Return to Transcripts main page


Obama, Hollande Hold Joint Presser

Aired February 11, 2014 - 12:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, though, we're gonna go to Washington D.C. and Wolf Blitzer with special coverage of President Obama along with French President Francois Hollande in a joint news conference there.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We'll continue to monitor that trial, the riveting testimony that's underway right now. But this edition of LEGAL VIEW will begin with a presidential news conference.

Today we get not one but two presidents. President Obama is hosting the president of France, Francois Hollande, in the first state visit by a foreign leader in almost two years to Washington. State visits, of course, the most sought after invitation in world affairs.

Speaking of affairs, President Hollande is traveling solo this time, having just broken up with his long-time companion in light of a rumored fling with a younger actress. So don't expect any of that necessarily to come up during the course of the news conference due to get underway any moment now. Live coverage coming up.

As we await the news conference, I want to bring in our special correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's in the White House East Room standing by. She's getting ready. Also with us here in our Washington studios, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, I suspect they won't get into the business of affairs of the heart, shall we say.


BLITZER: But they will get into international affairs. There will be two questions from American journalists, two questions from French journalists. I assume stuff like Iran, Syria -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Health care, NSA spying, if you will. All of that presumably will come up.

BORGER: Well those -- those are all the big issues. I mean the French and the United States have become closer and closer over the years. They're working together to try and curb Iran's nuclear weapons. They've been united on Syria.

In fact, Hollande was ready to go into Syria, remember, and you remember this, Wolf, the president pulled back on that. And so they've come a long way since the relationship back with George W. Bush when they were not part of the coalition of the willing. And you remember the whole -- the whole french fries issue, that we were no longer going to call them french fries. You remember that, Wolf?


BORGER: So I think the relationship has progressed since then. And I think politically you find that Hollande is somebody who ran to the left, but has moved to the center as he's governed. And some would say that's something that's happened to this president.

BLITZER: At the start of their meetings today at the White House, the president said this. Let me play a little clip.

All right, we don't have that - we don't have that clip, but we will play it later. But you see some of the still photos from the formal arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. The French president getting the full state visit treatment.

U.S./French relations right now, pretty solid, despite some differences, nuances, but the relationship is pretty solid.

BORGER: Yes, it is -- it is very solid. I think Hollande has his own problems at home. He's got 11 percent unemployment. But as we were talking about before, Wolf, this is a long way from the freedom fries with George W. Bush. And this president and Hollande have worked together very closely as far as foreign policy is concerned, particularly in terms of curbing Iran's nuclear weapons capacity.

And I think that's something, obviously, that they'll be dealing with. And I think it's -- you know, it is significant that this is a state visit, Wolf. This president, this is only his fifth one, and this is -- this is not something he does very often. And think it matters that it is in honor of France and this president.

BLITZER: And there will be a state dinner in honor of the French president later tonight.

Brianna Keilar is our senior political correspondent.

Brianna, let's talk a little bit about what's going on over there at the White House. They've got a lot of substantive issues they've got to work at. They've got a lot of pomp and circumstance, shall we say, including all the protocol that's required for the arrival ceremony and later tonight the state dinner.

How awkward has it been, though, because of some of the changes in his own personal relationship with his long-time partner and the alleged affair with this younger actress? How has that played out as far as Washington is concerned?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as far as Washington is concerned, Wolf, at least official Washington, it's almost as if it isn't even happening, the White House really downplaying how any of this drama is affecting the visit. After all, they say, there are issues of substance to talk about here. Iran, Syria, surveillance by the NSA, concerns from France, but certainly the headlines, the interests, coming from outside of Washington. This is very much where the interest is.

I think we've been saying in a way that some of the foreign affairs of this trip have been eclipsed by the affairs of the heart. And all of the headlines that have been captured by le affair Hollande as it's been called have followed the president here to the United States. There's a tremendous interest here. There is a very large group of French reporters who have come along for this trip, so much attention being paid to it.

But it's also fascinating, Wolf, when you do look at the substantive side of this. This trip comes at an interesting side, and not just because of the scandal. From -- this was a trip that was announced in November that Francois Hollande would be coming for a huge honor. And the fact that it is a European nation, something that President Obama hasn't really concentrated on in these instances.

But what you had in September, obviously, was the issue of Syria. France really the ally standing by the U.S. after Britain wasn't going to give its support for U.S.-led strikes on Syria. And then in October you had the NSA revelations and a French newspaper publishing that when the course of a month, more than 70 million phone records of French phone calls had been seized. Tremendous outrage, the U.S. ambassador to France summoned to explain this. President Obama having to call President Hollande to try to explain this. And some of the assurances that were given last month in President Obama's speech about NSA reforms went very much to the heart of the concerns of French citizens.

So following that, this invitation went out. And so even though there certainly is, as you heard Gloria say, a very solid relationship between the U.S. and France and so much emphasis here in France being the oldest ally to the U.S., this is coming at a time that's pivotal for the French president, his approval ratings below 20 percent at home. And certainly this is something that is playing out I think with a lot more attention in the French press than the U.S. press.

BLITZER: Let me play, Brianna, a little clip. This is a clip of the president of the United States at the start of this meeting earlier today at the White House with President Hollande.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like generations before us, we now have the task not simply to preserve our enduring alliance, but to make it new for our time. No one nation can meet today's challenges alone or seize its opportunities. More nations must step up and meet the responsibilities of leadership and that is what the United States and France are doing together.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, Brianna, let's talk a little bit about what we expect at this news conference. I'm told that each of these presidents will open with a statement and then there will be questions, two from American journalists, two from French journalists. Is that your understanding?

KEILAR: Yes, that is the understanding. And there are really - there are so many issues that can be covered. And when you're looking at what we call a two and two, two questions from each side, it will be interesting to see if they're able to cover all of the bases domestically here in the U.S., this delay of the Obamacare employer mandate. That's something that may come up.

These concerns that you've heard us discussing, the differences between the U.S. when it comes to Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry, just this last week, chastising French business leaders for looking toward Iran, visiting Iran to see if there's some business opportunities as this interim deal on Iran's nuclear activities is continuing at this point. The secretary of state saying that they have been put on notice.

So there are going to be questions, I think, that seek daylight between the two leaders. And what you'll be seeing Presidents Obama and Hollande trying to do is trying to minimize that, trying to say they're on the same page. So we may hear about the NSA, we may hear about Syria, Iran. And certainly when it comes to President Obama, this delay in Obamacare.

BLITZER: And let's talk briefly, because I want to bring Gloria into this conversation as we await the two presidents to go into the East Room of the White House, where you are Brianna, right now. They're getting ready. They're getting closer.

But a major win for the president and the Democrats, shall we say, today when the House speaker, John Boehner, announced he will allow, perhaps as early as tonight, what's called a clean vote on legislation that would raise the nation's debt ceiling. Earlier, Republicans were demanding some concessions, but now they've decided, the House speaker, that they're not going to get any concessions. The president had made it clear, he's not going to, quote, "pay ransom" for doing what the country needs to do.

And so there's going to be a vote tonight. I assume it will pass. Then it will pass the Senate. The vote was going to be tomorrow, but now they've decided to move it up today because of some snow that's moving towards Washington. Has there been any immediate reaction from the White House yet to this announcement from the House speaker, John Boehner?

KEILAR: No. We are actually awaiting that and -- from President Obama. I expect he would be asked about that. This is something that the White House has been endeavoring for some time, Wolf. President Obama, as these debt ceiling increases have come before Congress, he has attempted to break the fever, it's been said, and try to take a position where he only wants to negotiate on a clean increase in the debt ceiling. Now, at times we have seen certain things attached to that debt ceiling increase. But really it's been done in a way where the White House can claim a victory, increasingly over time, and especially with this. So I think this is something that the White House very much welcomed, and I think now the question is, is this going to be the new normal when it comes to the debt ceiling increase, which the president really views as just a perfunctory thing that Congress should just do and be done with and not attach anything to, or is this at some point going to reverse to where he may continue to have these battles that, quite frankly, are not welcome by the White House because they very much get in the way of President Obama focusing on other agenda items.

BLITZER: Yes, the fear for the Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, is that if they didn't do it by the end of this month, there could be another downgrading of the U.S. credit rating. That would raise interest rates in the United States, have all sort of severe complications, including the potential for the U.S. defaulting on its financial obligations.

Stand by, Brianna. Gloria is standing by. We'll take a quick break. We're awaiting the president of the United States, the president of France. They've got a joint news conference that is about to begin in the East Room of the White House. Our special coverage here on CNN will continue right after this.


BLITZER: All right, the president of the United States, the president of France, they are now at the microphones in the East Room of the White House.


Again, it's a great honor to welcome my friend and partner, President Hollande, back to the White House for this state visit. It is always a pleasure to host Francois. At Camp David two years ago, I was trying to make the summit casual, and Francois, in true French style, showed up in a necktie. We tried to get him to take it off.

When I hosted him in Chicago for the NATO summit, I thought he'd try some of our local cuisine. A Chicago-style hot dog. I'm not sure he had one, but we do know that he's sampled American fast food in the past because this happens to be the 40th anniversary of Francois's first trip to America as a student. And I understand he traveled across our country studying the fast food industry. So if back in 1974 you noticed a French guy poking around your local McDonald's, that was him. Now he's back as the 24th president of France. And Michelle and I look forward to hosting him tonight at a state dinner with a different kind of American cuisine.

Alex de Tocqueville, that great son of France who chronicled our American democracy, wrote that even as we marvel at our freedom, there's nothing harder than learning how to use our freedom. And it's a lesson that our two countries have learned over more than 200 years. Standing together and using our freedom to improve the lives of not only our citizens, but people around the world is what makes France not only America's oldest ally, but also one of our closest allies.

Our military and intelligence personnel cooperate every day, keeping our nations secure and dealing with crises and challenges from Africa to the Persian Gulf. Our diplomats work side by side to help resolve conflicts and promote peace from Syria to Iran. Our development experts help impoverished villages boost their agriculture and lift themselves out of poverty.

And this level of partnership across so many areas would have been unimaginable, even a decade ago, but it's a testament to how our two nations have worked to transform our alliance, and I want to salute President Hollande for carrying this work forward.

Francois, you haven't just spoken eloquently about France's determination to meet its responsibilities as a global leader, you have also acted.

From Mali to Syria and Iran, you have shown courage and resolve, and I want to thank you for your leadership and being a strong partner to the United States.

I'm grateful for the progress we have made today in four key areas.

First, we're standing shoulder to shoulder on the key challenges to global security.

Our unity with our P5+1 partners, backed with strong sanctions, has succeed in rolling back key parts of the Iranian nuclear program.

We agree that next week's talks in Vienna will be an opportunity for Iran to show that it is serious about a comprehensive solution that assures the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

President Hollande and I agree on the need to continue enforcing existing sanctions even as we believe that new sanctions during these negotiations would endanger the possibility of a diplomatic solution.

And we remain absolutely united on our ultimate goal, which is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Just as our unity on Syria and the credible threat of force led to a plan for destroying Syria's chemical weapons, we're united on what needs to happen next there. Syria must meet its commitments, and Russia has a responsibility to ensure that Syria complies.

And as talks continue in Geneva, we'll continue to strengthen the moderate opposition, and we call on the international community to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.

This week, we're working with our security council partners to call for an end to indiscriminate attacks on civilians and to ensure humanitarian aid workers have unimpeded aid access to Syrians in need. And we'll continue to work with France and others to bolster our partners in the region, including Lebanon. More broadly, as Israelis and Palestinians move forward with talks, we agree that France and the European Union will have an important role in supporting a final agreement.

And we also agreed to continue our cooperation on Mali and the central African republic where leaders and communities need to show the courage to resist further violence and pursue reconciliation.

Second key area, as major trading partners, we're working to boost exports and create jobs.

I'm pleased to announce we're launching a new economic dialogue to expand trade, increase the competitiveness of our businesses, spur innovation and encourage new entrepreneurs.

And President Hollande's visit to Silicon Valley this week underscores our commitment to new collaborations in science and technology. Related to this, we have agreed to continue pursuing an ambitious and comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment partnership.

I want to thank President Hollande for his commitment to these negotiations. We need to get this done, because an agreement could increase exports by tens of billions of dollars, support hundreds of thousands of additional jobs, both in the United States and the European Union, and promote growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

Number three, we have agreed to expand the cooperation and clean energy partnerships in the fight against climate change. Even as we take steps at home to reduce carbon emissions, we'll work to help developing countries move to low carbon growth.

And next year's carbon climate conference in France will be an opportunity to forge a strong global agreement that reduces greenhouse-gas emissions through concrete actions.

And, finally, we're moving forward together on key global development initiatives -- the food and security and nutrition that can lift 50 million Africans out of poverty; our determination to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, T.B. and Malaria. And I'm pleased that we're joining with partners around the world on a new global health security effort to combat infectious diseases and stabilize.

So this is just some of the progress we're making together. Using our freedoms, to borrow de Tocqueville words, to advance security, prosperity and human dignity around the world.

And, Francois, in this work I could not be more grateful for your partnership and your friendship.

I especially want to thank you for honoring our D-Day veterans today, and I'm very pleased to announce that I have accepted Francois's invitation, and will travel to France in June to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

I was there for the 65th anniversary, and it was an extraordinary experience. I'm looking forward to returning to honor our remarkable veterans and to reaffirm this extraordinary alliance.

President Hollande?

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE (via translator): Mr. President, dear Barack, you receive me today as you have done the day after my election, with the same sincerity, with the same respect, and with the same friendship of France.

You didn't know me back then. I knew you. There was a major difference there between us, because your election had been welcome in France, beyond any political views, for it was proof that America was moving forward once more. America was able to make something possible, to make progress possible.

When you received me here, it was in Camp David. Let's forget about the tie. As you can see, I'm wearing a tie today. But you welcomed me at a time that was challenging for Europe, because what was at stake was the very existence of the eurozone -- was the eurozone going to be able to come out of this doubt that prevailed on the eurozone and on financial markets?

And your call for solidarity and growth was heard and was extremely useful back then.

Since then, since this meeting in Camp David, Europe has come out of its financial crisis. It now has the relevant instruments for stability and it has introduced banking union.

I also remember our meeting in Chicago. I remember that in Chicago, I had announced that France would withdraw its combating troops from Afghanistan. That wasn't an easy decision to make.

It wasn't an easy decision to understand, and yet you accepted. And we remained in Afghanistan in spite of this, at a lower level, to the level we had anticipated in earlier times.

But you accepted this movement all the more so, because this was part and parcel of a commitment I had made before the French people, similar to the one you made before the American people when you came to Iraq.

You recalled our historic relations, and I shall not mention again the warm reception of yesterday at Monticello, but I would like to pay tribute to the American Unknown Soldier fallen during World War II to veterans, American veterans of the Second World War, enabled France to be liberated and indeed Europe.

We will commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day landing. I had invited you to join me on the 6th of June, and you just accepted this invitation, which I welcome. It will be a strong message, because we will commemorate the sacrifice made by those soldiers, but we will also celebrate reconciliation and peace.

This brings us back to our responsibilities in terms of security. France and the United States are two countries which, due to their history, their place in history, but also due to their seat as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, can act on security throughout the world for freedom, democracy, the rule of law.

And this is precisely what France did, with the help of our American friends in Mali in order to make it possible for Mali to recover its territorial integrity.

This operation was successful, and it was only successful because a decision was made by the international community. It was successful because Americans took part, and because Europeans helped, as well as Americans, who also gave their support.

And a president has now been elected in Mali, and the Malian state has now found its authority again.

We also intervened in the Central African Republic in a completely different context, admittedly, but the idea was to prevent what could have been a humanitarian disaster.

There had been already brutal actions that affected a population that was already suffering a great deal. There are violence every day. There are clashes every day. But France does what it can with the help of other European nations and with the help of Americans.

And this bears witness to an exceptional situation in our history, because our countries have always been allies, have always been friends, but now we trust each other in an unprecedented manner, and this is characteristic of our personal relationship, but also of our goals, common goals.

Barack Obama reminded us of our position on Syria. We were prepared to resort to force, but we found another option, negotiation. We made it possible for parts of the chemical weapons stockpile to be destructed, but we haven't found a political solution.

Geneva is a possible step in the right direction, but we will have to make headway. We will have to cooperate more, make sure our services cooperate more.

We need to support the opposition. We need to make sure that the choice is not between dictatorship on the one hand and chaos on the other, chaos with its flocks of fundamentalists and extremists.

And we found this potential solution.

Identically on the Iranian dossier, we found common ground. It's a challenging issue, and finding a final agreement will be challenging, but the Iranian nuclear program has been suspended, and this is precisely the outcome of our collaboration, collaboration between France and the United States of America.

We also act in the Middle East, and I welcome the American initiative to resume negotiations.

A framework of agreement needs to be signed now in France and Europe will certainly give their support to that two-state solution.

We are also extremely attentive to what happens in Lebanon. Lebanon is a country with which France has historic ties.

There again, France and the United States stand side by side in order to help this country resist this massive in-flow of refugees, with the risks of clashes that are ubiquitous and this risk of return to civil war that is a reality, so we need to support Lebanon and to make sure that it is supported in its unity and in its integrity.

We also helped Jordan receive refugees.

So on all international issues, we have convergent views, and we stand united, not that we never debate nor that we never partly disagree.

We might be allies and friends, but we always respect each other's sovereignty. That is a fundamental principle in our relation. We also act -- the economic fronts. America experiences recovery in its growth, due to the policy and the political choices made due to steps made by the United States.