President Obama Meets with General Colin Powell

President Obama:
We’ve already have one fat
lip in the administration. (laughter) I want to thank General
Colin Powell for being here with me today. He is not only a great statesman
and a great public servant, but also a great friend
and a great counselor. And periodically I check in with
him, and I know my entire team, including the Vice President,
checks in with him, because he continues to have
an unparalleled sense of our national security needs, and I
think really taps into the best impulses of the American people. The first thing that I want to
do is I want to congratulate him and his wife Alma for the
extraordinary work that he’s been doing with
America’s Promise, which focuses on how can we
finally get serious about education reform,
because he understands, Alma understands and all of us
understand that our kids are going to be competing not just
against each other here in this country but they’re now
competing worldwide. And America’s Promise has
been at the forefront on education reform. They just issued a report,
“Building a Grad Nation,” that notes that we have made
some progress over the last several years in reducing the
number of dropout factories that we have around the country, that
we are seeing a greater emphasis on kids staying in school,
but we’ve still got a lot more work to do. And it’s going to require all
of us — parents, teachers, administrators, the public and
private sector — to make sure that we continue on this
trend of improvement. So thank you for the work
you’re doing in there, Colin. Most of the discussion
we had was around national security issues. We talked about some of the
challenges across the landscape, from North Korea to
Iran to Afghanistan. But we spent, in particular,
a lot of time talking about the START treaty. General Powell has been involved
with just about every arms control treaty since there
were arms control treaties. I hate to — General Powell:
Not quite that long. President Obama:
I hate to date him, but from
the Reagan administration on, he has helped to shepherd
through a variety of these arms control treaties, and the reason
is, is because he understands, as so many others understand,
that a world without binding U.S.-Russia arms
control treaties is a more dangerous world. And he and I discussed
why START is so important. In the absence of START, without
the New START treaty being ratified by the Senate, we
do not have a verification mechanism to ensure that we know
what the Russians are doing, and they don’t know
what we’re doing. And when you have uncertainty
in the area of nuclear weapons, that’s a much more
dangerous world to live in. We also discussed the fact that
Russia has cooperated with us on critical issues to our national
security like Iran sanctions, transit to supply our
troops in Afghanistan, working on securing
loose nuclear materials. And the relationships and trust
that are built from the New START treaty spill over into a
whole host of other national security issues that are of
vital importance to America. So Colin is one of a
number of former national security advisors,
Secretaries of Defense, Secretaries of State — from
both Democratic and Republican administrations — that have
emphasized how important it is to get this done. And we discussed the fact that
the Senate appropriately has a role in advice and consent,
and it ultimately needs to ratify this treaty. That’s why we have made
sure that we have had 18 separate hearings. We have answered over
a thousand questions. We have offered to brief every
single senator — Republican and Democrat — around these issues. But now it’s time
to get this done. I’m gratified by the leadership
of the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, Richard Lugar, as well as the ranking Democrat,
the chairman, John Kerry, for their extraordinary
cooperation and work on this issue. It is important for us to
make sure that we complete the evaluation process,
we finish the debate, and we go ahead and finish this
up before the end of the year. And so I just want to again
thank General Powell for his good counsel, his friendship,
most importantly his service to our country. And I very much appreciate the
fact that he supports an effort that all of us should support in
order to make America more safe. General Powell:
Thank you very much, Mr. President. Let me begin by thanking you for
your support of the America’s Promise Alliance and
the Grad Nation effort. And also let me take this
opportunity to thank Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the
great job that he is doing in making sure that our kids are
ready for this 21st century world that is going
to be so demanding. The President noted the
issues that we discussed with a particular focus
on the New START treaty. I fully support this treaty and
I hope that the Senate will give its advice and consent to the
ratification of the treaty as soon as possible. I have been involved,
as the President noted, in arms control negotiations and
the ratification of arms control negotiations and treaties
for the last 25 years. And what is fascinating about
this whole process to me is that 25 years ago, the Soviet Union
and the United States each had an inventory of something like
28,000, 29,000 nuclear weapons. As a result of the arms control
process and the end of the Cold War and change in
the world situation, those numbers have been
reduced by over 80 percent, so they’re down
now under 10,000. One of the reasons we were able
to do this in a way that was transparent with both sides
confident in the process was because of the arms control
agreement — whether it was INF Treaty or START I or
START II that were ratified, the Moscow Treaty — so many
other treaties that came along to give us stability,
to give us transparency, to give us visibility into
what each side was doing. As a result of these treaties we
have both benefited — both the Russian Federation now and
the United States of America, but the world has benefited by
having fewer of these horrible weapons in existence. And we hope that we can
continue this process. New START is important because
it continues this process. And it’s especially important
because at the end of last year, we lost the verification system
that we had under START I. And this is the first time in
all these years where we don’t have these procedures in place. So we’re not sure exactly what’s
going on within the Russian Federation; they’re not exactly
sure what’s going on in the United States of America. And I think the most important
feature of New START is to put in place the verification regime again. It will be a little different
than the START I verification system, but it is more than
adequate to make sure that we know what they are doing and
they know what we are doing, and it has been so identified
as being adequate by our intelligence community. The number of warheads
reduced is modest but nevertheless significant. It continues the downward trend. And so I fully support it. And you’ll see tomorrow
morning in — hopefully in The Washington Post an op-ed piece
signed by me, Secretary Shultz, Secretary Baker and Secretary
Kissinger, former Secretaries, then former Secretary
Eagleburger that once again shows we as a group of
Republican former Secretaries of State believe that this treaty
is in the best interest of the United States of America, best
interest of the world and frankly the best interest
of the Russian Federation. A good treaty is one that both
sides think they have benefited from, and that has been the
history of arms control agreements with the Soviet Union
and now the Russian Federation. As the President noted, the
Senate has a very important role to play in providing advice
and consent on any treaty. And in all the treaties
that I’ve dealt with, I’ve seen the same kind of
process where questions are asked, challenges are made,
understandings are examined to make sure that the Senate
knows exactly what they are getting into. And I think some important
issues have been raised: the issue of modernization of our
nuclear weapons as appropriate. And the President has indicated
to the Senate and especially to Senator Kyl that a significant
amount of money will be invested in the reliability and
modernization of our systems and our facilities. And that was very,
very important. I think I spoke to the
verification issues, and I think they’re fine. The question has come up as to
whether or not missile defense, our missile defense activity,
is in any way jeopardized by this treaty. And it is not. The perambulatory language at
the beginning of the treaty and other elements within the treaty
in no way restrict the United States’ ability to do what
we think is appropriate with respect to missile defense. The issue also has come up with
respect to theater nuclear weapons, the smaller nuclear
weapons that we both have. Mostly the Russian side
has them; we have some. And this treaty, nor have any of
the other strategic arms control treaties, dealt with that issue. But if we get this
treaty behind us, the administration is committed,
the President has made clear, that he wants to enter into
a dialogue with the Russian Federation in order to start
capturing those systems as well. And so I’m sorry I missed the
meeting the President had with the other Secretaries and
national security advisors the week before last, but I’m glad I
had this opportunity to share my thoughts with the President. So I hope that the Senate
will move quickly and give its advice and consent to the
ratification of this treaty. President Obama:
Thank you so much, everybody. The Press:
— Senate Republicans,
what McConnell did today, is that — didn’t
break the spirit? Didn’t break the
spirit of yesterday, what Senator McConnell did? President Obama:
I am absolutely — I am
confident that nobody wants to see taxes on middle-class
families go up starting January 1st, and so there’s going to
be some lingering politics that have to work themselves
out in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican. But at the end of the day, I
think that people of good will can come together and recognize
that given where the economy is at right now, given the
struggles that a lot of families are still
going through right now, that we’re going to be
able to solve this problem. And I think we got off to
a good start yesterday. There are going to be ups
and downs to this process, but I’m confident that we’re
going to be able to get it done. All right?

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