Today’s Qs for O – 6/5/2009

By Jaketapper

Jun 5, 2009 6:47am

TAPPER: Thank you, Mr. President.  A couple questions, one just to follow up on Jennifer's.  What are some of the gestures of good faith that you'd like to see from the Israelis and Palestinians?  But then regarding your visit to Buchenwald, since the Holocaust, a constant refrain in the United States has been "never again," but U.S. President after U.S. President has sat back and let genocides happen over and over, whether Cambodia or Rwanda.  What does "never again" mean to you as a U.S. President, especially given the fact that genocide is going on right now in Darfur?  There were accusations of genocide in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago.  What does it mean to you?  And are you doing everything you can to make sure "never again" is not a hollow refrain?  And then for Chancellor Merkel, does Germany not have an extra obligation to take action to prevent genocide from happening in other parts of the world?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to confidence-building measures or next steps, again, I'm going to be sending George Mitchell back into the region next week.  He's going to be meeting with all the various parties involved.  I think I've said publicly and I repeated in the speech some things that are going to have to be done.

You know, a lot of attention has been given to my statement that the Israelis need to stop settlement construction, and I recognize that it's received a lot of attention in Israel, as well.  Keep in mind that all I've done there is reaffirm commitments that the Israelis themselves had already made in the road map.  And I recognize the very difficult politics within Israel of getting that done, and I'm very sympathetic to how hard it will be.

But as Israel's friend, the United States I think has an obligation to just be honest with that friend about how important it is to achieve a two-state solution — for Israel's national security interests, as well as ours, as well as the Palestinians.  And that's an area where steps can be taken.

They're not the only steps, by the way, that Israel can take and will need to take in order to advance movement towards peace.  And I mentioned some of the other issues that I've discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu's office, for example, increasing freedom of movement within the West Bank, dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and allowing reconstruction to proceed more aggressively.

What's been interesting is that less attention has been focused on the insistence on my part that the Palestinians and the Arab states have to take very concrete actions.  When it comes to the Palestinians, we know what they're supposed to be doing.  They have to continue to make progress on security in the West Bank.

They have to deal with incitement issues.  There's still a tendency, even within — among Palestinians who say they are interested in peace with Israel, to engage in statements that are — that incite a hatred of Israel or are not constructive to the peace process.  Now I think, to his credit, President Abbas has made progress on this issue — but not enough.

We still have not seen a firm commitment from the Palestinian Authority that they can control some of the border areas that Israel is going to be very concerned about if there were to be a two-state solution.  There are still problems of corruption and mismanagement within the Authority that have to be  addressed.

So there are going to be a whole set of things having to do with the Palestinians' ability to govern effectively and maintain security.  And if they're not solved, Israelis are going to have trouble moving forward.

And the Arab states, what I'd like to see is indicators that they are willing, if Israel makes tough commitments, to also make some hard choices that will allow for an opening of commerce, diplomatic exchanges between Israel and its neighbors.

Now, all these things are going to take time.  They're not going to happen immediately.  But I'm confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year.

On the issue of genocide, I think "never again" means that the international community has a obligation, even when it's inconvenient, to act when genocide is occurring.  So on the issue of Darfur, for example, I didn't simply mention it in a speech yesterday before a Muslim audience, talking about genocide that's taking place within a majority Muslim country, but I also raised it in discussions with President Mubarak of Egypt, who has strong diplomatic relations with the country of Sudan.

And I've assigned one of my closest national security advisors, General Scott Gration, as a special envoy who has been traveling throughout the region trying to not only solve the immediate humanitarian crisis that exists and that was made worse when President Bashir kicked out many of the international non-governmental organizations that have been providing humanitarian assistance.  We've been working diligently to solve that immediate problem and get humanitarian assistance back on the ground.  But what we've also been doing is to try to reactivate the possibilities of a peaceful — a peace settlement between Khartoum and some of the rebels in Darfur that would allow the internally displaced people from Darfur to start returning to their homes.

So we've been very active on this issue.  It may not have received the attention in the press that some of the other issues have, but we are spending a lot of time trying to make sure that we make progress and that the people of Darfur are able to return to their homes and live in peace.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL (translated from the German):  Well, first, experience — part and parcel of our history, of our past experience here in Germany is obviously the Shoah.  And out of that comes an everlasting responsibility for the safety and security of the state of Israel.  If you like, this has been the (inaudible) of every German government, ever since the Federal Republic came into being, and it will always be that case.

As regards genocide all over the world, we have an international responsibility that we need to shoulder here.  And here, too, we work very closely together.  We, all of us, have made the experience I think along the way that this quite often takes much longer to resolve than one would like it to be and can be satisfied about. 

But military intervention alone, without any political framework that we put on these issues, is also not always successful.  We've made that experience, as well.  This is why the European Union — actually during the EU-Africa Summit established very close links with the African Union, trying also to win over African countries to shoulder their responsibility or helping them shoulder their responsibility, for example by providing them with the necessary material, the equipment, but also through political discussions.

I think that due to the experience we've made over the years as European Union members that we were able after the Second World War to live together peacefully.  We have an obligation not only to create peace within Europe, because we've been able to do that, but to actually share with others the knowledge how we managed to get that to happen.  Dignity of man is inviolable.  This is what is inscribed in the German constitution.  And this goes not only for the Germans, not only for the Europeans, but for every human being all over the world.  It means we can solve problems of this kind.  We as Germans, after the Second World War, have made an experience that was certainly not a matter of course.  The Allies actually extended a helping hand to us, to our neighbor France, the United Kingdom, but also the United States of America.  We need to share this experience in order to prevent further cases of tragedy occurring.  And we will always be at your side, at the side of the Americans.

- jpt

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