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Texts & Transcripts

President Obama’s Press Conference

08 October 2013

Following are excerpts of the president’s October 8 press conference related to U.S. foreign policy and international engagement. A video of the press conference can be accessed from the White House website.

Office of the Press Secretary
October 8, 2013


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I am eager to take your questions, so I’ll try to be brief at the top. …

Roberta Rampton.

Q Thanks. You talked a bit about the hit to credibility around the world that this impasse has caused. I'm wondering what you and your administration are telling worried foreign creditors -- China and Japan -- who are calling and asking about whether the United States is going to avoid defaulting on its debt.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I won't disclose any specific conversations. But obviously my message to the world is the United States always has paid its bills and it will do so again. But I think they're not just looking at what I say, they're looking at what Congress does. And that ultimately is up to Speaker Boehner.

This will not get resolved, we're not going to calm creditors until they see Speaker Boehner call up a bill that reopens the government and authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to pay our bills on time. And until they see that, there's going to be a cloud over U.S. economic credibility.

But it is not one from which we can't recover. I mean, we've been through this before. Every country -- every democracy, in particular -- has tussles over the budget, and I think most world leaders understand it. They, themselves, have been through it if they're in a democracy. What you haven't seen before, I think, from the vantage point of a lot of world leaders is the notion that one party in Congress might blow the whole thing up if they don’t get their way. They've never seen that before. And that does make them nervous, particularly given what happened in 2011.

Mark Landler.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. This week, the President of China has visited several of the Asian countries that you were going to visit and have had to skip because of the shutdown.


Q He’s also taken a big role at the two regional summits, both of which your administration has made a pretty big priority of as part of the broader Asia pivot. Does China benefit from the chaos in Washington? And then, more broadly, you’ve said in general that this hurts the reputation of the United States overseas. Are there specific things that you can point to where you already have seen some damage? And one that occurs to me is the trade deal that you’ve tried to do in Asia. The leaders today announced that they still want to wrap it up, but they no longer are able to say they want to wrap it up by the end of this year. Had you been there, do you think you could have gotten that additional push?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s a great example, and we don’t know, but it didn’t help that I wasn’t there to make sure that we went ahead and closed a trade deal that would open up markets and create jobs for the United States, and make sure that countries were trading fairly with us in the most dynamic, fastest-growing market in the world. I should have been there.

But I can tell you -- because I had to apologize to some of the host countries -- that they understood that the most important thing I can do for them and the most important thing I can do for the bilateral relationship and America’s reputation is making sure that we reopen our government and we don’t default.

So I don’t think it’s going to do lasting damage. As I said, if we deal with this the way we should, then folks around the world will attribute this to the usual messy process of American democracy, but it doesn’t do lasting damage.

In the short term, I would characterize it as missed opportunities. We continue to be the one indispensable nation. There are countries across Asia who have welcomed our pivot because they want to do business with us. They admire our economy. They admire our entrepreneurs. They know that their growth is going to be contingent on working with us. They care about the security environment that we’ve maintained -- helped maintain, and the freedom of navigation and commerce that is so important to them. So it’s not as if they’ve got other places to go. They want us to be there and they want to work with us.

But in each of these big meetings that we have around the world, a lot of business gets done. And in the same way that a CEO of a company, if they want to close a deal, aren’t going to do it by phone, they want to show up and look at somebody eye-to-eye and tell them why it’s important and shake hands on a deal -- the same thing is true with respect to world leaders.

And the irony is our teams probably do more to organize a lot of these multilateral forums and set the agenda than anybody. I mean, we end up being engaged much more than China, for example, in setting the agenda and moving this stuff forward. And so when -- it's almost like me not showing up to my own party. I think it creates a sense of concern on the part of other leaders. But as long as we get through this, they'll understand it and we'll be able to, I believe, still get these deals done.

Q Sir, just one follow-up -- I did ask specifically about China, and I'm wondering whether to what extent is our loss their gain.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm sure the Chinese don't mind that I'm not there right now in the sense that there are areas where we have differences and they can present their point of view and not get as much pushback as if I were there -- although Secretary of State Kerry is there, and I'm sure he’s doing a great job.

But I've also said that our cooperation with China is not a zero-sum game. There are a lot of areas where the Chinese and us agree. On trade, in particular, though, here is an area where part of what we're trying to do is raise standards for, for example, intellectual property protection, which sometimes is a big problem in China. And if we can get a trade deal with all the other countries in Asia that says you've got to protect people's intellectual property that will help us in our negotiations with China.

THE PRESIDENT: Stephen Collinson.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just going through my list, guys. Talk to Jay. (Laughter.)

Q The operations in Africa this weekend suggest that the continent is now the central front in the campaign against terrorism, and if we're going to see U.S. military operations all around the continent, how does that square with your contention that American cannot be at war forever?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, if you look at the speech I gave at the National Defense College several months ago, I outlined how I saw the shift in terrorism around the world and what we have to do to respond to it. And part of what I said is, is that we had decimated core al Qaeda that had been operating primarily between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but you now had these regional groups, some of which are explicitly tied to al Qaeda or that ideology, some of which are more localized. Few of them have the ability to project beyond their borders, but they can do a lot of damage inside their borders.

And Africa is one of the places where, because, in some cases, a lack of capacity on the part of the governments, in some cases because it is easier for folks to hide out in vast terrains that are sparsely populated, that you're seeing some of these groups gather. And we're going to have to continue to go after them.

But there's a difference between us going after terrorists who are plotting directly to do damage to the United States, and us being involved in wars. The risks of terrorism and terrorist networks are going to continue for some time to come. We've got to have a long-term plan that is not just military-based; we've got to engage in a war of ideas in the region, and engage with Muslim countries and try to isolate radical elements that are doing more damage to Muslims than they're doing to anybody else. We've got to think about economic development, because although there's not a direct correlation between terrorism and the economy, there's no doubt that if you've got a lot of unemployed, uneducated young men in societies that there's a greater likelihood that terrorist recruits are available.

But where you've got active plots and active networks, we're going to go after them. We prefer partnering with countries where this is taking place wherever we can, and we want to build up their capacity. But we're not going to farm out our defense.

And I have to say, by the way, the operations that took place both in Libya and Somalia were examples of the extraordinary skill and dedication and talent of our men and women in the armed forces. They do their jobs extremely well, with great precision, at great risk to themselves. And I think they are pretty good examples for how those of us here in Washington should operate as well.

Q Mr. President, did the capture of Mr. Libi comply with international law?

THE PRESIDENT: We know that Mr. al-Libi planned and helped to execute plots that killed hundreds of people, a whole lot of Americans. And we have strong evidence of that. And he will be brought to justice.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 3:21 P.M. EDT