Entries in Barack Obama (11)


Obama Visits Mandela’s Robben Island Cell

iStockphoto(CAPE TOWN, South Africa) -- On Sunday, with the world’s eyes on the ailing Nelson Mandela, President Obama walked in the footsteps of the man he’s called his personal hero.

Touring the prison on Robben Island, Obama stood alone in the stark “7B” cell where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years in captivity and stared out at the blue sky through the barred window.
Obama visited the island before, in 2006 when he was a senator, but Sunday he returned for the first time as president and brought along his family.

“For me to be able to bring my daughters there and teach them the history of that place and this country, and help them to understand not only how those lessons apply to their own lives but also to their responsibilities in the future as citizens of the world, that’s a great privilege and a great honor,” Obama said Saturday.

The first family viewed the quarry where Mandela and his fellow prisoners were forced to do grueling labor, endlessly breaking large stones into smaller ones, and the courtyard provided for their recreation. They walked through the tiny, barren cells, which were barely wide enough for the prisoners to lie down.
The president, first lady, daughters Sasha and Malia, first grandmother Marian Robinson and the president’s niece Leslie Robinson were guided through the prison by a former inmate. Like Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada was imprisoned for 18 years for his anti-apartheid activities.

The president was overheard chiming in with his own history lessons.

“One thing you guys might not be aware of is that the idea of political nonviolence first took root here in South Africa because Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer here in South Africa. Here is where he did his first political [activism]. When he went back to India the principles ultimately led to Indian independence, and what Gandhi did inspired Martin Luther King,” he told his family.

Before departing, the president and first lady signed the visitor log.

“On behalf of our family we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit,” the president wrote.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Toasts Mandela, ‘The Master of His Fate’

JUDA NGWENYA/AFP/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Speaking at an official dinner in Pretoria Saturday night, President Obama offered a moving toast to Nelson Mandela, “a man who has always been the master of his fate, who taught us that we could be the master of ours.”

“Our minds and our hearts are not fully here because a piece of us, a piece of our heart is with a man and a family not far from here,” Obama said, in brief remarks at the formal dinner hosted by President Zuma, not far from where the ailing 94-year-old civil rights icon remains in the hospital.

Obama recited the words Mandela often turned to in his cell in Robben Island prison, “a poem he read to the others in their darkest moments to give them strength,” he said.

He then read aloud William Ernest Henley’s Invictus:

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

Raising a glass, Obama proposed a toast “to a man who has always been the master of his fate, who taught us that we could be the master of ours.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama to Meet With Mandela Family

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- President Obama will not visit the hospital to meet with ailing civil rights icon Nelson Mandela, the White House announced Saturday.

“Out of deference to Nelson Mandela’s peace and comfort and the family’s wishes, [the president and first lady] will not be visiting the hospital,” the White House said.

The president will, however, meet privately with members of the Mandela family “to offer their thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”

The president downplayed expectations Friday that he would meet face-to-face with Mandela during his stay in South Africa.

“I don’t need a photo-op,” the president told reporters. “The last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned about Nelson Mandela’s condition.”

Obama and Mandela have met only once in person, during a spontaneous meeting in Washington in 2005, when Obama was just a junior Senator.

It was widely speculated that Obama would meet with Mandela for the first time as president during his weeklong trip to Africa, in what would have been a deeply symbolic face-to-face encounter.

The 94-year-old former president was admitted to the hospital three weeks ago for a chronic lung infection.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Syria Crisis to Top G-8 Summit Agenda

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COUNTY FERMANAGH, Northern Ireland) -- The civil war in Syria is expected to dominate much of the discussion as President Obama sits down Monday with the Group of Eight leaders in Northern Ireland, just days after the White House confirmed the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“They’ll clearly discuss the situation in Syria, to include the most recent chemical weapons assessment that we’ve provided, the efforts that are underway to support both the opposition but also a political settlement in the country,” Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday.

The Obama administration has said it will provide more “direct support” to the Syrian opposition now that the president’s “red line” has been crossed. The U.S., he added, has “steadily increased both the size and scope of our assistance” to the Supreme Military Council, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition.

“At the same time, you know, this is a fluid situation. So it’s necessary for [the president] to consult with all the leaders at the G-8 about both our chemical weapons assessment and the types of support we’re providing to the opposition,” he added.

The president will also, however, have to sway Assad’s allies, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama and Putin will meet face-to-face at the G-8 summit for the first time in a year.

Russia has publicly questioned American evidence that Assad used chemical weapons and does not agree that Assad must step down from power for a political settlement to be successful.

“What Russia has articulated to us, and publicly, is that they don’t want to see a downward spiral,” Rhodes said. “They don’t want to see a chaotic and unstable situation in the region. They don’t want to see extremist elements gaining a foothold in Syria. And the point that we’ve made to Russia is that the current course in which Assad is not being appropriately pressured to step down from power by those who continue to support him in the international community is bringing about those very outcomes.”

“We still continue to discuss with the Russians whether there’s a way to bring together elements of the regime and the opposition to achieve a political settlement. We have no illusions that that’s going to be easy,” he added.

While the Syrian crisis will overshadow much of the summit agenda, there are many other topics up for discussion, including economic reform, trade and the fight against terrorism.

Obama is expected to defend his administration’s phone and internet surveillance programs as vital counterterrorism tools. “He’ll be able to discuss with the other leaders the importance of these programs in terms of our counterterrorism efforts in particular, the constraints and safeguards that we place on these programs so that they have oversight against potential abuses,” Rhodes said.

“And all of these countries at the G-8 are important counterterrorism partners. And together we’ve worked with them on an intelligence and security relationship to foil terrorist attacks in the United States and in Europe, and of course Russia shares a significant counterterrorism interest with us as well,” he said.

In addition to participating in a series of high-level meetings, the president will also deliver a major address in Northern Ireland at the Belfast Waterfront Convention Center. This will be the president’s first opportunity to address at length the support that the U.S. has provided to the peace process in Northern Ireland and to the development of its economy.

After two days of summit meetings, the president will travel to Berlin, where he will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck, and deliver a major address at the historic Brandenburg Gate.

The short three-day trip to Europe will be also a family affair for the president. The first lady and daughters Sasha and Malia will be joining him.

Mrs. Obama and her daughters will attend the president’s speech in Belfast and then break off to travel to Dublin, while the president is busy with summit meetings. There, they will tour Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university and “explore the archives that they’ve gathered to document the Obamas’ Irish ancestry,” Rhodes explained.

The first family will reunite in Berlin.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


What Obama Can Achieve in Mexico

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images(MEXICO CITY) -- President Barack Obama arrives in Mexico on Thursday afternoon for a 24-hour trip in which he is expected to meet with Mexico's president, Enrique Peña Nieto, to talk about trade, security and immigration.

The details of what both presidents will discuss have not been laid out to the public. Nor has it been explained why this meeting is important, other than to "reinforce" the relationship between both countries.

But here are some concrete issues that both presidents might end up talking about and why they need to be addressed.

Mexico's president has tried to shift the focus of U.S.-Mexico talks away from security, and to the economy, arguing that the relationship between both countries must expand beyond drug war cooperation. The U.S. seems to be going along with this request based on statements made recently by Secretary of State John Kerry.

But there are changes in Mexico's security policies that directly affect the United States, such as a recent decision by the Mexican government to stop direct communication between Mexican law enforcement agencies and American agencies. From now on, all requests made by the U.S. for intelligence information must be routed through Mexico's Interior Ministry.

This new policy could hamper cooperation between U.S. officers who work for agencies like the DEA and the FBI, with their Mexican counterparts, according to sources consulted by the Los Angeles Times. It will also give Mexico's ministry of the interior more power to decide which sorts of sensitive information can be passed along to U.S. agents.

Obama and his advisers will probably have to ask some questions about how intelligence information will be shared from now on and seek some reassurances that information will still be made available to them. They may also want to ask Mexico what it wants to do with bi-national programs that have come under scrutiny from officials in Mexico's new government.. For example, there was a program through which U.S. agents help to conduct background checks on new Mexican police hires to make sure that they have no connection to drug trafficking groups.

Alex Sanchez, a security analyst at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, believes that intelligence sharing will be a significant issue during the private meetings that will be held on Thursday, even if it has been downplayed by both sides.

He said that intelligence sharing will become more relevant as Mexican cartels increase their presence in the U.S., and also as the U.S. explores new ways to secure the border with drones.

"I think the U.S. government wants to make sure that Peña Nieto is on the same page as Obama, that he wants to pursue the cartels as consistently and aggressively as [former Mexican President] Calderon did during his presidency," Sanchez said.

Trade and North American Integration
Some economists in the U.S. and Mexico have suggested that both countries should work together in order to compete against China's economic power.

This belief that Mexico and the U.S. should be partners and not actually competitors is supported by the fact that both countries already produce many goods together with companies in the U.S. sending raw materials to Mexico, for example, where they are assembled into different sorts of products, and sent back to this country.

James R. Jones, a former U.S. ambassador in Mexico, says that North America has the human capital and energy reserves that could make it into the most competitive region in the world.

At a recent panel at the Americas Society, a Washington D.C. think tank, he suggested that Obama and Peña Nieto try to come up with regulations that make it easier for companies on both sides of the border to work together and export their products to the rest of the world.

"We need to find ways to not diminish the security of the border, but still expand and enable the commercial movement of goods," Jones said.

Another issue that both presidents should take a look at is NAFTA's legacy, says, Raul Gutierrez, a Mexican industrialist who leads the steel products group Deacero.

At the same panel at the Americas Society, Gutierrez mentioned that since this free trade agreement was implemented in 1994, the real minimum wage has fallen in Mexico by 25 percent. Under NAFTA, the number of Mexicans living in poverty has increased by 11 million, and more than 2,000 small exporting companies have closed. Mexican exports meanwhile only contain 30 percent of national content, and exports that come out of the assembly plants along the border, known as Maquiladoras, only average 3 percent of national content.

Gutierrez said that things could've been worse for Mexico, if NAFTA had not been implemented. But he argued that the U.S. and Mexico must find ways to boost Mexico's ailing manufacturing sector in order to create jobs in the country and prosperous conditions that would stop people from entering organized crime networks.

"A strong Mexican economy is in the security interests of the U.S.," Gutierrez said. "The U.S. will do well to think of North American competitiveness and not just its own in confronting the challenges of China," Gutierrez added, arguing that a more prosperous Mexico would also be a good market for U.S. companies.

Mexico's president has been rather silent on this issue, saying only that he "fully supports" Obama's push for immigration reform. Back in November when he visited Obama in Washington, Peña Nieto said that rather than making "demands" on the U.S. President and the U.S. Congress, on behalf of the six million undocumented Mexican immigrants who live in the U.S., he wants to "contribute," to Obama's solution.

Peña Nieto may believe that Obama is on the right track, with regards to immigration reform, and that any attempts by his government to get involved in U.S. politics would backfire, and delay Obama's plans.

Alex Sanchez from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, says that Peña Nieto's statements of support, which are likely to be repeated during this visit by Obama, are somewhat helpful. "It's symbolic, of course, and it won't make Republicans back Obama's plan. But it looks good for Obama to get some sort of backing from the country where most immigrants come from," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Yemen's President Seeks Medical Treatment in the US

GAMAL NOMAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is reluctantly allowing Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to enter the United States sometime this week,  a U.S. official tells ABC News.

Saleh is expected to receive a U.S. visa on Saturday and will likely depart Yemen for neighboring Oman on Sunday, the official said. He is expected to arrive in the United States later in the week.

It is unclear how long Saleh would stay in the U.S., though the spokesman for the Yemeni embassy in Washington tweeted this morning that Saleh had no plans to relocate permanently outside of Yemen or to seek political asylum in the U.S.

A spokesman for the State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Saleh had applied for a U.S. visa weeks ago, citing a desire to seek medical treatment, but U.S. officials sat on it, trying to find somewhere else in the region that would accept him. They found no takers.

Saleh has repeatedly balked after pledging to step aside last year.

Ultimately the U.S. official said the Obama administration determined it was better to get President Saleh out of Yemen, where he is viewed as a destabilizing figure as the country attempts to transition from decades under his rule, and to deal with any blowback from allowing him onto U.S. soil.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Reaches Out to Pakistani President to Secure Relationship Doyle/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Barack Obama reached out to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari Sunday morning in an effort to convey his condolences after two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed this past week along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

White House officials report that Obama set the record straight that the attack was not deliberate. He also highlighted that the United States was poised to launch a full investigation on the incident.

In an effort to secure the relationship between the U. S. and Pakistan, both parties confirmed they would stay in contact.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama to Make Remarks on Gadhafi Death

Joseph Sohm-Visions of America/Photodisc(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama is expected to make a statement from the White House at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday regarding the fate of Muommar Gadhafi.

The statement will be made from the Rose Garden.

After months on the run, the former Libyan dictator was found and shot by rebel fighters in his hometown of Sirte, according to Libya's new ruling body, the National Transitional Council. The White House and NATO have yet to confirm his death.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama: Iran 'Will Pay a Price' for Assassination Plot

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Barack Obama said Thursday that Iran will "pay a price" through sanctions and international pressure for its recent hostile behavior including the alleged Iran-directed plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C.

Echoing previous statements by top U.S. officials, Obama said that when dealing with Iran, "We don't take any options off the table," but did not make any mention of possible military action in favor of pushing harsh economic sanctions and corralling international condemnation of Iran's alleged action.

Obama declined to comment on whether he believed the highest levels of the Iranian government were aware or involved in the alleged plot, but said even if the Iranian president or supreme leader did not have "detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday the DEA and FBI had disrupted a plot "conceived, sponsored and...directed from Iran" to murder the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. in or outside a crowded Washington, D.C. restaurant which potentially would have been followed up by bombings of the Saudi Arabian and Israeli embassies. The U.S. said an Iranian-American, 56-year-old Manssor Arbabsiar of Corpus Christi, Texas, was working for elements of the Iranian government -- specifically Iran's elite military unit the Quds force -- when he attempted to hire hitmen from the feared Zetas Mexican drug cartel to carry out the hit, but Arbabsiar was unwittingly speaking to a DEA informant from the start.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday sanctions against five Iranians allegedly tied to the plot and additional sanctions Wednesday against an airline company allegedly linked to the Quds force. U.S. representatives began Wednesday meeting separately with members of the United Nations Security Council as part of the American government's effort to "unite world opinion" against Iran, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden.

A lawyer for Arbabsiar has not returned requests for comment, but the man's wife, Martha Guerrero, said he was wrongly accused.

Iranian officials have strongly rejected the U.S. accusations, calling them a "fabrication." The head of the Iranian mission to the United Nations penned a letter Tuesday to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressing "outrage" at the allegations.

The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when Arbabsiar unwittingly approached a DEA informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials.

Officials said Arbabsiar is now cooperating with prosecutors and federal agents in New York, where the case has been transferred.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japanese Government Nixed Idea of Obama Visiting, Apologizing for, Hiroshima

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In September 2009, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos cautioned the Obama administration that the Japanese government did not think it was a good idea for President Obama to visit Hiroshima to apologize for the U.S. having dropped an atomic bomb on that city, a secret cable published by Wikileaks revealed.

Roos wrote the cable after his August meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka, reporting to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Japanese government felt “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’ While a simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message, it is premature to include such program in the November visit.”

The cable was first reported by the Japan Times

Following President Obama’s call earlier that year for a world free of nuclear weapons, anti-nuclear groups would speculate as to whether he would visit Hiroshima, the Japanese official said, but Yabunaka recommended that President Obama’s November 2009 visit be focused mostly in Tokyo.

On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” -- a 8,900-pound uranium bomb -- 31,000 feet above the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing up to 70,000 Japanese citizens immediately, with another 70,000 speculated to have died from injuries including exposure to radiation.

On Aug. 9, the US dropped a similar device on the Japanese port city of Nagasaki.

Truman on that day delivered a radio address in which he said, “I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb. Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken by this Government. But we knew that our enemies were on the search for it. We know now how close they were to finding it. And we knew the disaster which would come to this Nation, and to all peace-loving nations, to all civilization, if they had found it first. Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.”

“We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us. It is an awful responsibility which has come to us. We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”

Six days later, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers.

Three years later, President Harry S. Truman expressed misgivings about his decision to have dropped those bombs to Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission David Lilienthal, who recorded the conversation in his diaries, which were later published.

“I don’t think we ought to use this thing [the A-Bomb] unless we absolutely have to,” Truman told Lilienthal. “It is a terrible thing to order the use of something that, that is so terribly destructive, destructive beyond anything we have ever had. You have got to understand that this isn’t a military weapon. It is used to wipe out women and children and unarmed people, and not for military uses.”

The September 2009 Roos cable also reported that Yabunaka urged continued close communication between the U.S. and Japanese governments, and that in his view the “Japanese public felt ‘betrayed’ by the Bush Administration’s decision to delist the DPRK” -- the government of North Korea -- “from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, seemingly without prior coordination with the Japanese government.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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