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EARLY START

President Obama's Remarks in South Korea; Learning More About Chicago Pediatrician Killed in Kabul

Aired April 25, 2014 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: leadership on that project.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): Next we'd like to take questions from the media. The first from the Korean side. Please state your name and affiliation before you pose your question.

Please go ahead, Mr. Song Jinyoung (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): My name is Song Jinyoung of SBS. I have a question for President Park.

Madam President, as once addressed in Germany, you have announced your unification initiative centering around the three main proposals for laying the groundwork for peace and unification, but North Korea flatly rejected and has continued with its threats of provocation, in particular. North Korea is showing signs for an attempt to achieve fourth nuclear test against this backdrop.

The two leaders have said that there will be, at opening statements, strong sanctions and -- against the (INAUDIBLE) in North Korea by the international society, and they will not -- the two countries will not tolerate a nuclear test.

I would like to know what the president's evaluation is. Is there a possibility of North Korea actually carrying out the nuclear test? And if the provocations continue, if you are to improve and move forward the inter-Korea relations, are you considering a more flexible measure to be taken against the North?

Nextly, with regards to the U.S./Korea transfer of the wartime commands or the OPCON, the two leaders said -- have said they will review the timing conditions for transfer. And if the transfer schedule is pushed back again, have you discussed with President Obama specifically on when that timing will be?

PARK (Through Translator): Yes. Indeed, the Korean government and also the Defense Ministry, our assessment is that North Korea is actually fully ready to carry out the fourth nuclear test, so it can actually carry out the test whenever it deems necessary. That is our assessment.

We're not very certain of what the timing will be, but I think we believe that they are fully ready now and that this is a very tense situation. To come up with some flexible measure, that is your question. Actually, the Dresden Initiative is a case in point for a win-win of the two Koreas and for improvement of the quality of life for the North Korean residents.

It's indeed a flexible policy, but the North Koreans responding with threats of provocation and about carrying out -- to carry out nuclear tests. So this is a point that we really need to think seriously.

With regards to the transfer of the OPCON, Korea and the United States have decided that the basic direction should be to strengthen the chorus -- combined defensive posture. We believe it should not incur any negative situations on the defense posture for the Korea. And therefore, against the heightening tensions of the threats currently the timing is 2015. But we have agreed that we could revisit this issue about reviewing the timing and conditions for transfer.

So, currently, I don't think it is quite appropriate that I give you the exact timing or the conditions, but the authorities, the defense authorities of the two countries, will be able to come to a coordination effort together, and that is what we will do to encourage the defense authorities to move forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President, Madam President.

Mr. President, you have stated that you're teeing up sanctions on Russia, but the Europeans are divided on how far they want to go.

Can you tell us what, if any, consultations you plan to have with European leaders to nudge them forward? And are you worried that this could delay the process?

Also, Mr. President, at a time when your attention is needed on the Ukraine and other world crises, is it now time to throw in the towel on the Middle East peace effort, especially now that Israel has dropped out of the talks?

Also, a question for you, Madam President. Condolences on your country's tragic loss.

Madam President, given that South Korea and Japan have important shared security interests in the region, what, if anything, can your government do to get past this ritual of bitter dispute over Japan's World War II militarist past?

Thank you.

OBAMA: Well, with respect to Ukraine, the consultation with my European counterparts has been constant, not just over the last several weeks but for the last several months. And, you know, I have been deeply encouraged by the unity that you've seen between the United States, Europe, Canada, and many countries around the globe, uniformly condemning Russia's actions in annexing Crimea, uniformly condemning Russian further meddling in Ukraine and the destabilizing activities that have taking place in the south and the east.

And both the Europeans and the United States have been consistent in calibrating sanctions that could provide a deterrent to the Russians, providing support to the Ukrainians, leaving open a path for resolving this problem diplomatically.

Now, as I said yesterday, what we've seen since the Geneva Agreement is the Ukrainian government has been carrying out the terms of that agreement. It's introduced legislation providing amnesty to those that would lay down arms and exit from these government buildings that have been occupied. It has put forward a process for constitutional reform that ensures the rights of all Ukrainians. And it's a credible document, one that's been presented to the Council of Europe and is getting input throughout Ukraine as well as from experts outside of Ukraine and -- constitutional reform.

And so what you've seen is the government in Kiev doing what it said it would do. What we have not seen is Russia speaking out clearly, condemning the pro-Russian militias that have taken over these buildings and using its influence to de-escalate the crisis.

So I'll be talking to the Europeans -- not all of them, but some key European leaders again this evening, making sure that they share my assessment in terms of what's happened since the Geneva talks took place. As I said yesterday, we already have a series of additional targeted sanctions that are ready to go, and we want to make sure that we're consulting with them, assuming that we don't see any drastic changes in behavior on the part of the Russians. We'd like to see that, but we haven't assumed that.

But what's also important is laying the groundwork so that if and when we see even greater escalation, perhaps even military incursion by Russia into Ukraine, that we're prepared for the sort of sectoral sanctions that would have even larger consequences.

And, you know, one thing I should say about European leadership, they've been unequivocal in condemning Russia. And they have actually moved steadily when it comes to applying sanctions and consequences towards Russia. But there are a lot of countries inside of Europe, and they have a whole process they've got to go through to deal with any actions that have significant impact on their own economies.

And so there's some variation inside of Europe. That is as much of an issue as it is any differences between our assessments and theirs. And we want to work with them to make sure that we're coordinating as much as possible, because that's going to maximize our efforts.

Last point. I think it's important for us not to anticipate that the targeted sanctions that we're applying now necessarily solve the problem. What we've been trying to do is to continually raise the costs for Russia of their actions while still leaving the possibility of them moving in a different direction. And -- you know, we'll continue to keep some arrows in our quiver in the event that we see a further deterioration of the situation over the next several days or weeks.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, this is a problem that's been going on for 60, 70, 80 years. We didn't anticipate that we were going to solve it during the course of a six or nine-month negotiation. I think it's fair to say that one of my jobs as president is to worry about a bunch of different problems at the same time and not just pick and choose which problems that I have the luxury to worry about.

It is still in America's interests, as well as Israel's interests, and the interests of the Palestinian people, to see if we can resolve a conflict that is combustible. And so far, at least, what we have seen is some movement on both sides to acknowledge that this is a crisis long running that needs to be solved.

What we haven't seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions, and that's been true on both sides. And, you know, the fact that, most recently, President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas, you know, is just one of a series of choices that both the Israelis and Palestinians have made that are not conductive to trying to resolve this crisis.

And I make no apologies for supporting Secretary of State Kerry's efforts, tireless efforts, despite long odds, to keep on trying to bring the parties together. You know, there may come a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives. I've said in the past, and I will continue to repeat, nobody has offered me a serious scenario in which peace is not made between Israelis and Palestinians and we have a secure democratic Jewish state of Israel and the Palestinians have a state.

Folks can posture. Folks can cling to maximalist positions. But, realistically, there's one door, and that is the two parties getting together, making some very difficult political compromises in order to secure the future of both Israelis and Palestinians for future generations. We have not yet seen them walk through that door. We will continue to encourage them to walk through that door.

Do I expect that they will walk through that door next week, next month, or even in the course of the next six months? No. Are we going to continue to try to offer constructive approaches that could lead them to go ahead and take those steps? Absolutely. And I make no apologies for that. It's the right thing to do. It's important and it's in America's national interests as well as the interests of the region and the interests of Israel.

PARK: (SPEAKING IN KOREAN)

(END LIVE FEED)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Following this live news conference from Seoul, South Korea. President Barack Obama and the president of South Korea, Park Geun-Hye, both leaders talking about the tragedy of the Sewol ferry disaster near Jindo, South Korea. Also talking about maintaining security in the region following the provocation from the DPRK and its nuclear program. The president at one point saying North Korea will get -- rather, I should say, threats will get North Korea nothing.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. The president saying the U.S. and South Korea stand shoulder to shoulder, really emphasizing the unity of the two nations against North Korea, saying that neither of them accept -- their refusal to accept a nuclear North Korea, also saying, the president, that Pyongyang has to abandon any nuclear problems. President Park of South Korea weighing in, saying that that country believes that North Korea is fully ready to carry out a full nuclear test whenever it deems the appropriate time.

We're going to bring you the other highlights, the president discussing Ukraine, the situation between Russia and Ukraine, possible sanctions, also discussing the Middle East peace process and where the U.S. stands on that. We're going to bring you both of those straight ahead right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: Let's go back to Seoul where the president is holding a news conference right now.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president. Let's start with comments on North Korea.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, George. Right, I mean, this is the biggest security threat in the region. So, of course, this was going to be front and center. Even though this is more of a trip to just firm up alliances, especially in trade. But what the South Koreans have been seeing over the past several months are the warnings and warning signs leading up to a missile launch.

Officials were telling us that in the past, it all kind of follows a pattern. The government gets one warning from the North Koreans, then another warning, and then at some point, they launch a missile. So it seems to be imminent, at least from what the South Koreans are saying, that they feel North Korea could do one of these missile tests at any time.

Well, what President Obama was saying was really emphasizing the security alliance between the U.S. and South Korea. And also on this trip, security and joint defense has come up among the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

President Obama has said that the U.S. and South Korea stand shoulder to shoulder against threats and provocation from North Korea, and as a result, they've been expanding their joint defense, modernizing weapons systems, urging -- I think the wording was that the U.S. strongly urges North Korea to give up its nuclear program, as the U.N. has been urging North Korea to do.

I think the problem is, nothing really has changed in the long time frame that these warnings to North Korea have come up. So I think what we take away is kind of the interesting thought that this missile launch could come at any time, possibly even during this trip, which would seem all the more provocative, given that President Obama is here right now -- George.

HOWELL: And --

HARLOW: Michelle, let me ask you a quick question, to jump in on that, on Ukraine. Quick question for you on Ukraine. The president saying that he is deeply encouraged of the -- by the unity between the United States and our European allies in this situation between Russia and Ukraine, but what stood out to me in his comments was about sanctions on Russia. It seems like he's admitting, we don't think the sanctions are going to solve the problem, but he said they are trying to, quote, "raise the cost" for Russia's actions and then leave the door open for diplomacy.

Is that how you read it?

KOSINSKI: Right, and the plan from the U.S. and European standpoint has been long term. Nobody really thinks that sanctions have worked necessarily against Russia, although the Obama administration has said that they do in some ways feel like maybe the sanctions have been a deterrent, only from the standpoint that Russia has not full on invaded Ukraine at this point.

So, yes, we are still talking additional sanctions. There has been no real timeline on when we could see those, but I thought what was interesting was that President Obama will speak to European allies tonight.

HARLOW: Right.

KOSINSKI: That kind of gives you the signal that, you know, one of those joint announcements could be in the work in the really near term, but it's just been kind of delayed and delayed. If you're only looking at the language. I mean, the administration has never given a real timeframe on when sanctions would be expanded.

At first, they were saying through the weekend, which was last weekend, after Russia signed that agreement to de-escalate the situation in Geneva. Well, since then, the U.S. has consistently said they have seen absolutely no sign that Russia has de-escalated anything, only, in fact, escalated the situation.

So then the question has been repeatedly, OK, when are these sanctions coming? And so far, the administration says, well, let's look and see in coming days what happens. And you're right, they do consistently leave that door open for diplomacy. That seems to have not worked very well either -- Poppy.

HOWELL: And Michelle, also, both leaders talking about that Sewol ferry disaster, the tragic search, families waiting for answers. What was your read? What was your takeaway from the comments that they made?

KOSINSKI: Yes, that really added an emotional element. And we know that that's very important to the South Korean people. Just based on some of the conversations we've had with officials leading up to this Asian trip. They felt it was very important. They thought it was impressive and touching that even before this trip, the president was expressing his condolences, and he has done now several times in writing and in an interview he had done with a South Korean newspaper.

He orchestrated a moment of silence before the bilateral meeting today, and he presented the South Korean president with an American flag. And also he said a magnolia tree from the South Lawn of the White House, kind of -- symbolizing the rebirth and renewal of spring. So we know that that was well received by the South Korean people here. They felt that it was important to them to hear that from the American president.

HOWELL: Michelle Kosinski traveling with the president in Seoul, South Korea. Thank you so much for your reporting there.

HARLOW: Yes, we appreciate it. We will continue to monitor this joint press conference between President Obama and the South Korean president right here on EARLY START. We'll bring you any updates as soon as we have them. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWELL: Welcome back. We are finding out more this morning about a Chicago pediatrician killed in Afghanistan in a shooting at a charity hospital.

Dr. Jerry Umanos moved to Afghanistan in 2005, saying he felt called to help children there. He was among the three Americans killed when a security guard opened fire outside the CURE International facility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN SCHUTTEMA, WIFE OF CHICAGO DOCTOR: Our family has suffered a great loss. Our family and friends have suffered a great loss. And our hearts are aching. While our hearts are aching for our loss, we're also aching for the loss of the other families as well as the loss and the multiple losses that the Afghan people have experienced.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: Officials say two of the other victims were father and son. An American woman shot is being treated. Authorities are still questioning the gunman, trying to figure out a motive there.

HARLOW: And no departure yet for Attorney General Eric Holder. The nation's top law enforcement officer plans to stay in his job at least through the fall midterm elections. That is according to the Justice Department. But the 63-year-old Holder has made it clear that he will step down before the end of President Obama's second term. He was recently hospitalized for an elevated heart rate.

HOWELL: The housing recovery could be starting to lose steam. Industry newsletter "Inside Mortgage Finance" it says mortgage lending is now at its lowest level in more than a decade, driven lower by a decline in new home purchases and refinancing. This news comes the same week the government reported a double-digit decline in new home sales over the last year.

HARLOW: Quick check of the markets this Friday, European stocks are trading lower right now as investors watch the situation in Russia very closely. That country was just downgraded by rating agency S&P to BBB minus. That puts their debt just one level above junk.

It's been a rough year for Russian markets, that's for sure. Here in the United States, futures pointing to a lower open as well. One stock we are watching today, Netflix. According to multiple reports, the Internet video service may soon become a channel on your cable box. Here's the catch, though, this deal only applies to Netflix subscribers who get their cable service through RCN, Grand Communications or Atlantic Broadband. If that is you, look for a Netflix channel starting Monday. If that's not you, well, you're going to have to watch it the same old way that you watch it now. But interesting to watch how this is evolving.

HOWELL: Absolutely.

HARLOW: And this war for how we get content.

HOWELL: It is. It is. It is Friday. Great to be here. Great to see you.

HARLOW: Good to have you here.

HOWELL: Absolutely.

HARLOW: All right. Stick around. "NEW DAY" begins right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)