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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

President Obama's Foreign Policy: The First 100 Days

FPC Briefing
Mike Hammer
National Security Council Spokesman
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 29, 2009


Date: 04/29/2009 Location: Washington, DC Description: National Security Council Spokesman Mike Hammer briefs at the Washington Foreign Press Center on President Obama's Foreign Policy Engagement: The First 100 Days. State Dept Photo

1:00 PM EST

Video

MODERATOR: We’re pleased to welcome Mike Hammer, the spokesman for the National Security Council. He’ll be here to address and respond to your questions on President’s Obama’s foreign policy engagement, the first 100 days.

Mike.

MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much, Mike and Jim and the rest of the Foreign Press Center team for inviting me to come over. I suspect if this goes well, I may just come back again. Thank you, all of you, for waiting. I know we’re a few minutes late, and I see a lot of our friendly faces that cover us over at the White House. Thank you for coming over here as well.

Today, we thought, given the tremendous interest domestically that there is in the Obama Administration on these first 100 days, that it would be worthwhile to sort of review where we are in terms of the progress that’s made and the approach of President Obama as we’ve launched this new Administration. So I will just give a brief presentation and then open it up for your questions. And we’ll go for, I don’t know, a little while here.

In terms of the President’s engagement on foreign policy, I think he was very clear from the very beginning, dating even back to the campaign. But if you look at his inaugural address, that his top priority getting started was to reestablish America’s standing in the world and to have a dialogue with our friends and partners and as well as our adversaries that is based on our mutual respect and to find common areas of interest where we can work together to build partnerships, and that is very important we believe in advancing not only United States interests but also interests globally.

In terms of what he’s done, you may recall that only on his second day in office, he signed executive orders to close Guantanamo within a year, to address detainees as well as to ban enhanced interrogation methods. From that, he has moved on to conduct reviews on foreign policy, and you have seen the results of some of those reviews. On Iraq, as he pledged during his campaign, we are withdrawing from Iraq responsibly. On Afghanistan and Pakistan, you have seen the unveiling of a comprehensive strategy that includes a regional approach; that is, one that focuses not only on the military and the need to ensure that we protect the security of the United States and its allies, but also that goes forward in addressing the very real problems that exist there. And as part of that, the President traveled to Europe in addressing the global financial crisis at the G-20, where nearly – well, a trillion dollars worth of money was infused into the global economy and where leaders pledged to work to ensure that this doesn’t happen again; followed on by a successful trip to NATO, where the issue, of course, of Afghanistan and Pakistan was first and foremost on the agenda; but also where we talked about the need to revitalize that important alliance; then followed on by an EU summit and then a trip to Turkey. The President has also traveled to Canada and has had the pleasure of recently returning from Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago, where we had a Summit of the Americas.

So it’s been a very busy first 100 days, but the President’s view is that not one of sort measuring at the 100-day mark, but rather to see how we are laying the foundation to then go further in terms of what we believe is an important agenda that includes not only the economy, not only national security, but an expanded view of national security to include energy, climate change issues, issues of addressing, you know, poverty, disease. And in that way, we believe that so far we have had fairly positive feedback from the leaders that the President has interacted with.

He has certainly had a number of meetings here in Washington as well, and we can talk a little bit about those. But I’m sure you’re familiar with Prime Minister Aso’s visit. Gordon Brown was here, President Lula of Brazil. We’ve had Rudd of Australia. We’ll have a number of other leaders coming from the Middle East. We’ve had King Abdullah of Jordan. We expect some visits coming up in the month of May. And we’ve had bilateral meetings as well in London with the premier of China Hu. And we’ve had other – with President Medvedev, King of Saudi Arabia. And so we’ve had certainly a very busy agenda, and hopefully we’ve kept you busy in terms of your reporting.

In terms of any other sort of accomplishments, I think I’ll leave you to sort of ask questions on what you think, you know, are the important issues of the day. And with that, I think I’ll just turn it over to you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. As always, could I ask that you identify yourself and your media organization. And before you ask your question, please wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: Umit Enginsoy with Turkish NTV television. Nice to see you, Mike, again.

MR. HAMMER: It was good to see you in Turkey as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, likewise. It’s been nearly three weeks since the President was in Turkey. In terms of relations with Turkey, during the European tour and since then, what have you achieved?

MR. HAMMER: Well, we think our visit to Turkey was important. Turkey is an important strategic partner and ally, both within NATO and in terms of how it engages with the greater Middle East. And we felt that the visit went extremely well in terms of the President’s meetings there with Turkish leadership and others in the opposition as well as the religious leadership.

So what we’re looking for is to grow that partnership, to work with Turkey on issues of common interest. We believe that we’ve laid the foundation for, in fact, a very good opportunity that will make significant progress. And so it was important to the President to go to Turkey on our first trip to Europe, and we hope, again, that we will have a very open dialogue and exchange of views as we move forward. Of course, we’ve had, I think, important achievements in terms of Armenia’s and Turkey’s reconciliation, and we’ll be looking to encourage that as well.

MODERATOR: Joyce.

QUESTION: Yes, hi, Mike. Joyce Karam with Al Hayat newspaper. I want to ask you – you mentioned a positive feedback from, you know, across the globe. How would you assess the Iranian feedback in particular to a series of initiatives that this Administration has taken?

And on the peace process, there seem to be a lot of skepticism, so many heard those on the ground, to move with a two-state solution. What are we to expect in the next 100 days or so and, you know, mainly on the practical steps that the President had mentioned?

MR. HAMMER: Right. On Iran, it’s a fair question, and I leave it to the experts and everybody else to sort of analyze what the response has been. Certainly, you could say it’s fair to say it’s mixed. But the point here is that the President, from the start of his Administration, has made clear that he wants to engage with Iran. It is important that we look to see what can be done to encourage Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. And in that spirit, we think that engagement is something that is worthwhile because it allows us to express our viewpoints, to listen to theirs. And perhaps there’ll be disagreement, and that disagreement can be voiced in a respectful manner. But we will want to work with the international community to achieve these objectives.

So I would just say that we are in a process that we expect will take some time. We’ve had a difficult, at best, relationship in the past with Iran, and we’re looking to see what is possible. But we’re under no illusions that there will be a change in the near term, but rather we’ll continue to work at this.

Turning to your Middle East question, I think the President demonstrated his commitment for active engagement in trying to promote a lasting peace in the Middle East with the appointment of Senator Mitchell, only on his second day in office, when he went to the State Department to announce that appointment. Senator Mitchell has been to the region three times already. We have had Secretary Clinton go out as well. And we expect that as a result of the upcoming visits with numerous leaders from the region, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and several others – Abbas and Mubarak, I shouldn’t forget President Mubarak of Egypt – that in those terms, we will be looking to see what is possible.

The President has made clear our position on the two-state solution. We will continue these discussions. But I think what you can expect to see from the United States is a recognition that these issues are critical in terms of trying to move forward to try to reach a lasting peace, and that they will be worked hard at all levels of the Administration. So that’s I think what you can anticipate.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one more question here, and then we’ll go to New York. Yes, right there on the end.

QUESTION: Dan Dombey, Financial Times. I’d like to ask about Pakistan, if I may. Last week, Secretary Clinton said that Pakistan’s Government was abdicating to the Taliban and al-Qaida, and described the country as a mortal threat to the U.S. and the world. In light of the recent gains by the Taliban, to what extent is the U.S. looking at its strategy for Pakistan in particular, or at least to the implementation of that strategy in terms of counterinsurgency and so on? And what is the level of concern about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear capacity?

MR. HAMMER: Right, well, a lot of questions tied into one there. In terms of --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. HAMMER: Yes. No, that’s fair enough. But you spoke fast and that was good. (Laughter.)

In terms of Pakistan, clearly the situation is of concern. And what we’ve said in terms of even when we rolled out our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is that we don’t have a static strategy. We have a strategy that has multiple components to it, that involve international engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan, which involve going after al-Qaida to dismantle and disrupt and destroy it in terms of the security situation. And now we see, of course, very alarming trends in terms of the extremists in Pakistan.

And we’ve been working with the Government of Pakistan to try to address this very serious threat not only to our security, but also to the security of the Pakistani people. And through this engagement, we are trying to develop a strong partnership that will better enable us to confront that threat. You will see next week during the upcoming trilateral talks – we’re having both Zardari and Karzai here in town for meetings and meetings with the President – that these issues will be discussed. So we’re exploring a number of options in terms of trying to determine what is the best way to meet this challenge.

But we are encouraged by the level of cooperation with the Pakistani Government. And we will continue to press hard to try to make significant progress here, because security is at stake. And we take it, as has been expressed clearly by others in the Administration, very seriously.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York.

QUESTION: Nuclear capacity

MR. HAMMER: I mean, clearly because of the nuclear component of Pakistan, that also is a matter of concern. But right now, we are focused very much so on how best to address the extremist threat and working with the Government of Pakistan to ensure that that that is not something that creates even more difficulties for the government there.

MODERATOR: New York?

QUESTION: My name is Olaolu Akande. I work for the Guardian newspapers of Nigeria. Going forward, there’s a lot of hope that President Obama will start to focus on Africa. I’d like to know whether he has plans to receive the president of Nigeria or whether he hopes in his first term he might go to Africa, say probably in Nigeria. I notice that he has spoken with some leaders, one or two African leaders, but we’ve not seen a lot of action on Africa. What should be the expectation?

MR. HAMMER: Yes, I don’t think I will be making news today in terms of travel by the President to Africa. But as you can fully appreciate, given his own upbringing, he has very deep affection for the continent and is very eager to have an opportunity to visit. We are certainly engaged on the issues that are most pressing at the moment, whether that be in terms of Sudan, concern about the situation in Zimbabwe. And we just saw the important election that took place in South Africa.

So it is an issue and, of course, that crosses his desk and that he will engage in as is appropriate. And again, while I don’t want to make any announcements on presidential travel today, you can certainly anticipate that whenever he gets an opportunity, he’ll want to travel to Africa.

MODERATOR: The gentleman back there with the glasses.

QUESTION: Yes, Alex Spillius, Daily Telegraph.

MODERATOR: Could you wait for the mike?

QUESTION: Sorry. Going back to Pakistan, could you be more specific on how seriously and urgently the Administration is thinking about training Pakistan’s counterinsurgency, and if so, where they would happen and how quickly that might start?

MR. HAMMER: Well, it won’t surprise you that, no, I won’t get into a great level of detail on those issues. But I will certainly just reinforce what we’ve been saying in the Administration, that we are wanting to work very closely with the Pakistani Government on finding the best ways to address this threat from the extremists in repositioning Pakistan, so that it is better able to address that threat. It has historically been looking elsewhere in terms of where it thinks its threats are to its sovereignty and nation. And I think there’s a growing realization that, in fact, they need to be focused elsewhere those efforts, and that’s what we’re trying to work with the Pakistani Government to move forward on.

MODERATOR: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Hi, Mike. I’m Jay Park with Radio Free Asia. Looking back on the 100 – first 100 days of Obama Administration, as you know, North Korea has continuing – escalating the tension in the region. As you know, yesterday North Korea has declared they might conduct a second nuclear test. How would you assess Obama Administration’s response on North Korea and how can – what can we expect from now on on North – Obama Administration’s policy toward North Korea? Thanks.

MR. HAMMER: Well, I think it’s not a question of assessing the Obama Administration’s response to North Korea, but rather the international response which has been quite strong in the face of an obvious violation of international law and provocation by North Korea to launch a missile. And the UN Security Council issued a very strong statement condemning the action and then the UN Sanctions Committee met to impose further sanctions.

So I think what is important here is that North Korea understand that its statements are irresponsible, that they are provocative and that the international community is united in wanting to see a North Korea that is denuclearized. And so that’s what we’re going to be working on, that’s what we’re going to focus on from the part of the Administration and trying to make sure that North Korea abides by its international obligations.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to the lady right there.

QUESTION: Hello. I’m Tal Schneider from Maariv newspaper. Going back to the Iranian issue, you said before that you have no illusion going forward. And we were wanting to know if putting a timetable or schedule on, you know, future negotiation is one of the things that you’re reviewing now. Is that a possibility to, you know, not think of this for – in an open-handed way?

MR. HAMMER: Right. I mean, in terms of Iran, we are obviously looking at ways in which engagement might be fruitful and productive. The President has said we’re not looking at talk for the sake of talk. And in those terms, it’s important to see, you know, what the response is on behalf of the Iranians. We are trying to go forward with the 5+1 talks and we’ll see if that can be realized. So there are opportunities there for us to engage with the Iranian Government. You know, we’ve made that pretty clear. And we’ll see if it is possible. But I think it’s not appropriate at this time to be trying to establish timetables for this, but rather, to see how the engagement can move forward.

MODERATOR: The gentleman right there.

QUESTION: Thank you. Rubin Barrera with the Mexican news agency, Notimex. Going to the – you mentioned diseases, an area where the government – the United States, is looking to improve relations or cooperation with other countries. On a very pressing issue, swine flu, two questions. First one is, how this situation is going to force the Obama Administration to look for ways to help that may be a better cooperation with countries like Mexico and Canada to face a situation like this? And also, the fact that there has been one dead, a young Mexican child in Texas, how much of that is going to force the government to have a second look to this (inaudible) position they have been taking so far regarding the monitoring of the border with Mexico?

MR. HAMMER: Buenas tardes.

QUESTION: Buenas tardes.

MR. HAMMER: (In Spanish.)

QUESTION: Si.

MR. HAMMER: No, it wouldn’t be fair to your colleagues. I’ll come back and brief in Spanish some other day. The H1N1 virus is obviously a quite serious concern. And the President spoke to it this morning in terms of the United States taking appropriate measures, precautionary measures. And we are also clearly coordinating with the international community. But I appreciate the tone of – and tenor of your question in terms of how this puts a premium on cooperation.

The United States and President Obama in his trip to Mexico and in meetings with President Calderon, as well as in his trip to Canada and meetings with Prime Minister Harper, talked very much at length about the need to develop the cooperative relationship even further in a variety of areas. Granted, this was not the forefront it was before. It became known that there was this virus. But even then, it was very clear on the part of the Mexican Government that there was great interest in further deepening the cooperation. We were very focused, of course, on the drug violence. And in the case of Canada, while there’s great interest in cooperating in a number of areas.

I think it does highlight – this outbreak does highlight the need for the world to be coming together more and more. I mean, we are linked. These things can spread rather quickly. And so to share the expertise, the knowledge, and develop common measures, is a prudent approach and I think one that you’ll see going forward.

I’m not going to anticipate what next steps are. We’ve got experts in the U.S. Government that are dealing with this issue intensively. And I’m sure you’ll hear much more about that through the course of the coming days. And certainly the President’s having a press conference tonight. I imagine he’ll be asked about this very issue.

QUESTION: So does that include the border issue?

MR. HAMMER: Well, in terms of the border issue, that was – if you’re talking about how that might be affected, I don’t have anything for you in terms of looking at what measures might be necessary. I don’t want to anticipate what might happen. I think what is key here is that we’re looking at our relationship with Mexico in a very comprehensive – and in terms of the totality of the relationship, because there’s a rich and deep partnership historically that we want to grow, and that involves, of course, a number of, you know, issues that pertain to border issues. So I don’t have anything specific on what next steps might be taken and would not want to get ahead of myself here.

QUESTION: My name is Ali Barada from Al Watan/Alarabi magazine. On – are we to expect President Obama to have a Middle East initiative after, you know, he meets with these – with those leaders?

MR. HAMMER: Again, I think we need to allow President Obama to have the opportunity to meet with those leaders, to have those conversations, to see what can possibly go forward. I think the initiative in a sense is what already is happening, and that is that Senator Mitchell, as I had reflected earlier has been to the region three times, that Secretary Clinton is actively engaged, that we have a President who is putting a high premium on trying to see if we can make progress on – in the Middle East. And that involves, you know, obviously working with all the regional leaders and seeing if progress can be achieved.

MODERATOR: We’ll come down the left-hand side.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Dagmar Benesova. I am from Slovakia from the news agency World Business Press Online. My question is Obama Administration stated that it will build the missile defense shield or system in Europe. (Inaudible) when it will be affect you, and if there will be threat from Iran. What it means that comparing to the previous administration, the plans are at least postponed. And my question is did Obama Administration consider that its support of defense missile shield had a high political cost for the political parties in Poland and especially in the Czech Republic? And do the Obama Administration count on the support of these political parties again, if there would be at the end of the day - raised need to be the defense missiles – the defense missile shield?

And the next question is what should be the ability and the motivation of Russia to help the U.S. to stop the nuclear plans from Iran? And does the Obama Administration count on the possibility that the Russians will (inaudible) time and at the end of the day Tehran will go on? Will it not be too late at this time to begin to think about building the missile defense shield again? Thank you very much.

MR. HAMMER: Can I pick which question I get to answer? (Laughter.) I think I understood the general sense of the question. And it’s fair, and they’re all good questions, it’s just there are a lot of them.

The President, I think, has been very clear in terms of our plans going forward on missile shields in both the Czech Republic and in Poland and, in fact, gave a very important speech in Prague where he outlined his vision for working very intensively and cooperatively with a number of nations to try to achieve a nuclear-free world, even though realizing that that is a long-term objective. But what is important also is to secure nuclear materials and to ensure that the world is safer.

On – I don’t really have a lot to add, other than to say that the President has had good discussions with the Czech leadership. We’ve had discussions with the Polish leadership. I think they fully understand our commitment and our commitment to ensuring the security of both countries and that we will certainly be in constant conversations with them as the – you know, possible deployment of this system moves forward. But they – you have outlined in your questions, in fact, the issues that are out there and in terms of the U.S. position reflecting, you know, that the system needs to be cost-effective. It needs to take into account the threat coming from Iran.


QUESTION: Thank you for the opportunity. This is Ali Imram from Associated Press of Pakistan. Pakistan has often complained that – in terms of U.S.-Pakistan relations, it has not been permanent and durable. Whenever U.S. completes, you know, its mission and has its interests taken care of, it leaves the region. So do you think Obama Administration is working toward laying a foundation for strong and long-term relations? And what do you hope to achieve from President Zardari’s visit next week?

MR. HAMMER: Right. I do think that the Obama Administration is interested in wanting to develop a strong partnership with Pakistan that endures. The effort on the part of the Administration to reach out very early on this issue and to include Pakistan as part of our strategy, I think reflects that. The challenges are difficult and there’s no easy answer. But we think that the key to it is, in fact, a partnership that allows both countries to work together to confront this challenge.

In terms of the Zardari visit, I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to now anticipate sort of the results of that. It is part of a process that we launched as part of our Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy where we would have trilateral meetings, because we think it is important to advance the objectives to take stock of where we are. It is rather timely that it is occurring already next week, given what we’ve seen, the recent developments in Pakistan. And so we will be working this very intensively over the course of the Obama Administration.

QUESTION: In terms of economic relations and other aspects of the relationships?

MR. HAMMER: Right. You’ve seen the President in his announcement make an effort to work with the Congress for a greater economic package for Pakistan. We understand the need. In fact, there was a donors conference that Tokyo hosted on behalf of trying to raise important monies for Pakistan. So it is part of our strategy and our approach and we just have to know – be determined in our efforts and in working closely with the Pakistani Government.

MODERATOR: We will have time for three more questions. To the back, just to the right of the camera.

MR. HAMMER: Three more questions or three multiple? (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. Hammer. This is Takhekio Kajita with Kyodo News. Nice to meet you.

MR. HAMMER: Glad you found a seat. You’re all the way in the back.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Well, I have a question on the President’s initiative toward a nuclear-free world. He made a remarkable speech in Prague, Czech Republic in which he clearly stated that Obama Administration is taking a serious step toward the nuclear-free world. But on the other hand, he reaffirmed that he was committed to the defense obligation toward allies like Japan or South Korea. How would you – trying to – would you try to strike a balance between the defense obligation – extended deterrence and the nuclear-free world? Thank you.

MR. HAMMER: That’s a good question, and it’s a qood question in that, you know, we’re not talking about developments in terms of achieving a nuclear-free world that will happen overnight. And so the President knows and understands that this may take a generation. It might take even longer. And so we have a lot of time to be working towards this effort while at the same time guaranteeing the security of our allies, as you pointed out, in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere.

So I think there is – while there is a balance, as you pointed out, there is a way that as you work towards this goal that you provide the assurances and the security needed and live by our commitments to other nations as we move forward. So I think that we will be able to do both, actually.

MODERATOR: To the lady right here. Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. I wonder if – is there any –

MR. HAMMER: Could you identify yourself, please?

QUESTION: Okay. Maria Luisa Rosse, W Radio, Colombia. I wonder if –

MR. HAMMER: Hola, Colombia.

QUESTION: Hi. I wonder if you have any confirmation about the date for the invitation that President Obama extended to President Uribe when they both met in Trinidad y Tobago to come here to the White House. Thank you.

MR. HAMMER: I’d like to make news. It’d be really fun. Unfortunately, we’re still working on the details of that visit. And when we have something to announce, we will do so. The President had very good encounters with President Uribe of Colombia during the Summit at Trinidad and Tobago. They talked about important issues affecting Colombia, trade, of course. And we can expect that hopefully soon we’ll be able to provide you some clarity in terms of when that might happen.

MODERATOR: Go here to the front.

QUESTION: Thank you. And thanks again for doing this. Please come back.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Andrei. I’m glad you got called on here. I would have been very distressed if –

QUESTION: No, I would be distressed. (Laughter.) And especially looking at how effective you are in covering every region of the world.

MR. HAMMER: Oh, no. You flatter me.

QUESTION: No, I am not flattering. That’s good. (Laughter.)

MR. HAMMER: Call on him every time, please.

QUESTION: I – I’m interested in my region of the world. My question is, how is the reset of the relationship with Russia going? Who’s monitoring the process at the White House? How do we know, how do we measure progress in that process?

If I may ask a specific question, they were talking about maintaining the 2 + 2 format, with two ministers from the American and from the Russian side, foreign ministers, defense ministers. Do we expect any meetings from – thanks.

MR. HAMMER: Well, in Russia, Andrei, as you’ve been following closely, we’ve put a premium on trying to reset the relationship. And we’ve had a number of good meetings, both at the Secretary-Ministerial level, and then of course with the President and President Medvedev in London. And we are, of course, planning to go to Moscow this summer.

And so in terms of monitoring, you can be assured that there are folks at the White House, at the State Department and elsewhere in the government that are working hard and having a lot of exchanges with our counterparts. We also have a very able embassy in Moscow that’s working on these very issues. Any time that you have a summit coming up, as you all well know, it focuses attention. And that’s part of the reason we wanted to do this early summit, because we think that’ll it’ll help advance a common agenda.

So that’s pretty much where we’re at. I don’t have any news for you on when those two-on-two meetings will happen next.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. You know, you treated Mike very well today, and I’m certain that means we’ll get him back here again soon.

MR. HAMMER: Well, it’s a pleasure.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. HAMMER: All right. Thank you.

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