Joint Media Interaction during the visit of President of the United States of America to India (January 25, 2015)

January 25, 2015

Question: Thank you Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister. Mr. President I wanted to ask you about the situations in both Yemen and Ukraine. On Yemen, you’ve held up the US Counter terrorism campaign there as a model for what you are hoping to achieve in your mission against the Islamic State group. How does the political upheaval in Yemen affect you as (..inaudible..) there and will it cause you in any way to retool aspects of your counter terrorism strategy? On Ukraine, Pro-Russian rebels are again launching offensives. How at this point can you justify not taking a different approach given that the Minsk Agreement has all but failed and sanctions may have had an impact on the Russian economy but they don’t appear to be changing Russia’s calculus when it comes to Ukraine? Mr. Prime Minister, I wanted to go back to climate change. White House Officials have said that they hope that the recent US-China Agreement can spur countries like India to make similar commitments to cut emissions. I wonder if you feel any pressure to take that kind of action because of the China agreement. And can the Paris climate summit produce a substantial result without that type of commitment from India? Thank you.

President Barack Obama: Well, first of all with respect to Ukraine, what I have said consistently is that we have no interest in seeing Russia weakened or its economy in shambles. We have a profound interest, as I believe every country does, in promoting a core principle which is- large countries don’t bully smaller countries. They don’t encroach on their territorial integrity; they don’t encroach on their sovereignty and that is what is at stake in Ukraine. What we have done is to consistently isolate Russia on this issue and to raise the cost that Russia confronts. Now, when you say that we should take a different approach Julie, I don’t know exactly what you are referring to. I have been very clear that it would not be effective for us to engage in a military conflict with Russia on this issue. But what we can do is to continue to support Ukraine’s ability to control its own territory. And that involves a combination of the economic pressure that has been brought to bear in sanctions, the diplomatic isolation that has been brought to bear against Russia. As important as anything, they can be sure that we continue to provide the support that Ukraine needs to sustain its economy during this transition period and to help its military with basic supplies and equipment as well as continuing the training and exercise that have been taking place between NATO and Ukraine for quite some time. We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the ceasefire, the aggression that the separatists with Russian backing and equipment, Russian financing and training that the Russian troops are conducting. We will continue to take the approach that we have taken which is to ratchet up- the pressure on Russia. I will look at all additional options that are available to a short of military confrontation in trying to address this issue. We will be in close consultation with our international partners, particularly European partners, to ensure that they stay in lock step with us, our decisions. What we have been successful at is maintaining unity across the Atlantic on this issue. That’s going to be a continuing priority of mine. But ultimately what I have said before remains true. If Mr. Putin and Russia are hell bent on engaging in military conflict, their military is more powerful than Ukraine’s. The question is going to be whether they pursue a path which is not only as bad for the people of Ukraine but also as bad for the people of Russia. And are we able to raise the costs even as we are creating an (..inaudible..) diplomatically that eventually the Kremlin starts pursuing a more sensible policy in resolving this issue.

With regard to Yemen, my top priority has and always will be to make sure that our people on the ground in Yemen are safe, that is something we have emphasizing for the last several months. It builds on the work that we have been doing over the last several years. It is a dangerous country in dangerous part of the world. Our second priority is to maintain our counter-terrorism pressure on Al Qaeda in Yemen. We have been doing that. I saw some news reports that suggested somehow that the counter-terrorism activity has been suspended. That is not accurate. We continue to go after high value targets inside of Yemen and we will continue to maintain the pressure that is required to keep the American people safe. We are concerned about what has always been a fragile Central Government and the forces inside of Yemen that are constantly (..inaudible..) to break apart, between North-South, between Sunnian side of Yemen and this is one more sequence in what has been an on-going turbulent process inside of Yemen. We are advising not just the various factions inside of Yemen but also working with our partners like the Gulf countries who have impact and influence inside of Yemen, is that at this point what is needed is the respect the constitutional process that can resolve some of these differences peacefully and assure that all the groups inside Yemen are resorting to political rather than military means to resolve these differences. But again the point is that Yemen has never been a perfect democracy or a island of stability. What I have said is that our efforts to go after terrorist networks inside Yemen without a occupying US Army, but rather by partnering and intelligence sharing with the local government is the approach that we are going to take and that continues to be the case. The alternative would be for us to play whack amole every time there is terrorist act inside a given country, to deploy US troops. That is not a sustainable strategy. So, we will continue to (..inaudible..) fine and fine tune this model, but this model is a model that we are going to have to work with because the alternative would be massive US deployments in (..inaudible..) which would create its own (..inaudible..) and cause more problems than it would potentially solve. And we’re gonna have to recognize that there are going to be a number of countries, where terrorists have located, that are not strong countries; that’s the nature of the problem that we confront. Terrorists typically are not going to be locating and maintaining bases and having broad networks in countries which have strong central governments, strong militaries and strong law enforcement. By definition we are going to be operating in places where often there is a vacuum or capabilities are somewhat low and we’ve had to just continually apply patience, training, resources and we then have to help, in some cases broker political agreements as well. So, it is a long arduous process. It is not neat and it is not simple. But it is the best option that we have and what we have shown is that we can maintain the kind of pressure on these terrorist networks even in these kinds of difficult operative environments.

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi:
It is my feeling that the agreement that has been concluded between the United States of America and China does not impose any pressure on us. India is an independent country and there is no pressure on us from any country or any person. But, there is pressure. When we think about the future generations and what kind of a world we are going to give them, then there is pressure. Climate change itself is a huge pressure. Global warming is a huge pressure and all those who think about a better life and a better world for the future generations, those who are concerned about this then it is their duty and in their conscience they would want to give a better lifestyle to the future generations, a good life and a good environment; there is pressure for all those people. There is pressure on all countries, on all governments and on all peoples. Thank you.

Question: Excellencies, both of you held talks. My question is to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. You held delegation level talks but we often see, as you did in the US, both you excellencies, beyond the delegation level talks, go into a huddle and hold talks tete-a-tete. What exactly do you talk about and what is this friendship and which are the issues that you discussed and which are the issues that you can share with us?

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi: Yes, we held very detailed talks and the results and the issues that were discussed, let’s keep them behind curtains. Why do we keep going into huddle and hold talks tete-a-tete, well I would just like to say that I am fairly new in this area. But this little experience that I have gained over this short period of time, I can say that relations between countries depend less upon full-stops and commas and more between the relationships between the leaders, the openness; how much they know each other; and the chemistry between them- this matters more and is very important. In fact, far from the camera when we speak, then we become closer to each other. Barack and I have forged a friendship. There is openness when we talk and we even joke and share a lot together. I think, this is the chemistry which has not only brought Washington & Delhi, Barack & I closer but also the two peoples of the two countries closer. Personal chemistry between leaders is very important and this can only grow. Thank you.

President Barack Obama: I would just add that Prime Minister had caused a great excitement in the United States when he visited and I do think that in addition to a personal friendship that we have been able to build in a fairly brief amount of time, we are also reflecting the warmth and affection between the Indian people and the American people. Part of the reason we are such natural partners is because we share values as former colonies, as the two largest democracies in the world, as entrepreneurial nations, as people who believe in freedom and dignity and worth of all individuals. So, it is not surprising that we have a friendship because hopefully we are reflecting the values of our peoples. What I am very excited about is given the Prime Minister’s energy and ambition for his country and lifting people out of poverty and moving forward on the reform agenda that he has put forward; that affection can then be translated in to very specific actions and we are seeing that reflected here today. He is right that we can’t tell you everything that we talked about. Although, I will share one thing and that is we compared how much sleep each other is getting. It turns out that Modi is getting even less sleep than me. But of course, that is because he is still new. After he has been doing this for about six years, maybe he will be able to get an extra hour. Thank you very much everybody.

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