PRESIDENT OBAMA: It is a great pleasure to welcome my friend, former Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, back to the Oval Office. The last time he was here he came as a Prime Minister. He’s now the Secretary General of NATO. And we’ve had an excellent discussion.
Before I mention some of the topics that we discussed on NATO, let me just say a couple of things. First of all, I had a chance this morning to talk to Governor Abbott of Texas to express condolences for the terrible flooding that’s been taking place there. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the communities that have been affected by some of these devastating, record-breaking floods.
I assured Governor Abbott that he could count on the help of the federal government. We have FEMA personnel already on the ground. They are coordinating with Texas Emergency Management authorities, and I will anticipate that there will be some significant requests made to Washington. My pledge to him is that we will expedite those requests to make sure that both search-and-rescue operations where necessary, but also recovery operations occur as efficiently and as quickly as possible.
The second thing I want to just mention very quickly — last week, Congress obviously was busy. It left town without finishing necessary work on FISA and some of the reforms that are necessary to the Patriot Act.
I said over a year ago that it was important for us to properly balance our needs for security with civil liberties. And this administration engaged on a bipartisan, bicameral basis, talking to Republicans and Democrats about how we could preserve necessary authorities but provide the public greater assurance that those authorities were not being abused.
The House of Representatives did its work and came up with what they’ve called the USA Freedom Act, which strikes an appropriate balance. Our intelligence communities are confident that they can work with the authorities that are provided in that act. It passed on a bipartisan basis and overwhelmingly. It was then sent to the Senate. The Senate did not act. And the problem we have now is that those authorities run out at midnight on Sunday.
So I strongly urge the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done. Keep in mind that the most controversial provision in there, which had to do with the gathering of telephone exchanges in a single government database — that has been reformed in the USA Freedom Act. But you have a whole range of authorities that are also embodied in the Patriot Act that are non-controversial, that everybody agrees are necessary to keep us safe and secure. Those also are at risk of lapsing.
So this needs to get done. And I would urge folks to just work through whatever issues can still exist, make sure we don’t have, on midnight Sunday night, this task still undone, because it’s necessary to keep the American people safe and secure.
Now, with respect to NATO, obviously this is a challenging and important time for NATO, and we are very lucky to have General Secretary Stoltenberg at the helm during this time. We had a chance to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the increasingly aggressive posture that Russia has taken, and we affirmed that NATO is the cornerstone not just of transatlantic security but, in many ways, is the cornerstone for global security.
In Wales, we were able to not only affirm the intentions of the Alliance to uphold its Article 5 obligations, but we also put in place a whole host of measures to reassure frontline states and to put in place what we call the Readiness Action plan. That is currently being implemented, and I was pleased to hear that not only the United States but our other NATO allies have been doing what’s necessary to make sure that we have positioned the resources and assets necessary to protect all NATO members.
We also reaffirmed the importance of implementing the Minsk Agreement and ensuring that Ukraine is able to enjoy the same territorial integrity and sovereignty as any other country. And we’ll continue to support Ukraine through the NATO-Ukraine partnership that pre-dates the crisis that occurred both in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine.
We also had an opportunity to discuss the fact that NATO is involved not just in the fault line of East and West that has traditionally been NATO’s concern; NATO is necessarily recognizing a whole range of global challenges, particularly on what we call the Southern Front. And we are working closely with NATO allies to make sure that we are partnering with other countries to address issues of counterterrorism; making sure that we continue to coordinate effectively in the fight against ISIL — because all 28 NATO members are members of the coalition to support the Iraqi government against the ISIL fight; to address the challenges that exist in Libya — right across from the Mediterranean, and obviously there’s great concern among a number of NATO members about the spillover effects of a chaotic situation there.
That means increased defense capacity-building with other countries like Iraq or GCC countries that are interested in working with us, as well as the African Union. It also means that we have to think about whether we are deploying and arranging our assets effectively to meet that goal.
And finally, we had a chance to discuss not only how NATO is positioned but also making sure that we finish the job with respect to Afghanistan. And when we meet in Warsaw later this year, we’ll have an opportunity to assess how we will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces, now that we have transitioned out of our combat mission, to make sure that they can do the job, that they can secure and protect their own country. That will require resources, training, and assistance from not only the United States but also from all NATO countries. And I’m very gratified that the General Secretary I think has made this an important focus of the work that’s to be done.
So we have a busy agenda. There are many challenges. The one thing that we know is that NATO is going to be a central component of us being able to meet those challenges. And as the strongest alliance in the history of the world, we need to make sure that each member country is properly resourcing and committing to the NATO missions that have been set forth. That’s the only way that we’re going to maintain the kind of collective self-defense that has been the hallmark of peace and prosperity for many, many decades now.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Thank you. It’s great to be back in the White House and to meet with the President of the United States, Barack Obama. And, Barack, it’s great to meet you again, also because I feel that we have very much developed a common understanding that the Alliance is facing a new security environment.
And I would like to start to thank you for everything that you personally have done to show leadership in a time where we really need U.S. leadership, and also the initiative you took — the European Reassurance Initiative — which you launched a year ago and which has been of great importance when it comes to U.S. presence in Europe. And the U.S. military presence in Europe is the key to provide reassurance to all allies.
And I have traveled around the Alliance, and all the places I have gone I have met U.S. servicemen and women. And the message they send is the same — that America stands with Europe, Europe and America stand together, and NATO will defend and protect all allies against enemy threat.
This is even more important because we are facing new threats, new challenges, coming both from the east and from the south. And as you stated, or as you said, we are adapting, we are responding, we are increasing the readiness and the preparedness of our forces. European allies are taking the lead in establishing a speed of force — in this joint task force. And in addition, we have the great commitment and the contributions from the United States.
And altogether, this is the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. And we are also setting up command-and-control units in all the eastern ally countries, underlining that NATO is present, NATO is there to protect and defend all allies.
We discussed Crimea, Ukraine, and the importance of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. That’s the path to peace, and I urge all parties to fully implement the Minsk Agreements, and Russia to stop supporting the separatists and to rid all its forces from eastern Ukraine.
When it comes to the south, I welcome that all NATO allies are contributing to the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL. NATO, in addition, supports countries in the region to increase their ability to defend themselves, to create stability. And the aim is to be able to project stability without always deploying large number of forces.
Defense capacity-building is, therefore, key to NATO. We have increased our support for Jordan. We are in the process of developing defense capacity-building for Iraq. And we stand ready to do so also in Libya when the situation on the ground allows.
And of course, we will continue to support Afghanistan also after the end of our current mission, to continue to support Afghans to be able to take care of their own security also in the future.
All of this will require resources, both for collective defense, for cooperative security, for defense capacity-building. And therefore, they are high on my agenda. The main topic I raise in all capitals always is the importance of delivering on the defense investment pledge we made to stop the cuts in defense budgets and to start, gradually to increase and to aim at 2 percent.
The U.S. is already well above that, so this is something which is about all the allies. And I spend a lot of time urging them to increase their defense budgets because we need more resources to be able to deliver what we already promised both when it comes to collective defense and when it comes to cooperative security.
We will meet again at — all allies will meet again at the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, 2016. I’m looking forward to that because that will be a basis for taking stock of the progress we have made, but also to chart the course forward. And the key issue is always the unity, the cohesion of the Alliance. I am very grateful for your strong personal commitment to the Alliance, to transatlantic security. And I’m looking forward to continuing to work together with you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.