Joint Press Conference in Strasbourg
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. My introductory remarks will be very brief.
We have reviewed a certain number of issues: Afghanistan, NATO, Iran, Russia, the Middle East. I think I can say—and the U.S. President will correct me if I am wrong—that we share the exact same views.
But as I’m speaking the day after the G20 summit, I would like to tell Barack Obama just how delighted I’ve been to be able to work hand-in-hand with him, and how much I appreciate his open-mindedness and his clear determination to build a new world. And I can say that at this summit, there have been no winners or losers. There were 20 leaders—including, of course, the leader of the world’s number-one power, the United States of America—who shouldered their responsibilities. That augurs well for the months and years to come. We have a huge amount of work ahead of us because there’s a huge pile of problems we need to deal with.
But for us, being able to work with a U.S. administration that is clearly determined to listen to its friends and allies and to solve the problems is a source of optimism.
So, Barack, welcome to France. Thank you. I am really looking forward to the weeks to come, because we’re going to take a lot of initiatives, and the world needs us to do so.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, thank you so much for the extraordinary hospitality. And it is thrilling to be part of what is a true celebration. France, which is the United States’ oldest ally, our first ally—once again is taking an extraordinary leadership role in NATO, thanks to the greatest leadership of President Sarkozy.
He’s courageous on so many fronts it’s hard to keep up. And the energy that he has brought to foreign affairs is something that I think we’ve all benefited from. So I’m grateful to his partnership. Had it not been for much of his leadership I think what emerged from the summit would not have been as significant as it was.
On the issues that we discussed—whether it’s Afghanistan, Iran, Russia—he is continually showing initiative, imagination, creativity in trying to solve problems that have been there for a very long time. And America is not only grateful for the friendship with France, but I, personally, am grateful to the friendship that we’ve developed—one that lasts before either of us—that actually developed before either of us were even elected to office. And it has only grown stronger since.
So this has been a very productive conversation. I look forward to further productive conversations this evening and tomorrow, surrounding NATO’s mission. And I’m confident that when the United States and France are acting in concert, that the prospects for peace and prosperity around the world are strengthened.
With that, why don’t we take a couple of questions. Do you want to go first?
Q: Mr. President, you explained to the French that the return of France to NATO’s integrated military structure would be offset, in a way, by enhanced European defense. Have you received guarantees from President Obama, for instance, on the emergence of a planning unit and the strictly autonomous conduct of operations?
And Mr. President, would you agree to the idea of an American pillar or caucus with NATO?
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Well, you know, I’ve always been convinced that France and the United States belong to the same family. Here we are in Strasbourg. I love history, and I say to the French: Never forget what American democracy did for us. On June 6, we will walk together on the Normandy landing beaches and reflect by the graves of those young Americans who died for us, who were the same age as our children today.
I trust President Obama. I trust his word and I trust his intelligence. He doesn’t need me in order to understand that a strong Europe—a Defense Europe—is the best asset for the United States. President Obama’s America doesn’t want weak allies. It wants people who stand tall and assume their responsibilities.
We agreed on everything a long time ago, but it wasn’t a bargaining session or anything like that. We have a shared vision of the world. We’re a family. We don’t want to impose our values on anybody. But we don’t want anybody, anywhere in the world, to keep us from believing in our principles.
And finally, a word to the French. It’s quite extraordinary, you know, that for years we’ve been sending soldiers to fight under the NATO flag while refusing to participate in the committee that implements the strategy on how to use our soldiers. I wanted to be honest and transparent with my compatriots. I wanted to accept responsibility for my choices. NATO has existed for 60 years now. The fact that there is peace is no coincidence—it is because we stand together. The United States is our ally and friend. It knows perfectly well that [this Defense Europe] will be made up of friends and allies who stand tall because they’ve embraced their convictions.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Now, let me just respond to your question very quickly.
NATO is the most successful alliance in modern history. And the basic premise of NATO was that Europe’s security was the United States’ security, and vice versa. That’s its central tenet that is a pillar of American foreign policy that has been unchanging over the last 60 years. It is something that I am here to affirm. And with France’s reintegration into the highest command structures of NATO, that principle will continue to be upheld.
I want to echo what President Sarkozy just said. We want strong allies. We would like to see Europe have much more robust defense capabilities. That’s not something we discourage. We’re not looking to be the patron of Europe. We’re looking to be partners with Europe. And the more capable they are defensively, the more we can act in concert on the shared challenges that we face.
And so, you know, one of my messages to our NATO allies is going to be the more capability we see here in Europe, the happier the United States will be, the more effective we will be in coordinating our activities.
Q: Earlier, President Sarkozy was talking about having strong allies that own up to responsibilities. President Obama wants to close Guantanamo Bay in a year. Would you be willing to take some of the prisoners?
Have you addressed this issue with him?
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: You know, I believe democracy makes it incumbent upon heads of state to speak the truth and to live up to what they say. I am among those who love American values. But Guantanamo was not in keeping with American values—or at least, with my concept of them. I was proud and happy that the United States, a country beloved by France and Europe, took the decision that we were hoping for, which was to close the camp. My deeply held belief is that you don’t combat terrorists with terrorist methods. You combat them with the methods of democracy.
Now, having said that, if the President of the United States says, I’m going to close down Guantanamo but I need my allies to take, in this particular instance, this one person—to hold him in prison here, because that will allow us to close the camp—if we are consistent, then we say yes. Otherwise we’re inconsistent. We can’t condemn the United States for having this camp and then simply wash our hands of the whole business when they close it down. That’s not what it means to be an ally, a friend. That’s not how you earn respect in the world. France’s word is France’s bond, and France upholds a policy that is upright and honest, in keeping with democracy.
So yes, we talked about it. Yes, we agreed, and yes, that’s logical and consistent. And it’s honest. And that’s how you should see France.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: President Sarkozy has been honest, has been consistent. I made the decision to close Guantanamo because I do not think it makes America safer. In doing so, I’ve been very clear that we’re going to do it carefully, we’re going to do it thoughtfully. And in order to do it carefully and thoughtfully we are going to consult with our allies and, in certain cases, we’re going to need help with detainees that may still pose a risk but we may not be able to repatriate to their countries of origin.
And so we have had this discussion. We don’t have detailed announcements to make. I just want to express my appreciation to President Sarkozy for being good to his word, as he always is.
Q: A question to both Presidents. Would you agree to have the Russians join the European defense system? And are you really expecting the Russians to exert tough pressure on Iran to halt its military nuclear program?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Why don’t I go first on this.
I had a terrific meeting, a bilateral meeting during the summit with President Medvedev. I think there is a great potential to improve U.S.-Russian relations. I think that it is important for NATO allies to engage Russia and to recognize that they have legitimate interests. In some cases we’ve got common interests. But we also have some core disagreements.
I think that we should be in a dialogue with them about how we can maintain stability while respecting the autonomy and independence of all countries in Europe—West, East, Central, wherever they are.
I was a critic of the Russian invasion of Georgia. I continue to believe that despite the extraordinary efforts of President Sarkozy to broker a ceasefire that we have not seen a stabilization of that situation. And I think that we have to send a very clear message to Russia that we want to work with them, but that we can’t go back to the old ways of doing business.
I do believe that the United States and Russia, the Europeans and the United States, all have an interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that there should be a mechanism that respects Iran’s sovereignty and allows them to develop peaceful nuclear energy, but draws a clear line that we cannot have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
I brought this up in my conversations with President Medvedev, and it will be an ongoing topic of our bilateral negotiations. We’re very excited about working with France and other countries to arrive at a position with respect to Iran that invites them into responsible membership in the international community, but also makes clear that they’ve got to act in ways that responsible members—what’s expected of them, that they meet those standards.
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: I have always said to President Medvedev that the days of the USSR are over, that the Berlin Wall had come down, and that Russia was no longer surrounded by satellite states, and that he needed to respect that.
But by the same token, with the problems the world is facing today, we’re not going to reinvent the Cold War. So President Obama’s proposal to engage in new discussions with President Medvedev and to reach a new agreement with Russia is excellent news. We don’t need a new Cold War. We need the world to come closer together. We need unity, and we need Russia—a great country—to shoulder its responsibilities in order to help us find a solution to the Iranian crisis.
So there again I think I can say that France and the United States are on the same page. NATO is not, in fact, against Russia. The Warsaw Pact is over. We want to work with anyone who’s prepared to work honestly with us to create a security space, and I hope, a common economic space between Europe and Russia in the very near future.
Q: As you said, you and Russia will take measures to eliminate nuclear warheads and make the world safer, but North Korea seems to be going in the opposite direction. Do you have a message for North Korea regarding the consequences if indeed it proceeds with this missile launch? President Sarkozy, you spoke about honesty and consistency, and you will soon be reintegrating into NATO as a military partner. What do you say to the President’s message about adding more troops, for example for training and assistance, in Afghanistan?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We have made very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative, it puts enormous strains on the six-party talks, and that they should stop the launch. The response so far from the North Koreans has been not just unhelpful, but has resorted to the sort of language that has led to North Korea’s isolation in the international community for a very long time.
It is not just us that has said that North Korea should not launch. Japan, Korea, Russia, China, the other members of the six-party talks have all indicated that this launch should not go forward.
And so should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work with all interested parties in the international community to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can’t threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity.
Now, just one last thing I want to say. I think that France has already been a stalwart ally when it comes to Afghanistan. So we discussed the possibilities of all the NATO allies reengaging in a more effective mission in Afghanistan, which is military, diplomatic, deals with the development needs of both Pakistan and India. So it’s not just a matter of more resources, it’s also a matter of more effectively using the resources we have.
And on this I think, once again, France and the United States are on the same page. But I just wanted to—before Nicolas answered the question directed at him, I just wanted to publicly thank and praise France once again for its outstanding leadership when it comes to Afghanistan. I’ve not had to drag France kicking and screaming into—Into Afghanistan, because France recognizes that having al-Qaeda operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is a threat not just to the United States, but to Europe. In fact, it is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States, because of proximity.
And so this is not an American mission, this is a NATO mission, this is an international mission. France has always understood that, and for that I am very grateful.
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: We fully support America’s new strategy in Afghanistan. And I want to say to my fellow Frenchmen that when New York was stricken, it could have happened in any capital of any democratic state. It wasn’t New York that was being targeted but democracies at large.
If, as democracies, we stand by our allies in the face of fanatics, extremists and terrorists, we will win. That is what is at stake.
Second, and this is something we talked about with President Obama, there will be no French military reinforcements because we already decided to step up our troop strength last year.
Third, we are prepared to do more with respect to police, gendarmes and military police, and with respect to economic aid, in order to train Afghans and “Afghanize” Afghanistan. We are not waging a war against Afghanistan; we are helping Afghanistan to rebuild. And we don’t support any given candidate—we support the right of young Afghans to have a future.
On this issue and others, we sat down and talked, I listened to President Obama, he listened to my problems and issues, and we tried to find solutions. That’s what we did, and that’s what we’re going to continue doing.
And I would like to say to all French men and women who are proud and happy that the President of the United States is standing here in our country, that he’ll be returning on the 6th of June and that we will give him an outstanding welcome in Normandy, where so many young men from your country are buried.
And people must regain confidence. We are aware of the difficulties. We know that they demand global responses, responses that we will provide together. And it feels really good to be able to work with a U.S. President who wants to change the world and who understands that the world extends way beyond America’s borders. That’s sure a good piece of news for 2009.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you, everybody./.