July 7, 2009— -- ABC News' senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper spoke with President Obama on his first trip to Russia as president. The following is a transcript of that interview.
JAKE TAPPER: We were just joking about how the media seems to be a little bit more focused on -- on funeral in California right now. Is it -- in all seriousness -- is it annoying at all that you're doing this very serious summit here and many of my colleagues are more consumed with celebrity death?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, this is part of American culture. Michael Jackson -- like Elvis, like Sinatra -- when somebody whose captivated the imagination of the country for that long passes away, people pay attention. And I assume at some point people will start focusing again on things like nuclear weapons.
TAPPER: Last time you were here in 2005, you were held up a little by a guard. What have you seen that has changed in Russia? Are their human rights worse?
OBAMA: What I think has happened, the last time I was here in 2005, you had already started to see the Russian public concerned less with democracy and human rights than they were in consumption and a growing economy, and I think there was a renewed confidence that in some ways had pushed those other issues out to the side.
What I am encouraged by is -- in conversations with President Medevedev -- is that there -- is a growing recognition that if they want to diversity their economy, continuing to develop the entrepreneurs of the sort that I just spoke to at this graduation, that issues like rule of law, transparency, democracy are going to continue to be important and I think that after the wild swings of the 90's and the last decade or so you're starting to see Russia balance out. And I think that they want to pursue economic growth but I think that they recognize that some of the nagging issues around civil society still have to be fixed.
TAPPER: Whether it's this summit with President Medvedev or anything else, can you point to any reason why you're encouraged why your approach to Iran and North Korea is the right approach? And ultimately will be successful in reducing the threat in those nations?
OBAMA: Well in North Korea, what we saw was a very strong unanimity around a very strong sanctions resumed that I think it's fair to say that even two or three years ago might not have been imposed by either Russia or China. They might have blocked it in the Security Council. We've already seen a ship of North Korea's turned back because of international effort to implement the sanctions and I think that is a positive step forward.
Obviously North Korea continues to be highly unpredictable; they're going through succession changes. The intelligence that the international community gets out of North Korea is very murky, and so we've still got problems there.
Now on Iran, I think that the governing elites there are going through a struggle that has been mirrored painfully and powerfully on the streets and in my mind the fact that we have both said we are willing to work with Iran at the same time as we have been very clear about our grave deep concerns with respect to not just the violence, not just the detentions that have taken place, has created a space where the international community can potentially join and pressure iran more effectively than they have in the past.
But ultimately we're going to have to see whether a country like Russia for example is willing to work with us to apply pressure on Iran to take a path toward international respectability as opposed to the path they're on. That's not something we're going to know the results of for several more months as we continue to do the hard diplomatic work of putting this coalition together to tell Iran "make the better choice."
TAPPER: Do we need Russia more than Russia needs us?
OBAMA: You know I think that Russia has its own concerns. Russia, I think, understands that their long term prosperity is still tied to the world economy and to the world community. I think on a whole host of international issues they recognize that a partnership with the United States will strengthen them and their interests, so I think there's the opportunity for mutual benefit here.
What we had to do, not just with respect to Russia, but with respect to Muslim communities around the world, with respect to Europe to obviously a leser degree, is to clear away some of the underbrush that had gotten in the way of us seeing our common interests.
Now, with the tone reset which is not unimportant, comes the hard work of actually seeing this produce improvements in our security situation and the world security situation.
An improvement in tone does not change the fact that different countries have different interests, and it's hard, and we're in a much more complex world than we were even ten years ago.
But in the absence of that change of tone, we couldn't have even gotten to the point where countries were recognizing that they may have common interests with the United States, and it doesn't hurt that in a lot of these countries now we've been able to improve perceptions of the united states among the public. The world leaders are like politicians everywhere, and thery're reading the polls. They find out that their population, 45 percent of or 30 percent approve of America and 70 percent disapprove, that is a strong disincentive to want to work with us.
I think that's been reversed and I think that can help although ultimately we're going to have to see how far they're willing to take it.
TAPPER: Turning to domestic issues back home, Vice President Biden recently said that everyone, including your team, misread the economy when you guys were formulating the stimulus package. If the diagnosis was wrong, how can you be sure that the prescription, the stimulus package was right, and what's your opinion of some of the democratic calls including recently from Laura --- Tyson to start considering or implementing a second stimulus.
OBAMA: I think what Vice President Biden was referring to was simply the fact that when we passed he stimulus, we hadn't gotten the full report of the first quarter contractions in the economy that turned out to be way worse than anybody had anticipated, but we still knew that there was an economic tsunami coming at us, and we still knew that we were going to need a substantial stimulus. We knew that the component parts of that stimulus would be tax cuts which you can get out really fast. Money to states so they're not laying off teachers and firefighters, and police officers at such a rapid pace and in fact that has happened
That was money that was going to get out fairly fast, and then what we knew was the rest of the stimulus was going to be roads and bridges and a whole bunch of infrastructure projects that frankly, was going to get six months to eight months to get that money actually into the ground because hat's the nature of big infrastructure projects.
So there's nothing that we would have done differently. We needed a stimulus and we needed a substantial stimulus. Some of the money in the short term just to help stop the freefall and then some other dollars that were going to be designed to put people to back to work and we'll have more ripple effects in the economy, that money is in place and I think is going to make a big difference.
Now, the question that some have argued is okay what next? Maybe you stop the freefall but you still have close to 10 percent unemployment, and you know this is something that we wrestle with constantly. The more that we can do to stimulate the economy in the short term, the challenge we've got as everybody knows is that we inherited a big deficit, and it is at a certain point potentially counter productive if we're spending more money than we're having to borrow.
TAPPER: Hence supporters like Warren Buffet and Colin Powell that are voicing concerns...
OBAMA: And then they've got legitimate concerns -- in the midterm and long term we're going to have to get control of that. So this is one that where we're pressing the gas, pressing the brakes, trying to get it right short term.
The one thing though Jake, is that even as we're focusing on the short term and the incredible pain that people are feeling when they lose their homes, lose their job. I get these letters that I read every day and they're heartbreaking. I've also got to focus on that medium and long term -- how are we going to drive economic growth in America after the recession? What's the new model? Because economic growth over the last couple of decades has been driven by credit cards, home equity loans, huge leverage on wall street, excessive debt, deficit spending -- what's the new model? What's going to create that growth that consumer demand is not driving?
And that's where our policy to reform our health care system so the economy is more efficient, really pushing on clean energy which can create huge I think job growth potentials in our economy, improving our education system, particularly in math and science, and then getting a handle on our long term fiscal health. Those four components are going to be absolutely critical, and that's why when I hear arguments of people saying, you're doing to much or what you're doing's not working, so stand there and do nothing -- what I try to explain to people is look, short term we've got problems and no matter how powerful our stimulus, there's still going to be issues of working out all that excessive debt and the financial crisis that had happened.
But what we've got to keep our eye on is how do we emerge from this stronger and not permanently weakened, and the only way to do that is to make sure that those pillars of long term economic growth get put in place.
TAPPER: Sasha and Malia having fun here?
OBAMA: You know they're great travelers. Sasha was walking down one of the halls of the kremlin yesterday. She had her trench coat on, had her pockets in her trench coat. We called her Agent 99, she just looked like she knew where she was going. I thought she was going to pull out here shoe phone.