Joint News Conference with United States President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: April 3, 2009
Location: Baden-Baden, Germany


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(Note: Chancellor Merkel's remarks appear via interpreter.)

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (In progress) -- in the south of Germany this time. And we're glad that on the occasion of the 16th anniversary of NATO, we have the opportunity that you, as president, here visit the Federal Republic of Germany. And we are very glad that on the occasion of this jubilee of NATO we have the opportunity to talk about the basics of our alliance.

In our bilateral talks, we concluded again that we have long term -- long years of friendly relations. And I do hope that we will be able to continue those in the years to come.

We had the entire range of tasks ahead of us. And we reviewed them. And after London, we reviewed this meeting again, which was very successful, where the world showed that it was willing to work together and that the United States of America also came to Europe with this will. We are very grateful for this, but we think it's also a common task to manage this because the trans-Atlantic relations are a very strong force in order to get over this financial crisis.

(Audio break.) The internal situation of Europe and Russia and the United States -- we will have the upcoming summit in Prague between the European Union and the United States. We will also, we think -- (inaudible) -- be able to lend a contribution to solving the problems of Afghanistan. This is a big -- a huge responsibility for all of us. We want to bear our burden of responsibility. We want to do something in order to train the Afghan national forces, but also the police in Afghanistan.

We want to shape relations with Iran in such a way that a nuclear rearmament of Iran is simply made not possible, but that at the same time we make it possible for the Iranian people to have a hopeful and prosperous future. We are very gratified to that -- that the United States wants to have a fresh beginning, a fresh start in this relationship.

We also talked about the Middle East, where the peace process will have to be pursued in the sense and in the direction of a two- state solution.

I think there is, indeed, a broad array of issues that we need to contend with. The Federal Republic of Germany stands ready to give its contribution towards solving them.

And we would like to bid you a very warm welcome. Indeed, I think you've seen that the press was actually -- was showing a great deal of welcome to you. And you saw the people along the way who were waiting for you for many hours with their little flags waving. And we're pleased to have you. Welcome. We hope to welcome you again soon.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you so much. It is -- it is wonderful to be here in Germany.

And I want to thank Chancellor Merkel for her leadership, her friendship, and to say to all the German people that we are grateful to have such an extraordinary ally. And I think I speak on behalf of the American people that we consider the relationship between the United States and Germany to be one of our most important relationships.

And I have been spending quite a bit of time lately with Chancellor Merkel and continue to be impressed with her wisdom and leadership and diligence in pursuing the interests of her people.

Over the last several days what we've been grappling with is an economic crisis that is unlike anything we've seen since the '30s. And just a stark reminder for those of us in the United States, our jobs report came up today and it showed that we had lost 663,000 jobs just this month, which has pushed our unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, the highest in 25 years, and we've lost 5.1 million jobs since this financial crisis and recession began.

So, obviously this is hitting the United States hard. But I think what we've discussed and the reason we acted swiftly and boldly in London was the fact that none of us can isolate ourselves from a global market. That the economies now are so interdependent, capital flows across borders occur in the blink of an eye, and as a consequence, if we do not have concerted action, then we will have collective failure.

I'm very proud of the work that was done in London. I think the fact that we have a regulatory framework that can prevent this crisis from happening again, the fact that we have taken collectively steps to not only encourage growth, but also to make sure that we're helping emerging markets and poor countries deal with the consequences of this financial crisis, none of those things alone guarantee immediate recovery, but they are necessary foundations for recovery.

And because we committed to meeting again in the fall, it -- it allows us to review what we've done. And if what we've done is not sufficient and we're continuing to see a deterioration in the situation, then we're going to go back at it, and keep on doing so until we get it right.

As Chancellor Merkel mentioned, the economy is just one of our challenges. And as we celebrate this important landmark for NATO, we are reminded that not only do we have immediate joint efforts in Afghanistan that have to be bolstered and have to become more effective, but we also have to have a strategic framework for how NATO moves forward.

This has been the most successful alliance in modern history, an alliance that was so effective that we never had to fight. And that kind of vision that was implemented, and that kind of imagination, has to be adapted to the 21st-century challenges that we face -- not just Afghanistan, but there are a whole host of other hot spots and challenges. And we've got to figure out what is NATO's role in that, what is the partnership between the United States and the European Union's role in that. Whether it's issues of climate change or poverty or -- or trying to bring about peace in regions that have known conflict for a very long time, in all of these areas, cooperation is going to be critical, and leadership from our two countries is going to be critical.

So I am very pleased to have these efforts, and I am confident that -- moving forward, that we are going to be able to make slow and steady progress to advance the cause of peace and prosperity.

With that, why don't we take some questions?

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Yes. Maybe we ought to start with the German side.

Mr. Beverungen (sp), please.

Q Michael Beverungen (sp) from the Second German Television chain. Mr. President, first of all, once again, a warm welcome to Germany. You've had a very enthusiastic reception here in the streets of Baden-Baden by the people. But there is also fear and anxiety in Germany about what the future might bring. Your administration is calling for a fundamental reform of NATO -- or perhaps, in your words, change. But what, Mr. President, is your personal grand design for the new NATO? Will it be the policeman of the world, the global one? Should Germany shoulder more responsibility, especially in Afghanistan?

One question for the chancellor: Madame Chancellor, where do you see the limits of NATO, and where do you see the limits of German engagement in the world?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I don't come bearing grand designs. I'm here to listen, to share ideas and to jointly, as one of many NATO allies, to help shape our vision for the future. If NATO becomes everything, then it's nothing. So obviously, we're going to have to define and clarify its roles, responsibilities, for the 21st century.

And, you know, I -- what we should expect is that we will set up a process in order to do that. I don't think Germany should feel anxious about that. I think that the United States and Germany and all the other NATO countries should see this as an opportunity to put together an architecture that is as successful at meeting our new challenges as the prior architecture was at meeting the challenges of the Cold War.

And, you know, obviously we already have one test case, and that is in Afghanistan. It is as complex of a problem as we're going to see, partly because it's not just a problem of Afghanistan but it's also a problem that exists in Pakistan. We've put forward a new comprehensive review of how we think we should approach this that recognizes that military alone cannot solve these problems, that we have to have a significant military force but that it has to be combined with a diplomatic effort and a development effort that can stabilize the region. And it has to be focused on the true problem, which is violent extremists that can project attacks not just against the United States but also against Europe and worldwide.

I think that the strategy we've put forward can and will be successful. But we've got to be disciplined, we've got to be coordinated and we've got to execute. And Germany -- I am -- thanked Chancellor Merkel for the extraordinary efforts that have already been made by the German people, both in terms of resources and troops. We do expect that all NATO partners are going to contribute to these efforts. They have, thus far.

They -- the progress in some cases has been uneven. But I think that's not just a problem of lack of resources; it's also a problem of a strategy that was allowed to drift. And so what we're going to do is refocus the strategy and then make sure that the resources are there to do it. And I'm confident that Germany, as one of the most important leaders in Europe, will be stepping up to the plate and working alongside us to get the job done.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Well, what is indeed gratifying to note is that the new approach of the new administration of the United States as regards Afghanistan is very much in step with what Germany is envisaging: this sort of networked security, as we call it, or an integrated security, where you have a civilian component of rebuilding, training, and, last but not least, obviously also the capacity of the Afghans to really defend themselves. That is, after all, what we're after with our mission to Afghanistan.

And now that brings me to NATO. Protecting NATO member states from -- (audio break from source).

(Interpreter off mike) -- (ourselves ?), in Afghanistan is -- (inaudible) -- (the current ?) period that is without a doubt also the factor that will decide the success.

And with the Balkans we have been more or less successful. If we look at the situation now and what it was years ago, then we obviously have made progress, but there again always in combination with the political process.

(Inaudible) -- I can't say what are limits of NATO. If there are any attacks on member states of the alliance, then everybody feels attacked, and (there will be ?) a right to protect our security, and we will do that in the future. (And so you ?) can't say we will not do this or that, but that is basically the commitment that we made.


Q Thank you, Mr. President. I'm going to read my question. I hope that's not too much of a breaching of protocol here. I have a question about surplus and deficit countries and trade imbalances. Mr. President, you said in London that the world may not be able to rely any longer on the U.S. as a, quote, "voracious consumer market." Did you talk with Chancellor Merkel about Germany's enormous trade surplus and its impact on the global economy going forward?

And Madame Chancellor, some say that Wall Street -- Wall Street's excess was fueled by easy money, supplied from surplus countries such as yourself, and another large bubble and burst is inevitable if Germany and China and others do not move closer to balance. What is your response to that?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay. Well, Jon, I do think that even as we are trying to solve the immediate crisis, we've got to learn some lessons from the previous years to figure out how do we avoid another crisis. And if you look at the U.S. economy, what we've seen is a series of bubbles and then busts, much of it having to do with huge flows of capital into speculative sectors of the economy.

Part of the problem that we saw was a lack of regulatory oversight, and so we're moving very aggressively on that front.

And in the short term, my biggest concern is, how do I just make sure that people get back to work.

So our stimulus package, our efforts to stabilize the housing market, our efforts to remove the toxic assets from the banks so that banks start lending more effectively and businesses can open and people can get hired again, all that is focused on my top priority right now, which is making sure that we're no longer hemorrhaging jobs and we start creating jobs.

As we emerge from the crisis, though, we're going to have to take a look at how do we ensure a term that Chancellor Merkel spoke quite a bit about at the summit, and that is sustainable economic growth. And in order for growth to be sustainable, it can't be based on speculation. It can't be based on overheated financial markets or overheated housing markets or U.S. consumers maxing out on their credit cards or us sustaining nonstop deficit spending as far as the eye can see.

So once we've stabilized the economy, we're going to have to start bringing --- these huge deficits that our government is running, we're going to have to start bringing those down. Families are going to have to start making more prudent decisions about spending and increasing their savings rate. You know, businesses are going to be making investments, and we want to spur as much investment as possible. But -- but the whole point is to move from a borrow-and- spend economy to a save-and-invest economy.

Now, the U.S. will remain the largest consumer market. And we are going to make sure that it's open. One of the principles that we very clearly affirmed in London was that protectionism is not the answer. It's not the Germans' fault that they make good products that the United States wants to buy. And we want to make sure that we're making good products that Germans want to buy.

But if you look overall, there is probably going to need to be a rebalancing of who's spending, who's saving, what are the overall trade patterns. And it -- by the way, it doesn't just include developed economies like Germany and the United States. It also means we want to encourage emerging markets to consume more. You know, if you start seeing China and India improve the living standards of its people, now those are huge markets where we can sell. And that's why the last two days that I've spent talking about the international economy relates directly to the jobs that are being lost in the United States.

I know this was a long answer, but it was a -- it was a big question.

The bottom line is that as long as the United States and Germany are keeping our open trading relationship; as long as our approach to currency is one that ensures fairness, which, generally speaking, the relationship between the United States and European central banks is -- has been very cooperative and very solid; as long as we have proper rules of the road and regulatory frameworks in place; then the key is to have friendly economic competition -- the United States making the best products, making the best decisions, making the best investments and Germany doing the same. And then all of us can do well together.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Yes. We love competition and the best products. And we are not in a bad position at all. And in that sense, this is the driving force of market -- of the market economy, to bring good ideas on the market.

The question is -- we have to fight the crisis, first of all. Beyond any doubt, that's the priority. And we did something very important in London, because we helped those who can't fight the crisis out of their own strength, like we can. We can act with a financial stimulus, and that shows the strength of our countries. But we obviously have to keep the future in our sight as well and make sure that this crisis does not repeat itself.

And I'm absolutely serious about this, because I think that is a major disruption, because we don't say for nothing that there hasn't been a crisis like this since the '30s of the last century. And it's also a disruption in the sense that people say, does economy decide politics or can politics actually do something positive for the people through the economy? And that question, in my opinion, has to be won again or gained again by politics. And that is something that we can't do nationally anymore. We have to do it together.

And a country like Germany, that will age amazingly in the next decade, such a country will obviously to ask how many debts will we accept and how can we make sure that -- (interpreter off mike) -- has no strength anymore to be -- (interpreter off mike) -- absolutely imperative for us that we don't -- (interpreter off mike) -- that we everything now to get out of this crisis as quickly as possible. And that's why we have the parallel tracks in London and Germany -- (interpreter off mike) -- not only with us and the United States of America get back on their feet, but the emerging countries as well, Africa as well as -- (interpreter off mike).

(Interpreter off mike) -- we are very grateful for having the attitude of nonprotectionism. That is something that employs us, which is the only thing that will help us to get out of crisis. And -- but this was done in the '30s, was one of the big mistakes and we don't want to repeat that one.

(Name inaudible.)

Q (Reporter name and affiliation inaudible.) One question for the chancellor, one for the president. Chancellor Merkel -- (interpreter off mike) -- will you not be damaged already? If he is going to get into that position, how do you see this -- (interpreter off mike)?

Mr. President, one of the points of your strategy in Afghanistan now is -- and you put a lot of emphasis on this all the time -- is to focus more on Pakistan. What does this mean in concrete terms for the Europeans and NATO?

Do you see that there might be a military role for NATO in that? Or do you want -- what do you want the Europeans to do in Pakistan?

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Yeah. It's been -- (interpreter off mike). And that is why we -- (interpreter off mike) -- rather soon as well.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Laughter.) I think that was an indication that my answers have been too long. (Laughter.)


PRESIDENT OBAMA: The -- so I'll make this one quick.

No, my focus on Pakistan does not envision NATO troops' activities in Pakistan. It does mean that U.S. and NATO partners have to work more effectively with Pakistan to enable them to root out the safe havens for extremists that pose not just a danger to us but now pose an extraordinary danger to Pakistan.

That is going to be a very complex task. It's going to have a lot of facets to it. The more diplomatic resources that we bring to that, the more countries can assist Pakistan in its development efforts, the more effectively we can provide training for a different type of conflict than the one that Pakistan has traditionally prepared for, those are all areas where I think NATO can work together very effectively.

And we need to -- we can't ultimately, I believe, be effective in Afghanistan if we have not addressed the problems across the border.

Okay. Last question. Hans Nichols.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier, a couple of hours ago on the French side, you said that with France you never had to drag them kicking and screaming in Afghanistan. I'm just curious if you have a similar problem with Germany under Chancellor Merkel, but you're sensing that Germany is more willing and more likely to contribute, or just as likely as France?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, Germany has been a stalwart NATO ally from the start of this conflict, and has contributed troops, has contributed resources, and will continue to contribute troops and resources.

You know, you just heard Chancellor Merkel emphasize that at its core what has made NATO so effective is the Article 5 principle that if one ally is attacked, then all allies come together to deal with the problem. That's been the unchanging element of NATO -- and by the way, an element that I don't envision changing as a consequence of the strategic review that may take place. That's it's -- that's the essence of a successful alliance.

And so what I've said to Chancellor Merkel is the same thing I said to President Sarkozy, and the same thing I'll say to all the NATO heads of state this evening. And that is that we have lost our focus in Afghanistan; now we have refocused. We have a strategy that, I think there's a broad consensus, brings all elements of our power to bear and will allow us to succeed.

We will now all have to make additional efforts, and sustained efforts, in order to succeed, with the understanding that our ultimate goal is not to occupy Afghanistan and not to run Afghanistan, but rather to provide the Afghan government the capacity to provide for its own security and ensure that it is not once again a safe haven for terrorists.

It will not be an easy task. And one of the changes in our approach is that we are going to insist on a consistent review of the progress that we're making. And if we discover that the approach that we're taking is not effective and is not working, then we will change it.

And the one thing that I would say to the German people is the same thing that I have said to the American people, which is I understand that after a long campaign in Afghanistan, people can feel weary of war, even a war that is just. Nothing is harder than sending young men and women into harm's way. And nothing is more sobering as a leader than signing a letter of condolence to a family of somebody who has died in war.

And so I understand why both Americans and Germans would be feeling a sense, particularly in the midst of economic crisis, of -- of why are we still there? But I believe strongly, and I think that our NATO allies believe strongly, that we cannot allow a territory in which people who would kill our citizens with impunity can allow -- can be permitted to operate.

So we've got a difficult job to do, but I am absolutely convinced that we can carry it out. And Germany is going to be a strong partner with the United States and other NATO allies in getting the job done.

All right? Thank you, everybody.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Danke schoen. My German is not as good as Chancellor Merkel's. (Laughter.)

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (In English.) What a surprise, Mr. President! My English also not --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, your English --

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (In English.) -- as yours. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.