Read all posts from April 2009

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    On February 27th, President Obama announced his plan to bring the War in Iraq to a responsible end.  Today he addressed the troops in Iraq in a surprise visit before coming home from Europe. Find the full transcript below:
    THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you, guys.  Let me say Multinational Force Iraq, Multinational Corps Iraq, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq First Corps, America's Corp Band:  Thanks to all of you.
    Listen, I am so honored.
    AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you.
    THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)  I am honored -- I'm honored and grateful to be with all of you.  And I'm not going to talk long because I want to shake as many hands as I can.  (Applause.)  And I've been talking all week.  (Laughter.)
    But there's a couple of things I want to say.  Number one, thank you.
    AUDIENCE MEMBER:  You're welcome.
    THE PRESIDENT:  You know, when I was at Camp Lejeune I spoke about what it means for America to see our best and brightest, our finest young men and women serve us.  And what I said then is something that I want to repeat to you, which is:  You have performed brilliantly in every mission that has been given to you.
    AUDIENCE:  Ooh-ah.
    THE PRESIDENT:  Under enormous strain and under enormous sacrifice, through controversy and difficulty and politics, you've kept your eyes focused on just doing your job.  And because of that, every mission that's been assigned -- from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections -- you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country.  That is an extraordinary achievement, and for that you have the thanks of the American people.  (Applause.)  That's point number one.
    Point number two is, this is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months.  I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it's something that all of you know.  It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis.  (Applause.)  They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.  (Applause.)
    And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations.  They're going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means.  They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens.
    All those things they have to do.  We can't do it for them.  But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success, that in terms of training their security forces, training their civilian forces in order to achieve a more effective government, they know that they have a steady partner with us.
    And so just as we thank you for what you've already accomplished, I want to say thank you because you will be critical in terms of us being able to make sure that Iraq is stable, that it is not a safe haven for terrorists, that it is a good neighbor and a good ally, and we can start bringing our folks home.  (Applause.)
    So now is not the time to lose focus.  We have to be even more focused than we've been in order to achieve success.
    The last point I want to make is I know how hard it's been on a lot of you.  You've been away from your families, many of you for multiple rotations.  You've seen buddies of yours injured and you remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
    AUDIENCE:  Ooh-ah.
    THE PRESIDENT:  There are probably some people here who have seen children born and have been missing watching them grow up.  There are many of you who have listened to your spouse and the extraordinary sacrifices that they have to make when you're gone.
    And so I want you to know that Michelle and myself are doing everything -- (applause) -- are doing everything we can to provide additional support for military families.  The federal budget that I have introduced increases support for military families.  We are going to do everything required to make sure that the commitment we make to our veterans is met, and that people don't have to fight for what they have earned as a consequence of their service.
    The main point I want to make is we have not forgotten what you have already done, we are grateful for what you will do, and as long as I am in the White House, you are going to get the support that you need and the thanks that you deserve from a grateful nation.  (Applause.)
    So thank you very much everybody.  (Applause.)  God bless you.  (Applause.)  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)
     

  • President Barack Obama meets Tuesday, April 7, 2009, with Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during their meeting in Istanbul. [View full size]
    President Barack Obama meets Tuesday, April 7, 2009, with Greek Orthodox Ecumenical
    Patriarch Bartholomew during their meeting in Istanbul The White House / Pete Souza)

  • Today the White House teams up with Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch a $45 million campaign to raise awareness on AIDS, an issue the President has spoken passionately about for years. This marks the first federally funded national domestic HIV/AIDS campaign in almost twenty years. Jeffrey S. Crowley, Director of Office of National AIDS Policy, will join Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, leading civil rights and HIV/AIDS groups, and officials from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation to announce the first phase of the campaign. Rebecca Adelman of HHS live-blogs the event below.
    Watch the event streamed live at AIDS.gov. [UPDATE: The event has now concluded.]

    Ed. Note: Visit the new website, CDC.gov/NineandaHalfMinutes, to learn more about the realities of the epidemic, how to prevent it, how to live with it, and what you can do to help.

    2:06: Jeff Crowley is wrapping up the event by thanking the speakers, the 14 partner organizations, and particularly the Kaiser Family Foundation which is also joining with the CDC to build the national media campaign.


    1:51: Jesse Milan says today he is celebrating the renewed committment by the federal government to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As someone who has lived with HIV for more than 25 years, he tells the assembled group he still feels regret about what he did not know when he was infected. Milan says that today he celebrates the lives that will be saved by this educational campaign.

    1:41: Dorothy Height, Chair and President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women, thanks the President, Mrs. Obama, and the 14 national African-American organizations who are going to deliver this important message. This effort will "take all of us," she says.  She stresses that we need to talk about the threat of HIV/AIDS as we talk about jobs, housing and civil rights. Height concludes by saying that we are all ready to bring the full strength of the movement to this campaign.

    1:30: Dr. Kevin Fenton with the CDC is now presenting the campaign materials to the group, which include video, audio, print and online messages in English and Spanish. He notes that the first phase of this campaign will encourage HIV testing within the African-American population. The next phase will target gay and bisexual men and women, and future phases will focus specifically on the Latino community and other high risk groups.

    1:13: Melody Barnes welcomes the group of over 100 advocates and partner organizations. She says that President Obama has often discussed that we don't talk about the threat of HIV/AIDS enough in our schools and communities. This new campaign will incorporate community groups - national African-American groups in particular - to educate populations most at risk. She is particularly highlighting the involvement and support of the faith community in this new campaign. 
     
    1:05: It's a full house at the Executive Office building as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is about to announce the first domestic HIV/AIDS awareness campaign in over a decade. Jeff Crowley opens the forum with a somber statistic: that every nine and a half minutes someone is infected with HIV in the United States. He says the "Act Against AIDS" campaign being announced today will direct Americans "to get the facts" about this serious epidemic within our own country that has been below the radar in recent years.  Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes is up to speak next.

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    download .mp4 (454.6 MB) | also available here | read the transcript

    It was a leisurely 12:20 PM, just after noon in Turkey, but it was 5:20 AM or earlier back in the United States, so many here may have missed a very interesting discussion with 100 university students in Istanbul (read the full transcript). The President laid out why he wanted to do the roundtable in his opening remarks:
    I enjoyed visiting your parliament. I've had productive discussions with your President and your Prime Minister. But I also always like to take some time to talk to people directly, especially young people. So in the next few minutes I want to focus on three areas in which I think we can make some progress: advancing dialogue between our two countries, but also advancing dialogue between the United States and the Muslim world; extending opportunity in education and in social welfare; and then also reaching out to young people as our best hope for peaceful, prosperous futures in both Turkey and in the United States.
    On the first point, he talked about listening, he talked about breaking down stereotypes on both sides, and he talked about accepting that neither side is perfect while standing up against unreasonable prejudice, whether that’s religious bigotry or virulent anti-Americanism. On the second point, he said, "Here there's great potential for the United States to work with Muslims around the world on behalf of a more prosperous future. And I want to pursue a new partnership on behalf of basic priorities: What can we do to help more children get a good education? What can we do to expand health care to regions that are on the margins of global society? What steps can we take in terms of trade and investment to create new jobs and industries and ultimately advance prosperity for all of us?" 
    The question-and-answer period spanned several issues, from climate change, to the Kurds in Iraq, to Turkey’s potential membership in the EU -- but one question related directly to the President’s third point from his opening remarks:
    Q What actions will you take after you wrote your quote, peace at home and peace at the world, to -- (inaudible) -- and what do you think, as Turkish young men and women, how can we help you at this purpose you have?
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, some people say that maybe I'm being too idealistic. I made a speech in Prague about reducing and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, and some people said, ah, that will never happen. And some people have said, why are you discussing the Middle East when it's not going to be possible for the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together? Or, why are you reaching out to the Iranians, because the U.S. and Iran can never agree on anything?
    My attitude is, is that all these things are hard. I mean, I'm not naïve. If it was easy, it would have already been done. Somebody else would have done it. But if we don't try, if we don't reach high, then we won't make any progress. And I think that there's a lot of progress that can be made.
    And as I said in my opening remarks, I think the most important thing to start with is dialogue. When you have a chance to meet people from other cultures and other countries, and you listen to them and you find out that, even though you may speak a different language or you may have a different religious faith, it turns out that you care about your family, you have your same hopes about being able to have a career that is useful to the society, you hope that you can raise a family of your own, and that your children will be healthy and have a good education -- that all those things that human beings all around the world share are more important than the things that are different.
    And so that is a very important place to start. And that's where young people can be very helpful, because I think old people, we get into habits and we become suspicious and we carry grudges. Right? You know, it was interesting when I met with President Medvedev of Russia and we actually had a very good dialogue, and we were -- we spoke about the fact that although both of us were born during the Cold War, we came of age after the Cold War had already begun to decline, which means we have a slightly different attitude than somebody who was seeing Russia only as the Soviet Union -- only as an enemy or who saw America only as an enemy.
    So young people, they can get rid of some of the old baggage and the old suspicions, and I think that's very important. But understanding alone is not enough. Then you -- we actually have to do the work.
    And for the United States, I think that means that we have to make sure that our actions are responsible, so on international issues like climate change we have to take leadership. If we're producing a lot of pollution that's causing global warming, then we have to step forward and say, here's what we're willing to do, and then ask countries like China to join us.
     
    If we want to say to Iran, don't develop nuclear weapons because if you develop them then everybody in the region is going to want them and you'll have a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and that will be dangerous for everybody -- if we want to say that to Iranians, it helps if we are also saying, "and we will reduce our own," so that we have more moral authority in those claims.
    If we want to communicate to countries that we sincerely care about the well-being of their people, then we have to make sure that our aid programs and our assistance programs are meaningful.
    So words are good and understanding is good, but ultimately it has to translate into concrete actions. And it takes time. I was just talking to my press team and they were amused because some of my reporter friends from the States were asking, how come you didn't solve everything on this trip? They said, well, you know, it's only been a week. These things take time and the idea is that you lay the groundwork and slowly, over time, if you make small efforts, they can add up into big efforts. And that's, I think, the approach that we want to take in promoting more peace and prosperity around the world.
    President Obama at a student roundtable in Turkey(President Barack Obama addresses his remarks at a town hall meeting Tuesday, April 7, 2009, at the Tophane Cultural Center in Istanbul. White House Photo/Chuck Kennedy)

  • Watch the live-stream at WhiteHouse.gov/live at 12:20 PM Eastern European Summer Time in Turkey, 5:20 AM Eastern Time in the United States.

    Tomorrow the President will engage in a unique discussion in Turkey. A hundred university students will be there from both Turkey and from exchange programs, representing one of the most diverse cultural audiences one could find in any one place in the world, and representing a wide range of attitudes and experiences with the United States. The President’s visit to Turkey also fulfills his pledge to visit a majority-Muslim country early in his term, and the forum represents an attempt to make the most of it in terms of direct communication.
    We at the White House have been excited about this, and have tried to do our part to spread the word about it, especially abroad. The event will be streamed live here at WhiteHouse.gov at 12:20 PM in the local Eastern European Summer Time and 5:20 AM back here on the East Coast – don’t worry, we will get the transcript and video up afterwards for those not awake quite that early.   But for those who are, we are also trying out a new feature of providing an embed code that you can find on our main live-stream page, so any blog, newspaper site or website in the world can cut and paste the code to feature the webcast on their own site, giving everybody a sort of public domain live feed inside the event. In particular, we have also reached out to social networks popular in the region, including Yonja.com, to ensure the word of the event gets out as far and wide as possible. 
    As the President told the General Assembly this morning, "Turkey and the United States must stand together -- and work together -- to overcome the challenges of our time." This discussion should be a first step towards that goal.

  • Director of Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes speaks(Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, speaks during the White House Regional Forum on Health Reform in Los Angeles, April 6, 2009.  Photo Credit Peter Grigsby)
    Rebecca Adelman of the Department of Health and Human Services returns to live-blog the final Regional Forum on Health Reform, watch the live stream at HealthReform.gov.

    3:53: Dr. Oz closes the forum by urging all of the participants in today’s forum, including those who are watching online and participating via satellite in cities across California, to go to www.healthreform.gov to continue to be part of the conversation about health care reform.
    3:46: Governor Gregoire closes by saying "we cannot fail again." She explains that the health reform we enact must be comprehensive, it must be universal, and it must provide affordable care. Governor Gregoire then finishes to loud applause when she says that "this country deserves a health care system that works for its people."
    3:43: Melody Barnes is making her closing remarks in Los Angeles. She says that today at the forum we heard all the reasons why we need to reform our health care system this year, and she urges the group to go back to their communities and insist to their friends, colleagues and family that health care reform happen immediately. She stresses that we may only have the next 100 days to accomplish this task, but that we can do it.
    3:39: Dr. Oz concludes by asking the Governors how Americans can help in the health reform effort. Governor Schwarzenegger responds by thanking the participants for participating in the forum, and urging everyone to stay involved. He says we cannot move forward in reforming the health care system without the voices of concerned Americans.

    3:30: Marian Wright Edelman is passionately addressing the forum. She says that we can do better when it comes to providing health insurance for children and eliminating health disparities. She said now is the time to end "the lottery of geography," and concludes by saying "God did not create two classes of children."

    3:25: Dr. Oz calls on the forum taking place in Oakland California, led by Mayor Ron Dellums. The Mayor introduces Don Miller, a practicing nurse in Seattle, Washington. Mr. Miller observes that emergency rooms are becoming more and more crowded, and are becoming more and more expensive. 

    3:15: Melody Barnes asks the forum how President Obama can reach out to everyday Americans to get their input on health reform, and she also asked members of the audience how they want to be involved in the effort. A participant named Louise answered her question directly by stressing the potential to match existing resources for future prevention and wellness programs, particularly those in schools.

    3:05: The group in Los Angeles is now hearing from Supervisor Oliveira via satellite in Clovis, California. Oliveira thanks Governor Schwarzenegger for his leadership, and says he challenges all of us to band together to tackle the most important public policy issue facing us, health care reform.

    2:59: Melody Barnes says that President Obama wants everyone around the table, and everything on the table as we discuss how best to reform the health system.

    2:55: Governor Gregoire thanks the President for signing the Children’s Health Insurance Program in February. She says it was her goal to insure every child by 2010, and while she wasn’t sure that would be possible before, Washington state will achieve that now thanks to the CHIP bill.

    2:52: Governor Schwarzenegger thanks the participants who have shared their stories, including one who shared a story about having her health policy cancelled by her insurance company. He said it is unacceptable that many in the audience and around the country have to "live in fear, even when they have a policy." He said this is something that is being raised as we talk about the need for universal health care. 

    2:46: Reynaldo Hernandez addresses the forum from a satellite location in San Diego. He says the cost of purchasing health insurance "just broke us financially." Hernandez said that in the United States, he knew he had a right to an education, and if he got in trouble with the law he had the right to an attorney – so why, if he gets sick, does he not have the right to have health insurance?

    2:42: A forum participant named Carole Moss just spoke emotionally about her son, who died from a preventable staph infection he got while receiving treatment in an Orange County hospital. She thanked President Obama for his dedication to health reform and transparency. She said she wished she had known that her son was at risk for such an infection.

    2:37: Governor Schwarzenegger takes a minute to talk about the importance of prevention as a way to bring down health care costs. He says Americans need to eat fewer calories and emphasizes wellness as a complement any health reform effort.

    2:30: Governor Schwarzenegger introduces Dr. Mehmet Oz, who is helping moderate the forum today. Dr. Oz reads a question submitted on www.healthreform.gov about the stress of health care costs on businesses and families, and then leads a discussion about the skyrocketing cost of health care. One forum participant points out that a leading reason Americans file for bankruptcy is illness. President of the California Medical Association, Dr. Dev GnanaDev, suggests that any health reform plan should provide universal coverage and universal access.

    2:14: Dr. Alice Chen, a doctor specializing in internal medicine and hospital medicine at UCLA, is now addressing the forum. She hosted one of the over 350 community discussions that took place in Calfornia and Washington State over the holidays this past year.  She tells a story about a man she met who lost his insurance because he couldn’t afford it, and who later died because he had difficulty getting in to see a doctor. By the time she met him in the hospital, he was too sick to walk. Dr. Chen tells the group that "it's time for us to make things right, no matter what it takes.  And what makes me hopeful is that every one of us has a voice, and we are using our voices and speaking up in unprecedented numbers."

    2:10: Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes thanks the Governors for their leadership, and says she can "feel the momentum" that we have for health reform this year. She says that leaders in Washington, D.C. and in the states are talking about health reform, but so are thousands of everyday Americans who know we need health reform now. One of the 30,000 people throughout the country who held community discussions over the holidays, Dr. Alice Chen, is up to speak next.

    2:00: Governor Chris Gregoire is greeting the participants in the forum, and those watching in California, in Washington state and on Healthreform.gov. Governor Gregoire says that we desperately need national health reform – and that states cannot do it alone. She says she couldn’t be more delighted to work with Governor Schwarzenegger and other leaders around the country, President Obama especially, on this urgent issue.  She stresses that she agreed with President Obama that we cannot wait to reform our health system – that health reform is not only a moral imperative, but an economic imperative.

    1:52: Governor Schwarzenegger thanks Dr. Ross for hosting the forum today, and then goes on to thank President Obama for putting the spotlight on the important issue of health reform. Schwarzenegger says when Americans say they are going to do something, they do it – but health reform is one glaring exception. He says it speaks to the complexity of the issue and the difficulty of bringing together stakeholders. He then turns the microphone over to Governor Chris Gregoire.

    1:46: Dr. Bob Ross, President of the California Endowment which is hosting the forum today in Los Angeles, introduces Governor Schwarzenegger and thanks him for making California a healthier place. Dr. Ross also introduces, via satellite, the other gatherings in cities throughout the state of California (Oakland, San Diego, and Clovis) that are participating in the discussion.

    1:38: The fifth and final Regional Forum on Health Reform is getting started in Los Angeles, California. Today’s forum will be hosted by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, and Melody Barnes, who is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The event will feature several special guests including Marian Wright Edelman, Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Mehmet Oz.

     

  • At 10:30 AM in California, 1:30 PM back here in Washington, the final White House Regional Forum on Health Reform will be hosted by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Washington Governor Chris Gregoire – watch it streamed live at HealthReform.gov, or read the live-blog here at WhiteHouse.gov.
    While all of these forums together constitute only one significant step in a long process, it is hard not to look back and marvel at what an inspiring, eye-opening and sometimes heart-breaking journey it has been around the country. Starting at the White House Forum on Health Reform, which Nancy-Ann DeParle of the White House Office of Health Reform discussed later when the official report on that forum was released, there has been a different feel to this from prior efforts:
    After an hour and a half of discussion, we went back to the East Room to report the results of our breakout session to the President.  I held my breath when the President called on several members of the audience who had opposed health reform in the past, including Karen Ignagni of America’s Health Insurance Plans ("AHIP").  AHIP’s predecessor ran the "Harry and Louise" advertising campaign in the early 1990s, which is largely credited with rallying support against health care reform.  I knew things were different this time around when Karen said, "We want to work with you, we want to work with the members of Congress on a bipartisan basis here…We hear the American people about what’s not working…You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year."
    Every regional forum in every location has held its own unique lessons. In Michigan, we heard from the wife of a GM worker whose experience showed how health care concerns can compound the anxiety of employment uncertainty to unbearable proportions. In Vermont the idea of health care as part of the social safety net was a top concern. In Iowa we heard about the needs and preferences regarding long-term care in rural communities. And in North Carolina it was a snap shot of a state hurting about as bad as anybody during this economic crisis and facing even longer term challenges of an eroding manufacturing base.
    The forum in California will surely be just as interesting, and will shine a light on just as many unique issues. Don’t miss your chance to watch one live.

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    download .mp4 (234 MB) | also available here | read the transcript


    Today the President continued a remarkable tour of Europe in which many of the great issues of our time have been taken on face to face, without hesitation or equivocation. It has been a tour that addressed a global response to the financial crisis at the G-20 Summit in London; a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in Germany with NATO; the turmoil of the past years in US-European relations in France; and earnestly turning our vision toward a world without nuclear weapons in Prague
    Today the President visited Turkey, a country that lies at the nexus of several cultures, and accordingly the President had several core messages. He emphasized his support for Turkey’s bid for membership in the European Union. In response to questions about whether there was a message being sent through the visit, he stated emphatically that there was indeed, namely that Turkey is a critical ally, vital in issues ranging from energy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And addressing another element of Turkey’s culture, he spoke to the majority-Muslim population in a speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly
    I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam. (Applause.) In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.
    I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world -- including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country -- I know, because I am one of them. (Applause.)
    Above all, above all we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future. I want to help more children get the education that they need to succeed. We want to promote health care in places where people are vulnerable. We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people. In the months ahead, I will present specific programs to advance these goals. Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people.
    There's an old Turkish proverb: "You cannot put out fire with flames." America knows this. Turkey knows this. There's some who must be met by force, they will not compromise. But force alone cannot solve our problems, and it is no alternative to extremism. The future must belong to those who create, not those who destroy. That is the future we must work for, and we must work for it together.
    The President in Turkey(President Obama meets with, left to right, Armenian Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian, Swiss Foreign Minister (and mediator) Micheline Calmy-Rey, Turkish undersecretary of the foreign ministry Ertugul Apakan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan at a reception in Istanbul, Turkey on April 6, 2009. The President met with the foreign ministers to commend them on recent progress in Armenia-Turkey normalization and urged them to complete an agreement between those two important countries. White House photo by Pete Souza)

  • In a press conference after the NATO meeting today, the President began by congratulating Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for his unanimous selection as NATO’s next Secretary General, while also recognizing Turkey for seeing past initial objections in the spirit of consensus. He thanked President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany for hosting him, and noted the significance of NATO’s two newest formal members, Albania and Croatia. But as everybody new, Afghanistan was the top concern of the meeting, and the President spoke at length about his new plan for Afghanistan announced a week ago and the agreements reached in the meeting:
    We start from a simple premise: For years, our efforts in Afghanistan have lacked the resources needed to achieve our goals. And that's why the United States has recommitted itself to a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.
    This effort cannot be America's alone. All of NATO understands that al Qaeda is a threat to all of us, and that this collective security effort must achieve its goals. And as a signal of that commitment, I am pleased that our NATO allies pledged their strong and unanimous support for our new strategy. Keep in mind it was only just a week ago that we announced this new approach. But already with Secretary Clinton's work at The Hague and with the success at today's summit we've started to match real resources to achieve our goals.
    We're leaving Strasbourg and Kehl with concrete commitments on NATO support. Our allies and partners have already agreed to provide approximately 5,000 troops and trainers to advance our new strategy, as well as increased civilian assistance. To support critical elections for August 20th, NATO will fully resource our election support force to maximize security. And our allies have committed additional funds to an Afghan elections trust fund that will provide the necessary resources for free and fair elections.
     
    To accelerate and enhance our training of Afghan security forces, a new NATO mission, a new NATO training mission, will focus on high-level support for Afghan army, and training and mentoring for the Afghan police. And many of our allies and partners have also pledged support for a new trust fund to sustain Afghan national armies going forward.
    And to strengthen Afghan institutions and advance opportunity for the Afghan people, we are working with our NATO allies and partners to achieve substantial increases in non-military assistance and to provide the kind of doctors, engineers, educators and agricultural specialists that are needed to make a difference on the ground.
    President Obama and Secretary Clinton(President Barack Obama confers with U.S.Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, Saturday, April 4, 2009. White House Photo/Pete Souza)

    The President was later asked about a law recently passed in Afghanistan that has gotten a great deal of attention, and which he described as "abhorrent":
    Q Thank you, Mr. President, and good afternoon. I'd like to ask you about a law that's recently been passed in Afghanistan that affects the 10 percent of the Shia population there. A summary of it says it negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage, and restricts a woman's right to leave the home. The United Nations Development Fund for Women says this legalizes the rape of a wife by her husband. I'd like your assessment of this law, number one. Number two, will you condition future troop movements of the U.S. to Afghanistan on the basis of this law being retracted or rewritten? And if not, sir, what about the character of this law ought to motivate U.S. forces to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan?
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, this was actually a topic of conversation among all the allies. And in our communication -- communiqué, you will see that we specifically state that part of this comprehensive approach is encouraging the respect of human rights. I think this law is abhorrent. Certainly the views of the administration have been, and will be, communicated to the Karzai government. And we think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture, but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.
    Now, I just want to remind people, though, why our troops are fighting, because I think the notion that you laid out, Major, was that our troops might be less motivated. Our troops are highly motivated to protect the United States, just as troops from NATO are highly motivated to protect their own individual countries and NATO allies collectively. So we want to do everything we can to encourage and promote rule of law, human rights, the education of women and girls in Afghanistan, economic development, infrastructure development, but I also want people to understand that the first reason we are there is to root out al Qaeda so that they cannot attack members of the Alliance.
    Now, I don't -- those two things aren't contradictory, I think they're complementary. And that's what's reflected in the communiqué.

  • The First Lady at the Notre Dame Cathedral(First Lady Michelle Obama and Hayrunnisa Gul, right, the wife of Turkey's President Abdullah Gul, listen to a french interpretor during a tour at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg, Fance, Saturday, April 4, 2009. White House Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
    The First Lady at the Notre Dame Cathedral(First Lady Michelle Obama is joined by fellow spouses of NATO Summit leaders as they conclude a tour Saturday, April 4, 2009, of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg, France. White House Photo/Lawrence Jackson)

  • In this week’s address, filmed aboard Air Force One between vital diplomatic engagements abroad, the President discusses the breadth and depth of the global challenges we face. Recapping his trip, though, it is clear just how much opportunity lies in reshaping America’s relationships around the world.   On everything from turning our economy around -- which shed hundreds of thousands more jobs last month -- to ending the threat of nuclear arms, "The only way forward is through shared and persistent efforts to combat fear and want wherever they exist."
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    "This is our generation. This is our time. And I am confident that we can meet any challenge as long as we are together," President Obama told a town hall in the Rhenus Sports Arena in Strasbourg, France. Having met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately before, he reiterated a consistent theme of his trip, telling the audience he felt it was "important was for me to have an opportunity to not only speak with you but also to hear from you, because that's ultimately how we can learn about each other."
    Before taking questions, though, the President spoke about his own views on the opportunities and necessities of international cooperation in the 21st Century, beginning with a new commitment to eliminating the existential threat of nuclear arms:
    Even with the Cold War now over, the spread of nuclear weapons or the theft of nuclear material could lead to the extermination of any city on the planet. And this weekend in Prague, I will lay out an agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. (Applause.)
    We also know that the pollution from cars in Boston or from factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, and that that will disrupt weather patterns everywhere. The terrorists who struck in London, in New York, plotted in distant caves and simple apartments much closer to your home. And the reckless speculation of bankers that has new fueled a global economic downturn that's inflicting pain on workers and families is happening everywhere all across the globe.
    The economic crisis has proven the fact of our interdependence in the most visible way yet. Not more than a generation ago, it would have been difficult to imagine that the inability of somebody to pay for a house in Florida could contribute to the failure of the banking system in Iceland. Today what's difficult to imagine is that we did not act sooner to shape our future.
    While acknowledging that there was plenty of blame to go around, the President also confronted the "insidious" nature of anti-Americanism that has at times taken hold in various parts of the world. During the question-and-answer period he spoke to an issue at the heart of trans-Atlantic relations, raised by a young man named Anaxamène Dimitriadès:
    Q I just want to know what do you expect from the French and the European countries regarding the war on terror?
    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good. That's a good question. Look, I think that over the last seven, eight years, as I said in my speech, a lot of tensions have developed between the United States and Europe. And one of the legacies, I hope, from my administration is, is that we start bringing our historic alliance back together in a much more effective way.
    Now, that doesn't mean that we're not going to have honest disagreements. All countries have disagreements between themselves. But I think that we can work much more effectively and cooperatively, and maintain that core trust that we have towards each other.
    Nowhere have we seen more suspicion than around questions of war and peace and how we respond to terrorism. When 9/11 happened, Europe responded as a true friend would respond to the United States, saying, "We are all Americans." All of us have a stake in ensuring that innocent people who were just going about their business, going to work, suddenly find themselves slaughtered -- all of us have an interest in preventing that kind of vicious, evil act.
    But after the initial NATO engagement in Afghanistan, we got sidetracked by Iraq, and we have not fully recovered that initial insight that we have a mutual interest in ensuring that organizations like al Qaeda cannot operate. And I think that it is important for Europe to understand that even though I'm now President and George Bush is no longer President, al Qaeda is still a threat, and that we cannot pretend somehow that because Barack Hussein Obama got elected as President, suddenly everything is going to be okay.
    President Obama and French President Sarkozy(President Barack Obama and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy stand together Friday, April 3, 2009, during the review of an honor guard at the Palais Rohan
    in Strasbourg, France. White House Photo/Pete Souza)

    UPDATE: The President's next stop was in Germany, where he was welcomed warmly:

    President Obama welcomed in Germany(President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband, professor Joachim Sauer, to Rathaus in Baden-Baden, Germany,  Friday, April 3, 2009. White House Photo/ Lawrence Jackson)

  • During the online town hall last week, the President answered quite a few of the top questions submitted through our Open for Questions tool. In addition to the fact that every question he answered during the internet-based section of the town hall was the top vote-getter in its category, he was also asked questions by the audience that closely resembled the top questions in other categories he hadn’t gotten to, including the auto category and small business category.
    There was one video question that we had particularly hoped to get to, however, and ended up missing out on. Watch the question submitted by Becky Blitch, and the video answer we recorded this week from Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy:
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  • The House of Representatives has just passed their version of the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget, which largely reflects the priorities the President has laid out in his own blueprint.  The President released the following statement in response:

    "Tonight, the House of Representatives took another step toward rebuilding our struggling economy. This budget resolution embraces our most fundamental priorities: an energy plan that will end our dependence on foreign oil and spur a new clean energy economy; an education system that will ensure our children will be able to compete in the economy of the 21st century; and health care reform that finally confronts the back-breaking costs plaguing families, businesses and government alike. And by making hard choices and challenging the old ways of doing business, we will cut in half the budget deficit we inherited within four years. With this vote comes an obligation to pursue our efforts to go through the budget line-by-line, searching for additional savings. Like the families we serve, we must cut the things we don't need to invest in those we do."

    UPDATE: Late in the night, the Senate passed their version as well, with Vice President Biden presiding over the vote.

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    After a series of intensive meetings and discussions at the G-20 Summit in London, the President today held a press conference to discuss the fruits of that labor. Discussing how slowly the world has come together to act in previous global crises and the dire consequences that resulted, he noted the contrast with the past two days:
    Today, we've learned the lessons of history. I know that in the days leading up to the summit, some of you in the press, some commentators, confused honest and open debate with irreconcilable differences. But after weeks of preparation, and two days of careful negotiation, we have agreed on a series of unprecedented steps to restore growth and prevent a crisis like this from happening again.
    The President announced that the nations attending would form a united international front to create jobs and stimulate the global economy, to help emerging economies stay afloat, and to encourage trade that would benefit all involved. He then went on to discuss one of the central topics of the Summit, namely coordinated and fundamental reform of the financial regulatory systems:
    To prevent future crises, we agreed to increased transparency and capital protections for financial institutions. We're extending supervision to all systemically important institutions, markets and products, including hedge funds. We'll identify jurisdictions that fail to cooperate, including tax havens, and take action to defend our financial system. We will reestablish the Financial Stability Forum with a stronger mandate. And we will reform and expand the IMF and World Bank so they are more efficient, effective and representative.
    During the question-and-answer section, the President answered a concern on the minds of many:
    Q    What concrete items that you got out of this G20 can you tell the American people back home who are hurting, the family struggling, seeing their retirement go down, or worrying about losing their job -- what happened here today that helps that family back home in the heartland?
     
    PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as I said before, we've got a global economy, and if we're taking actions in isolation in the United States, but those actions are contradicted overseas, then we're only going to be halfway effective -- maybe not even half. 
     
    You've seen, for example, a drastic decline in U.S. exports over the last several months.  You look at a company like Caterpillar, in my home state of Illinois, which up until last year was doing extraordinarily well; in fact, export growth was what had sustained it even after the recession had begun.  As a consequence of the world recession, as a consequence of the contagion from the financial markets debilitating the economies elsewhere, Caterpillar is now in very bad shape.  So if we want to get Caterpillar back on its feet, if we want to get all those export companies back on their feet, so that they are hiring, putting people back to work, putting money in people's pockets, we've got to make sure that the global economy as a whole is successful.
    President Obama speaks in LondonPresident Barack Obama answers questions during a press conference Thursday, April 2, 2009, following the G20 Summit in London. White House Photo/Pete Souza)

  • While the President was in London yesterday working on finding an international solution to the economic crisis, your government back in DC was busy getting a domestic solution implemented. The "Making Work Pay" tax cut kicked in yesterday, check your paycheck for a little something extra to pump into the economy.
    Rob Hotakainen, Sacramento Bee - April 2, 2009
    Your paychecks are about to get fatter, and that's no April Fool's Day joke. The income tax cuts included in the economic stimulus plan passed by Congress in February kick in today. The White House said today it should put $6.4 billion new dollars in the hands of California workers. Overall, 12.6 million families in California should cash in, the White House said.  The typical American family is expected to receive about $800 in extra cash, an attempt to jolt the economy.
    The Vice President was in North Carolina with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack yesterday talking about the Recovery Act and rural communities, telling them amongst other things, "All told, we're going to deliver more than $20 billion -- $20 billion -- even in Washington, that's a lot of money -- $20 billion in loans and grants to improve economic opportunity and the quality of life in rural America; $20 billion set aside for rural America.  And the money is going to go to improving things which are not high on a lot of people's lists, but will make a big difference -- like improving broadband access so the farmer can sit there and get online and know exactly what his product is being sold for not just the next county over, but across the country.  And so your kids can be brought into the same kind of opportunity that kids all over the world are being brought into."
    Vice President Biden speaks to firefighters on rural recovery(Vice President Joe Biden speaks at an event with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about economic stimulus spending during a visit to the volunteer fire department in Pikeville, North Carolina, Wednesday, April 1, 2009. The Vice President announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun disbursing the first wave of the $10 billion in guaranteed housing loans provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)
    And finally, Education Secretary Arne Duncan unleashed a massive infusion of $44 billion in education funds from the Recovery Act yesterday, read the press release or check out the Ed Recovery page.
    Kimberly S. Wetzel, Contra Costa Times – April 1, 2009
    Good news for cash-strapped school districts: $44 billion worth of education stimulus funds is now available, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Wednesday. While $11 billion will be distributed immediately for special education purposes and low-income Title I schools, $32.6 billion in stabilization funds comes with strings attached. States and districts first must commit to a four-pronged reform approach that shows teacher effectiveness and develops a comprehensive data system, among other things. "Given our economic circumstances, it's critical that money go out quickly, but it's even more important that it be spent wisely," Duncan said via teleconference from Maryland. "We must be much more open and honest about what works in the classroom and what doesn't."

  • Today President Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, where they discussed their intention to draft a new arms control treaty to replace the START agreement, and broad parameters of US-Russia relations in general. This morning Prime Minister Gordon Brown told President Obama, "Your first 70 days in office have changed America, and you've changed America's relationship with the world" – both President Obama and President Medvedev’s words standing together after the meeting gave hope that the Prime Minister’s words were true:
    President Obama:
    As I've said in the past, I think that over the last several years the relationship between our two countries has been allowed to drift. And what I believe we've begun today is a very constructive dialogue that will allow us to work on issues of mutual interest, like the reduction of nuclear weapons and the strengthening of our nonproliferation treaties; our mutual interest in dealing with terrorism and extremism that threatens both countries; our mutual interest in economic stability and restoring growth around the world; our mutual interest in promoting peace and stability in areas like the Middle East.
    So I am very encouraged by the leadership of the President. I'm very grateful that he has taken the time to visit. I am especially excited about the fact that the President extended an invitation for me to visit Moscow to build on some of the areas that we discussed on today. And I have agreed to visit Moscow in July, which we both agreed was a better time than January to visit.
    US-Russia meeting(President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during their bilateral meeting at Winfield House in London, Wednesday, April 1, 2009. White House Photo/Pete Souza)
    President Medvedev (as translated):
    It is important to note that there are many points on which we can work. And indeed there are far more points in which we can -- where we can come closer, where we can work, rather than those points on which we have differences. Thus, by bringing our positions closer we can attain significant progress and, much more importantly, further our achievements.
    I share the view of President Obama who said that our teams have worked really well in preparation of this meeting, and the declarations, the two declarations, which we are adopting are just another proof of that. And those are a declaration on the strategic weapons, and the declaration on the general framework of relations between Russia and the United States, which set good grounds for our further interaction.

  • The President and First Lady Meet the QueenPresident Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace in London, April 1, 2009. The White House / Pete Souza)

     

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    At 10:15 A.M. London time the President and Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a joint press conference following a working meeting. The Prime Minister opened with a message suited for the times:
    Ours is not an alliance of convenience; it is a partnership of purpose. It's a partnership that at times of challenge is resilient and at times of change is constant.
    President Obama and I are agreed about the significance of this week's G-20 meeting, that the world is coming together to act in the face of unprecedented global financial times. Our first duty is to those who are suffering most -- the people anxious about their mortgages, their jobs and their family's future. For them, the pain of recession is all too real. But let us not forget that in 1929, when the Wall Street crash happened and led to recession, it was not until 1945 that the world came together to reshape the world economy. Then it took more than 15 years.
    Today, within months of this financial crisis, we are coming together to solve the common problems we face, we are cooperating to shorten the recession, and we are working together to protect and save jobs.
    The President followed, also emphasizing the urgency of the occasion, discussing the need for the G-20 Summit to produce a comprehensive, cooperative plan to address the global economy and the need for renewed international commitment in Afghanistan.
    During the question-and-answer period the President was asked a question that encapsulated much of the media discussion around the , "Mr. President, you come here with several signs of fairly broad challenges to American economic leadership. There's the resistance to big, new stimulus spending; there's talk of a global -- new global currency; talk of even stricter regulations than are on the table now. How do you answer that? And what do you say to the talk that there's a decline in the American model, American prominence?" He answered confidently:
    Well, I think if you pulled quotes from 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, from previous news reports, you might find similar contentions that America was on decline. And somehow it hasn't worked out that way, because I think that there is a vibrancy to our economic model, a durability to our political model, and a set of ideals that has sustained us through even the most difficult times.
    Now, with respect to the current crisis, I think that there is no doubt that at a time when the world is fearful, that there is a strong tendency to look for somebody to blame. And I think that given our prominence in the world financial system, it's natural that questions are asked -- some of them very legitimate -- about how we have participated in global financial markets.
    Having said that, I am absolutely confident that this meeting will reflect enormous consensus about the need to work in concert to deal with these problems. I think that the separation between the various parties involved has been vastly overstated. If you look at where there has been the biggest debate, and I think that the press has fastened on this as a ongoing narrative -- this whole issue of fiscal stimulus. And the fact of the matter is, is that almost every country that's participating in this summit has engaged in fiscal stimulus. The ones that are perceived as being resistant to fiscal stimulus have done significant fiscal stimulus. There has not been a dispute about the need for government to act in the face of a rapidly contracting set of markets and very high unemployment.
    President Obama and Prime Minister Brown at a Press Conference
    (President Barack Obama is joined by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a joint news conference Wednesday, April 1, 2009, at the Foreign Commonwealth Office in London. White House Photo/Chuck Kennedy)

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