Wednesday, May 8

(Transcript) President Obama and President Park of South Korea Joint Press Conference P2

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PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, we've got a couple of questions from each side, so we'll start with Stephen Collinson of AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Does the United States have a core national security interest in stopping the slaughter in Syria, or merely a strong moral desire to see the violence end? And at what point does the cost of not intervening in a more direct way than you have done so far outweigh the cost of doing so?

And if I may ask, President Park, President Obama's critics have warned that failing to act on perceived violations of U.S. red lines in Syria could embolden U.S. enemies elsewhere, including in North Korea. Are you convinced that Kim Jong-un has taken the U.S. and South Korean warnings seriously, and do you see the withdrawal of two missiles from a test site as a sign that he's willing to deescalate the situation?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Stephen, I think that we have both a moral obligation and a national security interest in, A, ending the slaughter in Syria, but, B, also ensuring that we've got a stable Syria that is representative of all the Syrian people, and is not creating chaos for its neighbors. And that’s why for the last two years we have been active in trying to ensure that Bashar Assad exits the stage, and that we can begin a political transition process.

That’s the reason why we’ve invested so much in humanitarian aid. That’s the reason why we are so invested in helping the opposition; why we've mobilized the international community to isolate Syria. That’s why we are now providing nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and that’s why we're going to continue to do the work that we need to do.

And in terms of the costs and the benefits, I think there would be severe costs in doing nothing. That’s why we're not doing nothing. That’s why we are actively invested in the process. If what you're asking is, are there continuing reevaluations about what we do, what actions we take in conjunction with other international partners to optimize the day when -- or to hasten the day when we can see a better situation in Syria -- we've been doing that all along and we'll continue to do that.

I think that, understandably, there is a desire for easy answers. That's not the situation there. And my job is to constantly measure our very real and legitimate humanitarian and national security interests in Syria, but measuring those against my bottom line, which is what's in the best interest of America's security and making sure that I'm making decisions not based on a hope and a prayer, but on hard-headed analysis in terms of what will actually make us safer and stabilize the region.

I would note -- not to answer the question that you lobbed over to President Park -- that you suggested even in your question a perceived crossing of a red line. The operative word there, I guess, Stephen, is “perceived.” And what I've said is that we have evidence that there has been the use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, but I don't make decisions based on “perceived.” And I can't organize international coalitions around “perceived.” We've tried that in the past, by the way, and it didn't work out well.

So we want to make sure that we have the best analysis possible. We want to make sure that we are acting deliberately. But I would just point out that there have been several instances during the course of my presidency where I said I was going to do something and it ended up getting done. And there were times when there were folks on the sidelines wondering why hasn't it happened yet and what's going on and why didn't it go on tomorrow? But in the end, whether it's bin Laden or Qaddafi, if we say we're taking a position, I would think at this point the international community has a pretty good sense that we typically follow through on our commitments.

PRESIDENT PARK: With regard to actions toward Syria, what kind of message would that communicate to North Korea? -- that was the question. And recently North Korea seems to be deescalating its threats and provocations -- what seems to be behind that? You asked these two questions. In fact, North Korea is isolated at the moment, so it's hard to find anyone that could really accurately fathom the situation in North Korea. Its actions are all so very unpredictable. Hence, whether the Syrian situation would have an impact is hard to say for sure.

Why is North Korea appearing to deescalate its threats and provocations? There's no knowing for sure. But what is clear and what I believe for sure is that the international community with regard to North Korea's bad behavior, its provocations, must speak with one voice -- a firm message, and consistently send a firm message that they will not stand, and that North Korea's actions in breach of international norms will be met with so-and-so sanctions and measures by the international community. At the same time, if it goes along the right way, there will be so-and-so rewards. So if we consistently send that message to North Korea, I feel that North Korea will be left with no choice but to change.

And instead of just hoping to see North Korea change, the international community must also consistently send that message with one voice to tell them and communicate to them that they have no choice but to change, and to shape an environment where they are left with no choice but to make the strategic decision to change. And I think that's the effective and important way.

Q My question goes to President Park. You just mentioned that North Korea -- in order to induce North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, what is most important is the concerted actions of the international community. With regard to this, during your meeting with President Obama today, I would like to ask what was said and the views that you shared. And with regard to this, what Russia and China -- the role that they're playing in terms of inducing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, how do you feel about that?

My next question is to President Obama. Regarding the young leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, I would appreciate your views about the leader of North Korea. And if you were to send a message to him today, what kind of message would you send to him?
PRESIDENT PARK: With regard to the North Korea issue, Korea and the United States, as well as the international community -- the ultimate objective that all of us should be adopting is for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and to induce it to become a responsible member of the international community. This serves the interest of peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world, and it also serves the interest of North Korea's own development as well. That is my view.

And so, in order to encourage North Korea to walk that path and change its perceptions, we have to work in concert. And in this regard, China's role, China's influence can be extensive, so China taking part in these endeavors is important. And we shared views on that.

With regard to China and Russia’s stance, I believe that China and Russia -- not to mention the international community, of course -- share the need for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and are cooperating closely to induce North Korea to take the right path. In the case of China, with regard to North Korea’s missile fire and nuclear testing, China has taken an active part in adopting U.N. Security Council resolutions and is faithfully implementing those resolutions.

And with regard to Russia, Russia is also firmly committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And with regard to the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea, it has been very active in supporting them. And they’ve also worked very hard to include a stern message to North Korea in the joint statement of the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting. Such constructive efforts on the part of China and Russia are vital to sending a unified message to North Korea that their nuclear weapons will not stand, and encouraging and urging North Korea to make the right decision.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Obviously, I don’t know Kim Jong-un personally. I haven’t had a conversation with him, can’t really give you an opinion about his personal characteristics. What we do know is the actions that he’s taken have been provocative and seem to pursue a dead end.

And I want to emphasize, President Park and myself very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability; that we’re not going to reward provocative behavior. But we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of denuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community, and seeing a gradual progression in which both security and prosperity for the people of North Korea can be achieved.

If what North Korea has been doing has not resulted in a strong, prosperous nation, then now is a good time for
Kim Jong-un to evaluate that history and take a different path. And I think that, should he choose to take a different path, not only President Park and myself would welcome it, but the international community as a whole would welcome it.

And I think that China and Russia and Japan and other key players that have been participants in Six-Party talks have made that clear. But there’s going to have to be changes in behavior. We have an expression in English: Don’t worry about what I say; watch what I do. And so far at least, we haven’t seen actions on the part of the North Koreans that would indicate they’re prepared to move in a different direction.

Christi Parsons.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. The Pentagon said today that there may be as many as 70 sexual assaults a day in the military -- up by 35 percent during your term in office -- and also that many sexual assaults may not be reported, in fact. Given what we know about an Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual assault recently being charged with sexual assault, and also the recent cases of a couple of Air Force generals who’ve set aside convictions of instances of sexual assault, can you speak to the culture in the U.S. military that may be at play here and talk about your response to that and what you can do going forward to improve things?

And if I may, President Park, I would ask you -- yesterday you said that if North Korea does not change its behavior, we will make them pay. I wondered if you could elaborate on that comment a little bit. Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let’s start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage; it is a crime. That’s true for society at large. And if it’s happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they’re wearing. And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior that’s not patriotic -- it’s a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.

Now, this is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is create a structure in which we’re starting to get accurate reporting. And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely.

And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward. But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today and indicating to him that we're going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game, to go at this thing hard.

And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.

And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.

So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the Secretary of Defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.

So I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable.

PRESIDENT PARK: Regarding North Korea's provocations and bad behavior, we will make them pay -- with regard to that, for instance, what I meant was that if they engage in military provocations and harm the lives of our people and the safety of our people, then naturally, as a President who gives the top priority to ensuring the safety of our people, it is something that we can't just pass over.

So if North Korea engages in provocations, I will fully trust the judgment of our military. So if our military makes a judgment which they feel is the right thing, then they should act accordingly. And this is the instruction that I had made.

And North Korea has to pay a price when it comes not only with regard to provocations, but also with regard to the recent Kaesong industrial complex issue, where, based on agreements between the two sides, companies had believed in the agreement that was made and actually went to invest in the Kaesong industrial complex, but they suddenly completely dismissed and disregarded this agreement overnight, and denied various medical supplies and food supplies to Korean citizens left in that industrial complex, refusing to accept our request to allow in those supplies, which is what prompted us to withdraw all of our citizens from that park. This situation unfolded in the full view of the international community.

So who would invest, not to mention Korean companies, but also companies of other countries, who would invest in North Korea in a place that shows such flagrant disregard for agreements, and how could they, under those circumstances, actually pull off economic achievement? So I think in this regard, they're actually paying the price for their own misdeeds.

Q My question goes to President Obama. President Park has been talking about the Korean Peninsula trust-building process as a way to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula. I wonder what you feel about this trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as I indicated before, President Park's approach is very compatible with my approach and the approach that we have been taking together for several years now. And I understand it, the key is that we will be prepared for a deterrence; that we will respond to aggression; that we will not reward provocative actions; but that we will maintain an openness to an engagement process when we see North Korea taking steps that would indicate that it is following a different path. And that’s exactly the right approach.

All of us would benefit from a North Korea that transformed itself. Certainly, the people of North Korea would benefit. South Korea would be even stronger in a less tense environment on the peninsula. All the surrounding neighbors would welcome such a transition, such a transformation. But I don’t think either President Park or I are naïve about the difficulties of that taking place. And we've got to see action before we can have confidence that that, in fact, is the path that North Korea intends to take.

But the one thing I want to emphasize, just based on the excellent meetings and consultation that we had today, as well as watching President Park over the last several months dealing with the provocative escalations that have been taking place in North Korea, what I'm very confident about is President Park is tough. I think she has a very clear, realistic view of the situation, but she also has the wisdom to believe that conflict is not inevitable and is not preferable. And that's true on the Korean Peninsula. That's true around the world.

And we very much appreciate her visit and look forward to excellent cooperation not only on this issue, but on the more positive issues of economic and commercial ties between our two countries, educational exchanges, work on energy, climate change, helping other countries develop.

I've had a wonderful time every time I've visited the Republic of Korea. And what is clear is that the Republic of Korea is one of the great success stories of our lifetime. And the Republic of Korea's leadership around the globe will be increasingly important. And what underpins that in part has been the extraordinary history of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea. And we want to make sure that that remains a strong foundation for progress in the future.

So, thank you so much, Madam President. (Applause.)

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