Obama: Romney still wrong on Russia
By: Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein
March 25, 2014 11:58 AM EDT
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — President Barack Obama dismissed the notion here Tuesday that his one-time rival Mitt Romney was correct in characterizing Russia as the United States’s “number one geopolitical foe,” as he also weighed in on his administration’s plans to modify its surveillance programs.
“The truth of the matter is that America has got a whole lot of challenges,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of The Netherlands. “I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security about the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan,” he later added.
Russia is just yet another issue about which the United States is concerned, but is not the dominant one, Obama said in a slight at Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. “Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness. Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union,” he said. By contrast, the United States has “considerable influence on neighbors” but “we generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them.”
Obama’s comments come amid efforts by the United States and others in the international community to isolate Russia and pressure Putin into backing down from his aggressive approach to Ukraine. If Putin doesn’t, “there will be additional costs, and those will have some disruptive effect to the global economy, but they’ll have the greatest impact on Russia, so I think that will be a bad choice for President Putin to make,” Obama said. “But ultimately he is the president of Russia and he’s the one who’s going to be making that decision. He just has to understand there’s a choice to be made here.”
Asked if he’s misread Putin’s motivations, Obama sidestepped the question. “I’m less interested in motivation and more interested in the facts,” he said.
Obama also used the press conference to offer his first public comments on his administration’s proposal to end the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk data on U.S. phone calls.
“Overall, I’m confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a nefarious attack and addresses the dangers that people have raised,” he said. The proposal is “workable,” Obama added, and he believes it addresses the “core concerns” that Americans have about the program.
His comments came after administration officials confirmed details of the administration’s proposal to address Americans’ concerns about the NSA’s surveillance program. Any changes would have to be approved by Congress, and Obama said he is “looking forward to working with Congress to make sure we go ahead and pass the enabling legislation quickly so that we can get on with the business of effective law enforcement.”
Obama started his remarks by making his first comments on the mudslide that took dozens of lives in Washington State over the weekend. “We hope for the best, but we recognize this is a tough situation,” he said, noting that he’s signed an emergency declaration and spoken to Gov. Jay Inslee.