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President Obama Holds News Conference in Paris. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired December 01, 2015 - 08:30   ET


[08:29:51] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The old expression that necessity is the mother of invention. Well this is necessary. And us getting a strong, high ambition agreement in place, even if it doesn't meet all the goals that we ultimately need to meet, sends a signal that it's necessary. And that will spur on the innovation that is going to ultimately meet our goals.

Nancy Bening (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. One follow-up on the climate change issue.

Are you confident that you can hold the U.S. to its commitments under the -- under existing treaties with no new vote needed?

And, separately, on Planned Parenthood, I wondered if you could share your thoughts on that shooting and any thoughts in the context of the sharp political rhetoric in the country at this time.

OBAMA: I apologize, Jess (ph), I didn't address that but fortunately Nancy was batting cleanup after you. On the issue of the climate fund, we already engage in assistance to countries for adaptation, mitigation, sharing technology that can help them meet their energy needs in a clean way.

And so this is not just one slug of funding that happens in one year. This is multiyear commitments that, in many cases, are already embedded in a whole range of programs that we have around the world. And my expectation is that we will absolutely be able to meet our commitments.

This is part of American leadership, by the way. And this is part of the debate that we have to have in the United States more frequently.

For some reason, too often in Washington, American leadership is defined by whether or not we're sending troops somewhere. And that's the sole definition of leadership.

And part of what I've been trying to describe during the course of my presidency is that where we make the most impact and where, by the way, we strengthen our relationships and influence the most is when we are helping to organize the world around a particular problem. Now. because we're the largest country, because we have the most

powerful military, we should welcome the fact that we're going to do more -- and oftentimes we're going to do it first.

So during the Ebola response, other countries could not respond until we had set up the infrastructure to allow other countries to respond and until we had made the call and showed that we were going to make that investment.

You know, the same was true with respect to making sure that Iran didn't get a nuclear weapon. We had to lead the way.

But ultimately because we reached out and brought our allies and partners together, we were able to achieve goals that we could not have achieved by ourselves. The same is true with climate.

You know, when I made the announcement in Beijing with President Xi I was able to do so, in part, because we had led domestically. So I could put my money where my mouth was and I said, here are the tough political decisions we're making.

Now what are you going to do?

And once we were able to get China involved, that gave confidence to other countries that we're in a position to make a difference as well -- or -- and that they needed to be involved in the process as well.

So, you know, whether it's organizing the coalition that's fighting ISIL or dealing with climate change, our role is central.

But on large international issues like this, it's not going to be sufficient, at least not if we want it to take, if we want it to sustain itself. We've got to have partners. And that's the kind of leadership that we should aspire to.

With respect to Planned Parenthood, obviously, my heart goes out to the families of those impacted.

I mean, Nancy (ph), I say this every time we've got to -- one of these mass shootings. This just doesn't happen in other countries.

[08:35:10] You know, we are rightly determined to prevent terrorist attacks wherever they occur, whether in the United States or with friends and allies like France. And we devote enormous resources, and properly so, to rooting out networks and debilitating organizations like ISIL and maintaining the intelligence and improving the information sharing that can identify those who would try to kill innocent people.

And yet, in the United States, we have the power to do more to prevent what is just a regular process of gun homicides. That is unequalled by multiples of five, six, ten. And I think the American people understand that. So my hope is, is that once again, this spurs a conversation and action and I will continue to present those things that I can do administratively, but in the end of the day, Congress, states, local governments, are going to have to act in order to make sure that we're preventing people who are deranged or have violent tendencies from getting weapons that can magnify the damage that they do.

And with respect to Planned Parenthood, I think it's clear, I've said it before, they provide health services to women all across the country. Have for generations. In many cases, it's the only organization that provides health services to impoverished women.

I think it's fair to have a legitimate, honest debate about abortion. I don't think that's something that is beyond the pale of our political discussion. That's a serious, legitimate issue. How we talk about it, making sure that we're talking about it factually, accurately and not demonizing organizations like Planned Parenthood I think is important.

Jeb Mason (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Do you believe that Turkey is doing enough to strengthen its northwest border with Syria? How -- how is it that a NATO country with a large a military as Turkey has has not sealed this border? And is that something that you raised today with President Erdogan?

And then to put a finer point on the climate change question, can leaders gathered here believe that the United States will keep its commitments even after you've left office if a Republican succeeds you in the White House?

OBAMA: You know, just with respect to my successor, let me first of all say that I'm anticipating a Democrat succeeding me.


I'm confident in the wisdom of the American people on that front. But even if somebody from a different party succeeded me, one of the things you find is when you're in this job, you think about it differently than when you're just running for the job.

And what you realize is what I mentioned earlier, that American leadership involves not just playing to American constituency back home, but you now are in fact at the center of what happens around the world. And that your credibility and America's ability to influence events depends on taking seriously what other countries care about.

[08:39:47] Now, the fact of the matter is there's a reason why you have the largest gathering of world leaders probably in human history here in Paris. Everybody else is taking climate change really seriously. They think it's a really big problem. It spans political parties. You travel around Europe and you talk to leaders of governments and the opposition and they are arguing about a whole bunch of things. One thing they're not arguing about is whether the science of climate change is real and whether or not we have to do something about it. So whoever is the next president of the United States, if they

come in and they suggest somehow that that global consensus, not just 99.5 percent of scientists and experts, but 99 percent of world leaders, think this is really important

Nothing -- the president of the United States is going to need to think this is really important. And that's why it's important for us to not project what's being said on a campaign trail but to do what's right and make the case.

And I would note that the American people I think in a most recent survey, two-thirds of them said America should be a signatory to any agreement that emerges that is actually addressing climate change in a serious way. So the good news is the politics inside the United States is changing as well.

You know, sometimes it may be hard for Republicans to support something that I'm doing but, you know, that's more a matter of the games Washington plays. And that's why I think people should be confident that we'll meet our commitments on this. With respect to Turkey, I have had repeated conversations with President Erdogan about the need to close the border between Turkey and Syria.

We've seen serious progress on that front but there's still some gaps. In particular, there's about 98 kilometers that are still used as a transit point for foreign fighters, ISIL shipping out fuel for sale that helps finance their terrorist activities. And so we have been having our militaries work together to determine how a combination of air and Turkish ground forces on the Turkish side of the border, can do a much better job of sealing the border than currently is.

And I think President Erdogan recognizes that. I'm also encouraged by the fact that President Erdogan and the E.U. had a series of meetings around -- or turkey and the E.U. had a series of meetings around the issue of the Turkish/Greek border.

We have to remind ourselves, Turkey has taken on an enormous humanitarian effort. There are millions of Syrians who are displaced and living inside of Turkey, not just refugee camps but they are now moving into major cities throughout Turkey. That puts enormous strains on their infrastructure, on their housing, on employment.

And Turkey has continued to keep those borders open for people in real need. So I'm proud that the United States is the single largest contributor of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees. I'm glad that the E.U. is looking to do more to help Turkey manage those refugee flows.

But I also think the E.U. rightly wants to see the kind of orderly process along the Turkish Greek border that's necessary for Europe to be able to regulate the amount of refugees that it's absorbing and to save of lives of refugees who are often times taking enormous risks because they're being ferried back and forth by human traffickers who are now operating in the same ways that you see drug traffickers operating under: at enormous profit and without regard for human life.

QUESTION: Did you raise the border issue in the meeting today?

[08:44:56] OBAMA: We talked about it today. I guess what I'm saying, Jeff (ph), this has been an ongoing conversation. We recognized this is a central part of our anti-ISIL strategy.

We've got to choke them off. We have to choke off how they make money. We've got to choke off their ability to bring in new fighters because, you know, we've taken tens of thousands of their fighters off the battlefield.

But if new ones are still coming in, then they continue to maintain a stranglehold over certain population centers inside of Iraq or Syria. So we've got to cut off their source of new fighters. That's also part of the great danger for Europe and ultimately the United States as well and countries as far flung as Australia or Singapore.

If you've got foreign fighters coming in that are getting not only ideologically hardened but battle hardened and then they're returning to their home countries, they're likely candidates for engaging in the kind of terrorist attacks that we saw here in Paris.

So this has been an ongoing concern and we're going to continue to push hard among all our allies to cut off the financing, cut off the foreign fighters, improve our intelligence gathering which has allowed us to accelerate the strikes that we're taking against ISIL.

You know, a lot of the discussion over the last couple of weeks was the pace of airstrikes. The pace of airstrikes is not constrained by the amount of planes or missiles that we have. The pace has been dictated by how many effective targets do we have. And our intelligence continues to improve.

And the better we get at that, the better we're going to be at going after them.

Scott Horsley?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

And in terms of sending that marked signal you talked about today and a couple times this week, I wonder if you see any political path back home towards putting an explicit price on carbon.

OBAMA: I have -- I have long believed that the most elegant way to drive innovation and to reduce carbon emissions is to put a price on it. This is a classic market failure. All right? If you open up a Econ 101 textbook, it'll say, you know, the market's very good at -- about determining prices and allocating capital towards its most productive use except there are certain externalities, there's certain things that the market just doesn't count, it doesn't price, at least not on its own.

Clean air is an example. Clean water -- or the converse, dirty water, dirty air -- in this case, the carbons that are being sent up that originally we didn't have the science to fully understand, we do now. And if that's the case, if you put a price on it, then the entire market would respond.

And the best investments and the smartest technologies would begin scrubbing effectively our entire economy. But it's difficult.

And so, you know, I think that as the science around climate change is more accepted, as people start realizing that even today you can put a price on the damage that climate change is doing -- you know, you go down to Miami and when it's flooding at high tide on a sunny day and fish are swimming through the middle of the streets, you know, that -- there's a cost to that.

Insurance companies are beginning to realize that in terms of how they price risk. And the more the market on its own starts putting a price on it because of risk, it may be that the politics around setting up a cap-and-trade system, for example, shifts as well.

Obviously I'm not under any illusion that this Congress will impose something like that.

But it is worth remembering that it was conservatives and Republicans and center-right think tanks that originally figured out this was a smarter way to deal with pollution than a command and control system.

[08:50:12] And it was folks like George H.W. Bush and his EPA that effectively marshaled this approach to deal with acid rain. We ended up solving it a lot faster, a lot of cheaper than anybody anticipated.

And I guess more than anything, that's the main message I want to send here, is climate change is a massive problem. It is a generational problem. It's a problem that by definition is just about the hardest thing for any political system to absorb, because the effects are gradual, they're diffuse, people don't feel it immediately, so there's not a lot of constituency pressure on politicians to do something about it right away. It kind of creeps up on you.

You've got the problem of the commons and you've got to get everybody doing it because if just one nation is helping but the other nations aren't doing it, then it doesn't do any good. You have this huge coordination problem and the danger of free riders.

So on -- on all these dimensions, it's hard to come up with a tougher problem than climate change or a more consequential problem. And yet despite all that, the main message I've got is, I actually think we're going to solve this thing. If you had said to people as recently as two years ago that we'd have 180 countries showing up in Paris with pretty ambitious targets for carbon reduction, most people would have said you're crazy, that's a pipe dream. Yet here we are. That's already happened. Before the agreement is signed, that's already happened. As I said earlier, if you told folks what the cost of generating

solar energy would be today relative to what it was five years ago, people would have said, not a chance. And with relatively modest inputs, that's already happening.

I mean, imagine if we're starting to put more R&D dollars into it, which is why the mission innovation announcement was so significant. The biggest countries, the most prosperous countries doubling their R&D, but then you've also got Bill Gates and other extraordinarily wealthy individuals saying we're going to put our money into this.

I'm optimistic. I think we're going to solve it. I think the issue is just going to be the pace and how much damage is done before we are able to fully apply the brakes. And in some ways, it's akin to the problem of terrorism and ISIL. In the immediate aftermath of a terrible attack like happened here in Paris, sometimes it's natural for people to despair.

But look at Paris. You can't tear down Paris because of the demented actions of a handful of individuals. The beauty, the joy, the life, the culture, the people, the diversity. That's going to win out every time. But we have to be steady in applying pressure to the problem. We have to keep on going at it. We have to see what works. When something doesn't work, we have to change our approach.

But most of all, we have to push away fear and have confidence that human innovation, our values, our judgment, our solidarity, it will win out. And I guess I've been at this long enough where I have some cause for confidence.

[08:54:43] We went, what, a month, month and a half where people were pretty sure that Ebola was going to kill us all. Nobody asks me about it anymore. And although, you know, we still see flickers of it in West Africa, wee set up an entire global health security agenda, part of American leadership, to deal not only with Ebola, but deal with the possibility of future issues of future pandemics. It's not easy. It takes time and when you're in the midst of it, it's frightening. But it's solvable.

All right?

With that I'm going to go home. Viva la France. Thank you very much.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Obama ending his press conference by saying "Viva la France."

Let's bring in CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Wow, Jim, there had been some speculation that this might be limited in scope. The conference anything but that. He took on climate change, both here, the prerogatives that this summit may lead to as well as the politics back home, dismissing out of hand any controversy about whether or not there's a warming crisis. He also spoke about terror. He spoke about domestic terrorism. He spoke about the Colorado shooting in the context of terror and many other topics. What's your takeaway?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the president sounded kind of low energy during this press conference, Chris, but he was confident. You heard there at the very end when he was talking about the Ebola crisis, that these large global problems are solvable. I think you can take that message from the president and apply it to his thinking on ISIS, to his thinking on climate change. He said I think we're going to solve this thing about climate change, talking about the work here at this climate summit here in Paris.

But on ISIS, Chris, he faces a difficult challenge. The president was pretty frank about that. He noted that while he thinks Vladimir Putin may be shifting his calculation, as he put it, on whether or not Bashar al Assad needs to hold on in Syria, he did say that he doesn't think Putin is really going to change his strategy, not do a 180 turn in his strategy when it comes to who Russia is targeting in Syria. The president continues to believe that Russia will continue to bombard opposition forces to Bashar al Assad and that is simply going to make things more difficult for President Obama.

So he has a tough task on his hand when it comes to dealing with ISIS. And you heard the president sounding a bit more confident about climate change, frankly, than he did about ISIS, Chris.

CUOMO: Jim Acosta, thank you very much. Have a safe trip home. Christiane Amanpour, quick take?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, quickly, he framed both in terms of American leadership. I think he was confident, he said that the inevitable pace of the Vienna political process is moving forward. To build on what Jim just said, he doesn't expect Putin to do a 180, as he said, President Obama, on the support for Assad, but he did also say that he expects, he said, in the next several months to see some kind of shift and some kind of greater movement towards a political resolution and then towards ending the war.

So he sort of headed both ways a little there. But clearly, as Jim said, still finding Russia and Russia's single-minded target of propping up Assad to be incredibly complex. Did say that this was going to take a long time. He also talked a lot about conversations he had had with the Turkish prime minister on closing that last 98 kilometer piece of border.

And just on climate change, he also said that, you know, the main issue was, he said it could be done, but what about the pace? And he did pay tribute to what a lot of people are saying and that 2 percent target, rather 2 degree target, will not be met under the current sums. But he put a lot of faith into added a new technology and reviews that are built in here that could make those targets even more ambitious and more reachable relatively soon. Chris?

CUOMO: Christiane Amanpour, thank you for the analysis and for all the help you've given us the last couple of days.

We're going to take a quick break here. When we come back, President Obama just finished a press conference with lots of headlines in it. Coverage will continue with "NEWSROOM." Stay with CNN.