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Awaiting Presidential News Conference; President Obama in Sweden

Aired September 4, 2013 - 08:30   ET


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: For me to watch as this continues and they do get to Russia, they do get to the summit, is the way the president of the United States tries to kind of isolate Putin from the international community. You know, as John points out, France will -- France will be with us. And Cameron is with us, personally, although he didn't get his parliament to go along.

The president, right now, is in an international campaign to shift public opinion. Not only in this country, but worldwide. If public opinion were to shift in this country, he'd be in a better position to make his case to the rest of the world. That is why we're seeing so many people out in these congressional hearings. John Kerry made his case very forcefully yesterday alongside the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. We'll be having more hearings today on Capitol Hill.

But what we're going to hear on The Hill today, because they're testifying before the House side, is a lot of negative response to them of what we call the hell no caucus from conservative Republicans because they have no reason to vote with the president on this. The tough vote would be to say yes to force. The easy vote for them in their districts right now is still to vote no.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I think we can all agree, either here or abroad, the president has a very tough job ahead of him in this news conference. We're running, obviously, a little bit behind schedule at this moment. No surprise when you have two world leaders that are trying to coordinate their schedules. Let's take a break and we'll be right back to cover it.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back.

You're looking at a live picture of nothing. But what's supposed to happen is a major press conference between the prime minister of Sweden and the president of the United States, Barack Obama. We expect that he is going to be asked during their Q&A session about Syria. The main question, of course, is going to be, how does he sell the potential military action of the U.S. to the rest of the world.

But to figure out what could happen here, provide some analysis, we have John King, Gloria Borger and, of course, us.

So, John, let's pick up on the discussion that we were having off camera here, that this is about what the right thing is. But how do you define what is right? Right for President Obama's legacy? Right for politics in the U.S.? Right for the people of Syria? How do you define it here?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the challenge the president has. In the short term, he has to convince the American people that what he's about to do -- and I don't think there's any doubt that he's about to do this in the next week or two - is the right thing to do. He has to convince more of them so hopefully he wins the vote in Congress. There is the open question, if he doesn't win that vote, he still said he has the constitutional authority, in his view, to act.

What is striking to me is the moment we're at here. Remember where he began. He came into international politics opposing the Iraq War, saying George W. Bush too often was a cowboy diplomat that went it alone, offended people around the world, had ruined our relations in the Arab/Muslim world, couldn't form coalitions because of the Iraq War. Look where he is now. He's about to start a military intervention in the Middle East, which he said the United States needed to get out of, and he's having a very hard time forming a coalition.

Not all his fault. Part of it is the hangover of the Iraq War. Part of it is the circumstances. Part of it is the depth and the strength of the opposition. He's about to head into Russia where President Putin has just dug in hard on this one. But this is not the presidency and this is not a moment that Barack Obama envisioned and yet this could very well define his second term.

BOLDUAN: And, Gloria, you -- John had said that, you know, in the near term, the president has to convince the American people that this is the right thing to do. And you were talking about it. I mean, but also, if you look at the poll numbers, maybe most immediately the most important thing for the president to do is to convince international allies, our key allies overseas to get onboard with this --

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: Because it shows -- the poll numbers are showing that if allies are us with, more Americans support intervention in Syria.

BORGER: You know this is such a moment for the president, as John points out, because in a way he now is being paralyzed, if you will, by the skepticism that he helped create about extended intervention. And so he has to overcome that because, you know, when he rose to prominence as a politician, it was as an anti-war president.

So this is kind of a through the looking glass moment for him, I think. Not only in terms of intervention in Syria, but also, don't forget, this is a president who's had to defend to his liberal base the question of drone surveillance, the question of NSA surveillance. And so he's had some problems with his own liberal base and now here he is, irony of all ironies, trying to defend the use of force to the international community, as well as to skeptical Democrats on Capitol Hill and, you know, some skeptical conservatives. And so it's kind of a -- sort of an odd moment for him. But, you know, when you becomes president of the United States, as he points out often, you know, sometimes you get to see things pretty differently. And lots of Democrats have pointed out that he seems to be seeing them a lot more like George W. Bush saw them when he was in the Oval Office.

CUOMO: Well, there's irony here also -


CUOMO: Because even though the poll numbers at home aren't strong right now, it's somewhat of an easier task. And as much as the American people want to know, what is in this for us? We don't want to risk our blood and our treasure any more than we already have. Abroad, you could argue a much more sophisticated and difficult question, because they're asking, why are you doing this to us, dot, dot, dot, again? The memories of Iraq, the mistakes with intelligence, the U.S. forcing it to go alone, those are perceptions that are very likely fueled again by what we're going to see here in this process, no, John?

KING: Without a doubt. What you just saw in Great Britain and what you see in European public opinion polling is a lot of the post-Iraq, we're not going down this path again. And so the president has to deal with that skepticism at home, he has to deal with that skepticism overseas, as well. And he s also is trying to do something that's very hard. He's trying to convince the American public that he can do this in a limited way and make a difference.


KING: You can -- you know, everybody knows the United States has an arsenal of cruise missiles. We can launch them and we can punish Assad. The big question is, what does Syria look like the morning after this is over, the week after this is over, the month after this is over? Why are you doing it? Are you doing it just to punish him but still leave him in power? Doing it just to punish him but still leave him winning the civil war? Leave him -- maybe he won't use chemical weapons, but, still, to massacre his own people?

So the president has not yet, I think, made the convincing case of how this will change the dynamics on the ground in a way that changes Syria. And then, the important part, benefits the people of the United States.


BORGER: You know -

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: You know what's interesting here is we really -- the debate on Capitol Hill for the last couple of days, after people have seen the classified information, has not so much been about whether Assad used chemical weapons or whether you can establish a chain of custody, which, of course, is the debate from Iraq. But it seems to me that people do seem pretty convinced by this -- by this evidence.

The debate really has shifted to the mission and there's two sides of that debate. Number one, whether such a limited mission can actually get the job done, as John points out, or whether, like John McCain believes, this limited mission is just a slap on the wrist and isn't going to do anything. So the question is, well, then, why would you do it if you wouldn't take out Assad and you don't want to give ultimate authority to the rebels because you're not quite sure who they are?

So there - you know, there are two different sides to the argument about whether the use of force will have the kind of impact and deterrence that the administration wants. But on the use of weapons itself, there doesn't seem to be -- there are a few people who believe you haven't established chain of custody, but there doesn't seem to be as much skepticism on that point.

BOLDUAN: All right, let's bring in Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN's "Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer. He's joining us now to give his perspective as well.

Wolf, we've been kind of talking about what's at stake for the president here and abroad and what he needs to do in this press conference to win over skeptical Americans. I mean there are clearly all only tough questions and no easy answer for the president at this point when he's about to take the podium.

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Right. This podium is one sort of facet of what the president's got to do. He's got to win over American public opinion, international support to be sure. The whole world will be watching the president at this news conference in Sweden. Then when he gets to St. Petersburg, Russia.

But when all is said and done, he's got an issue in the House of Representatives. He's almost certainly going to get this resolution passed today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, almost certainly will get enough votes in the Senate, I think. Even if there's a filibuster, he'll have more than 60 votes in the Senate to get this resolution passed in the Senate.

The key is the House of Representatives. They formally come back into session on Monday, as you know. He does have the speaker on board. He has the majority leader, Eric Cantor, on board. Kevin McCarthy, the number three, is not yet on board. And there are a whole bunch of other Republicans and plenty of liberal anti-war Democrats who aren't on board.

So the key question is, at what point, Kate, what point does the president decide he will go into the Oval Office and address the American people, look into the camera and give the speech that could sway the handful of votes he will need in the House of Representatives. Otherwise, if he doesn't get that vote in the House of Representatives, and it could come next week, he could still go on and do this limited air strike, these tomahawk cruise missiles. But if he doesn't get that vote, it would be so humiliating, so embarrassing. Sort of what David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain, has gone through after parliament refused to endorse the military option for Britain.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he still may need to make that primetime address to the American people in the Oval Office. But that process of making his case, it also continues today when he is about to take the podium here in Stockholm, Sweden.

Let's take a break and we'll be back to continue our coverage.


BOLDUAN: All right. You are looking live at the podium in Stockholm, Sweden. We've been given the one-minute warning. We're waiting - they're walking in right now. President Obama and the Swedish prime minister. A much anticipated press conference. They make opening statements and then take questions.


FREDRIK REINFELDT, PRIME MINISTER, SWEDEN: So, it's a great honor and pleasure for me to welcome President Barack Obama to Sweden. As you all know, this is a historic event, the first bilateral visit ever by a President of the United States to Sweden.

We have had a very constructive meeting. There are many reasons why the relationship between the United States and Sweden is special. Many Swedes emigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th century and somewhere around four million Americans today claim Swedish heritage.

Business ties flourish between our two countries. Sweden is, in fact, one of the largest investors per capita in the U.S. and we have considerable American investments in Sweden. The United States is the most important foreign employer in our country.

Our societies are founded on the same core values: democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law. All these values are at the heart of the deeds of our value (ph) of life. And I'm looking forward to the possibility to pay tribute Raoul Wallenberg this afternoon, a man who chose not to be indifferent and who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.

The United States and Sweden also share ambitions when it comes to the opening of global trade flows. Trade has laid the foundation of Sweden's wealth and prosperity around 50 percent of our GDP comes from exports. And Sweden strongly supports open-trade regimes and in particular free trade agreement now being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. This will not only bring more jobs and growth to both our continents, it will strengthen our political and economic partnership.

We also touched upon the economic situation in Europe and in the United States. I mentioned that the crisis has hit countries in Europe differently, Sweden being one of those countries that has done relatively well during the crisis. But the need for structural reforms exists throughout Europe to stay competitive and at the same time, preserving all our welfare ambitions. We have also discussed climate change and its consequences. It represents one of the most important challenges to our societies. Sweden has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent since 1990 while GDP at the same time has increased by 60 percent. So there is no contradiction between economic growth and the protection of environment.

I welcome President Obama's ambitious new climate action plan. U.S. emissions have in recent years already fallen substantially. Your new plan will help the United States to make even further reductions. We have agreed to work together in the international climate negotiations to make sure that other countries also are prepared to cut their emissions. This is the only way that we can protect our environment.

We have discussed a few foreign policy issues, as well and the most topical of course being the situation in Syria. Sweden condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria in the strongest possible terms. It's a clear violation of international law. Those responsible should be held accountable.

Sweden believes that serious matters concerning international peace and security should be handled by the United Nations. But I also understand the potential consequences of letting a violation like this go unanswered. In the long-term, I know that we both agree that the situation in Syria needs a political solution.

So thank you, once again Mr. President, for coming to Sweden. I look forward to our program together this afternoon.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you so much. Hej -- I've just exhausted my Swedish. Thank you so much Prime Minister Reinfeldt for your very kind words in welcoming me today. I'm proud to be making the first ever bilateral visit by a U.S. President to Sweden. It's only been a short time, but I already want to thank all the people here for the warm hospitality that has been extended to me and my delegation. This is truly one of the world's great cities, it is spectacularly beautiful. The Prime Minister tells me that the weather is like this year round and so like so many who have come here, I feel Stockholm in my heart and I'm sure that I'll want to bring back my family to have a visit sometime in the future.

I've said before that it's no accident that democracies are America's closest partners and that includes Sweden. That's why I'm here today. As free peoples, we recognize that democracy is the most effective form of government ever devised for delivering progress and opportunity and prosperity and freedom to people.

And as two of the most innovative economies on earth, we cherish that freedom that allows us to innovate and create, which is why we're leaders in science, and research and development, those things that pioneer new industries and broaden our horizons.

We share a belief in the dignity and equality of every human being. That our daughters deserve the same opportunities as our sons, that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters must be treated equally under the law; that our societies are strengthened and not weakened by diversity.

And we stand up for universal human rights not only in America and Europe, but beyond because we believe that when these rights are respected, nations are more successful and our world is safer and more just. So I want to thank Sweden and the Swedish people for being such strong partners in pursuit of these values that we share. The partnership is rooted in deep friendship, but it was also mentioned we have very strong people-to-people ties.

My hometown of Chicago has a lot of people of Swedish descent. Vice President Biden was honored to welcome King Gustav and Queen Silvia to the United States earlier this year to mark the 375th anniversary of the first Swedish colony in America and I'm looking forward to visiting with the Kind and Queen tomorrow.

I should mention on behalf of hockey fans back home in Chicago, I have to say how grateful our champions Blackhawks are for their several teammates who hail from Sweden. That's been an excellent export that we gladly accept.

I had a chance to visit with Prime Minister Reinfeldt during my first year in office at the White House and he has always proved to be a thoughtful and deliberative partner on a whole host of international issues and I'm pleased that we've been able to strengthen that relationship in our discussions here today.

We, of course, discussed the appalling violence being inflicted on the Syrian people by the Assad regime, including the horrific chemical weapons attacks two weeks ago. I discussed our assessment which clearly implicates the Syrian government in this outrage. The Prime Minister and I are in an agreement that in the face of such barbarism, the international community cannot be silent and that failing to respond to this attack would only increase the risk of more attacks and that possibility that other countries would use these weapons, as well.

I respect and I said this to the Prime Minister, the U.N. process, obviously, the U.N. investigation team has done heroic work under very difficult circumstances. But we believe very strongly with high confidence that, in fact, chemical weapons were used and that Mr. Assad was the source.

And we want to join with the international community in an effective response that deters such use in the future. So I updated the Prime Minister on our efforts to secure Congressional authorization for taking action, as well as our effort to continue to build international support for holding the Assad regime accountable in order to deter these kinds of attacks in the future.

And we also discussed our broader strategy. The United States and Sweden are both major donors of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. We will continue those efforts. We're going to continue to try to strengthen the capabilities of an inclusive and representative opposition, and to support the diplomacy that could bring an end to all the violence and advance transition and a future in Syria where all people's rights are upheld. Those are goals that we share and we will keep working towards those goals.

And more broadly, given Sweden's close partnership with NATO, we also touched on some of the other security challenges and I expressed my appreciation for the extraordinary work that the Swedish Armed Forces has done in a whole range of issues, including Afghanistan efforts to resolve some of the conflicts in central, eastern Europe and the ongoing training that's also being provided and the good example that's being provided by Swedish Armed Forces here in Europe.

Mindful of the jobs that are supported by trade between our two countries, we discussed ways to partner more, including creating a clean energy partnership that creates jobs and combats climate change effectively. Sweden is, obviously, an extraordinary leader when it comes to tackling climate change and increasing energy efficiency and developing new technologies. And the goal of achieving a carbon neutral economy is remarkable and Sweden is well on its way. We deeply respect and admire that and think we can learn from it.

In the United States we have taken some historic steps doubling our electricity from wind and solar and improving the fuel efficiency of our cars and reducing our carbon pollution to the lowest levels in nearly 20 years. But we all know we need to do more. So my new climate action plan: more clean energy, more energy efficiency, less emissions, will allow us to do even more in the years to come and we look forward to a close partnership with Sweden on what is going to be a global challenge. And at the Royal Institute of Technology today, I look forward to seeing some of the innovative ways that we can cooperate.

We also talked about trade and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. I want to thank Sweden and the prime minister for the strong support of these negotiations and I believe for the U.S. and the EU to reach a high standard, comprehensive agreement can create more jobs and opportunity on both sides of the Atlantic.

As I head into the G-20, I shared my view that here in Europe and around the world, we've got to stay focused on creating jobs and growth. That's going to be critically important not only for our economies, but also to maintain stability in many of our democracies that are under severe stress at this point.

Finally, I want to salute Sweden along with all the Nordic countries for your strong support for democracy and development strengthening democratic governance in Eastern Europe and global efforts against AIDS, TB and malaria; responsible development in Africa. I want to thank in advance the prime minister for hosting our meeting tonight with the leaders of all the Nordic countries and I look forward to our discussion.

To Prime Minister Reinfeldt, thank you so much for your hospitality. To the people of Sweden, thank you. This is a wonderful visit and I'm looking forward to it producing concrete results that will enhance the lives of both the American people and the people of Sweden. So, with that, I think we'll take some questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We'll now open the floor for questions. The first question goes to Swedish News Agency (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, welcome to Sweden.

OBAMA: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you might know the NSA surveillance affair has stirred up quite a few angry reactions even here in Sweden. What do you want to say to those upset and how do you think the affair affects the relationship between our countries?

And as a follow up to that, I know that at home you're sometimes accused of wanting to turn the U.S. into Sweden. Now that you're here, you have been here for several hours, what have you seen? What actually inspires you? What do you want to import to the U.S. in terms of ideas for a society?

OBAMA: Well, let me -- let me take the NSA question first. Because this is a question that I received in previous visits to Europe since the stories broke in "The Guardian" and I suspect I'll continue to get, as I travel through Europe and around the world for quite some time. Like other countries, we have an intelligence operation that tries to improve our understanding of what's happening around the world.