –
MR. GIBBS: I think that got read out just a minute ago, so I don’t know if we need to do the senior official. But go ahead.
Q No, it’s about something different — it’s saying that Russia will urge the new Kyrgyzstan government to close the U.S. base. Does this go against the new, better tone in the relationship?
And also, Michael, you said that — you talked about issuing a joint statement on Kyrgyzstan, but why did you opt not to? Is it because you couldn’t agree? And then, finally, are you going to recognize the Kyrgyzstan government, the interim government?
MR. McFAUL: well, on the first issue, I was standing next to the two Presidents discussing Kyrgyzstan and the notion that we need to close the Manas Air Base or the Manas Transit Center was not discussed. That just simply seems spurious to me, but I don’t know who that person is. That was not at all discussed in the conversation.
Second, on whether a joint statement or not, we’re just — we’re trying to keep the peace right now. Recognizing governments, all those processes, that comes way down the line. It’s really too early to get into those kind of discussions. The people that are allegedly running Kyrgyzstan — and I’m emphasizing that word because it’s not clear exactly who’s in charge right now — these are all people we’ve had contact with for many years. They’re not — this is not some anti-American coup. That we know for sure. And this is not a sponsored-by-the-Russian coup. I’ve heard some reports of that. There’s just no evidence of that as yet.
By the way, one last thing, because we are in Prague and I wanted to mention it in the beginning; I forgot — if Robert will forgive me. Robert rightly talked about the relationship that these two gentlemen have in talking about a lot of issues. This is not a talking point reading conversation; this is a give-and-take, this is where they’re really trying to solve problems and advance our, for us, our interest, and for them, their interest. Nobody is going to do anything that’s not in their interest.
But I also want to — and I think we’ve made remarkable achievement in a short amount of time. But I also want to underscore we also talked about the things that we disagree about. Today we had a very long conversation, for instance, about European security. And 15 months ago, that was a very — before we were here, you all know, there was a lot of confrontation, including military confrontation, about European security, and very much a zero-sum mentality about Russia versus Europe versus United States.
The conversation today was not about that. Neither — we’re going to disagree about things, and we did today — I want to underscore that — but this notion that somehow if we work with Russia that’s to the disadvantage of our allies, like the Czech Republic — that’s absolutely absurd. And the fact that these two guys know each other well enough and can speak candidly and frankly about red lines, about security and alliances and things we cannot do and can do, shows I think the maturity of where this relationship is now that it simply wasn’t just a couple of years ago.
Q Can I just clarify one thing? So the reason you didn’t issue the joint statement was that you’re trying to keep the peace and it’s an evolving situation, you just felt it was too soon? Is that –
MR. McFAUL: We need to find the right modality for the right time. We’ve already put things on the record; they have put things on the record. I don’t — I wouldn’t focus on the — we didn’t discuss a joint statement. We talked in general terms about things we’ve got to coordinate and they instructed people like me to go off and do that. And when we’re done here I’ll go off and do that.
We just want to think about what is the problem and what are the mechanisms to solve them. I wouldn’t focus too much on whether a joint statement is the right tool or not.
MR. GIBBS: Mike, do you have a follow?
Q Yes, just a real quick follow-up. You guys several times now have talked about the relationship, the personal relationship between these two guys. A year ago, maybe in this room — I can’t remember — I think also in London on the first trip, you guys talked specifically about how you wanted to reject the kind of “look into your soul,” the sort of personal relationship between Bush and the other — and sort of focus more on the kind of interest of the countries and less on the relationship. Has that changed? Have you guys after 15 months or 12 months sort of come to the conclusion that those personal relationships are more important than you thought they were?
MR. McFAUL: No. I would put it this way — I think I know who you’re quoting back — we want to have a substantive relationship with Russia that advances American interests — security, economic, our interest in promoting universal values. That’s the relationship we want with Russia. Putting an adjective — “friendly,” “happy,” all that kind of stuff — that’s not the objective of our policy towards Russia.
Now, as it happens, if you can build a constructive relationship, it helps to have chemistry, and I would say the reverse is true. You develop chemistry if you get things done. And the fact that these guys are getting things done — they’re just extremely pragmatic. I really cannot emphasize that enough, that both President Obama and President Medvedev look at the issues and say, okay, how can we advance our — how can we get things done that’s good for you and good for me. Not grandiose speeches about — big slogans about this or that. That’s the kind of relationship they have. And if you get things done then you feel good about the relationship.
MR. RHODES: I’d just add the relationships do extend throughout the government, right? And you actually heard both Presidents make this point today. They negotiated very closely. Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov were there; Admiral Mullen and his counterpart. I’m sure they put up with Mike. So there’s a deep — our negotiating team is in Vienna. So there was a very deep — it’s not simply the two leaders; there’s a broader context to this.
But again, I’ll just — to return to where I started, the President laid out — the reason we’re here today in part is that the President — well, the reason we’re in Prague is because the President laid out this agenda on what he believes to be the top national security danger to the United States, which is nuclear proliferation and nuclear security. He sees that as a fundamental interest of the United States.
And so we’re here one year later because he worked with Russia on behalf of that interest. And I think you’ve heard me say that we believe that that action, too, is in service of a range of other things we’re going to do, because when we work with Russia we’re better able to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and we’re better able to apply pressure to those nations like Iran that break the rules.
So this relationship that the two of them have struck we believe is part of a broader interest-based cooperation between the United States and Russia. And frankly, I think, as relates to Russia, our theory from the beginning was when the United States and Russia can work together on areas of common interest it’s a huge benefit to American national security, to Russian security, and to global security. So when this relationship is working it can have great benefit for us.
And the case the President made when he was in Moscow was that our interests are common. Russia does not have an interest in an arms race in the Middle East. They’ve been with us on North Korea, as have the Chinese, because they don’t have an interest in an arms race in East Asia — and on a range of other issues that were discussed today.
MR. McFAUL: Just a footnote on Ben’s very excellent point, next week we have a major delegation from Russia attending the nuclear security summit. The following week we have a major delegation from their security council coming to see General Jones and us. The following week after that we have General Makarov that Admiral Mullen is hosting the following week after that. And the following week after that we have a very senior-level delegation from Russia coming to the White House and to other agencies to talk about WTO. And that is a normal month in the pace of U.S.-Russia relations today that was not there before.
Q What can the President do or say tonight to reassure the Central Europeans that this warming relationship between the U.S. and Russia does not come at their expense?
MR. McFAUL: The very way you set up the question is wrong. I mean, we have been clear-cut from day one, from April 1st, that as we advance our interests with Russia in seeking mutual cooperation, we’re not going to link that to other places as a quid pro quo. And we’ve been criticized for that policy because some people want us to link other things, right — to link the START treaty to human rights. The Russians would like us to link cooperation in this area to cooperation in that. And we’ve been categorical from the Vice President’s speech in Munich to that April 1st meeting, that just is simply not a game we’re going to play.
And on the — conversely, the more positive way, just rejecting that it comes that way, conversely, we believe that a more substantive relationship with Russia where we can talk about the things that Robert described, including the things that we disagree about, and including just informing them about things that maybe we wouldn’t have talked about before — when I think about some of the things that they’ll be talking about tonight — that that actually is good for security in this region of the world, not bad for security. It’s not a zero-sum game. It actually can be beneficial to both.
Conversely, when we have a confrontational relationship with Russia — and I would add, if you think historically, thinking of where we’re at here today — when we’re in a very confrontational relationship with Russia that generally has not been good for security in this region of the world.
Q (Inaudible) treaty, but the President did say he wants to go further. So I’d like to ask Mike what’s next on the agenda? What do you envision the next treaty will confront, deal with, try to solve? Do you agree with most arms control experts that the next one will be much more difficult than this initial one? And what degree of concern do you have about Russian anxiety about missile defense and Prompt Global Strike weapons in those negotiations?
MR. RHODES: Yes, I’d say a number of things, Major. Actually the President, even as early as here in Prague a year ago, forecasted that there would be future negotiations for reductions after START. I think that today he spoke to certain categories that we were going to look at; that that would include both strategic and tactical reductions and it would include non-deployed weapons.
Obviously there’s — we recognize the fact that missile defense, as we were talking about offensive weapons, that the defensive system of our missile defense is of great interest to us because we want to be able to preserve the flexibility that we need to protect the American people, and to the Russians because they’re interested in their strategic balance, as you heard President Medvedev say. So as you heard President Obama say today, we’d like to have a very comprehensive dialogue with the Russians about how we can build cooperation on missile defense.
So I think what — and this goes to the broader point, but the ability to get this treaty done — and it’s a very comprehensive treaty that involves both deployed warheads, launchers, verification regimes — I mean, in that sense, that’s why it’s broader than the — it’s more comprehensive than the Moscow Treaty — it’s a follow-on to START — the ability to get that done, again, develops these contexts. We’ve already discussed some of these issues in the context of START. They’ll be very difficult and this will be a process that unfolds over time.
But the President’s fundamental view is that we — when we move in the direction of reductions, when we’re cooperating with other nuclear weapons states, particularly Russia given the size of our two arsenals, that that enhances global non-proliferation, global nuclear security, and again, that fundamental mechanism by which we hold nations accountable, the NPT, because we are keeping our commitments to reduce.
And you’re absolutely correct. The lower you go, the more complicated the negotiations get, because as the President would say, as long as nuclear weapons exist we would never compromise our deterrent and our ability to extend that deterrent to the American people and to our allies. And naturally that’s a view that the Russians have as well.
So those discussions will continue. We believe START is a very historic and landmark milestone along the way — I just used three words in a row — it’s a milestone along the way in this effort, but it’s not the end of the journey. But it opens the door to further reductions because it provides for that drop in strategic warheads and delivery vehicles.
MR. McFAUL: Just one quick note on missile defense. You already heard — I’m sorry — you heard what the President said already. I’d just note that in the private meeting they also discussed in more substance how we can cooperate on missile defense. It’s going to be a long negotiation but it’s a subject that we’ve already begun to discuss.
Q I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about the summit next week, elaborate on its unprecedented scope and particularly how you think today’s signing will impact the dialogue.
MR. RHODES: Yes, I’d say a number of things and I think we’ll have a more detailed briefing tomorrow with
Gary Samore and some of the folks who are particularly focused on the summit.
MR. RHODES: No, on a call. I think there is a call. People will be in different places, so we’ll get you a time.
But a few things I’d say on the historic nature. I think that — I think that we found – Ben [Chang], who is a State Department guy, can correct me if I’m wrong — that this is the largest summit hosted by an American President since the San Francisco conference related to the United Nations. Obviously there have been other summits connected to existing bodies like the U.N. or the G20, but this kind of gathering that is focused on an issue, that the President calls a gathering of nations around a particular issue, I think it’s been that many decades since we’ve seen anything like that in the United States.
We believe that — the reason we’re doing that is because, again, it cannot be underscored enough and it can be lost, frankly, somewhat in the discussions about other elements of this broader non-proliferation package. We’ve spent a lot of time talking, for instance, about Iran, understandably and correctly today, but the vulnerable nuclear material around the world that exists is a great threat to the United States because we know that terrorist groups are actively seeking to buy or obtain those materials. That’s a threat to the United States. It’s obviously a threat to Russia, which has a terrorist threat as well.
So what we want to do, because we know this problem is out there, there are measures that can be taken to address it, to lock down this vulnerable material. So we want to bring together 47 countries with a critical interest in this and rally them behind the kind of collective action that can secure these vulnerable materials within the next four years.
And just to give you one example, I think today you saw the story of Chile shipping its high-enriched uranium out of the country as a part of this effort to provide greater nuclear security. So what we’re trying to do is build a collective action as well as the specific steps that individual countries can take.
Now, the United States and Russia, again, as the countries that have the two — 90 percent of the nuclear weapons and a lot of experience, frankly, with the Cooperative Threat Reduction in some of these lockdown mechanisms, when we’re working together it’s almost inconceivable to think through how you could pursue an ambitious nuclear security agenda without the United States and Russia being a leading part of that effort.
So again, we think that this is an area where the partnership that we’ve developed with the Russians that is embodied and is best demonstrated by the New START treaty will help us advance this other very important component of the nuclear security and non-proliferation agenda which will be the focus of the summit. Because, again, all of these different pieces — the reduction of our arsenals, the investment in our reliability of our stockpile, the NPT, the actions with regard to Iran, nuclear security — they are all mutually reinforcing as it relates to our ability to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to secure the American people and to secure these nuclear materials.
MR. GIBBS: Let’s make this the last one –
Q We’ll make it a two-part then.
MR. GIBBS: This will be the second to the last and then –
MR. RHODES: I started to get really tired. (Laughter.)
Q Mike said we’re going to disagree, and there are things we disagreed on today. I wonder if you could tell us what they were. Secondly, in the treaty you say — the treaty specifically says that the number of — aggregate number of these launchers and warheads and so forth is going to be released to the public. And you’re talking about transparency and putting this up on the Web. Can you give us, either now or at some point in the — soon — the number of warheads and launchers that you all believe you have, as counted by this treaty, now, so we can know exactly how much impact this will have?
MR. McFAUL: That’s really a declassification issue we’re talking about. I think we need to get back to you, Peter, in terms of on the second — on the second. Sorry?
Q The treaty specifically says all that information can be released so –
MR. GIBBS: They’re ahead of us on the declassification. (Laughter.)
MR. McFAUL: Like I said, it’s historically unprecedented that we hit the send button in the 21st century and this is part of — but I’ll get you a better answer to that because there is an answer to it and it does have to do with our declassification process, which we’re pushing on but it’s — we’re not done yet.
On the first question, I would just say in broad terms, we had lots — it was particularly talking about European security. What I was struck by is an assessment of the problems, some interesting agreement about some possible solutions, and again, I think it would be premature to get into the modalities, but how — like really practical problem-solving, but perhaps some disagreement about what setting, where, institutions — we just have a different view about which is the right setting to deal with that. I would not overplay it, but on those kinds of things.
Before we’d have a long list of things we disagree about. Georgia came up today again. And we –
MR. McFAUL: Just in the kinds — (laughter) –
MR. GIBBS: You only got two questions, Peter, and that was — that now falls outside the realm of –
Q Mike was so eager to tell us about the differences. He was eager to tell us.
MR. McFAUL: Let me say one thing — can I say one thing? One thing, let me say this. So — and this is something we said well before the election, that mechanisms for crisis prevention in Europe need to be strengthened. That’s something we’ve said. It’s part of the way we talk about security. Prevention mechanisms, alert, all those kinds of things that so when we see a potential conflict brewing we have ways to defuse it, rather than just reacting to it after — afterwards. And Georgia was invoked today in that discussion, right?
And we agree on that. And that was interesting, that we both think that to enhance that, to enhance transparency of forces in Europe — we agree. And by the way, our colleagues tonight agree on that, too. That will be a subject we discuss on that.
How to do it, what’s the modality, treaties, institutions, that’s the part that we haven’t got there. But we did make progress, I believe, on saying that this was a problem. We had a disagreement, now we have agreement that this would be, for instance, one very concrete thing that would enhance security in Europe. Now let’s just figure out the right way to do it.
MR. RHODES: The only thing I’d add to that is that this gets at the zero-sum question, which you heard President Medvedev mention win-win today but –
Q In English.
MR. RHODES: In English. I wouldn’t know how to say it in Russian. But I think the President’s point, right, as it relates to Russia, to Europe, and frankly to a whole set of relationships around the world is that when you really get down to core issues, whether it’s economic growth, nuclear proliferation, climate change, that there is a very broad basis of shared interests and common interests, and that in certain instances — in many instances, actually, and Russia was one of them when we came in — habits of international relations and relationships between nations didn’t reflect those common interests.
So we fundamentally believe that — and I think if you looked at where things are today in terms of European security and Russia generally, that they’ve advanced since we’ve been in office; and that the President can come here to Prague and sign a major arms control agreement with the Russian President and have dinner with 11 NATO allies that night, and it underscores the fact that these relationships in no way come at the expense of the other, and in fact when the United States and Russia are able to address these issues in a very candid and robust way, that it can enhance the security of Europe more broadly.
So, with that, we’ll take — I think we’re done.
MR. GIBBS: One more. One question. We’re not doing a seven-part Peter Baker question. Sorry, I had to — it was more like four, but we’ll — go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q The President mentioned that he brought up the suicide bombing in Moscow to Medvedev. Can you elaborate a little bit what he talked about and what he said, what the United States would be doing to help?
MR. McFAUL: They did discuss it, obviously. The President — President Medvedev was very gracious and thanked President Obama that he called that day, and he said that meant a lot to him. They talked about this is a common problem, this is an international problem. We have a working group on counterterrorism that we stood up as part of the binational commission. They talked about ways that they might enhance that and have a focus — more resources, higher-level discussion. Actually we’re going to be discussing it in two weeks’ time in Washington with our Russian counterparts. That was planned well before the terrorist attacks in Moscow.
And it just was talked about in the context of, all right, this is a global problem. It obviously affects your national security; it obviously affects our national security. Let’s think of ways that we can work together and work in parallel. It doesn’t necessarily have to be joint projects to advance our common goal when it comes to this other issue.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, guys.
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Unrest in Kyrgyzstan
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—Below is a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs regarding the unrest in Kyrgyzstan.
“The President has been closely following the events in Kyrgyzstan, and continues to monitor the situation with his National Security Team. We urge that calm be restored to Bishkek and other affected areas in a manner consistent with democratic principles and with respect for human rights. We deplore the use of deadly force by some of the security services against the demonstrators and by some demonstrators and continue to be concerned by ongoing looting and disorder. The United States looks forward to continuing our productive relationship with the people of Kyrgyzstan and the renewal of Kyrgyzstan’s democratic path.”
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV OF RUSSIA AT THE NEW START TREATY SIGNING CEREMONY AND PRESS CONFERENCE
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AND PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV OF RUSSIA
AT NEW START TREATY SIGNING CEREMONY
AND PRESS CONFERENCE
Prague, Czech Republic
12:37 P.M. CEST
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone. I am honored to be back here in the Czech Republic with President Medvedev and our Czech hosts to mark this historic completion of the New START treaty.
Let me begin by saying how happy I am to be back in the beautiful city of Prague. The Czech Republic, of course, is a close friend and ally of the United States, and I have great admiration and affection for the Czech people. Their bonds with the American people are deep and enduring, and Czechs have made great contributions to the United States over many decades — including in my hometown of Chicago. I want to thank the President and all those involved in helping to host this extraordinary event.
I want to thank my friend and partner, Dmitry Medvedev. Without his personal efforts and strong leadership, we would not be here today. We’ve met and spoken by phone many times throughout the negotiations of this treaty, and as a consequence we’ve developed a very effective working relationship built on candor, cooperation, and mutual respect.
One year ago this week, I came here to Prague and gave a speech outlining America’s comprehensive commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and seeking the ultimate goal of a world without them. I said then — and I will repeat now — that this is a long-term goal, one that may not even be achieved in my lifetime. But I believed then — as I do now — that the pursuit of that goal will move us further beyond the Cold War, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime, and make the United States, and the world, safer and more secure. One of the steps that I called for last year was the realization of this treaty, so it’s very gratifying to be back in Prague today.
I also came to office committed to “resetting” relations between the United States and Russia, and I know that President Medvedev shared that commitment. As he said at our first meeting in London, our relationship had started to drift, making it difficult to cooperate on issues of common interest to our people. And when the United States and Russia are not able to work together on big issues, it’s not good for either of our nations, nor is it good for the world.
Together, we’ve stopped that drift, and proven the benefits of cooperation. Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and non-proliferation, and for U.S.-Russia relations. It fulfills our common objective to negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It includes significant reductions in the nuclear weapons that we will deploy. It cuts our delivery vehicles by roughly half. It includes a comprehensive verification regime, which allows us to further build trust. It enables both sides the flexibility to protect our security, as well as America’s unwavering commitment to the security of our European allies. And I look forward to working with the United States Senate to achieve ratification for this important treaty later this year.
Finally, this day demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia — the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — to pursue responsible global leadership. Together, we are keeping our commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which must be the foundation for global non-proliferation.
While the New START treaty is an important first step forward, it is just one step on a longer journey. As I said last year in Prague, this treaty will set the stage for further cuts. And going forward, we hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons.
President Medvedev and I have also agreed to expand our discussions on missile defense. This will include regular exchanges of information about our threat assessments, as well as the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles. And as these assessments are completed, I look forward to launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense.
But nuclear weapons are not simply an issue for the United States and Russia — they threaten the common security of all nations. A nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is a danger to people everywhere — from Moscow to New York; from the cities of Europe to South Asia. So next week, 47 nations will come together in Washington to discuss concrete steps that can be taken to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years.
And the spread of nuclear weapons to more states is also an unacceptable risk to global security — raising the specter of arms races from the Middle East to East Asia. Earlier this week, the United States formally changed our policy to make it clear that those [non]-nuclear weapons states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and their non-proliferation obligations will not be threatened by America’s nuclear arsenal. This demonstrates, once more, America’s commitment to the NPT as a cornerstone of our security strategy. Those nations that follow the rules will find greater security and opportunity. Those nations that refuse to meet their obligations will be isolated, and denied the opportunity that comes with international recognition.
That includes accountability for those that break the rules — otherwise the NPT is just words on a page. That’s why the United States and Russia are part of a coalition of nations insisting that the Islamic Republic of Iran face consequences, because they have continually failed to meet their obligations. We are working together at the United Nations Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran. And we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT, risk an arms race in a vital region, and threaten the credibility of the international community and our collective security.
While these issues are a top priority, they are only one part of the U.S.-Russia relationship. Today, I again expressed my deepest condolences for the terrible loss of Russian life in recent terrorist attacks, and we will remain steadfast partners in combating violent extremism. We also discussed the potential to expand our cooperation on behalf of economic growth, trade and investment, as well as technological innovation, and I look forward to discussing these issues further when President Medvedev visits the United States later this year, because there is much we can do on behalf of our security and prosperity if we continue to work together.
When one surveys the many challenges that we face around the world, it’s easy to grow complacent, or to abandon the notion that progress can be shared. But I want to repeat what I said last year in Prague: When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by their differences, the gulf between them widens. When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp.
This majestic city of Prague is in many ways a monument to human progress. And this ceremony is a testament to the truth that old adversaries can forge new partnerships. I could not help but be struck the other day by the words of Arkady Brish, who helped build the Soviet Union’s first atom bomb. At the age of 92, having lived to see the horrors of a World War and the divisions of a Cold War, he said, “We hope humanity will reach the moment when there is no need for nuclear weapons, when there is peace and calm in the world.”
It’s easy to dismiss those voices. But doing so risks repeating the horrors of the past, while ignoring the history of human progress. The pursuit of peace and calm and cooperation among nations is the work of both leaders and peoples in the 21st century. For we must be as persistent and passionate in our pursuit of progress as any who would stand in our way.
Once again, President Medvedev, thank you for your extraordinary leadership. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: (As translated.) A truly historic event took place: A new Russia-U.S. treaty has been signed for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. This treaty has a 10-year duration. It will supersede the START treaty, which has expired, as well as another existing treaty, Russia-U.S. treaty on the reduction of strategic offensive capabilities.
And first of all, I’d like to thank my colleague, President of the United States of America, for the successful cooperation in this very complex matter, and for the reasonable compromises that have been achieved, thanks to the work of our two teams — we have already thanked them, but let me do it once again in the presence of the media and the public. We thank them for their excellent work.
And I would also like to thank the leadership of the Czech Republic, Mr. President, for the invitation to hold this signing ceremony here in this beautiful city, in this beautiful springtime, thereby creating a good atmosphere for the future. And I believe that this signature will open a new page for cooperation between our two countries — among our countries — and will create safer conditions for life here and throughout the world.
One word — we aimed at the quality of the treaty. And indeed, the negotiating process has not been simple, but again, our negotiation teams have been working in a highly professional, constructive way that has been lots of work and very often they worked 24 hours a day. And that enabled us to do something that just a couple of months looked like mission impossible; within a short span of time we prepared a full-fledged treaty and signed it.
As a result, we obtained a document that in full measure maintains the balance of interest of Russia and the United States of America. What matters most is that this is a win-win situation. No one stands to lose from this agreement. I believe that this is a typical feature of our cooperation — both parties have won. And taking into account this victory of ours, the entire world community has won.
This agreement enhances strategic stability and, at the same time, enables us to rise to a higher level for cooperation between Russia and the United States. And although the contents of the treaty are already known, let me point out once again what we have achieved, because this is very important thing: 1,550 developed weapons, which is about one-third below the current level; 700 deployed ICBMs — intercontinental ballistic missile — and anti-ballistic missiles and heavy bombers, and this represents more than twofold reduction below the current levels; and 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers for such missiles — deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers, which again represents a twofold reduction below the level that existed prior to the signature on this treaty.
And at the same time, each party can use its own discretion to defend the makeup and structure of its strategic offensive potential.
The treaty also includes provisions concerning data exchange. We are quite experienced now in this matter with my colleague and we are great experts on this matter — perhaps the greatest experts in the world. And the treaty also includes provisions concerning conversion and elimination, inspection provisions and verification provisions as well as confidence-building measures.
The verification mechanism has been significantly simplified and much less costly, as compared with the previous START treaty. At the same time, it ensures the proper verification, irreversibility and transparency of the entire process of reducing strategic offensive arms.
We believe — and this is our hope and position — we believe that the treaty can be viable and can operate only provided there is no qualitative or quantitative (inaudible) in place in the capabilities, something that could, in the final analysis, jeopardize the strategic offensive weapons on the Russian side. This is the gist of the statement made by the Russian Federation in connection with the signature on this treaty.
The main task of the full signature period we regard as achieving the ratification of the treaty, as mentioned by my colleague, Mr. President of the United States, and it is also important to synchronize the ratification process. Our American partners, as I understand, intend to proceed quickly to present this document to the Senate for ratification. We also will be working with our Federal Assembly to maintain the necessary dynamics of the ratification process.
By and large, we are satisfied with what we’ve done. The result we have obtained is good. But today, of course, we have discussed not only the fact of signing this treaty; we have also discussed a whole range of important key issues of concern to all the countries. Of course, we would not omit the Iranian nuclear problem. Regrettably, Iran is not responding to the many constructive proposals that have been made and we cannot turn a blind eye to this. Therefore I do not rule out the possibility of the Security Council of the United Nations will have to review this issue once again.
Our position is well known. Let me briefly outline it now. Of course, sanctions by themselves seldom obtain specific results, although it’s difficult to do without them in certain situations. But in any case, those sanctions should be smart and aimed not only at non-proliferation but also to resolve other issues — rather than to produce (inaudible) for the Iranian people.
(Audio is lost)
I am convinced that all that has been done so far is just the beginning of a long way, long way ahead. I wouldn’t like to see the Russian Federation and the United States be narrowed down to just limiting strategic offensive arms.
To be sure, we shoulder specific responsibility, a special responsibility, in that respect, and we –
(Audio is lost)
And let me once again thank President Barack Obama for the cooperation in this area. Thank you.
(Audio is lost)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We recognize, however, that Russia has a significant interest in this issue, and what we’ve committed to doing is to engaging in a significant discussion not only bilaterally but also having discussions with our European allies and others about a framework in which we can potentially cooperate on issues of missile defense in a way that preserves U.S. national security interests, preserves Russia’s national security interests, and allows us to guard against a rogue missile from any source.
So I’m actually optimistic that having completed this treaty, which signals our strong commitment to a reduction in overall nuclear weapons, and that I believe is going to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, that sends a signal around the world that the United States and Russia are prepared to once again take leadership in moving in the direction of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear materials, that we will have built the kind of trust not only between Presidents but also between governments and between peoples that allows us to move forward in a constructive way.
I’ve repeatedly said that we will not do anything that endangers or limits my ability as Commander-in-Chief to protect the American people. And we think that missile defense can be an important component of that. But we also want to make clear that the approach that we’ve taken in no way is intended to change the strategic balance between the United States and Russia. And I’m actually confident that, moving forward, as we have these discussions, it will be part of a broader set of discussions about, for example, how we can take tactical nuclear weapons out of theater, the possibilities of us making more significant cuts not only in deployed but also non-deployed missiles. There are a whole range of issues that I think that we can make significant progress on. I’m confident that this is an important first step in that direction.
PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: (In Russian, then translation begins) — on that basis we will implement the newly signed treaty. It matters to us what will happen to missile defense. It is related to the configuration of our potential and our capacities, and we will watch how these processes develop. And the preamble has a language that, to a certain extent, replicates a legal principle of the unchangeability of circumstances that were basis for the treaty. But this is a flexible process, and we are interested in close cooperation over it with our American partners.
We have appreciated the steps by the current U.S. administration in terms of the decisions in the area of anti-missile defense of the present administration, and this has led to progress. It doesn’t mean that we’ll have no digressions in understanding, but it means that we’ll have will and wish to address these issues.
We offered to the United States that we help them establish a global anti-missile defense system, and we should think about this, given the vulnerability of our world, the terrorist challenges and the possibility of using nuclear arms by terrorists existing in this world.
And I am an optimist, as well as my American colleague, and I believe that we will be able to reach compromise on these issues.
Q (As translated.) I have two questions. To each of the Presidents, one. The first is to Mr. Obama. Moscow and Washington, not for the first time, agree on a reduction of strategic offensive arms, but as you have mentioned, Russia and the United States are not the only countries having nuclear weapons. So how specifically can the documents achieved — well, similar to today’s document on limitation on nuclear arms — how soon we will see others sign this document? And will you move along this track together with Russia?
And to the President of the Russian Federation, you have mentioned the fact that sometimes there’s an impression that Moscow and Washington are unable to agree on anything else but a mutual reduction of arms. So will we see any things that will counter such a statement? And what will the agreement be?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: First of all, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, the United States and Russia account for 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. And given this legacy of the Cold War, it is critical for us to show significant leadership. That, I think, is what we’ve begun to do with this follow-on START treaty.
Other countries are going to have to be making a series of decisions about how they approach the issue of their nuclear weapons stockpiles. And as I’ve repeatedly said, and I’m sure Dmitry feels the same way with respect to his country, we are going to preserve our nuclear deterrent so long as other countries have nuclear weapons, and we are going to make sure that that stockpile is safe and secure and effective.
But I do believe that as we look out into the 21st century, that more and more countries will come to recognize that the most important factors in providing security and peace to their citizens will depend on their economic growth, will depend on the capacity of the international community to resolve conflicts; it will depend on having a strong conventional military that can protect our nations’ borders; and that nuclear weapons increasingly in an interdependent world will make less and less sense as the cornerstone of security policy.
But that’s going to take some time, and I think each country is going to have to make its own determinations. The key is for the United States and Russia to show leadership on this front because we are so far ahead of every nation with respect to possession of nuclear weapons.
The primary concerns that we identified in a recent Nuclear Posture Review, essentially a declaratory statement of U.S. policy with respect to nuclear weapons, said that our biggest concerns right now are actually the issues of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation — more countries obtaining nuclear weapons; those weapons being less controllable, less secure; nuclear materials floating around the globe. And that’s going to be a major topic of the discussion that we have in Washington on Monday.
The United States and Russia have a history already, a decade-long history, of locking down loose nuclear materials. I believe that our ability to move forward already on sanctions with respect to North Korea, the intense discussions that we’re having with respect to Iran, will increasingly send a signal to countries that are not abiding by their Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, that they will be isolated. All those things will go toward sending a general message that we need to move in a new direction. And I think leadership on that front is important.
Last point I’ll make, I will just anticipate or coach the question about other areas of cooperation. Our respective foreign ministers — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov — have been heading a bilateral commission that has been working intensively on a whole range of issue. And President Medvedev and myself identified a series of key areas on the economic front, in trade relations, the potential for joint cooperation on various industries, how we can work on innovation and sparking economic growth. We’ve already worked together closely in the G20; I think we can build on that bilaterally.
There are issues of counterterrorism that are absolutely critical to both of us, and I just want to repeat how horrified all of America was at the recent attacks in Moscow. We recognize that that’s a problem that can happen anywhere at any time, and it’s important for Russia and the United States to work closely on those issues.
And then there are people-to-people contacts and figuring out how we can make sure that there’s more interaction and exchange between our two countries on a whole range of issues within civil society.
So I’m very optimistic that we’re going to continue to make progress on all of these fronts. But I think we should take pride in this particular accomplishment because it speaks not only to the security of our two nations but also the security of the world as a whole.
PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: It’s always good to answer second. First of all, you know what your partner has said, and secondly, you can comment on what has been said by your interlocutor. As a matter of fact, I will say a couple of words on the first part of the question that was meant for my colleague.
Yes, we have 90 percent of all the stockpiles which is the heritage of the Cold War legacy and we’ll do all that we have agreed upon. Keep in mind special mission of Russia and the U.S. on this issue, and we do care about what is going on with nuclear arms in other countries of the world, and we can’t imagine a situation when the Russian Federation and the United States take efforts to disarm and the world would move towards a principled different direction away — in charge of our peoples and the situation in the world.
So all the issues related to the implementation of the treaty and non-proliferation and the threat of nuclear terrorism should be analyzed by us in a complex way, an integrated way. And I’d like this signing not to be regarded by other countries as their — well, stepping aside from the issue. On the contrary. They should be involved to the full and take an active participation in it. They should be aware what is going on.
So we welcome the initiative that has been proposed by the President of the United States to convene a relevant conference in Washington, and I will take part in it, which is good platform to discuss non-proliferation issues.
In this world we have a lot that brings us together, we and the United States as well. And today we have had a very good talk that has started not with the discussion of the documents to be signed — they were coordinated — and not with discussing Iran, North Korea, Middle East, and other pressing issues of foreign affairs, but we started with economic issues.
I have said that there is a gap in our economic cooperation. I have looked at the figures, how the cumulative investments of the United States in Russia is quite small — nearly $7 billion, and the figure has decreased a bit thanks to the world crisis. In terms of Russian investment into the U.S., well, it’s nearly the same, which testifies to areas of interests. It’s not with all countries that we have such volume of investment, but if we compare the figures with the figures of foreign investors’ presence in the American economy — I mean other countries, including states that can be compared with Russia in terms of volume of economy, so it’s the difference of 20 or 30 times. So we have a field to work upon.
To say nothing about the projects we talked about today — modernization, high-tech, economy, establishment, and in the Russian Federation we are open for cooperation and would like to use American experience to employ — these also include issues of energy, cooperation in transport, and I have suggested some time ago returning to the issue of creating a big cargo plane as such a unique experience — only two countries have, the U.S. and Russia. The issues of nuclear cooperation are important.
So there can be a lot of economic projects. It’s not the business of Presidents to deal with each of them, but some key issues are to be controlled by us, as the relations in business, relations between those who would like to develop active ties — depend on business ties — and humanitarian contacts, people-to-people contacts are important. And it’s significant that we do our best so that our citizens respect each other, understand each other better, so that they are guided by the best practices of American-Russian culture, and not perceive each other through the lens of information that sometimes is provided by mass media.
So we should more attentively, more thoughtfully — well, have a more thoughtful attitude towards each other. And I count on this.
Q Thank you, President Medvedev and President Obama. For President Obama first, could you elaborate on how the yearlong negotiations over the New START treaty have advanced U.S. cooperation with Russia on Iran, and give us a sense of when you will pursue, move forward in the United Nations and next week with sanctions discussions, and what those sanctions might look like?
And for President Medvedev, could you address whether Russia could accept sanctions against Iran specifically dealing with its energy industry and energy sector? Thank you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Discussions about sanctions on Iran have been moving forward over the last several weeks. In fact, they’ve been moving forward over the last several months. We’re going to start seeing some ramped-up negotiations taking place in New York in the coming weeks. And my expectation is that we are going to be able to secure strong, tough sanctions on Iran this spring.
Now, I think there are two ways in which these START negotiations have advanced or at least influenced Russia-U.S. discussions around Iran. The first is obviously that President Medvedev and I have been able to build up a level of trust and our teams have been able to work together in such a way that we can be frank, we can be clear, and that helped to facilitate, then, our ability, for example, to work together jointly to present to Iran reasonable options that would allow it to clearly distance itself from nuclear weapons and pursue a path of peaceful nuclear energy.
That wasn’t just an approach that was taken by the United States and Russia, but it was an approach taken by the P5-plus-1 as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA.
So what we’ve seen from the start is that a host of countries, but — led by countries like the United States and Russia, have said to Iran, we are willing to work through diplomatic channels to resolve this issue. And unfortunately, Iran has consistently rebuffed our approach. And I think that Russia has been a very strong partner in saying that it has no interest in bringing down Iranian society or the Iranian government, but it does have an interest, as we all do, in making sure that each country is following its international obligations.
The second way in which I think the START treaty has influenced our discussions about Iran is it’s sent a strong signal that the United States and Iran — or the United States and Russia are following our own obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that our interest in Iran or North Korea or any other country following the NPT is not based on singling out any one country, but rather sends a strong signal that all of us have an obligation, each country has an obligation to follow the rules of the road internationally to ensure a more secure future for our children and our grandchildren.
And so I think the fact that we are signing this treaty, the fact that we are willing, as the two leading nuclear powers, to continually work on reducing our own arsenals, I think should indicate the fact that we are willing to be bound by our obligations, and we’re not asking any other countries to do anything different, but simply to follow the rules of the road that have been set forth and have helped to maintain at least a lack of the use of nuclear weapons over the last several decades, despite, obviously, the Cold War.
And the concern that I have in particular, a concern that I think is the most profound security threat to the United States, is that with further proliferation of nuclear weapons, with states obtaining nuclear weapons and potentially using them to blackmail other countries or potentially not securing them effectively or passing them on to terrorist organizations, that we could find ourselves in a world in which not only state actors but also potentially non-state actors are in possession of nuclear weapons, and even if they don’t use them, would then be in a position to terrorize the world community.
That’s why this issue is so important, and that’s why we are going to be pushing very hard to make sure that both smart and strong sanctions end up being in place soon to send a signal to Iran and other countries that this is an issue that the international community takes seriously.
PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: Let’s ask ourselves a question: What do we need sanctions for? Do we need them to enjoy the very fact of reprising — imposing reprisals against another state, or is the objective another one? I am confident that all those present here will say that sanctions — we need sanctions in order to prompt one or another individual or state to behave properly, behave within the framework of international law, while complying with the obligations assumed.
Therefore, when we are speaking about sanctions, I cannot disagree with what has yet been said. And this has been the position of the Russian Federation from the very outset. If we are to speak about sanctions, although they are not always successful, those sanctions should be smart sanctions that are capable of producing proper behavior on the part of relevant sides.
And what sort of sanctions should we need? Today we have had a very open-minded, frank, and straightforward manner discussed what can be done and what cannot be done. And let me put it straightforward: I have outlined our limits for such sanctions, our understanding of these sanctions, and I said that in making decisions like that, I, as friend of the Russian Federation, will proceed from two premises. First, we need to prompt Iran to behave properly; and secondly, least but not least, aim to maintain the national interests of our countries.
So smart sanctions should be able to motivate certain parties to behave properly, and I’m confident that our teams that will be engaged in consultations will continue discussing this issue.
Q (As translated.) Now, everyone is concerned whether the treaty will be ratified by the parliaments. You have mentioned that you will be working with the parliamentarians to achieve such certification. Let me ask you what difficulty you see along this road, and what do you — how do you assess the chances for success? The question is addressed to both Presidents.
PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: Well, by all appearances, Barack believes that we might have more problems with ratification. Perhaps that’s true, but let me say what I think about this question.
Of course, such agreements of major importance, international agreements, under our constitution and under our legislation, are subject to ratification by our parliaments. And of course, for our part, we intend to proceed promptly and to do all the necessary procedures to ensure that our parliament, our State Duma, starts reviewing this treaty, discussing this treaty.
I will proceed from the following: I believe that we have to ensure the synchronization of this ratification process so that neither party feels in one way or another compromised. Earlier we had periods when one state ratified while another party said, sorry, the situation has changed; therefore we cannot do it.
So this is something we’re to avoid. That’s why I say we have to proceed simultaneously in the conditions of an open-minded and straightforward discussion with subsequent certification by our parliaments. That’s what we need. And we will not be found amiss in that regard.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The United States Senate has the obligation of reviewing any treaty and, ultimately, ratifying it. Fortunately there is a strong history of bipartisanship when it comes to the evaluation of international treaties, particularly arms control treaties.
And so I have already engaged in consultation with the chairmen of the relevant committees in the United States Senate. We are going to broaden that consultation now that this treaty has been signed. My understanding is, is that both in Russia and the United States, it’s going to be posed on the Internet, appropriate to a 21st century treaty. And so people not only within government but also the general public will be able to review, in an open and transparent fashion, what it is that we’ve agreed to.
I think what they will discover is that this is a well-crafted treaty that meets the interests of both countries; that meets the interests of the world in the United States and Russia reducing its nuclear arsenals and setting the stage for potentially further reductions in the future.
And so I’m actually quite confident that Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate, having reviewed this, will see that the United States has preserved its core national security interests, that it is maintaining a safe and secure and effective nuclear deterrent, but that we are beginning to once again move forward, leaving the Cold War behind, to address new challenges in new ways. And I think the START treaty represents an important first step in that direction, and I feel confident that we are going to be able to get it ratified.
All right? Thank you very much, everybody.
PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV: Thank you, sir. Next time. (Applause.)
TOAST REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AT CEREMONIAL LUNCH WITH PRESIDENT VACLAV KLAUS OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC AND PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV OF RUSSIA
TOAST REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AT CEREMONIAL LUNCH
WITH PRESIDENT VÁCLAV KLAUS OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC
AND PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV OF RUSSIA
Prague, Czech Republic
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody. President Klaus, and to the people of the Czech Republic, thank you for your extraordinary hospitality.
To President Medvedev, Dmitry, we have learned to work together, and I’m extraordinarily grateful for your leadership and your clarity. And I think it has served us extraordinarily well during the course of these negotiations.
And to our teams, on both the Russian and the American side, I could not be prouder of the diligence and meticulousness and the degree of effort that all of you poured into crafting what I think is a extraordinarily important document that not only has helped to reset in a very concrete and tangible way U.S.-Russian relations, but I think is going to help lay the foundation for a safer world for generations to come.
We gather today in a magnificent castle, surrounded by history and the relics of thousands of years; a castle that’s seen empires rise and fall; that have witnessed great movements in the arts and music and culture; spires that have survived world wars and a Cold War; and that now grace a capital of a vibrant democracy.
And so I think it’s an indication of how we are not just creatures of fate; we can determine our fates. And that when men and women of good will, regardless of previous differences, regardless of history, regardless of a past, determined that they want to seize a better future, they can do so.
I think the Czech Republic is a testament to that ability to seize the future. I think the direction that President Medvedev has moved the Russian Federation is a testimony to the impulse to seek a new future.
In the United States, we are constantly wanting to remake our economy and our politics and our culture in ways that looks forward, even as it’s grounded in the deep traditions of our past.
And so today, what I’d like to do is to propose a toast not only to the extraordinary work that’s been done by the men and the women in this room, but also a toast to the vision of a future in which we are defined not just by our differences but increasingly defined by our common aims, our common goals, and our common hopes for our children and our grandchildren. And I think this treaty hopefully is one brick on that path towards a brighter future for all mankind.
So, thank you.
(A toast is offered.)
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AFTER THE HISTORIC SIGNING OF THE NEW START TREATY IN PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
New START Treaty Signing Ceremony
Prague, Czech Republic
April 8, 2010
Good morning. I’m honored to be here in the Czech Republic with President Medvedev and our Czech hosts to mark this historic completion of the new START treaty.
Let me begin by saying how happy I am to be back in the beautiful city of Prague. The Czech Republic, of course, is a close friend and ally of the United States. And I have great admiration and affection for the Czech people. Their bonds with the American people are deep and enduring, and Czechs have made great contributions to the United States over many decades – including to my hometown of Chicago.
I want to thank my friend and partner, Dmitry Medvedev. Without his personal efforts and strong leadership, we would not be here today. We have met and spoken by phone many times throughout the negotiation of this Treaty, and as a consequence we have developed a very effective working relationship built upon candor, cooperation, and mutual respect.
One year ago this week, I came to Prague and gave a speech outlining America’s comprehensive commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, and seeking the ultimate goal of a world without them. I said then – and I will repeat now – that this is a long-term goal, one that may not even be reached in my lifetime. But I believed then – as I do now – that the pursuit of that goal will move us further beyond the Cold War, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime, and make the United States, and the world, safer and more secure. One of the steps that I called for last year was the realization of this Treaty, so I am glad to be back in Prague today.
I also came to office committed to “resetting” relations between the United States and Russia, and I know that President Medvedev shared that commitment. As he said at our first meeting in London, our relationship had started to drift, making it difficult to cooperate on issues of common interest to our people. And when the United States and Russia are not able to work together on big issues, it is not good for either of our nations, or for the world.
Together, we have stopped the drift, and proven the benefits of cooperation. Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and non-proliferation, and for U.S.-Russia relations. It fulfills our common objective to negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It includes significant reductions in the nuclear weapons that we will deploy. It cuts our delivery vehicles by roughly half. It includes a comprehensive verification regime, which allows us to further build trust. It enables both sides the flexibility to protect our security, as well as America’s unwavering commitment to the security of our European allies. And I look forward to working with the United States Senate to achieve ratification of this important Treaty later this year.
Finally, this day demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia – the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons – to pursue responsible global leadership. Together, we are keeping our commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which must be the foundation of global non-proliferation.
While the new START treaty is an important step forward, it is just one step on a longer journey. As I said last year in Prague, this treaty will set the stage for further cuts. And going forward, we hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons.
President Medvedev and I have also agreed to expand our discussions on missile defense. This will include regular exchanges of information about our threat assessments, as well as the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles. And as these assessments are completed, I look forward to launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense.
But nuclear weapons are not simply an issue for the United States and Russia – they threaten the common security of all nations. A nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is a danger to people everywhere – from Moscow to New York; from the cities of Europe to South Asia. So next week, 47 nations will come together in Washington to discuss concrete steps that can be taken to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years.
And the spread of nuclear weapons to more states is also an unacceptable risk to global security – raising the specter of arms races from the Middle East to East Asia. Earlier this week, the United States formally changed our policy to make it clear that those non-nuclear weapons states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and their non-proliferation obligations will not be threatened by America’s nuclear arsenal. This demonstrates, once more, America’s commitment to the NPT as a cornerstone of our security strategy. Those nations that follow the rules will find greater security and opportunity. Those nations that refuse to meet their obligations will be isolated, and denied the opportunity that comes with international integration.
That includes accountability for those that break the rules – otherwise the NPT is just words on a page. That is why the United States and Russia are part of a coalition of nations insisting that the Islamic Republic of Iran face consequences, because they have continually failed to meet their obligations. We are working together at the UN Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran. And we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT, risk an arms race in a vital region, and threaten the credibility of the international community and our collective security.
While these issues are a top priority, they are only one part of the U.S.-Russia relationship. Today, I again expressed my deepest condolences for the terrible loss of Russian life in recent terrorist attacks, and we will remain steadfast partners in combating violent extremism. We also discussed the potential to expand our cooperation on behalf of economic growth, trade and investment, and technological innovation, and I look forward to discussing these issues further when President Medvedev visits the United States later this year. Because there is much we can do on behalf of our security and prosperity if we continue to work together.
When one surveys the many challenges that we face around the world, it is easy to grow complacent, or to abandon the notion that progress can be shared. But I want to repeat what I said last year in Prague: When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by their differences, the gulf between them widens. When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp.
This majestic city of Prague is in many ways a monument to human progress. And this ceremony is a testament to the truth that old adversaries can forge new partnerships. I could not help but be struck the other day by the words of Arkady Brish, who helped build the Soviet Union’s first atom bomb. At the age of 92, having lived to see the horrors of a World War and the divisions of a Cold War, he said, “We hope humanity will reach the moment when there is no need for nuclear weapons, when there is peace and calm in the world.”
It is easy to dismiss those voices. But doing so risks repeating the horrors of the past, while ignoring the history of human progress. The pursuit of peace and calm and cooperation among nations is the work of both leaders and peoples in the 21st century. For we must be as persistent and passionate in our pursuit of progress as any who would stand in our way. Thank you.
<a href=”http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1446128012059344359IbkSfx”><img src=”http://inlinethumb33.webshots.com/4832/1446128012059344359S500x500Q85.jpg” alt=”Between the pews – Ntarama”></a>
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT “LET’S MOVE” TOWN HALL EVENT
State Dining Room
11:17 A.M. EDT
MS. SWAIN: Good morning on this beautiful spring day, and welcome to the White House. We are very pleased to be here in the beautiful and historic State Dining Room at the White House for a dialogue on childhood obesity and childhood health with the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
We’re very pleased for this program, which is live on C-SPAN this morning, to have students from all around the Washington, D.C., area and students watching all across the country. Some of them will be calling in with questions on our discussion on childhood obesity.
We’ll be here for 45 minutes altogether, and we all hope to learn more about this topic and why it’s so important to young people’s health and how to stay healthy, and also why the First Lady is so passionate about it.
So boys and girls here in the White House, would you please join me in welcoming the First Lady Michelle Obama to our discussion this morning. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everybody. (Applause.) Well, hello.
MS. SWAIN: Well, we’re going to just plunge right into it, and as we get started here, I thought — I’m going to ask you a question, and then we’re going to introduce the students in the room. I had a very important question as we were getting ready this morning, Mrs. Obama, from a young man sitting in the back. We keep using this big word “obesity” and he wasn’t sure what it meant.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, yes. Well, it is a pretty big word, but I think it — you know, just to make it simple, it’s when people’s weight gets higher than it should be. And there are very scientific measurements for it. Something called Body Mass Index is what a lot of doctors try to measure. But as you grow, your weight and your height should remain fairly consistent, but people’s Body Mass Index really varies.
So there’s no one right weight or height to be. If you look in my whole family, we’ve got people who are 6’6” and people who are 4’11”. And weight and height really depend on you as a person. But what this is all about, really, is about making sure that you guys are healthy, that you’re eating the right foods, that you’re getting enough exercise. This isn’t about how you look, this isn’t about appearances, because we all have to own and be proud of exactly who we are.
I am 5’11”. I was probably this height when I was very young, and my parents taught me to be proud of the way I look. And this isn’t about how you look. This is about how you guys feel. It’s about health.
So I think that’s the big takeaway. And you can talk to the doctors and the experts and the scientists, if you want to get a more definitive answer to what obesity technically is, but it’s really about our health. It’s about your health.
Does that help? Yes, yes? All right, good. It’s a good way to start.
MS. SWAIN: The way that this event all came together is that students around the country have participated in an annual documentary contest that our network C-SPAN holds, called “Student Cam”, and this year we had 1,000 documentarians –
MRS. OBAMA: That’s great.
MS. SWAIN: — from all around the country. But interestingly, health was the number one issue among young people. We had 128 different entries on aspects of health, so it’s much on their minds. The economy, number two. (Laughter.) So not surprised there.
But today we’re going to meet one of the very special documentarians, Matthew Shimura, who is here as the first prize middle school winner; he’s been thinking about childhood obesity for a while. Matt is in the front row and will meet you in just a minute. Matt, welcome and congratulations for your winning documentary.
We also have young people who entered the contest who are watching from all the country — also did, on the topic of childhood obesity, so they are thinking about this and have questions for you. But let me introduce you to the young people who are here at the White House with us today. And I’m going to ask you to stand up with your group when I call the name of your schools, so your parents can see that you’re here.
First of all, where’s the Hamstead Hill Academy in Baltimore? Welcome.
MRS. OBAMA: Welcome, you guys.
MS. SWAIN: Stuart Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C. — sixth through eighth grade. Hello, Stuart Hobston, looking good.
Next is Alexandria, Virginia — Lyles Crouch Elementary School. Hello, Lyles Crouch.
Now, we’ve got a group of Girl Scouts from the national capital region who have been involved in health and wellness issues. Welcome, ladies.
MRS. OBAMA: Good to see you all.
MS. SWAIN: How about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation? Where are those students? Good morning and welcome.
And then we have a number of student journalists who are covering this event. Where are our student journalists?
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, good, it’s the journalists.
MS. SWAIN: They’re right near the professional journalists in the back, too, so –
MRS. OBAMA: All right, watch them. Watch them behind you. (Laughter.)
MS. SWAIN: Then is there any person here who hasn’t had a chance to stand that I didn’t introduce your group? If not, please stand up now.
MRS. OBAMA: And make sure you stand up, because your parents are watching.
MS. SWAIN: Okay, it looks like we’ve got everybody.
MRS. OBAMA: All right, great.
MS. SWAIN: Well, if you could begin by telling us — in the past every First Lady has had a special issue. Mrs. Reagan was worried about drug use by young people. Mrs. Bush was involved with literacy and reading. How did you come to choose this issue, and why?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, I’ve said this so many times before. I came to this issue as a mom way before we were anywhere near coming to the White House. I mean, you guys know I have these two beautiful little girls, Malia and Sasha — they’re not so little now — but I was like a lot of your parents. I worked a job, my husband worked a job, we were very busy, you’re trying to make sure that you’re doing the right thing as a mom and keeping your job together, and our health habits got way out of kilter because we were eating out too much. I didn’t have time to cook. I had to buy a lot of quick packaged things, so my kids were drinking a lot of sugary drinks, and you were rushing to make sure that the lunch was good and something that they’d eat. We were probably eating too many things out of a box.
So we were doing probably what most of your parents do, because you’re just trying to get through the day, and everybody has got too many activities, and you’re shuttling to work, and you’re eating on the run, and you’re missing dinner together. We were living that life.
And it seemed fine, I thought I was in control until one of my kids’ pediatrician kind of tapped me on the shoulder, because he was regularly measuring that BMI, that Body Mass Index, that I talked to you about. And we were lucky that we had a pediatrician that really checked this pretty accurately, because we lived on the South Side of Chicago, predominantly African American community, and weight issues and obesity issues are pretty significant there, so he was tracking that. And he told me, you know, you may want to watch it. And I didn’t think we had a problem because I look at my kids and I see perfection, just like your parents see. They’re perfect, they’re beautiful. And it wasn’t that they weren’t, but it was just that things were just tipping over to the point that we needed to make some changes.
So we made some pretty simple changes in our household. We made sure we got more fruits and vegetables and dinner. I cooked more. We ate out a little bit less. We limited desserts to weekends — I know, not every day. I took out sugary drinks so my kids were drinking more water. We made sure they were exercising; at least moving around everyday, so no TV during the weeks — week.
So those little changes made a pretty significant difference. And my view is that if I could make those kind of changes and it could help my family in such a significant way, I wanted to make sure that we were doing that with the rest of the country, because my view is that if I’m having this problem in my household and I don’t know it and it was unclear to me, then what’s going on with everybody else, people who don’t have information or don’t have pediatricians who are working with them?
So when we planted the garden, the White House Kitchen Garden a year ago, we did it to start a conversation with young people about eating healthy. Maybe they would get more engaged in fruits and vegetables if they were involved in growing them.
And what we found with working with the kids that helped me with the garden was that if kids planted it and were involved in it and understood it, they’d eat it and they’d be excited about it. And they could help not only change their own health habits, but they’d go back home and start teaching their parents, because once I started talking to my kids about what they needed to eat, trust me, they were monitoring me way more than I was monitoring them.
They cleaned out the cabinets. They looked at labels a bit more. They made decisions about the kind of snacks they would eat. They started making pretty healthy choices for themselves, and a lot of times, when I wanted to cheat, they’d pull me back.
So my hope is that young people around the country will take that kind of interest in their own health. And then to see the statistics, seeing that one in three kids in this country is overweight or obese, and that we’re on track for the first time ever for our kids to live shorter lives than we do. That in and of itself was terrifying enough for me. I wouldn’t want that fate for my girls, and I don’t want it for any of you or any other kids in this country.
So we started “Let’s Move” and hopefully it will catch on, and you guys are going to be the key ambassadors to really make this happen, because this is really about you and it’s about the kids that are going to follow you.
So I’ll stop there. I can go on and on and on. (Laughter.)
MS. SWAIN: How can they be ambassadors?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, I think first you can take the lead in your own homes. This is what I tell my kids, my girls. It’s not about never having the stuff you want, right? I would love it if I could live healthy on pie and French fries. I’d do it. I’d eat it. But the fact of the matter is, is that you can’t. We are made as humans to need a balanced diet with enough fiber and enough vegetables and fruits. And we have to be educated about what that diet should look like, and then we have to start making choices to not have candy every day, even if you can; to not ask for those desserts all the time, even if you can; to think about learning how to cook for yourselves, how to bake a chicken and make a little pasta; how to think about putting more water in your diet.
Those are decisions at your age. You’re the age of my girls. You guys can make those decisions, and you can help your parents, because they’re trying — they’re just trying to get you to eat. That’s all we want to do. We want you to eat something.
And if you complain and you don’t want to try new things, if you’re hesitant, if you are going to get that — you know, buy those chips instead of some pretzels, if you’re not going to make good decisions, it’s really not a whole lot that parents can do, because you’re not with us all the time, you’re at school, you’re with your friends.
So my whole goal in my kids — for my kids is to try to get them to think about the choices they’re going to make in their own lives. And I tell them it’s not about who they are today, it’s about who they want to be when they’re 20 and 25. I have them thinking about what kind of moms are you going to be, you know? If you don’t know how to feed yourself, then how are you going to feed your own kids?
So it’s really about you guys taking responsibility of your own future in so many ways and helping your parents and your families make those kind of decisions. I think that that’s the first thing that you can do, because that’s your power. You don’t have to live in a certain neighborhood. You don’t have to know anything more to make better decisions for yourself and be willing to make some of those decisions on your own. You don’t need a teacher or a parent to do it. You guys have the power to start doing it. And once you do it, your parents will follow. That, I know.
MS. SWAIN: Well, let’s introduce Matt Shimura officially. Matt is sitting in the front row and he came all the way to the White House from Honolulu. We’re very proud of his accomplishment. We had 1,000 entries in this StudentCam documentary, and Matt Shimura’s documentary on childhood obesity took first place in middle school. Matt, congratulations. (Applause.)
Now, Mrs. Obama announced her big project on childhood obesity in early February. By then you had finished your documentary, so you’ve been thinking about this for a while. What got you interested?
MR. SHIMURA: What got me interested was when I looked at our state’s furlough Fridays. It’s when we don’t have — the public schools don’t have school on Fridays, so they don’t have lunch and they don’t have P.E. on those days, so they’re lacking nutrition and physical exercise. So I thought that could lead to childhood obesity, and that’s how I chose that topic.
MS. SWAIN: What did you learn while making your film?
MR. SHIMURA: I learned, like, how to make a great documentary and express my ideas through filmmaking.
MS. SWAIN: We’re going to show just a minute of it for our viewers and students watching around the country. Here in the room — you’ll just hear it, as I told you before — but we’ll hear the audio of the documentary that you made, and then we’ll come back and have a question from you for Mrs. Obama.
(The documentary is shown.)
And that was Matt doing the voiceover in his documentary, as well. Congratulations on your work. You have a question for Mrs. Obama?
Q Mrs. Obama, how do you think the government can improve nutrition and physical activity in schools?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, I think that first of all, one thing I just want to say is that the solution to this challenge has to come from the bottom up. The government can’t be in a position telling people to do — what to do in their own homes, and that generally doesn’t work. So it’s really going to require all of us working together — the federal government, business leaders, food manufacturers, farmers, students, nurses — everyone has to come together.
But specifically, when you think about the federal government, when it comes to school lunches, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is one of the ways that the government supports school lunches. And one of the things we’re trying to get done, because it’s time for it to be reauthorized, is to get more money put into implementing that act so that we change the kind of food you all get in your lunches so that there are more fruits and vegetables added; that there’s less processed food; that the quality of the food goes up, because a large percentage of kids in this country are getting half of their meals at school.
So if we can do a better job in the schools of providing better options that are healthier, more nutritious, then we’re going to go a very long way.
But this act also works to encourage more schools to become U.S. Healthier Schools. And these are schools that are designated as already taking those steps to change the way they do things, providing healthier meals, incorporating nutrition education into the curriculum, making sure that they’re making time for physical activity and recess — because in many schools around this country, with budget cuts, oftentimes that’s the first thing to go. So we can’t tell kids, you know, “Get more exercise” and then take away recess and all physical activity out of the school.
So there are schools out there that are finding ways to put that kind of exercise and activity back into the curriculum. The Healthier Schools Challenge recognizes that, and we’re going to work to double those numbers of schools that qualify.
So there are many, many ways that the federal government can work on — through the Child Nutrition and Reauthorization Act.
Also, through the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, we can work with grocery manufacturers to make sure that the foods that are produced in the stores have labels on them that help families make decisions. Because, you know when you walk into a grocery store, you walk down an aisle? My kids know the brands. Oh, that’s “X” brand! They know the commercial. But when a mom or dad picks up the cereal, how do you know whether this is something that’s nutritious? How many servings?
And right now the labels are really confusing. And if you’re busy and you’re trying to get in and out of the grocery store, you don’t have time to read labels or to make the kind of calculations. So we’re trying to work with the FDA and food manufacturers to simplify those things so that it’s easy, so that you guys can walk in and look at foods and make decisions about what actually is going to be healthy and how much of it to eat.
So those are just some of the ways that the federal government can be involved. But more importantly, this is an effort that’s going to require everyone. No one is off the hook on this one.
MS. SWAIN: Our next question is going to come from a student in Jenks, Oklahoma, who’s watching us on television. After that, we’ll take a question from the room. Who has a question so we can get ready? Okay, this young lady that’s on the row, you’ll be our first question after our call from Alexander England, who’s watching us in Jenks, Oklahoma. He goes to Jenks High School, and his winning documentary was “Childhood Obesity: America’s Underlying Problem.” He watches C-SPAN, which we appreciate, on COX cable in Oklahoma. Alexander, what’s your question?
Q Good morning, Mrs. Obama. It is an honor to talk with you this morning.
MRS. OBAMA: Good morning, Alexander. Thanks for calling in. What’s your question?
Q For my C-SPAN film, I interviewed the vice president of a fast food chain. He said that he rarely (inaudible) choices based on how healthy the food is, but instead on price. With that in mind, do you think efforts should be focused on lowering the price of healthy food? And if so, is there anything the government can do to encourage that?
MRS. OBAMA: I think you’re absolutely right that the cost of healthy foods oftentimes becomes a barrier. The access and affordability of foods is a huge issue. And with “Let’s Move” that’s one of our major pillars, is eliminating what are known as food deserts. There are millions of kids who live in areas all throughout the country that we call food deserts. Those are places where you can’t — there isn’t a grocery store, there isn’t a place to buy fresh produce, healthy food.
There are a lot of people who live in communities where the only access to food comes in the form of a convenience store or a gas station. You imagine trying to feed your family when the closest grocery store is a train ride or a cab ride or a car ride away. And there are millions of Americans who find it very difficult to cook the kind of foods that they know that they should, because they don’t have access.
We’re looking at starting a healthy food financing initiative modeled after some of the efforts that have been done in cities across the country and states. Pennsylvania has managed to eliminate food deserts through this financing initiative. With this, we’re taking money from the Treasury Department and the Department of Agriculture, and trying to leverage resources, millions of dollars, to try to encourage more grocery stores to relocate in underserved communities.
And that way, not only do you help to eliminate the food desert issue, but you can create jobs. You can build economies around new grocery stores relocating to communities. I saw this firsthand in Philadelphia in a community that hadn’t had a grocery store in it for a decade. You imagine a decade. So if you’re 10 years old, that means you’ve grown up in a community where your mom can’t go and buy a head of lettuce. That is a frustration, and it’s a reality in so many families’ lives.
But with their financing initiative in Pennsylvania, they were able to partner with a chain store that came in. This grocery store is amazing. It looks like any Whole Foods store that you’d see in any community — fresh produce, fresh vegetables, everything you can imagine.
And the excitement that this community feels over having this resource that they haven’t seen had just turned this community upside down with excitement. So our view is that if we can do that in Philadelphia, if they can do it in Pennsylvania, there’s no reason we can’t do this, replicate this model in communities all across this country.
MS. SWAIN: And we have our student questioner here in the State Dining Room.
Q Good morning, Mrs. Obama. How would you think schools can show students what they should eat and what they shouldn’t eat while they’re there?
MS. SWAIN: And do you want to tell us your name?
Q Kayla Greenspoon (ph).
MS. SWAIN: Thank you for your question.
MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much. It’s a good question. Some — many schools are already doing this. I mean, one of the things I said in a speech that I did to some of the school lunch ladies, the association — they were here in Washington — is that we have to remember that learning doesn’t stop at lunch time. The cafeteria is one of the most important classrooms in the school. And, yes, during that time — and not just that time alone, but by exposing kids to different types of foods, helping them get introduced, encouraging kids to try things that they haven’t tried — they may try some things in the school lunch room that they can bring home to their parents.
But nutrition education is an important part of a curriculum. And there are many schools in this country that are figuring out ways to incorporate those kind of activities into the regular curriculum. I visited many schools in the Washington, D.C., area that have wonderful community gardens and are using those gardens to not just teach science, but to teach reading and math. And along the way, if you’re using the garden, you’re also helping kids, again, become exposed to the different variety of fruits and vegetables that are out there. And when kids see that in the classroom, they may be more inclined to try it at home.
So this is why trying to increase the number of U.S. Healthier Schools is going to be really critical, because again, there are already schools who are figuring out ways to do this. So how do we scale that up? How do we take those best practices that are happening in schools already and make sure that they’re happening in all schools, for all kids around the country?
And it’s going to take some resources. And it’s going to take the folks who provide the food for the schools — there are companies out there that get contracts to provide the school lunches. We need them to take on ownership, to make sure that the lunches that they are providing aren’t just cheap and easy, but that they’re low in fat, salt, and sugar.
And many of them have already agreed that they’re going to do a better job. But we have to hold their feet to the fire, and that’s another way that you all can be involved. Look at the lunches that you’re providing — being provided. Talk to your teachers about the content. Ask questions. Figure out whether they’re balanced or not, because the more you educate yourselves, you guys can set the tone in your own schools in so many ways. Slowly, but surely, you can change the culture in your own environments.
MS. SWAIN: Mrs. Obama talked about the fact that they’ve planted a garden here at the White House to help with healthier eating. How many students in this room have a garden at home?
MRS. OBAMA: That’s nice.
MS. SWAIN: And how many of you who don’t? And a garden doesn’t have to be land. If you live in the city, you can grow it in pots, as well. How many of you are going to talk to your parents about planting a garden this year? I’ve got a few converts.
Who in this room has a question? All right, you’ll be next. But we’re to take another call from around the country. This is Sarah Gabriel. She is in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which is a Mediacom system. She’s an honorable mention winner in our contest. And her video was “Improving School Lunch: Too costly, or a way to bend the cost curve?”
Sarah, you’re on the line now for Mrs. Obama. What’s your question?
Q Hi. My question is also about improving the choice quality in schools. And I go to a public school where they do something to try to implement higher nutritional standards. But because my school still sells à la carte snack items to generate revenue, many students still just buy unhealthy snack items. So I was wondering if you have any ideas about how schools might address this issue?
MRS. OBAMA: Sarah, thanks for the question. You make a great point about the vending machines and about the la carte lines. These standards have to apply across the board. And we have to make sure that kids have healthy options.
I am a proponent of vending machines, because, kids, when you all are hungry, you’re going to look to a vending machine for a snack. The question is just what do we have in those vending machines and how do we think about the content of the food in those machines.
There’s nothing wrong with a vending machine per se. But you don’t have to always have a sugary drink in a vending machine. You can have a healthy sports drink. You can have water. You can have trail mix. You can have pretzels, nuts, crackers, cheese. There’s so many things that kids would eat — they just gravitate to what’s there.
So I think that that’s part of what we need to do, as we work through these nutrition guidelines, that we can’t just look at the food on the cafeteria line, but we have to look at all the food that’s available to our children. Again, that’s why this isn’t a problem that can be solved by the federal government — the school community, the local community, has to want to make these changes. And they have to make decisions about what’s going to go in those vending machines instead of what’s already there; how do you work with your local vendors.
We can work on high and try to set the tone, but really what happens at your schools and in your communities is really more up to you, your mayors, your city council people, than anything that can happen out of the White House. And it really should, because folks know their communities better than we’ll ever know.
But the fact of the matter is, as this question points out, is that we have to make sure that all of the options are good ones and not just some of them, because you guys are pretty sneaky, you’ll find a way to get to that bag of chips. (Laughter.)
MS. SWAIN: How many of you in fact, when you’re looking for snacks, at least feel that you have an option in your vending machines at school to have a healthy choice if you want one? Would you raise your hand if you have options for it? It looks like we have a little work to do in some of the schools.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. No, we do. We do.
MS. SWAIN: What’s your question? And tell us your name too.
Q Well, my name is Terrick Mack (ph). I’m an eighth grader at Stillhouse (ph) Middle School. And my question is about false labelings on nutrition labels. And I wanted to ask what regulations could be put in place so that we can eliminate — that we know that we can ensure that false labels won’t be put on nutritious facts.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, as I mentioned earlier, the FDA is going to be working with the grocery store manufacturers this summer to work on the whole issue of labeling. And our hope is that because the grocery store manufacturers have — they want to be helpful in this effort, that this is one of the ways, one of the easy ways that they can be helpful, is figuring out how do you make, as I said earlier, simple, clear, accurate labels that give the facts in a way that the average consumer, the average purchaser, can figure it out and trust in the information.
But the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, is going to be setting up new guidelines for labels. We want to do it with the help of the grocery store folks, because it’s their products, and we’re hopeful that they’re going to join in. But you’re absolutely right, you can’t tell families to make smart decisions if they’re confused about what to buy.
We’ve also talked to them about how they market to kids, right? I mean, the majority — I don’t want to quote percentages, but there are a lot of commercials that come on kid TV programs. My kids are watching it, with the sugary food and the tasty this and the — that’s what you guys are seeing a lot of.
And one of the things we’re asking them is that as you — as those grocery store manufacturers think about the products they’re going to market to kids, what percentage of those products are really healthy and how much of it is sort of kind of healthy, but it’s the stuff that you guys will push your parents to buy. And how do we change that? How do we become more responsible in what is advertised to you guys, right, so that you’re not bombarded with messages that say this sugary stuff is really what you want, really, right, you don’t really want the apple.
And it’s not enough just to change not marketing the not-so-good stuff. They have to help us market the good stuff to you. And they know how to sell stuff, right? I mean, I’m sure all of you could raise your hand and name your favorite brand of anything, right? You know the jingle and the tune. You can recite the words by heart. But if you’re hearing those same songs and messages about good foods, trust me you’ll be — those ideas and thoughts will be ringing in your head just as much as the sugary foods are. So we need to do a better job of getting you all the information that you need to make good choices.
MS. SWAIN: Once again, let’s see a hand for a future question. All right, this young man in the blue shirt, you’ll be next. But first, we’re going to take a call. And this is Kyle Street. And Kyle is an honorable mention winner for his video called “Childhood Obesity.” He is a student at Throop Elementary in Paoli, Indiana. And Avenue Cable is where he watches C-SPAN. Kyle, you are on and what’s your question?
Q Well, first of all, I’d like to say thank you for this opportunity. And in our small rural community, volunteers have just started a wellness program to promote a healthier lifestyle. (Inaudible) physical activity at a young age (inaudible) offering organized sports, team (inaudible). Mrs. Obama, as you mentioned, physical education programs are getting canceled or cut back because of the struggling economy. What other ways can the community help motivate kids to stay active and exercise?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, thanks for the question, Kyle, and it’s important. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about food, the food side of this equation. But as Kyle points out, the physical activity piece is just as important. Because the truth is, is that when I was growing up as a kid, we didn’t worry about what we ate. And we ate the cupcakes and this — we didn’t eat it every day.
But the difference was that when I was growing up, kids — every kid played outside for hours and hours, because, number one, it was safe and, number two, we only had like seven TV channels and not 700. So there was a period at which kid TV was over, so you were bored and your parents were going to kick you out of the house.
MS. SWAIN: And no computer, right?
MRS. OBAMA: No computers. Life has just changed. And now in my household, my kids could watch SpongeBob 24 hours a day, the same shows over and over and over again. I even know all the episodes. (Laughter.)
So you guys just have — you’ve got computers, you’ve got your iPod. A lot of what you’re drawn to has nothing to do with movement. And if you’re not signed up with an activity or you don’t have a ballet class in your neighborhood — or maybe it’s too expensive, because all these after-school programs are just really, really expensive for parents and families — if you’re not engaged in any of that, then a lot of times kids nowadays are just sitting in front of the TV or watching — playing on the video games. And guidelines basically say that kids should be getting, what is it, 60 minutes of exercise, physical activity every single day. That’s really what you’re supposed to do, right?
And when I was growing up, 60 minutes of playing around outside was nothing, it was just play. So things have gotten tougher for you all in so many ways. So we have to do a better job — and not just in schools, but outside of school — to figure out how do we get you guys moving again.
And, again, some of that is on you all. Some of that are the choices that you make, because you’re at the age now where you can make a decision to sit in front of the TV, or get up and jump rope, or walk up and down the stairs, or do a pushup, or figure out something fun, or turn on the radio and dance. I mean, exercise isn’t about sports. It’s not always about throwing a ball. It’s just about moving, right? And those are some choices that you have to make. But we have to do a better job in giving you guys options to play.
And Kyle’s community, it sounds like what they’re doing is what we need to have happen in all communities across this country, where the adults — the mayors and the city officials and the businesspeople and the community groups and the churches — are figuring out how do we open up parks and spaces for you guys to play? How do we organize leagues that aren’t going to cost an arm and a leg? How do we open up gym facilities for longer periods of time? Those solutions have to come from the bottom up, because it’s going to be different in every community.
But getting you guys moving, which is one of the reasons why we’ve called our campaign “Let’s Move” is because we really don’t have time to wait. We can’t let you guys sit around for another generation and not make physical activity a regular part of your lives. So we need to be modeling what’s going on in Indiana. Is that where Kyle is from?
MS. SWAIN: He is, yes.
MRS. OBAMA: And it’s a small community. They figured out a way to make it happen. But there are also bigger cities like Somerville, Massachusetts, where they’re figuring out how to just restructure that whole city so that they’re focused on health and physical activity. And we’ve got to be doing that in cities and towns all across this country.
MS. SWAIN: What’s your question? And what’s your name?
Q My name is Francis Wells. And my question is, what is the main cause of childhood obesity?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, I don’t know that they know that there’s one single cause for it. Sometimes, it’s genetics. And a lot of times, it’s lifestyle. As I said before, things have changed. The way we live as Americans have changed. We walk less, sometimes because it’s not safe to walk; sometimes it’s because the schools your parents need you to go to are further away than they used to be. I know when I grew up, I went to the neighborhood school around the corner and everybody went to the school in their neighborhood. So you could walk to school, right?
But if you’re being — going to a magnet school or a charter school or a new school somewhere else where you don’t have the ability to walk, what are you — you’re in your parent’s car, or you’re on a bus, or maybe the walk is shortened. And then you get to school and there’s no physical education, there’s no P.E., there are no sports programs. And there were always those when I was growing up. You played outside before school. You had recess. You played out during lunch time. And you played in the playground after school. And now, kids are going straight home to sit in front of the TV, do their homework, usually watching TV, or on videogames.
And parents are much busier, right? Because of the economy, a lot of parents have to work. You guys know. Your parents would love to give you every single minute of their time but they’re trying to pay the bills. And that may mean that both parents or one parent has got two jobs. So parents are busy and it’s harder to get you guys where you have to go.
So things have changed in society, and slowly but surely I think that that’s affected how healthy kids are. And we’re eating more processed foods, we go out more, fast food is no longer a treat, right? It’s something that you do several times a week because it’s convenient. So we’ve changed the way we live and it affects you all. And we got to sort of dial that back. We have to rethink those kinds of things to figure out how do we create healthy lifestyles in the world that we live in today. How do we do that for you.
And again, you guys are going to be helpers in this because, you know, the question that I have for you is how do I get you to turn off the TV? How do I get you, in this culture of all this TV and all these videogames, what do I do as a mom to get you to move? I don’t know. I’m working on with it my kids. But you guys are going to have to help us figure out how to engage you in a way that’s going to make this fun and not work so that you want to do it and don’t feel like you’re being forced to do it, right?
So we’re going to need your help in figuring this out.
MS. SWAIN: We have about nine minutes left in our conversation with Mrs. Obama about childhood obesity. Who will be our next questioner? Let me get someone — you’re going to be next, right in front of the camera — okay, so just a second. And in between, we’re going to hear from Lauren Shatanof. Lauren is in Weston, Florida, Advanced Cable, Falcon Cove Middle School and a documentarian with the film titled “America’s Biggest Challenge: Obesity.” Lauren.
Q Hello. It is a great honor for me to speak with you, our First Lady. Mrs. Obama, my question is: A country facing challenging economic times, with limited resources to address childhood obesity, what measures will you take to ensure that this problem is prioritized?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, I think this initiative is one of the biggest ways that I think that I can help. Having the platform of the White House is really helpful in getting attention to stuff, right? A lot of times when I do something, a lot of cameras show up and people tend to watch and write about it. Sometimes they write about more than what I’m wearing. (Laughter.) So I think it’s my job to help shine the light on things that are already working. So that’s one of the reasons why I chose this as my initiative.
I also think that one of the ways that I think we can move this effort, one of the reasons why I think that we can be successful, is that it doesn’t require — I don’t believe, and others may have struggled a bit more — it doesn’t require whole-scale changes in your life. The beauty about kids, you guys, is that you’re young, your metabolisms are really healthy, which essentially means that once you start moving and eating right you’re going to — you guys change really quickly. You’re growing and everything is working right.
So if we make some little changes, get you guys moving more, a little more movement, a little less TV, if we take out sugary drinks, if we can make school lunches better, if we get you guys educated and your families about what to eat — these are all things we can control and it doesn’t take millions of dollars and a whole bunch of legislation to get it done. We don’t have to count on people passing stuff, thank God, to move this problem along. And if we all get pumped up and empowered, right, we can move this issue along.
And that’s why I’m so excited about it and that’s why I’m counting on all of you. Because my thing is that if we get you thinking differently now as middle schoolers and folks headed to college, you’re going to enter adulthood with a whole different baseline of understanding about nutrition. So you’re not going to carry these problems into your adulthood and you’re going to help your kids learn a bit differently.
So you guys are the beginning of the solution, right? Our goal with “Let’s Move” is to ensure that kids born today, right, grow up healthy. And that means you’re going to be taking the lead.
So if you’re thinking differently about how you eat, if you’re thinking about access and affordability to foods, if you’re thinking about growing your own foods, if you’re thinking consciously and making different choices and knowing that exercise isn’t a luxury, it’s like a necessity to keep up alive and you’ve got to find the thing that you’re going to do that gets you moving every day — if you’re growing up like that, then you’re not going to have the bad habits that a lot of us grown people have a hard time getting rid of.
So we’re trying to teach you guys differently. That doesn’t take — that’s not rocket science. That’s good information and a coordinated effort and I think that the country from what I can see is ready to respond. People around the country — I haven’t gotten a negative response from anybody — not people, members of Congress, not people in the media, entertainers. Everybody believes that this is an important issue and they think that they can help move it. And they’re ready to help make you guys healthier.
So if all of us are online, right, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to significantly change this trend in your lifetime.
MS. SWAIN: What’s your question? Would you stand up and tell your name, too?
Q My name is Robert. Good morning.
MRS. OBAMA: Good morning.
Q How do you feel about childhood obesity and adult obesity — do you think they’re the same problem?
MRS. OBAMA: You know, I am not an expert on sort of the science of this issue. What I do think is that it’s, as I said, it’s harder to break habits when you’re older. The longer you do something, right — eat a certain way, get adjusted to a certain kind of food, get used to a certain taste, get used to not exercising — it’s hard to break that habit. It’s hard for grownups to make changes. It just is.
You guys are still open. Your brains are still taking in new information. Trust me, you can learn to love vegetables — (laughter) — even though it doesn’t feel that way. Your taste buds change over time. Right now if you get used to the taste of a really sugary food, your taste buds are going to adjust to that as being normal, right? But if you start drinking more water and trying more vegetables, over time you’re taste buds will adjust to where that’s what you crave. So you can adjust yourself at a young age to want healthy things. But if all you’re eating is fast food and junk food, that’s just what you’re going to want.
So I just think it’s easier to help people change habits earlier. That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard for kids to make different choices. It’s just if it’s hard now, it’s going to really be hard when you get to be an adult. So why get there, right? Why not stop it now? Why not get you guys in the habit of exercising and moving now so that you’re not struggling with these issues for the rest of your life?
MS. SWAIN: Katie Romos (ph) is in Caro, Michigan, Charter Cable, and also a student documentarian. Katie, what’s your question?
Q Good morning, Mrs. Obama. How do you think parents should address the issue of obesity with their young children? Should they take a strong obvious approach or a more subtle approach that does not let the child know (inaudible) situation?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. You know, I think it’s a real delicate balance because you want to make sure that kids feel good about themselves, right? And I think that all parents know their kids better than anyone. That’s one of those things where it’s — that’s not — you can’t get involved in how somebody deals with their kids.
But in the process, I think that we have to make sure that our kids still feel good about themselves no matter what their weight, no matter how they feel. We need to make sure that our kids know that we love them no matter who they are, what they look like, what they’re eating. That’s really important.
But what I found in my household is that making small changes and involving my kids in the changes without making it a problem, right — without saying we’re now — “Now you’re in trouble, now you’re no longer be able to do this or you’ll have to” — it’s not a punishment. I did it more as a, “Let’s figure out how we can do this. Do we really need this many sugary snacks, and have we thought about what’s in our food? Why don’t we think about this?” And I tried to engage them in the process so that it didn’t feel like you’re being punished for something and that they felt more ownership over it.
So, I don’t know, that might be viewed as a softer approach, but again, this isn’t about how our kids look — this is about how our kids feel and it’s about helping our kids take ownership over their lives and what they eat and making sure they have the information that they need to make those choices.
MS. SWAIN: Do you mind if we go over one minute for a student who’s been on the line for a long time?
MRS. OBAMA: I don’t mind at all.
MS. SWAIN: Okay. This is Reshad Jaji (ph) who is in Cohoes, New York, and Boght Hills Elementary School, a Time Warner community. Reshad, are you there?
MS. SWAIN: Do you have a question for Mrs. Obama?
MS. SWAIN: Go ahead and ask it please.
Q Good morning, Mrs. Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: How are you?
Q Fine. Good morning, Mrs. Obama.
MRS. OBAMA: Good morning. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: I think it’s a great idea. I think that the more information, the better. That’s my bottom line on this issue. There isn’t a thing as too much information. The question is, what information and what format is right for what age and what community at what time. And that’s, again, why I think that decisions about what’s taught in the schools and how should be something that principals and teachers and parents in those schools really think through and make sure it makes sense and works for the kids in their community.
MS. SWAIN: Mrs. Obama told us how cameras follow her wherever she goes, which is why it’s easy to highlight an issue. I brought along a photograph from the newspaper from last week when she and her two daughters went to New York City and all of the photographers followed as they went to a pizza parlor. So I think the message here is it’s possible to eat pizza and still eat healthy?
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely. Like I said, I don’t believe in any absolutes in this thing. It’s really about balance, right? Can you have junk food every day? No. You just can’t. I wish the answer was yes. We talk about this in my household all the time. Why on Earth is there not — why doesn’t healthy food taste like candy? And that’s really the question. And it’s one of those dilemmas of humankind. I mean, the thing that is best for us isn’t always the thing that tastes the best, right?
But that’s life, right? I mean, that’s — those are the beginnings of the lessons of life. There’s a lot of stuff that you really need to do that you don’t want to do, but you really need to do it. And I know you’re looking because I’m sure your parents have told you that, right — but they’re right. And eating right is one of those things.
So in my household there is no — there are no absolute nos. We eat a lot of great, fun stuff. We eat junk food, snack food — but it’s a balance. And desserts are on the weekend. We set up some basic rules. But sometimes you break that because if there’s a special occasion or a birthday party at school, there’s no way I’m going to tell my kids, “No, you can’t have that cake.“ It’s not going to work. It would never work.
So balance and moderation is really to me the key not just to how we eat and exercise but how we live in this country. And hopefully you guys develop those — that sense of balance. Know that you can’t have candy every day. And if you’re doing it, you’re ruining your teeth, you’re making your parents mad, and you’re not going to be healthy.
MS. SWAIN: Well, Matt Shimura, thank you for your documentary that brought all of us together today at the White House, and congratulations.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, Matt.
MS. SWAIN: And Mrs. Obama, on behalf of our students here and also watching around the country, thank you for your hospitality and the discussion.
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, guys. Great questions. (Applause.)