Obama on foreign policy: Be patient in a 'complex world'
By Justin Sink - 07/16/14 06:39 PM EDT
President Obama made an unscheduled visit to the White House press briefing room Wednesday to address the nation on a host of foreign policy crises testing his administration.
Obama’s visit was timed to coincide with the nightly newscasts and allowed the president to project the image that he is on top of a myriad of issues, including violence in the West Bank, nuclear talks with Iran and Russia’s interventions in Ukraine.
“We live in a complex world and at a challenging time,” Obama said. “And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership. And as commander in chief, I'm confident that, if we stay patient and determined, that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.”
The White House has come under heavy criticism throughout the year over their handling of world events, from renewed violence in Iraq to the trade of five Taliban prisoners for U.S. Sgt. Berg Bergdahl.
Republicans have hammered Obama’s handling of Russia and Ukraine, and have also criticized the nuclear talks with Iran, where Obama hopes to win a significant foreign policy victory.
In recent weeks, allegations of U.S. spying in Germany have threatened relations between Washington and Berlin, while a surge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians threatens to plunge the region into prolonged and bloody conflict.
Only 34 percent of people in an Economist/YouGov poll released earlier this week approved of Obama’s handling of foreign policy.
On Wednesday, the president touted “real progress” in the nuclear talks and said the U.S. would determine whether to extend a July 20 deadline for the negotiations over the coming days.
“It's clear to me that we've made real progress in several areas, and we have a credible way forward,” said Obama, who was briefed on the talks Wednesday by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama said Iran had “met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year,” when Iran agreed to enter the talks and freeze its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
The president said, while “some significant gaps” between the international community and Tehran remained, there was reason for optimism. He also pledged to consult with members of Congress “over the next few days.”
The White House has had to fight off calls from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate for new sanctions on Iran, which proponents argue would pressure Tehran into making additional concessions on its nuclear program.
On Ukraine, Obama announced the administration was imposing new sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals after Moscow continued to offer support to pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in the country's eastern regions.
The penalties will target Russia's largest banks and energy companies, which will now be barred from accessing U.S. financing. The Treasury Department will also freeze the assets of several Russian defense companies.
“These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted, designed to have the maximum impact on Russia, while limiting any spillover effects on American companies or those of our allies,” Obama said.
The president said he expected “Russian leadership will see once again that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation.”
Obama also offered his second statement this week on the outbreak of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians, reiterating that “Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people.”
Obama said he was “proud” that the U.S.-funded Iron Dome system had helped save Israeli lives but said he was “heartbroken” by the deaths of civilians in Gaza.
“We're going to continue to stress the need to protect civilians in Gaza and in Israel, and to avoid further escalation,” Obama said.
The president also vowed to “use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a cease-fire.”
And the president heralded Kerry's work in Afghanistan, crediting U.S. civilian and military leaders for “helping to break the impasse over the presidential election there.”
The country's rival presidential candidates — former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah — have agreed to abide by an international supervised audit of every ballot cast, amid widespread allegations of voter fraud that prompted violent protests in the street.
“If they keep their commitments, Afghanistan will witness the first democratic transfer of power in the history of that nation,” Obama said.