Barack Obama photo

Interview with Novaya Gazeta

July 06, 2009

1. Do you agree with the opinion expressed by many Russian and European politicians that the United States is primarily responsible for the economic difficulties that their countries are now living through?

No. We all are experiencing a severe economic crisis that is affecting the lives of many people in countries around the world. This crisis resulted from a culture of irresponsibility regarding financial matters that took hold over a number of years in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. I am proud of our efforts to lead by reforming our regulatory and supervisory systems and promoting an era of responsibility, so that the U.S. and global economies will be stable and growth will be sustained. We of course have an obvious interest in developing policies that stimulate economic growth in the United States, but we also believe that economic growth in our country also will nurture economic growth around the world, including in Russia.

In the 21st century, we all -Americans, Russians, and everyone else - have an interest in fostering world economic growth that benefits us all. We need to spend less time thinking about who is to blame and more time working together to do what needs to be done to get all of our economies moving in the right direction.

2. Do you agree that lies and greed - - lies about the state of markets and greed of their participants -- are the main reasons for the current economic crisis?

As I said to Congress in February, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

3. Many experts believe that the 21st Century Financial Regulatory Reform you proposed may become the most significant innovation in the U.S. financial system since the era of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. What do you consider to be the most important element of this reform? Are we at the doorstep of new transparency of business and finances?

Our regulatory and supervisory reform plans, announced a few weeks ago, are sweeping and important. The plans include three important components. First, we're proposing a set of reforms to require regulators to look not only at the safety and soundness of individual institutions, but also -- for the first time -- at the stability of the financial system as a whole. Second, we're proposing a new and powerful agency charged with just one job: looking out for ordinary consumers. Third, we're proposing a series of changes designed to promote free and fair markets by closing gaps and overlaps in our regulatory system -- including gaps that exist not just within but between nations. We are called upon to put in place those reforms that allow our best qualities to flourish -- while keeping those worst traits in check. We're called upon to recognize that the free market is the most powerful generative force for our prosperity -- but it is not a free license to ignore the consequences of our actions.

4. On November 18, 2005 Senators Obama, Biden and McCain together with other Senators adopted Resolution 232 on the trial, sentence and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovskiy and Platon Lebedev. The Resolution said that "in investigations that present a threat to authorities, Russian courts become instruments of the Kremlin, and cannot be responsible or independent." Have you been following the new trial of Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev?

I do not know the intimate details of these new proceedings, though my advisors most certainly do. However, without knowing the details, it does seem odd to me that these new charges, which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges, should be surfacing now, years after these two individuals have been in prison and as they become eligible for parole. Nonetheless, I think it is improper for outsiders to interfere in the legal processes of Russia. Instead, I would just affirm my support for President Medvedev’s courageous initiative to strengthen the rule of law in Russia, which of course includes making sure that all those accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial and that the courts are not used for political purposes.

5. "Restarting" the relationship implies cooperating with Russia in those areas where it is possible. Does this mean weaker attention to Russia’s observation of civil rights and liberties, and to persecution against and murders of journalists? Specifically, to [the need to] apprehend and punish those who ordered and committed the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya?

Of course not. I seek to reset relations with Russia because I believe that Americans and Russians have many common interests, interests that our governments recently have not pursued as actively as we could have. For instance, I believe that Americans and Russians both would benefit from fewer nuclear weapons in the world, greater control over nuclear materials around the world, a defeat of extremist elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, an Iran that produces nuclear energy but not nuclear weapons, and a North Korea that refrains from launching missiles and exploding nuclear weapons and instead returns to the negotiating table. I also believe that Americans and Russians have a common interest in the development of rule of rule, the strengthening of democracy, and the protection of human rights. As I said in my inaugural address: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." I then emphasized in my Cairo speech that "I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights." These are ideas embraced by your president and your people. I agree with President Medvedev when he said that "Freedom is better than the absence of freedom." So, I see no reason why we cannot aspire together to strengthen democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as part of our "reset."

6. Will you sign the new START treaty if Russia conditions its signing upon non-deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe?

In our meeting in London on April 1st, President Medvedev and I issued a joint statement on instructions for our negotiators for this new treaty. These instructions very explicitly did not mention missile defense as a topic of discussion for these negotiations.

At the same time, we understand Russian sensitivities to this issue and have sent several high-level delegations to Moscow over the last several weeks to engage in a serious dialogue about U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense.

My government is completing a comprehensive review of all of our missile defense programs, including those in Europe. Given the threats around the world, especially those growing from North Korea and Iran, our goal is to enhance missile defense for the United States and our allies in Europe and elsewhere. As I have said many times, such a system has to work, be cost effective, and must address the real threats to the United States and our allies, not imaginary ones. When discussing our plans for Europe, we first and foremost are seeking to build a missile defense system that protects the United States and Europe from an Iranian ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead. We are not building and will not build a system that is aimed to respond to an attack from Russia. Such thinking is simply a legacy of the Cold War.

We have not yet decided how we will configure missile defense in Europe. But my sincere hope is that Russia will be a partner in that project. If we combine our assets on missile defense, the United States, Russia, and our allies will be much safer than if we go it alone. I see a great potential here, and I hope to have a robust discussion with President Medvedev about these possibilities for cooperation on missile defense when I am in Moscow next week.

7. In the course of your presidential campaign, you competed with Hillary Clinton. Does this hinder your joint work now?

Absolutely not. This is the beauty of democracy. Secretary Clinton and I engaged in a hard-fought, very competitive race for the nomination of our party. By the way, without question, these primaries made me a better candidate for the general election against Senator John McCain. But in democracies, once the election is over, then all Americans who care about our country get back to work. It was because of how well I got to know Secretary Clinton during our campaign that I knew she would be such an excellent Secretary of State, and she has served our country with excellence.

Barack Obama, Interview with Novaya Gazeta Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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